The Lorelei Signal


Erasing Myself From the Narrative

Written by Marsheila Rockwell / Artwork by Marge Simon

Erasing Self from Narrative.jpeg

My stepmother was a witch

But, then, this is a fairy tale

All stepmothers are witches here


As if the very act of raising

Another woman’s child

Is enough to curdle maternal instinct


Incite envy, compel the rod

And poison good will

Hiding some jealous truth beneath


A shiny, red, delicious skin

That only yields its dark secrets

To hungry tooth, or thirsty blade


Piercing, slicing, tearing away

Revealing the imagined worm within

But, then, this poem isn’t about her


My mother was the wife of a lettuce-thief

A virgin/whore heavy with child

Whose cravings would not be denied


She had to be punished for daring to desire

And so I was taken from her, new born

But this poem isn’t about her, either


This poem is about me, alone

In my lofty tower of stone

Where my stepmother, the witch


Put me to keep me safe

From a fairy tale’s many and varied dangers

Which is to say, from princes


But, this being a fairy tale

Those princes and their cravings

Will no more be denied


Than my mother’s prenatal hankerings

Though hers at least only required

The theft of a witch’s salad greens


And not the plundering of a virgin

And the plucking of her juicy maidenhood

Her low-born status all the better


For her prince’s inevitable abandonment

Leaving her to reap what he had sown

(Princesses being, in these particular tales


Less than ideal protagonists

Their fathers often not appreciating

The devaluation of their property)


But I am not a princess

And this poem is about me, alone

In my lofty tower of stone


Where songbirds bring me herbs and flowers

Mice delivers roots and gems, spiders spin

Fine cheesecloths for filtering tinctures


And a great horned owl named Archimedes

Angry at his magician

Once brought me a book of spells


Bound in supple skin, unlikely to be human

I learned many things from that grimoire

And found a way I could escape


Not from my lofty tower of stone

Cool in summer, warm in winter

Its window overlooking a forest lake


Indeed, I have no desire

To leave this peaceful place

That I have made my home


I plan to leave this fairy tale

I lack only one component

But that shall soon be remedied


Ah, there he is, my plot device

Calling for me to let down my hair

I do so gladly, tossing out my thick braid


Its length an unwelcome weight

Made more unwelcome by the addition of his

I hold my strong shears ready, steady, waiting


When he nears my window, I begin to cut

Sawing through the heavy plaits

With blades sharpened daily


In anticipation of this purpose

“I’m almost there!” he cries, panting

“Me, too,” I gasp, breathing hard, “Don’t stop!”


His hand breaches my window summit

Just as the last strand snaps

He grabs wildly at the ledge


And I stab him with my scissors

His desperate grip loosens, he falls

And the sound his body makes on impact


With the jutting rocks below

Is music worthy of the nightingale

I summon butterflies, sending them to collect


A different kind of nectar

The blood of a prince, freshly slain

The last ingredient for my spell


Once the flurry of painted wings departs

I call my circle, focus my intent

Speak the prescribed incantation


Mix my potion in a pigeon-pilfered beaker

Then walk to the window, lean out

And dash the glass against the tower wall


The liquid splatters, and where it lands

The stone begins to smoke, pit, disappear

I withdraw, a smile tugging at my lips


Less of triumph, though there is that, surely

More of sheer, unburdened relief

My tower will be hidden now


Vanishing from the pages of this fairy tale

Visible only to my animal friends

Who have never wished me any harm


I am not my stepmother, a fairy tale witch

I build no candy houses, own no

Mirrors with literary pretensions


(There is a cat; he’d say he owns me)

I do not eat children and I do not make bad bargains

With mermaids, or the husbands of pregnant neighbors


I am simply—finally—free

But fairy tales have no place

For a truly free woman


And I am well quit of this one

Rewritten, replaced, forgotten, erased

So I guess this poem isn’t about me, after all


Thank goodness

M Rockwell.jpg

Marsheila Rockwell is a Rhysling Award-nominated poet and the author of twelve books and dozens of poems and short stories.


She is a disabled pediatric cancer and mental health awareness advocate and a reconnecting Chippewa/Métis. She lives in the desert with my family, buried under books.


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