Size / / /

The snuff-goblin liked the paper & wax castle,
crouched in the garden, late into the night.
He told me about real swans, how they swim,
fight, give chase and honk loudly.

The tin soldiers stared, always,
all twenty-five leering brothers.
I heard their lecherous murmurs inside the box.
For my sake, no one let them out at night,

however they rattled their sabers.
But the one hid, to ogle and leer,
all day and night, as if the snuff-box
hid the boring drill of his eyes.

Against tin, paper is useless:
his sword could rip me to tatters.
The snuff-goblin tried to warn him off,
obliquely, to not raise his ire at me;

a cloud of dust cannot be cut or pierced.
I posed en pointe as I was made, stared
at the clock to distract myself from his hungry gaze,
his blue and red uniform like a bruise, his blade.

When the children put him in the window,
my legs stopped cramping, my stomach eased.
When the draft caught him, sent him tumbling,
I felt safe in my castle again.

His brothers were too distraught by the loss
of their youngest sibling to crudely threaten,
though the canary strained her voice
to drown out their vengeful songs in the dark.

Still, I was at home, and protected.
No one would lift their lid, let them loose
to do what they would with their swords.
Soldiers are made to storm castles,

take the spoils, including the women.
It was in their tin like ballet in my paper.
I practiced my positions indoors in the dark
while the nutcrackers leapfrogged outside.

Sometimes we held balls in the castle.
The soldiers grumbled, but the music
swallowed their protests, and I danced
without catcalls or roving eyes, for joy.

When the cook came in with the one-legged soldier
I almost crumpled, but the children were there
so I endured his single-pointed gaze.
The snuff-goblin heard the commotion, though.

The children look right through him,
see only dust motes falling, even in the day.
He scampered up a boy's shoulder,
whispered something into his ear.

When the child seized the leering tin man,
pitched him into the stove, I wanted to cheer
as I watched him glow red, even though he stared
even as his paint melted, drops of his tin dripped away.

The goblin did not cause the draught. I saw him
in his snuffbox, watching the soldier turn liquid.
Pure chance wafted me into the fire.
The soldier took it for devoted self-immolation.

I did not wish to be watched like prey.
I wanted to dance, to watch the swans,
hold soirées, tarantella with the toys.
Burning to a cinder is not a declaration of love.

The snuff-goblin rescued my tinsel rose,
planted it in the garden where nothing grows.
The swans are still in the water made of foil.
He tells me stories of dancing warriors, dodging blades.

Elizabeth R. McClellan: lawyer by day, poet at odd hours. Her work appears in or is forthcoming from venues including Apex Magazine, Goblin Fruit,, Niteblade, Stone Telling, and The Moment of Change. She edited the 2014 Rhysling Anthology. Follow her on Twitter at @popelizbet for excessive references to Titus Andronicus.
Current Issue
26 Feb 2024

I can’t say any of this to the man next to me because he is wearing a tie
Language blasts through the malicious intentions and blows them to ash. Language rises triumphant over fangs and claws. Language, in other words, is presented as something more than a medium for communication. Language, regardless of how it is purposed, must be recognized as a weapon.
verb 4 [C] to constantly be at war, spill your blood and drink. to faint and revive yourself. to brag of your scars.
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