I hear the argument outside the house
each time my grandchildren arrive:
must we smile, must we thank her
even though she never gives us sweets?
Even great-uncle Hansel gives them cake
and cookies. At home, they eat desserts
and candied snacks, begin to whisper
I am the witch and not the victim
from the news, the not-quite-scary bedtime story.
They think I cannot bear to have sweets
in the house, but all these years,
I've shown restraint.
My brother, fast asleep, homesick and weary,
naive and blessed, never tasted that house
at sunrise: sugar stucco, caramel latch
that melted as I lifted it, dripping.
He snored. The witch gave me a spoonful
of pudding, exquisite, unlike anything
I've ever known. The hard sweetness
still burned my throat as she explained
the recipe, the flesh of youth cooked down,
and I must swallow, or choke. Ready disciple,
I learned I was a coward: too timid to push
my brother into the fire, too afraid to pull
the witch out when she fell.
Sweets still have their special taste:
gasoline, sometimes chalk. Vidalias
can get to be too much in allium season.
Still arguing, the children knock
and enter. Quite soon, their parents
will leave them here, alone with me,
the way my husband never let them be.
In my hunger, my lifetime abstinence,
I have long understood the frosting of deceit,
the ease with which one can believe
anything of gumdrops.