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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.




Mary Alexandra Agner writes of dead women, telescopes, and secrets. Her poetry, stories, and nonfiction have appeared in The Cascadia Subduction ZoneShenandoah, and Sky & Telescope, respectively. She can be found online at http://www.pantoum.org.
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