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for Anne Sexton

It was you who first explained to me

I would not survive the wood.

I would live, oh yes,

ever after, but the change

was the point, and to change

is to be born out of your own corpse.

I was the princess.

I had to become the witch.

You gave me the magic talismans I'd need,

not rings or dolls, not stones or crumbs.

You filled my pockets with words,

stuffed my mouth with dream.

Eat this, you said, to keep your strength up.

You draped me in a cloak the color of ink,

pressed pen and parchment into my hands,

then sent me out the back gate.

Write when you get there, you said.

I am writing.

Dark beasts stalked me,

voices raised in angry betrayal.

I was doing things a princess should not do.

They tore my golden hair out with their beaks,

shredded my white petticoats with their claws,

ripped my fair skin with their talons.

They even tried to steal away the nouns and verbs,

the adjectives weighing down my pockets,

tried to take the dream morsels from between my teeth,

but it is the nature of talismans to multiply.

My pockets overflowed to bury the beasts.

Now there are words mouldering in the wood.

I stopped to rest and saw how the wood went on,

and wondered if there was another side.

I wanted the borders of the child garden,

the surety of the gate, but already I knew

it was sure against me. I'd found berries dark as my cloak.

Their juice stained my hands, my lips, the dreams I chewed on.

I dipped my pen in that juice and wrote, I am in the wood.

Close, I could almost hear you say

(I could almost here, you said).

Very close.

I misunderstood, and kept looking for forest's end.

I am in the wood, I wrote.

The seasons turned, and the lack of petticoats left me cold.

I piled fallen leaves and burrowed into them to sleep.

You said to keep moving. When the berries ran out,

I learned to set traps for the beasts.

I ate their flesh and wore their pelts.

I was warm when winter came. In the snowfall,

I saw my own footprints like a strange alphabet.

I learned one letter before each thaw.

I understood in spring, leaves sprouting from my hair.

In the moss I wrote, I am the wood.

I've learned to hunt alliteration and rhyme,

to dance with meter in the moonlight.

I shook out the cloak, and saw the wings, the mermaid's tail.

I change shape when the leaves change.

I've learned to make my own dreams now

and I chew them slow like the beasts, to keep my strength up.

Write when you get there, you said.

I am writing.

J. C. Runolfson is a Rhysling-nominated poet whose work has appeared before in Strange Horizons, Goblin Fruit, Mythic Delirium, and Not One of Us, among others. She comes from a long line of sailors and fishermen, and the sea strongly influences her work. Her livejournal is Waterlogged, and you can find more of her previous work in our archives.
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