Glass and Ashes

by JoSelle Vanderhooft

She doesn't know why the fairy woman
brings her gifts as if this were Midsummer
and not another ash and lentils day
calculated like a rusted nail
to pierce.
But her hands are open,
her face honest as a church door
and Cinderella knows that apparitions
appear more vividly when heartstrings snap.
So, she takes the frightened mice, the moon-seamed gown
and the kindness wrinkling her eyes
like a beggar picking seeds from chaff.

After all, there are some gifts that bite
harder in denial than in acceptance.
Her slender arms are birch-bruised,
sun-wounded like the lizards in the well
and about her knocking elbows, the too-tight sleeves
fray with memories of care and soap.
Oh, she has learned not to refuse a thing they give her!
So she hides her petticoats in lace
and shoves her callused feet into slippers
polished as pond ice
if not from want
then for a keepsake breath
a second more of life she cannot use
yet cannot sacrifice.

This is how she rides to the vine-walled palace:
hands spreading on her scabbed knees as the carriage
bounces like a pumpkin at the fair.
This is how she stands inside the bright-walled palace:
hands tangled in her airy skirts,
dull eyes cast upon the lacquered floors
where shining couples waltz and laugh
backwards, insubstantial as a trick of light.
This is how she dances in the high-walled palace:
clumsy, stooping, chicken-limbed and shy,
a speck of dust cresting the too-warm air
until, that is, he catches her
upon his hand.

She doesn't know why the fairy prince
swirls her skirts with each arpeggio
and fails to send her off for more champagne
designed like all good things she cannot have
to linger.
But his eyes are blue as stars
his hands steady as a father's touch
and Cinderella knows that apparitions
feel more solid when you cannot hope.
Still, she lets him lead her through the crowds,
the gawping hush of cross-gartered men,
the fanning irritation of scorned ladies
like a broken boat pulled through the night.

After all, there are some dreams that sting
sharper in the granting than the loss.
Her feet are pinched like pancakes,
sore as step-mother's lye upon her back
when it tears like tongues and screams into the sky.
Still, she has learned not to refuse a thing they give her!
So she rests gloved hands upon his shoulders,
her head upon taut muscle and brocade
if not from hope
then from a hurtful want
the kind that tears her from his startled arms
long before the heaving clock
strikes its half-hour doom.

This is how she flees the golden palace:
hands shredding the illusions as she goes,
the pleated skirts, the pearly stomachers
dropped like lentils on the dappled road.
This is how she returns to the silver house:
dress dripping into rags around her ankles,
coach careening in her moon-sliced wake
before the final chime turns it to dust.
This is how she leans against the black-bricked hearth:
tears gasping from her pores, sweat-stale and slick
until she feels a prick upon her ankle.
looking down, she sees one dainty slipper
and one thorn stuck through her slender heel
like an angel's sword.

She doesn't know why her wicked sisters
laugh as if this was a holiday
and not another starch and scrub it dawn
designed like all cheap soaps
to sting.
But their knees are bent
their hands clasped like saints
and Cinderella knows that apparitions
cannot look as beautiful as he
when he sweeps beneath the lintel with the light.
Still, she lingers as the greedy girls
slice their flesh to messes
like butchers readying their shops for Monday.

After all, there are some hopes that hurt
because they are so close, so possible.
Her blood-heavy heart swells through her face,
prickles in each finger like fantastic stars
sharper for the promises they bring.
Oh, oh, she has learned not to refuse a thing
except such happiness.
So she lingers in the knife-long shadows
her bare toes pressed against the bright tiled floors
the breath she cannot use and does not want
sticking to her teeth
like leaves in a gutter
until the sweet prince calls her
with a look so kind it draws blood
from her lips.

She knows what she must do.

This is how she raises her torn foot:
like a dancer taking a blind step
into air and darkness.
This is how she tries the sparkling shoe:
frightened as a sparrow sneaking seeds
from a snoring housecat's fur.
This is how it shatters on the floor:
like a soul who won't have grace
even when it is deserved.

JoSelle Vanderhooft's poetry and short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Jabberwocky, Mythic, Aoife's Kiss, Star*line, Not One of Us and others. Her first novel, The Tale of the Miller's Daughter, was released in June, 2006 by Papaveria Press. Her second novel, Owl Skin, will be released in early 2007, also from Papaveria. She is also the editor of the forthcoming anthology Tiresias Revisited: Magical Tales for Transfolk from Lethe Press. She lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, where she works as the assistant editor of a small newspaper.

When asked to name what kind of weather she prefers, she answered, "My favorite kind of weather is stormy, wild and terrifying, the kind of weather that King Lear, his Fool and Poor Tom of Bedlam might have experienced on the heath."

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