Poem: beauty & beast

beauty and beast, twin sisters spun 
from the same blood and hearth, the prickled one
sent away to a castle far away, fogged and vine-
wrapped while you, the rosy one, stuck in a cottage
by the edge of the woods, mild-mannered,
full of song, saddling father’s horses by dusk.

no one knew where he went, but he always
came back, sometimes late, when the seasons
turned, laden with gifts, gowns constellated 
with jewels, books with strange animals curled
at the margins, porcelain toys that glittered, as if
one trembling heartbeat away from life. you
smiled, tears trailing down your pale pink cheeks

(she needs a man soon, he thinks) and in a voice
sweet as birdsong and soft as the wind whispering
through autumn leaves, you ask for a rose, just
one, you say, red as blood, to sit by the windowsill, 
to listen to your stories. oh, i am so lonely, you say
you are always gone, and the wild roses are too
full of thorns for me to bring home.

yes, he thinks, a rose, surely, for wasn’t his
daughter one herself, and then a ride to the town 
to secure a groom. after all, roses need tending
and he is getting old and so he rode, deeper
and deeper and you wait and wait, dreaming
of a dark castle and rooms as big as a forest
and lights twinkling like stars and someone
to dance with and talk endlessly, from dawn to dusk.

in the dark of winter, frost tugs at your window. 
you shiver, your patchwork blanket full of holes.
there is a knock upon the door. three times
you count before opening, and it is father 
(or his ghost) white and sickly and he crumples
in your arms, howling, how his latest trade
has gone horribly wrong. you love him,
so you warm him, and when day breaks
pink and gold, you take his horse and ride-

this is the castle from your dreams, dark and lonely
silence settling upon your shoulders like a scarf,
smelling of roses, oh roses, the garden is full 
of them. and there are books and cupboards filled
with clothes more beautiful than you could ever
dream, so that is where father got the gifts from
and you would lose yourself, among these endless
rooms, if only you had another soul to talk to

and the beast is there, feral, manic-eyed, dark skin
covered with bristles. you take a step back, you feel
something die in those ancient eyes, your blood
curdling and there is a hand extended, hanging in
the air, like a promise, like spun gold. you do not 
take it. the beast watches you eat, and slowly
once you learn to look past the thorns, you begin
to talk. but every night, the hand is proffered
and you whisper no, and you swear you can
almost feel the roses in the garden wither.

and one day homesick, you run away, no just a visit
father must be so old, the cottage full of dust
and you arrive by his sickbed, fill his heart
with stories, his ancient eyes light up and then
(as you reach the end) pale and you wonder why,
something in his eyes reminds you…and you turn
to the mirror and back, his eyes looking out of yours
and oh, you get it, oh, you sigh, your rosy face
you imagine, bristled with thorns, oh no, no-

you run and run, past tree and bramble, past
wolves leering in the dark, past your own
foolishness and prejudice, past the lies the village
men sang into your ears every time you came to sell,
past what your father tried but never could tell,
averting his eyes when you asked where the books
came from, past the thorns you carried within you

and you stop at the castle gates and there she lies,
dying, the thorn to your rose and you the beast 
to her beauty, who abandoned her, who looked
away each time even as you longed for a hand
to hold, you offer it this time, and the thorns come
rushing, desperate, breathless, and the blood
blooms as red as the rose you once wanted,
and your heart, so heavy with shame and regret, hurts
a little less tonight, oh my sister, my long-lost twin

oh how i looked for you, in the books you sent,
in the clothes you stitched, and here you were, hidden
away, too beautiful for a world that stumbled in
your gaze, your thorns are mine too, as are the roses
and we cannot bloom without the other and so
take my hand and dance while the night still lives,
dance till dawn bleeds over our silver moonlit skins,
dance till our dreams take root in this cold and wretched
earth, and then with trembling nettled fingers

she takes your pale and bleeding hand.

*
Notes:
I wrote this poem for Women in the World- a cultural zine. The illustration is by the lovely tomateire, and you can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

I know this blog has been rather inactive, with the pandemic and all, but now that I recently did a site revamp, I’m hoping to write and publish more frequently. So cheers to that!

Do let me know your thoughts, it makes my day!

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