Mennonite Poetry Home | Robert Martens



ever after - August 18, 2007

on the boundary between fog and dazzle,
you stumble on something sharp. you
open one eye. a spiky golden crown,
and your toe, throbbing, swollen. the
floor billows gently. it's strewn with
the wreckage of the other realm.
a dragon's fang. a dwarf's club. a tuft
of a princess's hair, the knuckle of
an ogre, a witch's shriek, an elf's
cry, a drop of blood on a
spinning wheel. are there no survivors?
a fragment, sodden, from a ship's log —

once upon a time we set sail from
ever after. this was now, this was
long ago, during the season of
shadow rains. our voyage is doomed.
we heard the reef's rage, then
the storm, our silver sails tattered
and archaic, we have jettisoned our cargo
of story, but to no avail. we shall
sink with the legend, madly,
gladly, sad
— [page torn]

you hear a staccato moan. you recognize
the checkered cloak, the belled cap, it's
the jester. you press the potion
of foolish wishes to his lips. he
opens one eye. "are there any other
survivors?" you ask, and he grins,
gap-toothed, balloon-cheeked,
"i'll tell you a story," he says ...

a marionette lives forever. life's an
easy stretch dangling from strings. and
the puppetmaster's a kindly old man, arthritic,
gentled by age, pulls the strings with a
toss and chuckle and seamless magic. but
what is it you want, pinocchio, wooden
child, why so restless in the land of
ever after? this yearning that gnaws at
your oaken heart, "master, i wish to be human,"
he says, and the old man weeps, father and
son part, they'll never meet again.

pinocchio sails the seven seas, searching
for humanness. a storm leaps from
ebony skies, shatters his boat, pinocchio
would float salt currents to the end
of all, but a great whale, nearsighted and stupid,
mistakes him for dessert, gulps him down.
in the dim rocking of the whale's belly, in the
acid rush of intestinal tides, pinocchio
awaits the grand metamorphosis. time
bubbles from the depths. candles and clocks
bob through whirlpools of indigestion. the whale
hiccups. and suddenly pinocchio is bursting
free, alive, flailing in the whale's spume,
in the wide open, tumbling nose first
onto ocean shore. he stands awkwardly,
stretches the new flesh of leg and arm,
takes a step, falters —

a mermaid lives forever. life's blue
and dreamy in the underwater kingdom,
and the queen of the sea's a loving regent,
permits the little mermaid to roam, to
drift through canyons of coral, sleep
on the jewelled ocean floor far
from home. but this impatience,
little mermaid, why is ever after
not enough? salt sting in the eye,
cold swell above, "mother, i wish
to be human," she says, and the queen
embraces her, sobbing, mother and daughter
part, a wish always destroys what we love.

the little mermaid swims the seven seas,
searching for humanness. forests of seaweed
tangled in grief. a starfish lighting her way
through the night. a great whale passes
by, jaws agape, hiccuping. time sinks
from the surface, rope and canvas and
pirates' bones. and then she hears the
distant roar, instantly familiar, utterly
strange, surf breaking on sand, and
she sees him, her perfect love, her
prince, standing in the pearled ocean
breeze, waiting for her, and she
crawls onto shore, her beautiful new
legs barely holding her, she stands,
falls into his arms ...

my love, my ever after, warm,
and blue, and still
[to be continued]

ding dong the witch is dead
roast in oven heel to head

au contraire my sweet white dove
wicked witch is safe above

"plump children," she sighs, pouring me
a cup of wormwood tea, "round blue eyes
and flaxen hair, and bored, always
killing time, and from there it's a short hop
to killing me." i spread some slug jelly
on my spiderhair croissant, lean back
and nibble, "hansel and gretel," she says,
"plump children, lost children, they ate
my licorice bedroom mirror, yanked the candy
cane nails from the mint deck, chewed up
the truffle floor, and still it
wasn't enough. it's boredom devours
the sweetness of this world. they shoved me
in the oven, just for fun, and
waddled back home, following their
trail of stale breadcrumbs."

"and that's when i found you," i say,
elbows propped on the rat-tooth table,
"the oven was dark chocolate, bitter-
sweet, i ate nearly the whole thing,
and there you were, a heap of ashes ... yes,
i'm a lost child too." she smiles, "some
beetlejuice for the tea?" she asks, "not
today love," i say, she's luscious, my lady
of the ashes, dark as an underground
stream, hair like a willow under a full
moon, belly smooth to a wanderer's
touch, lips like alchemy to the tongue.
she's all i want, all i fear. "and
your ashes," i say, "gathering flake by flake
back into flesh, my anti-martyr, my
queen of the obverse pyre, and as you
returned to life, your sugar shack soured,
caramel to batwing and nougat to
snakebone, but you're mine, lost
child, when we make love the planet
cracks like peanut brittle." she
smiles again, her smile of endless sorrow,
of buried incantation. "but what
ever happened to the kids?" i ask,
"hansel and gretel," she says, "grew
up, grew rich, started h&g
developments, and our deep dark
woods" - my sweet witch pats
her crotch and chuckles - "h&g
is eating our woods, thistle and thicket,
terror and joy, the bulldozers will
uncover a heap of ashes and a chunk of
chocolate oven, artifacts for the
museum of boredom ..." "and you
and i?" i ask, "there are secrets,"
she says, "witches can't reveal."

before vision, before burning,
before law, before stealing,
our first decision of the day,
for who can bear the eye to eye,
but on ivory throne
there's none can lie,
as the sun rises, dripping
the excess of yesterday, ravens
shedding their allnight black,
king and beggar, saint and
heretic, the primal act
of every life, as the past drops
languorously, warmly, lovingly
massaged through the moonways
of the intestines, and jack,
it's true, can afford no ivory, just
rusty nails and scrap pine, the
outhouse chill of morning's first
shiver, spring's fresh breeze
and goosebumps on bare flesh, this
is the hour of contemplation,
his dark eyes turned darkly within.

prologue, epilogue. eternal
return. last night

jack swallowed 3 magic
beans, stupid jack, flop-
eared jack, traded a mournful
cow for magic beans, 3 beans,
market transaction, handshake
and a smirk, no signature, no
contract, but jeers, yes, from
constipated sellers, 3 beans for a
cow, and a mother's weary
rebuke, oh jack what would
your father. and then
the long digestive night.

through ages of dreams, the burble
of beans, in nightmare's moist
clutch, the legume's expanding universe,
and morning arrives with a roar, the
insults of sparrows, the guffaws
of beetles and inchworms,
and jack sprints for safety, unlatch,
unzip, crouch, contract, as
magic flows, yellow river, black swamp,
jack utters a wondrous OOO,
sphincter muscles released to an
infant's limp and careless lack.
thus is fertilized our earth. from
the bones, the beans
of who we are. dandelion,
lily, oak forest, novel,
symphony. excrete with gratitude.
the stink that transcends.
may we, as jack, undo
the clench with prayer,
naked to the whispers of undergrowth
gods, before anything
we owe humility, hence shall we
squat and deliver, amen.

we all know the rest
of the story. jack's anal production
is gigantic. cosmic. an enormous
beanstalk grows from the sludge.
jack climbs it to the clouds, robs
the sleeping giant who lives there, and
the giant awakes, puny jack, raggedy
jack has stolen his bag of gold, his
weeping harp, and the giant pursues him
down the beanstalk, down to earth, normal-
sized earth, but jack's got an axe, chops
down the beanstalk, never again
in his long life will he garden
a plant so luxuriant, so aromatic,
he will remember with fondness
the sunrise of the great sludge,
and the giant falls,
heel over shaggy head,
great mouth agape to
the wonder of sky, he
falls into sleep, he rests
forever beneath our bare
feet, beneath our unbuttoned
ballooning posteriors, and
cities root from his
restless turning.

awaits a giant hoar and gory,
but who will tell,
our little tailor,
who will tell your story?

tameness has gained him nothing. he's
poor as a mouse in a bishop's palace,
wobbly as a lamb in a butcher's shop,
doomed as a blackbird in a four-and-twenty
pie. the chill autumn rain is a
witch's kiss. yet labours on our little

tailor, stitches with the right, nibbles
pebblebread and naughtberry jam with
the left. do your duty, that was his
mother's bedtime story, serve humbly
for a prince's penny. the tailor has no
whiskers, his face unwrinkled, he falls
ill only on an ogre's sunday. a
peaceful tailor. a little man, a
meek, domestic heart. until
now.                     because

a mob of ravenous flies has settled
on his naughtberry jam, while a
rainsquall spits like a drunken squire,
while lightning crashes crooked as an
emperor's sceptre, and the tailor
rises, the dragon of anger
uncoiling in his belly, "my jam, my
sweetness," he cries, and he seizes a strip
of leather, and flick! murders 7 flies
at one blow                       [and

what story is told in the kingdom
of flies? banquet for all, such
sumptuous, scrumptious, such
gooey and squishy, and oh
swift enormous death, crumb
and corpse and splinter of
wing, sweet death for the
honourable, in their memory
we swarm]                 and the tailor

smiles and swaggers. i must tell
the world what i've done, he thinks,
and on his belt he embosses "7 at one
blow," from this day forward, he
proclaims, i will seek adventure in
the armpit of the monster. he takes one
last look at the hut of his ancestors,
a pigeon, a morsel of cheese, that's the
accumulation of a lifetime, he thinks,
he stuffs them into his pockets,
steps out the door. into a land
that will never be tamed, of
satyr and hag and unicorn. and of

giants. before the tailor can utter
"once upon a time," a man of massive
bulk blocks his way, horrible like us
in every way but much bigger, in
short, a giant, and roars, "your tale will
end before it begins!"             [and what

the chronicle in the giant realm? of
a nano creature with needle sting,
of a squirm and an itch, a crawl
in the scalp, a bite, a welt, a toss and
tumble through the immense, the
fevered night]                   but

the tailor's unperturbed. "7 at
one blow!" he cries, and the giant
quakes, the tailor's already forgotten
that the 7 were mere flies, maybe
it doesn't matter, he has chosen
courage, he pulls the cheese
and pigeon from his pockets —

we interrupt. the tailor standing
brave against a colossal toe.
a giant sweating through his
beard. a green ferny wood.
a laughing sun, a curious
crowd of dwarves, a fairy perched
on a rose petal, a princess with
golden hair and desperately in love.
if the tailor dies, he will fall
with a blessing on his lips. but we prefer

a proper ending. they lived
happily ever after, or so our
mother said. and today we choose
to believe this, in our cities tamed
by time, in their back lanes
troubled with elvish light.

"i know you're really
a prince," says beauty.

the beast's ears prick up.
he pants happily.

"i know ..." says beauty. the beast's
castle is littered with furballs,
the chambers reek of moss and
algae, never mind, this
can be changed, all will be changed,
beauty was raised an
independent young woman. beast &
beauty, love & duty.

"i know you're really a
prince," says beauty, "and i shall
kiss you, and you shall be transformed
into my handsome love. we will
marry simply, reign
justly, set
the peasants free, they will
flock to our city of hope, live and
labour with full bellies, chatter
over wine through long
and sultry nights. i shall
kiss you, and you shall be transformed."

beauty kisses the beast.

the beast is transformed
into a frog.

"ribbid," says the beast.

"ribbid," says beauty.

all hail to good queen cinderella ...

consider the lucky, the beautiful.
the story begins "happily ever after."
"happily ever after" resounds through
the ballroom of the palace.
the handsome prince is busy with affairs of state.
the affairs of state are a remote clamour,
citizens with intractable and petty demands.
each morning, cinderella is served
tea and crumpets in her bedroom.
the servants do not speak
unless spoken to.
the bed has a canopy of red satin.
the tea and crumpets are served on a teak table
inlaid with gold.
some days cinderella does not leave her bedroom.
she weaves tapestries of hunters and boars,
of the last unicorn.
some days cinderella sits in the throne room,
listening to the voice of the handsome prince,
she has loved him dearly,
he rescued her from rudeness and rags.
her glass slippers are worn on formal occasions.
her glass slippers are painful to the toes.
they are a remembrance
of a magical night.
cinderella speaks rarely.
it is said she may suffer from depression.
or so the gossip, i have
never entered the palace, cinderella refuses
all interviews.

... and to her sisters grace and della.

not so the ugly stepsisters, although grace
does little more than smile. but
della's been ranting for two hours,
complaints mostly, crushing taxes, the high
cost of bread, filthy streets. my
fourth beer is diminishing her shriek to a
lovely whisper. "and the bitch," says della,
"left us alone with our mother, the old
crock in her rocker, all day long
wanting, wanting, we spend everything
on her, no thanks to you, cinderkiller,
sipping tea in your bedroom while we
rub our fingers raw - hey buddy buy us
another round, this interview
isn't for free ya know." the pub is a
chickenhowl, the air a tubercular
lung, the floor's sticky with something
red and brown and unidentifiable.
the sisters have already slugged back
six jugs of sourwine, but they're persistent
in drinking's hard labour. "waitress,"
i shout, "another!" and wham, a
hammernose hag slams down a jug,
and it's empty before i can say
fairy god - "mother!" yells della,
"mother mother bleed us dry mother," and
grace smiles and nods. the more booze,
the better the interview, i always say,
my editor wants the grub beneath the
big toenails, i'll do anything to dig it out.
but it's astonishing how seven jugs of
wine can smooth a scrunchy face,
homely beyond compare, these spinster
stepsisters, doomed from the squall and
squirm of their first hour, grace
lanky as an overgrown beanstalk,
della chunky as oatmeal, worn down
to scabby skin by a lifetime of unrequited
scrub, but liquor heals like
epidermal cream. i'm beginning to like
the trundling cows, as i drop another mug
down my gullet, fear and loathing slowly
evaporating, but the editor needs
something more, the evening's hazy, nearly
gone, and della's been jabbering bone soup
and bunions, menopause and mush, dust
and dirt and dishes and daily do, "and
we still make time," she says, "to crochet
slippers, our duty, bless us, and what
thanks do we get." grace smiles,
displays a shapeless mass of yarn that
might be slippers on a moonless night.
"but your sister," i interject, "cinder-
jello," says della, "ya know she
sent us a note, wants to talk, whaddya
think, is it too late for sorry?"
i may have my headline: secret
negotiations. i propose a toast,
look into their eyes, so ugly, lit
now by the merciful flame of drunkenness.

realm of ice. winter hates
spring, mother hates daughter.
the queen stands before the magic
mirror, recites the words
familiar to children and sinners,
"mirror, mirror on the wall,
who's the fairest of them all?"
the mirror is our cruelest wish.
ave darling, circumflexion,
all the land is your reflection.

in the dead of winter solstice, the
queen gives birth to snow white.

frost creeps into her womb.

tongue blue as the north wind.

icicle in the cranium.

she loves the sunless chill,
the chattering teeth, the throne room
frozen lock and key.

"mirror, mirror on the wall —"

my darling queen cacophony,
your snow white's growing up to be
lovely as persephone.

horror like a volcano of ice.

the queen calls her loyal servant winterbell,
orders him to murder her daughter.

winterbell nourishes a flame in the soul.

"mirror, mirror —"

a lie is like a one-winged bird,
truth is, darling, you're absurd,
snow white wanders down below,
beautiful in death's pale glow.

betrayed by her loyal servant.

she will finish the job with her own
realm of sadness. endless twilight.
but it's cozy, and it's all
she's ever known, little snow white,
grown statuesque, red-lipped, cream-skinned,
pubescent. "be careful boys," she
says, and her seven dwarves troop off
to the mines. she picks up her broom
and sighs. the broom's not magic, in
the realm of sadness is no magic, and the
dwarves leave the cottage so
filthy, mining for gold they say,
never find anything but coal. dark
cottage. and damp, burrowed out of a
mushroom, moss floor, yew roots
winding down the chimney. "most peculiar
cottage," she thinks as she sweeps,
"but it's cozy, and things could be worse
than cleaning house for dwarves."
by late afternoon, the mole is roasted.
the dwarves burst through the door, tumble
down the entrance stairs, "snow white," they
yell, "look what we found," and show her
seven lumps of coal. enough to cook
tomorrow's earthworm casserole. "boys,"
says snow white as she hugs them,
"take off your shoes and into the bath."
and they strip, dive into the mineral springs
in the low room. and then, dinner —
beard twist and bend of fork, ale song and
splatter chin, jaw and grease and hoot
and jowling joke, jollity in the
realm of sadness. and finally
eyelids heavy as pancakes, and sleep,
shuffling, twitching, sinking into the
deepness known to children and sinners.
tomorrow will be a broom, and
lumps of coal. tomorrow

is a knock on the door.

the dwarves are in the mines.

snow white is alone. and at the door,
the queen, disguised as an old peddler woman.
"taste a morsel of this poisoned apple, my
dear," says the queen. and snow white
bites, she trusts everyone in the realm
of sadness, she falls as though
snow white dreams pleasant dreams. after
all, it's only an apple, and a prince
will rescue her. just one kiss, a kiss
like a dewstruck daisy, and she'll
wake up. and rescue is approximately
on the way, the blundering prince, lost in
the woods, he has no sense of
direction, "this realm is sad," he
thinks, and flogs over fern,
slogs through swamp, stumbles upon
a napping skunk. his horse flees
for greener realms. the blundering prince
is you, child, sinner, have you
been here before? and finally, his
strength gone but courage strong and
dumb as ever, the prince runs headlong
into the cottage of the seven dwarves,
enters, descends the stairs, he sees
a beautiful woman, asleep, asleep,
lost to sorrow and joy, and he recalls
his mother's warnings, but he
kisses her anyway, and snow white awakens.

"hello," she says, "you have a
blundering face, but it'll do," and they
marry and have seven children and
live quite cozily in the realm
of ice. which melts. and
the seven dwarves care for them
in their old age.
"mirror —"
sorry, darling, spring is back,
like a mirror you shall crack.


poor little tom
thumb. a spider
strides by, dripping
ponds of venom.
slug slime wrenches
his boots, clogs nose and
ear and eye. a raindrop
nearly drowns him.
a mouse's squeal
momentarily deafens
him. he trips
over a speck of
dust, slashes
his cheek on a
dandelion seed.
poor tom's fear
grows with
each monstrous
morning, his tiny
bones clatter, his
hairs fall out. you're
enormous, the
earthquake of your
step, the rivers
of sweat. tom
kneels while you
sleep, invokes the
protection of your
little toe. his voice
smothered by
the scuffle of
bed mites. poor

little tom thumb.
his heart's a
rattle of revenge. he
pees in your
milk and turns it
sour. he hides your
keys, drags
your warranty
into the shredder. the
dead rat in
the toilet, the
cat's ripped ear, tom
cackles, these are his
pranks, these
the mania to
drive the monster
mad. he shoves a
fly turd up your
nostril as you doze.
he plants a garden
of bacteria in
your salad. he
crawls into your
ear, beats his
drum, whispers
atrocities of the
enemy, you stand
enraged, big,
he whispers, big
gun. tom
farts in your
butter, spits in
your oatmeal,
hides in a mole's
blind eye as
bombs fall,
blast your
city into

strike us deaf & strike us dumb, never
your thumb.


in this midsummer daydream, sunshine
tangles of flax, she's
astonished by beauty. loneliness is
all she's ever known. the jeers,
uglyducky ugunlucky, she fled to the
bulrushes' velvet arms and sobbed. today
her reflection is a swan. the breeze
rests. the pond magnifies the still
of her loveliness, she's pure
as a dove's first cry, graceful
as the nuzzle of a fawn.
awakened to happiness. she's
one of many, this drift of
noiseless symmetry, longnecked
glide, gaze dappling beyond
reflection, the world
behind, the story
done ...

... yet sure i
miss thee, muddymucky,
lily splash and sag of
willow, wherefore art
thou, tail beshit, web
foot twist, mock and billow, bob thou
low, uglyducky,
algae bill, plunge
thou the muck,
weed to ruck and greeny collar, swoop
to slime, my ugunluck-
y, break the rhyme —
nay, winter shall
ne'er astonish, nor
beauty, while swans
skim a wet blue
sky — yet shalt thou
flounder, luckyducky,
idiot joy and quack
and bellow and bite
and holler, all
together, we shall
churn the azure

"the better to see you with," replies
the wolf, blinking rapidly. and what
big eyes they are, he's all eyes for big
red riding hood, grown up ever so
deliciously, blonde and perky, tasty white
calves, and a rear end that reminds him
of oh so tender lamb. and he smiles,
massively, beneath granny's frilled bonnet,
buried in the layered warmth of her
bed, but the smile's not quite
granny, more smooth-complexioned
politician than frank wrinkles of
old age, and big red riding hood's
suspicious. "and what big ears
you have," she says. "the better to
hear you with, my dear," replies
the wolf, tips an ear to the
rustle of red, to the throbbing
of a luscious heart, to the vein's
rush through thigh and crotch. if he
has no other virtues, at least
the wolf is lascivious. or is this
really the wolf, could it be
granny herself, shapes shift in these
woods, trails slither like snakes,
so easy to get lost. she remembers

childhood scampers through birch
grove and thicket, blackberry and devil's
club, and moonlight snagged on
rabbit warrens, and moss sprouting
from her ankles, and suddenly she's
big red riding hood, and it's winter —
"and granny, what big teeth you have,"
she says, and the reply, "the better to
eat —" but lupine jaw
freezes in mid roar, slaver
suspended in the long fall from
tongue to pillow, and the white
prayer of storybook woods, a raised
antler, a muted howl, a snowflake's
timeless drift, the moon a drop
of blood in albino night. the
woodcutter peers through the window
of granny's hut. forever will be
peer, poor lad, and the wolf
cherish his red blood lust, and
big red riding hood, rooted to oak plank
floor, await an ending, unless ...

her words crackle like frost

whose woods these are i do not know
they are so lovely white and deep
i'd watch the woods fill up with snow
but i have promises to keep

"— to eat you with!" shouts the wolf,
and in dashes the woodcutter, chops off
wolfie's head. "this," he declares,
"isn't granny, she moved out years ago
into a condo." big red riding hood
blushes, "i've been out of touch," she
says, "in a fairy tale," and she notices
the muscle of the woodcutter's
chest, she blushes again, smiles
suggestively. "we've miles to go," she
murmurs, "before we sleep."

a real prince wishes to marry a real princess.

so many fakes, pouting and panting,
but once the night is through, their
skin porous, sweaty, common.

during a torrential rainstorm, a beautiful young
woman arrives at the palace, "i am a
real princess, she declares, "and i demand lodging."

the prince (quite clever for a real prince)
decides to put her to the test.

"the softest of beds have i for you," he says,
"20 goosedown mattresses deep," and underneath the heap
of mattresses he places a single pea.

"did you," he inquires in the morning, "sleep
well?" "wretchedly," she replies, "something tiny and hard and
disgusting pressed into my spine all night long." and the prince
falls instantly in love, only a real princess would
feel a single pea through 20 goosedown mattresses.

the happy young couple wed.

the wound from the pea turns malignant.

the princess dies of melanoma.

the prince dies of a broken heart.

the kingdom lives happily ever after.

(oh my aching back)

one for the money
two for the honey
three for luck
and four to —
                                i won't complete
                                the poem effete
                               as rhymer royal
                                i'm rarely loyal

there was a young king of buffood
who never was naughty nor lewd
but ponder what if
the king wandered stiff
down the main city street in the nude

"but the emperor —" squeals the boy,
"quiet," snaps his mother, "or
i'll —"

his highness is concerned. he feels
a chill. nine months ago they scraped and
bowed, "we shall tailor a fine suit of
clothes for you," they said, "so fine that only
the honest and loyal can see it," and the emperor
showered them with gold, though their
nostrils flickered flame, though their ears
tipped and bent, though their empty pockets
stank of sulphur, though he saw
nothing when they presented him with
the fine suit of clothes. and now, as he
walks the annual procession down the
great street of the city, his highness
is concerned — is this a bad dream, is he
wearing nothing but goosebumps, are his
subjects honest and loyal, will they see
a fine suit of clothes, or merely an anxious
erection?                                 "— has no

clothes!" squeals the boy with delight,
and an old man snickers — "hush,
george," says his wife, "we're none of us
wearing anything." and it's true.
national fraud. swindler tailors have fled
with the nation's very visible gold. and
naked every one, bare as babies
but twice as homely, scarred thigh,
wart on belly, dirty navel and hairy
bum, spindle legs bearing portly
paunch, and breast and scrotum
flapping in the breeze, free, unencumbered,
warm in sunlight's sudden blaze, and
glory! not an honest and loyal soul in
the entire kingdom, his beloved kingdom —

is this a dream? the emperor weeps
with the lightness of life. and he
turns to his empress, he's scarcely
noticed her, where has she been, this
beautiful woman? he is smitten
with lust. he seizes her, she embraces
him, the royal couple make love then
and there, to the cheers and guffaws
of a naked realm. and pigeons
coo madly, wagons lurch over
cobblestone, wine froths and spills,
fiddlers screech a bootless dance,
the fragrance of ripe apples and cinnamon
billows from the marketplace.

this is the hour of your conception.

may he never, may
the dungeon, and the
frog's croak, may
the vow, may
she ever, and
the frog spoke:

a golden ball in water's murk. a
weeping princess. and a frog, a particularly
ugly frog, yellowy warty, raggedy
flippers, eyes popping nearly large
as his bloated head, and a croak that
reeks of swamp gas. "may i be
of service, princess?" asks the frog.

the princess is shocked into momentary
silence. not by the fact that
a frog might speak, that's common
in the land of ever after, but rather
by the particular ugliness of the frog.
then she remembers her sorrow. "i have
lost my golden ball in the pond," she
sobs, and her face contorts prettily.
"i will fetch it for you," says
the frog, "but on one condition, that
you take me home with you." "of
course," says the princess, and the frog
bellyflops into a thick bed of
slime, returns clenching the golden ball
between toothless gums, "oh
you're too ugly," says the princess,
"goodbye now," and skips away, leaving
the frog staring impassively over a
rotten water lily, even the dumbest
of frogs should know that princesses
are born to betrayal. that evening

she plays with her golden ball in
the security of the palace. the
servants notice that the ball
stinks of algae, but they say nothing,
indulge her as they must, for the king
and queen are far away waging war.
there's a muffled rap at the gate.
the princess, bored, scurries to answer,
"perhaps," she thinks, "my handsome prince
has finally arrived," she unclasps the chain,
rolls open the gate on its brazen hinges —
and screams. screams till her face glows
crimson as a sun in eclipse. because
the frog is at the entrance, "princess, you
promised," it says, and she screams
some more, hacking, coughing, choking,
slams the gate shut, flurries with a pretty terror
to her bedroom, where she hides beneath a
quilt stuffed with the down of the goose
that lay a golden egg. that night ...

the palace, twisting, moaning,
like a spurned witch. the scrape
of broken fingernails
on the turrets. a
thud from the deep,
a slither, a word
encased in a bubble,
and then silence,
freezing a lonely heart.

next morning the palace bustles
as always. no one mentions an odd
ugly frog. the princess can hear
quarrels in the city square, the cries
of children playing tag, the trundle of
oaken wheels, a dog's yelp, a
trumpet's blast, a bottle smashed,
a squadron's march, the laughter
of old women. morning turns
to afternoon, as it usually does,
even in the land of ever after. time
for dinner. the princess hasn't budged
from the stronghold of her bedroom. her
nurse taps at the door, "you really must eat,
my dear," says the crone, carrying in a
dinner tray beneath her thousand-crinkled
smile. "don't fret," she says, "the king and queen
will return soon," and she sets down the tray,
"you're pale as a changeling, love," she says,
and leaves the room. and the princess,
consoled, lifts the cover of the dinner tray —
and screams. screams, but no one
hears. she shrieks prettily, and the frog
on her dinner plate croaks, she howls
till the air is sucked from her lungs,
she hurls the frog from her bedroom tower,
down, down it plummets, and after it
the damned golden ball. that night ...

the crawl of fungus. a
squish between fingers,
spongy scales, the gleam
of a bulbous
eye. the sun
settling in murk.
the clutch of weed, a fizzle, a
patient glow. a foetus
wrapped in mud.

next morning the sun rises again, as it
does in most places and times.
the princess, exhausted by amphibian
visions, has neither slept nor
eaten. oh that she could hide
forever beneath golden goosedown
covers. and she hears the clop of horses,
a mother's scold, the bleat of
a goat, the haggle and slap and
cackle in the marketplace, she
creeps to the window, maybe she'll see
a flat froggy corpse far below —
and then — the warmth of dawn,
the westwind on her face, and she
stands, the city square sprawled
noisily below, the flutter of
canopies, stacks of bread, the
fragrance of peaches and hayracks
and slop in the gutters, the gossip,
the hoots and jeers, the ballads,
the beggars in rags, the flagellants
in loincloth proclaiming the end
is nigh, the jester turning cartwheels
for the children, and oh
the sun's glint on the spikes
of city hall, on the gibbet, on
commoner and cry and hopeless
whimsy, her honest city, her
golden souls, she is in love.

that evening she's still standing
at her window. a tap at the door.
the princess turns, "come in, good
nurse," she says, and the door opens
to the frog, tall as a man,
drooling swampwater, festooned
with cattails. "i was cursed
by a witch," says the frog.
the princess doesn't scream. she
takes a flipper, a trembling flipper,
draws the frog into her room, "you are,"
she says, "my handsome prince."

a solitary witch walks our young
precocious earth. she flails past
lily petals large as mammoth ears. she
slashes a wand through toadstools that
stink like beached humpbacks. globs
of pollen clog her nostrils, giant
grass stalks snap and knock her
half-senseless. the solitary witch was
conceived spiteful, she froths, spits,
snots curses at the oversize
garden, there's not room enough
even for a decent spell, oh but she'll
nip this redundant flower in the
bud, because she loves — that is, if
witches could love — barrenness, yes the
splendour of a bare and callused earth.

it's clear what she must do,
the witch will sacrifice a child,
witches are the least thoughtful of all
earth's creatures, child sacrifice is
their answer to everything, from
the destruction of the cosmos
to what's for dessert. she kidnaps
rapunzel. she sets the child
in a cradle of mandrake, she
shits and fertilizes and slimes, and the
cradle stretches into a tower, shudders,
wails, with a single grotesque spurt
grows high as the sun, rapunzel,
rapunzel, there you shall stay dearie,
princess of the sky. but of course
the sacrifice doesn't work, sacrifices
never work and never shall, but witches
are slow learners, and earth's
verdant rapture expands as
tediously - that is, from the witch's
point of view - as ever. even worse,
rapunzel is a child of joy. a little
lonely, perhaps, but rapunzel doesn't know
her life isn't perfect, and soon
she's a young woman, happily floating
between blue above and green below,
and her hair flaring beside the sun,
innocent, golden, growing till the tresses
could encircle the globe, and in that
eternal morning she combs
with a golden comb, eyes shut,
crooning a lullaby for newborn
stars, she combs, she
croons, she drives the witch
mad with the endless mercy of
song, of comb, and earth grows, and
rapunzel sings. the witch forces
dandelion seeds into her ears
to numb the pain. but

even worse, grinding her fangs,
the witch realizes she's forgotten
her wand in the tower. a later
generation of witches would simply
mount their flying brooms to retrieve
it, but earth's too young, brooms
haven't yet been invented, there'll be
plenty time later to sweep up
the mess. but wait, yes, she will
climb rapunzel's hair, this might even
cause the girl the most exquisite of
pain, the witch will climb her hair
to tower's top, reclaim her wand,
no, spite shall never perish, she'll
nourish it in her bare and callused womb.
"rapunzel," she says, "rapunzel,
let down your hair."

rapunzel lets down her hair.

our world storms gold. elf
dance in cobweb grove.
dwarf strut in seeping
mine. rise, worm, thou
defenceless. satyr leer
the guilty brow. crack
stoneheart, rest dear one,
sleep good goblin, sword
shall rust. unicorn
pose in pure of
rose. oh hungry
ogre, thou'rt loved.

lesson learned — that is, if
witches could learn —
wickedness never works.

the world's too full for mourning
from tower tall
her merrie call
the age of gold's a-borning.

damned happiness, is there no
end to it, the witch is crumpled
on her back, buried by golden
hair, hair in her mouth, her nose,
creeping down to her heart, but
spite yes spite shall survive, she
folds her leather flesh
into a hollow ball,
"rapunzel," she snarls,
"lift up your hair."

how long have you dreamed,
my beauty? he leans forward,
shutting his eyes [since spinning wheel
and drop of blood, hag's hack laughter,
deep dark wood, since faun and ravish,
spring's drunk dance, naked goddess,
leer of pan, since fairy forge
and dwarven groan, dragonfall and
drought of moat, since cart
and sickle, gown and boot, lips
seared black by molten truth, since
tyrant pierced by peasant sword, the
scar of crown, the bonecrack horn
] and
quicker, brighter, redder, hotter [since
flare of chimney, spider mill,
junkyard legend, rat and jail,
since cannonfire and plains burned
dry, since bannerstab in moon's
round eye
] remember, my beauty,
can you remember, and leaning
over, as though he will dream
her dream [since needle snap of
deadman drug, since madman rhyme
and phantom thug, since gut of
mountain, goodman grin, since
glory bomb and sutured sin,
since drop of blood, our deep dark
] you've dreamed us
too long, restless beauty, but
your prince is here.

with a kiss we wake.

from a kingdom snarled
in thorns. from a bedroom
crushed by dust. he's in
love with her, with her
pregnant fever. you will
wake, my beauty, and
lips touching hers,
you will rise to your
crystal palace, and
magic's exhausted, and
kingdom never was, you will
rise to the smoke
and sweat, to the
jazz and blast, you will
walk the beloved city,
the streets cracked
crimson, the faces
cashing in, the trafficked
insomnia, the dash
to the tower, the rumours
and shrugs and weary
throngs, the counterfeit
laughter, and you're
wide awake, in
evening's oily hush,
remember, beauty,
in these alleys that bend
a crooked way home,
where a hunchback
jester, a bemused
crone, a cackle and
fiddle, a hoax and a
riddle, a conspiracy
of princes, of kisses, of
time once upon, and
kingdoms swinging shut
ancient gates.

in the land of ever after, the woodcutter's
third son is the lucky one. the sour old
father's died, leaving the mill to his firstborn,
the donkey to his second, and to the lucky third,
the cat. "a cat's of no practical value," says the
third son, "but i'll make a cap of its skin and
sell it for a penny." puss stands up on two
legs and smiles. "give me a bag and a
pair of boots," she says, "and i will make your
fortune." the third son does as he's told, he's
used to obeying orders, and puss pulls on
the boots, hoists the bag, "idiot," she says, "i'm
leaving, make your own fortune," and the third
son takes to drink, sleeps on the unstoried
slum streets of ever after. but puss is an

ambitious beast. she'll claw her way into
history. she lures a hare into her bag, and
presents it to the king, "it is a gift, your
lordship," she says, "from the marquis of
melancholy." "how now," says the king, "my
precious meow." puss lures a partridge into
her bag, and presents it to the king — yes, tales
are repetitious in the land of ever after,
for the benefit of children and monarchs — "it is
a gift, your mightyship," says puss, "from
the marvellous marquis of melancholy." "how
now, my precious meow," says the king,
"and who might be this grand marquis?" his
eyes are hard as coal, he fumbles his sceptre,
courtiers bowing and smirking and licking
his dogskin boots, "this marquis of melancholy
is a menace to my kingdom," he mutters, and he
orders a coach, rides the realm in
search of the mysterious, the conspiratorial
marquis. puss snickers in her whiskers. she

dashes on ahead, "when the king's coach
passes by," she orders the peasants in the
hayfields, "inform him that all these lands belong
to the great marquis of melancholy, or i'll
scratch out your belly buttons." and so
it happens, and the king's golden crown
turns paranoid lead, and the coach reels on
towards the borders of the realm, and
puss dashes on ahead, and in a deep dark
wood, behold, an ogre's castle, and she
slides in under the great iron door,
"fee fie fo fat," roars the ogre, "i smell the
blood of a pussy —" "— never mind that,"
says puss, "i've heard rumours of your enormous
powers, but i don't believe them, can you
transform yourself into a mouse?" "of
course i can," says the ogre, and he
does, and she eats him — to make a gigantic
story short — except for the tail. when

the king arrives at the castle, he finds it
deserted, except for the woodcutter's third
son, lounging on the drawbridge and chewing
on a mouse's tail. "might you be the grand
marquis?" demands the king. "i might be," replies
the third son, "the grand marquis of melancholy,
but i'm not he, for puss in boots has set me
free." the king has no time for rhyme, in his
louse-bearded fury, his quaking shin-boned
splay-toed shrunk-butt madness, he
commands his armies across the borders, east,
west, north, south, "secure the marquis of
melancholy and execute him!" he cries. but

puss finds a warm spot in the evening
sun. a fine day's work. she
chuckles. she sighs. she has
an ogre in the belly. she stretches out,
falls asleep ...

... as i awake. the king's armies
dissolve on the borders of dream.
it's raining and chilly. i'm cozy
beneath the covers. my cat leaps
on the bed. she's bootless, but she
looks smug. she purrs as i stroke
the perfect arch of her back.

every good child hears the tale
at bedtime. goldilocks, she of
luminous hair, is jogging through deep
dark woods. alone. silent. not a
flutter of sparrow nor spoor
of wolf. she's disoriented, maybe
lost, she's weary to the bone, but
cheerful, her winning smile outshines
her hair, "if you enter the woods," she
thinks, "you can exit the woods."

she runs face first into something
oozy, green, deep. it's the house
of the 3 bears, goldilocks doesn't
know that, but it wouldn't scare
her, her teeth radiant as diamonds
within her winning smile within
her luminous hair, poor girl, lost
girl, "but here's a house," she thinks,
"and a house is an opportunity."

no one home. the kitchen's even more silent
than the woods. the clock ticks
backwards. 3 bowls of porridge
on the table. a primeval residue
of steam. "unused, so it's mine," thinks
goldilocks. and she tastes papa bear's porridge,
"too hot," she says, she tastes mama bear's
porridge, "too cold," she says, she tastes baby
bear's porridge, "just right," she says, and
smiles, and shines, and consumes the entire bowlful.

dinner makes her drowsy. she goes
downstairs to the bedroom. if not
for the radiance of her teeth and the shine
of her smile and her luminous hair, she'd
see nothing, a bedroom dark
as a billion years seeping oil.
a constant rhythmic drip.
moss dangling like splotches
of slumber. 3 beds. "unclaimed, so
transferred to me," she thinks. she
lies down in papa bear's bed, "too hard,"
she says, she lies down in mama bear's bed,
"too soft," she says, she lies down in baby
bear's bed, "just right," she says, and
sinks into a long winter's beauty sleep.

the 3 bears return. naturally they
return, it's their home. naturally they're
angry, the door ajar, their
porridge tampered with, and a glowing
girl in baby bear's bed, they growl
loud and hard as a lovesick mountain,
goldilocks wakes with a start, talks
fast, and faster, "we'll make a
fortune," she says, and the bears nod
dumbly, they're only bears, unacquainted
with illegal infringement.

and they do make a fortune. every good
stockbroker hears the tale at
closing time. justrite porridge &
global buzz and internet
sizzle,, web-
link to, porridge &
beds sell like wet digital dreams, and soon
the jingle's heard by children and
stockbrokers everywhere —

like bears in woods
that squat & shit
our product is
your justrite fit

crude. clumsy. effective.

you live in goldilocks' town. you've
cashed in with goldenursa stock.
you rest winningly at night, smile
as you sleep. at the stroke
of midnight, 3 bears creep under
your bed, grizzlies, wild
with wind and rain, tough as
cedar root cracking seacoast, crazed
by empty hibernated bellies, but
for now you're safe, your flesh too
spicy for papa bear, too bland
for mama bear, but beware the
new generation, for
baby bear you're just right.

in the days before farmer jones
and father john, three little pigs
live in a straw house. they are
pink cheeked and curly tailed.
all day long they forage in the woods
for fallen walnuts and apples. the
woods are deep and dark, huddle
over earth's shaggy edge. the wolf
roams the hidden world of sunken
stream, of crawling fern and
muttering maple. he decides to blow down
the straw house of the three little
pigs. is he malicious? tormented?
resentful? does a troubled cubhood
motivate destructive lupine tendencies?
we'll never know, the psychiatrist
who could touch his savage soul
hasn't yet been born.

"i'll huff and i'll puff and i'll
blow your house down," shouts the wolf,
and the pigs shriek and cower and
hold each other tight, the wolf draws
a deep breath of pure mountain air,
and blows — thunder, lightning, crack
and curses, split of stone and
fist of fate — and the straw house
vanishes into prehistory.

the three little pigs are refugees.
disheartened but defiant, they
build a house of sticks, plant
an orchard of walnuts and apples,
dine on truffles at teatime.
the wolf sniffs out a wagon trail
to their new home, "i'll huff and
i'll puff," he shouts, and blows —
swagger and sword, blood black beard,
plunder and prowl, he's no longer
primeval but just as restless —
and sticks plummet down steep
unexplored pathways.

the three little pigs are persistent.
they build a house of bricks, hard
work, they say, always guarantees
success, they build roads, clear
vast areas of the forest
to plant corn. they offer to hire
the wolf as farmhand. the
wolf steps out from waves of corn,
"i'll puff," he says, "and you know
the rest." the three little pigs sit
smug in their brick house, they know
they've built a happy ending, and
the wolf blows — fuel flame flag,
spectral order, uniform bomb, click,
release, blast — and the brick house
explodes to nuclear rubble. this story
must continue, yes, the pigs will assemble
in piggy parliament, proclaim laws
that should resist any breeze.

the three million pigs reside in the
city. they buy and sell houses. they
trade in corn futures. they wolf takes
a cab to town, draws a deep polluted
breath, his lungs are still good though,
he works out every day, "i'll —" he shouts —
and stops, poor outsider wolf,
inhaling grunt and greed, squeal
and deal, the tension that pales
piggy faces and uncurls piggy tails,
and he shrugs — "they don't need me
anymore," he says. his cab
roars homeward past my front door.
i'm a straw man,
i live in a straw house.

the cold wind blows
from hill to plain
from jaw to soul
oh who can know
the wind and rain

the king has commanded: spin flax
into gold. she weeps, tears stained
with elfdust. locked in a dragonbone
tower, the king's command, until flax
is gold, princess of ever after, how
she adores him but he craves gold.
her sobs ripple down her tresses,
waft through cracks in barred
windows, shower gently upon
the sweet meadows of ever after, and old
women look up, "the princess is crying
again," they say, and bend to the hoe.

"at your service, princess." a voice
dry as a witch's dugs. she whirls
to see him, a gnome, a maliciously
misshapen gnome, creaky boned, squishy
eyed, limp bellied, concave crotched,
fruit fly smile. "at your service," he
says, "your haughty highness, and for a
single small favour i will turn
your flax into gold." she is the princess
of ever after, innocent, sorrowful, stupid,
"i will grant anything," she says — "done!"
he cries, utters the syllable morose,
yanks a lead mallet from his cloak, beats
the buzz from his brain thrice,
repeats the syllable morose, and behold —
the flax is gold. the king will be pleased.

"the small favour," he says, "you shall give me
your firstborn." the princess shrieks.
she weeps again. the gnome can't stand
seeing a princess cry, the sound
pounds his eardrums like an ogre's
fart, "alright," he says, "you may keep
your child if you guess my name."

"rumpelstiltskin," she says.

sometimes a story has no logic. how
could she know his name, maybe
she's heard a whisper from the king's dungeon,
the gossip of rack and iron maiden.

"rumpelstiltskin, rumpelstiltskin," she says.

exposed. the king's
a fool. gold is
worthless. the princess
knows his name.

exposed. rage boots his
bones, vaults his veins,
rage, gorges his gut, tumours
his tongue, rage rage,
sucks sun from his
eyes, turns gold to
shit, rage rage monotonous
rage, smashes his skull
on the walls of ever
after, smashes,
dashes, lashes, and the kingdom
splinters ...

shameless blameless the gnome is nameless.

"i was once a princess," she says, brushing
the grey hair from her eyes.
her neighbour smiles indulgently, sips
tea, what an eccentric woman, she
thinks, but a kind friend. "i was
once a princess, and there was flax, and
gold, but i don't miss it, i'm happier
now." she bites into her lemon tart.
"do you believe in gnomes?" she asks.


... but take my heart, my beating heart,
the morning's green and chill.

a minor disappointment. not a prince,
merely pinocchio. but they're in love,
slivers, scales, itchy skin and all. the story
unravels. they marry. they are
reasonably happy. they study, find
jobs, raise four children, pay the bills,
he mows the lawn, she roasts the beef.

and the land of ever after? rumours
of ashen dragons, sorcerers lugging
books of law, invasions of viral gnomes,
and retreat, my dear ones of
ever after, to a moonrise garden
tended by beggars and little children.

they will grow old together. quarrels,
kisses, aches, a long and quiet content.
two humans in a suburb, on the fringes
of legend. they will totter on canes,
cut their hair once a month,
they will sleep deeply, will not notice
the blue midnight sparkle, the
flickering transformation of finger to
wood, foot to flipper ...

from every crack in the asphalt,
the voices of kings, like
crickets in the night, when
rush succumbs to starlight
and golden grit. i live
on the freeway median. the
firm has expropriated
my six-foot plot. heads
of dandelions tossed to the breeze.
i rent a car from a
snakeskin salesman, cruise
the continent, i've got to keep
moving, parking spots
claimed and hostile. to
break the tedium i pick up
a hitchhiker. he's
dressed in the flowing fashions
of two dreams ago. he is
bluebeard. a story
that crackles between
news and weather.
his eyes are sad as the tides
of ever after. "each year," he
tells me, "i am called upon
to re-enact the marriage.
she is beautiful but too
inquisitive. she perishes
of shock. her family
hire a legion of lawyers,
hang me from the gables
of my mansion."
i listen distractedly, politely,
his long-ago voice nearly
inaudible in the buy and
go of traffic. "each
year," he says, "i am married
for two weeks." he
smiles, gestures with the
archaic grace of a proud lord,
"but two grand weeks they are,"
he says. we drive on
without speaking. bluebeard
stashes his story in the glove
compartment, lights a
pipe woven from human hair.

© Robert Martens




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