Feminist Bedtime Stories, #2

Cornelia Parker's string-covering of Rodin's The Kiss. Photograph: Tate Gallery.


No one knew how long she’d been there.

Stored with other detritus in the attics of the unused east wing,
sealed since renovations converted the ancient chateau
into a trendy B&B. Rumor was, if you looked long enough
you’d see her chest rise…and fall, rise…and fall
almost like she was alive, just sleeping. Trick of the light,
most everyone agreed, but still the campfire stories continued:
about a witch and a curse and how you better kiss the first boy who asks
cos true love’s too long to wait for.

Neighborhood kids used to sneak in on dares.
Stay up all night. See if she turns into a ghost or a zombie.
Until the day a young man new to the neighborhood
with brylcreemed hair, shiny and shifting as an oil slick in a parking lot
and eyes like ice, or a hatchet freshly-sharpened,
stared down the length of her—nubs of nipples
poking through the layer of dust, cobwebs in her pubic hair—
and took the game a step further. “I’d kiss that
for a quarter.”

Witnesses disagree what happened next: some claiming
he’d gone into spasming fits as he bent over her mouth,
others that he’d chickened out before even trying.
Decades later, a few whisper still
how they’d seen her lips part in a sigh or monalisa smile
as he fell, carmine tongue flickering like a snake’s
and her whole carved face, in that moment,

[Image: Cornelia Parker’s string-covering of Rodin’s The Kiss. Photograph: Tate Gallery.]


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