The Prophet Cassandra Arrives Late to the Dinner Table

John_William_Waterhouse_-_The_Crystal_Ball

She slouches in, ever the surly adolescent;
slides like a grouch into her chair.
Her father, Priam, last king of the impregnable city
(Lo how the mighty walls of Troy forever fall)
is griping again his common complaints of shifty royal advisers
and tax collectors delinquent for the season.
Queen Hecuba purses her lips and frowns; passes down green beans
instead of the mashed potatoes her daughter asks for.
Heaving a weighty sigh, Cassandra tries to catch the glance
of a close-seated sibling, second eldest among her 50 brothers.
Fails, as expected. (Paris’s eyes already so full of Helen
whose beauty he has yet to see. Hands already so full
with the taste of her, he snatches in practice at scullery maids,
at the cook’s assistant; bears them off unwilling
into closets and dark corners—previews
of the world-ending snatch-and-run yet to come.)

The prophet sees in the distance her own snatching,
how this time next year she’ll be knocked up with the Sun God’s curse—
would-be curse, she corrects herself; disbelief comes as a burden
only to those unaccustomed to being disbelieved
and laughs, distracted—a beat too soon,
interrupting her father’s joke before its punchline.
A minute later, redeems herself from his glare by laughing again,
this time at just the right moment in just the right way.
Under the table, she cups her ever-to-be-unpregnant belly
already swelling with a god’s seed,
already feeling the stories push and flutter beneath her skin.

~a.i.


[For more from the Myth & Fairy Tale Project.]

[Image: detail from The Crystal Ball by John William Waterhouse, public domain.]

Steps [The villainess series]

* * *

“But, then again, what if they were role models?”
–Sarah Gailey, In Defense of Villainesses

* * *

old-stone-steps

Steps

I lost my father too, y’know.
Do you see me drowning my hair in ash,
refusing to sleep anywhere but under the kitchen table?

I don’t have a second mother neither,
showing up like magic if I’m ever careless enough
to lose the first one. Nope, just the standard issue—
telling me how much easier I’d be to love
if I lost a little weight,
if I chopped off a little toe.

So I play by the rules, so what.
Doesn’t mean I wrote ’em.

And don’t think for a second I didn’t notice
that little run-and-stumble you pulled on the stairs.
Tripping hard enough to “lose” your crystal shoe
but not hard enough to break it?
Mm-hmm…

Guess it’s true, that old saying:
Them what has, gets.
And those of us who don’t have? Lose.

We lose right down to the bone.

~a.i.


END-NOTE:

Not strictly speaking a “villainess,” I suppose, yet I am struck by the level of vitriol that gets heaped on ‘bad sisters’ in our fairy tales and other lore. Cinderella’s stepsisters. The kind and the unkind girls of Grimms’ Frau Holle or Charles Perrault’s Diamonds and Toads [which I first came upon while researching for my own The Writer Dreams of Rivers]. Even the greedy Goneril and Regan, King Lear’s eldest daughters, fall into this pattern in their contrast with the devoted Cordelia.

And I gotta cry foul.

Continue reading “Steps [The villainess series]”

The Price [The villainess series]

* * *

“But, then again, what if they were role models?”
–Sarah Gailey, In Defense of Villainesses

* * *

seakelp

The Price

Older than the ocean floor she slithers across,
the sea-witch rummages between her cartilaginous breasts
for the shell that stores the latest tongue
and voice in her collection.

Not the first fish I taught to waddle onto land,
she snorts to the anemones.
Not likely to be the last, neither—
and every damn one of ’em convinced
evolution’s just a party trick.
A ploy to meet cute boys.

She’d outdone herself on this one, too:
No talking. No singing. No dancing
without the girl feeling like there are razors
in her shoes.
Absolutely NO take-backs.

Settling her head into the wattles of her throat,
the sea-witch peers, sightless, into the cold ocean night.
Can’t nobody say as I didn’t warn her,
she harrumphs quietly, before pulling the tongue
from its shell and taking
a first bite.

~a.i.


END-NOTE: I have long thought of The Little Mermaid as one of the more cruel and telling fairy tales Patriarchy has gifted us with yet: a young girl gives up her ability to speak, and agrees to excruciating physical pain, simply as the price of seeking love? It ain’t no mere ensorcelling that nabs her voice, either. The sea-witch literally cuts her tongue out. And then our mermaid princess can’t even score the love she sought! Not only does she not get the “happily ever after” Disney grants its Ariel and her thrilling-as-wet-toast prince; in Hans Christian Andersen’s original, her “happy ending” consists of turning into a vacuous “Spirit of the Air” and finding herself tasked with blowing cooling breezes at humans for the next 300 years, in order to earn herself a soul.

(Maybe it’s just me, but by year 75, I figure I’ve turned my back on the whole “gonna get me a soul” dream and am just praying to be turned back into sea foam. Even the most self-abnegating emotional laborer’s gotta find three centuries a bit long, no?)

Anyhoo, that’s been my read on this little ditty about a fish and her prince since forever…until I recently came across a compellingly different take.

Continue reading “The Price [The villainess series]”

Beast [The villainess series]

* * *

“But, then again, what if they were role models?”
–Sarah Gailey, In Defense of Villainesses

* * *

window

Beast

I am the hero of your story. Not you.
Not ever you.

The headlines shoulda read Haggard crone strikes a blow for justice
(for truth in advertising, at the very least) —
yet still you carry on like the brute you always were.
Raging about the woman who dragged you down,
moping about the woman who’s ‘sposed to lift you up.

You brought this on yourself, remember?

At issue: could you redeem yourself.
Not: could you convince some daft slip of a girl
to enact redemption on your behalf (Stockholm syndrome
ain’t a recommended wooing technique,
case you ever wondered).

Next time I’ll skip the test.
Drown your furred, irredeemable ass in your sleep.
Burn your ballroom into ash.

Dance on your bones
the way heroes do.

~a.i.

EXTENDED END-NOTE: Fantastic yellow Disney dress aside, most modern treatments of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ —likely highly influenced by the 1991 animated film—that interpret the story as a romance bug me to my core. In the original French tale, written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve (and plenty problematic in its own right), the Beast treats Beauty with utmost respect and generosity from the outset. He will be her servant, the Beast tells her, when she arrives; she is now mistress of his house.

Continue reading “Beast [The villainess series]”

Green [The villainess series]

* * *

“But, then again, what if they were role models?”
–Sarah Gailey, In Defense of Villainesses

* * *

Madame_X_(Madame_Pierre_Gautreau),_John_Singer_Sargent,_1884_(unfree_frame_crop)

Green

I greet the day with a stretch and a yawn.
Half a continent away
a house tears off its foundation in a cyclone.

I trot down the stairs in my nightshirt.
The news reports earthquakes
stretching to both poles.

I’ve heard people claim I shrunk them small with a spell.
That I fly on a broomstick surrounded by an army
of winged monkeys.

Lies all, but I do not blame them.
My upbringing did not prepare me either for the sight of a woman
flying, her wings as terrifying and tender as any man’s.

They say I am the color of envy.
I say it goes the other way round.

~a.i.


Speaking of the Green One, are y’all familiar with Todrick Hall’s 2016 visual album Straight Outta Oz? Was recently introduced to it by a friend, and I am OBSESSED.

You can watch the whole thing here, but for a quick taste, here’s one of my favorite numbers:

Continue reading “Green [The villainess series]”

Mirror, Mirror [The villainess series]

* * *

“But, then again, what if they were role models?”
–Sarah Gailey, In Defense of Villainesses

* * *

Vaszary_Woman_in_front_of_the_Mirror_1904

Mirror, Mirror

The fuck they mean
“fairest of them all”?

When t’hell I ever sought to be called “fair”.
When t’hell they all ever been “fair” to me.

The only fairness found in this world
is the kind you scratch out for yourself

from the dirt
or an enemy’s eyeballs.

Why else you think I sharpen manicures
into these red-tipped claws?

This is a favor I am offering you, girl.
Not a curse. Take it.

Put your heart into this box.
(Call it “mother’s intuition,” if you must.

My heart too was soft as yours
when it still beat inside my chest.)

~a.i.

Continue reading “Mirror, Mirror [The villainess series]”