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]”

Cunt.

Most days, my morning starts with coffee.

Other days, it begins with finding myself being equated to a Nazi mass-murderer by some random online stranger, who happens to disagree with me about the need and function of public protest in any functioning democracy.

So, yeah. That.

I wondered, as I stared at my computer screen this morning: why am I the one in this exchange feeling trapped and tongue-tied? Why this stab of pain at witnessing the shameful barbarism of another human’s ill-informed—and ill-intended—imagination?

I have been trying to write about shame for days, y’see. The way it clots the throat. The way it steals intent and stillbirths action.

When functioning properly, shame polices the edges of propriety. It’s the tool our social herds use to cull those whose behavior transgresses the untransgressable. But often when we speak of it this way directly—“Have you no shame?”—we are merely evoking the presence of its absence, trying to summon the effects of a boundary on someone who has long since abandoned our thought-to-be-agreed-upon rules.

Shame is a double-edged knife, sharpened even through its hilt. It cuts in unpredictable directions, as often burying itself in the flesh of the sinned-against as in that of the sinner. More often, perhaps.

Still unsure what I’m getting at? Ask any rape survivor.

Ask if they felt shame.

sheela-na-gig_kilpeck_church_sequence

Continue reading “Cunt.”

Red

I had the dream again.

Eyes too impossibly wide, teeth too impossibly sharp, slavering tongue and hot breath too close against my face and I cannot even scream as the huntsman’s scrabbling claws rip deep into my belly.

Woke up drenched in sweat, tangled in sheets. Panting.

I lay rigid in the dark and waited for the room to stop spinning.

* * *

Joseph Campbell was asked once why he didn’t account for stories about women when developing his archetype of the hero’s quest. “Women don’t need to make the journey,” he replied. “In the whole mythological tradition the woman is there. All she has to do is to realize that she’s the place that people are trying to get to.”

And if she is the place people got to already?

What does she do then?

* * *

poppies

Continue reading “Red”

Feminist Bedtime Stories, #3

III.

I’m not sure what clearer “KEEP OUT
GIRLS ONLY! CLUBHOUSE” sign we could have hung
better than bricking in our front door. Sole entrance
a dumb waiter conveyed up 4 stories on a pulley
of my hair, should’ve clued in
even the most oafish how we feel
about uninvited third parties.

I long ago tired of explaining: she’s not my mother
or my gram. (Or my captor,
tho I am clearly caught.) The word you want is girlfriend
partner paramour main squeeze
better half ball-and-chain reason for living
cohabitater. Capice?
And when did it become your business anyway.

Continue reading “Feminist Bedtime Stories, #3”

Feminist Bedtime Stories, #2

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

II.

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.

Continue reading “Feminist Bedtime Stories, #2”

Feminist Bedtime Stories, #1

I.

Hans Christian Anderson got it wrong:
the Little Match Girl did not die
of exposure. No—
she arranged what remained of her inventory
strategic as an arsonist,
wore taps on her shoes to keep time
clackclackclack jigging on cobblestones
whilst around her, flames bright as a party dress,
centre-ville dissolving into hot ash and smoke
as the match girl laughed and thumped
her feet, awkward and resplendent,
and, finally, at the last,
warm.

~ ~ ~

Continue reading “Feminist Bedtime Stories, #1”