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]”

Gingerbread

Y’know the fable about that monkey who grabs a fist of nuts out the bottom of a narrow-necked jar and then can’t get his hand back out? Chimp-boy standing there like a putz, cuz he don’t wanna let go his booty—and won’t see if he just lets a few nuts go, he can pull a few others out and actually eat ’em?

Yup, that’s the one. You got it.

This story?

Is not that story.

Offer me a jarful of nuts, I won’t just turn ’em down; I’ll gnaw my hand clear off while you watch. I know it’s a trap you’re holding, even if you’re still kidding even yourself on that score.

Don’t bother pointing out any gaping abyss in logic here—I’ll take off your finger too, in a single bite, and t’hell makes you think I haven’t seen your logic myself already?

* * *

gingerbread-house

Continue reading “Gingerbread”

In the Boneyard, Too, Bright Flowers Bloom

the heart that I hold...

“The heart I hold tightly within my chest, tightly holds me back.”

Three years ago today, I wrote these words. They became the title of what I consider this blog’s first true post: a manifesto defying the “Woman, be silent!” command I felt from culture and intimates alike, and claiming instead my right to stand in the middle of my own life and speak my own truths.

A tiny piece—less than 200 words in total—and the first appearance of real voice on my page in more years than I care to recall. “I finally wrote in my own voice!” I exclaimed to my therapist in a session that afternoon.

I was hella excited, to say the least.

[THEN:] “The art and the work and the words I am here to do have been buried by the aggressions of men. By the bodies of men. By the silencings of men. By the refusal of their eyes to see, and their ears to hear. By my own belief that had I only asked politely, respectfully, with clarity of vision and specificity of language: only then I would have received the gatekeeper’s permission.

“Only then would it be proper and permissible for me to seize my own heart and dance myself to exuberant annihilation upon the beaches of my own dreams, that heart clutched tight within my ribs, its steady thumping the pulse to which my feet move.”

Heart and bone. Silence and speech. The body in motion, and the bodies in gender.

Images and themes that have haunted my writing since forever ago yet dissolved into nothingness over time, given away with so much else in desperate exchange for another few years of constricted existence. Sacrificed to whatever vindictive god I felt pursuing me, his breath always hot and far too close upon my neck.

Last year I had the opening words embossed on a ring that I now wear like wedding jewelry, a constant visual reminder of my commitment and primary allegiance: self to self, soul to heart, present and past holding hands as I step (together as one) into the future.

Continue reading “In the Boneyard, Too, Bright Flowers Bloom”