You know how when you lay
yourself down in the back porch
hammock, sleep all day and
wake up thinking: am I still married?
Those kids of Judy’s—are they
grown yet? Is that model rocket
still in the basement—the five
fins that took all the glue?
It’s the same in those stories
where the girl has to sweep
the ashes from the fire for seven
days, until the dark man lets her go—
only it could be seven years, or seven
decades in your life until
the lock springs open. And now
grown-up with gold in your pocket,
you stride into the breezy afternoon.
Isn’t that the way of things—
dropping breadcrumbs faithfully,
so sure and full of hope,
then looking back and the crows
already making off with them.
You could be anyone thinking
You could have wandered
into this life by mistake and still
be on the second wish, or run
anytime to the edge of the forest,
calling out for the red-haired man
to take you back to the palace
where the King and Queen
remain with their son or daughter,
the feast set out, silver
glinting in the torchlight, honeyed
pears and apples from Damascus,
everyone silent as the drawbridge
clinks lower, waiting for your hand
on the iron door.
If you had asked me what I meant by this poem when I wrote it, I couldn’t have told you. As often with writing poetry, when you do it you’re better off looking somewhere else. I was looking at images from fairy tales, wondering what they had to do with me.
Now it seems to me that the poem is about childhood. Or rather, it’s about a way that I experience Nick’s childhood as dislocating. I often lose track of time. I don’t know where I am or what I’m supposed to be doing. I turn around and three years have passed.
After Nick was born, I welcomed the return of childhood. Is there anything more wonderful than to see again through the eyes of a child, your child—to find magic everywhere, to believe in fairies? I still think so, but I also know that long ago, people regarded fairyland as the most ominous place that could be imagined, and there must have been a reason.
I’m not complaining. It was a cost of doing business with fairies. They’d invite you over for drinks. You’d stay a few days. Then, when you returned home, you discovered that you’d somehow been away for years.
One of Nick’s favorite bedtime books was Good Night Faries, by Kathleen and Michael Hague. The illustrations paint a world of intoxicating beauty. I loved losing myself in it with young Nick. There was this line in the book:
Of all the world’s creatures, there is nothing so like a fairy as a child.
That’s it, isn’t it?
. . .
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Art Passions — The two illustrations above (Palace of Wonder by Edmund Dulac and Pandora by Arthur Rackham) are taken from this lovely website, which warehouses and merchandises public domain art from some of my favorite artists. Among them are Rackham, Maxfield Parrish, and the Preraphaelites.
Perhaps you noticed one of the allusions in the poem to the fairy tale below. This version is from the people who brought you Rocky and Bullwinkle:
Express yourself! Any thoughts about childhood and fairies? I’d love you to add your comment below. I always respond here.
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