Poem of the Week | January 13, 2020

This week’s Poem of the Week is “Ten Years Later My Husband Walks Out of the Woods” by Emily Pérez!

Emily Pérez is the author of House of Sugar, House of Stone and the chapbooks Made and Unmade and Backyard Migration Route. A CantoMundo fellow, her work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Copper Nickel, Fairy Tale Review, and Poetry. She teaches English and Gender Studies in Denver, where she lives with her husband and sons.

 

TEN YEARS LATER MY HUSBAND WALKS OUT OF THE WOODS

after “Hans My Hedgehog”

In one version you remove your coat
of quills at dusk, drape it by the hearthside.

My father’s bravest men then burst
into our room and net the carapace, fling

it in the waiting blaze, burn the thorns
that stippled you. The hollow spires

in the fire sing like copper smelted,
the slag amassing on the flagstones

cooling to a twisted fist of all that had you
hinged. Unmasked at last you stand

before me, born anew: not a monster, not
a man, but a fledgling flayed. Oh husband,

what soulbrave bargain have you made
that leaves you so tender, and how

am I to salvage you?— just wife, not
witch, not doctor.

 

Author’s Note

I’ve been obsessed with the Grimm’s fairy tale “Hans My Hedgehog” for years. In addition to featuring a hedgehog who plays bagpipes and rides a rooster, it provides some crazy inroads for thinking about parenting and marriage. As in many fairy tales, a father promises his daughter to the hero, who, in this case is a hedgehog. Later, the hedgehog decides to permanently take on human form for his wife’s sake, which involves shedding his coat of quills and having it burned by his wife’s father’s men. The rebirth chars him. In the years that I tinkered with this story as a source for poems, my husband made a major life change that felt both morally brave and (perhaps) personally foolish. As his partner, I felt compelled to be supportive but also inadequate to the task. This poem gets at my ambivalence.

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