Poem of the Week | October 31, 2016

This week, we are happy to offer a new poem by Gabrielle Bates. Bates is a Southerner living and writing in Seattle, where she serves on the editorial board for the Seattle Review and Broadsided Press. She is a Bread Loaf scholarship recipient, an Indiana Review Poetry Prize finalist, winner of Gigantic Sequins’ poetry comic contest, and her work appears or is forthcoming in Best of the Net 2015, Black Warrior Review, Passages North, New South, Rattle, Guernica, and Southern Humanities Review, among other journals. She graduated with her MFA in poetry from the University of Washington in June 2016. Find her at www.gabriellebatesstahlman.com, on Twitter (@GabrielleBates), or on Instagram (@Gabrielle_Bates_Stahlman).
Author’s note:

A professor recently reminded me that even with all our technological advancements and modern genius, we’ve yet to manufacture a surgeon’s scalpel that cuts as smoothly as the obsidian knives our Paleolithic ancestors used. They figured a few things out, the ancients. Our hunting fathers and mothers.

Fairytales are obsidian. Old as hell, yet captivating, these “children’s” stories—Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood—endure, compelling contemporary writers such as myself to get inside and move around. The trick, of course, is to make them new.

As I wrote this particular poem, I was envisioning a nightmarish and mythic inverse of the house I grew up in—a white house in Homewood, Alabama, facing a Presbyterian church. But as always happens, the setting and the speaker took on a life and history of their own. My real-life stepmother—it feels pertinent to note this—defies fairytale logic; she’s amazing, and I wouldn’t trade her for the world.


Gretel Was An Only Child


Comes a time to return to the house
you were born in, white cottage
on the corner of Pebble & Bread.


Comes a time to forgive your father
his weakness for hair like ribbons falling
down her back as she leads him


to the kitchen, climbs the counter
and lays her body down atop
a cluster of moldy turnip-chins.


Comes a time to see those split-ended
trails that fell from her head at his touch
as one cartographer’s resignation,


a map you cannot cleave or eat, but
can fold into a triangle for the trinity:
mother, father, child. Sit on the porch,


balance one point on your knee and flick it
between the tall crooked tongs
the last two trees of the forest make.


Another church is coming in.
Truck beds full of stained glass. Stone pews.
Comes a time to make your own map


out of that brother you invented in the dark
as you climbed out your window
for the first time. Sick white thud, thuds


from across the house of turnips falling
to kitchen tile, rolling in lopped circles.
Two bare feet on the sill, but four


landing in the grass that was grass then
leading to the mouth of a forest.
What is lost until you’re hungry?


You’ve been gone years.
Concrete trucks spin like candy-makers
claiming the neighborhood.