The Real Enough World, by Karen Brennan

Spider City

After a while I dreamt about
                  the Spider City
& when I woke up in my
                  flannel pj’s
the curtain flapped open
                  & the sky greeted me.

Hello Karen, Hello Little Bee,
         it said which is when
I remembered the strange
         webbed sky of the Spider
City & your face in the
         middle saying Kiss Me.

Breathless City

Every city is a little breathless,
a little behind the times,
racing to catch up, thus
gasping.

That day I wore a gray suit,
         white gloves, 1960 or so.
Some thin man approached
         & offered me $$ to
         pose in the nude.
The sun over St. Patrick’s
         Cathedral like a child’s
sun, all rays around
         a smiling face
& the man whose gray suit
         matched my own was
         called Ray!

         Such coincidences
occur in a city whose heart
         splits open in two shocks.
But this happened later.
& I wasn’t around
though I watched it on TV.

Dapper City

In Florida the palm branches
         rustle like neckties,
the ocean an opulent
         cologne we plunder,
the grass, green as the
         stolen eye of the Dowager
or a bruised infant
which is so sad
found in the trash can
among some white receipts
& spaghetti.
                  I am smoking a cigarette
wishing it were over–
the parasols, the gliding waterway
         ships, the cocktails,
the aces & clubs, the languorous beach
         stretches, the strings of pearls,
hats–
wishing it would begin again.

Dieting City

Or Starving City. It’s hard
         to tell. For one thing, it’s
         dark & for another
         I feel inadequate.
My perpetual motion has
         ceased to amuse anyone here
         (I confide) even though…

I wore a beautiful skirt of red silk
         & when I whirled you could
         see everything–
         the river
         with its captured lights, the
         glint of bridges, the
         pock-marked Palisades,
         aflame.

                  So much of this is untrue.

A worm slunk in the sidewalk cracks.
An old, old woman, wreathed
         in snot,
spoke sharply: She said,
“just because you give me five dollars
don’t entitle you to my life’s story.”

City of Jokes

A man goes to a psychiatrist
         sporting a huge gash in his
         forehead, says I bit
         myself. How did you
         do that? asks the psychiatrist.
         It was easy, says the man.
         I stood on a stool.
Afterwards, I pulled out of
         the parking garage & the
         day was overcast, streets
         icy.
I drove up the hill & took
         a right. I drove by the
         drive-in coffee place &
         the brown house with the
         shutters & took a left
         & then I was home.
         I turned
on the radio at this point.
A girl with a cane made her way
         down the sidewalk.
She was a stranger,
& she was my daughter.

Elizabethan City

I encountered Hamlet in a glade
& this scene, forsooth, changed into
hills &
then again a dark chamber
in which my own mother lay dying.

I wish it were another era
         but things occur where
         they will
& my defenses are poor ones.

         She has elegant bones which,
in age, have become sharp &
unfriendly.

         (Oh the body weeps & slickers
of hair cover all of us who
keep vigils.)

In a moment, I too, would
         invent a soliloquy about
         existence.

My heart in its jeweled box
         as of nothing
& zero the shape of
sorrow which doesn’t
add up.

City of Dot Dot Dot

There was a window, a drape,
         a venetian blind thickened with
         dust, an accordion sound
up from the street…
Your friend the author [was] inside
this which was inside that which was
once again…
ad nauseum…
contained in…
etc etc…
         Space
         shrinks & even afternoons
         which once seemed so voluminous
         have dwindled to a sad heap…
Little wrinkled days no longer
         unfold… Lawns have grown
minuscule & purposeless… Hairs
sprout on the female chin & buildings
formerly majestic are…
But I was crazy then…
In the fullness of each moment…
I walked everywhere in the gloam & sand…

City of Basements

Of course, conducive to sleep.
Of course, musty & poorly
         organized. You wouldn’t go there
         uninvited. I wouldn’t invite you.
But there are chinks in the brick ceilings
         that make it seem radiant
elsewhere, which is a blessing.

& amid the rats & spider houses
I might invent something
spectacular (I almost believe).

This is all I have to say about it.
Because it is unamenable to description.
Because even now my eyes are closing.

Pity yourself, Sister.
Life is harder than you dreamed possible.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, by Anne Sexton

No matter what life you lead
the virgin is a lovely number:
cheeks as fragile as cigarette paper,
arms and legs made of Limoges,
lips like Vin Du Rhône,
rolling her china-blue doll eyes
open and shut.
Open to say,
Good Day Mama,
and shut for the thrust
of the unicorn.
She is unsoiled.
She is as white as a bonefish.

Once there was a lovely virgin
called Snow White.
Say she was thirteen.
Her stepmother,
a beauty in her own right,
though eaten, of course, by age,
would hear of no beauty surpassing her own.
Beauty is a simple passion,
but, oh my friends, in the end
you will dance the fire dance in iron shoes.
The stepmother had a mirror to which she referred–
something like the weather forecast–
a mirror that proclaimed
the one beauty of the land.
She would ask,
Looking glass upon the wall,
who is fairest of us all?
And the mirror would reply,
You are the fairest of us all.
Pride pumped in her like poison.

Suddenly one day the mirror replied,
Queen, you are full fair, ’tis true,
but Snow White is fairer than you.
Until that moment Snow White
had been no more important
than a dust mouse under the bed.
But now the queen saw brown spots on her hand
and four whiskers over her lip
so she condemned Snow White
to be hacked to death.
Bring me her heart, she said to the hunter,
and I will salt it and eat it.
The hunter, however, let his prisoner go
and brought a boar’s heart back to the castle.
The queen chewed it up like a cube steak.
Now I am fairest, she said,
lapping her slim white fingers.

Snow White walked in the wildwood
for weeks and weeks.
At each turn there were twenty doorways
and at each stood a hungry wolf,
his tongue lolling out like a worm.
The birds called out lewdly,
talking like pink parrots,
and the snakes hung down in loops,
each a noose for her sweet white neck.
On the seventh week
she came to the seventh mountain
and there she found the dwarf house.
It was as droll as a honeymoon cottage
and completely equipped with
seven beds, seven chairs, seven forks
and seven chamber pots.
Snow White ate seven chicken livers
and lay down, at last, to sleep.

The dwarfs, those little hot dogs,
walked three times around Snow White,
the sleeping virgin. They were wise
and wattled like small czars.
Yes. It’s a good omen,
they said, and will bring us luck.
They stood on tiptoes to watch
Snow White wake up. She told them
about the mirror and the killer-queen
and they asked her to stay and keep house.
Beware of your stepmother,
they said.
Soon she will know you are here.
While we are away in the mines
during the day, you must not
open the door.

Looking glass upon the wall . . .
The mirror told
and so the queen dressed herself in rags
and went out like a peddler to trap Snow White.
She went across seven mountains.
She came to the dwarf house
and Snow White opened the door
and bought a bit of lacing.
The queen fastened it tightly
around her bodice,
as tight as an Ace bandage,
so tight that Snow White swooned.
She lay on the floor, a plucked daisy.
When the dwarfs came home they undid the lace
and she revived miraculously.
She was as full of life as soda pop.
Beware of your stepmother,
they said.
She will try once more.

Looking glass upon the wall. . .
Once more the mirror told
and once more the queen dressed in rags
and once more Snow White opened the door.
This time she bought a poison comb,
a curved eight-inch scorpion,
and put it in her hair and swooned again.
The dwarfs returned and took out the comb
and she revived miraculously.
She opened her eyes as wide as Orphan Annie.
Beware, beware, they said,
but the mirror told,
the queen came,
Snow White, the dumb bunny,
opened the door
and she bit into a poison apple
and fell down for the final time.
When the dwarfs returned
they undid her bodice,
they looked for a comb,
but it did no good.
Though they washed her with wine
and rubbed her with butter
it was to no avail.
She lay as still as a gold piece.

The seven dwarfs could not bring themselves
to bury her in the black ground
so they made a glass coffin
and set it upon the seventh mountain
so that all who passed by
could peek in upon her beauty.
A prince came one June day
and would not budge.
He stayed so long his hair turned green
and still he would not leave.
The dwarfs took pity upon him
and gave him the glass Snow White–
its doll’s eyes shut forever–
to keep in his far-off castle.
As the prince’s men carried the coffin
they stumbled and dropped it
and the chunk of apple flew out
of her throat and she woke up miraculously.

And thus Snow White became the prince’s bride.
The wicked queen was invited to the wedding feast
and when she arrived there were
red-hot iron shoes,
in the manner of red-hot roller skates,
clamped upon her feet.
First your toes will smoke
and then your heels will turn black
and you will fry upward like a frog,
she was told.
And so she danced until she was dead,
a subterranean figure,
her tongue flicking in and out
like a gas jet.
Meanwhile Snow White held court,
rolling her china-blue doll eyes open and shut
and sometimes referring to her mirror
as women do.