Jack And Jill, by Mother Goose

Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water;
Jack fell down and broke his crown,
and Jill came tumbling after.

Up Jack got, and home did trot,
As fast as he could caper,
To old Dame Dob, who patched his nob
With vinegar and brown paper.

The more Alice reaches out, the more her dream-rushes, by Jenny Boully

disappear: one by one by one the darling scented rushes sink back into melt. In the dream stream, the boat glides past too quick, and there is no chance to gather the loveliest of the dream-rushes. No less satisfying was the old sheep: so many knitting needles, dozens and dozens all pierced into a ball of worsted, and there was never ever any telling of just what, even in dream, it might be that the old sheep was knitting.

For years, I dreamt of the child who, when I reached out to her, turned into a sheet of paper, and so, in waking hours, I wrote and wrote and wrote and my friends consoled me: see, you have book babies; this, while I looked on at other women who knit bibs and booties, so many booties, such small socks.

When Alice steals away and consoles the Duchess’s baby, it metamorphoses into a pig and runs away from her, runs away. That is ever so much a better-known story than the one of dream-rushes or too many knitting needles. (How ever did Alice ever console herself? Did her friends say, Oh, just think now you’ll have truffles!?)

Odysseus’s mother wonders how her son, a mere mortal, made it over Oceanus to the land where lives sink back into melt. She says that he must have had a good boat; he tries to embrace her, but like a soul she flits about and away. When Odysseus asks why Mother, why not stay still and let us embrace, she says, Son, it’s because I no longer have sinew, no longer have bones.

My little baby, who I will name a weaver of spools and not of dreams, with mortal limbs—not quite sinew, not quite bone—paddles a rowboat inside of me, and I stay, in those moments, ever-so-still so that she may reach out to me. The midwife says that what I’m feeling is called quickening. Scientists say that she is dreaming—practicing for this life, I like to think, where, in her nursery, there will be a machine projecting fake moonbeams and fake stars and fake shadows and fake birds and fake clouds to storm over her.

A Bedtime Story For Mr. Lamb, by Arthur Nevis

What story would you like to hear, Mr. Lamb?
Are you a real lamb?
Would you like to hear of Webbers?
Or Whales?

Here is the Story of Alice:

  The Queen wants to have a baby,
That’s why she’s kissing her hand.
The Mad Habit is pouring specklish tea.

  Finally, the Mad Habit and the Queen go to sleep,
But she’s not looking at him.
He’s just pouring the milk.

Goodnight, Mr. Lamb,
Have a nice dream.
Sleep like a lamb.

Don’t rough scream
Scream smooth.

The Vampyre, by John Stagg

“Why looks my lord so deadly pale?
Why fades the crimson from his cheek?
What can my dearest husband ail?
Thy heartfelt cares, O Herman, speak!

“Why, at the silent hour of rest,
Dost thou in sleep so sadly mourn?
Has tho’ with heaviest grief oppress’d,
Griefs too distressful to be borne.

“Why heaves thy breast? — why throbs thy heart?
O speak! and if there be relief
Thy Gertrude solace shall impart,
If not, at least shall share thy grief.

“Wan is that cheek, which once the bloom
Of manly beauty sparkling shew’d;
Dim are those eyes, in pensive gloom,
That late with keenest lustre glow’d.

“Say why, too, at the midnight hour,
You sadly pant and tug for breath,
As if some supernat’ral pow’r
Were pulling you away to death?

“Restless, tho’ sleeping, still you groan,
And with convulsive horror start;
O Herman! to thy wife make known
That grief which preys upon thy heart.”

“O Gertrude! how shall I relate
Th’ uncommon anguish that I feel;
Strange as severe is this my fate, —
A fate I cannot long conceal.

“In spite of all my wonted strength,
Stern destiny has seal’d my doom;
The dreadful malady at length
Wil drag me to the silent tomb!”

“But say, my Herman, what’s the cause
Of this distress, and all thy care.
That, vulture-like, thy vitals gnaws,
And galls thy bosom with despair?

“Sure this can be no common grief,
Sure this can be no common pain?
Speak, if this world contain relief,
That soon thy Gertrude shall obtain.”

“O Gertrude, ’tis a horrid cause,
O Gertrude, ’tis unusual care,
That, vulture-like, my vitals gnaws,
And galls my bosom with despair.

“Young Sigismund, my once dear friend,
But lately he resign’d his breath;
With others I did him attend
Unto the silent house of death.

“For him I wept, for him I mourn’d,
Paid all to friendship that was due;
But sadly friendship is return’d,
Thy Herman he must follow too!

“Must follow to the gloomy grave,
In spite of human art or skill;
No pow’r on earth my life can save,
‘Tis fate’s unalterable will!

“Young Sigismund, my once dear friend,
But now my persecutor foul,
Doth his malevolence extend
E’en to the torture of my soul.

“By night, when, wrapt in soundest sleep,
All mortals share a soft repose,
My soul doth dreadful vigils keep,
More keen than which hell scarely knows.

“From the drear mansion of the tomb,
From the low regions of the dead,
The ghost of Sigismund doth roam,
And dreadful haunts me in my bed!

“There, vested in infernal guise,
(By means to me not understood,)
Close to my side the goblin lies,
And drinks away my vital blood!

“Sucks from my veins the streaming life,
And drains the fountain of my heart!
O Gertrude, Gertrude! dearest wife!
Unutterable is my smart.

“When surfeited, the goblin dire,
With banqueting by suckled gore,
Will to his sepulchre retire,
Till night invites him forth once more.

“Then will he dreadfully return,
And from my veins life’s juices drain;
Whilst, slumb’ring, I with anguish mourn,
And toss with agonizing pain!

“Already I’m exhausted, spent;
His carnival is nearly o’er,
My soul with agony is rent,
To-morrow I shall be no more!

“But, O my Gertrude! dearest wife!
The keenest pangs hath last remain’d—
When dead, I too shall seek thy life,
Thy blood by Herman shall be drain’d!

“But to avoid this horrid fate,
Soon as I’m dead and laid in earth,
Drive thro’ my corpse a jav’lin straight; —
This shall prevent my coming forth.

“O watch with me, this last sad night,
Watch in your chamber here alone,
But carefully conceal the light
Until you hear my parting groan.

“Then at what time the vesper-bell
Of yonder convent shall be toll’d,
That peal shall ring my passing knell,
And Herman’s body shall be cold!

“Then, and just then, thy lamp make bare,
The starting ray, the bursting light,
Shall from my side the goblin scare,
And shew him visible to sight!”

The live-long night poor Gertrude sate,
Watch’d by her sleeping, dying lord;
The live-long night she mourn’d his fate,
The object whom her soul ador’d.

Then at what time the vesper-bell
Of yonder convent sadly toll’d,
The, then was peal’d his passing knell,
The hapless Herman he was cold!

Just at that moment Gertrude drew
From ‘neath her cloak the hidden light;
When, dreadful! she beheld in view
The shade of Sigismund! — sad sight!

Indignant roll’d his ireful eyes,
That gleam’d with wild horrific stare;
And fix’d a moment with surprise,
Beheld aghast th’ enlight’ning glare.

His jaws cadaverous were besmear’d
With clott’d carnage o’er and o’er,
And all his horrid whole appear’d
Distent, and fill’d with human gore!

With hideous scowl the spectre fled;
She shriek’d aloud; — then swoon’d away!
The hapless Herman in his bed,
All pale, a lifeless body lay!

Next day in council ’twas decree,
(Urg’d at the instance of the state,)
That shudd’ring nature should be freed
From pests like these ere ’twas too late.

The choir then burst the fun’ral dome
Where Sigismund was lately laid,
And found him, tho’ within the tomb,
Still warm as life, and undecay’d.

With blood his visage was distain’d,
Ensanguin’d were his frightful eyes,
Each sign of former life remain’d,
Save that all motionless he lies.

The corpse of Herman they contrive
To the same sepulchre to take,
And thro’ both carcases they drive,
Deep in the earth, a sharpen’d stake!

By this was finish’d their career,
Thro’ this no longer they can roam;
From them their friends have nought to fear,
Both quiet keep the slumb’ring tomb.

The Witch-Bride, by William Allingham

A fair witch crept to a young man’s side,
And he kiss’d her and took her for his bride.

But a Shape came in at the dead of night,
And fill’d the room with snowy light.

And he saw how in his arms there lay
A thing more frightful than mouth may say.

And he rose in haste, and follow’d the Shape
Till morning crown’d an eastern cape.

And he girded himself, and follow’d still
When sunset sainted the western hill.

But, mocking and thwarting, clung to his side,
Weary day!—the foul Witch-Bride.

Body Mostly Flown, by Terese Svoboda

A De Chirico head aslant on a coverlet,
body mostly flown, the dazed prayers dumb.

The ritual cigarette, the ritual drink:
incense, holy water. No ambivalence,

the woman inside fled, the whispers
I make of tenderness—hers—she sleeps through.

She’s in that corridor, tunnel, the light is left on—
shut if off. But the nurse has to see the thermometer.

No ambivalence. No valence either, no speech.
My own heart stops, skids. No lingering regret or all,

sealed with stubbornness,
forgiveness a ness from a life

more fairytale, the hard breathing still, still.
A wing flaps and fear scurries out,

a mouse with a crumb it meant to eat earlier.
De Chirico empties the patio.

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.