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Cinderella -- Anne Sexton

Guest poem sent in by Melissa Towner
(Poem #978) Cinderella
 You always read about it:
 the plumber with twelve children
 who wins the Irish Sweepstakes.
 From toilets to riches.
 That story.

 Or the nursemaid,
 some luscious sweet from Denmark
 who captures the oldest son's heart.
 From diapers to Dior.
 That story.

 Or a milkman who serves the wealthy,
 eggs, cream, butter, yogurt, milk,
 the white truck like an ambulance
 who goes into real estate
 and makes a pile.
 From homogenized to martinis at lunch.

 Or the charwoman
 who is on the bus when it cracks up
 and collects enough from the insurance.
 From mops to Bonwit Teller.
 That story.

 Once
 the wife of a rich man was on her deathbed
 and she said to her daughter Cinderella:
 Be devout. Be good. Then I will smile
 down from heaven in the seam of a cloud.
 The man took another wife who had
 two daughters, pretty enough
 but with hearts like blackjacks.
 Cinderella was their maid.
 She slept on the sooty hearth each night
 and walked around looking like Al Jolson.
 Her father brought presents home from town,
 jewels and gowns for the other women
 but the twig of a tree for Cinderella.
 She planted that twig on her mother's grave
 and it grew to a tree where a white dove sat.
 Whenever she wished for anything the dove
 would drop it like an egg upon the ground.
 The bird is important, my dears, so heed him.

 Next came the ball, as you all know.
 It was a marriage market.
 The prince was looking for a wife.
 All but Cinderella were preparing
 and gussying up for the big event.
 Cinderella begged to go too.
 Her stepmother threw a dish of lentils
 into the cinders and said: Pick them
 up in an hour and you shall go.
 The white dove brought all his friends;
 all the warm wings of the fatherland came,
 and picked up the lentils in a jiffy.
 No, Cinderella, said the stepmother,
 you have no clothes and cannot dance.
 That's the way with stepmothers.

 Cinderella went to the tree at the grave
 and cried forth like a gospel singer:
 Mama! Mama! My turtledove,
 send me to the prince's ball!
 The bird dropped down a golden dress
 and delicate little gold slippers.
 Rather a large package for a simple bird.
 So she went. Which is no surprise.
 Her stepmother and sisters didn't
 recognize her without her cinder face
 and the prince took her hand on the spot
 and danced with no other the whole day.

 As nightfall came she thought she'd better
 get home. The prince walked her home
 and she disappeared into the pigeon house
 and although the prince took an axe and broke
 it open she was gone. Back to her cinders.
 These events repeated themselves for three days.
 However on the third day the prince
 covered the palace steps with cobbler's wax
 and Cinderella's gold shoe stuck upon it.
 Now he would find whom the shoe fit
 and find his strange dancing girl for keeps.
 He went to their house and the two sisters
 were delighted because they had lovely feet.
 The eldest went into a room to try the slipper on
 but her big toe got in the way so she simply
 sliced it off and put on the slipper.
 The prince rode away with her until the white dove
 told him to look at the blood pouring forth.
 That is the way with amputations.
 The don't just heal up like a wish.
 The other sister cut off her heel
 but the blood told as blood will.
 The prince was getting tired.
 He began to feel like a shoe salesman.
 But he gave it one last try.
 This time Cinderella fit into the shoe
 like a love letter into its envelope.

 At the wedding ceremony
 the two sisters came to curry favor
 and the white dove pecked their eyes out.
 Two hollow spots were left
 like soup spoons.

 Cinderella and the prince
 lived, they say, happily ever after,
 like two dolls in a museum case
 never bothered by diapers or dust,
 never arguing over the timing of an egg,
 never telling the same story twice,
 never getting a middle-aged spread,
 their darling smiles pasted on for eternity.
 Regular Bobbsey Twins.
 That story.
-- Anne Sexton
       (Transformations)

I love this poem for the matter-of-fact tone that one does not expect
when discussing fairy tales and charming princes.  Sexton's images
point up the vast chasm between the gritty reality of everyday life
and the sterility of "happily ever after" using many images from the
original Brothers Grimm's tale.  If you haven't read the Brothers
Grimm version of the tale lately I highly recommend it.  It's an
eye-opener.

Melissa Towner

Links:

  Melissa sent this in in response to "The Wolf's Postcript to 'Little Red
  Riding Hood'", Poem #961

  Biography of Sexton: http://www.americanpoems.com/poets/annesexton/

  Another fascinating look at the Cinderella story, incidentally, is the one
  in Roald Dahl's "Revolting Rhymes"

25 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Bruce Alan Wilson said...

Is anyone familiar with Tanith Lee's RED AS BLOOD: TALES OF THE SISTERS GRIMMER?
She retells several well-known fairy tales. Cinderella is told in the manner of
Edgar Allen Poe. In Red Riding Hood, the grandmother turns out to be a
werewolf. She didn't do Hansel & Gretel; I'm not sure if I should be glad or
sorry.

matt and shona said...

Absolutelu love it! So did the grandsons!

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