Once Upon a Time The Hags Were Princesses
by Joanna Pearson


          And the moon throbs above the trees and candyland cottages
                    where these old ladies totter, knees ricketed with age,
hands tight with palsy: the ones who went unrescued. Fairytales passed;
          the ogres with rubberized faces finally lost
                    all hope of exacting the paltriest of ransoms.

Grown strange with the synchronicity of nuns marking their hours,
          they station each day around crochet and bingo
                    and Sunday gatherings at a clackety piano.
The halls are lysoled, and on each door, a printed name.
          Gripping cold metal bed rails at night, they call for
                    once-powerful fathers now buried in calm churchyards.

They were king's darlings, beloveds of barons in ermine,
          doting youngest daughters of knights-now brazen with Alzheimer's.
                    Picture-book tales their only inheritance, they mutter up
a shy wolf, a beast stuttering with manners and fumbling the wine cork,
          sulking, jewel-spined dragons, clever witches spitting spells,
                    and jealous fairies fluttering their mischievous long-fingered hands.

They tell those stories and cool golden balls by bedstands
          near the emergency call button that they've learned to push
                    when the heart seizes in its chest and one arm jerks stiff.
Spoiled children, they howl at the head nurse
          over lumps in their cream of wheat and the bitter, lukewarm coffee.
                    Flipping through bridal magazines, they still dream
of puffs of silk, the crunch of crinoline, each ridge of tiny beadwork.

          Thursday nights at gin rummy on the porch,
                    they snatch the bent cards and clutch
nubbed sweaters to their shoulders,
          grouse about each other with the bitterness of once-beautiful women.
                    It's unspoken policy never to address
the handsome adventurer's failed errand or rash prince's pierced ribs,
          seafarer's bones bleaching in the sand somewhere,
                    or the noble peasant boy's crushed sixteen-year-old skull.
They are prone at times to the long silences of recovering alcoholics.

          Gazing out the windows beyond the long roads
                    once the night has fallen shyly like a petticoat to ankle,
they start hopefully at any passing shadow. Drowsy, half-remembering,
          they rub to dust in bathrobe pockets
                    the petals of some treasured, long-dried rose.


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