Ivan the Sweet

His brothers approach me first,
according to birth order.
My long blue nose
startles them.
They call me Hag.

Last, the unloved
superfluous heir.
Often he has titles:
Ivan the Lazy, Foolish Ivan.
He approaches my hut
after his brothers
and calls me Mother.
Sometimes, Grandmother.

He chants pretty rhymes
and I offer him advice
and seven league boots.
Later, his brothers strip
away these treasures
and bludgeon him
until even his chest stills.

No one ever counts on Koshchei,
an ogre on ogrish business
grumbling through the woods.
He rends the brothers
limb from spoiled limb,
dribbles water on Ivan’s brow
and the boy wakes.
We let him escape
though he returns. And stays.

Later Koshchei drops by my hut.
I pour tea and grind bones
into flour for bread. We dip
the toast in our mugs and wonder
how sweet Ivan’s bones
would be if only
he wasn’t so polite.