Gretel In the Woods

Her house was bright, and dark.

 

I press my hands against a tree

with girth like a boulder

and the shards of light on the ground around us

were her windows

shattered the moment she screamed

in the fire.

 

A brush of wind tells me

I have business elsewhere now

but I turn inward

to the carved furrows in the tree trunk

wide as my fingers pressing there

and pray

for a brayer of ink

and crushing

merging pressure.

 

Amazing prints I saw once

hauling wood through a town no different

from any other.

Through the runny window

I glimpsed a man in a blotched apron

hauling on a lever, leaning with all his might to get it

round, and when the bundle slid out,

to my eyes it was as if he had drawn in

all the ranging companies of the world and merged them

into one spellbinding tableau.

 

I stood as long as I could spare

and yearned with all my heart

to gouge out my own picture

raise up all the hard lines

the unseen dimensions

mark them with ink

surrender them to paper

and turn the lever.

 

I wasn’t the one to take pebbles.

I could never manage to get lost.

 

I don’t know who I am

in this new print of the world.

My hands aren’t even singed.

Was it so easy?

In the last second,

I saw my looming shadow

bent across the ceiling

already enormous

swallowing fire,

reaching.

I had been shoving things

hard for a week,

only half pretending

I didn’t know why.

 

Yet nothing was ever harder:

in the second past the last second

I saw, finally,

that I was about to burn

every capacity I had carefully built

to carry any load on my back

and watch the ground

so closely it came to me in poems

granules of dirt suspended in raindrops

entire universes that I built because I had to.

 

Still I reached.

 

There was an intricate architecture to all this,

impossible to sketch out.

 

Our desperation was her relish

 

And with her fire and appetite she was ready

with the totality and casualness

of a bear chomping a live fish

to eat us both

nothing left

she challenged me

to do it first

 

And I laughed, after

my face froze that way

just before I ran

 

I lean my whole body into the tree and pray

for the brayer

in desperate words I don’t recognize

and I’m terrified they might be hers –

this is a magical place that bends both ways

But the pressure, when it finally comes

of paper and printing press

merges me entirely

with the tree

and with my eyes shut

against the inner thickness of the bark

I can see the print that rolls out

after a long, close time

one thick, immovable tree in a dark woods, light gleaming

from its deepest runnels.

 

My hands –

I’ve been afraid of them

since the push, and the burst of fire. But now

I can see them against the light

and then I see them unlocking my brother’s cage

 

And where I learned to picture them being cut off and roasted for doing that

instead they keep changing now – knives, keys, chisels, lightning.

I might even have unlocked her chest of baubles as well, I realize,

but ran and left it

for him

for later. Lingering smoke would only remind him

of how long he had been on the outside.

 

A bat swerves in, neatly avoiding

outlying limbs

stipples of electricity reaching into the

shape of the air

and this tree and everything between, finding me.

I expect it to flit off again, but instead

it aims directly for the underside of a central limb,

and rests there. Together,

we pass wings before moonlight

filtering through the leaves, and slowly

the fiery heat lifts

and curls away.

 

Her house was bright, and dark,

if you can imagine such a thing. When I pushed,

our shadows sprang at each other

and in that moment

I mistook whose was whose.

But I’m grown bigger than that now.

 

One hand against the tree, then a finger

 

The wind matches my stride as I walk steadily toward

the jewels that will pay for my own printing press.

The bat flies off at top speed

twisting and whirling through densest canopy

in search of dinner,

and it never

comes close

to hitting anything.

 

 

Contributor’s Notes: Rachel Korr is an adjunct English professor with an MFA in creative writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her work has appeared in Gargoyle Magazine, Gravity Dancers, and Talking River.