Author: Annette Basalyga

1. The curse was caught upon the needle’s point.
The brocade stiffened into marbled folds.
But the palace seamstress who could design
décolletage sure to secure an ancillary throne,
or at least allay a royal boredom,
held to her purpose with a nimble rage.
Still tugging on the thread, she fell asleep.

While below the turret an apprentice crow
hazarded a hasty prophecy,
was stoned by the gardener whose concerns
were never more than weariness
and backache. In drowsy truce,
the two waived differences,
rolled over in the hedge, and fell asleep.

As the king and queen, their modest retinue,
the lean prime minister, the upstairs maids,
the scullions and the scullion mouse
suspended domesticity and without a moment
to enjoy their unexpected holiday,
they turned to tapestry and fell asleep.

But the princess herself, tidy and provident,
given to adolescent habits of expectancy
withdrew to a small sleeping porch, (sheltered
yet accessible) she had prepared against the hour.
With calm alacrity, she spread the cunning coverlet
and counted sheep.

2. Whatever she dreamed was nothing to the weather,
ever the ripe and windless end of summer.
The garden, like a moist presentiment,
abjured geometry and with mossy intuition
redefined the flagstones and the plaster art.
Roots in conspiracy, intersecting boughs,
intricacies of stem and bud sent every trellis
sagging into blossom. Thickening, convoluted,
intertwined, fig tree and quince, vetch and filaree,
the garden was a vine. All fruits were tropical,
as crumbling fountains tumbled
in the still interstices of time.

3. The story spread throughout the realm, through yeomanry
and royalty whose princes galloped straight away to dreams
of chivalrous acclaim. But without code to cover finding
such eccentric shuteye, they reined up at the thicket and discreetly
left their cards.

After a while the tale was lost to greater dragons,
larger grails, became the province of some few
desultory grandsons who remained aloof from politics,
longed for grand endeavors. But they passed, too.
Soon nobody came.

Until a climbing civil servant (anticipating the Baconian attitude)
was commissioned to survey the prodigal garden and incidentally
record the symptoms of the household there. And as he kneeled
in that last weedy place, he could not say what bid him
do unscientific homage to the cobwebs and uneasy bedding.
Which done,

the princess woke, propped on her elbow, pushed back
her dusty hair, began the gramercy so long ago prepared,
paused in the middle, then forgot the closing courtesy.
As the scheduled worm dropped a leaf upon the troubled sheets,
a little flag, in scalloped toothy stitches,
no sharper than the sound of trimming shears
or the now distant shrieking of a crow:
happily, happily, happily
ever after.

Less the hot oil
than the touch
of her close look woke Eros
to lamp light,
her polished wrists,
and back behind
the rim of light,
the stroke of her bent face.
He was full-seen,
spied upon in dreams of her,
and he was Love.

Through airy curtains
the young god fled,
revealed divinity,
without a backward look
at bed or staring girl,
who only asked
what anybody would,
and she was false.

Alcestis, later,
did not recall her burial:
the close air that enseamed her
like a wedding dress,
dirt veiling closed eyes, or the echoes
of his grateful second thoughts.

She returned with the look
of one who had traveled widely,
assumed a conjugal attitude
as one remembering the customs of her native land
imperfectly. She took up her duties
where she found them,
indifferent then.
She, whose maids once dreaded
her sharp eyes, never surprised the pantry
to count potatoes or weigh the honey,
and finally lost the storeroom key.

Whereupon doth very seldom an ill soul dwell in a beautiful body.
            “The Courtier”

I never questioned
that the giant grew
with the muscular anger of his bad intent,
or that the dwarf’s size was
a punishment, the outward shirt
of some cramped spite.
Nothing of nuance there.
The hag at the crossroads
had been waiting forever
for the simple shepherd boy.
Squinting and warty, her crowd was all the same.
Their deeds were likenesses.
To be themselves was all they had to do.

And allegory, too, those maidens good as they were fair
in lambent towers or lingering
in the formal gardens of their courtesy.
Which of their company
could be prepared for the subtle complications,
commonplace deformities, the impertinence
of somebody’s cousin, or that ruined prince
pleading no cause but his resemblance to fact?
Poolside, she should have seen
the tarnished crown, and later
as he crossed the darkened porch
she should have been advised.

Lady, turn and run away
No fall from grace or wonder
has disfigured him. Though 
he is an impostor, this
is no disguise, and nothing
will restore him to the fiction
of your own content.
It’s now he shows to best advantage
coughing and croaking at the massive door.

“Fairy Tales” was previously published in Windhover

January 5.  I’m having an eremitical pang on the feast day
of St. Simon or Simeon,  looniest of all the desert  fathers.
I, who couldn’t get away  from parents,  husbands,  children,
dogs and cats, who could never just walk over any horizon,
into any sunset, have read a poem  so beautiful
it cracked my ribs and sent me to the bio page
to find the poet, the unknown wonder, “now living in seclusion”

which is somewhere south of Scranton.   Maybe a location different from
solitude, from living alone, or being dumped, or having the little ones
leave the nest. Seclusion is the nest, with a Dutch-door cottage
open to long walks, the time to read and write, and healthful lunches
of grains and sprouts. Time to enjoy those decorator touches,
flowers in a blue bowl, probably trillium, a recorder, a music stand,
the music bel tempo.  Who wouldn’t sign on?

* * * * *

But not for a likelier scenario:  to crawl along the silhouette
of mountains  taller than the lid of my mind’s eye, or wash up
on a beach that must be Nova Scotia or the gray NJ shore.
Head for a house inland, a clearing in the woods, not gingerbread
but Unabomber mode, a cabin, curtainless and filthy, windows
plastered with the classifieds, and inside, a table 
with an odd triangular stain, bare mattress, stone for a pillow,
a clutch of poultry  waiting to be eaten, needing care.  

To get away, a  way, away from it all, from some of it
or any of it, better change your name  and  look for 
a new backyard in Iowa. The plaid shirt on the clothesline
in a color you would never wear, will wave hello,
and in less pain than it takes to lose your fingerprints,
you will make a new life where everything has changed 
except your memories. There in  alien corn
keep a low profile, eat in, stay out of churches.  Private devotions
bring you to the saint of the day.

Simeon, looking to be alone,  traveled to the desert out of town.
For a hideout he built his first pillar just 9 ft high and made the climb.
The curious came  to see him standing tall.   So two more columns,
higher every time, his fourth and last at 60 ft, built by the crowd itself,
his audience for solitude as spectacle,
liking a good long-running show.
Clever of him to find  that hermitage, to weather like a rock,
the serial stylite, turning  in whatever direction put the wind at his back,
the sun on a face he no longer remembered.

“In Seclusion” was previously published in Atlanta Review