Mary McMyne lives and writes in Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan. Her poetry is forthcoming in the Los Angeles Review and has recently appeared in a number of other journals, including Pedestal Magazine, Phantom Drift: A Journal of New Fabulism, Prime Number Magazine,and New Delta Review. She won the Faulkner Prize for a Novel-in-Progress for her project retelling the Odysseus myth from the perspective of a Vietnam soldier’s wife. She earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in English and creative writing from Louisiana State University and received her MFA in fiction from New York University. An assistant professor at Lake Superior State University, she teaches English and creative writing and co-edits Border Crossing, a journal of literature and art.
Blind, he wandered about in the forest, eating nothing but grass and roots, and doing nothing but weeping and wailing over the loss of his beloved wife.
— from “Rapunzel” by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (1857, tr. Ashliman)
Into the thorns you fell, a poor thing, to become blind eater of grass and roots,
the once-prince turned urchin, moonrat, heyghoge, a snuffling creature
with unseeing eyes.
Wander the woods at night, scent the trees, eat your snails and frogs and berries.
Stumble into the feet of the mother of your children as she suckles them, one
on each breast, the twins – of fate and forgetfulness – the scent you once licked
and bit gone wild.
Press your snout into her bare feet. She has forgotten you. Remind her. Remind her.
Lick and bite her until you froth. Lick her new scent onto your spines. Then show her what the witch has made of you. Only her tears can change you back. Only she
can heal your eyes.
As a girl I learned the elements.
With a pencil my mother Marie
sketched the shapes of compounds:
the honeycomb of water, the zigzag
of sugar, the gridiron of salt.
This is the way it is, she said.
Everything has its own form.
I believed her until the day
I saw the woman in the mirror,
wide-hipped, lips as pink as a rose pączek.
Hair like water, as black as Roussin’s salt.
Through alchemy of time,
I’d been transformed.
After that, I walked among men
and tasted their salt. I sampled
the sugar of their flesh, and wet lips.
After Frédéric and I – oh happy aggregate –
I was not prepared for the way it swelled my belly.
I was not prepared for the way it muddled my thought.
In the laboratory, we realized
the alchemist’s sweet dream
of turning one element into another.
We turned boron into unstable nitrogen.
We turned alum into phosphorus
that wept and turned to salt.
But now, in this hospital named for my mother,
it is not the X-rays that possess me, not the saline,
the sugar-water, or the changes in my blood.
It is those first few months with Hélène,
all those nights I spent alone and yet not
at the lab window, transformed.
In this hospital bed, as the white room
breathes and flares into nonsense,
I keep falling back into the first night
I felt her inside me, her passage
from nothing into something
lighting mine into the dark.
Grand Isle, Louisiana
On the way to the Butterfly Dome, leaves leapt from the trees. A black truck weaved across the highway, its bumper stuck with eight letters in gold: R.I.P. STEVE. My daughter cried. My son tickled her toes. Hush, he said. We’re almost there, almost.
Inside the dome, butterflies twitched their wings in a rhythm like breathing. My son reached for my daughter’s hand. My daughter whispered, in the small voice of a child, Look at that, mama, just like birds. They’re alive. Upside-down, along the walls, they twitched a thousand shades of green, reds brighter than blood, the yellow of gold.
They flapped their wings slowly, as if they had just awakened from the long stasis
of chrysalis, as if living was their only business, and they had never heard of fall,
or bumper stickers, or the woman in my head who pinned monarchs to cork.