Catherynne M. Valente

(5 May 1979 / Seattle, Washington)

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Glass, Blood, and Ash


I.


Please, silk-​​sister, do this thing for me.

I do not want to sit on that broad-​​backed horse,
or smell his skin, grassy and hot as boiled husks,
inside a shirt ropy with gold tassels and primogeniture.

I never wanted it. I just
wanted to look like you
for one night. It should be you
hoisted up like a sack of wheat—
I stole your ruby comb,
your garnet pendant.
It must have been
your jewels he loved.

You will like it — they will put emeralds in your hair
and a thin gold crown on your head.
They will rub your skin down to supple
like a favorite tiger, soon to be
a favorite carpet.
Your spine is fit to queen-​​posture, not mine.

It is only a little shoe, only a little lie.
It was made from a mirror whose glass
was ground in another tale.
Look into it. It surely sings
that you are the fairer.

The doves, their claws still dusty with kitchen-​​ash
brought me a knife hammered out of a diamond.

It is so thin
that a breath will shatter it,
but so sharp
that the flesh it cleaves
does not even know
it has been cut.

Give me your heel.
I am the kind one, remember?
I would not hurt you.

Please, we are sisters;
out of the same striped pelt
did our father scissor our hearts.
Do this thing for me
your sister is afraid of the man
who loves her so much
he cannot remember her face.

Hold your breath—
I shall hold mine.

II.

The ash that crossed my forehead
was finer than the ash that greyed my feet—
soft as a kiss.

I wanted to dance. I wanted to be warm.
I wanted to eat. I wanted anything
but the furnace-​​grating cutting its
familiar welt-​​mark
into my back.

With my forehead exalted I went into the wood,
calling out to a dead mother
like a saint with her eyes on a plate.
But she did not come—
a nightingale instead hopped towards me
baring her little brown breast.

I am the song of your beauty, it chirped.

Like a hoopoe, she bent her head
and bit her own heart
in two. Out of her thin chest
spilled a gown red and gleaming,
bright as blisters.

It was this I wore under the palace arches,
this which cuffed my wrists,
cupped my breasts,
pinched my waist.

I walked into his arms bathed
in the blood of a nightingale,
and when we parted
he was drenched in scarlet.

III.

Please, silver-​​sister, do this thing for me.

I do not want to wear that dress again.
I do not want to kiss him, I do not want
to know what a prince tastes like. I do not want
to hear the castle doors shut behind me.

I never wanted it. I only wanted
to stand in that torchlight for a second
and feel as you must always feel.
It should be you hoisted up
with his saddlebags—
I stole your coral ring
and your attar of roses.
It must have been
your scent he loved.

You will like it — they will put pearls on your fingers
and a thin ivory crown on your head.
They will hang you up in a hall
and everyone will look at you,
everyone will remark how beautiful you are.
Your spine is fitted to that golden hook, not mine.

It is only a little shoe, only a little lie.
It was made from a coffin whose glass
was ground in another tale.
Look into it. It surely promises peace.

The arch is full of her blood, yes,
but that pours out as easily as soup from a ladle.

The doves, their claws still dusty with kitchen-​​ash,
brought me a knife hammered out of a diamond.

It is so thin
that a whisper will shatter it,
but so sharp
that the flesh it cleaves
believes itself whole.

Give me your toe.
I am the gentle one, remember?
I would not hurt you.

Please, we are sisters;
out of the same white wood
did our father hew our hearts.
Do this thing for me
your sister is afraid of the man
who loves her so much
he cannot tell her from any other.


Cinderella by Charles Folkard.
Be silent—
so shall I.

IV.



Is there not another daughter in this house?

My hand is cold and heavy in his. The shoe
is full as a spoon, their blood
bright as blisters. My foot
glides noiseless in
on that slick scarlet track.

He tastes of dead gold.

My skin is tiger-​​supple,
there are emeralds in my hair,
pearls on my fingers
a thin ivory crown on my head.
I am loved; I am polished.

From my hook in the hall,
I can see the gardens.

Submitted: Monday, December 12, 2011
Edited: Monday, December 12, 2011

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Comments about this poem (Glass, Blood, and Ash by Catherynne M. Valente )

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  • Veteran Poet - 3,773 Points Susan Williams (12/7/2014 5:33:00 PM)

    I enjoyed the writer's very unique style, yes, it will make me read it again to understand it in every verse, but sometimes it is good to not be spoon-fed! (Report) Reply

  • Freshman - 1,271 Points Babatunde Aremu (4/27/2014 3:10:00 PM)

    Clarity and focus is synonymous to great poems. More needs to be done by this poet to enable the reader grasp her thought (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 393 Points Michelle Claus (4/27/2014 11:48:00 AM)

    vivid and severe, a psychological dark place... a complex poetic structure with unusual phrases and imagery... I'm in awe of this poem, even though I feel emotionally disturbed by it (Report) Reply

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