November 2003

Evelyn M. Perry


Evelyn M. Perry Evelyn M. Perry's creative work has appeared in Sahara, Sophie's Wind, Pine Island Journal of New England Poetry, Kicking and Screaming, Artisan, King Log, Gumball Poetry, Salt Hill, Scrivener's Pen, Berkshire Review and in anthology and chapbook form. (Her chapbook, I Keep a Sledgehammer Handy, is available through Angel Fish Press.) She has received awards for fiction writing from the North Kingstown Arts Council and the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, and for poetry from the Academy of American Poets and Salt Hill. She teaches writing and literature at Framingham State College in Framingham, Massachusetts.
Hansel & Gretel: Home By Pebble Echoes    Click to hear in real audio

Their hearts had memorized the muddy river
bank and twisted mapled avenues of the town
where they grew up, playing Red Rover and holding
each other's hands tightly.  At night, they discussed
a suspect father, the woodcutter—paper grader—
scholar-writer—who, notwithstanding a lifetime
with Fitzgerald (or maybe because) misunderstood
the responsibility of love, and left them,
loveless, convincing himself that they were better
off, that he was operating under cover of the right

thing to do. Gretel would not blame him or leave
him alone there to be fattened and cooked or flattened
into a shadow against the walls of a rotten-toothed
candy hag.  Because she knew he would do the same
for her, their names were the same words and,
when whispered, sounded together like buried, like
something bad turned into something good.  

So everyday she visited her brother's prison and he
visited hers.  They held hands, and their shadows held
ghost hands, between the bars their mother haunted, across
woodland campground path and over the metal
floorboards on which the prisoner sat.  And they did all
the things that children do—caught fireflies, fought and cried
unfair, found strength in a knobbly stick until they found
their moment, pushing in the witch, who was not fat despite
all the words they made her eat (or would have, if they could).  

And when Gretel was old—so old that she could remember
how it felt to be that young again, how they got home
together by tracing the indentations of pebbles, like echoes,
shadow-filled, where once had been colored stones, bread-
crumbs, places where they remembered having temporarily
lost  their marbles.  She never could be sure who had
waited in the cage, who had been inside or outside of
the bars.  They clasp each other's hands still.




Little Red Riding Hood: I Mean Wolf    Click to hear in real audio

It was hardly an undercover
operation, but there I stood, head
tucked beneath the red hood
of my Nissan
stanza hatchback—belching fumes,
low on gas, and gasping by the
side of the road—staring into
the belly of the wolf.  With
barely a rudimentary
understanding of anatomy, I
located the tender tear duct
of the wiper blades, but could not
distinguish fuel line and gas
pump from aorta, esophagus
and lungs.  Where was my
mother?  Halfway back, passed
out and past hearing the insistent
ring of the telephone, emergency...

Warning:  chorus:  it is—I mean
it was—impossible to tell
how many pairs of jaws lie—
I mean lay—
along the path, to know
who were—I mean was—the
Beast and who the Woodcutter,
accidentally stumbling
into doing something Good.

The tow truck driver or my best
fiend's boyfiend—I mean
friend—picking me up
at the highway lay station and
buying me some fast food.

An undercover operation might
have been when, underweight, and in
the last few days of being
seventeen, I drank (but didn't
get drunk) after giving blood
and got carried away
in an ambulance on a late
rainy night in July, got set up in a bed
with a chamber pot, tube-fed  
liquid potassium (we should all
eat more bananas, is what
the emergency
doctor said).  "Don't
let her go out after she's through," my
mother said (only
later, not that she had been
drinking, but that she wouldn't
fetch me from the hospital-party, she
didn't want to embarrass me
with noisy mothering).

Warning:  chorus:  it is—I mean
it was—impossible to tell
how many pairs of jaws lie—
I mean lay—
along the path, to know
who were—I mean was—the
Beast and who the Woodcutter,
accidentally stumbling
into doing something Good.

The man buying drinks
for a sweet-looking seventeen
year old girl, or the same one who
bought me a burger and brought me home
from the hospital, to my Mother, red-
faced and flannel-bathrobed.

The idea came to me
one day slicing
onions in a galley kitchen, when
the grip came away
from the blade: without a hand,
there is no handle.  No one
would know, I could cut my
way out, or say the silver slipped
into his eye.  And without his
eye—I mean his I—there would
be no way to identify (him
or me), no jury
would convict a girl for
wielding such a useful kitchen tool.
I believe I had the idea then, and then
I put the knife—I mean the idea—
away. But not before gauging
the space between the ribs, the
pink spaces where the light shows
through, under the pulse and to
the right of the heart, the tunnel
of the navel where birth begins and where
I might have carved out The End.

Warning: chorus: it is—I mean
it was—impossible to tell
how many pairs of jaws lie—
I mean lay—
along the path, to know
who were—I mean was—the
Beast and who the Woodcutter,
accidentally stumbling
into doing something Good.

Do I look like a hood—I mean wolf—to you?



Snow White/Rose Red: The First Syllable         Click to hear in real audio


                         Because she was there and because
                    she was alone aside from the tiny versions
               of herself peopling the villages of her mother's eyes,
       Snow White/Rose Red, good/girl bad, carried her mother,
       grieving with wine, angry with whiskey up

                        the stairs, slept lightly—or not at all—
                    beside her in the bed, listening to her stomach
               churn.  She rarely felt sorry for herself, and when she
       did, she thought it was because her father was as good as
dead; she read, she was, hungry for words. 

                        And so when the gentle beast appeared in
                   their living room, she tolerated what she didn't like
              —legal alien; half faerie, half earth.  She was tired and thought
              she had seen gold under his bearskin cover.  Perhaps that glint
       might make him strong—at least enough to know what made her tough
(her nails, her teeth, were longer than his, but it never occurs to anyone that

                        the wicked wolf eats a bad little girl). Only
                 later would she recall confusing her words in a seminar, explaining
          that a point was mute—the way one might upset tense immediately following
a death, as in, she is died—belatedly, groping her way up the stairs.  She grew

                        thin—as a paper doll with one stamped set of lips
                 closed tight—thin—as a woman is wasted, ate constantly,
                 but found she never weighed in.  Silence is lighter than a sigh, less
         salty than a cracker, neither a loquacious wet or a parched dry.  And
         then she spoke.  It took only one good gust—the first syllable—to
open her mouth, float her over faerie dust.  Blown back to the earth, the air
sounded with the echo of her single,           relieved          gasp.



Snow White: The Awakening              Click to hear in real audio 


And she awoke,
knowing at once that the glass sees back,
wary of what is swallowed and what might choke.

It began as a fierce tickling, like the wrinkling of skin, in her maiden throat,
then something under cover, reddish and plumpish and overripe, fell slack
and she awoke.

                   The budding crone knew her flesh, the all of her, took careful notes
                   as to which potions might leave her youth intact,
                   wary of what is swallowed and what might choke.

For a moment, her lovely face, the transparency of death, float-
ed against the casket.  Then memory attacked—
the strangling herstory of cooking and cleaning for too many small men, and she awoke.

                   Swearing there would not be another, she wrote
                   the death sentence in something pretty and taken for granted;
                   her lesson:  Be Wary of what is swallowed and what might choke.

Who has not been the maiden and the crone—both
hungry for the poison of pretty.  But glass shatters.  The mirror cracked,
and she awoke,
wary of what is swallowed and what might choke.



The Snow Queen: Poisoned From The Piggy Up    Click to hear in real audio

And so there I was, eleven, maybe, with ten
Toes as blue as snow angels.
This must have been
Where it started, and how, the
Poisoning of my blood:  this little piggy
Was called a slut, this little piggy was told to call
Home, this little piggy called home,
And was told to walk

Across a frozen mile or more, past
A glassine pond, and powdered pussy willows
Too hard to touch in penny loafers
And girl-thin cotton socks.  Which must
Be why I have always identified with that
Little girl in the story, blonde
And blue-eyed like me, her nose
Pressed against
A frosty pane of glass in the Snow Queen's
Castle.  At least that boy, the one
With a shard of broken icicle lodged
in his eye, was wanted, seemed
lucky to me—lucky to be imprisoned
and held.  Is it enough
To say simply that he was and she was not?

Which must be why, under threadbare
Cover, I hate the spineless,
Feather-comforted princess
So much now, she who had—
A rabbit fur muff, a father who waited
In the parking lot; she,
Ridiculously trying to compete with me,
Will never be as strong, as sharp
And brittle-edged, as snowflake crowned.
Nor can she read.

Look, here, do you see a pretty story
About the heart?
I thought so, you're wrong.
Why, even now, I glance a touch
On a student's arm, trying to see past
His flesh to the lack of subject-
Verb agreement on a stark page.  
Your hand is like ice, he says; I say,
I was Gerda, childhood friend
Of Kai, the boy who was wanted—however
cold; I am blue-blooded from the piggy up,
A Snow Queen made when made to walk.



Evelyn M. Perry: Poetry
Copyright © 2003 The Cortland Review Issue 24The Cortland Review