They rip out your heart when you’re fighting a war.
It’s a necessary process, surgical,
No one talks about it afterward.
More than ever, you are all body-
So when you meet a man with a cleft foot, with an offer,
Your hair grows, weed-quick, concealing your face
You wander from town to quiet town
There’s a certain freedom granted
You forget what water feels like
When you try to pray,
Forsaken, your pockets remain full
It’s an old merchant who finally does look at you,
You’d forgotten what wealth can do to a soul
You let him take you home despite your better judgment.
Only one of the sisters can stand to look you in the eye,
You tell her stories about your travels,
And so you break the rusted ring on your finger in two
The skin hangs heavier than ever
You think about how you’ve spent four years –
There is nothing left for you but to endure
You can outlast him. Three years is not so long.
The coins pour from your pockets,
You ask a blind boy to share your meal,
Their tears fall on your hands,
Three years pass, and you are washed clean,
As a man you lumber up her garden path,
You want to tell her who you are
The piece of gold hits her teeth and she glances down.
“Where is your skin?” she whispers.
She leans forward, smiling,
Sara Cleto is PhD student in English at the Ohio State University, where she reads, writes, and sneakily teaches her students about fairy tales and folklore. Her creative work can be found or is forthcoming in Cabinet des Fees: Scheherazade’s Bequest, Niteblade, Metastasis, and others.
Brittany Warman is a PhD student in English with a concentration in Folklore at the Ohio State University, where she concentrates on the intersection of folklore and literature, particularly fairy tale retellings. Her creative work has been published or is forthcoming from Mythic Delirium, Cabinet des Fees: Scheherezade’s Bequest, Jabberwocky, inkscrawl, and others. Her website is www.brittanywarman.com and she journals at briarspell.livejournal.com.
We wrote this poem after attending the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts and participating in conversations there. We were thinking about how fairy tales rarely engage directly with the theme of war and we wanted to retell a narrative, “Bearskin,” that explores that concept. Our intention was to create a vivid piece that would explicitly show the ways in which the echoes of war could be felt throughout the story.