13:1: “The Cultivation of Beauty”, by Sara Cleto

13:1: “The Cultivation of Beauty”, by Sara Cleto

A rose, she said.

This is what Beauty said.
She meant a blossom savage fair,
manufactured under alternating currents
of sun and rain,
nurtured from manure,
blooming near the nexus of science and enchantment.

Real roses, wild roses don’t grow
without the precise application of shit and sorcery,
administered in equal parts,
and only a Beast could bring forth such an exquisite abnormality
in weather such as this.
His feral roses crouched among the snowdrifts,
their vibrant color, audacious against the white,
proclaiming their kinship to drops of blood, beating hearts—
the mulch that feeds,
the clockwork that winds
all the truest tales.

Beauty’s father stole the largest, the reddest rose—
magic seeping, stinking—
but he could not bear to repay the Beast
when only a blooded equivalent would do.
Even when he placed the rose in Beauty’s hand
and saw that they were indeed a fair exchange,
born as they both were of love, labor, and magic,
he would not yield her,
even though he had promised.

Never trust a philosopher to keep his word—
deftly, precisely, he conjures meanings anew.

Beauty’s father went to work.
A pile of gears,
a lock of her hair,
haphazard appeals to Newton’s Third Law,
embarrassed, half-forgotten words
that he had once heard from his grandmother
when she was cooking meat stew from only a stone.
He pulled a petal from the rose,
placed it where a heart should beat.

And there I stood,
a shadow-girl, a rose-girl—
Beauty’s father would not look at me.
He put the rose in my hand,
shut my fingers round the stem
so that the thorns bit my flesh.
Blood drops trailed in the snow like gleaming ruby breadcrumbs
as I walked into the woods.

A roar cleft the air, and I trembled
until I knew it for a laugh.

The Beast took my hand carefully in his paws.
“It is for you, only for you, that I have been waiting.”
He stroked my vine and copper-coil hair,
pressed my tattered fingers to his mouth,
staining his lips rose red.

He planted me in the garden,
drawing warm soil around my shoulders,
deep, luxurious as fur.
The sun and rain poured over me,
and I drank their glinting cordials,
until my toes curled, rooted, and grew steady,
and the gears of my eyes washed clean of salt.

In the evenings, I step out of the dirt
and dance with the Beast beneath the great hall’s shattered sky.
Later, he feasts on bloody flesh, the color of roses,
while I nibble loam cake from the garden.
When I am tired, the Beast sows me tenderly in my earth-bed,
growling, so sweetly, this lullaby:

“Sleep, my Beauty, my Rose, my Wildling,
dream, Pride of my Garden, Flower of my Hall.
Root deep in my foundation, twine round my towers,
for you are Mistress here.”

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. She says:

I wrote the first draft of “The Cultivation of Beauty” while listening to Marina Warner give a paper on the evolution of fairy tales at a conference last year. She showed several clips from Lotte Reiniger’s early silhouette films, and something about the motion of the figures suggested both flowers and machines to me. When she mentioned simulacra, the poem fell into place.

Roses Lying on Gold Velvet by Martin Johnson Heade (1819–1904) is in the public domain.

One Response to “13:1: “The Cultivation of Beauty”, by Sara Cleto”

  1. Myles Buchanan says:


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