Kate Dlugosz: The Recovery of Damsels

The Recovery of Damsels

I rewrite the fairytales. Write damsels in their own image of the forests the wildflowers the sea the castles the wolves.

The princesses are the dragons. Fire-breathing, scales like onyx, collecting treasures. The roses, the apples, the mirrors, the bed, the heart still beating in the wooden chest. The spell books, the stories rewritten in their power, the magic tumbling from the lips of all the girls to reclaim their softness, their wilderness. Brave and feral and free.

Little Red Riding Hood stitching the bleeding wounds of the black wolf, the blood on her hands because she can heal. Because she is unafraid and fearless in the dark of the forest, in the twisting paths and gnarled trees. She howls to the moon, swallows the light, and curls into sleep in the den of wolves. The yarrow, the motherwort, the stinging nettle, the raspberry leaf in the folds of her dress, the promise to save the beast who saved her. The wolves she nursed, the wolf-mother in her name, the teeth she grew to defend them. She wrenches open the metal-toothed trap ensnared upon the ankle of the wolf with her bare hands and strokes his head in her lap. She plots revenge, needles baked into bread, black jam of belladonna berries, an innocent smile and blood red lips against any hunter in the woods.

Sleeping Beauty weaving dreams from her a spindle of cherry wood, tapestries of ancient stories coloring the walls of her tower. The words this time are her own, the silk, the linen, the cloth. At night hearing owls in the forest she remembers the way she once loved herself. Her hearth glowing like dragon fire in her escape from the stone tower. She wanders through the wooded briar guided by the tree roots and deer paths and fairy circles. She presses flowers into the pages of spell books to read before her slumber, grows wild chamomile and lavender and bright red and pink roses in the gardens below. The vines ascend the cottage, climbing roses growing upon the canopy of her bed, petal soft sheets against the thorns of her dreams. She never tires. She learns to trust herself. Her hands still bleed from the splinters of flax.

The Little Mermaid swimming up from the blackness of the ocean depths, bioluminescent lights of her skin glinting in the dark, her siren voice singing of shipwrecks and drowned sailors and her collection of treasures. Her songs, her tongue a lodestone for fatal beauty. A leviathan, a horror of the deep, but the ocean is full of the salt in her tears. She sinks between the ribs of whale bones on the ocean floor surrounded by the silverware, the lacquer combs, the pearl jewelry, the goblets, the severed heads of statues she kisses in the dark. The knife to save her from seafoam. All the mirrors, the decorative flowered handles, the vines encircling the oval of silver, the shark teeth and wide black eyes in her reflection, the seashells and fish bones in the endless waves of her hair.

Snow White emerges yawning from her glass coffin to suck the red from poison apples. She eats the tiny black seeds one by one, the bitterness of poison on her tongue. Her skin white as bone, as lilies, and her lips as red as blood, as cherries. The vultures taught her to digest the dead, how to digest heartbreak and love, reminded her how to be pure again. And now crows attend her, feathers black as soot and eyes blacker than a moonless night. Their talons pluck eyes from the wicked. She plucks apples from her orchard and sings her own magic at dawn. She cleans the dirt and earth from her burial, sweeps it outside into the forest and lies down in the flowerbeds. She digs her hands into the black soil, rich and fertile, and plants a shrub of roses. She learns to resurrect herself.

Kate Dlugosz is a recent graduate from Hiram College in Hiram College, Ohio, where she studied Creative Writing and History. Her work has appeared in literary journals such as Dear Damsels and Burning House Press. She currently lives in Cleveland, Ohio. twitter.com/flower_faced