from Fairy Tale
You must learn to live on air, my darlings.
Here is a stripe of ash for your tongues,
and a sour drop of sorrel wine.
Taste my hand:
That’s the sweetness of splintered wood.
The termite is buried in the jay, and the jay
in Puss’s needled jaw, and Puss in the wolf.
Hunger is the law.
You must learn to peel off your filth
and let it drift on forest chill.
Pick at the sores on your lips and your hands
and turn them into earth.
Here, give me your pain.
I can take it
as I take your cloaks.
Hope is a fire that consumes the brain.
Emptiness on water is called a boat.
Love is what keeps you from everything you want.
Your hunger is an affront.
Slide between branches, my darlings.
Clothe yourselves in rain.
Walk upon grass till it no longer bends.
Come back to me in springtime
on the path that never ends.
Tears are what blind us. Memory is death.
Your father has gone before you.
in a golden meadow with his axe.
Stephen O’Connor is the author of three books: Rescue (1989), Will My Name Be Shouted Out? (1997), and Orphan Train (2001). His poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared in AGNI, Conjunctions, Poetry, The Missouri Review, New England Review, and many other places. He teaches in the MFA programs at Columbia University and Sarah Lawrence University. Cottage is from a series of eight poems that explore situations and characters common to northern European fairy tales. (6/2008)