I will do everything you tell me, Mother.
I will charm three gold hairs
from the demon’s head.
I will choke the mouse that gnaws
an apple tree’s roots and keep its skin
for a glove. To the wolf, I will be
pretty and kind and curtsy
his crossing of my path.
The forest, vocal
even in its somber tread, rages.
A slope ends in a pit of foxes
drunk on rotten brambles of berries
and the raccoons ransack
a rabbit’s unmasked hole.
What do they find but a winter’s heap
of droppings? A stolen nest, the cracked shell
of another creature’s child.
I imagine this is the rabbit way
and I will not stray, Mother,
into the forest’s thick,
where the trees meet the dark,
though I have known misgivings
of light as a hot hand that flickers
against my neck. The path ends
at a river I must cross. I will wait
for the ferryman
to motion me through. Into the waves
he etches with his oar
a new story: a silent girl runs away,
a silent girl is never safe.
I will take his oar in my hand. I will learn
the boat’s rocking and bring myself back
and forth. To be good
is the hurricane of caution.
I will know indecision’s rowing,
the water I lap into my lap
as he shakes his withered head.
Behind me is the forest. Before me
the field, a loose run of grass. I stay
in the river, Mother, I study escape.
Jennifer Chang, “Obedience, or the Lying Tale” from The History of Anonymity. Copyright © 2008 by Jennifer Chang. Reprinted by permission of University of Georgia Press.
Source: Please Excuse This Poem: 100 New Poets for the Next Generation (Viking Press, 2015)
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