Snow White Learns Witchcraft

Snow White Learns Witchcraft
by Theodora Goss

One day she looked into her mother’s mirror.
The face looking back was unavoidably old,
with wrinkles around the eyes and mouth. I’ve smiled
a lot, she thought. Laughed less, and cried a little.
A decent life, considered altogether.

She’d never asked it the fatal question that leads
to a murderous heart and red-hot iron shoes.
But now, being curious, when it scarcely mattered,
she recited Mirror, mirror, and asked the question:
Who is the fairest? Would it be her daughter?

No, the mirror told her. Some peasant girl
in a mountain village she’d never even heard of.

Well, let her be fairest. It wasn’t so wonderful
being fairest. Sure, you got to marry the prince,
at least if you were royal, or become his mistress
if you weren’t, because princes don’t marry commoners,
whatever the stories tell you. It meant your mother,
whose skin was soft and smelled of parma violets,
who watched your father with a jealous eye,
might try to eat your heart, metaphorically —
or not. It meant the huntsman sent to kill you
would try to grab and kiss you before you ran
into the darkness of the sheltering forest.

How comfortable it was to live with dwarves
who didn’t find her particularly attractive.
Seven brothers to whom she was just a child, and then,
once she grew tall, an ungainly adolescent,
unlike the shy, delicate dwarf women
who lived deep in the forest. She was constantly tripping
over the child-sized furniture they carved
with patterns of hearts and flowers on winter evenings.

She remembers when the peddlar woman came
to her door with laces, a comb, and then an apple.
How pretty you are, my dear, the peddlar told her.
It was the first time anyone had said
that she was pretty since she left the castle.
She didn’t recognize her. And if she had?
Mother? She would have said. Mother, is that you?
How would her mother have answered? Sometimes she wishes
the prince had left her sleeping in the coffin.

He claimed he woke her up with true love’s kiss.
The dwarves said actually his footman tripped
and jogged the apple out. She prefers that version.
It feels less burdensome, less like she owes him.

Because she never forgave him for the shoes,
red-hot iron, and her mother dancing in them,
the smell of burning flesh. She still has nightmares.
It wasn’t supposed to be fatal, he insisted.
Just teach her a lesson. Give her blisters or boils,
make her repent her actions. No one dies
from dancing in iron shoes. She must have had
some sort of heart condition. And after all,
the woman did try to kill you.
She didn’t answer.

And so she inherited her mother’s mirror,
but never consulted it, knowing too well
the price of coveting beauty. She watched her daughter
grow up, made sure the girl could run and fight,
because princesses need protecting, and sometimes princes
are worse than useless. When her husband died,
she went into mourning, secretly relieved
that it was over: a woman’s useful life,
nurturing, procreative. Now, she thinks,
I’ll go to the house by the seashore where in summer
we would take the children (really a small castle),
with maybe one servant. There, I will grow old,
wrinkled and whiskered. My hair as white as snow,
my lips thin and bloodless, my skin mottled.

I’ll walk along the shore collecting shells,
read all the books I’ve never had the time for,
and study witchcraft. What should women do
when they grow old and useless? Become witches.
It’s the only role you get to write yourself.

I’ll learn the words to spells out of old books,
grow poisonous herbs and practice curdling milk,
cast evil eyes. I’ll summon a familiar:
black cat or toad. I’ll tell my grandchildren
fairy tales in which princesses slay dragons
or wicked fairies live happily ever after.
I’ll talk to birds, and they’ll talk back to me.
Or snakes — the snakes might be more interesting.

This is the way the story ends, she thinks.
It ends. And then you get to write your own story.

The Enchanted Wood by Helen Jacobs

This image is The Enchanted Wood by Helen Jacobs.

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19 Responses to Snow White Learns Witchcraft

  1. Paul Weimer says:

    I do like it. Thanks for sharing this, Dora 🙂

  2. Aura Eadon says:

    Love this, thank you for sharing.

  3. Phyllis Holliday says:

    This is just wonderful. Endless possibilities of “Happily (?) ever after.” More poems, please

  4. Davide Mana says:

    Beautiful. Thanks for sharing!
    And really, is there any better magic that writing your own story?

  5. Fantastic — it reminded me a bit of Olga Broumas’ fairy tale poems. Looking forward to more!

  6. Struck a chord. One of the painful, sweet ones in the gut. Thanks for sharing!

  7. I liked her journey, and how like a twist in fate she adapted to her new circumstances. I I wish her much success in her chosen profession. A successful hex perhaps?

  8. cbahm says:

    I love this so much!

  9. Lee says:

    This is very nice, the ending especially. I like this kind of story, where the woman finally gets a voice in her own tale, very much.

  10. Lovely – lots of twists in there about beauty and growing old. Thank you!!

  11. Meghan says:

    Wow! Love this!

  12. Thank you all so much for the very kind comments! I’m very glad people seem to like this particular poem. 🙂 I’ll keep writing them . . .

  13. I love this, Theodora. Wicked fairies living happily ever after, and Snow White getting to write her own story when she is old. It reminds me of Jenny Joseph’s poem “Warning,” which opens,
    “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple….” But I think I like yours better!

  14. I absolutely loved this!!

  15. S.L. Schmitz says:

    Thank you! I liked this very much

  16. andreablythe says:

    What a beautiful retelling. “This is the way the story ends, she thinks. / It ends.” <– I love that and so much about this poem.

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