Poetry Sunday: ‘Introduction to the Body in Fairy Tales,’ by Jeannine Hall Gailey


Introduction to the Body in Fairy Tales

The body is a place of violence. Wolf teeth, amputated hands.
Cover yourself with a cloak of leaves, a coat of a thousand furs,
a paper dress. The dark forest has a code. The witch
sometimes dispenses advice, sometimes eats you for dinner,
sometimes turns your brother to stone.

You will become a canary in a castle, but you’ll learn plenty
of songs. Little girl, watch out for old women and young men.
If you don’t stay in your tower you’re bound for trouble.
This too is code. Your body is the tower you long to escape,

and all the rotted fruit your babies. The bones in the forest
your memories. The little birds bring you berries.
The pebbles on the trail glow ghostly white.


First appeared in Phantom Drift and published with permission of the author.



Jeannine Hall Gailey recently served as the second Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington. She is the author of five books of poetry: Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to the Floating World, Unexplained Fevers, The Robot Scientist’s Daughter, and Field Guide to the End of the World—winner of the Moon City Press Book Prize, available at Amazon. Her work has been featured on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac, and in Verse Daily and The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. Her poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, The Iowa Review, and Prairie Schooner. Author website: www.webbish6.com. Twitter handle: @webbish6.


Poet’s Note

This poem arose from my obsession with the codes and “lessons” of the old fairy tales—in this poem there are a few references, including Jorinde and Joringel, Hansel and Gretel, and Allerleiruah (coat of a thousand furs). The hard lessons of survival mixed with codes of conduct—especially what a woman should and shouldn’t do—were passed down usually through older women of the villages and then eventually collected and tweaked to give a different message (for instance, Perrault and Grimm both tried to instill Christian morality messages on top of older tales). Did you know that in the original versions of Red Riding Hood, she doesn’t have a woodsman save her but escapes by performing a striptease, pretends to go to the bathroom, and kills the wolf herself? Anyway, I love reading the tales behind fairy tales, and in this poem, was particularly meditating on the dangers of merely having a female body in many of the stories.


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  • Aubrey Ginsberg October 31, 2016 at 6:56 am

    Great woman with great poems. your poems make me more romantic