I have been reading fairy tales recently. I’ll apologize now, because I’m not much of a poet, but there are things for which prose is useless, like trying to pry a nail out of a wall with a Buick, and if I can’t come up with a hammer or a screwdriver, I will make do with a butter knife.
It has come to my attention
that people like me
are generally not welcome in fairy tales.
It’s the talking birds that do it.
The minute a sparrow shows up to pipe a direful warning
it’s all over
down at the first hurdle
The body in the fifty-fathom well
will have to wait
the old woman turned into a hare
the murdered mother in the juniper tree
as I whip out my Sibley guide and look for the entry
with the fieldmark labeled capable of human speech.
For this crime
I have been accused of a failure of wonder
of having chained up my inner child and sent her
to work in the salt mines.
But the truth
(if you really want to know)
is that I have read so many fairy tales
and lived a little bit too long
to be surprised by anything that happens in
the cottages of lonely woodcutters.
I can even venture a guess
as to why the bear speaks with the voice of a maiden
(my heart goes out to her)
and why, when the animal has saved your life,
you will be required to make a harp out of its bones.
These are old familiar mysteries
as love is an old familiar mystery
the dwarf’s name
the contents of the enchanted walnut
the thing which stands behind the mill.
Fairy tales are human things
which we have chewed over
since before we could eat solid food.
But a bird!
A bird that talks!
This is outside my experience
this un-parrot-like fluency.
I have so many questions for it—
Where did you learn?
and How do you make the P’s and B’s and M’s with that small stiff beak?
and most important,
Are there more like you out there?