Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Tuesday Poem: "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" by Anne Sexton

No matter what life you lead
the virgin is a lovely number:

cheeks as fragile as cigarette paper,

arms and legs made of Limoges,

lips like Vin Du Rhône,

rolling her china-blue doll eyes

open and shut.

Open to say,

Good Day Mama,

and shut for the thrust

of the unicorn.

She is unsoiled.

She is as white as a bonefish.

Once there was a lovely virgin

called Snow White.

Say she was thirteen.

Her stepmother,

a beauty in her own right,

though eaten, of course, by age,

would hear of no beauty surpassing her own.

Beauty is a simple passion,

but, oh my friends, in the end

you will dance the fire dance in iron shoes.

The stepmother had a mirror to which she referred--

something like the weather forecast--

a mirror that proclaimed

the one beauty of the land.

She would ask,

Looking glass upon the wall,

who is fairest of us all?

And the mirror would reply,

You are the fairest of us all.

Pride pumped in her like poison.

Suddenly one day the mirror replied,

Queen, you are full fair, 'tis true,

but Snow White is fairer than you.

Until that moment Snow White

had been no more important

than a dust mouse under the bed.

But now the queen saw brown spots on her hand

and four whiskers over her lip

so she condemned Snow White

to be hacked to death.

Bring me her heart, she said to the hunter,

and I will salt it and eat it.

The hunter, however, let his prisoner go

and brought a boar's heart back to the castle.

The queen chewed it up like a cube steak.

Now I am fairest, she said,

lapping her slim white fingers.

Snow White walked in the wildwood

for weeks and weeks.

At each turn there were twenty doorways

and at each stood a hungry wolf,

his tongue lolling out like a worm.

The birds called out lewdly,

talking like pink parrots,

and the snakes hung down in loops,

each a noose for her sweet white neck.

On the seventh week

she came to the seventh mountain

and there she found the dwarf house.

It was as droll as a honeymoon cottage

and completely equipped with

seven beds, seven chairs, seven forks

and seven chamber pots.

Snow White ate seven chicken livers

and lay down, at last, to sleep.

The dwarfs, those little hot dogs,

walked three times around Snow White,

the sleeping virgin.  They were wise

and wattled like small czars.

Yes.  It's a good omen,

they said, and will bring us luck.

They stood on tiptoes to watch

Snow White wake up.  She told them

about the mirror and the killer-queen

and they asked her to stay and keep house.

Beware of your stepmother,

they said.

Soon she will know you are here.

While we are away in the mines

during the day, you must not

open the door.

Looking glass upon the wall . . .

The mirror told

and so the queen dressed herself in rags

and went out like a peddler to trap Snow White.

She went across seven mountains.

She came to the dwarf house

and Snow White opened the door

and bought a bit of lacing.

The queen fastened it tightly

around her bodice,

as tight as an Ace bandage,

so tight that Snow White swooned.

She lay on the floor, a plucked daisy.

When the dwarfs came home they undid the lace

and she revived miraculously.

She was as full of life as soda pop.

Beware of your stepmother,

they said.

She will try once more.

Looking glass upon the wall. . .

Once more the mirror told

and once more the queen dressed in rags

and once more Snow White opened the door.

This time she bought a poison comb,

a curved eight-inch scorpion,

and put it in her hair and swooned again.

The dwarfs returned and took out the comb

and she revived miraculously.

She opened her eyes as wide as Orphan Annie.

Beware, beware, they said,

but the mirror told,

the queen came,

Snow White, the dumb bunny,

opened the door

and she bit into a poison apple

and fell down for the final time.

When the dwarfs returned

they undid her bodice,

they looked for a comb,

but it did no good.

Though they washed her with wine

and rubbed her with butter

it was to no avail.

She lay as still as a gold piece.

The seven dwarfs could not bring themselves

to bury her in the black ground

so they made a glass coffin

and set it upon the seventh mountain

so that all who passed by

could peek in upon her beauty.

A prince came one June day

and would not budge.

He stayed so long his hair turned green

and still he would not leave.

The dwarfs took pity upon him

and gave him the glass Snow White--

its doll's eyes shut forever--

to keep in his far-off castle.

As the prince's men carried the coffin

they stumbled and dropped it

and the chunk of apple flew out

of her throat and she woke up miraculously.

And thus Snow White became the prince's bride.

The wicked queen was invited to the wedding feast

and when she arrived there were

red-hot iron shoes,

in the manner of red-hot roller skates,

clamped upon her feet.

First your toes will smoke

and then your heels will turn black

and you will fry upward like a frog,

she was told.

And so she danced until she was dead,

a subterranean figure,

her tongue flicking in and out

like a gas jet.

Meanwhile Snow White held court,

rolling her china-blue doll eyes open and shut

and sometimes referring to her mirror

as women do.

by Anne Sexton

For more information about the poet, Anne Sexton, see: