Pushcart XL: Chloe Honum, “Snow White” (poetry) from Tab, #2

Queen, you were starlight
obsessing over an empty cradle,
then over the door to the cradle room,
then over the hallway to the door.

~~Available online from TAB

Now that I’ve got my moocaholism under control (for the moment), where was I… Oh, yes, Pushcart.

I was reminded of Gregory Maguire’s novel Wicked – the story of the genesis of evil, the story behind the story we all know, the Good Witch and Bad Witch, and how their identities hinge more on rumor and perception than on anything within them. It’s a familiar story: the forest troll who turns out to be merely misunderstood, the town misfit who’s really a hero, Frankenstein’s monster and Boo and all the other characters who try to get across to us that there is another side if we’d only look, that evil may be in the stories told and motives assigned, not in the evildoer.

This poem is far more personal, since we’re not talking characters here. Honum wrote the collection that includes this poem, The Tulip-Flame, to look at family members who cast a long shadow. Here she finds the humanity in the narcissistic Queen from Snow White, and makes her sympathetic, focusing on the heartbreak behind the evil.

But it’s more than that, because the poem quickly reveals that the subject is not the Queen (be she a character, a mother, or a metaphorical kind of evil), but another woman who has been damaged by her. And this is the problem with evil: no matter how sympathetic the generation, it is still evil, and it still does harm to the innocent.

Human emotion and natural elements are blended, particularly in the last stanza: “good star, bad mother, lone tree”, short phrases, quick syllables wheeling immediately into a more fluid, legato passage that echoes of sorrow lived in the shadow of the Queen.

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