Cinderella

This is a poem from Transformations by Anne Sexton, 1971. The book is a series of poems retelling Grimms’ fairy tales.

You always read about it:

 the plumber with twelve children

who wins the Irish Sweepstakes.

From toilets to riches.

That story.

Or the nursemaid,

some luscious sweet from Denmark

who captures the oldest son’s heart.

From diapers to Dior.

That story.

Or a milkman who serves the wealthy,

eggs, cream, butter, yogurt, milk,

the white truck like an ambulance

who goes into real estate

and makes a pile.

From homogenized to martinis at lunch.

Or the charwoman

who is on the bus when it cracks up

and collects enough from the insurance.

From mops to Bonwit Teller.

That story.

Once

the wife of a rich man was on her deathbed

and she said to her daughter Cinderella:

Be devout. Be good. Then I will smile

down from heaven in the seam of a cloud.

The man took another wife who had

two daughters, pretty enough

but with hearts like blackjacks.

Cinderella was their maid.

She slept on the sooty hearth each night

and walked around looking like Al Jolson.

Her father brought presents home from town,

jewels and gowns for the other women

but the twig of a tree for Cinderella.

She planted that twig on her mother’s grave

and it grew to a tree where a white dove sat.

Whenever she wished for anything the dove

would drop it like an egg upon the ground.

The bird is important, my dears, so heed him.

Next came the ball, as you know.

It was a marriage market.

The prince was looking for a wife.

All but Cinderella were preparing

and gussyying up for the big event.

Cinderella begged to go too.

Her stepmother threw a dish of lentils into the cinders and said: Pick them

up in an hour and you shall go.

The white dove brought all his friends;

all the warm wings of the fatherland came,

and picked up the lentils in a jiffy.

No, Cinderella, said the stepmother,

you have no clothes and cannot dance.

That’s the way with stepmothers.

Cinderella went to the tree at the grave

and cried forth like a gospel singer:

Mama! Mama! My turtle dove,

send me to the prince’s ball!

The bird dropped down a golden dress

and delicate little gold slippers.

Rather a large package for a simple bird.

So she went. Which is no surprise.

Her stepmother and sisters didn’t

recognize her without her cinder face

and the prince took her hand on the spot

and danced with no other the whole day.

As nightfall came she thought she’d better

get home. The prince walked her home

and she disappeared into the pigeon house

and although the prince took an axe and broke

it open she was gone. Back to her cinders.

These events repeated themselves for three days.

However on the third day the prince

covered the palace steps with cobbler’s wax

and Cinderella’s gold shoe stuck upon it.

Now he would find whom the shoe fit

and find his strange dancing girl for keeps.

He went to their house and the two sisters

were delighted because they had lovely feet.

The eldest went into a room to try the slipper on

but her big toe got in the way so she simply

sliced it off and put on the slipper.

The prince rode away with her until the white dove

told him to look at the blood pouring forth.

That is the way with amputations.

They don’t just heal up like a wish.

The other sister cut off her heel

but the blood told as blood will.

The prince was getting tired.

He began to feel like a shoe salesman.

But he gave it one last try.

This time Cinderella fit into the shoe

like a love letter into its envelope.

At the wedding ceremony

the two sisters came to curry favor

and the white dove pecked their eyes out.

Two hollow spots were left

like soup spoons.

Cinderella and the prince

lived, they say, happily ever after,

like two dolls in a museum case

never bothered by diapers or dust,

never arguing over the timing of an egg,

never telling the same story twice,

never getting a middle-aged spread,

their darling smiles pasted on for eternity.

Regular Bobbsey Twins.

That story.

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