Fairy tales are not just the thing of fairy tales. Sometimes they are the thing of real life. Many, if you asked, could tell their own tales of a beautiful princess on a tall mountain above a blue rushing river or a daring (if a bit reckless) prince making quick work of a dragon. Somewhere in our lives we might encounter the evil queen with a poisoned apple, take a ride in an enchanted pumpkin, or go nose to nose with a Rumpelstiltskin making unreasonable demands in rooms full of straw. It just takes a little spinning of the tale in a slightly different direction to see it.
Poems have a way of spinning just like that, of taking those images—familiar since childhood—and rearranging them on the page. We’ve gathered up a basket (we borrowed it from Little Red) of ten delightful fairy tale poems for your spinning pleasure:
Glass Slipper Sonnet
Pity the poor step-sister those big feet
she’ll never stuff in a size-six sonnet,
her flesh so fulsome the slipper seems effete,
unworthy of the labor spent on it.
But try she must, and so she makes a pass,
jams four fat toes in the narrow throat,
the fifth pig smarting, pressed against the glass
(though pain’s no stranger—she knows it by rote.)
The other shoe drops—as it is wont to do—
a second foot is squeezed into the vamp.
She stands up straight and takes a stride towards you,
her footfall heavy as a farmgirl’s tramp.
The slipper strains against those excess feet.
She hobbles onward—she has a prince to meet.
a handful of wolves
all cream pelts and sloping shoulders
appear with girls in red, jaws
snapping like capes;
with silver spoons the girls eat the air
grow teeth the size of axes
there is something you like
in this dream—
grasses parting like
the sea before Moses
a sense of law in the way wolves run
through the hissing waver
the girls are
the wolves’ dream—
into feather beds
when the pillow is turned over
She dreams to wake
inside freshly baked walls
white icing spread
along the frame
filling the creases
Red Whistles at the Wolf
Red, Red’s riding in the hood
scarf on her head
lady looking good
Red, Red’s driving in the hood
lady’s in a rush
tight dress red
retro retro red red red
Red, Red’s cruising in the hood
white hubcapped wheels
bringing those meals
Red, Red’s speeding in the hood
in her red-finned missile
gives the wolf a whistle
Red, Red’s roaring in the hood
wolf takes a jump
becomes a speed bump
Red, Red’s slowing in the hood
wolf’s now dead
don’t mess with Red
She had the day to wander so
she strolled the forest edge, heard
the mirth of fairies long at play,
saw a rope-swing gaily swaying
on a limb, inviting
her to step into the woods
and ask, Can I come? Can I play?
They taught her fairy tales and sang
hand-clapping games down by the brook—
but morning-glory petals started
folding—day was closing, evening coming
and with heavy steps she had to
turn away. I cannot play.
I cannot play.
The Very Air That Midas Takes in Gleams
At last, the feral red deer is stopped,
frozen just before her lips—no longer soft—
closed upon the cream-colored loft
of roses, the tender skirts of lettuce.
Knowing the arbor is safe, inviolate,
that an immaculate bloom will always grace
his table in a golden vessel, he finds her almost
beautiful. The outstretched neck, the exposed
throat and gilded flank his daughter longed
to stroke. She’s a different creature now
—without her swiftness, without the shying hoof,
only the impenetrable heart preserved.
Upon Learning that Fur Was Lost in Translation
(But Not in Time for This Sonnet)
What did fine French Cinder elles wear besides
glass, what high class did they hope to flaunt to
the ball, what gall muster towards, I do?
Did they eat ash, secret, pretend inside,
ache for privileges to take midnight steed ride—
to prince, to price, to prove flamed thoughts, undo
braided tresses, guesses; did they have clues
about the way ever-after collides
in fives, in tens, muttered end lines tight shut,
a fight to rise between odd hours ticking,
tripping like a da-dum tapped short, slight cut
into small rooms, I am’s that jam, turning
coated slippers toward spondee minutes
spent as splintered moments on silk shorn string?
What the Shadows Made
Here in the library of the trees, a lounge,
a quick plot of grasses—but for some cut teeth
and a tongue of May Apples, an opening,
like a surprised mouth in the face of day.
I am past the thickets of human definition
that rise from the soft ground around me,
like pencils, whose green ends pitch and swing
in the wind as they write what happens next.
A slender iridescence in the air appears,
like a hyphen between worlds, watching me
with limped eyes from a single blade of grass,
its wings shaped from the forgotten shadows of noon.
Now it is written in the trees from which it arrived,
a prince or princess in disguise, a fairy
on its way to a story meant for bedtime,
forever small and bright in lovely dreams.
Straw into gold
Can you spin
straw into gold,
straw into gold, a boast
becomes a lie, a lie
becomes a request,
becomes a promise,
becomes an agony
the tales we spin
the straw we spin
golden, or not
watching as he spins
madly, the wheel turning,
a game of roulette played
and forgotten until
the croupier demands his due
unless the name is forthcoming
unless the name is known and spoken
speaking the name dispels enchantment
naming the one breaks the hold
just a name, spinning fool’s gold
back to straw.
Come on, Mick.
You had to know.
Nothing good ever comes
of brooms that sprout up legs.
You had to know
how they’d reproduce,
how they’d organize, mutinize.
You never saw them
in your sleep,
flooding stone floors
while your navy blue hat
They marched in time
in my sleep, Mickey.
Night after night
Why’d you do it?
I tried to stop you.
Your orchestra was too loud,
you never heard me shouting
from the navy blue couch
in Grandma Edna’s living room
where my feet didn’t reach the floor.
“Don’t do it! Just sweep the floors!
You’re gonna get
You could’ve saved me
if only you would listen,
you damned fool mouse.
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Browse more Fairy Tale Poems
Photo by Gabor Dvornik. Creative Commons license via Flickr.
How to Write a Poem uses images like the buzz, the switch, the wave—from the Billy Collins poem “Introduction to Poetry”—to guide writers into new ways of writing poems. Excellent teaching tool. Anthology and prompts included.
“How to Write a Poem is a classroom must-have.”
—Callie Feyen, English Teacher, Maryland
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