“Don’t you ever say never to me!”
She thinks to herself. The forbidden door
Opens to the defiant squeak of the key
And horror sweats cold from every pore
For a stench arises, cloying and rotten
From the heart of their marriage – evil denied
But once seen, too hideous to be forgotten.
Truth bleeds from the key and her soul is dyed.
Returning hoofbeats! She turns to flee
But is frozen like a fawn as the hunter returns,
And sees in her eyes what she cannot unsee.
On the brink of slaughter, she finally learns
That beyond the door of fear’s dark night
Lies the truth that gives the strength to fight.
This sonnet is based on the tale of Bluebeard. It is very much influenced by the way the story is told, and interpreted, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes in Women who run with the Wolves – in an early blogpost I included several extracts from her description that resonated with me. In the poem, as in the original story, the woman does manage to escape at the last moment, though in the poem I have suggested that she saves herself rather than awaiting rescue by her brothers.
The first line comes from one of my favourite films, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe – it’s a war-cry for women refusing to be constrained, which I couldn’t resist using here! The original tale of Bluebeard frequently suggests that the woman is wrong to be curious, and that the discovery is a punishment for her disobedience. Which is strange, as the alternative was to remain in blissful ignorance that she’d married a murderer… presumably up until the point when he got tired of her, when her innocence and obedience would be no protection whatsoever. So I wanted to make it clear that her motive for going through the door was much more to do with courage and defiance than nosiness!
The poem also reflects my (thankfully less bloody!) own experiences of being reluctant to confront the truth in a relationship, even though confronting that truth is the only way to protect yourself from being hurt.