The dusty attic of the human mind
is choked with a sprawling, cobwebby pile
of junk accumulated over the years.

A cramped glass stiletto
(with a mouse
trapped in its toe)
and a pair of red shoes with an evil leer.

A frog croaking wistfully,
lost in the gilded circle
of a princess’ heavy crown.

An overflowing porridge pot and
a golden apple, marked with a
bite gone brown.

A donkey skin which is stained with blood,
and a pair of
– amputated –
silver hands.

A few pomegranate seeds scattered like red tears
on the lid of an empty box with a bleeding key
A broken laurel branch carelessly jammed
Into a dusty jar of magic wands.

From under the heap, a woman emerges
brushes poppy seeds and salt grains from her body,
revealing its (non-symbolic) naked glory.

She stretches cramped limbs,
ties back her flowing hair,
and heads off to create a more original story.


This post responds to One Single Impression’s prompt of “myth”. It picks up on a theme in an earlier post – that some myths imprison rather than inspire, particularly the myths about women.

The myths or fairy tales referenced here are all about women in some way or other, and have often been used to suggest that women’s domestic or passive sexual qualities are the only ones that matter, and that curiosity, desire and independence have no place. Some are less familar or oblique references, so I’ve provided links below.

Some of these stories feature in Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ Women who Run with the Wolves, which digs into the heart of these stories to find a much more affirming message for women. (For example, many of the interpretations of Bluebeard are judgemental about the woman’s curiosity and lack of self restraint in opening the door, rather than applauding her courageous determination to find out the truth.) I really enjoyed that book and found a lot of resonances in her interpretations. Here I’m thinking of the surface meanings which are much more apparent in our societies.

Photo – Junk by Carrie Always at flickr.


The red shoes
The frog prince
Crown – any story where the ideal is to be a princess!
The magic porridge pot
Golden apples appear all over the place e.g. Atalanta, the judgement of Paris
Donkey skin – for a heart-breaking retelling of this story, I really recommend Robin McKinley’s Deerskin
The handless maiden
(see also my earlier poem “Opening the Door“)
Magic wands – thinking mostly of Cinderella again!
Seeds and salt – tales like Vasilissa or Rumpelstiltskin where the heroine must sort huge piles of grain.


20 responses to “Myths

  1. “For example, many of the interpretations of Bluebeard are judgemental about the woman’s curiosity and lack of self restraint in opening the door, rather than applauding her courageous determination to find out the truth.”

    See also the Lohengrin story.

    I’ve long suspected the theme of ‘something bad will happen if you question X’ is popular because to the extent that people buy that attitude it makes life so much easier for con artists such as priesthoods.

  2. Hi Jim and thanks for dropping by!

    Questioning authority is definitely not as popular a virtue as it should be!

  3. I got all of them except the donkey skin and the silver hands – I’d never heard those two before. But now I know. 🙂

    Now that you mention it, I can’t think of any classic mythology or fairy-tale in which the woman gets a “happy ending” in any way other than marrying a prince. That’s very strange, and disturbing, when you think about it. It’s as if the sole role of a woman’s life in these stories is to merge her identity into that of her husband, and if she does anything different, disaster is the result. (And if you go to the Bible and other religious texts, it gets a lot worse – Eve and the apple, Lot’s wife, Vashti in the Book of Esther…) Are there any classic myths that end up differently for the woman?

  4. Fantastic! This poem not only has a very important message, it is just plain fun to read.

  5. This is simply beautiful! The collection of mythical images is so entertaining!

  6. Thoughtfully provocative and beautifully written. Thank you.

  7. Attics can be a real adventure sometimes. These archaeological expeditions can reveal to us new dimensions to the stories that we live by in our lives. Our own mythology.

  8. Beautifully written. Those things that fill our minds deserve a second look before we walk away to make things news. Your imagery is wonderful.

  9. Your first lines are wonderful as is the photo! You have captured such truth in those lines.

  10. ‘a golden apple, marked with a bite gone brown’ sounds like a metaphor for my marriage.

    Virtually all people seek their soulmate, call him a prince, or her a princess… we all seek it.

  11. Thanks for this affirming take on mythology with respect to what it can too often be read to be saying about/to women and girls. (I have one poem which I almost posted today in which I re-wrote the Medusa myth.)

  12. I loved the first one because it is so true. Great take on myth for all of them.

  13. Oh, how true this myth is…wonderfully provocative poetry!

  14. Nice poem. Now, I am off to look up the two stories I don’t recognzie.

  15. Wow – what a deluge of encouraging comments! Thanks everyone, and I’m glad you found it interesting.

    Ebonmuse – I don’t know many myths that have positive endings other than the cliched “they-got-married-and-lived-happily-ever-after”. Of the one I mentioned, Vasalisa the wise does have a reasonably positive independent ending. But they’re rare!

    Willthink4wine – sorry if your marriage has a bite out of it – is the remaining 90% unbitten part still golden?

    Patricia – I think rewriting myths is a great exercise, particularly as you can change the elements. Will you be posting your Medusa story at some point?

  16. This is beautiful. I have to go look up two of the stories, but I love the music of your poetry… and that last stanza is magnificent.

  17. I hadn’t heard of the handless maiden. Thanks for the great poem that elicits so many childhood memories of fairytales read and read to me.

  18. it is a sad realization that we are not all hand maidens in waiting…for a knightly prince… i found it interesting about women asking questions… still today that is so real… before i awoke from a strange kiss of the poison apple.. sorry couldn’t help myself ..there was no asking questions… and two steps behind… well, now.. who cares i can ask all the questions i want… there’s such freedom in that…

  19. Pingback: Vigil « Words that sing

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