Quiet Magick

by Elizabeth R. McClellan


For S.J. Tucker & Catherynne M. Valente


"Fairy tales hardly ever come true for quiet girls."
So they think. The tourists. The lookee-loos
who peek at our lives like zoo exhibits, museum
displays, they love to declaim their theories
 
without ever actually asking us. After all,
what do we know? There's not enough money
to keep the children fed, much less acquire
a proper Aarne-Thompson Index.
 
You haven't read the Index, you're not a folklorist.
Even if you've lived folklore since before
you were conceived (with some help from a witch),
or since that snafu at your christening,
 
you are not an authoritative source on your own life.
They don't know whether we're quiet or loud:
that would mean letting us speak for ourselves,
Us fairy tale girls don't shout to be heard
 
over their monologues. We have to save our voices,
not risk raspy vocal chords when it's time to scream
or to tell the hidden truth clearly, a life and death matter.
The tourists are drawn to it, but don't want to touch:
 
it gets too real when there's wolfs blood on the snow,
when the smell of cooking sister-feet rises from
the glittering dance floor, when the dark figure
comes to the door for the promised infant,
 
or your new wife suggests how much easier it'd be
if that seventh son, that golden-ball daughter
just never came back home expecting a share
of the crumbs from your table. That doesn't glitter
 
like paste-jewel tiaras and mouse-sewn ballgowns.
Tourists are the same all over, they want
what's simple and shiny, not the stark, the stygian,
definitely not struggle, suicide, stepparents
 
who create nightmares, just familiar enough
to send the visitors running for the happy endings.
But time doesn't end. Time's a river flowing
to a sea of stones. One triumphant peasant princess
 
is a bloody revolution, later, not fit for
their preferred flavor of stories. And anyway,
who's quieter than a girl in a magic sleep,
a glass coffin, a servant's rags? But platitudes,
 
boiled down like the scum on a witch's cauldron,
those pretty fictions are what make careers.
Since they determine who gets a platform,
it's easy to erase the quiet girls even from
 
the stories everyone knows already.
After all, one should listen to the experts,
like we do severed horse-heads, mysterious
travelers on out of the way roads—
 
except our authorities have a better success rate.
But what would I know about fairy tales
coming true, when I never put my daughter
in a red hood, gambled her for lettuce,
 
sent her off to get lost, or favored her sisters?
Never mind the chest, banded in iron, buried,
sealed with sigils, their specifics lost to time—
after all, a selkie must hide her skin
 
or be enslaved to it. I prefer the sea
to be an choice, my love not bound up
in ownership, my legs only an option,
my leaving to come at my pace, not
 
the pull of a narrative desire. A secret
never indexed: sometimes knowing
the magic of quietude is the only way
to make your fairy tale come true.


###


Elizabeth R. McClellan is an occasionally wandering lawyer poet who may usually be found somewhere in the vicinity of the geographic center of Tennessee. Her work has appeared in many places, most recently Strange Horizons, Interfictions and Apex Magazine. If Elizabeth can't grow up to be Morticia Addams, Tommy Kotter or a nameless force of chthonic magic like the sea witch in the original Little Mermaid, she's fairly determined to avoid the whole business for as long as possible. For more of Elizabeth's work, visit her website at http://www.elizabethrmcclellan.com, fan her on Facebook at http://www.tinyurl.com/ermcFB, or follow her on Twitter @popelizbet.

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