The Blood of the Rose


Robin Mork


The blood of the rose,
The flesh of the snow,
Reflected there in the glass;
My hair still as dark
As a murder of crows,
Denying the years as they pass.
"Still the fairest," they say,
Though I wonder these days
If the face in the mirror is real.
How can it be so
And yet never betray
The venom and torment I feel?

The trees have all lost
The last of their gold;
The woods have grown silent with snow.
The flames of my love
Have likewise grown cold-
"Ever after" expired long ago.
I have longed, as my own
Mother did, for a child
Like a snowfall, a raven, a rose-
My womb has been barren
As stone all the while
And each season my emptiness grows.

I look out the window
And into the square
Below at my blossoming niece.
At her own mother's death
She came into my care
But somehow my sorrows increase.
The dreams of a daughter
I hoped could be filled
By taking her under my wing
Were all instead starved
And eventually killed
As she bloomed in the heart of my king.

His daughter, he calls her,
Beloved his child
That this failure, the Queen, could not give;
And now as I watch
Her red hair flowing wild
I know I cannot let her live.
"Flame Red," says the kingdom,
"She's bright as the sun!
She'll be lovely one day as Madame."
(Was this how my own
Fateful tale had begun?)
My beauty is all that I am.

I think of the woman
My father had wed,
A queen with the dawn in her hair-
How desperately she
Must have wanted me dead
To remain, at the least, the most fair.
Now am I the heiress
Of her wretched guile
And how to succeed where she failed?
I've no magic with which
To ensnare the poor child,
So how then should she be assailed?

No bedeviled apples
Nor fell corset-lace;
Such hexes I've no skill to cast.
How shall I be rid
Of her charming face
And free of my torment at last?
Oh, Stepmother, help me,
Now truly your child,
With the cunning you took to your grave!
Infuse me with something
More potent and wild;
Grant me the vengeance I crave!

My fair niece, my quarry,
I see in my mind
How I may perchance take my stand...
Can I become the huntress
And lurk in the blind
'Til the moment to strike is at hand?
There is the answer!
The idea, inspired!
I'll send for my Huntsman, toute de suite!
And I see how my Stepmother's
Attempt backfired
And how to prevent a repeat.

My heart knocks against
My insides like a bell
In a tower of flesh, bone and blood.
My veins, tributary
To the rivers of Hell,
Throb in a poisonous flood.
"My Queen, I am summoned."
My good Huntsman kneels,
Eager his Lady to serve;
Let him never suspect
The excitement I feel-
A breath now, to steady my nerves.

"You have long and devotedly
Toiled in my name,
And I pray I can trust you tonight-
There's afoot a most wicked, insidious game;
Shall you pledge to help me set it right?"
"By my heart and my hand,"
He invokes the old oath,
"Your Majesty need only ask;
And if I should fail you,
Relieve me of both!
I am honored to shoulder the task."

And so, I present him
With that self-same box
That was meant to entomb my own heart,
And much to his credit
He masters his shock
At the tale in which he's to take part.

"Once upon a most
Terrible time in our land,
I brought to my castle a girl
Whose hair was as fire,
Her gaze warm as sand,
Skin luminous as a pearl.
I believed was the Princess,
The poor orphaned dove,
And called her my daughter that day.
Alas! An imposter
Has drunk of my love,
For the Princess was killed on the way!

"Do not inquire
The source of this tale;
With such secrets one must not be free-
She's bewitched the King,"
With a hush, I grow pale-
"And I'm told she has plans to kill me."
His ardent concern
Drains the blood from his skin;
"My Queen," he intones, "can it be?
Is Flame Red so scarlet,
So foul a villain?
Can malice appear so lovely?"

"My dear Huntsman, it seems
That the fairest of all
Are prey to the evilest wiles!
Malevolent mischief
And murderous gall
Can hide behind porcelain smiles.
But you shall defend me.
Can you be bold
And withstand the girl's treacherous tears?"
The Huntsman assures me
He'll do as he's told,
And protect me, and banish my fears.

He'll take her, unwitting,
Out into the white
Of the woods, to skate on the stream-
They'll be far from the city,
The town out of sight,
Not a soul near to mark if she screams.
He'll return under starlight,
The moon razor-thin,
And leave me the proof I desire:
My stepmother's box,
The girl's heart within,
And her scalp, lush with ringlets of fire.

"Mirror, now say
Who's fairest in the land?"
Does it matter my glass can't reply?
My triumph I hold
In my snow white hands
And I find that I've begun to cry.
My nemesis' blood
Runs red down my wrist
Like the red of the apple, my sin.
My lips, which my true love
Should never have kissed,
Are dark with the gore on my skin.

They say the Queen ate
The heart she thought mine,
Devoured it until it was gone.
As she sat, stained in blood,
Did she, too, find
The heart that she ate was her own?
Blood tastes like copper
With tears underneath;
Clean your plate like a good little girl-
And then clean all the red
From the perfect white teeth
Of the fairest woman in the world.