(for Anne Sexton)
“Many a girl
had an old aunt
who locked her in the study
to keep the boys away” Anne Sexton, Rapunzel, pg 35, Transformations, 1971, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.
They are bent over their work, these Mother Gothels; each finger is a hook made for crocheting shawls from morning dew. Each one owns her own tower. Each one remembers a violence in the body – a meaty hand over the mouth. Each old bod is a patchwork quilt of scars.
The towers are feats of engineering, high and intricate as wedding cakes. Each one was built to house a young maiden, who grows her hair long, so that her mother can shimmy up to grab a kiss and a hug and to feed delicacies of the forest into the bird-like beak of her daughter.
The young women’s songs are living birds that soar over the canopy, the fields, to find the waiting ear of a young man or woman, someone possibly strong and able, who will pursue the song back to its origin, with more dedication than a musicologist or an ornithologist. Each young maid is a rebel in a turret, longing to earn her own wounds, to grow old and be as capable as a mother.
The old women are an impenetrable hedge of thorns that has done blooming. Each one holds a heart, soft and delicate as clam’s flesh, sorrow-salted. At day’s close, the mothers are climbing the hawsers of their daughter’s braids.
Some nights the girls collectively dream of stitching all the mothers up into a giant winding sheet, and tossing the bundle in the river, to be done with the ache of the scalp from so much hair used as rope and the solitary confinement. In the heat of the sun, the towers are sweat boxes and they wilt at the window for the breeze and in the winter, the darlings nearly freeze.
The mothers have no inkling a revolution is brewing; for they have forgotten their own revolts. Princes and princesses are coming to sow seeds in the girls and that knowledge will be more dangerous than any random dandy. Once the girls start reading, it will all be over.