Shirt of Nettles, House of Thorns

by Nathalie F. Anderson

in awed esteem for Alice Maher
who made these things

1. Strange Seed

You plant the strange seed to see how it grows—

a beanstalk to the clouds, a better tomato,

poison apple, deadly nightshade, kudzu—

always a surprise. So the little ruddy rose hip

yawns into a peony; the grain of salt

takes fire, puffs out its cheeks of glass; the seed pearl

complicates in porcelain crinolines;

splinters thicken to hard block; the dust bunny

kicked and wincing, forgotten under the bed,

rowls itself into the junk–yard dog—that’s it

in a nutshell: each snail distilling

the cowl on its back, the husk it was born to.

2. House of Thorns

A nest for Thumbelina nestled into moss,

pied–á–terre among the pommes–de–terre,

basking and burnished as a cinnamon cat

licked into spits and glossy with tending.

Look again: it’s the bristling boll of sweet–gum or

sycamore or buck–eye—some spurred species—squared

to a folk profile: peaked roof, high gable

spiky with thorn—a closed house, impervious,

leathering into prickly isolation.

Where’s the girl ripe for piercing, who shuttered

her windows and latched fast her doors? Where’s the chink

to press an eye to? Where’s the coy lip to kiss?

Oh prince, rip your hands, rip your heart out. Someone

walked through the briars with her eyes wide open,

laying her hand deliberately against each thorn—

thick at the base, fanged at the tip, each cat–claw

<br /.

picked for its perfection, slicing the thumb

to the bone. Someone dried them, aligned them,

mortared them straight. Someone knew you’d come looking.

She built that house, made that bed, walked away.

3. Shirt of Nettles

Thick in the thicket gooseberries hung their lanterns

from two–inch spines; raspberries ripened into jam

on razor–edged canes. She held the gloves out

so disparagingly, you saw you couldn’t win.

Ringed round by thrusting briars muscled thick as snakes,

there’s not much scope for turning. Bees laced themselves

through the fretwork. The smug smile: "It’s only nettles." Your hands

puffed white with the sting. Blackbirds in the hawthorn,

beaks open for the bite. Between morning

and evening a quick snap of the tongue: fling out

the changeling cursed with a quickness

too sharp for her own good. Imagine going wittingly

to pluck the nettle, leaves caught in an apron

and every slightest brush a skin–popping shock. Greening,

flattening, pinning, stitching—bite your pillow,

claw at the air, skin welting along the spine and rib

of each fine seam, each particular leaf. How long

before you strip it off, bled light as a feather—

a pain you made to grow out of,

something for Good Will, last year’s fashion.

4. Ever After

Once upon a time—as long ago as that

and all forgiven. The curb falls from the tongue;

eyes cry themselves to clarity; the girl

wakes up, runs to the window, brushes

<br /.

her glowing hair. But close your eyes and

it’s the flay tongue, it’s the whip hand, it’s

the acid bath, the scald eye, the happy

ever after: fanged house, shirt of flame.