New Poetry from Anna Maria Hong, N. node in Aries
Some tales are so attenuated that you can’t feel what’s happening: a girl with bad skin
convinces her parents to buy her an expensive pair of jeans. Some lives are marked by a
paucity of tragedy. One can assume that everyone suffers, though there are two kinds of
difficulty: the kind you can speak about—your father’s death, a crappy job, busting your
Achilles—and others that entail the fear of being tapped again as aberrant. Let’s say there
was a young girl, so _________ that once she hit puberty, her mother put her in a glass
carriage with a beast, a monster with a man’s brain, face, and hands and the matted pelt
and girth of a fire-breathing lion. After raping the girl, the beast reverts to his skinny,
grimacing human form, dumping the girl’s body in a field before driving the carriage
home to the girl’s mother who is immensely relieved to see the man come home in one
piece. The girl will never forget the look on the man’s face as he grabbed her small body,
the look of sadistic pleasure as he twisted her small breast. The girl crawls into a well
where she finds the skin of a large goose, which she puts on to cover her shame, cuts, and
bruises. The skin zips up like a snowsuit, covering her from throat to toes in white feathers.
Crawling out of the well, the girl happily discovers her horse who had trotted after the
carriage through the dark Woods, faithfully following the girl, patiently waiting for the girl
to climb out of the well and into the night. The girl takes the horse’s reins and walks beside
it. They walk and walk, the girl in her loose suit of feathers that will tighten as she grows
older, the horse occasionally stopping to eat grass, until they come upon a small cottage
with one window lit up by firelight. Clutching the reins, the Goose-girl knocks at the door.
“Who is it at this time of night?” says a middle-aged man as he swings the door open. He is
pleasantly surprised to see the girl, whom he takes to be an idiot, and her bright-eyed
horse. He thinks they will do. His wife agrees.
His wife says, “You must be starving. I know your mother. You’ll sleep in the barn and
work for us in the morning.”
When the girl awakes, she finds that her horse has been decapitated, its head hung up
above the barn door. It is talking to her through its bleeding mouth and neck. It says:
“Don’t be afraid. The worst has happened. Ten more years of servitude, followed by a
decade of misery, retreat, and finally the turn. Half your life will be over, but you’ll know
when the spell is over, and the rest will feel like a boon, more life than you can now
fathom. You’ll return to your mother’s cottage, her husband dead of natural causes. There’s
no grasping some people’s motives. Your mother was always more childish than wicked.
She will expect you to care for her.”
The abandonment and severed head are pure fantasy. In the reality, the Goose-girl had to
go home right after being raped. She had to live with the beast, who never touched her
again, and her mother, working for them, going to school, eating their food, sleeping in
their cottage. She won’t remember her mother’s role—throwing her into the carriage in
spite of the girl’s protests—until 20 years later. “I knew you would bring him back,”
explained the mother.
The girl will work 30 jobs before she is 21, sending her mother money from college. She
will be a very good daughter, and then she won’t be when she chooses, as the dead horse
predicted, to be a person instead of a very competent erasure.
If the mother had said, “I never should have forced you to go,” it would have made a
difference. How does the grown hybrid, the woman/animal wearing her own skin, let go
of the desire to be seen by the child who is an old woman? Is it like the skin of an animal
that can be slipped off or more like the first undoing when the child becomes a woman?
“I knew a monster once,” said the Duck to the Swan and the Goose. The Swan picked at a
gnat on her pretty black neck.
“Yeah, right,” said the Goose shifting her webbed orange feet. They were all sick of the
Duck’s melodrama, his flair for hogging the conversation with his real and imagined
“But I did,” said the Duck. “He had a man’s face and hands but a lion’s mane and hind feet
and a dragon’s tail.”
“Dragons don’t exist,” said the Swan yawning.
“I’d take a dragon over a human,” said the Goose suddenly remembering something.
All nerve and no pain make Jane a beaver without a cunt, a sex toupee.
Pass me the gas in the Mason’s bottle
out of me.
I’m a Barbary ape shrunk
to the depth
of a candle
dick like a manual
alphabet. Every anthem
is a hung
As pride swallows lust
opening its jaws to 180 degrees.
makes itself a ring,
mailed—rolling . . .
The amphisbaena has no natural predators, being
unnatural. Lust overlaps chastity,
bronze scales on a sealed ring.
Anna Maria Hong’s poetry collection, Age of Glass, won the Cleveland State University Poetry Center’s 2017 First Book Poetry Competition. Her novella, H & G, won the A Room of Her Own Foundation’s Clarissa Dalloway Prize and was published by Sidebrow Books. Both titles were selected for Entropy magazine’s Best Books of 2018. Her second poetry collection, Fablesque, won Tupelo Press’s Berkshire Prize and is forthcoming in early 2020. A former Bunting Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, she has published work in The Nation, The Iowa Review, Ecotone, Fence, Jacket2, New Delta Review, amberflora, Poetry, Poetry Daily, and The Best American Poetry. She teaches literature and creative writing at Bennington College.