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cover for The Handless Maiden and Other Twice Told Tales by Marge Simon. She does such great work!
The Handless Maiden and Other Twice Told Tales
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JoSelle gives an overview of the book:

Folktales. Fairy stories. Myths and legends. These are the stuff of human life, as changeable from one generation to the next as the humans who tell and re-tell them. Each retelling, each re-imagining breathes new life and new strength into a story, and new life into those who hear it. These 28 poems by Bram Stoker Award-nominated poet JoSelle Vanderhooft explore, change and dissect several of the stories that have enthralled and inspired humans for centuries. Within these pages, a hungry Little Red Riding Hood stalks a callow young wolf. The frog prince meditates on the eternal battle of the sexes. Helen of Troy is unveiled as a museum exhibit. A heroic prince sacrifices himself to a dragon to appease his people, and a young girl sacrifices her hands to protect her beloved father from the Devil. Melancholy, triumphant, harrowing and sometimes darkly sexy, these...
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Folktales. Fairy stories. Myths and legends. These are the stuff of human life, as changeable from one generation to the next as the humans who tell and re-tell them. Each retelling, each re-imagining breathes new life and new strength into a story, and new life into those who hear it.

These 28 poems by Bram Stoker Award-nominated poet JoSelle Vanderhooft explore, change and dissect several of the stories that have enthralled and inspired humans for centuries. Within these pages, a hungry Little Red Riding Hood stalks a callow young wolf. The frog prince meditates on the eternal battle of the sexes. Helen of Troy is unveiled as a museum exhibit. A heroic prince sacrifices himself to a dragon to appease his people, and a young girl sacrifices her hands to protect her beloved father from the Devil. Melancholy, triumphant, harrowing and sometimes darkly sexy, these twice-told tales honor the stories of the past by molding them into the stories of the future.

Read an excerpt »

Drab Grandmothers

Drab grandmothers
linger in the fetid basements
of wastrels, robbers, cannibals
             even the crow-clawed Devil,
             his blond locks flowing like a highwayman's.
Heads palsy-bobbing yes and yes again,
they sit up for their wayward grandsons
spider-attentive to the knotholes in grey breeches,
the grave-dirt on a handkercher, the carnage of ruffled collar.
Hearth light pours down their needles like cold rain.
White tallow pools in wrinkles.
Dry apricot ears prickle with each snap of logs
for the pound of boot-steps
the brays for stout ale and sweet mead
as they boil their maiden-supper.

Drab grandmothers
watch with mouse eyes
as the trembling girl is lifted,
laid out like a sacrifice upon the dinner table:
             jewels plucked like berries from her dew-drop ears,
             a spring-flush of gowns, corsets, chemises
             peeled back like onion skin so not to spoil them for reselling.
Their frail hands in their aprons tremble, too
as grandsons and their tribes begin the dinner-dance:
gold incisor gleam, hell-belch of horse nostrils,
shadows creeping through each notch and splinter
like blood from a rotten abattoir.
As the ring of wild men stomp and swear
a bacchanal of intestine, liver, lights,
little heart veins beating into stillness
they huddle, vanish into laundries, back rooms
cellars reeking of cold and mold colonies
as if they had forgotten a boiled pot,
as if they too were guilty.

Drab grandmothers
know better than to protest
             the clever's half moon arc,
             the screams cut off like fingers.
Though they know men's hunger sates
when dugs droop and wombs curl into dry leaves
their hearts still bleed and their bones jump high
when the motley band picks gristle from their incisors
and belches hair and menses.
For even though their lips are licked, their bellies slack in sleep
their teeth still glisten in the streaming moonlight
and she knows it only takes a little famine,
a little famine
and she may be next.

Drab grandmothers
can't know too much beyond the spider-spin of terror.
This is why they never truly understand
if it is the young bride's innocence
in coming to her robber bridegroom's slaughterhouse
her kindness in addressing them as "mother",
her beauty so much like their vanished youth,
             or simply their own exhaustion
             that makes them throw off caution like a blanket
             when the first white crocus peeks between the drifts.
They can never understand what witchcraft makes them
give these shaken beauties a bird's portion of bread
a squirrel's nip of schnapps
to shush their trembling.
They can never name what liquor emboldens them
to secret these willow girls behind the iron stove
a heartbeat before the door bursts like an aneurism,
before the butcher's round begins again.

Drab grandmothers
only know the warmth of hand in hand,
the fold of youth so confident, so strong
doorways gasp before it,
autumn skies spill milk and leaves.
Then they are rushing, pounding through the chill,
             pine trees tall as seraphs
             still water throwing stars
maiden, crone gasp as one for freedom
as they tumble through the death-black forest
as they are both rebirthed into each other,
the savior and the saved.

Drab grandmothers
do not weep but a little
when the bride tells all her charnel tale,
when the sheriff ends the wedding feast,
when her grandson swings and blasphemes
against a sky of crows.
And as their tears dry into wind they are
transmuted, somehow from bent-back automata
into bright eyes, laughter,
even roses
sprinkling the path where she lives now;
in the maiden's house where fingers touch,
where lips brook-bubble into love songs
and her needles now embroider gowns
thick as gardens with lilies and heartsease;

thick as gardens where they now walk arm-in-arm
love-knot of blush-bride and spinster.

joselle-vanderhooft's picture

My latest poetry book! I'm so excited.

About JoSelle

JoSelle Vanderhooft is the author of several poetry collections, including The Minotaur's Last Letter to His Mother (Ash Phoenix), the 2007 Stoker-nominated Ossuary (Sam's Dot Publishing), Desert Songs (Cross-Cultural Communications...

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