Black, Red, White

May 17, 2011

Rachel Swirsky holds an MFA in fiction from the Iowa Writers Workshop and graduated from Clarion West in 2005. Her short fiction has been published in a number of magazines and anthologies, including Tor.com, Clarkesworld, and Subterranean Magazine, and been nominated for a number of awards, including the Hugo Award, the Locus Award, and the World Fantasy Award. In 2010, her novella “The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen’s Window” won the Nebula Award. As a kid, she watched too much Fairy Tale Theatre and memorized the score to Sondheim’s Into the Woods.

On her wedding day
she is red and black and white:
cheeks flushed with desire,
dark hair spilling over bridal gown.

She sits before her mirror,
toasting the best man.
He smiles, tips scarlet tablets
into her ruby wine. “To celebrate,”

he says. He is the huntsman, dark
burning before her wild, confused brain.
Slashes, wails – now, he is dragging her
through black forests of lamp-posts

toward a white-walled hacienda,
skylights shining down on
alabaster vases, cement sculptures,
carpets pale as innocence.

Into her ear he whispers desire
for her secret, inevitable ruby
cut from her chest and stowed
in a box beneath his pillow.

Drugs distort his face:
huntsman, dwarf, neglectful father,
he could be any of the men who’ve trailed
black wounds across her soul.

Her prince was a mirage
dreamed between bloodthirsty men.
This story is red with her own blood.
To live it is to bleed.

He pulls away, drags her
to a bedroom lined with mirrors
glittering colorless
diamond facets like coffin walls.

She hallucinates witches
black in mirrored depths,
cackling at her and her and her and her
in a thousand refractions.

She is fairest of all.
She is white as diamond.
She hitches her wedding gown
and runs into the mirrors

to shatter the coffin
to slip into a tale
of beige and pink
and grey.

© Rachel Swirsky

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