They kept asking if I was afraid. Not of the great white bear,
not of the North wind. I was born with nothing and so
I learned to live on little. I can fashion a nosegay from rags
and tin and I can flip the switch of fortune.
Palaces can disappear in an instant; golden apples
are always a gambit. Silk pillows are not to be trusted,
nor men that arrive at night unseen. But I’m a gambler.
I always knew you were an enchantment that might be broken.
Don’t trust men dressed as bears, my mother told me.
No one knew how to get East of the Sun, West of the Moon
but I set out anyway. I would borrow horses, break
golden spinning wheels and golden combs
to bring you home. I would brave the cold whistling air.
I climbed mountains and crossed plains.
I’ve always been beautiful, but we know also
that beauty cannot be trusted. The beauty may be
beastly, and of course every handsome prince
hides himself inside a bearskin.
East of the Sun, West of the Moon –
a path that cannot be followed.
I broke your spell. Now the polar bear and I
are equals, friendly with snow, undaunted by cold.
My love was inescapable, implacable as ice.
Now I am the one enchanted, a girl who will not be made afraid.
Jeannine Hall Gailey
Jeannine Hall Gailey served as the second Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington. She’s the author of five books of poetry: Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to the Floating World, Unexplained Fevers, The Robot Scientist’s Daughter, and Field Guide to the End of the World, which won the Moon City Press Book Prize and the SFPA’s Elgin Award. Her work has been featured on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac, Verse Daily, and in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. Her poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, Notre Dame Review and Prairie Schooner. Her web site is www.webbish6.com.
Artwork: Līga Kļaviņa, East of the sun, west of the moon