The Letters Page Vol. 6, #1: You Must Still Beware of the Wolves

The Letters Page Vol. 6, #1: You Must Still Beware of the Wolves

It has once again been some time since we’ve written to you, dear reader and friend of The Letters Page. Some study leave has occurred. The office has been empty; the excellent group of students who saw us through Vol.5 have departed for other shores, and their place has been taken by a smaller but no less enthusiastic group who are ready to shepherd Vol.6 in your direction.

Our first letter of Vol.6 comes from Hannah Jansen, a writer based in Rockport, Maine, who has previously published in Tin House Online, The Literary Review, and Poetry Ireland Review.

Hannah’s letter, addressed from ‘The Queen’ to an ‘S’, is also addressed to Anne Sexton’s 1971 poem, ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves,’ and written as a response to it. In places her letter quotes directly from Anne Sexton’s original text, and we have noted these with the original quote in a footnote. (Longer-term readers of The Letters Page will remember our fondness for footnotes. Footnotes are back.)

For her work, Hannah has been handsomely rewarded with a year’s subscription to the rather wonderful A Public Space.

We hope this letter finds you. Do write, and let us know how things are where you are.

Dear S,

Who knows if, or when, you’ll get this. It’s rather wild out here where I am, and I can’t speak to the reliability of the mail service. Anyway, time doesn’t matter much here, even if you’re getting on where you are.

Because of course, I imagine you are. Getting on, that is. I imagine you and the Prince have your own little one at this stage. Maybe the little one has your rolling blue eyes1 and your lovely skin, which so entranced the Prince, and so enraged me completely all those years ago. If that’s what it’s been, years. As I said, time doesn’t matter much, here. On the plus side I don’t seem to be ageing at all, not that I care about all that anymore. Yes, I’ve no doubt you won’t believe that, but it’s true. After what happened, I stopped paying attention altogether. Even if I hadn’t been scorched alive at your nuptials, I think I would’ve given it up rather quickly, if I’d known what a time-saver it was not to care. I would have perhaps found some other project upon which to bestow my attention. I dumped all my creams out on the rocks – no wildwood here, S, only rocks, cairns and cairns of them – and it was rather freeing, actually. You see my house here is very small, S, and I was hoping I might free up some space for a new cot upon which to rest my feet and ankles, which, you might be interested to know, are still ensconced in red-hot iron shoes, as bright and shining as they were when they were gifted to me – amid the streamers, the cake strewn with marigolds – on your wedding day. I’m sure you don’t care, or would perhaps be glad to know, that my feet still beat in pain, though it seems my feet have finally stopped smoking.

My heels, indeed, are black. Anyway, I had a little rock sale with the creams and some other things, namely, my laces and my ivory hairbrushes, and my looking glass that hung, all those years, upon the wall. I made a sign using my lipsticks. But no one came except for the gulls, for gulls are the only birds that fly here, S.

Yes, I’m sure you’re wondering. You’re thinking, she’s finally lost her mind. Gulls in hell? For I’m sure you expected I went straight to hell, S, and maybe I did, for all I can tell of this land, but I can say that I did not go to a hot place. I am in a kind of sea-village. A cold, rocky bit by the deep. Crusted salt and all that. Except it’s just myself here on the rocks, by the sea. There are no fishermen, though surely there must’ve been, once. Their boats are here, though they’re quite abandoned – green with algae, spattered with the faeces of gulls. On one of them the innards of something, I know not what. Sometimes, in the evenings, some young people come by and stand out on the rocks, and sometimes there are little sticks of fire between their fingers, and sometimes they pop their tongues into each others’ mouths. I don’t go near them because of the fire, and because I am tired.

S, this is not an apology. I think even you would recognise that I’m not one to write simply to apologise. I once tried to eat your lungs. I put a scorpion in your hair. I gave you the deadliest apple in the land. But I have been staring into the sea for a long, long time, and my pride has quite floated away. I can’t say what strange luck has befallen me, that I should have been given another chance at life – if that is what it is, luck; and if that is what this is, life – but I don’t think you quite got all of me, when you gave me those red-hot roller skates, when I danced and danced to my death. As I did not – in the end – have the chance to talk to you, I write to offer up some tidbits. Take them as you wish. You are, after all, a queen.

Firstly, I want to say that, though you are married to the good prince, who loves you very much, you must still beware of the wolves. Though they may seem to have vanished, I write to tell you that they are very much still there, in the woods. They are standing in doorways. They are standing with their tongues out.2 They are preparing their next best dish. It would not be such a terrible thing, S, to take some lace, and wad it in the pocket of your dress when you go on your walks. Should a wolf get too close to you, dangle the lace in front of its face to distract it, then stuff it quickly in its eyes and run away. Lace is excellent for stuffing in a wolf’s eyes, as it is very coarse and upsets the wolf quite a lot, usually giving you just enough time to make your escape. Sometimes a wolf will try to run after you, but usually he will just give up.

Secondly, I write to say that I think of your doll eyes, your absolute pin of a waist, and your smooth, smooth skin, and I am compelled to tell you that if you own a mirror, which, I assume, you do, you might not want to look into it too often. I do not think that you will, given your nature, but as you are indeed, quite beautiful, it is worth tucking somewhere in the back of your mind. You might want to vary your activities. Shift your attention instead to your little one, if indeed a little one there is. Keep an eye out, is all I’m saying, but not necessarily on yourself. I do not want to be forgiven for the jealousy that is a part of who I am – was – but I do not believe I am mistaken in thinking that someone, somewhere, once said, “Beauty is a simple passion.” I am living – nay, dead – proof. There’s no saying it couldn’t happen to you.

Thirdly – and I suppose this is the salted, beating heart of the matter3 – I want to say that I hope you find some ardor in your life. I hope there falls upon you some zeal. It’s possible my assumptions about you, S, were wrong, that you may not have been such a dumb bunny4 after all. Perhaps you are simply a different kind of bunny. But what is – what always has been – clear, is that I am much older than you, and you cannot deny that I have seen something more of the world. My passions may have been wicked, but I write to say that it is good to have passions in one’s life. I am just now, for the first time, experiencing a feeling, which I have never in my crazed life felt before. It rustles what is left of my hair as I stare out at the sea. Burnt hair falls lightly onto the rocks, like the gull feathers I sometimes find. I don’t mind telling you that I feel a kind of sorrow. I feel grief for the energy I once had. A mildness has befallen me, and I do not know what to make of it. I seek to slough it off like a skin. Here I am, without the plans that so excited me, the energy that propelled me through the years, though it drove me to this coldness, this end. I may have lived in selfishness, but I was also my own companion. Had I not looked in the mirror, I don’t know how I would’ve gotten through the days, and I’ve decided that the only way I can go on here is to find some new pursuit, some project to move myself along. The rock sale was a terrible failure, but I have saved the creams and the lipsticks, and I will find some use for them yet. Too, I am growing used to the strange palette of this land. I’ve noticed, lately, the rocks are not wholly grey. They are blue and brown and red. They can sometimes, even, be beautiful. You are a different queen than I. You may not seek the sustenance I seek; you may not thrive on fire. But I hope you find something that keeps you going, and the thing in yourself you can turn to, for when you are alone in the world. For when the prince is not around, and your little one has left the castle, and there is no one to sing to but yourself. Because that day will come, I assure you.

I do hope you are having good weather. I still maintain that the wildwood is one of the most beautiful places to exist. I was often distracted by my own beauty when I lived there, but even I sometimes halted for the sight of bluebells spread beneath the trees, which cast their green shadows over the open, lightly quivering petals, the trees themselves looming in their soft, long, and beautiful darkness. I hope your little one finds joy in the skunk cabbage, the jack-in-the-pulpit, and the trillium, which, when it bloomed, was more or less the colour of your lips.

Same old, same old, today. Grey, cold. Spitting rain. In a bit, I have plans to go out on the rocks, the farthest out I’ve yet been. I think I will make a cairn. Yes, I’m quite determined. After that, who knows. I’ll think of something.

Your stepmother,

The Queen.

1 “rolling her china-blue doll eyes / open and shut”

2 “and at each stood a hungry wolf, / his tongue lolling out like a worm.”

3 “Bring me her heart, she said to the hunter, / and I will salt it and eat it.”

4 “Snow White, the dumb bunny, / opened the door”

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