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Trail of Stones

illustration "Their Father" by Anthony Browne

Their Father

I won't say it wasn't my idea.
I think of Hansel's first attempt,
pockets dribbling those white stones,
a tenuous trail to the home
that had ceased to hold him.
I was alone with two children
at the edge of a great wood.

Like that a man can be a fool
when it comes to a woman.
She used to beg for lovemaking.
Her anger was more
than I had courage for;
her eyes, soft beneath me,
could turn in a frenzy.

When they returned,
following the moon-pebbled path
I vowed never. There are stones
in my belly; they rattle
in my dreams.

The next time Gretel held my hand.
Hansel held back to watch
a cat on the roof. If I'd known
of his scant offerings,
could I have left them?

The time they were away is silent
but for the sawing of inward anger.
I dreamed of birds,
swooping down on their trail.
My wife ate and ate
but grew thin in front of me.

I did nothing. When she dies
I drew inside the cottage,
shutters closed, a cage.
I lived in the smallest gestures:
sweeping, building a fire.
I moved as little as possible.

If I had the courage
I would enter the woods,
but I clung to cupboard habits.

Gretel, with her apron full of pearls,
has bought us a flock of geese.
Each morning I scatter crumbs for them;
Gretel likes it when I help:
either that, she says, or when I stay
out of her way.

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