You know that story about the girl who meets the wolf
beside the forest, the girl who wears crimson, who takes
the long way through the wood to gather blooms.
In my mother’s version, the girl is mindless. Her head
lolls. Her eyes roll like marbles. She is not girl but doll,
as dumb as porcelain. You can’t help but favor the wolf –
Don’t talk to strangers, my mother says. Don’t stop to
pick flowers. Don’t wear red. Don’t answer the door when
I’m not home. Don’t stray from the path I showed you.
Only a sliver of light bleeds through the doorway.
The bed creaks. In the hall, no father’s footsteps.
She bends toward me. Be not girl, her eyes say, but wolf –
Years later, in the same room, I awake from dreams
of shadows. My flesh prickles with fur. My body
hums with ancient pangs. I want. I doubt. I dread.
My heart thrums drumbeats. The moon calls
my flesh beneath my nightgown. I search
the dark lawn. My mother is dead.
The grass stretches, a sea of shadows, into streetlights.
Headlights telescope up the hill. The radiator clanks.
My voice trembles in my throat, a howl,
as I stand behind the cracked glass of that window
with my memory of that story and my mother,
and no one but the moon to tell.
Into the Dark Wood
Follow me into the dark wood
where trees branch into infinity,
a maze so thick it repels the rain.
Keep your eyes on the old earth.
Watch for oak roots. Among them,
mushrooms multiply in perpetual
shadow. Above, the leaves speak.
They huddle together. They have
known each other centuries. They
whisper, We will not move. We will
not part for any wind. You get the
sense that you’re interrupting. Hares
disappear in the thicket. A buck
watches from the bushes. His horns
divide like water. He listens.
He breathes. He bounds away.
Where are we going, you ask. Where
he goes, is my answer. To the
beginning of time. To the root
of the river. All the way to the cave.
Mary McMyne teaches writing at Lake Superior State University, where she co-edits Border Crossing, a journal of literature and art. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Phantom Drift: A Journal of New Fabulism, New Delta Review, Exquisite Corpse, and other journals. She won the Faulkner Prize for a Novel-in-Progress for her project reimagining the Odysseus myth for an American soldier’s wife during the Vietnam War. “Into the Dark Wood” and “Fur” are persona poems from the perspective of a character in her current project, retelling the Red Riding Hood fairytale in the 1920s. Her fiction is represented by Kathleen Anderson of Anderson Literary Management. Visit her online at www.marymcmyne.com.
Q: Whose work do you prefer – that of the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, or Charles Perrault – and why?
A: I grew up reading the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen. As a girl, my favorite stories were “Hansel and Gretel” and “Little Red Riding Hood” by the former and the beautifully dark version of “The Little Mermaid” by the latter. I can’t really say which of the three I prefer overall – they’re all such products of their times – but I can say I’ve read a lot of transformations of Little Red Riding Hood, and of the older versions, I prefer Perrault. Red dies at the end, plain and simple, and there’s a kind of dignity in that.
Q: J.R.R. Tolkien wrote that “The Cauldron of Story has always been boiling, and to it have continually been added new bits, dainty and undainty.” What bits are we adding in these late days?
A: I think we’re in a strange and wonderful place, right now, in literary history. Our collective imagination seems obsessed with speculation in a way I don’t think we’ve been for a long time. My father read Tolkien alone, late at night, by flashlight in the ‘50s. Now kids obsess together over Harry Potter or The Hunger Games. There are so many strange and wonderful stories–myths and fairytales and legends–being rewritten and invented for this age. I think–I hope–we’re coming out of an era obsessed with “reality” and moving into one more interested in possibility.
Q: What items would you take to survive in the Dark Wood?
A: Bread crumbs.