Sleeping Beauty

Optimists!  One hundred years,
they said.  Well, once upon a time
a hundred years may have seemed like
a very long time.  Millennia
have since passed us by, women
watching their own beauty
spend itself in paralyzed dreams
while an ancient curse keeps clutching
their arms stiff to their sides, closing
their eyes; and their hearts are beating
the minimum beat for survival.

Yes, once upon a time
there was a queen and a king to whom
a daughter was born.  A daughter
still meant something then, for
a feast of celebration was prepared
and all the people of the land
were invited, including the wise women,
all except one, the thirteenth.
There was an excuse, of course.
There always is.  The king claimed
there were only twelve golden plates
(Aquarius, Pisces, Aries, Taurus,
Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra,
Scorpio, Sagittarius and Capricorn)
So how could they serve the thirteenth?

All the twelve honored wise women
showered the princess with gifts,
grace, beauty, courage and riches,
strength, joy, friendship and love,
compassion, wisdom, talents, and
then the thirteenth wise woman stepped in.
We are told she was an ogre, raving,
cursing, stomping her feet and frothing
at the mouth from envying the honored ones:
“At her fifteenth birthday the princess
shall prick herself on a distaff
and die.”  So we are given to believe.
Pretty amazing.  One who never saw
a spinning-wheel would think such
a thing composed of daggers and thorns.

I can imagine a different scene.
The thirteenth wise woman steps in
to plead on behalf of
the thirteen full moons in our years,
bright golden plates in the sky,
the guardians of our ancient lore.
“If you deny them,” I hear her
warning, probably by now she is
quite passionate, “if you will change
this, claiming twelve cycles, twelve
signs, twelve disciples, twelve
tribes of Jacob, claiming the sun
and the Son for your guardians,
then, God help you – He will
be the only help left – but the woman born
today, she will not live. She will
be given into marriage early, say
at age fifteen, and that will be
the last her name is heard.
King So-and-So’s consort.
Innkeeper’s wife. Mrs. John Doe.”

And now the twelfth wise woman steps in,
trembling with concern, the burden
of responsibility of one so seemingly
so honored in the king’s domain. “I cannot,”
here some hesitation mixed with fear and
yearning to feel ancient peace descend
again, “I cannot undo her words. I can only
lighten them with hopefulness, for surely
she shall not die. Perhaps a deep sleep,
say, a hundred years, until a future
order is established.”  For a wise woman
this was without doubt a good and optimistic try,
but not great foresight.  Perhaps she was
indeed too pressured with the burden
of the moment.  Who can tell?  What
the world around us tells us is that
all humanity fell permanently
into sleep – some nightmares and a few
sweet dreams – along with the princess,
including all the wise women of old.

The story continues.  The king,
out of concern for his girl’s welfare,
banished all distaffs from the land.
Again he had the perfect excuse,
the curse, to rob his daughter of
what had been women’s livelihood
and occupation from the beginning
of civilized time: spinning, weaving,
creating, transforming.  And by a
stroke of cunning and luck, the king
of course had all sympathies on his side
with his popular policies, his
fatherly decree:  All for her best.

We are told of the fifteenth birthday.
By then the interest in daughters
must have faded.  The king and the queen
weren’t even at home, and the princess
was probably bored and moody.  Imagine
a girl that age left to her own
resources and nothing useful
to do.  So she climbed up into a tower,
ivory or solid brick, no matter,
turned a rusty key and found an ancient
woman spinning.  “Oh, show me how,” she begged,
but somehow it was already too late.
And then, it is told, she fell down
into abiding sleep.  And the kingdom
with her.  Curious that a bed was
right there.  At any rate, it is recorded
that she was pricked, as predicted.

A hedge of roses grew around her
and many princes foundered on
its thorns.  Not too surprising.
After a long enough time of training
women to be breathing puppets,
even a man’s most ardent passion
would seem closer to necromancy than
anything else, what with the kingdom
paralyzed in patriarchal ideology,
and the few rebels who venture too
close to love crucified on its thorns,
and then, and only then, worshipped
as holy martyrs.  Only inside
the roses did the dreams of old
keep spinning, now that no distaffs were
left.  Such is the nature of women,
so long as some life-breath is left,
they will spin, they will weave,
they will dance, they will have roses

around them, magical life-blood
of dreams, so beautiful, so alluring,
and protecting the woman with a curtain
of grace and a hedge of dread.
Can you imagine some desperate princes
charging with their violent emotions,
impatient with everyday lives,
wishing to rape the dream rather than
to nourish it, and ending up impaled
on roses?  For this beauty, though
sleeping, ancient power laid barren,
would not be dragged out
on some lord’s fiery stallion in order
to become smaller and smaller
and smaller, a lady.

There was another optimist at last, the last
prince, a sort of tarot deck fool, too
young a soul to know much death, too
innocent to carry sword and greed or lust.
Some old shepherd warned him:  Don’t
go near her!  Female beauty is a curse
to men, and plenty like you have
died, hanging miserably in the thorns,
food for ravens.  He probably whispered
ominous words such as vagina dentata,
emasculation, vampire witch, sorceress,
she’ll feed on your blood and worse,
your soul, young prince, she’ll cause
your guts to rot with feminine
contamination.  I suspect the reason
why this prince didn’t dash home
shrieking with terror was he didn’t
understand the fancy maledictions,
for, it is told, he didn’t
care for anything except her legendary
beauty.  One thing he must have
done right was he must have walked
toward the roses gently.
They behaved like flowers.  For him
they simply bent away to let him in,
and after him they closed again,
with the intelligence of matter
that doesn’t turn into a curse unless
it meets with violation.  Other than that
extraordinary taming of the roses
he didn’t do much.  He kissed her.
Who wouldn’t have?  Some
say it was all a matter of timing.
Her allotted time of sleep was up.
Certainly he wasn’t necessary.  But he
was there, and that’s nice.  If anything,

though, he seems to be a phase
of the future, while we are now still
part of her difficult dreams.  I know I am
one part of her that keeps asking:
Spirit of earth, our Lady, why?  How could
these perversions take root and spread
across the face of your world so
brutally, like a disease, a festering
of self-inflicted wounds?  How could
women sleep so long under the raw
blanket of insults, belittlement, hard
work and contempt?  Preserving only
weird tales woven into acceptable
images, hidden among the children,
out in the open, and yet so concealed,
in case earth would live and someone would
live long enough and fortunate enough
to learn to bother to make the connections.

Lady, soul of the thirteenth moon,
I am trying to make the connections.
Let it not be too late to welcome you
back into our beauty, our lives.
There are enough plates, there are
the roses you left us when we slept,
and dreams when we imagined ourselves
too powerless.  Give us this day
the strength to spin our threads of life,
the texture of dawn, of waking.

[Born in Germany, Beate Sigriddaughter currently lives in North Vancouver, British Columbia. Three times a Pushcart Prize nominee, she has published prose and poetry in many print and online magazines. Her most recent book, the novella Snow White: A Mirror In Several Voices, came out in 2009.  She also established the Glass Woman Prize to honor passionate women’s voices, the details of which can be found here. ]

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