I am beautiful you say, sublime,
Black and crystal as a winter's night,
With lips like rubies, cabochon,
My eyes deep blue as sapphires.
I cannot blame you for your praise:
You took me for my beauty, after all;
A jewel in a casket, still as death,
A lovely effigy, a prince's prize,
The fairest in the land.
But you woke me, or your horses did,
Stumbling as they bore me down the path,
Shaking the poisoned apple from my throat.
And now you say you love me, and would wed me
For my beauty's sake. My cursed beauty.
Will you hear now why I curse it?
It should have been my mother's — it had been,
Until I took it from her.
I was fourteen, a flower newly blown,
My mother's faithful shadow and her joy.
I remember combing her hair one day,
Playing for love her tire-woman's part,
Folding her thick hair strand over strand
Into an ebon braid, thick as my wrist,
And pinned it round and round her head
Into a living crown.
I looked up from my handiwork and saw
Our faces, hers and mine, caught in the mirror's eye.
Twin white ovals like repeated moons
Bright amid our midnight hair. Our eyes
Like heaven's bowl; our lips like autumn berries.
She frowned a little, lifted hand to throat.
urned her head this way and then the other.
Our eyes met in the glass.
I saw what she had seen: her hair white-threaded,
Her face and throat fine-lined, her eyes softened
Like a mirror that clouds and cracks with age;
While I was newly silvered, sharp and clear.
I hid my eyes, but could not hide my knowledge.
Forty may be fair; fourteen is fairer still.
She smiled at my reflection, cold as glass,
And then dismissed me thankless.
Not long after the huntsman came, bearing
A knife, a gun, a little box, to tell me
My mother no longer loved me. He spared me, though,
Unasked, because I was too beautiful to kill.
And the seven little men whose house
I kept that winter and the following year,
They loved me for my beauty's sake, my beauty
That cost me my mother's love.
Do you think I did not know her,
Ragged and gnarled and stooped like a wind-bent tree,
Her basket full of combs and pins and laces?
Of course I took her poisoned gifts. I wanted
To feel her hands combing out my hair,
To let her lace me up, to take an apple
From her hand, a smile from her lips,
As when I was a child.
About the Author: Delia Sherman is the author of The Porcelain Dove, Through the Brazen Mirror, The Fall of the Kings, and numerous short stories. The poem is based on the Grimms’ fairy tale Snow White.
Copyright © 1995 by Delia Sherman. The poem first appeared in The Armless Maiden, published by Tor Books. It may not be reproduced in any form without the author’s express written permission.