Crouched and crowded close around the latest cradle,
each fairy godmother clutches her christening gift:
a cuddly soft toy, flop–eared, deep–furred, bright–eyed —
twelve in hand, a ready–made infant's zoo, or court,
of domestic and exotic and heraldic beasts.
Here's a terry teddy and a plush pink piglet;
here fox sniffs rabbit, and lion lies with lamb;
here's a deep sea stallion and a dark night mare;
the swash swanny–swan; the chit–chittermunk;
rugged alligator; svelte unicorn
Any mother should be pleased with such gentle baby gifts,
but the queen's white–lipped and shaking in her golden shoes.
She's remembering, as ever, the ever–
forgotten guest, that final fairy at the feast
with her cross–eyes, her cross–bones, her cross–hairs; cross–grained
of course and crotchety, long crossed off every sane king's
invitation list, but ever–present nevertheless.
The queen goes pink, goes pale, goes livid, remembering
her repeating with such relish the family curse:
"Whatever it is they give you, you'll be wanting more."
And so it's been. The prim princess royal, gifted
with itty–bitty knitted booties, now acquires shoes —
so many, she'll never go slip–shod or round–heeled,
a pair for every colored thread in every Persian carpet
in the castle, where, amidst the silver and the crystal
slippers, she keeps even kitchen clogs, some for meat, some dairy.
And the crown prince, gifted prophylactically with christening cards,
lives in a paper palace, the turrets stacked and crammed
with unread magazines and news; and when the mail arrives he
crumples it underfoot, papering over the floor of his den.
A gift of dolls? Action figures, mannequins.
A gift of rattles? Drum sets and gamelans.
A gift of match–box cars? Oh, the garages!
There's a prince who bets on ponies. There's a prince
who marries show–girls. There's a princess who reads
twelve mysteries whenever she's down. The psychiatrist's
been at them, blames the famines, the plagues, the wars,
the financial set–backs of the thirties
that the king and queen fought through. Calls it "socio–
genetic predisposition." Huh. The queen knows what she knows.
And now this soft one, swaddled in her pets. From here on,
for sure, if it's soft, she'll want it, whine and pine for it,
all fleecing hands and brimming boo–hoo eyes. No naps
without her stuffies; no snacks without her stuffies;
no pageantry without a crush of stuffies
cuddled with her in the coach. If a servant
should misplace just one, her eye is on that sparrow,
even among the oldest most thread–bare original twelve,
clutched closest and longest and grubbiest. Tamper
at your risk: soft will sink you, suffocate you,
fluff and plump and cushion you to death. Any hardness,
she'll feel it, find it, fling it from the nest: biting off
and swallowing the button eyes and noses;
scattering the stash of diamonds smuggled cunningly
through customs in a cuddly belly; bruising herself
on a husk of lentil; knotting her back on a pearl
or a pea; slapping aside each needle, each spindle,
each stiffened handle of each neighboring prince
(each fondled, dandled, ultimately swindled). The queen
sees her daughter's life unfold: twelve feather beds to lie on,
twelve eider quilts heaped over, twelve comforters
of foam and froth and peach fuzz hushed on top.
And brown squirrels, grey squirrels, red squirrels, chickaree;
chamois and chinchilla and chickadee;
cotton mouth; mamba; alpaca and angora;
ant bear, ice bear, skunk bear; grizzly, grison, sloth;
karakul and cashmere; bush baby; aye–aye;
sea mew, booby, auk; ermine, sable, mink.
Not to mention marabou. Soft and softer, cushy and cushier.
She'll want the clouds next. Someone's going to pay and pay.
This poem utilizes a concept — 'soft addiction' — articulated by self–help author Judith Wright.
About the Author: Nathalie F. Anderson won the Washington Prize for her first book of poetry, Following Fred Astaire, and the McGovern Prize for her most recent collection, Crawlers. Her poems have appeared in The Paris Review, North American Review, Denver Quarterly, DoubleTake, Louisville Review, Southern Poetry Review, Inkwell Magazine, New Millennium Writings, Nimrod, The Southern Anthology, and numerous other publications, as well as in the Ulster Museum's collection of visual art and poetry, A Conversation Piece. A 1993 Pew Fellow, Anderson serves currently as Poet in Residence at the Rosenbach Museum and Library, and is a Professor in the Swarthmore College Department of English Literature, where she directs the Program in Creative Writing.
Copyright © 2008 by Nathalie F. Anderson. This poem may not be reproduced in any form without the author's express written permission.