Matt Bell

from Death Domestic

What are you working on now?
I turned my next novel in to my publisher last December, which means that I've spent much of the year in a sort of novel-writing limbo, waiting for edits, not quite ready to start the next one. In the lull, I ended up writing a lot of other things instead, after six or seven years of almost nothing but novel drafts: I wrote a short non-fiction book, put the finishing touches on a short story collection, and wrote a chapbook of poems, the first I've written in ten years or so. I started these poems right after finishing the novel, and what started simply as a way to take a break from prose ended up becoming something I've spent a lot of the year working on. The project these poems come from began with a simple rule: That I would learn to write poems again by constraining the subject matter to fairy tales, a genre I already think a lot about and that is important to my prose. I thought if I didn't have to discover the subject matter of my poetry, I'd have more time to work on the form—but then of course the form took me new places within fairy tales I thought I knew so well.


In drawn dreams the birds
do the chores of the captive.
Cels and cells. All the colors
painted across the backside
to eliminate brushstrokes.
To preserve the illusion. This girl
is all lines, her colors separated
by a scrim of celluloid. Rose Red,
Snow White, Cinderella:
On this side of the plastic
all that separates one from one
is the shape of her collar.

The draftsmen know each girl
by name only when holding
their forms snapped high
against the electric light.


A picture of a lovely girl
playing the flute is not a song.

                        Or else only a song called silence.

But the picture is always beautiful. The beauty
of an endless static. The beauty of better permanence,

                        the forever-life of glass and steel.

Nothing lives on more gorgeous
than a girl in a fairy tale

                        —all braids and teeth and budding—

but only if the story ends.
For her sake, it must not go on.

It goes on.

And by the first lilting note she plays,
we hear the lovely girl become a verb: to wither,



A child can soften a huntsman's heart
but the woodsman always gets his wolf.
The huntsman will return to the queen
with some false liver and fatted flesh
but the woodsman murders with a tool
made for trees. By the end of the tale
no one remembers the good huntsman
also agreed to kill a child. Like Abraham.
Like Cronus. Every man a monster in deerskin.
While the woodsman leers in the trees,
waiting to be thought the hero. His axe,
sharp enough to split a beast. His heart,
blackguarded enough to strike only after
the wolf is safe in woman's dress. To put
his blade through its ribbons, to pull
from its stomach a crone and her girl.
To wait before their faces, features devoured
but still lovely. To wait to be celebrated.
And what is the right reward for violent deeds.

Matt Bell is the author of the novel In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods. He teaches creative writing at Arizona State University.

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