Twelve: Poems Inspired by the Brothers Grimm Tale

Twelve is a retelling of the Brothers Grimm fairytale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” Bewitching and beguiling, this short series of linked poems takes the reader to the underrealm and back, following the stories of twelve princesses and their life after the magic shoes.

  1. Literary Arts
  • THE TENTH SISTER Princesses were not made for kitchens, but the yeasty, warm scent of bread baking drew her down into the heat, where the head cook huffed at her presence, irritated, and would not let her touch the spoons or bowls or cupboards or rollers, ushering her to the side where her silk skirts would gather no stains and her hands would remain clean and soft. She stood in her corner and watched the cooks work, floured hands kneading dough, forming rolls and baguettes, shaping sweet meat pies and cookies and cakes. The assemblage of cooks laughed and sang as they worked. They gossiped, when they forgot the princess was there. One young cook in particular—about the princess’ own age—had a stomach deep laugh that made the princess smile. The cook was not as neat as the others, tucking loose strands of hair behind her ear with jam-sticky fingers, wiping her sweaty brow with the back of her wrist and trailing a line of flour across her forehead. Sometimes the young cook would bring the princess treats fresh from the oven, a still hot macaroon or steaming slice of pie that burned the roof of the princess’ mouth, but she accepted the scalding in exchange for the honey of the girl’s smile. "How do you do it?" the princess asked. "Let me show you," answered the cook and tugged her down to the tables and cutting boards, to the stoves and ovens. She guided the princesses’ hands, leading them in the sifting of flour, cracking of eggs, mixing of ingredients, and filling of molds. She taught her all the recipes she knew by heart, and showed her the rest kept in the large book she revered. They consumed one another in whispers and glances, dough-gummy fingers twisting together, arms grazing as they passed between counters and ovens. At night, they untangled the laces of their skirts, uncaged themselves of corsets, peeling each other open like rare fruit. They licked the sweetness from each other’s flesh, a secret joy discovered on the tips of their tongues. Princesses were not made for kitchens or cooks, but it didn’t matter. They spent days in the heat of the kitchen and nights in the heat of each other. Their love tasted like salt and sugar, like sweet pastry and bread pudding. It wouldn’t last. Nothing ever did. Pastries grew hard, bread bloomed mold. You savored it while it was fresh, or it would grow stale. * * * This poem was first published in Write Like You’re Alive, Zoetic Press, 2016.