by Barbara Ruth
a treatise in four movements
alone in his Euro-mythic palace,
the prince’s fingers slide along the slipper’s arch while the stiletto heel
pricks into his palm. Instep at his lips, he imagines
tiny toes demurely nestled in the glass,
the bend, the flex, a courtly presentation.
He pours Chablis into the crystal vessel. It has become his favorite piece.
How can the dancing girl compete
with such crystalline perfection? After all,
he has never seen her naked. She might have shingles on her belly, a birthmark like the boot
of Italy on her right thigh with three hairs sprouting. She might
be on her period. Even her feet
might have plantars warts. The carriage
might turn out to be a pumpkin. Anything is possible. He downs the dregs, then licks along
which might have scraped a callus on her heel, smelling for her blood.
For a thousand years
Chinese mothers broke their daughters’ bones so slowly, pruning lotus hooks.
Feet so small and useless proved a woman
with no need to fetch and carry.
Servants’ bondaged, unbound bodies performed the tasks requiring solid feet on solid ground,
aristocratic daughters had no need, no chance to run.
Born to be tortured into beauty
toes curled under, wrapped in cotton and bamboo,
anointed with the praises of ecstatic poets, chrysanthemum and alum,
to hide the stink of putrefying flesh.
Cinderella’s feet were tiny naturally,
even though she was a poor girl,
even though she was a drudge, a drone, a child without a mother,
waiting hand and foot upon the ugly stepsisters.
Europeans choose the woman durable yet dainty
to be rescued from the cinders. The deserving poor. An orphan
can become a princess, if her feet are small enough.
Did she stub her toes running when the clock struck twelve
one shoe off and one shoe on?
Did she get splinters in her heel?
Did she twist her ankle?
Afterwards, did she have a limp?
The glass slipper:
all that remained of her magic night.
Perhaps she hid it underneath her pillow.
Perhaps it smelled of the palace
perhaps it smelled of money.
Why a slipper and not a petticoat
or one mouse still a coachman?
Granted, that might be harder
to explain. But why one glass slipper? One shoe,
useless, utterly, unless she became an amputee.
Did Cinderella ask herself: What happened to the mate?
Did her feet throb from her evening at the palace?
Did they swell?
When the prince came to her hovel
was she ashamed to be wearing last year’s rags, her blond refraction tainted
by the cinders? When she tried his slipper on
were her feet entirely clean?
Some say the prince made certain rules:
Fitting in the slipper, a requirement for remaining in the palace.
Feet that grow with pregnancy,infirmity, old age…Some whisper of palatial practices
worse than banishment.
And some tell tales of Cinderella
polishing herself with emery board and pumice,
painting her toenails with lapis lazuli, procuring
toe rings from the Orient, chains about her ankles. The poet writes:
she trims her nails, poignant traces
up and down the arteries. By candlelight
she mines forbidden tracts
and she becomes the footnotes and the hammertoe.
Once upon a time when the clock strikes twelve
Cinderella opens up the crucial vein.
Finds pay dirt.
Cinderella’s hammertoe shatters all the crystal and underneath the rubble
Cinderella’s unbound feet
wriggle down into the mother lode.
Barbara Ruth is a radical lesbian feminist, an warrior who fights for housing justice in silicon valley and the medical oxygen she needs to survive, but is often denied her due to the controversy surrounding her diagnosis and general bureaucratic malfeasance. She can be quite charming.