Cinderella’s Feat

by Barbara Ruth


the closed gate
‘The Closed Gate’ by Barbara Ruth

a treatise in four movements


At night

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

the place

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.

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