Picture This

Picture this: a storybook forest
With trees that lean to either side
As you enter, as if to frame
Your entrance. As you enter the forest,
Your footsteps leave dark
Inkblots behind you.
A robin perches on a branch.
You know it’s a robin even though
Its silhouette is black on white
With no hint of paint or color.

In the wood sparkles
A gingerbread cottage, all shingles
And angles, comfort from
The cold, fire in a hearth
And smoke in the chimney.
When you first stepped onto
The white page of snow, you
Had no inkling there was a cottage
But all the pointed firs,
Sketched or carved with
An eye to perspective,
Arranged to draw you in.
Each successively smaller tree
Enticed you forward like the dog-eared
Pages of a treasured fairy tale,
Coaxing you onward.

How lovely to enter the cottage
With gingerbread sparkles.
But after tea, you took broom and mop
In hand, and swept and mopped
And churned butter (after milking
A decidedly black and white cow).
When you kneaded bread
For the mistress of the cottage,
Little lumps of dough
Collected in your palms and knuckles.
Day’s work done, mittened fingers carried home
Precious dough to seven children –

Seven children named for
The seven days in your week.
So you boiled water and
Dropped dough in steaming broth,
Dumpling stew for your
Dimpled babies who grew
Despite hardship and hunger.

When your mistress chanced
To see your children, she called out:
“How do you manage to fatten
Them so like chipmunks
Feasting on the bounty of the
Forest?” Then your mistress
Cried: “Let me see your palms!
I see you’ve been snitching,
Taking what is mine.” So you
Kneaded her bread one last time,
Set it to rise, washed your hands,
And set out from that cottage—
All angles and shingles and
Coated with icicles.

The black trees caught at you and
Clawed you with thorns.
The cold wind bit you, but you
Saw inkblots in the snow
And retraced your steps,
Telling your children—
The seven days of the week:
“I remember a land where the sun rises—
Effortlessly as a child turning a page—
Each day fresh with promise.
I can abandon this forest
Of black bark and white snow
For a land where sun warms like a fire,
Awakening bud and fruit.
Goodbye, black bark and white snow.
Welcome now red apple,
Yellow pear, huckleberry blue.”

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