Ugly Heads and Mother Holle

The Old Stories

1. “You will bathe every day
in milk and rose petals,” she said,
“If you convince your father to marry me.”
The girl complied. After all,
the woman had been nice to her before
and it would be good to have a mother again.
And for a little while, it was milk and roses,
but soon enough it became cold water
and hard bread for breakfast.
The father believed the woman when she claimed
it was because the girl was spoiled.

Blood is thicker than water.
In that, some people find
the strength to lift them higher. Some
the chains that bind.

2. Two daughters sat on the well’s edge.
The favored daughter had finely carded wool,
the unlucky, dirty flax. And when the thread broke,
as the mother knew it would,
she was thrown into the well as punishment.
In the magic land at the bottom, she spoke softly
and politely, and won favors and jewels for her courtesy.
Of course, she would never have dared otherwise at home.
Some coping strategies look like good breeding.

Blood is thicker than water.
In that, some people find
the strength to lift them higher. Some
the chains that bind.

3. When he found out her lies,
he threatened her, that she might give his children back.
She brought back the son, but
when she called for the daughter, she would not come,
preferring to spend the rest of her life as a mackerel
rather than allow her stepmother to change her again.
The wisdom or folly of that course
is known only to the mackerel.

Blood is thicker than water.
In that, some people find
the strength to lift them higher. Some,
the chains that bind.

4. Some variants of the tale
have the brothers changed back
after seven years’ privation by their sister.
No smiles, no laughter, no speech.
At the end, she might have forgotten how to connect.
But in the old Irish tales, the swans are only changed back
after decades or centuries,
only to die of extreme old age.
Some hate resounds through the centuries.

Blood is thicker than water
trailing slowly down the page.
In the end, the truest stories are all
about blood.

September 30th, 2009

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