—a winter’s tale
All is still, encased in snow:
clear windless shore, dim diamond sky—
a perfectly straight horizon.
Everything is white like the glare
of light flashing on rime,
or through eyelids.
The prince is an amateur at being.
His silver furs are thrice as wide
as his shoulders, bent as he admires
the reflection of his gibbous face
in the flat glass-pale ocean.
He pictures it waning into something thin, hollow,
handsome. His horse—a silent old thing
with a swishing white tail—watches on,
eyes like scratched sea-glass,
in pitying wait for the boy who is too eager
to outgrow his saddle.
The opening ballet begins soon.
Decorated patrons fill the theater in rows
and dine finely on chilled plums.
Behind curtains, the principal dancer fixes
a lattice of silk ropes on her limbs.
In her yellow hair rests a pearl crown,
contraband. Her bruised feet bleed.
Secretly she misses the tang of salt,
having been, when young, in love with water.
The starting bell rings. A girl comes
to bleach the blood-spots from the floor.
The dancer hides her crown
and lays a veil, thin as steam, over her face.
She becomes air—liberated wider
and wider until she is translucent,
and was ever so invisible,
and the whole hall claps as she drifts onstage.
Somewhere, a printer in a little printer’s shop,
with a fuzz-woolen cap and ink-stamped thumbs,
solemnly polishes a silver fishhook
and sighs: “Ah! To be at sea!”
Behind the shop rests his withering boat,
an old thing of mottled wood, coated
in the sticky residue of worms
and other fish-bait. The boat’s a lost cause,
so he keeps the hook glittering
as though the frost might thaw.
A whisper of that word—spring—
and his spirit leaps to where seaweed
might be taken for emerald, where he collects
carnelian shells to scoop sea-froth, and grows
so hungry—wolfish—for the smell of clam,
for waves to scallop the sky in irregular patterns,
and embark on his boat
to hunt the curious jewels of the deep, rich sea.
But all that is buried by snow,
forever frozen in a crystal sheet.
The hook hangs on the wall, pristine
but for a black thumb-print on its barb.
He will seek fish-scales in facets of ice
and feast his heart on daydreams.
Rachel A. Zhu is a young Chinese-American poet, a reader at Cheap Imitation Magazine, and a student at Boston University. Her poetry has appeared in The Twyckenham Notes and she was named a runner-up for Stony Brook Southampton’s 2020 Short Fiction Prize. She can be found on Twitter @RachelAZhu.
photo by James Peacock (via unsplash)