April 11, 2013


They gave me the basement to work in

knowing the dampness did fantastic

and terrible things to my hair.

Kinks, curls, corkscrews, zigzags.


I became a humid replica

of myself.  Medusa of the cellar,

a subterranean Aphrodite,

goddess of cinders.


I made do. Befriended the gray wren

who crouched on the windowsill,

the fedora-wearing rats commuting

from corner to corner. I rallied

the spiders, the fire ants,

the elegant millipedes.


Of course we heard about

the Prince. In the basement,

secrets were impossible. The wren

brought the news, the spiders wove

it into a tale, the fire ants

and millipedes embellishing everything

while the solemn rats kept watch.


We hatched a plan. The rats

devised the details: the dress, the coach,

a trio of horses, that fiercely

deposited glass shoe.

There was no remarkable,

magical godmother.

We did it ourselves.



He fell for it all as we knew

he would.  The very next morning

he appeared at our cellar door

bearing the transparent shoe.

One knock on the heavy door,

the fit of the brittle shoe,

the claiming of me for him.


And that was that –

I was divested of the basement,

my cinders, the dampness,

and the loyal brood

of shadowy friends.




Now, in the future, I walk

in the light across the green grass,

my dry hair lifted straight out

by the arid west wind.


Here, there are no ants of any kind,

no luminous tale-weaving spiders,

no insects with infinite legs.

There is no gray bird bearing secrets.

There are no rats, not a single one.


Here, there is no one

who knows my real name.


—Jean Harper   (Wells County)

Jean Harper’s work has appeared in The Iowa Review, North American Review, Florida Review, and other publications. Her first book Rose City: A Memoir of Work won the Mid-List Press First Series Award for Creative Nonfiction (2005). Most recently, she received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in Prose.  She teaches at Indiana University East and lives on a hundred-year-old farm in northern Indiana.

Indiana Humanities is posting a poem a day from Indiana poets in celebration of National Poetry Month.

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