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,
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’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.