What Her Mother Said

What Her Mother Said
by Theodora Goss

Go, my child, through the forest
to your grandmother’s house, in a glade
where poppies with red mouths grow.

In this basket is an egg laid
three days ago,
the three days our Lord lay sleeping,
unspotted, from a white hen.
In this basket is also a skein
of wool, without stain,
unspun. And a comb that the bees
industriously filled
from the clover in the far pasture,
unmown since the sun
thawed it, last spring.

If you can take it without breaking
anything, I will give you
this ring.

Stay, child, and I’ll give you this cap
to wear, so the forest creatures whose eyes
blink from the undergrowth will be aware
that my love protects you. The creatures
lurking beneath the trees,
weasels and stoats and foxes, and worse
than these.

And child, you must be wise
in the forest.

When the wolf finds you, remember:
be courteous, but evasive. No answer
is better than a foolish one.

If you stray from the path, know
that I strayed also. It is no great matter,
so long as you mark the signs:
where moss grows on bark, where a robin
builds her nest. The sun
sailing west.

But do not stop to gather
the hawthorn flowers, nor yet
the red berries which so resemble
coral beads. They are poisonous.
And do not stop to listen
to the reeds.

He must not be there first,
at your grandmother’s house.

When your grandmother serves you,
with a silver spoon, on a dish
like a porcelain moon, Wolf Soup,
remember to say your grace
before you eat.

And know that I am pleased
with you, my child.

But remember, when returning through the forest,
kept warm against the night by a cloak
of the wolf’s pelt:
the hunter is also a wolf.

Illustration for Little Red Riding Hood by Sir John Everett Millais

(The image is an illustration for “Little Red Riding Hood” by Sir John Everett Millais.)

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2 Responses to What Her Mother Said

  1. Theodora, You are very kind to share so much of yourself here. The words in this little poem are trickling through me like crystal water. It is lovely, old wordle and very evocative pictures dance through it. A poet you are , and for you I am happy that you grace us daily with a new one. You have inspired me to reopen that door on a daily basis regardless of anything else. That I shall do.

    • Thank you for the very kind comment! I’m only posting a poem a day while I’m getting this website up and running — after a while it will be more like one a week, and I’ll be posting mostly newer poems. But for now I thought it would be fun to post some older ones that aren’t available anywhere but in my poetry collections . . . 🙂

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