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
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
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
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
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.
(The illustration is for Little Red Riding Hood by Sir John Everett Millais. This poem was originally published in The Journal of Mythic Arts and reprinted in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror: Eighteenth Annual Collection. It appears in my poetry collection Songs for Ophelia.)