How Raven Made His Bride
by Theodora Goss
I. The Challenge
If you insist, said the river,
that any of Life’s daughters would accept you,
bring me the best. If she is as beautiful
as you are boastful, I will give you
a gift, something worth having:
a basket woven of reeds, a trout.
The river laughed, and Raven
ruffled his feathers.
But the daughters
of the sun hid behind their brothers, the clouds,
and the mountain’s daughters covered themselves
with snow. The birches on the riverbank
shook their green fingers. Even the doe,
who stared at him with limpid eyes,
II. The Bride
There was something charming
about him: the thin brown shoulders,
still a boy’s, and on his lips
a boy’s pout.
And something alarming
in his brown eyes: the memory of lightning.
While she lay sleeping, he stole
the luminous white body of the moon
and hid it. To this day
she searches lamenting, in anger
turning her face first one way,
From the porcupine, he stole her pelt, softer
than the tassels of ripe corn. From the coyote
his color, like nightfall. From the cougar
her mildness, and from the armadillo
his skin, as delicate as a mariposa lily.
he stole the song of the bull-frog,
all to make his bride.
For her eyes he stole the rain,
and left a desert.
Whatever Life had made
rich and rare, he stole: for her mouth
the softness of granite, and the fragrance
He looked at her, entranced
and almost in love (remarkably,
since his heart was hidden in an egg
in an eagle’s nest, at the top
of a poplar tree). He lay
beside her and covered her with his feathers.
III. The Reward
The river conceded, she is splendid. And yet,
something seems to be missing. I think
she has no heart.
Having no heart himself (you remember
that it was hidden at the top of a poplar), Raven
had indeed forgotten.
He shrugged his brown shoulders, and his wings
brushed against her.
What does she need one for? he asked. I’ve done
well enough without mine. And now,
you owe me.
So he stole for her
the river’s laughter.
How, later, she made a heart for herself
out of clay from the riverbank, so she could love
her son, the first of our tribe:
that is another story.
(The painting is by Wladyslaw Benda. I thought she looked like Raven’s bride? This poem was originally published in The Coyote Road, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling.)