Beneath the Lemon Tree

You know the tale as it was told to maidens
young and grannies old who sit by fires forgotten.
That sad sweet tale of woman’s love which heals
the dreadful beast, and turns black dross to gold.

Recall the prince discovered underneath
the monster’s hide, the prince who has since
disappeared, though woman searches far
and wide and grannies sit and gnash their teeth.

I was a maiden once, years past and gone;
these days the rules are not as strict as long ago,
and so I found my beast and saw the prince
beneath the skin and sang my hopeful song,

as maidens do. Under his furry pelt, I
swore I felt soft skin, ignored the rising
reek, the stench, and vowed eternal love
to the surely long enchanted prince within.

And when he swore he loved me well, that
hideous beast did clasp me close and I went
willingly to his palace dank and fell, where
in spite of his foul scent I climbed into his bed.

Two long years I brushed his fur and picked
the lice that crawled across his body;
lay at his side and when he mauled me
pressed my lips into a line, thin and wide.

Still holding to the tale, the dream,
the promise made by tellers long since dead —
that soon the prince would seem a beast
no more, and maid and prince would wed.

I cannot name the day his touch grew sweet
and kind — no longer did I mind, indeed, rejoiced
that maid and beast might meet, transform. Swore
that I had found my prince, raised up my voice!

And then he left, not reckoning the child
beneath my breast — went running west
and wild ’til sun had set. I had his promises
to keep me warm, sweet festerings.

We think ourselves inured to that sad tale
and others of its kind, that warp and wind
through modern days. We tell ourselves:
strong women walk instead of wail.

I sit beneath my lemon tree, bedecked,
bejeweled in every part, as for the bridal feast,
clad in a dress of sighs.

The grieving heart does know the truth,
the prince I loved, the prince was but a beast,
and tales are only lies.