Finding Our Beasts, Retold Fairytale in Poetry
Just popping in to share the prose poem 'Real Fairytale' from my newest collection See the Wolf. Written in the tradition of Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber, my version of Beauty and the Beast reimagines the traditional tale as a reality television show with Beauty's virginity/loss of virginity and vulnerability being the commodity. Seems particularly relevant, with women from all backgrounds, classes and stations, culturally visible and invisible having to come forward and recount the ways in which they were exploited, to subsequently 'find their beast' as the poem posits. The poem is told from Beauty's perspective. I frequently write persona poems and sometimes narrative but this straight prose narrative, which could probably pass as a flash fiction piece, isn't my usual. I tend towards the lyric, but needs must and I felt this retelling held possibilities.
As an aside, I found this interesting story of the 'original' beast. I only read the article through, didn't do any fact checking, so I'm not sure of the accuracy, but I wouldn't be surprised if this were the origin of the fairytale, as most French fairytales have some complex and dark origins.
No one called me beauty before I was paired with the beast. I’m not beautiful.
This isn’t modesty. Once I was plucked from amongst the Beauty hopefuls,
taken from home and seated at the head of a grand table beside the beast,
they groomed me, my virginal innocence became the tease, what audiences tuned-in to see.
Some clucked and feigned worry for my safety, others thought the pairing cute, all salivated
in anticipation, will that be filmed too?The juxtaposition of hunch-backed, bristling hyena/lion/man(?) with the mousiness of me, made for some great TV. They filmed us
at table, they filmed us asleep, talking late into the night, riding horseback awkwardly.
They filmed my visit home. I had forgiven my father and sisters for tricking me
into the audition, declaring me a minor and stealing my paychecks. I thought once I got home I’d want to stay. But everything, though the same, was changed: the furniture duller, the rooms smaller. My sisters tried to bait me into telling the beast’s secrets,
and when I wouldn’t, into petty arguments; all so superficial and boring. No beauty lived
in that place. I went back to the beast. The film crew was hyped-up, working overtime in preparation for the big wedding episode. The long table in the ballroom, their ground zero, was littered from morning ‘til night with platters and plates, half eaten food, chicken bones,
stuffed ashtrays, crusts, crumbs, and empty cans of Red Bull; the crew, like swine
at the trough. I tried to stay out of the way. Where once I dreaded the season finale,
now I was all nervous anticipation, like a real bride eager for her wedding night. I felt tenderer and tenderer toward my beast, letting my hand stray to his muscular thigh
beneath the table, laughing more; even the feel of the wiry hair that stood up on his thick neck, which once repulsed, now stippled me with electricity, through my arm, down one side
of my body. The wedding couldn’t come soon enough. That night, the church fairly sparked for me, flooded with light, cameras positioned to capture every conceivable angle.
The beast grunted, fumbled the ring onto my finger. I beamed, said I do…and then,
as if this were a 7th birthday party with everyone shouting surprise, instead of my wedding, the beast shrank before my eyes. I stumbled back, shook my head, tried to take in air.
The cameras were rolling. But I couldn’t squint away the small pink man standing in beast’s overlarge suit, hair smooth, features finely-cut and handsome. He reached a hand out, I recoiled. He said: beauty, don’t you recognize me?I did see the beast lurking in his eyes. I just need a little timeI said, trembling. I’ll have to get used to this.Everyone laughed. I took his soft hand in mine. I couldn’t help whispering for only the two of us to hear: what have you done with beast? As if the whole thing were a practical joke this stranger might let me in on. Where is my realother half?I wanted to yell in his pretty face. I’m no meat for your mowing. The prince just laughed, exposing his straight white teeth. The cameras loved him. As the priest finished the ceremony and the cameras followed us back down the aisle the way we had come, hoping to catch a besotted expression (I hated to disappoint them), I tried to focus on the ardent prince’s eyes and couldn’t shake the feeling that the beast was trapped inside. I was ready to pry open his skull with a crow bar and set my beast free. Even the film crew fist-pumped, threw confetti. I became convinced they were all in on it. The writers intended this to be Season One’s finale. If some other virgin had gotten the part, she’d have been just as duped, just as beautiful. It was written in the script, as was my coupling with Ardent.His last gig must have been a toothpaste commercial, or pushing some kind of drug for enhancement, why else that smile rending his face. The cameras would have us in the beast’s bed, Episode One, surrounded by candelabra. Me: still virginal, still mousy. Then the fun would start. The producers wanted to carry this thing through
a second season on Ardent’s prowess, and they wanted me to play along. Close-up
on my transformation from virgin to whore. They probably intended to end the last episode with me back in that bed, legs splayed, some human baby dragging my darkness out
for all to see. Flashback, close-up on my transformation from maiden to mother: setting
it right. But I could still feel beast’s tough hide beneath my hand. And what I want to know is this: where does the banished self reside when change is wrought? To get through
even the first episode of Season Two, I knew I would have to go there. Find my beast.