The Curse: A Fairy Tale for the New Millennium
(A Crown of Sonnets)
As the seven angels were about to present their gifts to the newborn princess, there appeared an eighth angel, who had not been invited to the feast. This angel was not dressed in garments of lights, as were the other seven, but instead, was cloaked with a garment of darkness... The dark angel took its place before the infant princess. It stretched out its dark hand over the baby and pronounced its curse. -- The Tale of the Sleeping Beauty
"The duty of the living is to live,"
said the Zen master. On this April day,
with war the theme of each communiqué,
that duty is a fixed imperative
around my garden. Can the dead forgive
this giddy carnival of life at play?
Turning its face, as usual, away
from death to the robust alternative,
life revels in its masquerades and forms—
birds in the treetops rapturous with song
inviting all the world to sing along,
and at the window, unexpected swarms
of plump and agitated carrion flies
buzzing with news of some enormous prize.
Buzzing with news of some enormous prize
and glorious achievements soon to come,
the courtiers of the New Millennium
declared a festival in paradise
to honor the newborn age, and exorcise
the gods of war. Repeating, in their blind delirium,
the platitudes of peace ad nauseam,
they failed to see that right before their eyes
one angel not invited to the feast
has turned up in a fury, and (what's worse)
stormed out, with scowling visage and a curse
to throw a party in the Middle East,
leaving her gifts of famine, fire, flood,
pestilence, war, and fratricide, and blood.
Famine, war, and pestilence—the gifts
of the offended angel—lay like stones
upon the infant's cradle; from their thrones
the courtiers cry out in shock, and lift
their hands in supplication, but the swift
and terrible order of the vengeful crone
cannot be changed except by her alone,
and there's no chance of that, she's much too miffed.
But wait, there's an exception to the rule:
the awful curse can never be undone
but softened slightly, ere it has begun,
to something only marginally less cruel:
The day this infant sheds a single drop
of blood, she'll fall asleep, and time will stop.
Lest time should stop and mankind's story end
even before the festival began,
the wizards of the court proposed a ban
on all sharp objects; the decree was penned
and agencies set up to superintend
their prompt disposal; all went according to plan
with peace and friendship towards one's fellow man
and each man taking care not to offend.
But, as you might have guessed, it didn't last,
the court grew restless as the days wore on,
they missed the old agreeable frisson,
the pain and danger of the turbulent past.
The princess sensed their need, and did her part,
plunging a needle deep into her heart.
The moment the needle pierced her beating heart
a drop of red blood fell upon her hand;
she gazed at it, intent to understand
what had just happened; until now, apart
from faded images in old books and art
(since from her birth sharp objects had been banned)
she never had set eyes on blood firsthand.
But then the blood gushed out, a pint, a quart,
a gallon, a barrel, soon a bathtub full,
and then a river—"What strange stuff," she thought,
"The color is a bit unusual—
I wonder what it tastes like!" so she brought
a steaming flagon to her rosy lip,
inhaled the heady scent, and took a sip.
She raised the steaming cup and took a sip,
then drank her fill. "I'm sleepy now," she said,
"but not quite in the mood to go to bed.
I think I"ll take a walk, perhaps a trip
around my lands, display the leadership
a princess owes her courtiers." She had bled
so much by now that all the seas were red,
and her dainty high-heeled slippers slip
in bloody puddles; still she ventures out
into the wide wide world, but there she finds
no soul awake; the angel's spell now binds
all living things, who lie there sprawled about
in attitudes grotesque, extending far
along the road that leads to Halabja.
Along the road to Halabja she sees
that all her courtiers are fast asleep,
as well as all the horses, pigs, and sheep,
songbirds who have tumbled out of trees,
dogs in the yard, including all their fleas,
children piled up neatly in a heap
with all their toys; no magic broom could sweep
so clean a swath across all boundaries.
"Am I the only one who's still awake?"
she wonders, "or is this perhaps a dream
and I a sleeper too?" She tries to scream
but no sound comes; her head begins to ache
under the burden of that heavy crown;
at last she lays her tired body down.
She sleeps, and round her grows a hedge of thorns
which climbs so high that nothing can be seen
beyond the waterfall of evergreen
and twining honeysuckle that adorns
the battlements. Nobody passes here but unicorns,
who feast upon the nettles, and move between
the cactus spikes as if they were a screen
easily pierced by their resplendent horns.
The legends say that in a thousand years—
once this millennium has come and gone—
the sleepers shall awake, sit up and yawn,
rubbing their eyes to brush away the tears,
and on that day a flood of April rains
will make red roses blossom on these canes.
O innocent roses, put your knives away,
birds in the treetops, wake us with your songs
and teach us how to right the ancient wrongs
that bind us to curse of yesterday.
Industrious cutworms, clear a passageway
through thickets of hate to reach the silent throngs
who wait for rescue, tangled in the long
nightmare of history. Sing kyrie,
choirs of crickets! spiders, bind our wounds,
gently enwrapping them in silken skeins
till in the garden not a trace remains
of the raw stumps where roses have been pruned;
and on the grass let each man pay his wife
the duty that the living owe to life.