East of the Sun, West of the Moon

The white bear named his price,
and the python inside her twisted.
Call it fright,
call it poor foresight,
call it prudence if you like:

her old man pimped her after all;
after all she was young, exquisite —
a great landscape hung on crumbled walls
of a home she’d always known —
and she was destined, she thought,
for someone large, someone strong,
someone altogether less

so she stood fixed like Ionic stone:
lips curved toward
her grass green frock,
arms enfolded in white sleeves
like strongly worded letters,
heels mortared in flagstones.

She had no choice but to go.
The white bear lies cloistered
under tundra for months,
sleep-rendered against the sleet
of six-moon nights,
heart and lungs as still
as hummingbirds on film,

and he wakes
when his pelt channels the sun.
Dim with sleep, fat depleted,
he throws his bulk against the snow,
cracks ice with swipes of granite hands
as he seeks what he needs
on his bearing.

Some who tell her story say
her father’s constant drone bewitched
her into riding through the frost
with painful fingers tangled in his hair,
tendons tight with cortisol and cold
until her knuckles camouflaged
against his back;

but I prefer to think that at the sight
of this great beast erased in blizzard —
tail small and coy
against his glacial flanks —
I like to think
the python inside her climbed a higher limb
and snapped the bones of her heart.

Chris Arnold (Western Australia)

East of the Sun, West of the Moon is a Nordic folktale.

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