Grimm Variations

By Joseph Stanton

For many years I have been working on a sequence of fairy-tale-inspired poems that I have been calling “Tales, Mostly Grimm.” Thirty-three poems belonging to that sequence were published in a collection of my poems, Things Seen, earlier this year. Some of those poems are attempts to capture the essence of the tale; others twist, reverse or undermine the story; still others re-dream the tale to make it personal to me. Below are three of those poems, which offer different takes on some related motifs.

The Fir Apple

When murder sought the children,

the boy became a rose tree

and the girl its single bud,

and the witch was deceived.


When murder came again,

the boy became a fir tree

and the girl a fir apple waving in the breeze,

and the witch was deceived.


When murder came yet again

the girl became a pond

and the boy the duck that swims on it,


but the witch was not deceived this time

and tried to drink pond,duck, and all,

so the girl pulled her in and drowned her.


The children returned home happy,

and, if they are not dead,

they are still alive today.



This forest heavy with dark humor

frames direst need into a candied home,

whispering lies of taffied architecture,

a sweetmeat trap for the lost or abandoned.


An oven is a place to warm the heart

for hags who favor giblets with their meals.

This witch loves to devour every part.

She likes to see to all the small details.


She smiles to show she has no grudge, no gripe.

Her hunger is the only thing she feels.

No malice makes her want to take your life.

Your bones she’ll toss upon the apple peels.


Hansel Lost

Gretel, the darkness rides

beside me on all roads,

grim edges serrated by trees.


Dark forests lurk, too,

on all horizons,

portents ahead,


rumors behind.

All my days I pocket

every thought, or try to,


white pebbles stowed

against the night’s end,

the dawn’s breaking.


I whisper words of comfort

to no one there,

having outlived

all parents, all witches,

all houses of cake,

all sisters brave.


Joseph Stanton is a professor of art history and American studies at University of Hawaii at Manoa. His fifth book of poems, Things Seen, published by Brick Road Poetry Press in March, features pieces inspired by artworks, fairy tales and noh plays. Stanton will be giving a free reading from Things Seen at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 11, at the University of Hawaii Art Gallery.