Art: Layla Klinger, “Hand 281 (Holemaker and Her Hole)”

It Was Never about Hansel and It Never Started with the Witch


What folks don’t like to talk about, in the age of female empowerment,

or in the age of female suppression,
is that there was a man in the candy cottage in the woods. Sure the witch found children delectable,
but she got her taste,
for the darkest worst things,
from the pipeman of the candy cottage.
And she did his bidding.
Our taste is bred early.

I like milk, 0%, 1%, 2%, chocolate milk,
without it I am parched.
There is such embarrassing pleasure when I finally get a sip. It wasn’t always embarrassing,
just since I started wondering;
“Why is it I’ve discarded
—set alight
anything associated with the witch in the cottage,
but not milk?”

The day I ran alone and began to truly wonder, I lost sensation in my little toe first,
then my foot.
It traveled up my leg.

It is very very difficult to run this way,
and impossible to continue wondering about milk.

I hate tuna fish,
anything that smells like fish.
I keep thinking: I will like nori. But the fish that swam by,
have left their scent too strongly. I do not ever blame the fish.

“Do you like fish?”, they ask.
“Yes, alive and swimming.” I reply. I was once a fish, safe in the water. Only out of the water,
as near as the changing room,
I was not safe.

Strange, but the taste of tootsie rolls,

have not been marred.
Despite the taste of them,
being proof that I was good,
[good is silent]
good is swimming like a fish, untouched.
Yesterday I saw koi the size of my torso on Clinton Street. I wanted to pet those silent gliding creatures,
but, I let them be.

Our earliest introductions shape us, our appetites evolve in sympathy, or hostility,
to first experiences and taste.

My love and my beloved friends joke,
you can never know what to expect with my palate.
But if you walk the breadcrumb path to the cottage, before midnight winged anti-memory comes pecking up

the pieces,
you will know which is witch.

Or, perhaps not.

I am passionate for treats.
Though I know watermelon and cherries can be just as sweet, I don’t quite believe.
Because an olive on a celery stick was called a lollipop,
once upon a time.
And carob chips were called chocolate chips,
but they hurt my head so badly.
Not every candy cottage is made of true candy.


Father and stepmother,
maybe for food,
leave Hansel and his sister.
Less like tearful Hagar leaves Ishmael,
more like the turtles get left in Central Park, without a look-back, a prayer or a crumb goodbye. It is because I know about the pipeman,

and you know about the witch
—lurking behind the lemon and mint shingles— that we forget the firsts were worst,
for Hansel and his sister.


I always knew the brother was a distraction. Not to the witch,
not to the pipeman in the cottage,
but to the reader.

Boys are for fattening,
for tearing down,
and fan-tieing,
but they are not for eating.
Only the girls are to be consumed, by hunger that should not be,

not for witches,

not for pipemen who shape themselves like bats, in bathrobes,
near chimney stacks.

Girls must be the ones to carry the (oh so light, and oh so life-or-death) crumbs,
and set them down,

and craft escape plans,
and set boys free,
and forget the whole matter,
even when the witch burns down.

[And what of the pipeman we were never told about? Did he burn too?
Can he?
Do you also suspect he is somewhere still?

After all, a witch burning is just a witch starting over, it’s not like water was involved.
Water would have been surer,
but that’s a different tale.]

In the end,
the children return home. But really,
That’s a fairytale.
Like the fairytale ending, the witch,