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Alison Stagner

Snow White, in Her Bedroom, Painting

There was titanium white, fleece white, white from a vapor trail. Now,
little one – there was her paintbox, where the lolling ghosts posed:
tubes that leaned on themselves, half-squeezed, wet white-trimmed
cap rims, aluminum curled. There was cut apple white, wishbone white,
white from a geyser. With them, she gathered whole cities into frames
& all night she put snow over everything – forests to rills of ice,
merrymakers' revelry & all their beautiful wares to buy – baskets,
brides, needle-work hides – all became swans shuddering by her
bedside to ride. And all night she thought why her mother had called
for her in the garden in winter & why she had been taken into the woods
& she painted herself in those places, fair and standing there without her
blue velvet coat. It wasn't her usual work & when they saw it, animals fled
in waves from the eaves, thimbles and buttons slipping from open rabbit
mouths, bluebirds slinging cups of white tea from the sills & soon the art
critics began litigating: where's your fire? Your keen eye, your ire?
But oh, there was leg-flesh white, last of the lilies white, white
of the husband's dwindling back. Listen, little one. From the outside,
it was beautiful, but anyone who would take a little piece would perish.
In the fairy tale, white is the reflecting glass letting a blood drop
be known to itself, distinguished. With a lung cage white, beached
whale white, white from the nuclear cloud, white that feels almost red,
feels an endless dance in hot iron shoes, red-white hot & she sat back
on her heels & saw how awful beauty is & saw how after all that work
in the garden and in the woods, how nobody could stomach it, not that
white kind of waking, not the way it becomes a whip to oneself.

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