by Stephanie Parent

Who do I love:

My breadcrumb brother or my witch mother?

The crunch of sugar against my starving
Addles my mind
Leaves me unsure of whom
To trust

The candy house was a trap, the witch said

			—ugly storybook witch
			with warts on her nose and
			boils on her toes—

A trap for him, she said
She would kill him and cook him and
Eat him

			—loveless witch
			daughterless witch— 

The witch did not feed me
Cakes and confections
Perhaps she feared temptation
The sight of my fattening flesh
That was not the fate she intended
For me

As she did for my brother,

I tried to save him
I slipped him a bird bone
To replace his own finger
When the witch’s hands wrapped round it
Like claws

I told him not to gorge himself

Still, I watched him grow wide and heavy and slow
Plodding the confines of his cage
While I shrunk 

I wondered, in the world out there
Would I always be 
A bird scrounging for crumbs

I wondered
Would the witch teach me 
The mysteries of the universe

How to fly like those birds perched
On the frosted roof of her cottage

How to ensnare men
And all their appetites

I wondered
Was the witch’s pockmarked face
Her withered limbs
Beneath her greasy cloak
Just a disguise

Was this all a test
To see how long I could remain hungry
How much I wanted
Whether I could be trusted

My stepmother had never touched me
Never loved me
But the witch—

Sometimes, when I’d finished my chores 
She laid a hand gentle as feathers
On my bony wrist

I studied the witch’s eyes

Sometimes, I thought I saw wisdom
Deep brown as the bark of an old tree

Sometimes, I saw yearning
The blue of a wandering stream

But in the end, when the witch peered into the cage
Where my fat brother lay
I saw jealousy and greed
The same shade as my stepmother’s eyes

I knew neither choice was the right one

I knew what I had to do

I gathered all my strength
The last crumbs of sugar in my veins
I pushed the witch’s bony body into the fire
And left her for the flames	 

About the Author

Stephanie Parent is a graduate of the Master of Professional Writing program at USC. Her poetry has been nominated for a Rhysling Award and Best of the Net. Visit her on Twitter at @SC_Parent and her website

Header Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash