The Perils of Forbidden Delicacies by Sara Cleto

Perfection is
attenuated,
spun thin as thread—straw into gold, never the other way round.

Perfection can never be fed anything but itself.

Perfection is hungry.

Rapunzel’s mother sought it. She would not feed her daughter:

    1) Wonder Bread, white, preservative laced
    2) chicken cutlets, bathed in impure oils
    3) chocolate, so sweet, decay ignites on contact
    —the list went on.

And so Rapunzel’s mother thinned and bulged
as she spun herself inexpertly from human fiber into
something rare and ravenous.

The Witch’s garden, sprawling green and gold beneath the Hollywood sign,
contained the cultivated vegetables that might,
if ingested under a gibbous moon,
precipitate the combustion process that yields perfection
as a remainder.

A scent—lemon-rose? Peppermint-hyacinth, a hint of vodka?—
both soothing and astringent
made her stomach grind like teeth.

The lettuce was lit with the studied glamour of a sixties starlet,
framed in tiny bulbs, a pearlescent choker.
Rapunzel’s mother grasped the head between her hands and twisted hard,
roots snapping like bones.

At first, the leaves in her mouth tasted of everything—
bloody steak, tapioca pearls, fried plantains—
and then of nothing.
Her tongue lathed the cathedral void of her mouth.

The Witch, a twist of chiffon over skin over bones,
laughed, thirty-two incisors gleaming, and claimed the child within her—
Not to keep in isolation but to unleash.

Rapunzel ate her mother first,
devoured her slowly over nine months.
A husk entered the hospital, expelled her, and died.

Rapunzel was perfect, as promised,
all long lines and clean gestures,
smelling sweet and sharp as peppermint.
Her hair spilled from her skull in rivulets.

As a child, she consumed indiscriminately—
all the foods her mother had denied and more.
Gem-hard candies, thick cakes, cookies warm from an oven
or cool and crumbled from a bag.

Age refined her palette. In adolescence, she cultivated
a keen taste for princes.

She found them in:

    1) the clubs, sweat glinting in the tender hollow of their throats
    2) secondhand bookstores, hands crossed with ink, gloved in dust
    3) Internet forums, Times New Roman trembling with need and loneliness
    —the list went on.

At first, she nibbled on their hardiest emotions—
Anxiety. Lust. Terror. Love—
until they tarnished, dulled.
They went on to become bankers, husbands, and other occupations
that do not necessitate defined edges.

But she grew thinner,
a spare and brittle frame
from which to hang her hair.

A taste for flesh, for gristle
and bone—
it crunched so brightly between her teeth,
like lettuce—
Grew apace.

She ate the most beautiful pieces—
Cocoa dark eyes, skin as white as snow or black as ebony,
teeth that popped like tapioca pearls under her tongue,
slender femurs, livers slick with oil—
As their small perfections lay heavy in her gut,
she thought she loved them.

Rapunzel grew careless,
safe and sated,
the bones strewn through her apartment,
mixing with unopened mail and dirty dishes,
cinching her conviction.

They walled her in a tower—
no window, doors, or princes—
and hoped that she might starve.

They should have known
not to build her tower
from bricks so square,
so perfectly red.

Sara Cleto is a PhD student at the Ohio State University where she studies folklore, literature, and the places where they intersect. She also teaches freshman composition, which she shamelessly uses as an opportunity to convince her students that fairytales are the coolest. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in Cabinet des Fees: Scheherazade’s Bequest, Ideomancer, Niteblade, the anthology A is for Apocalypse, and others.

When asked about her strangest craving, she replied, “I inherited my strangest craving from my mother—we are both sporadically overcome with the imperative need to eat ‘brine food.’ I have been known to drive to the grocery store at midnight for a can of hearts of palm, which I then devour over the sink. You’d think I’d learn to stock it in my pantry, but I never do.”

Back to Issue 4: Hungry Things

6 Responses to The Perils of Forbidden Delicacies by Sara Cleto

  1. John Feaster says:

    Marvelous. Just marvelous. I really like: “Rapunzel ate her mother first, devoured her slowly over nine months. A husk entered the hospital, expelled her, and died.” I must read more of your work. :)

  2. Rhonda Parrish says:

    Lovely poem, Sara. Disturbing, of course, but only in the best possible ways :)

  3. Caryn Ca-du-fem says:

    Gripping! Xoxox

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