My boatman’s hands are 
                                                                          Like the silver branches.
                                                                          They tremble in the witchlight
                                                                          And shiver on my skin.

                                                                          It was my bed that hid
                                                                          The door, and all those years
                                                                          I fretted about monsters, falling
                                                                          Into slime and the cobwebs’ catch.
                                                                          All those years I knew there was 
                                                                          Something besides shoes.

                                                                          My boatman’s eyes are gold as leaves 
                                                                          On goldroot trees, lit 
                                                                          Without a moon in the obsidian sky.

                                                                          It should have been my bed.
                                                                          I’m never afraid of the dark, 
                                                                          Cold stone, strangers, water. And
                                                                          Under my bed is neat. I even keep
                                                                          The ribbons of my slippers rolled
                                                                          And tucked into my slipper toes,
                                                                          Safe from the teeth of mice.

                                                                          On the first step my skin 
                                                                          Woke to the slip and whisper of
                                                                          Silk against my legs.
                                                                          On the second step my skin
                                                                          Ruffled and danced 
                                                                          With petticoats I’d never worn.

                                                                          When the bed stood back 
                                                                          To open up a country 
                                                                          That’s ours alone, without alliances or hours,
                                                                          My breath stood in my body, 
                                                                          Still for the enchanter’s air
                                                                          Breathing for me.

                                                                          My ribbons come untied
                                                                          No matter
                                                                          How I cross and bow the silk.
                                                                          My hair unbraids, combed down
                                                                          Combed down by silver
                                                                          Fingers out of night as
                                                                          I run to the lake.

                                                                          He watched my sisters go to all the other 
                                                                          Boats and never 
                                                                          Looked at me.
                                                                          The others’ poles slide 
                                                                          In the lake and 
                                                                          In without ripples. My 
                                                                          Boatman stabs the water—
                                                                          Rings slap 
                                                                          Back to shore. 

                                                                          The music rises from the ground
                                                                          Through leather slipper soles, 
                                                                          Slipper satin, stocking silk, and skin, 
                                                                          To lend my legs the dance.
                                                                          And I keep to my toes.

                                                                          Someone will know. A maid
                                                                          Will find the seam in the floor, 
                                                                          Though we can’t. My dress 
                                                                          Will catch a diamond twig,
                                                                          Or one of us grow careless
                                                                          Humming or dancing in daylight, then
                                                                          The spell will dissolve and
                                                                          We’ll be common as 
                                                                          Twelve daughters in an heirless kingdom.

                                                                          My boatman’s grey,
                                                                          The others shine. 
                                                                          His hands curl on me 
                                                                          Faster than the music runs.
                                                                          His eyes are falcon yellow.
                                                                          His lips are red as fruit.

                                                                          Each night the dance contains more steps,
                                                                          More turns. Each night 
                                                                          My boatman’s arm tightens on my waist.
                                                                          Each night I feel the floor whirr, 
                                                                          My slippers thin,
                                                                          My gown flies farther as I turn.
                                                                          I want a man who speaks.

Devon Miller-Duggan has published in Rattle, Kestrel, and Gargoyle and won a few more or less respectable awards. She teaches creative writing at The University of Delaware. Pinning the Bird to the Wall (Tres Chicas Books, 2008) is her first book. Neither Prayer, Nor Bird, a chapbook, is due out in fall 2013 from Finishing Line Press.

“Were I to be invisible, I suspect I’d behave rather badly, spending all my time sabotaging planet-damaging corporations and writing poems I love on walls and sidewalks everywhere. If I could make anything visible, I’d probably go for motives.”

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One Response to THE TWELVE DANCING PRINCESSES by Devon Miller-Duggan

  1. I love this poem; it’s so enchanting. This is one of my favourite fairy tales.

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