After Cocteau: Beauty’s Father in the Castle of the Beast

  for Lee Hildreth

When the thorny hedge opened for him,
he was astonished; when it closed
behind him, the leaves and twigs
knitting themselves seamlessly together
in the darkness, fear
flooded his body, and went with him
on the path through the wild garden,
up the steps of the mist-veiled castle.
Then the massive door opened without a touch,
and he saw, in the long, stony hall, a row of human arms
holding lighted candelabras.
Yet when the white arms moved, each in turn,
to light his way, he did not go back.
No, he had not imagined it; and although
he hesitated, something compelled him forward,
and he walked on until he came
into a vaulted room, where it seemed clear
that he had been expected: the fire leaping
behind the andirons, the candles lighted,
a table set for one, laden with food and wine.
And somehow it hardly seemed surprising
that parts of this room were alive:
when the eyes in the faces carved into the mantel
moved to watch him, he did not leave;
instead he felt his fear mix with desire
for the warmth and food, and so he simply sat down
at the table. Even when a living hand
reached to fill his glass with wine
and lift the cover from the steaming roast,
his appetite grew larger than his fear
and he ate as if he belonged
in that circle of light, as if he were a prince
and the feast his due.
When he had eaten and drunk his fill
from the bowls that did not empty
and the jug of wine that did not diminish,
he was so suffused with satisfaction that,
despite himself, sleep came over him
in that alien place, even though
the lion’s head carved into the armrest
beneath his hand opened its mouth and roared.
And so, a stranger and alone, he fell asleep,
having accepted all he knew so far of the story:
the thorns, the dark path, the gifts, the magic.