Bethany Reid

Once Upon a Time

In the tale, the girl
has seven brothers transformed
into swans. The girl, too,
has to transform before
she can save them,
though not into a swan.
She has to travel
to a far kingdom, talk
to a toad, unlock a door
with a magic key, defeat
a giant. Once upon a time
you were young and unshaped.
You had two brothers
and two sisters, so different
from you, they might have been
another species with their squawks
and quibbles, their strange
politics, their desires
that never translated
into your own. You don’t know
how to save them, or if you
should. They have a way
of being perfect in their bodies,
their long necks, their black masked eyes.
They have married into the world
of swans. In the fairy tale
the girl frees her brothers,
all but one who has died.
Your dead brother visits your dreams.

Bethany Reid’s most recent book of poems is SPARROW, which won the 2012 Gell Poetry Prize, selected by Dorianne Laux. She lives in Edmonds, Washington, and blogs at