Jessica Cuello

In the Spired House

I. Cinderella Not a genius, I was once listening the whole time. Bird eyes made sense after I watched them longer than most humans do. That night, I danced away the unnatural: sisters who don’t love each other, dead mothers, vengeful doves, clothing spun at a grave’s mound. A wife, I listen less. The birds are ordinary. That quiet hour, branded by the movement of the swing. To this day, I’m not surprised my father did not know the features of my jeweled face. II. Stepsister Not born to hate, I learned the increments of power on my own. My future wrote itself on Sister’s breasts and Mother’s chin. Tired of my choices, it was easy to despise your earnest look, your subservience beside our cruel games. We laughed while you picked up a hundred lentils thrown into the fire. The second time we turned away, afraid of your clean, neat pile. You slept on the floor when we took your bed. You acted as though you came from a sacred place, preferred a chiseled stone to our combs and laces. If you’d had the courage to speak, I’d have touched the granite rock, learned about your mother. Were there soft-spoken mothers? We nursed our mutilation when the birds pecked our eyes. I stroke the crowded dresses. I doubt I fit into your palace thoughts. III. Mother In the glass, my fever watched me from the pane— a disheveled reflection of myself. I regretted not having married my equal, but a man easy to invent. A stranger would mother my daughter. For her, I almost willed the fever down. But night, so permanent, carried visions. There are different stories: death took me. In some, no cemetery exists, and I— as if there were no death, am replaced by a smiling fairy from a century not here yet. In my story, my daughter confides in me by my gravestone. In her imagination, I am not a woman or a child, but mother, flat and sunlit, a kneeling Saint Monica in the arched window above the stairs in the spired house.

Jessica Cuello is a graduate of Barnard College and she teaches French in Central New York. Recent poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Rhino, Copper Nickel, The Dos Passos Review, Blood Lotus, Harpur Palate, and Literary Mama.