Mid-Life Crisis

At forty-one I pluck whiskers from my chin
gold as Rapunzel’s hair,
shiny as the fire Gretel threw the witch into.


Once upon a time I imagined
the thrill of being such a brave girl.
Not the easy one some fool’s kiss could rescue.
I was capable of saving my own self,
outfitted with wits enough
to best the wartiest witches, all the little, ugly men.


Older, I made a wish that I could be
the princess, charmed and pleasing to all.
One slight shift in what’s-his-name and his needs,
and I could be fitted to any glass slipper.
In my sweetest breath, I’d promise I was worth
every peril that fine prince might face.
I’d be exquisitely sensitive to the pea beneath
the suggestive mattress.
Pure and beautiful enough,
I wouldn’t have to save myself.


I hardly remember now
what I dreamed I saved myself from, or for.
The obvious, lone walking wolf
whose favorite color is always predictably red?
The mythic white wedding night?


My identity never had a legend to stand on.


Even now, I can’t find myself
nestled comfortably on any page.
I am no one’s awful stepmother
or know-it-all godmother,
no kind of mother at all, with no children of my own.
I suppose it can be said of me
that I am currently living as happily ever after
as living to a certain age allows,
if not for all the stories that begin to tell themselves
in random, deep whispers,
about the possibilities that were and are no more,
the shockingly brief tales of days and years
vanished like breadcrumbs on the path,
and no way back.


In the middle of deep woods, I retrace
wrong turns and missteps and find
there is nothing here any less lost than at the start.
Long hours I spend nursing all my dear,
darling might-have-beens.
Bad days I linger with my face
pressed to the dark mirror
like the witch, devoted to my flaws.


— Susan O’Dell Underwood


Susan O’Dell Underwood directs the creative writing program at Carson-Newman University. Besides two chapbooks of poetry, she has one full-length collection, THE BOOK OF AWE (Iris). Her poems, essays, and short fiction have been published or are forthcoming in a variety of journals and anthologies, including Oxford American, Crab Orchard Review, Tupelo Quarterly, Tar River Poetry, and A Literary Field Guide to Appalachia. She and her husband David Underwood run Sapling Grove Press, devoted to underserved poets, photographers, and writers in Appalachia.



Editor’s Notes:  Supporting image is a collage of Disney Princess (by Kevin Dooley in Flickr) and a flying witch (Kisspng).