By Cheryl L. Caesar

 

When I was seven my dolls still talked

and moved, even the unfortunate one

I’d molded out of clay,

who looked like Alice the Goon.

Having no armature, she couldn’t stand.

She sat splay-legged, as though

in an eternal game of jacks.

When I was seven, the April issue

of Jack and Jill arrived in duplicate.

Its cover bloomed with spring pastels. I took

a pink chalk and scribbled on one page

of one copy. Then I kept both. Picking up

the magazine, I never knew whether

I’d find the magic mark that came and went.

When I was seven I had a music box

that played, “In the Good Old Summertime,”

high and tinkly. But above the melody,

I heard a fleeting descant. Only sometimes.

I told myself that it was magic too.

When I was seven my piano teacher

gave me a recording of “Peter and the Wolf.”

It built my fear up step by step:

first the grandfather, played by the bassoon.

But he is only crochety, a warmup act.

Then the narrator said, “The WOLF

is played by the THREE HORNS,” and gave a sample.

Those warning horns! That approach, slow

and inexorable! It always made me shudder.

And so, to shudder more, I’d look

at her collection of Aesop’s fables,

with watercolor pictures. First,

“The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” I’d wonder: did the wolf

eat only the sheep? Or the boy too? The painted wolf

was moving laterally, but turned to look at me.

His jaw was long and full of terrible teeth,

the tongue hanging out.

 I’d call him back

each night, with the nightlight on. The image

and the music. The dripping jaws

and the soft footfalls. I’d prod my fear

like a loose tooth, training myself braver.

When I was seven – but am I not still seven?

And aren’t you? We need the magic

and we need to master it, and then

we need the magic again.

When I was seventeen,

I babysat for a girl with a magic wand

that she took everywhere. It waved and sparkled

and I secretly wanted one too.

At fifty-nine, I think that I still do.

 

Cheryl L. Caesar is an Assistant Professor, WRAC at Michigan State University. Her personal website is http://caesarc.msu.domains/.

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