A Guide to Folktales in Fragile Dialects by Catherynne M. Valente

  • Author: Catherynne M. Valente
  • Publisher: Curiosities
  • Published Date: 2008

If you want more of these odd, little “reviews” of Cat Valente’s works, check out the links in the Musings post dedicated to her. “Review” begins below the line:


The world was born
in linebreaks and caesuras, cradled
between similes stretched tall like poplars
and metaphors that branched and brushed
the poor, crying babe.

Everyone knows folktales like
to play party games: pin the tail
on the fairy, land a ring on a red
apple, and always have the blindfold
the tiniest bit too loose.

And of course, the tales mingle
and drink and merry until you can’t
tell Snow White from Snow Queen,
old crone in the forest from old witch in the woods.


Tale Type 30(x-42):
Black, Flowing Hair

In the distant lands of you-know-where, there is a tale told only by motherless women to motherless girls. They each add their own spin, but the basis is always the same. The following is a tale told to a researcher who herself was motherless.

There was a woman with hair like a fairytale: black as coal dripping with the midnight sky, long enough to plant a garden in, and thick enough to create strong coils of rope with. She dwelt inside every story, every poem, and every heartbeat. She looked into the cracks of the tales…poked her head around the backyard.

She wrote of fragility in folk. She wrote of myth and made it reality. She wrote a body that lives and breathes and bleeds. Oh, yes, it bleeds. Red blood still drips and dyes the tips of her hair scarlet. That’s how you know the things she wrote are alive. They bleed and tell stories to each other; they have sisters and mothers and grandmothers. They meet the Muses for drinks in Vegas and go hiking with Death up in the mountains.

All of these tales must be poetry because they must flow across the body like streams of capillaries. Sure, there might be the occasional large organ to go around, stationed like a prose guard.

The woman with black hair, so black and long and thick, was still exploring. She still is exploring. You might come across her from time to time. She may be a bit startling, but don’t mind her. She’s just dissecting the tales. There’s no such thing as vestigial traits in these bodies, though.

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