Rapunzel Recovers from a Stroke
by Ellen LaFleche
Rapunzel’s hair has grown wild in her old age. It flows past her ankles, it moves in silver shivers as she waters her rock garden. Rapunzel can smell her hair - the Prell shampoo, the conditioner. The scent of illness lingers in the roots. Sick-bed smells: starched pillows, bitter-tasting pills in their fluted paper cups. Locked for three months in the rehab ward, worse than all those years in the tower. The nurses wanted to cut off her hair. No! Not that again. Rapunzel hissed fire at the student nurse who approached her scalp with scissors. The blades clacked. Rapunzel spat hot cinders. The nurse backed away, her young skin blistered. A woman without words in her mouth has to spit fire to be heard. Back to the rock garden. Rapunzel’s yard is lush with fragrant green moss, purple phlox. Miniature rose bushes. Rapunzel is careful not to tangle her hair in those thorns. Rapunzel holds the hose in her good hand. Her other hand is weak from the stroke. The water bucks through the hose. She feels the sexual charge. She remembers. All those years of marriage. Those once-upon-a-time times. Rapunzel’s life is no fairy tale. Before the stroke, there was the breast cancer, the radiation treatments. A husband with an eye for beautiful women with ropes of golden hair. A daughter on drugs. Rapunzel could tell the Grimm Brothers a thing or two about “happily ever after.” But the stroke, that wicked curse, has snatched the words from her throat. Rapunzel has to spit fire to be heard. But every curse has its blessing. Rapunzel misses the words in her mouth, true, but she loves the taste of flame on her tongue.
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Ellen LaFleche is the author of three chapbooks: Workers' Rites (Providence Athenaeum), Beatrice (Tiger's Eye Press) and Ovarian (Dallas Poets Community Press.) She won the Tor House Poetry Prize, the New Millennium Poetry Prize, the Hunger Mountain Prize, and the Joe Gouveia Outermost Poetry Prize. She is an assistant judge for the North Street Book Prize and a freelance editor. She is currently finishing a manuscript tentatively titled Walking into Lightning with a Metal Urn in My Hands, a collection of poems following the death of her husband to ALS.