Old Woman Gothel

The Brothers Grimm were the first storytellers to name the witch in the Rapunzel tale. They chose
to call her "Gothel," which is both a surname and the word for "godmother" in southwestern Germany.

It was not about the lamb’s lettuce.
It was about my other garden
where no seed would take root,
no matter how many times
I watered the field.

When I caught them thieving my rampion,
it was all too easy to take the girl away.
It was all too easy to pretend
she was fruit of my vine,
grown and ripened in my earth.

I loved her so much, I ached
with each step she took away from me.
Each empty bottle of goat’s milk,
each whispered new word
made my heart forget its worth.

In the instant it should’ve beat
I would long for the union her birthmother
must’ve felt with her, in the dark womb
when her mother knew her
and she knew her mother alone.

Nightly, I heard the sobbing next door.
Nightly, in the room above the garden,
I shut the window and sang.
Hush, child. Lulla, lulla.
Listen to me alone.

After the cottage next door went quiet,
after its windows went dark and its walls
grew thick with vines, I asked around.
They said the river called to her.
They said he fell to drink.

When the girl turned twelve,
and I came upon the stone tower
with neither door nor stairwell,
I thought of them. I saw those vines
grow thick and dark over my home.

I filled the top room
with silks and lace and ribbons.
I bought a thousand picture books,
a hundred spools of thread,
an easel, paints, a loom.

All I wanted
was to put off the time
the river would call to me.
Let she who is without sin
cast the first stone.

Click here to listen to Mary McMyne reading "Old Woman Gothel"

Mary McMyne lives and writes in Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in a number of journals, including the Los Angeles Review, Phantom Drift: A Journal of New Fabulism, and New Delta Review. Her project retelling the Odysseus myth from the perspective of a Vietnam soldier’s wife won the Faulkner Prize for a Novel-in-Progress; judge Janette Turner Hospital described it as "stunning... gorgeously lyrical, culturally hyper-observant, and acerbically intelligent... a real tour de force." McMyne teaches English and creative writing at Lake Superior State University, where she co-edits the journal Border Crossing.

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