". . .Walk nice and quietly,
and do not run off the path,
and when you go into your grandmother's house
do not forget to say, 'Good-morning,'
and don't peep into every corner before you do it."
The thick-knit cloak without which
I never dared venture into the world.
Is it any wonder that when the wolf appeared,
coat of silver, eyes of gold,
when the wolf sauntered toward me, kindly as you please,
and showed me fields of lavender and jessamine,
hawkweed and flax —
purple and yellow and flame run wild,
blue stolen from the skies;
when he bade me shed the heavy woolen cloak
and hear the birds calling their young,
spinning the moon light on their song;
when he taught me to follow the sunbeams
dancing through the trees,
warming the pine needles till their scent filled the air
and led me far from the path;
when he told me there was no reason to be so grave
when the wood was merry;
is it any wonder I went deeper and deeper into the green trees?
Now the doctor asks me
how it was I could not tell my own grandmother from a wolf.
The huntsman had no such problem, you see.
He strode right into the cottage, called out,
"Do I find you here, you old sinner? I have long sought you!"
He even guessed my grandmother was inside,
and was wise enough not to fire
but to take scissors
and cut open the stomach of the sleeping wolf.
A man who knows his enemies, hunts them down cleanly,
and disposes of them efficiently,
taking care not to harm
what good they may contain.
I was not nearly so clear.
The doctor asks me
whether I was not living among wolves from the start.
How could one confuse a grandmother with a wolf
unless the grandmother and wolf were kin all along?
It's complicated, I tell him,
thinking that in sunlight
my grandmother's hair is as silver as the wolf's pelt,
that at dusk her eyes have always glittered gold,
that always in the corners of her cottage
there have been small treasures waiting —
toys made from thimbles, ribbons for my hair.
Sometimes, I explain,
it's hard to tell the difference
between the ones who love you
and the ones who will eat you alive.
The explanation doesn't wash.
Open your eyes, child, he tells me.
Appearances may deceive.
You must give thanks to the huntsman.
You needed an avenging angel,
a savior strong and unafraid,
a man to tear open the wolf's belly
and help you out.
I tell him I am grateful
that my grandmother still lives in her cottage
with gifts tucked in every corner;
grateful that I am alive,
that a stranger held out the hope
that from what nearly destroys you
love may emerge.
What I do not tell him is that
I will again leave the path
and wander into that fragrant green wood
and when I see
coat of silver, eyes of gold,
I will follow.
About the Author: Ellen Steiber has published adult fiction in the Snow White, Blood Red series, Sirens, and other anthologies, as well as books for children. This poem was inspired by the fairy tale Little Red riding Hood.
Copyright © 1994 by Ellen Steiber. The poem first appeared in Snow White, Blood Red, published by Avon Books. It may not be reproduced in any form without the author’s express written permission.