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Robert Bly

Thinking of Hansel and Gretel

I take hold of the prickly pear cactus; its fruit is plump but still prickly and resembles the swollen tongue of the tortured truth teller. The palm of my hand reports that there are spikes attached to whatever forgiveness is there. So that’s that.

You remember that Hansel had a little problem with his parents—they wanted him to die. So they sent him and Gretel far out into the forest. They wandered—as we all do—into the witch’s territory. That wilderness resembles the one in your own house. Well, the old girl did catch them, and she put Hansel in jail. She was fattening him up. She kept him in his little wooden prison; and each day he’d poke out the spine of the prickly pear cactus instead of his finger when the witch came by. Witches are nearsighted, all of them; it must be some genetic deal. Everyday the witch would say: “What is going on? This little sonofabitch never gets fat!”

Well, the witch finally gave up and decided to eat the boy anyway, bones and all. The oven is a big thing: “Get in there, get cooked, get eaten!” This has been her tune for a million years. Hansel, lying on the oven door, said to her: “I can’t figure out what to do with my legs.” She said, “Fold them in, you idiot! Like this!” And she lay down there. Don’t pretend you can’t figure out what this means.

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