Image Credit: Taylor@xoutcastx
In To Feed My Woodland Bones, Kate Garrett defines a changeling as “a strange, ugly child/left in exchange for/a beautiful, wanted child.” Typically, the changeling is a fairy, who has been left in the place of a child. The stolen child has been taken to fairy, where he or she remains, forever. Meanwhile, the mother is left with a petulant child that looks like her own, but is not. However, the changeling in Garrett’s chapbook, To Feed My Woodland Bones, is the heroine, as well as the main speaker.
Following the traditional narrative, there is a tense mother-daughter relationship. One where neither one feels recognized as “belonging” with the other. It’s an interesting concept to explore mother/child relationships, particularly one where the mother is the perpetrator of violence.
In “an elf turns inside out for the dragon,” the speaker says: “my fire-breathing mother says she believes in love—/she preaches starvation, picks the latest/drive-thru-visit hoard from her teeth/with my toothpick legs…she makes it known/I am not allowed to be hungry.”
There’s hostility in the way that the mother’s negative behavior forces the speaker to embrace disordered eating, trying to make the changeling/elf figure fit typical beauty standards.
However, unlike the traditional changeling stories, where the changeling is left in the woods to die, the changeling grows up, and thrives, even. She learns how to adapt and survive—at one point, saying “I shapeshift, deerlike in so many ways—/licking salt to feed my woodland bones.”
In “a halfling emerges,” the speaker describes the birth of her son, saying—”from where he rests/meeting my gaze from his nest/on my own sunken belly/his blinking/halfway eyes/[dark as a foal’s on a late spring morning]/see through me.” Here, the changeling become the mother figure, herself, and there’s a recognition in that moment—a different type of mother/child bond, one which subverts the changeling narrative.
To Feed My Woodland Bones is a good read—it’s in the vein of Angela Carter and Holly Black, where fairy stories are rewritten in a fresh, contemporary way, but Garrett does so in poetic form. These poems are darkly beautiful and weave a story that is profoundly hopeful. To Feed My Woodland Bones is forthcoming from Animal Heart Press.