Henrietta Goodman

Gretel in the Tunnel

Brother, why must we enter?

The mountain opens—in the night,

a blacker hole. My shoes twist

on gravel. This is the mouth

of the monster in every dream:

black teeth, the smell of rotten leaves. 


No light at the end. Without touching the walls,

how will we know where the path bends?

Is this a lesson—your gentle taunts,

not-quite-hidden exasperation? Nothing to be afraid of,

unless you’re afraid of nothing—this hole

could devour us, press us flat, eyeless,

like the fish that live deep in caves. 

At whose mercy are we? 


When we reach the threshold

I want to be carried out into the lighter dark,

because, truly, I have given myself to you. 

Without you I would run, panicked, headlong.

Without you I wouldn’t be here at all.


And when you sit on a rock under

the blurry moon to rub the marks

of my nails from your arm—

don’t you know the only way home

is to go back through? What will I make

of the gift you offered, that I could not accept

and could not refuse?




“Gretel in the Tunnel” is from Take What You Want, (Alice James Books, 2007).