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Ava Leavell Haymon.
“The Riddle.”

© Ava Leavell Haymon.
Used by permission.
All rights reserved.

Trying once again to produce

a butter cream — cool room, cool

crockery, wooden spatula, wooden spoon —

the girl forgot about the witch and imagined

the taste in the boy’s mouth.

Under her hands she felt the sugar

relinquish its crystal grit

without dissolving, and the butter,

without melting, relax its waxy

resistance. Butter and sugar

disappeared, and there it was

at last — the smooth paste, neither solid

nor liquid, somewhere in between.

Keep your fingers out! and a hard slap,

like the stepmother’s.

Gretel’s flaring cheek asked a new question:

What if I try hard enough? Learn everything?

Without taking a single taste, produce the cake

that makes the boy smile and grow fat?

Then she roasts Hansel in the fire

and dances all night in her dark garden.

I’ll be the only child here and no use to her

alive. The spoon was lifting

butter cream, perfect and undeniable.

Gretel’s grip loosened, and the spoon swung

sideways, like the needle of a compass.

There is something more, she thought:

something the witch will never teach me.

A riddle of kitchens, so plain

I can’t see it, the answer physical

as gristle in the riddle itself.

Her wrist dropped,

spoon plopped into bowl.

Perfect appretice, heroine girl,

the complete cook must learn to kill.

Text prepared by:


Haymon, Ava Leavell. Why the House is Made of Gingerbread. Baton Rouge: LSU Pr., 2010. © Ava Leavell Haymon. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

NOTE: This poem is from Why the House is Made of Gingerbread: Poems (2010), a poetic retelling of the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel.

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