Bluebird & the Forbidden Rooms
Let me begin with an O. O greystained rooms. O Room with a star, the moon, the
sun. O Room with the Blessed Trinity seeping gold. O Room with the little girl who
looked at the Trinity. O Blood room of Wives, and bits of wives. Room with steel
doors and fire pit. Steal away. When all rooms are forbidden, all are licit.
Part One: Backwoods
Once unpeace a time three sisters lived with an Old Dame in the woods, with a single
hen for sustenance. The eldest sister was Duty, thin as a pin on a puritan’s brooch,
and stooped with care. Fortune’s bagsbody, she kept everyone in line, and cared for
the family hen, which was called Zero-Hours, and which she went out to fetch each
day, until one day neither of them came home.
The second sister was called Done-Unto, short, wide, and liverish, a continent of
regrets. Dumpling, they nicknamed her and she wore their clothes, overly and
underly, taking on whatever she was given. When sister Duty disappeared, Done-
Unto took on the task of looking for the hen, but she too disappeared.
The third sister was Devil-may-Care and was sweet and wise, forest-streetwise, a
caution, and of no consequence. She was known for her three ounces of wit. She
sang this song:
(I wish I wish I wish in vain…) I wish I were a third wish. I love the overall airiness here
but I miss my sisters, though Duty bossed me and Done-Unto bled me. No goodbyes,
but gone looking for our hen – beguiled, people say, by the Monster
of the Mountains.
I will go myself, to search for this hen, which is always getting lost…
Part Two: Your Hen is Tripping in the Mountains
One hen we have.
Touched with hen-senility, Zero-Hours feels her bearings trickle like grain through
holes in her brain. She wanders the forest, the far fields, the foothills of the
mountain, looking for food.
Devil May Care, DMC, follows the path which, first, the hen, and, then, her sisters
took, through turquoise forest backstreets … Here, Hen. Where are you, Hen. She
imagines Sister Duty pushing herself, always a little further, because she ought to.
The Oughter Daughter.
A bluebird, Twitterer, accompanies her, monitoring her progress. Capture that leaf
edge… Where are you, Hen? calls Bluebird to Hen: no response.
Past the aspergillus centre, out the other side, the foothills to the mountain. She
imagines Done-Unto coming this way, moaning softly to herself, her lot, her
admirable, miserable, lot— to come this way, to find nothing, to go a little further.
Near the Mountain, so often heard-of, never seen, its orange shadow, DMC whispers
again ‘where are you hen?’
She hears singing on the wind, the hills alive with the sound of mountains. Then:
Your Hen is tripping in the mountains – echoes back, becoming an earworm. DMC
follows the worm’s trail and comes to the vast door of the mountain, slightly ajar.
She crosses herself and enters. Rooms hung with crystal and damask, tables set with
golden goblets; gold en suite bathrooms; a gilt stairway.
She knows it to be the Hall of the Mountain Troll.
Part Three: Musical Interlude—Rooms’r’us
The rooms croon and commune:
There are three lovely lassies from Banyan,
The Rooms chorus:
Three little maids from school are we ….
We are your archetypal sisters– but…
we are not your archetypical sisters.
The Rooms chant:
Hen he uses to lure them.
Zero Hours and insecure them.
He makes her tweet and gag.
She is his bait, hashtag.
The Rooms crescendo:
Come all you young maidens
and hear the Troll trumpet!
Cursewunner, one and one and one,
he plucks you off with plumpest tweetmeats.
He boasts his mountain is the biggest.
He knows your weakness and you enter
his own domain. When Sister Duty rebuffed him,
he flamed her, threw her in the fire-pit
for roasting, had no pity. Then soft Dumpling,
he called ‘ungrateful pigface’, cut her up
and put her where the old wives are.
But now the little quick-as-a pixie one is here,
and she tells him he is GREAT,
and accepts his proposal: to be his TROLLESS.
He gives her everything.
He gives her an EGG, her destiny.
He tells her of rooms which are FORBIDDEN, and—
she passes the test!
Part Four: Room with the Little Girl of the Trinity
Banned from birth from rooms of the body, mind, and free-ranging spirit, Little Girl is
trapped in a primeval No. Four times she tried forbidden rooms, until she was
evicted by her Godmother, cast adrift with beauty and a bound tongue. Then a
prince! Then babies which vanished at birth, her own mouth bloodstained. O
careless Cannibalism, is it I who have done this? Then exiled here to the Hall of the
Mountain Troll. Not alone, but silent she lives. With Mother Hare, who has a leveret
for leverage. Mother Goat. And Mother Charlotte the Harlot. All coralled like hens in
a single cell.
They pray each day: Good-looking God, come down and hear us.
Part Five: Fire Pit
One day DMC’s bluebird flies too close to the flames and is scorched. DMC cries to
Troll, who takes a crock of ointment and smears the bird, which flutters weakly, and
then re-wings itself. DMC remembers.
The day before their wedding, Troll is away on a trip, busy at his baiting. DMC takes
his ointment and braves the Firepit, raging behind steel doors. Smears her hands and
arms, leans over, harrows the pit. She sees sister Duty; clutches at parts of her in the
flames. The toe bone connected to the heel bone, the heel bone connected to the foot
bone. Duty emerges, re-membered, and she laughs. DMC has never heard her laugh
before. They go together to the Blood Basin, Room of the Bits of Wives, for Done-
Unto, their middle sister, and pluck out limbs which match, smear them. Thigh bone
connected to the hip bone, hip bone connected to the back bone. A liver which
regenerates. She also emerges, re-membered. She roars. DMC has never heard her
One more room to visit. She brings the ointment and continues the smear campaign
on the little girl of the Trinity, on the nuns. The girl speaks, the nuns sleep. Now girls
are on the run.
Part Six: SAX
Long jazz curves accompany them home. Duty, Done-unto, and the Little Girl of the
Trinity, all carried in sacks by the Troll – DMC’s final trick on the Troll’s return: with
the lure of marriage, she has persuaded him to carry tied sacks of money to the Old
Dame, in recompense for her losses, and forbids him to look inside. Sweet reversal.
He sweats with the weight. When he is tempted to look, the sisters and the little girl
speak with DMC’s voice: ‘I can see you’. He is scared. Savoury reversal. Gold seeps
constantly from the Little Girl’s fingers from when she saw the Trinity.
Devil May Care makes a replica of herself with Troll’s stirring stick – the one which he
uses to curse, and dresses it as a bride, seats it at the window, the destiny-egg in its
lap. She daubs herself with honey and feathers, and leaves the Mountain. Strange
bird, honey-trap, she meets Troll on his way back. He is tired and limping and asks
after his Bride. Rising up like a Queen of birds, DMC declares:‘She’s at home, waiting
to marry you, Troll, but hurry, her pet bluebird has tumbled into the firepit and you
must run and save her, and you must lean in very far to pull her out.’ He smiles
weakly: ‘I will save them, bride and bluebird alike. I am the most saving’. And he
Geraldine Clarkson is the author of three poetry pamphlets: Declare (which was a Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice), Dora Incites the Sea-Scribbler to Lament (which was a Laureate’s Choice) and No. 25. Her poems have appeared in UK and international journals including Poetry, The Poetry Review, Mslexia, Poetry London, Ambit, The Rialto, Magma, and in anthologies including Best British and Irish Poetry 2018. She has won the Poetry London, Ambit and Ver Poets competitions and the Magma Editors’ and Anne Born prizes, and has been commended in the National Poetry Competition.