King of Crows is really a story about listening and perhaps the way our own fears of not being heard keep us from listening better. I liked the character here of Johnny Fahey and plan one day to write about more of his adventures.
"Johnny stood up and, shouldering his pack and fiddle, walked deeper into the canyon. The road twisted and turned through the high-walled corridors until at last the canyon opened into a wide grassy field. Spread across the field were crows, fanning their black wings over the grass. He stopped, awed at the sight of so many, their necks thrown back as they called to one another. The swirling flocks settled themselves uneasily, stalking through the long grass, their heads reared to catch the sunlight. And with a common cry, they shook their feathers, beaks breaking and limbs stretching until they had shaped themselves into the semblance of human form. Now standing before him were men and women striding over the green, their wings transformed into cloaks of black silk and velvet..." more>>>
The poem Donkeyskin is based on the fairy tale Donkeyskin -- one of those tales that begins with an impossible situation. As a King's wife lies dying in childbirth, she makes him promise that he will only remarry if he can find a woman who can fit her wedding ring. The child is born -- a healthy girl who grows into adolescence in the shadow of her father's grief and her dying mother's promise. The ring of course only fits the daughter, and the King announces that he will marry his child. Though appalled, the court remains silent over this incestuous plan, and the girl is alone, with no one to protect her from this crime.
But the girl is resourceful and finds a variety of ways to avoid the impending marriage, finally begging for the skin of a donkey, which she covers herself with and escapes into the night. This story shares its troubling opening with The Armless Maiden: the suggestion of incest or abuse, and the certainty that the girl, once having fled, can not return to the palace. She must venture forth and find her way in the world, her beauty and royalty disguised by the skin. (There are so many versions of this story -- Sapsorrow, Tattercoats, Deerskin, and Allerleirauh. You can read a wonderful article about this story from Helen Pilinovsky, here.)
"Jack Straw" was written for Jane Yolen's young adult anthology Things That Go Bump in the Night and was republished in the Journal of Mythic Arts, Summer, 2007. It was one of those rare stories that comes like grace, spilling out effortlessly all at once. In it, a frightening confrontation with Death leaves a young girl wondering about the perils of change.
"...As soon as I saw those white eyes, with shining black stones for a center, I knew him. Granny Frank told me once about old Jack Straw, shuffling through the fields on his way to harvest. But it wasn't crops he raked in, it was people. Right then I knew I was dying, even though my heart pounded like a drum and blood heated up my face like a furnace fire..." more>>
Between my daughter coming of age and and my own passing beyond the age of young fairy tale heroines, I discovered a kindred spirit in the rough and powerful figure of the Russian woodwife, Baba Yaga. So I wrote the poem "Baba Yaga" both for my daughter and as a consolation for myself, no longer so young. A few years later, while living in Costa Rica, my daughter wrote a reply, "Baba Yaga's Daughter." Both poems can be read here, in the Summer 2007 issue of the Journal of Mythic Arts.