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The Runaway (Twelfth)
by Emily Mischel

“Have you indeed the courage to go with me into the wide world?” asked the chimney sweep. “Have you thought how large it is, and that we may never return?”
— The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep by Hans Christian Anderson

In the cabinet among the other
figurines of porcelain
     here we are small.
But in the wide world, (up the black black chimney)
the one you want us to run away to,
     we would only get smaller. Can I go with you?

The forced betrothal of a pure girl (such as myself)
to a far away emperor is simply historical canon and
I would find company in the memories of the wives of Genghis Khan,
locked in the Glass Cabinet with 11 other wives.
My father even thinks he has more treasures hidden in the drawers below
that only I (as his favorite) would get to see, If I were to remain.

If I do not follow you, I’m just another child bride
another statistic, another rights violation. So this
“Freedom” awaits up the tunnel of soot.
I would have run weeks ago, but I waited up, for you
said you’d gone up this chimney hundreds of times. Why do you drag your feet so?

My gown is soiled, but I made my choice.
I can still hear the shrieking of the china wives.
“Foolish girl” they say “he will break your heart!”
Is that really the worst that can happen?
If so, I have less to fear from those shimmering bits of glass,
tucked in blankets of blue, just above us.
They seem to be as close and as far as you are, my love.

The houses flash from blue to green in sporadic bursts of starlight
Your embrace shatters my arm. (I thought you’d been here before)
This world is too big. Too turbulent,
can’t you see?
     Sickness hangs from the balconies.
The buildings push and shove each other,
     each trying to get a better look at
          the well presented and walled off wilderness reserve.

You said I’d be free here.

That’s like saying
                    we’re safe on top of this chimney whilst
                    a fire burns below us.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem began as an ekphrasis poem inspired by illustrations from antique Anderson’s Fairytales books. It is part of a project that became my undergraduate creative writing thesis, Don’t Fear The Beasts: A Poetic Reimagining of Anderson’s Fairytales. I sought to retell the stories in the form of a poem. In this way, I could reinvent the fairytales – make them more modern, while also engaging with them as a study of what makes these stories still relevant.

IMAGE: “The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep” by Mabel Lucie Attwell (1920s).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Emily Mischel is a Los-Angeles-based writer, a daydreamer, and a recent graduate. When not looking for her muse, Emily runs her online clothing shop, Vintage Dinosaur Shop, and adds to her to-do list.