They’re peripheral to the story
grotesque beside the beautiful Prince and Princess
or the Snow Queen in her white sleigh
and even the talking ravens have more glamour
but the older I get, the more I think about
those two sisters
who live in the cold North
in houses that are always hot, since they’re always
whatever they need
in the way of soup, or spells.
Hardy and self-reliant
hospitable, too, to passing strays
generous with their stores and their directions
and terribly wise:
they are the ones I want to be
not Gerda. Though I never will.
And they’d laugh to think I admire them.
They laugh more than is dignified, and don’t care
They send each other letters
now and then, written on stockfish
and each one chuckles knowledgeably
over the other’s latest
as she adds it to the pot.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2014. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editor in 2014 was Roderick Watson.
This poem was written in 2011, and the immediate trigger for it was another poem: 'Rune of the Finland Woman', by the great American poet Marilyn Hacker, which she read at StAnza that year and which sent my imagination back to my old Hans Christian Andersen, a strange, hauntingly-illustrated book from my childhood which has worked its way into my writing more than once over the years. I loved Hacker's poem, but I was struck that she hadn't mentioned the Finland Woman's sister, or the thing that intrigued me most about the two of them when I first read The Snow Queen: their postal system. So my poem began with that, and then worked back from it to try to explain my fascination with the characters.