American Life in Poetry: Fairy Tale

Kwame Dawes. Courtesy photo.

This poem captures one of the peculiar, private deals that we sometimes make in a world that seems to be marching on, completely out of our control.

Some might call it a prayer, or a spell, or a strange vow, characterized by a certain magical hope against reality.

Huey labels it a “fairy tale”, a deeply haunting expression of the familiar fear we have of “the bill” coming due.

Fairy Tale
By Huey

My father cuts off his thumb with a circular saw.
A tiny magical man makes me an offer.

I cannot refuse. My father’s thumb grows back.
The price I have agreed to pay is too great;

I cannot bear to say its name aloud. In the corner
of every room I enter, the tiny magical man

crouches, nameless and cruel. Not today, he says.
Not today. One day, I will enter a room and he will

not be there, and I will know the bill has come due.
A phone will ring. I will answer. A stranger’s voice

will mispronounce my name, apologize,
hesitate. In this brief silence, foolish hope will bloom.

American Life in Poetry does not accept unsolicited manuscripts. It is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2021 by Amorak Huey, “Fairy Tale” from The Southern Review, Vol. 37:3, Summer 2021. Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2022 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Kwame Dawes, is George W. Holmes Professor of English and Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner at the University of Nebraska.