November 9, 2021

Unfettering Philomela, By Christine Butterworth-McDermott

Editor’s note: Oh the traps that are laid for protagonists in fairy tales! That’s what this poem conjures up for me. It also makes me think of Andersen’s “The Nightingale.” It’s a lovely spell of a poem. (Kate)

Bird, girl, you perch upon words 

as if they were something solid 


like trees instead of shimmering notes 

of nothing.  You have yet to learn 


that whether they are kind or unkind 

matters little. Betrayal is just an exposure 


of rotted wood beneath auburn leaves. 

Comforting nests, too, may only be 


made of twigs. Storms blow things apart, 

whether weak or well made. What have 


you then—as you look outward to vast sky? 

It is too simple to insist on you soaring 


on wings magnificently unfolded—for yours 

have been clipped and pinned. You’re not sure 


how they work. And so, I suggest you burst 

into flame instead: regold your glory outward.  


Become a purification of your own making, 

a sharpening of beak, an opening of throat, 


sing a keening or a calling, let it be yours, 

and yours alone. Whatever cage they wish 


to lock you in, whatever trap they’ve laid 

or sprung, never let the weaving cease, 

never let them hold your tongue.


To learn more about the mythical Philomela, you can go here.

Bio: Christine Butterworth-McDermott’s latest collection of poetry is Evelyn As: Poems (2019). Her poetry has been published in such journals as Alaska Quarterly Review, The Normal School, The Massachusetts Review, and River Styx, among others. She is the founder of Gingerbread House Literary Magazine, an online venue for fantasy and fairytale ( 


Image from Pixabay.


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Kelly Jarvis said...

That first line! <3 And the last! <3 I teach this myth in my fairy tale class and would love to share your poem with my students. Just beautiful!

Krys Plate said...

This poem really spoke to me. Thank you for sharing it with us!

HulderMN said...

I love this.
Rise, like the phoenix!

Christine Butterworth-McDermott said...

Oh, Kelly, thank you! I'd love you to share this!

Kathleen Jowitt said...

This is quite remarkably good - spare and devastating.