There was a kingdom in the clouds.
Cradled too close by mountain peaks,
the populace throbbed at the brim.
Houses climbing cliffs like animals
escaping. Each year rooftops rested
closer to the stars; each year tunnels
rooted deeper into stone.
Tremors shivered through glass and steel.
Engineers and architects calculated
loads in the margins, torque and sway.
Where the air is light, snow is heavy,
and avalanches are netted like beasts.
Oracles warning of volcanic eruptions
were the madmen shouting on street corners.
The Queen had begun to dream of fire.
Dawn is creeping pink
but the valley is still in twilight.
Once the sun rises, the whole kingdom
will glitter like crystal.
My jewel-box, thinks Queen Karina
as she looks out each morning
from her bedroom in the seventh tower.
She begins to sing softly.
“Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
who’s the fairest of them all?”
It is a catchy tune, bitter and funny.
She presses an injector to her thigh,
inspects the wound. A purposeful breach.
No cure, only pinpricks and time.
The Sickness encircles the kingdom
like the arms of a wit-sick parent.
Poison in the milk. Long before this rot,
children have withered in the womb.
Long have the people been turning
to stunted alpine trees, their eyes
all the same color: rain about to fall.
Only the princess pristine,
Rose, that daughter of the lowlands.
Skin like river-clay, hair
like thunderheads over the floodplain.
Snow-white, the people jeer. Untouched
and untouchable, she watches them die
from the turret. The people riot.
Somewhere, someone is starting a fire.
Karina lifts the veil from her mirror,
surveying the wreckage of her face.
The left cheek melting away from bone,
red shining flesh beneath the eye.
Sores blossoming, chin to nipple.
She chuckles, thinking of verses
once written in praise of those breasts.
The Queen puts on her mask
and strides to the throne room.
Tammy Bendetti lives, works, and drinks too much coffee on Colorado’s Western Slope with her husband and two small daughters. She completed a poetry workshop with Wyatt Prunty at Sewanee: The University of the South, and received a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from Colorado Mesa University. Her poetry has most recently appeared in Calliope and Grand Valley Magazine, and is forthcoming from Right Hand Pointing. She is currently building a secret room under her stairs but does not plan to keep any wizards in it.