Originally published in Willow Springs 78
From the author
Notes on “Soup Bone and Juniper Tree”
Rereading fairy tales now, I’m struck by how these stories set the bar pretty low for parenting. The parents are always killing their kids or abandoning them in the forest. They make me feel like I’m doing a pretty great job even if my kid’s wearing the wrong kind of sunscreen. But I think fairy tales endure because they still uncover some unshakeable anxieties. In “Soup Bone and Juniper” I was working through the different abandonments parents and children still experience even in the best and safest of situations: First, children grow up. Then, they depart into a world where harm is inevitable. Finally, eventually, someone dies. And throughout it all, does our imagination protect us or make us even more vulnerable?
In my first drafts, I was responding more directly to “The Juniper Tree,” one of the darkest of the Grimm tales, the one where a stepmother kills her son and serves him cooked in a stew to his unsuspecting father, who of course thinks it’s delicious. Though the final draft still nods to elements of the story, I had to let the soup in my poem become its own thing and let go of that wonderful cannibalistic detail. It may still be there as an undercurrent, but the poem isn’t explicitly interested in that aspect anymore. Sometimes I have trouble letting go of such sordid or spectacular details but when I do it’s almost always to the benefit of the poem.
Music, Food, Booze, Tattoos, Kittens, etc.
Food: What am I eating? Not soup made out of kids. You know those pink and white frosted animal cookies with sprinkles? My husband’s grandmother gave us a bag for our son. He doesn’t need all of that sugar. I’m eating them all so he doesn’t have to.
Ink: I’m not brave enough for a tattoo. For a while in college, I thought I might get “Peggy in the Twilight” tattoed on me somewhere. I don’t know, probably on my lower back; it was the late ’90s. It’s the title of a James Tate poem that I loved. I do still love the poem, so it wouldn’t have been the worst tattoo in terms of enduring meaning. That poem taught me about the right kind of ambiguity. But since I couldn’t commit to a tattoo, I did the next best thing: I used the title as an email account username. It was fine for a few years until the Twilight books and movies came out and ruined the word “twilight” for everyone. Every time I gave out my email address, I had to explain that I wasn’t Team Edward or Jacob. I was team Tate. So maybe it’s best I never got the tattoo.
About Bethany Schultz Hurst
Bethany Schultz Hurst is the author of Miss Lost Nation, winner of the Robert Dana-Anhinga Poetry Prize and finalist for the 2016 Kate Tufts Discovery Award. Her work was selected for Best American Poetry 2015 and appears or is forthcoming in journals such as American Literary Review, Drunken Boat, The Gettysburg Review, Gulf Coast, and New Ohio Review. She lives in Pocatello, Idaho, where she teaches at Idaho State University.