Jeannine Hall Gailey


In these three poems, I'm working with personas from Japanese folk tales. I read a fantastic book by Jungian and religious scholar Hayao Kawai on the function of fairy tale archetypes in Japan, and fell in love with the stories he referenced. In fact, I'm working on a book manuscript based on Japanese folk tales and stories from Japanese anime. I'm particularly attracted to re-telling stories where a woman is transformed, or not exactly what she seems.

(Also check out Jeannine's essay, "Why We Wear Masks".)




Green Willow Wife


I begged you not to take me far
from home, I was so young, my black hair
uncut and unbound, loose over your hands, my feet bare
while I poured warm sake by the fire.

We roamed villages, me in the foamy green clothing
you bought for my thin legs and shoulders.
I’m so tired, I’ll die, I told you. I lay down
on the wet grass beside the river. How I loved you,

my husband, do not forget your green willow.
In the morning, all that was left of me
was my green silk scarf and skirt
and a sheaf of green willow leaves.

When you went back to my village, grieving,
the three willow trees in front of my house
cut down, and the house itself decayed,
my parents missing…Poor husband,

you should have known the green willow
could not stray far. Let me lie down on the grass.
Let the rain fall on the stumps of my soul.
Remember the green willow,

who gave you her young limbs,
with whom you lay on white wooden mats.


From the Japanese fairy tale, “Green Willow.”



The Tongue-Cut Sparrow’s Song for the Woodsman’s Wife


You cut out my tongue because you were tired of your husband waiting by the window. You begrudged me each grain, each drop of water. What can you feed a bird that cannot sing? What place does she have to hide? I even bowed to you, bitter mistress, before your attack. What harm could a sparrow do? Now you will see. If demons rose around you like notes of my song, which did you not earn?

In our world, birds
might become angels, or gods. Beware
the statue you do not feed.


Based on the Japanese fairy tale, “The Tongue-Cut Sparrow,” in which a jealous wife mutilates a sparrow who is really an enchanted forest spirit.


Yuki, The Snow Maiden


I warned you, my husband,
that night in the snow,
when you saw the deadly power of my kiss,
never to speak of what you witnessed.
You left the old man I’d covered in ice,
returned safe to your mother as I promised.
I showed up on your doorstep,
with another name –
my shining robes discarded,
my white hair blinding black,
and you did not know me.
You mistook my silent lips
and quiet ways for goodness.
We married, our children played
while you wove them sandals
in the house that we shared.
You stayed handsome and I never aged.
But one winter night you spoke,
while watching me sew,
of your dream of a snow woman,
who looked like me in the moonlight,
just as pale. And I cried as I left you
with one chilling gaze.
You never keep our secrets.
The gusts of snow around your window
are all that’s left of me – my breath
and my children, who press their cheeks
against the cold ground, who hate the thaw of spring.


Based on the famous Japanese legend of Yuki-Onna


435569-1585806-thumbnail.jpgJeannine Hall Gailey is a Port Townsend poet whose first book of poetry, Becoming the Villainess, was published by Steel Toe Books. Poems from the book were featured on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac, Verse Daily, and were included in 2007’s The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. She has recently been awarded a 2007 Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prize for Poetry and a 2007 Artist Trust GAP grant to work on her new manuscript, “She Returns to the Floating World.” Her poems have appeared in The Iowa Review, The Columbia Poetry Review, and Smartish Pace. She volunteers as an editorial consultant for Crab Creek Review and teaches with Centrum’s Young Artists Project.