Self-Portrait as Rapunzel (Crimmins Poetry Prize Winner)


My mother built her tower out of baby teeth
broken on stale communion wafers, out of dogs
choked by chicken bones, empty medicine cabinets,
every lullaby her mother never sang her.

When I was born, she mixed a mortar of bent
needles, busted harp strings, and porcupine
quills pulled from beneath her fingernails.

One day, she told me, gold dust will pool in the hollow
of your tongue. Roses will track their roots in your spine.
Your body will chip like shale rock chiseled by rain.


She shut me in. No door. One locked window.
A keyhole cut in the shape of my name.

I stayed inside for years, afraid of anything
that carried its shadow too close to itself.
My mother hoisted baskets of mint and dill.

She wrote notes that ended with for your own good
and planted morning glories that opened like eyes.


When a prince arrived, he used words like trapped
and escape. I offered a rope woven from daisy stems,
but he said my hair was stronger.

The shorn end of the braid thumped the grass
like a feathered body striking stones. Years later,
after he left me, I carved a hole in my tongue.

I came home. The tower had fallen. My mother’s last gift:
a handful of pebbles shaping a word: grow.
I built my tower out of nettles and closed doors
and dropped seeds into my eyes.


Now, red petals curl behind my teeth.
Yellow pollen smears my lips and bees
drone at the corners of my mouth.

I swallow secrets that harden into keys.
All night, I listen to locks sliding shut.

Emily Rose Cole is a poet, songwriter, and fairytale enthusiast from Emmaus, Pennsylvania. Her poems have appeared in a variety of publications, including Jabberwock Review, Ruminate, Gulf Stream, and many others. She teaches composition and creative writing at the University of Southern Illinois Carbondale, where she is currently an MFA candidate