swan on blue misty lake
Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

The Wild Swans by Stephanie Parent

The girl wished she could be water

Soft, but strong

Enough to shape a stone

And feel no pain

And have no soul

She wished she could be a swan

Soaring on white wings

Trailing feathers like wishes

She’d look down, from such heights

On earthly desires like children’s toys

Miles below

The girl gathered nettles from graveyards

Watched ghouls devour hearts

Her own heart stuck in her throat

So she couldn’t speak

While blisters burned her fingers

Making monstrous things

Of her flesh and of the six shirts

She sewed

For six long years

As her brothers flew above her

She wove fabric of stinging nettles

And wondered:

Was she truly saving her brothers

By sacrificing herself?

Or was she digging them all a deeper trap

A grave, for why would anyone with wings

Choose to give them up? And wouldn’t they

Having once known flight, feel the loss

Too deeply to go on?

She couldn’t stop ruminating, running

Her hands over poison barbs as she

Asked herself

If she was doing the right thing

The years passed

And the blisters on her hand burned into scars

And she forgot what it was like

To speak

And all those thoughts slowed her down

So when the day came

To rest the shirts like spiked blankets on her

Brothers’ backs

She wasn’t done

The youngest had only half a shirt

His transformation incomplete

One swan wing remained, a question mark

Asking what it is to be human—

A gift worth suffering for, or

The curse of a clipped wing?


Stephanie Parent is a graduate of the Master of Professional Writing program at USC and a lifetime lover of myths and fairy tales. She has written an entire book’s worth of poems re-imagining fairy tales from a modern feminist lens. Stephanie’s poetry has appeared in Goblin Fruit, Corvid Queen and elsewhere, and her poems have been nominated for a Rhysling Award and Best of the Net.

Author's note

Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Wild Swans” has long been one of my favorite fairy tales, and in this poem, I strove to explore the themes of masochism, of transformation, and of being caught between two worlds/two states of being that I see reflected in this tale. I’m so pleased to have found a perfect home for this poem in Carmina Magazine, where traditional mythology comes together with modern creative expression. “The Wild Swans” was itself inspired by an older traditional tale, “The Six Swans,” which was collected by The Brothers Grimm. In my piece, I honor the striking imagery of the original story—the maiden sewing with nettles that burn her flesh; the swan-boy left with one wing after his transformation—while also creating something modern and unique to my personal creative perspective.