All the Daughters of This House
by Nicole Kornher-Stace



Once upon a time

the house’s bones were strong:

stone stacked on stone from clay earth to slate roof,

walls fashioned waist-thick to ward daughters

from the reach of thieves and wind and kind-eyed wolves ­–

daughters named for virtues they were bound,

by force of name, to lack.

Hope withered on her attic cot,

rising to jar jam, chop wood, sweep floors

arms tough as sugarcanes, inked dark with maps on maps

(in palimpsest: this vein a silverlode, a river, a many-legged road;

that scar a snowfield, an oasis, or an isle)

gaze to the horizon she named ships

she never, outside dreams, would sail.

Grace slipped through the ice behind the house

(a jealous lake: it snaps its fingers and

your fish go belly-up, your boats go down.

It hoards its drowned.)

and her dripping ghost paced orchard-rows, perched in

peach-trees, singing all her might-have-beens,

black ice clacketing like dropped knives in her hair.

Chastity palmed up scoops of mud beneath the reeds

and buried all the minnow-children

(monsters’ brats or saints’, her lips are sealed)

doomed to swim too early from her womb.

Oakleaves and daisies for their coverlets

and a cradle-song to fresh-turned, bone-cold earth:

go to sleepy, little baby, mama’s here.

The house wept from all its windows

and longed for gingerbread and gumdrops

to sugar-paste on its stone skin

and lure the hungry mouths, the clumsy hearts, the running feet –

thinking: some might flee, or not be hoodwinked,

but some, perhaps, might stay.



Once upon a time

the house's stones loosened like teeth.

Its windows slouched in waves. By now

the shingles dulled like molted scales. Beside the lake

squat tombstones hunched and clustered,

pale and dark as grapes. Two daughters slept under

a sagging roof, daughters named for beauty,

raised to charm. Grown tall,

they parcelled out the house between them:

Lily brought her husband; Violet her books. Together

they baked layer cakes and meatloaf, planted

marigolds. One pushed the vaccuum while the other

dusted frames. Each one swore

that she was happy — the bluestocking, the housewife —

each feigned to scorn the other's choice. Though when alone,

Lily locked herself away in Violet's library

and stretched her cramping mind against

philosophy, astronomy, comparative linguistics.

At her baby's cry, she set her sister's spectacles

beside the lamp, slid her finger back into

its wedding ring, and plastered on a smile.

Unaware that Violet, alone, was given to

let down her hair, wear Lily's cocktail dress, her bracelets.

That gathering her niece's empty swaddling to her breast

she'd practice lullabies to children

no-one would ever give her:

go to sleepy, little baby, mama's here.

The house shifted in its sleep

and wished for a belt, a skirt, a cape of thorns

as long as tongues, as green as sin

for men to crash against like robins at a windowpane

and with all their expectations fall away.

(That daughters might pick berries from

their lonesome bones. That crows might tithe their eyes.)

Behind which those it guarded might find peace.

The house snarled with its graveyard breath

and the wolves fled from the door.



Once upon a time

the house shakes in its skin

cellar to shingles, and a window – two –

the last ones left – blow out. That one was close,

the people murmur, stacked like nesting dolls

(the smallest snugged in the next-smallest's arms,

the largest's back a shield)

in a fireplace, a bathtub, under stairs.

The house, gone loose and bawdy in decrepitude,

holds its doors slack as any sheela-na-gig

to whatever wind may come; but its grasp, too,

is just as clever, and its old laddered spine is sound.

(The lake is dry. The fish are combs of bone.)

One daughter lives here now:

strong in her way, like all the daughters gone before,

she knows the shape and taste of loss, and lack, and hope,

of compromise and need.

She flinches as the impacts near,

but takes the baby in her arms (the measure of her strength

the distance she can carry, can protect, the ones she loves)

and races air-raid sirens through high walls of smoke.

Hands cupping little ears against the screams she sings

go to sleepy, little baby, mama’s here.

The house stretches ungiving cellar-roots

and yearns for stilt-high, tree-high, star-high chicken legs

to bear it up and send it on

shedding black mold and bricks and chimneysoot

over the broken roads, the bloodied dead

only pausing once: to stoop (like any witch)

and reach long nails to claim its own,

the last kernel of its fragile weary windburnt heart;

to nestle it and lullaby as soft as snow

as the fires build bright towers on all sides

and the bombs drop down like golden apples in the dark.




About the Author:

Nicole Kornher-Stace was born in Philadelphia in 1983, moved from the East Coast to the West Coast and back again by the time she was five, and currently lives in New Paltz, NY, with one husband, three ferrets, the cutest baby in the universe, and many many books. Her short fiction and poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in several magazines and anthologies, including Best American Fantasy, Fantasy Magazine, Ideomancer, GUD, Goblin Fruit, and Idylls in the Shadows, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her first novel, Desideria, is available for purchase on Amazon. She can be found online at or




Poem © 2008 Nicole Kornher-Stace. Painting by Ivan Bilibin, 1899.