Robin the Noble

Sabrina Melendez battles gender norms in her modern twist to a heteronormative fairy tale.

My dearest Princess Delilah,

            I have been watching you for months through this window. I know that sounds a little creepy, but I promise that I looked away every single time you were changing out of respect. That being said, I think you look beautiful every time you dance quietly to yourself in front of the mirror, or read that one text book on molecular biology, and that little twitch you’ve got below your left eye is just adorable. I love you dearly, and I think that if you consent to marrying me, I could make you very happy. If you’re interested, I will come at once to your aid and rescue you from the tower. Please send word immediately through this carrier pigeon.

                        Yours truly,

                        Robin the Noble

 

Dear Robin the Noble,

            Thank you kindly for your letter. I think its sweet of you to like the twitch below my left eye. I’ve always been self-conscious about it and I haven’t been able to leave the tower to get it checked out. Before you come to rescue me, though, I would like to know a little more about you. Like, I don’t know, what do you look like, and what’s your favorite color, and what would name a pet guinea pig, and so forth.

            Sincerely,

            Princess Delilah

 

Dearest Princess Delilah,

             I have brown hair and blue eyes and white skin, and all ten fingers, and all ten toes. My favorite color is fuchsia, and as for the guinea pig I would name it Cornelius Bernard. I would want to endow a guinea pig with a magnificent and noble name in order to make up for the poor animal’s size, and the seemingly insignificant, perhaps even embarrassing, role of being one’s pet. I would always address it by its full name, saying “Here is your breakfast, Sir Cornelius Bernard,” or “Do let me clean out your cage, Sir Cornelius Bernard.”

 I hope this letter has served well enough, and I do hope you are still interested.

            Love,

            Robin the Noble

 

Princess Delilah was, of course, still interested, and sent word right away that she would most definitely like Robin the Noble to rescue her from her tower. Princess Delilah waited many weeks for her sweet Robin, and was beginning to become a little doubtful, when she finally heard a knock on her bedroom door.

“Just a minute!” she said, and ran to the mirror to fix her hair before posing herself perfectly at her desk, molecular textbook in hand, angling her face towards the door in such a way that she was sure, would display the twitch below her left eye. “Okay, okay, come in.”

And there he was, inside of her room, perfect brown hair, perfect blue eyes, and he would’ve probably had white skin too, had it not been for the scorch marks all over his face and arms.

“Princess Delilah!” he said, and got down on one knee to bow to her highness.

“Robin, my most noble!” squealed Delilah, throwing the book to the floor and jumping with glee. “You’ve made it at last!”

But the man rose, scratching his head. “Robin? I am no Robin. My name is Prince James. Perhaps you’ve got me confused with another?”

Princess Delilah did not understand. “Another? What other?”

“Well, princess, I know you can’t see because your little window points conveniently in the opposite direction, but the front door of your tower is guarded by this huge fire-breathing dragon. Perhaps you’ve got me confused with a suitor who failed to get past it. Either way, I got past the stupid dragon and so technically, I am to marry you.”

Princess Delilah clasped her hands as tears welled up in her eyes. “But… My dearest Robin… Do you mean to say that he is dead?”

“I know not this Robin, but I saw the dead scorched bodies of many men lying along the pit that leads to your front door… I’d say if he hasn’t come yet, he’s probably dead.” At this, Princess Delilah collapsed the ground and began to sob into her hands.

Prince James got to his feet and found himself standing awkwardly in the room, not quite sure how to go about cheering up his bride-to-be.  “I mean—I’m not so bad, am I? I’m rich, charming, handsome” At this, Princess Delilah cried even harder. “Geez,” he said, scratching his head. “How do you know this Robin anyway?”

Princess Delilah lifted her face, wiping away tears, still beautiful despite the blotchy redness of her tear-stained face. “He- He sent me letters.”

“Well how much can you really tell about a person from a letter?”

“Well, he’s funny and smart and loving and accepting, and and and his favorite color’s fuschia.”

“Fuschia?”

“It’s like a pinkish-purplish-blue.”

“Don’t you think that’s kind of girly?”

“A color’s a color. Besides, what’s wrong with girly?”

Prince Harris chuckled. “Well, no girly guy’s gonna be able to get through what I just got through back there with that dragon.”

“And why not?”

“C’mon, don’t make me explain.”

“Well, what’s your favorite color?”

“Blue, I guess.”

“That everybody’s favorite color. What would you name a guinea pig?

“I don’t know, Fluffy? Squeakers? Miss Piggy?”

Princess Delilah sighed again.

“What’s wrong with those names? What else would you name a guinea pig?”

At that point, both Princess Delilah and Prince James heard footsteps running quickly up the tower stairs. Princess Delilah jumped to her feet. “Do you hear that? It must be Robin, coming for me now!” Prince James rolled his eyes. He thought about bringing up the whole first-come-first-served rule, then drew his sword instead in order to challenge the oncoming suitor. But Princess Delilah didn’t even notice, for she was too busy staring at the doorway. They both stood staring for several minutes, until Robin finally made it all the way up the winding stairs and into Delilah’s room, at which point Princess Delilah let out a gasp and Prince James dropped his sword. For there was Robin, perfect brown hair, perfect blue eyes, perfect white skin, visible even beneath the ash and bloody wounds, but Robin was a woman.

Princess Delilah and Prince James stayed frozen in shock, their eyes fixed upon Robin, whose body was covered in steel armor save for the helmet which she carried with one hand. Everything else was caked with soot or blood, but there she stood, ready to battle a thousand more dragons if they got in her way. Then, she turned to Prince James and recoiled, dropping the helmet.

“Seriously?” she said. “I’m second?” But they merely continued to stare. “I—I spent so much time training. I swear, princess, I’ve tried to beat that stupid dragon of yours thirteen times, but I barely started fencing a few years ago, and well I could get past it sure, but killing it was a different story.”

Killing it?” said Prince James. “You killed her dragon?”

“Yeah. That’s what you’re supposed to do, isn’t it? Kill the dragon, marry the princess…”

“I thought it was just get past the dragon, marry the princess.” They both turned to look at Princess Delilah.

“R-Robin? Is that you?”

“It’s me.”

“But-but you’re a…”

“A what?”

Prince Jamess, suddenly regaining his confidence, laughed a little. “Why, you’re a woman.”

“Yeah, I’m a woman. I didn’t think that would be a—wait—is it a problem?”

Princess Delilah nodded slowly. “I mean, it’s not that I don’t—I mean I just, I’m just not… like that.”

“Like what?”

“Well, I don’t really… go for women.”

“Go for… Oh, you mean you…” Robin suddenly understood, but the lump in her throat grew so large she could hardly speak.

“I’m sorry.”

Robin looked away, trying to hold back the tears welling in her eyes. “It-It’s fine, I mean, maybe I should’ve put that in the letter. I guess I just assumed…”

Prince James laughed again. “Why would you just assume something like that?”

Robin’s face turned red as she stood ashamed and embarrassed in the middle of the room, her heart ripping to shreds. She turned to leave, but before she started walking, she twisted once more to look at Princess Delilah. “Your, um, your little eye twitch… It’s even more adorable in person.” And with that, Robin turned to walk back down the stairs from which she came.

But before Robin could go down a couple of steps, she was stopped by Princess Delilah. “Wait!”

Robin halted. “Anything you wish, princess.”

“Maybe we can start over, huh Robin?” Princess Delilah smiled shyly. Maybe we could just be… friends?”

Robin smiled sadly and nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, that’s fine.”

“How would you like to be my lady-in-waiting?”

Robin thought about it. She would be around the ever-gorgeous Princess Delilah every single day, doing anything in her power to make her life a little easier, to make her a little happier. It was all she ever wanted. She accepted the job immediately. Princess Delilah then ran back up the stairs to Prince James and agreed to marry him as Robin stayed halfway below on the same step, drawing sloppy hearts on the soot of her helmet.

 

Sabrina N. Melendez

Sabrina Melendez is the 2013-2014 senior editor of Parallax Literary Journal. She enjoys writing fiction, non-fiction, poetry, dramatic fiction, and songs. She is  from El Paso, TX, but likes to identify as a Puerto Rican because Puerto Rico is a far cooler place to be from than El Paso. Aside from writing, Sabrina likes to play piano, sing, spend hours in the ceramics studio, and make puns that inspire others to leave the room. 

Art By Eunji Kang

Slammin’ Down with Andrea Gibson

Sabrina talks poetry and activism with Andrea Gibson.

[box]Andrea Gibson is a slam poet whose work focuses on social and political issues such as gender norms, sexuality, and war. She additionally works with a group called “Vox Feminista,” a group dedicated to expressing these issues through performance art. Andrea has published six books, four of them self-published and two of them through Write Bloody Publishing in 2009 and 2011, and has won awards at the Denver Grand Slam, the 2004 National Poetry Slam, and the 2006 and 2007 Individual World Poetry Slam. [/box]

Sabrina Melendez: What is your definition of slam poetry?

Andrea Gibson: Slam is a competition that was invented in the mid 80’s by Marc Smith, a construction worker in Chicago who wanted poetry readings to be more engaging, more interesting to audiences, more passionate and exciting. Spoken word poetry is an art form that has become more popular because of slam competitions. Everyone defines spoken word differently. For me, spoken word is the art of reading a poem out loud in a way that emotionally and authentically represents the mood of the poem on the page. It requires a willingness from the poet to enter the poem with her whole self, and to essentially live that poem into sound.

SM: What do you think is lost when poetry is written down rather than said aloud? Vice versa?

AG: I don’t think anything is lost in either direction. I think they are simply different ways of expressing. On the page, for example, the emotion of an entire piece can be contained in a single line break. On the stage, the poet’s voice might crack. I believe both the page and stage are places where a poem can live fully.

SM: Do you consider yourself an activist through your poetry and if so, from what point in time did you begin to consider yourself so?

AG: I started competing in poetry slams in the same year I joined Vox Feminista, a radical performance group of women, trans, and genderqueer people bent on social change. Vox is a group that is as committed to direct action as it is committed to creating art the inspires people to live in a kinder more compassionate way. It’s not that I think art in itself is inactive, but I think to best serve any social movement, that art has to at some point inspire
direct action. Vox’s motto is to “Comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable,” and I have in many ways adopted that as the backbone for my writing.

SM: How did you launch your career as a poet? Any advice for people interested in pursuing slam poetry?

AG: I discovered poetry slam in Denver in 1999. I competed for several years with the Denver slam team. I owe more than I can name here to the poets in that community. We travelled to National Poetry Slam competitions around the country, and I was doing a lot of local events as well. In 2003 I started booking my own tours and for the next couple of years did a ton of very small shows featuring at poetry readings and slams in any city that would have me. I was on the road constantly, selling just enough chapbooks each night to buy gas to get to the next city. In 2005 I lucked out and met my current manager, Christen Greene. Christen’s roster, except for me, is made up entirely of musicians– so my career has been structured a little differently than some of the other touring poets I know. When asked to give advice to people wishing to pursue a career in spoken word I often say: 1) write your heart out, 2) write even when you don’t feel like writing 3)come to every single performance open and attentive and electric with the knowing that each stage is a blessing and a privilege, 4) perform your poems to as many people as will listen, in as many venues as you can, in as many cities you are able to travel to, and 5) have an online presence in which your work is readily available for people to find.

SM: In one of your previous interviews, you admitted that you have horrible stage fright. Do you have any coping methods or rituals for before you go on stage?

AG: Yeah, stage fright… you would think after 13 years it would go away, wouldn’t you?? It hasn’t, and honestly I’ve tried just about everything and have not figured out a good way to deal with the pre-performance stage fright, but once I get on the actual stage I’ve learned to channel that nervousness into the emotion of the piece. It’s sort of a meditation in removing my ego from the whole experience and just letting the poem exist and run through me. Typically by my 3rd poem of the set, I’ve stopped sweating through my shirt.

SM: Does your poetry just spew out when you write it or does it take a long time?

AG: I write out loud. I write running around my house, screaming at the walls, jumping on the couch. So yeah, I guess you’d call that part a spewing. What takes time is the piecing together at the end. Linking metaphors, linking rhythm, having all the spewing tie together in a way that works in a whole piece. I’m especially particular about the sound of a poem, until it flows in my ear like a song, it doesn’t feel finished.

SM: Sometimes you use music behind your poetry and sometimes you don’t. What is your take on that? Are there certain poems that stand better alone, and why?

AG: I started using music behind my poems because I have so many incredible musician friends I wanted to collaborate with. Also, when I’m writing I almost always have music playing in the background, so it just felt fitting to add that layer on stage. That said, there are some poems that live best alone. This year I’ve had the opportunity to perform alongside poets who never ever use music with their poems, and I’ve found that single voice on stage incredibly alive and refreshing, more raw and gutsy, in a way. So my use of music may shift a bit in the future.

SM: When you think, do you think in pictures, feelings, or words?

AG: Feelings.

SM: Any recurring dreams you’d be willing to share with us?

AG: I am 4 years old. My father is watering the lawn of the local bank where he’s the janitor. A very very tall cat in a suit and a top hat walks up and throws me over his shoulder. I scream for my father. He looks at me, smiles, and keeps watering the lawn. He, for some reason, can’t see the cat. I keep screaming. The cat carries me to a huge ice house in the middle of the forest. He locks me inside. And then I wake up. (This is what I call the “Bad Cat Dream”. I’ve had it since I was 4 years old. If you have any ideas on how to prematurely remove a dream from your dream life, please let me know. I’d love to never see that cat again. 🙂 )