(Masterpieces of American Literature)

From the beginning of “Sleeping Beauty: A Fiction,” dedicated to an actual comatose patient raped by an aide, it is clear that a violation has occurred when the speaker addresses the aide who raped her, saying, “You steal into my room/ between darkness and noon/ to doff the disguise as nurse’s aide.” She describes him as “furtive” and his violation as violent, as he spreads her legs apart and breaks through “the red door” to her “chamber.”

The speaker reminds the rapist of how he wipes away the evidence of how he mingled his life with “what is left” of hers, despite the evidence that is still inside her. This leads to thoughts of how any baby that would grow inside her would only know her “as its host” and never as Mother, nor the rapist as Father. The speaker then remembers the image of her mother praying to Saint Jude for a miracle so that her daughter would no longer be in a coma. Yet the speaker is still someone “for whom language is silence,/ language is thirst/ that is not slaked.” Despite this powerlessness, the victim asserts to the rapist, “My eyes were open,/ while you violated me” and “ I could see/ beyond the veil of your deceit.”

The poem ends with the speaker recalling the image of Sleeping Beauty and how, instead of being woken with a kiss, she is “pricked” with the “thorn of violence.” She realizes that there is no happy ending for her story, that unlike the fairy tale that her mother once read to her, it will not end with “forever” but eternity.

Sleeping Beauty Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Cramer, Steven. Review of Fate, by Ai. Poetry 159 (November, 1991): 108-111.

Kilcup, Karen. “Dialogues of the Self: Toward a Theory of (Re)reading Ai.” Journal of Gender Studies 7, no. 1 (March, 1998): 5-20.

Monaghan, Pat. Review of Fate, by Ai. Booklist 87 (January 1, 1991): 902.

Ostriker, Alicia. Review of Sin, by Ai. Poetry 144 (January, 1987): 231-237.

Seidman, Hugh. Review of Killing Floor, by Ai. The New York Times Book Review, July 8, 1979, 14.

Seshadri, Vijay. Review of Dread, by Ai. The New York Times Book Review, May 4, 2003.