“Searching for the Cottingley Fairies” by Kim Malinowski

I. Snapshot

Click. WHIRR. Shadowed still frame capturing fae.
Ethereal grace magnified by child’s wonder.
Muted only by adults’ misunderstanding “genuine.”
Why would fae be less real if crafted by paper?
Paper and glue are magical—scissors—imagination—these birth faeries.
All sizes, shapes. Gauzy gowns hold vigil at scrutiny. Stomp feet in defiance.
Click. WHIRR. Photos capture make-believe. Capture childhood awe.
But are they real? Adults question. Experts disbelieve. Does it matter?
Fairies hold the cousins away from skeptics.
Camera captures splendor.
The bowing faerie touches daydreams, reaches out to caress cheek.
Another click. It happened. Shutter speed and focus.
Adults’ imagination faded. Science and angles declared fae “fake.”
Doesn’t matter if trick of shadow, only solace to soul, whimsy.
Let the scientists analyze—the experts critique. Let it be hoax—no matter.
The fae heard the WHIRRR and those children’s delightful clicks.

II. Girlhood Captured

There is no harm in believing in fairies, nor cavorting with them,
returning to the ordinary, damp and muddy from river water.
I believe that the Midg Quarter-Plate captured revelry.
Acquired dainty imaginings—spirits or camaraderie—all that is girlhood.

Too soon fantasy fades. Women transform.
Sunlight fairies are forgotten.
Hold your breath with mine.
See chiseled cheekbones, ethereal wings.
We are those women.

On my deathbed, I will tell of fairies,
how they weaved childhood into my gray hair.
I will say the fifth photograph is real—children’s daydreams.
There is nothing more powerful or potent than daydream magic.
Of this, I am certain.

III. Elementary

Sir Conan Doyle, captivated by fairies—
as much as Sherlock Holmes was by mysteries,
placed enchanted photographs alongside his writings.
Holmes solved crimes, the cost—fairies. 
Gaze of girls turning women—
Fae instead of murder and meticulous analysis.
Photographs documented. Evidence.
Proof of existence—urgent want.
Doyle desperate to substantiate belief,
found pleasure in examining fae rapture.
He believed.
Fraud or no, his gaze caressed faces of visiting wings.
As he held the images—he felt collide with whimsy.
Knew truth.
He felt the fairies, knew imperially that they existed.
He didn’t need Watson’s council.

IV. Sunbathing

They came to frolic, bathe in sun.
Francis, old woman, died knowing
the magic only little girls do.
Those fae were captured in sunlight and shutter.
Girls with locks of hair full of crimson berries, white flowers, bramble,
crept into faerie bower—believed.
They sat bare legged, skirts hitched, soaking up sunshine.
There was magic in that thicket.
Magic was there when Francis slipped into legend.
Fae watch over little girls that believe—and old women that do not stop.

~ This poem is a 2022 Rhysling Award nominee ~

Kim Malinowski is a lover of words. Her debut poetry collection “Home” was published by Kelsay Books and her chapbook “Death: A Love Story” was published by Flutter Press. Her work has appeared in the Metaworker, Enchanted Living, Enchanted Conversation, Mookychick, Illumen, and others. She writes because the alternative is unthinkable. www.kimmalinowskipoet.com

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