A foolish father he was. A withered
little lizard of a man, he boasted to a king
who took his words for daughters.
The doubtful king knew he could not lose:
‘They feed me lies; so I will eat them.’
In a box he shut her with a wheel and
(disregarding her hayfever) demanded
three nights of gossamer thread.
For a necklace, a ring and an unknown child
a little rattle stilt made the fodder shine.
The baby brought her wealth to dust and grief.
She guessed at Mat and Mark, Sam and Cam,
Tim and Tom and Chris, and finally at Alice.
His impish name danced away on fires
and all the promise of her sweet soft boy
seemed lost into his gnarled demands.
It was only luck that found his name.
Stamp! And stuff feet! And embroider toes
into the floor like the truth is stitched pretty.
The endings vary. He split the earth with a bang
like a headsman’s axe. He fell from a good height
and flew out the window on a ladle.
He took his own foot and ripped up the middle.
One mouth says he found in the centre of the garden
there was a well, one woman’s dark wet metaphor
and in his fury he plugged her up.
But all that mattered was the story potential.
In everything, word of mouth edits like the knife.
In debris, shield will cut excess swords down blunt.
In everything, names are shields and words can rip apart.
If you find your babes among the straw
perhaps that could be gold and truth enough for spinning.
Do not promise your first-born like a necklace or a ring
do not treat them like a rare gift of jewellery:
you will not always find his name to save them.
Today's poem is based on suggestions from nine people (yeah I know I said maximum of eight, but it's too hard just to leave out one):
@pinknantucket: "In the centre of the garden there was a well" (The Vanishing People, Katharine Briggs)
@_camer0n: "So I will eat them in a box." Dr.Seuss, Green Eggs and Ham
@markhwilliams: "All that mattered was the story potential in everything' - Supergods by Grant Morrison.
@marklawrence: "treat them like a rare gift." - Anh Do, The Happiest Refugee
@ernmalleyscat: "He was a withered little lizard of a man" Ian McEwan, Amsterdam
@attentive: 'with a bang like a headsman's axe' The Heroes, Joe Abercrombie
@dogpossum: 'stuff feet and embroider toes' - pg 51, 'Amigurumi' - LAN-Anh Bui & Josephine Wan.
@timsterne "fell from a good height, and flew" Jack Robinson, Days and Nights in W12
@matchtrick: 'The knife in debris shield will cut excess' —User Manual, Talon Petrol Line Trimmer (Model No. AT33550/AT33552)
Obviously, today's poem is about Rumpelstiltskin (which translates as 'little rattle stilt'). And it's true, the endings do vary - in the one I read as a kid he stamps his foot through the floor and gets stuck. In others, he stamps through the floor then grabs hold of his other foot and tears himself in half up the middle (gruesome), or flies out the window on a ladle, and somewhere I read a version where the queen stands above him and in his rage he flies at her and 'plugs her up'. Fairy tales, they're always about sex, aren't they?