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Story & Poem Archive:

Last update: October 18, 1998

Read to Me! 


We started at the edge of town.
The signs were stencil-bright, massed
Along the road, and named
Familiar food and smokes and gas;
But the open meadows were ringed with
Half-rough, broken brush, cut trunks,
Becoming wooded shade just anyhow.
Then the sun rode easy with us over the brow
Of the hill, and fields were stencil-clear,
Furrows precise, textures even, this rough tan,
That curved brown, green particulars
In carved frames, houses placed with care
On smoothly painted pillows.
Well, we said, Look at that;
And came to the village, where we passed
Worn, obscure signs of vanished shops
That sold the food and smokes and gas
Our fathers found familiar.

Where Else?

There's a ceiling of seagulls over the field,
Snatching away at a crouch of mice
You call to me as I watch them wheel.
I'll just stay here, not hear your voice.

There's a carpet of swallows over the trees,
Flung by a corner to catch the wind
That will push away the summer's ease;
I'll stay right here to see them spin.

There's a pavement of sparklers on the lake,
And a ballet of boats that lift to their toes;
You ask me again how long I'll take.
I'll stay here and see where each one goes.

There's a clutter of contrails up in the blue,
Spreading, softening, drifting free,
Aiming at somewhere, at who knows who?
I'll just stay here. You come to me.

Read to Me! 

This is a Bohemian tale about a poor man, a rich man, telling the truth, and pretending.

About Real and Unreal Devils: I

Once upon a time there was a poor man, so poor that he and his wife and five children often got up hungry in the morning and went to bed hungry at night. In the same village there was a rich baker, godfather to their children, who was so mean and stingy that he would not help them with so much as a crust of bread.

One day as the woman was walking beside a stream, the bank crumbled beneath her feet and she almost fell into the water. But what was this? A great pot of golden coins had rolled out of the hole in the riverbank.  "Oh! Oh!" she said, and gathering the coins into her apron she scooted home as fast as she could.

"We won't be poor any more!" said her husband and he took the coins up to the attic. Then his wife took a gold coin to the baker and asked for a loaf of bread. The baker started to yell that he couldn't give away bread when she took out the gold coin and put it on the counter. "Very well," grumbled the baker and he sold her a loaf at once.  "But where did you get a gold coin?" he asked, and she, being an honest woman, told him.

Well, that rich baker thought about those gold coins and how he wished he had them! And he said to his wife, "I want that money, but how am I to get it?" And she, more mean and dishonest than he, thought of a way to get it and explained it to him. "Oh! That money is as good as mine!" said the baker.

So that night at midnight he wrapped himself in an ox hide, with the horns sticking up at the top, and went to the poor man's house, thumping on the door, howling, and rattling pots and pans together. What a racket! So the poor man looked out the window and said "Who is it? What do you want?"

"I AM THE DEVIL!" thundered the baker, "AND I HAVE COME FOR MY MONEY!"

(To be continued)

Read to Me!

This story is about a poor but honest man whose wife finds some gold, a rich baker who wants to get it away from him, and (eek!) the Devil! Or is it the Devil?
About Real and Unreal Devils: II

The poor man looked at those horns and quaked with fear, but his wife was braver and refused to let him throw the money to the devil, and the baker went home without it.

So the next night the baker came again and howled and rattled twice as loud, but again he got nothing, for the wife would not let her husband throw the money out the window. But the man was by this time so scared that next day he told her "If the devil comes again, I'm going to give him the gold. Suppose it's cursed or evil gold? No honest man should touch it if it is."

And meeting the baker, he told him all about it. The rich baker pretended to know nothing, but thought to himself, "Aha! That money is as good as mine!"

That evening, the poor man heard a knock at the door around suppertime, and a strange man, a hunter, stood there, looking tired and dusty. "May I stay the night?" he asked. "Yes, I'll gladly let you stay," said the poor man, "if you can stand the terrible devil that has been after us."

The hunter said he'd quite like to see the devil. And at midnight, when the pounding and rattling and howling began, three times as loud as before, the poor man picked up the bag of gold. But the hunter said, "Open the door and let him in. If you're scared, I'll do it." And when the horned monster came in, the hunter said to him, "Who are you? And what do you want?"

"I AM THE DEVIL," thundered the baker, "AND I HAVE COME FOR MY MONEY!!!"

The hunter said, "Oh? Well, I am a devil too, and I will take you where we both belong." And with that he picked up the baker and with a bang and a puff of smoke flew away with him. All that was left was a smell of brimstone.

In the morning, the baker's wife came by and asked if anyone had seen her husband. "Oh no," said the woman, "but an awful thing happened here last night." And she told her all about it. The baker's wife knew then what had happened to her husband, but she didn't dare say a word.

So you see, the devil won't harm an honest man, but mean, stingy, and dishonest folks, well, they come to grief.


The Field Off Highway 42

When two old friends talk
At four o'clock in the rain,
They nod their heads together
While discussing the weather,
And whether the grass where they walk
Will be enough, and how the grain
Crops will turn out this year,
And many another matter of course --
It's just that each of the two
Happens to be a horse.

Read to Me!

Mean Old Selka and the Devil: I

Once upon a time there was a devil -- a small and unimportant devil -- who did something against the rules of conduct for devils. I believe he said something nice to his mother. So he was called before The Devil himself and told he would have to go live on earth and serve human beings for seven years as his punishment.

Well, small and unimportant devils don't get to argue about things like that, so pretty soon this devil found himself on earth, hungry and tired, with nowhere to go. He came to a farm, and begged at the door for something to eat; the farmwife, Selka, who was a mean and stingy old woman, said to him, "Yes, you can work in the fields all day and I'll give you a good supper." So that tired little devil worked all day, and what did he get for his supper? Buggy bread and maggoty meat, with bits of half-rotten cabbage on the side. Well, he was so hungry that he ate it all up anyway and curled up in the barn to sleep. Mean old Selka saw that she had a good thing here, and she told him he could work for her, and she would give him room and board. It was pretty awful food, but the devil had to serve a human for seven years, so he swallowed hard and agreed.

Shortly after this, the devil heard gossip that the old woman was looking for a husband. Well, thought he, I might do as well as another, and perhaps she'd treat me better. So he said to the old woman, "Why don't you take me for a husband? I'm strong and you know I work hard. You could do a lot worse." The old woman thought it over for a few minutes, and then a sly smile came over her face, and she agreed.

Did you think things were going to get better for that poor devil? No indeed! First, old Selka stopped doing any work on the farm, saying "You're my husband, you look after that." In addition, the meals she fed him got worse and worse as time went on. Finally, he was so wretched that he said to her, "This is most unfair! I do all the work and get no benefit from the crops."

"Very well," said she, "I'll divide the crops with you next year. Which half do you want -- the bottom half or the top half?" The devil said, "The top half," and so it was settled. Well, the next year, what did she order planted but beets, and sure enough, she got the bottom half and the devil got nothing but leaves for his effort. This time he said, "I want the bottom half," and good heavens! She ordered poppies to be planted and took all the seeds for herself.

At this, the devil despaired, and sat down outside the front door, crying a river of tears. He snuffled and sobbed and cried until it would break your heart to hear him. And just as he was snuffling an especially loud snuffle, he heard a voice saying, "Why in the world are you crying so hard?" -- and there stood a traveler, neatly dressed in a coat of fine cloth, and smiling at him. The devil told his story to the stranger, and immediately the traveler said, "You could cry an ocean of tears and not change such a mean and selfish old woman. Leave her at once and come with me!" And the devil jumped up, dried his tears, and went off with the stranger down the road to who knows where.

The devil and the traveler got on well together, telling each other stories to pass the time, not all of which were true, and stopping to see strange towns and cities, staying in not quite the best inns, but living very well all the same.

Then one day, the traveler said ...

(to be continued)

Read to Me!

This is a Bohemian tale about a devil, mean old farmwife Selka, a traveller, and three princesses. In Part I, a small devil is banished to earth to serve humans for seven years, and lives on Selka's farm, where she marries him, makes him work day and night in the fields, and hardly feeds him at all. He finally leaves with a traveler, and his life is much improved, until ...

Mean Old Selka and the Devil: II

One day, the traveler said to the devil, "Well, now I'm beginning to run out of money, and it's your turn to help with the expenses." "Done," said the devil. "I'll happily help you because you helped me to get away from that mean old Selka." And he thought for a moment and said, "I'm going to disappear now, but you keep on traveling to the next city. Ask there for the latest news, and promise to make things all right again for a thousand pieces of silver." And puff! the devil was gone.

The traveler did just as the devil said, and when he asked in the next city for the news, they told him, "The king's daughter is possessed by a devil, and she goes about roaring and screaming and breaking dishes. It's awful to hear!" And the traveler went right away to the palace, and said to the king, "I am a learned sage, and have driven out many evil spirits. I'll cure your daughter for a thousand pieces of silver." The king agreed immediately.

So in went the traveler, and when he was faced with the princess he took off his coat and waved it about, muttering abracadabras and simsalabims and other bits of nonsense in a strange and booming voice. Then he held his hands on the princess's head and spoke even more magic words, some of which sounded exactly like sneezes, and after a minute the devil left her and vanished, and the princess suddenly said, in her own sweet voice, "Where am I? What happened? And why are you saying those peculiar things and sneezing?"

As you can imagine, the king was only too happy to award a thousand pieces of silver to the traveler, and would have married him to the princess on the spot had he been willing. But the traveler refused modestly, thanking the king, and saying she was far too good for him. Soon he was on his way again, and the devil suddenly appeared at his side. So they traveled along together, telling each other stories, not many of them true, staying at the best inns, and seeing the world together in perfect harmony.

When the money ran low again, they did as before, with the devil possessing a princess, causing her to make strange bleatings and shriekings and break a great many dishes and glasses. Along came the traveler and cured her, this time for ten thousand pieces of silver.

After this cure, the devil said to the traveler, "Well, we've had many good times together, and while I think most of your stories weren't true, they were certainly entertaining! But I've decided that I like this sport of making princesses do strange things. It's a lot of fun breaking dishes and glasses when no one dares to stop me! So I'm retiring now, and I'm going to find a princess and enjoy myself. And don't you try to interfere or I'll make you sorry you were ever born." The traveler agreed to this, saying "Indeed, you have earned your retirement, and while I think your stories weren't true at all, they passed the time most agreeably. So go right ahead, and I'll take my pieces of silver and go somewhere to live a quiet life."

Well, they parted on this friendly note, and sure enough, pretty soon the gossips were telling about a princess who was possessed of an awful devil, and how she would dance through six pairs of shoes every day, yelling and shrieking and breaking all the dishes, glasses, vases, and umbrella stands in sight, and how her poor father was desperately seeking the traveler who had cured two other princesses.

You can guess what happened next. The king's couriers tracked the traveler to where he now lived, and threatened him with death if he did not come immediately and cure the princess. "Well,"said the traveler, "I guess I'll have to go."

He said to the king, "I warn you, this case sounds more difficult than any I have ever seen, and will cost much, much more." "Done," said the king.

Shortly, as he stood before the princess, he heard the voice of the devil yelling from her mouth, "I thought I told you to leave me alone!" And the princess smashed a few dishes. The traveler thought quickly and said, "Ah no, my friend, I simply came to warn you that that mean and stingy old Selka, whom you married, is here asking for you. She wants to take you home!" And he followed that with abracadabras and simsalabims and unrepeatable spells, many of which sounded exactly like sneezes.

With a fearful yell, the devil vanished, and the princess said in her own sweet voice, "Where am I? What happened? And why are you sneezing like that?" And wouldn't you know, the king wanted to marry her to the traveler right on the spot. This time the traveler agreed, as she was pretty and good-natured and he was ready to eat home cooked food for a change. So they settled down and had a large family, including a big black dog whom they called Devil, and a cat called Selka, and umpteen children, all of whom were beautiful and intelligent, but who had an unfortunate habit of breaking dishes at odd moments.

And the devil? Goodness, just as he flew away from the princess, his seven years were up, and he went back home and was perfectly awful to his mother and everyone else, as a devil always is.

So say good-bye to the devil, mean old Selka, the traveler, and the princesses. They were very happy to meet you!

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