On the Subject of Truth, Tulips and Happy Endings

  • I’ve been away for a while. I’ve been working on a novel that takes place in Vermont. Anyone who wishes to read it, in progress, is welcome to E-Mail me. The novel will have some poetry in it, some fables and whatever else makes a good story. For lack of anything better, I’ve posted this first fable. I wrote it this morning. Eventually it might make its way into the novel. I’m not an artist, nothing like my wife, but I’ve thrown in my drawings for the fun of it. Edit: I shamed my wife into giving me one quick drawing. Enjoy.

A Fable on the Subject of Truth, Tulips and Happy Endings

There was once a well-respected Soothsayer who lived by a brook. He fished in the brook and every morning returned with something to eat. Every day children, old wives, girls and young men visited him seeking advice and notions of the future. The soothsayer always told the truth and what the soothsayer foretold always came true. As a small matter, fortune telling is an idle thing; but the future is devilish and full of trickery.

Children, among the wisest fortune seekers, forget what they’re told, but the soothsayer’s reputation spread and those with the least forethought were the most eager to foresee. The soothsayer had two visitors. The first was a young man in search of a wife. The second was personage of very great importance.

The young man came to the soothsayer first and was told a very peculiar fortune. The soothsayer said: You must be willing. You must find the tulip that blossoms at the bottom of the lake. You must pay no mind to anything else. You must pull it up by the roots. You must not let go. If you do as I tell you, your wife will fall out of the sky and into your arms.

The young man left as despondent as he came. Such a ridiculous fortune could not possibly come true.

The second visitor was a very important mayor of a very important town. He came to the soothsayer seeking advice. He said to the soothsayer: I am assured that few personages of equal importance have come to you. The Soothsayer, who was fishing at the moment, assured him that no one like the mayor had ever visited. The mayor, who was naturally complimented by the soothsayer’s remark, at once troubled the soothsayer for a fortune.

The soothsayer said: There will be a very great rain storm. The waters will flood your village until only the weathercocks, at the very tops of your houses, stand above water. The portly mayor’s face turned red and his eyes bulged. ‘When,’ he sputtered, ‘when will this terrible storm arrive?’ The soothsayer tossed his hook back into the brook and answered: in four weeks and two days.

The mayor hurried back to his town and, having considered the problem thoroughly, immediately announced that the village, built in a comfortable valley beside a gurgling brook, must be moved to the top of the hill. Now it just so happened that there was already someone living atop the hill – a beautiful girl with a tidy garden.

When the the mayor and the townspeople came to her, she would not let them touch her garden, especially because the garden was where her favorite tulip bloomed every spring. A horrible argument ensued but the girl, hands on her hips, stood her ground. So did the indignant tulip.

This piqued the mayor because the tulip was exactly where he wished to build himself a statue. He decided that once he had saved the townspeople, they would see the wisdom in building him a fine statue. In the meantime the mayor ordered that the town, with its cobblestone streets and crowded little houses built one next to the other so that each leaned on the other, be built around the girl’s shed and garden.

He also order that a great wall be built around the town. By means of the wall, the town would be protected by the great flood. The crafty stone masons built the wall as tightly as the hull of a boat. By the fourth week and the first day, the town was finished and the one gate through the watertight wall was shut. The girl and the tulip paid no mind to any of it.

On the fourth week and the second day, the terrible storm began, but a very strange thing happened. The gurgling brook merrily carried the rain away but, in the town atop the hill, there was nowhere for the water to go. The town, with its high walls, turned into a great big bathtub. Since the wall was just as high as the topmost roof, the town filled with water until only the weathercocks were dry – just as the soothsayer had foretold. Outwitting the future is a devilish and tricky thing.

The tulip thought it a very strange thing to be at the bottom of a lake, but once the sun came out and its light filtered gaily to the very bottom, the tulip blossomed. There is a time for tulips to blossom and the affairs of men and weather are of very little concern to tulips.

It just so happened that the young man, in search of just such a tulip, had come looking for the girl who knew a thing or two about tulips. Imagine his surprise when he found, not a girl, a garden, or a tulip, but the walls of a town. Taking off his boots, he climbed the wall; and imagine his surprise when he saw a lake fall of weathercocks, one after the other, drying in the noonday sun.

Could the girl, the garden, and the tulip be at the bottom of the lake?

He took off his socks and dove into the water. He swam to the very middle and dove straight downward. He passed the girl who was floating upward, like the townspeople, as surprised as anyone to be at the bottom of a lake. The girl was beautiful but the soothsayer had told him to pay no mind to anything but the tulip. The young man swam to the tulip. He pulled and the harder he pulled, the harder the tulip’s roots clung to the earth.

He pulled and he pulled. One by one the roots let go until, all at once – and all but for one little root with which the indignant tulip refused to let go – the water began to pour out of the hole that was left behind. But this was of little concern to the tulip. A mighty struggle ensued. The tulip clung to its patch of earth with its one root as the young man clung to the tulip for dear life. Down went the water. Down went one townsman after another, then the horses, then the carriages, then houses and all in the great big whoosh of a whirlpool.

The tulip was never so indignant, all the while thinking the young man was trying to pull it up. But all he was trying to do was save himself.

Finally, everything but the town’s walls and the girl had been swept into the hole. At the last minute, the young man put the tulip back into the hole, like a cork in the drain of a tub, and caught the girl just before she also fell into the hole. It was as if she had fallen out of the sky for, indeed, she had been floating above him the whole time. The girl looked at the young man and the young man looked at the girl, and they fell in love, and in just a little while they were married. The young man decided that as long as one is willing, wonderful things can happen in the most unexpected ways.

He and his wife took down the walls. They made a fence around the tulip – who had entirely forgotten the whole affair – and lived happily in their shed next to the garden.

Birchsong: Poetry Centered in Vermont

  • April is a busy month for poetry in Vermont. Expect more announcements, and I’ll hope that some of you are in the area.

A new anthology of contemporary Vermont poetry, Birchsong: Poetry Centered in Vermont, published by The Blueline Press, includes work by 56 poets living in Vermont or closely connected with the state. The book’s 92 poems reflect a place where living is dictated by the seasons, farming is a way of life, and towns may have only one main street. But for all the appeal of its picturesque landscape and simplicity of rural life, Vermont, in this volume, is not portrayed as a Norman Rockwell painting. While some poems describe real “Vermonters,” those born to the land, others are from the perspective of those who have discovered it. All the poems, whether narrative or reflective, open a window on a region of contradictions where natural beauty and neglect, wealth and poverty, often exist side by side.

Birchsong editors are Alice Wolf Gilborn, Carol Cone, Brenda Nicholson, and Monica Stillman. Guest editor Rob Hunter, who teaches English at Burr and Burton Academy in Manchester, is the author of a book of poetry, September Swim. Birchsong’s colorful covers were painted by Burr and Burton’s art teacher, Betsy Hubner, who also did the interior artwork.

Description: 128 pp, b&w illustrations, four-color cover, front and back
Price: $15.00

Publisher: The Blueline Press, Danby, Vermont
Date of publication: February 2012
Printed by: The Shires Press at the Northshire Bookstore, Manchester, Vermont

Available from the Northshire Bookstore
4869 Main Street, Manchester Center, VT 05255

  • News: We have 18 to 20 poets who will be reading and more who are coming to listen. Stop by the Northshire Bookstore on April 14 at 3:00 p.m.

Direct link: http://www.northshire.com/siteinfo/bookinfo/9780962030932/0/