by Theodora Goss

The little man
tore himself in two.
What did the two halves do
after that?
Fairy folk don’t die
from such simple operations.

And no, they didn’t hop about,
each on a single leg.
Each half was a complete
facsimile of the original,
except that one was reversed:
a mirror image of the other.
One was left-handed, the other right.

The two halves stared at each other.
Brother, said one,
I shall go into the forest:
I’m done with humanity.
Let miller’s daughters ever after
suffer the consequences of their own folly.
I shall live alone, with only the birds and squirrels,
the occasional deer, for company.
I shall live off mushrooms, acorns, ferns,
eggs fallen from the nest, rose hips
and blackberries in summer: the forest’s bounty.
Dress myself in moss, breathe slowly,
become like the rocks.
I shall call myself Rumpel,
if you’ve no objection.

None at all, said the other half.
I, however, want to see the world,
live as you have never dared to.
Start as a thief, steal coins from the rich,
food from the poor.  Visit whorehouses.
Build my fortune, gamble with it —
win, lose, end up in debtor’s prison.
Drink dirty water, and a year later
fine burgundy, when I have regained my fortune
and more.  I shall have estates
in Germany, in France.  My mills will spew black smoke
over the countryside, manufacturing
fabric for elegant ladies, so they can wear
the latest fashions, my great looms
clacking and whirring like mechanical spiders.
That is the way to spin gold, brother.
When I am richer than the king,
he will offer me his daughter.
By then, I shall be Lord Stiltskin.

The two halves parted, with every sign
of mutual respect.  Neither
chastised the other.
There were no recriminations.

In each of us
there is a thief and a saint.
The trouble of it is,
we cannot part them.


(The illustration is by Anne Anderson.)

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