a poetic rendition of
THE OLD WOMAN WHO WAS SKINNED
Day 1, Tale 10
In a cellar apartment, across from the king
lived two old, ugly sisters on whom everything
of their youth, of their long-ago flourishing Spring
was dried up and was rotten, and unraveling.
They were awful to look at. They never would go
out of doors, but would whine and complain, even so.
Now a smell made them faint, they would have the king know,
or a petal had bruised them, or dust broke a toe.
Ah.Those must be two delicate creatures, indeed,
thought the king. I will woo them until they accede
to an audience. Come out, dears, he started to plead.
And the more they refused the more ardent his need.
The sisters were flattered. Their suitor was grand.
We’ll show you the finger of one little hand,
but just through the keyhole, you must understand.
It shall be as you say. I am at your command.
The sisters were frantic. They worked for a week
putting grease on their fingers until they were sleek.
When the king saw one pinky he started to shriek,
Oh, I must clasp the rest of this gorgeous physique!
Though he begged, he was king and could seize them by right,
so the eldest agreed. But, sir, only at night.
No candles, no lanterns nor such kind of light
for if you saw me naked, I’d perish from fright.
One night it was dark, and the moon did not shine.
Her skin was tied back with a long piece of twine.
Having shored up her courage with tankards of wine,
she flopped on his bed and she lay there, supine.
The king could not smell her. Her odor was bad,
but he’d smeared on himself all the perfume he had.
It was when they embraced and he felt that skin pad,
he discovered the ruse. And he nearly went mad.
She’s not young! She’s disgusting! he said with a shout.
He opened a window and threw the hag out.
The fall would have killed her without any doubt
but she snagged on a branch and hung twisting about.
Some fairies were passing. Their mouths opened wide.
The sight so amused them they laughed ‘til they cried.
Then on impulse they laid on her spells to provide
her with youth, luck and loveliness, fair as a bride.
At dawn she sat under the tree on a throne,
a virtual princess in place of a crone.
The king saw her there. Oh, how could I have known?
He flew down the stairs. We’ll be married, my own.
Everyone at the wedding was filled with surprise.
Her sister, of course, could not credit her eyes.
Tell me how did this happen? Is it a disguise?
She pestered and pestered with how’s, when’s and why’s.
You must tell me, sister. I want what you’ve got.
If the old woman knew she had surely forgot,
so she made up a story, right there on the spot.
I was skinned, darling sister. Believe it or not.
You were skinned? That’s amazing! How hard can it be?
She rushed to a barber. I’ll pay a good fee.
I want you to cut all the skin off of me.
Make me a young woman, right now, instantly.
The barber demurred. That is not what I do.
You do what I say and there’s money for you.
But Madam, it’s foolish and quite painful, too.
I tell you start cutting. Don’t stop ‘til you’re through.
My sister has married a king. So will I.
She told me the reason. Her new skin is why.
No, Madam! Yes, Barber! But, Madam, you’ll die!
He argued, then picked up his knife with a sigh.
Too bad that our story must end gruesomely.
It was envy that killed her. The barber? Not he.
She wanted a cure which, alas, could not be.
Lord, save all old women from such vanity.