From The Vaults

A rhyming story about decomposition

Cup-Tin and the Old Woman

One day in the spring, when all things were growing
our young friend, Cup-tin, in the forest was roaming
she whistled a tune as she walked through the moss,
not caring at all that she had become lost

At length the trees opened and gave way to grass
She was thinking of a fantastic lily she’d passed
When she noticed a tall cedar, standing alone
And up in its branches- a small wooden home!
A tiny round cabin! A little round door!
Rippled square windows! A deck made of boards!
And inside a light shone out to the clearing,
And against a bright window, a small face was peering!

“Hello!” yelled Cup-tin, and the little door opened.
And a small silver head from the doorway came poking.
A shimmery braid swung down to the deck.
From a thick cotton gown rose a long wrinkled neck.
“Hello!” yelled the woman, from up in her tree.
“I cannot come down! So come closer to me!
My hearing is good, but you’re too far away!
I don’t want to miss all the things you might say!
I’m lonely and nobody knows that I’m here.
I’ve been up in this tree for many long years.”

Cup-tin was excited at what she had found!
But why couldn’t the woman climb down to the ground?
“Why do you live in this tree house?” she asked,
“When the meadows are wide and the forest is vast?
How can you spend every day in this tree?
There are rivers to swim in and sunsets to see!”

“I am just doing the thing that I do,” she replied,
“It’s a thing that I’m sure you do too.
I have gathered here all of the things that I own,
The feathers, and jars, and pieces of bone,
The small wooden spools without any thread,
A wall that is white and another that’s red.
I have set them about in certain positions,
And I stay here to keep them from decomposition.”

“That’s absurd!” Cup-tin yelled, “Why can’t you come down?
For a bit, a few minutes, just climb to the ground!
It’s spring and the forest is covered in flowers!
Your things will all still be there in an hour!”

“I can’t!” She cried, “I can’t step on that floor!
There’s bacteria there, fungus and more!
All of the things in the forest decay,
They’re rotting and changing in so many ways!
Beetles and earth worms, the soil is infested!
I can’t step on that floor! I might be digested!”

“Our conversation is done!” She exclaimed.
“I’m shutting the window to keep out the rain.”
And indeed, the clouds were thick overhead
And as she withdrew inside, our friend said-
“Wait! I’ll come up! I’ll come up to your things!
We can talk in the dark of your shack in the trees!
And she climbed up the ladder affixed the bark,
The sky was just turning quite massive and dark
And raindrops fell down and were caught in the boughs
Of the great western cedar that cradled the house.

Cup-tin reached the deck, and crawled in through the door,
Landing with ease on the smooth wooden floor.
The woman was feeding the stove with some wood,
Cup-tin brushed herself off, looked around her and stood

The cabin was round the inside of a barrel
It seemed awfully neat, nearly spotless and sterile
Her things, freshly dusted, in rows on the shelves
Lined up by color or all by themselves
Tea cups and drumsticks and stones from the creek
A sewing machine that looked quite antique
A hat made of velvet, and one made of wool
A sun-bleached horse jaw that looked really cool
And the woman, was older, more ancient than all
Of the things on the shelves and tacked to the walls
She moved to a corner and sat on a bed
Cup-tin moved in closer to hear what she said.

“I have so many stories to tell you,” she said,
“but I’ll just pick one and tell that one instead.”
And so as the evening turned into night
The old woman talked in the fire’s weak light.
Cup-tin listened, rapt, as a life filled with wonder
Spilled out in the room, rising over and under
The things on the shelves, rose up into the sky
Filled all of the branches, grew wings and took flight.
After hours had passed, the story was done.
Three big yellowed clocks were all striking one.

She opened the stove to look at the fire.
The flames felt the heat and shot up a foot higher.
“And you!” said the woman, “to where were you walking?
Did you walk all this way just to hear me talking?
You’ve nothing!” she said, “Not a thing in your hands!
Not a bag for your socks or a patch for your pants!
You’re walking the forest, in some strange direction,
Sleeping at night with no tent for protection!
Where are the parents that gave you your life?
Where is your hat, and your compass and knife?
Where are the friends with which you would talk?
What do you do with your thoughts as you walk?”

“I’ve nothing, it’s true,” answered Cup-tin quite simply.
“I’m lonely and cold and my pockets are empty.
Save for my watch to tell me the date,
Which I may have lost just today, as I ate.
But my thoughts! I couldn’t begin to explain!
I have so much potential! So much to gain!
There are things I could make! And people to meet!
And places to live that aren’t on the street!
A garden to plant! I journal to keep!
A bed I could build in which I could sleep!
It’s only, you see,” and she looked at the floor,
“Whatever I make I don’t have anymore.
Nothing in all of the world is our own.
We cannot maintain it. It’s only on loan.
Your house and your things, the trees and the sky!
They crumble to dirt, they rot and they die!
You lose them, they yellow, they shatter and mold,
There’s nothing to keep! Not a thing you can hold!
Even our bodies we have to return-
We lose every one of the skills that we learned!
That’s why I make nothing. And have not a thing.
In my head I imagine and wonder and dream.
But an object of worth that you build with your hands
Can be gone in an instant! Do you understand?”

The woman just laughed, and closed her bright eyes.
Cup-tin may be right, but the woman was wise.
In one hand anticipation, in the other was fear,
And her long life had taught her to hold them both dear.

“I guess I should go,” said Cup-tin rather sadly.
“I should be getting on, though I’d like to stay, badly.”
The old woman sighed and shook her head with disdain.
“You’ll stay here for the night. Don’t go out in that rain.
It’s late and quite stormy in every direction.
I’ll give you some bedding. I have quite a collection!
Now, I’ve made you some tea, it’s soothing and warming.
We can eat a big breakfast and talk more in the morning.
I’m glad that you found me, I’m glad that you’re here-
I have so many tales for your eager young ears!”

Cup-tin chose a bed that was low to the ground,
With flat beaten pillows and quilts in a mound.
She climbed deep inside and pulled the quilts up.
The woman was washing, and rinsing her cup.
She then made a circle and wound all her clocks
Took seventeen keys and locked twenty-three locks
Her bed was a loft way up near the ceiling
So small was the space that she had to crawl, kneeling
Under the covers all mended and stained
To sleep with the darkness and tap of the rain
Like popcorn on the roof so close to her head
What wonderful sleep! What a wonderful bed!

The two fell asleep as the fire died down
The stove clanged and ponged and made curious sounds
The woman was warm in her loft way up high
She was dreaming of big empty motionless sky
A hot summer sky, an ocean of blue,
And on the horizon, it dipped and it flew,
A little grey seagull, alone out in space.
A speck on the ocean’s broad shimmering face.
Just bright sun and sky, and a bird and the sea,
She flew light on the breeze in her deep, gentle sleep.

And Cup-tin, beneath all of her blankets was quite
Asleep, very deeply, this black empty night.
Her blankets were thick, her mattress was thin,
Her two dirty knees were pulled up to her chin.
Her eyes were clenched shut, her hands in a ball,
Right next to her face, quite close to the wall.

In her dreams she was packing, to go on a trip,
It was twenty-six days, it began on a ship,
That went to an island quite crowded with trees
That were taller than anything she’d ever seen
A few were so large, their tops touched the sky
Like Jack and the beanstalk! They were really that high!

And on one there were planks tied fast to the trunk,
And a sign pointing up said This Way! And Good Luck!
And then what would she find, when she got to the sky?
What should she take with her? What would fit inside-
Her pack, and her pockets, what shoes should she wear?
These light simple green ones, or that big heavy pair?
A cast iron skillet? A gold pocket watch?
What should she bring with her? And what should she not?
A little flat mirror, an empty brown jar,
A rough woolen blanket, a teaspoon of lard,
A bunch of fresh parsley, a pole to catch fish,
A small silver spoon and a fragile white dish,
Some string and a needle, a pouch made of leather,
A long fuzzy scarf for cold, stormy weather!
And old deck of cards that was missing a king,
A handful of dice- what else should she bring!

But alas, it turns out, her bag was too small.
Not a thing that she chose would fit in there at all!
She left so many things on the floor in a mound,
And still her small pack weighed ninety-three pounds!
What was she bringing to use on her trip,
Of twenty-six days- she must go catch her ship!

The ship’s horn blew low in her dream that dark night,
As she packed and unpacked, Cup-tin clutched her fists tight.

In the morning the sun reached its hands through the trees
And unfurled the flowers that poked through the leaves
It crawled on the ground and shot through the air
It came through the window and fell on the hair

Of Cup-tin, who was stirring, beginning to wake
The light was quite bright, the morning was late
She sat up in bed and she flung off the covers
She stretched out one arm and reached out the other
She yawned and then rubbed all the sleep from her face
And then stretched out her body again, just in case

“Good morning!” she called, “Just look at that light!
The forest is green! The sunshine is bright!
Wake up in your loft and I’ll make up some tea.
A bowl of hot porridge, then out of this tree!
You may say you can’t leave it, you’re stuck here forever,
But I have in mind the most charming endeavor!
For your very first outing, a modest foray-
We’ll walk through the flowers and pick a bouquet!”

With this Cup-tin rose to add wood to the stove,
It had died down in the night to a gentle orange glow.
She filled up the kettle and set it to heat.
She opened a cabinet looking for tea.

“What are these herbs?” she asked the dark cupboard.
“Which one is mint? And what are these others?”
The shelves did not answer, and nor did her friend.
Cup-tin opened a jar, and then closed it again.
She turned to the loft, way up near the ceiling,
And deep in her heart was the strangest of feelings.
She stepped to the ladder and climbed to the top,
Saying- “It’s time to get up! The tea water is hot!”

But her new friend lay silent, quite still in her bed.
The sunlight played games on her silvery head.
Here eyelids were closed, her hands gently clasped.
Cup-tin looked at her friend and suddenly gasped!
She reached for her shoulder, and on it she pulled.
But her friend would not stir, and her shoulder was cold!

Cup-tin sat by the stove, her breakfast forgotten.
Her body was tense, her mouth was like cotton.
There was only the sunlight and the ticking of clocks,
On her lap she held keys to twenty-three locks
Her eyelids were puffy, her cheeks were all red
There were seventeen bags of sand in her head

From the doorway came gently the sweet scent of flowers
The sun had been up now for quite a few hours
Cup-tin’s soul was an ocean, and in it she tossed
As she felt the bright weight of things gained, and things lost.

3 thoughts on “From The Vaults

  1. I adore it. And it’s really really really good (you know, objectively, literarily). And I like the things you think. 😉

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