Death in a Nut

(Set into verse by Rory

First Heard from Scottish Traveller Duncan Williamson)

Jack’s dad had died when Jack was very young.

Jack and his mother were poor but they lived by the coast

Jack was keen on fishing so they always had food

and they could save a little more money than most

Jack’s mum kept ducks for their eggs to sell in town

to buy things they needed; a table, or a pot for the tay

Any money they had left they kept and saved

as coins in a bag for a rainy day.

Jack would Comb the beach for treasure washed up,

from a passing boat, finding things he might trade

He’d always wake up early- to be first on the beach-

-to catch the first tide, with his net and his spade,

Jack always brought his mum a cup of tea in bed.

But one morning he saw she was as white as the pillow,

Poorly and sick, she couldn’t take -but two sips,

She said "I’ll never get out of bed again, Jack, I'm going to go!"

“I'm feeling weak, Jack, I think, I’m fading,

Goodbye son, I'm off to join your father.”

Jack cried. “No, not yet Mother I need you for a few more years yet,

You and I, Mother, we help each other.

I catch the fish and I farm for you Mother.

You feed me and you wash all my clothes.”

She whispered. “Jack, I've told you all of my stories

and taught you all of the wise things that I know…

Jack, it's time you made your own way in the world

It’s time you had kids of your own,

and you can tell them the tales I've told you

That little piece of me will be kept alive-when I'm just earth and bones”

Jack’s eyes filled with tears. His mother murmured.

“Jack. He'll be coming for me soon.”

“Who is coming mother?” Jack asked, sobbing and weeping.

“Who is coming Mother, tell me, who?”

His mother answered. “Death of course. Jack,

Death is coming. I’ve been waiting for him and I always knew

He was coming for me Jack”

Jack cried. “Mother, I’m not going to let him get you.”

Jack cycled tearfully down to the sea

to search the shoreline for things that weren’t there

in the distance he saw a dark figure walking

as if it was walking on air.

As the figure came closer, Jack saw it was an old man,

in a black cloak, he strolled, his white, face was a fleshless skull.

He asked Jack the way to Jack’s mother’s cottage.

And trailing behind the man in the sky was a frenzied flock of screeching seagulls

The old man’s clutching fingers were withered dry bone

On his shoulder he carried a scythe,

“Death! I know who you are, but you can’t have my mother.”

Jack shouted. “She’s staying alive.”

Jack snatched and twisted the old mans scythe

Then Jack crushed and snapped it over his knee

Then he hit the old man and cracked him over the head

The old man howled, shrieking in agony.   painfully

Jack whacked him and hit him and beat him like a drum,

until Death was as tiny as Jacks’ thumb

Jack spied a nutshell a squirrel had chewed empty

And Jack forced and squeezed Death into the nutshell quickly

Then Jack plugged the hole up, so death couldn't get out

and tossed it to the sea where it lay bobbing like a boat.

Jack rushed all the way back home to his cottage

And heard his mother singing in the kitchen,

Her face was rosy and blooming. She was feeling much better,

Bright and strong and youthful, like a girl again.

She chirped. “Go buy some bacon and bring me some duck eggs Jack,

and I'll cook up some breakfast for you, my hungry young man

She tried to strike a fire; she put brushwood in the stove,

as Jack pedaled off down the lane. To town

She tried to light those dry twigs in the cooking stove,

but she couldn't get the kindling to burn,

it just spluttered and smoked, She couldn’t start a flame

She couldn’t melt the cooking fat in the pan.

In town the Butcher told, “Jack. There's no meat today.

I can't kill the pig with my sharpest knife

The bleeding-cut keeps healing, the pig’s still grunting, lively,

Just snorting; my keen blade can’t take its life.

Then I tried to slice off the Bullocks head.

Its blood stopped running, then the bloody gash healed

and the severed head jumped back onto the bull’s neck.

Then the bull bellowed, and it trotted back into the field.”

“Then I tried twisting the cockerel’s neck, but it untwisted,

then it crowed and it strutted then it 'cockle-doodle-doo’d’

Nothing will die. I can't kill anything.

The Butcher cried, I'm ruined, if I can’t kill our food.”

Then Jack cycled to the Cauliflower field

tried to pull up the Cauliflower till his hands were aching

He tugged and twisted, but it wouldn't be picked.

The Cauliflowers head it could not be taken

Back home his mum stood ankle-deep in used matches

"Jack, the wood will not burn, the fire won't light."

Jack told her. " And, there's no meat for sale today Mum,

The butcher can't kill his animals, they just will not die"

Then Jack told his mum about the old man he'd beaten

Who wore a black cloak and carried a scythe

“Stupid boy.” Said his mum. “You've killed death.

But I couldn’t let him take you mum! I want to keep you alive.”

“So I whacked him and hit him and beat him like a drum

until he was as tiny as my thumb

I spied a nutshell that a squirrel had chewed empty

And so I forced and squeezed Death into the nutshell quickly

Then I plugged the hole up, so death couldn't get out

and threw it into the sea where it floated like a boat.”

His mother said. “Jack, can't you see? Everything is condemned now,

to stay the same forever more.

If nothing can be killed, and if nothing can die,

then nothing else can be born.

No, new ideas, no growing, no babies,

Nothing young or old will be,

Because when you were walking, instead of a friend, Jack,

you greeted death as an enemy…

Jack. There’s a time to be born in this world

and there’s a time to leave this earth.

I was ready to go this morning.

Jack, if we can’t die, then we can’t grow or give birth…"

She said. "Jack. I've told you all of my stories,

and taught you the few wise things I know.

It's time you made your own way in the world, Jack.

Time you had kids of your own,

…And you can tell them the stories I've told you,

That little piece of me will be kept alive.

“You'll have to find that shell and release the old man.”

Without death Jack, we can have no life”

Jack realized now, without death there’s no life,

So he, searched and found the shell bobbing in the sea

Jack unplugged the shell; he helped Death to get out

To make peace with old man Death, Jack said he was Sorry.

Old Death complained. "You broke my scythe young man"

"Yes, Jack said, now I know I was foolish, and I apologize,

I should have greeted you as a friend, not as an enemy.”

Jack said. “Now, I want to make everything right.”

Jack repaired the scythe he had broken

and set it on the old mans bony shoulder.

Then Death looked Jack straight in the eye

and asked him, again, the way to his mother.

Jack directed The Old man to his cottage.

Then Death made his way there along the pebbled shore.

Jack watched him go and saw the waves fall

and the suns shine, as he had never seen or loved them before.

Then Jack wheeled his bike back home

and this time he heard no singing.

In the kitchen there was no sign of his mother.

He was breathing heavily and his heart was stinging.

Up stairs he found his mother lying, where he knew she'd be,

with a peaceful smile upon her face.

He went and touched her forehead and it was cold.

He felt her pulse; there was no life beating there at all, no trace.

She was dead. Jack called all friends to the cottage

and they drank and they had a feast.

They told all the breathtaking stories that Jacks mum used to spin,

And recalled all the good times and a few of the worst.

They cried a little and they laughed a little.

There were tears and jokes and songs full of mirth

Then they took Jack’s mother’s body, as the skies were crying,

And they buried her in the earth.

Then Jack went back to the cottage and took that bag

of coins that were kept for a rainy day.

Jack said goodbye to his friends.

Then Jack set out in the world to make his own way.