Friday, July 29, 2016

The Ultimate Etymology of Tell as Dell

Once there was a pleasant woman
Who often cursed her rotten luck.
"Then he didn't have anything,"
The woman said, "and all was dark.

He never saw the light again."
She was practicing a story.
It's what people did in those days.
You could sell a good story, then,

To someone who could print copies
And sell it over and over
Again. If enough copies sold,
One story could be your living,

So lots of people practiced them.
Some storytellers got lucky.
She had not yet been one of them.
"After he left the casino,

He would never go in again."
She liked the feeling of the line.
It felt like a good place to end.
But, once done, how could she begin

And what if it didn't succeed,
Didn't sell, didn't make money,
And she was stuck without a start
For the next unlikely attempt?

Better to keep the tale going,
Cut it up later, like a snake,
Sell the pieces until someone
Bought the bit that could curl itself

Into a circle, mouth and tail,
And spin gold from it, spin and spin.
"But he knew he wanted to know
What had gone wrong enough for him.

He had gone with the girl who was
Not yet a woman, but so old
Her silvery hair hung around
Her head like a halo or veil,

And, bewitched as he was by this
Unspeakable contradiction,
The crone caught within a virgin,
He had believed himself immune

To vicissitudes of fortune,
And went in to immolation
Like a prophet to the slaughter."
Wait, no. No, that was not quite right.

She stopped.  What did she want from him,
Her self, myth, fiction, creation?
Not this. Not false humility
From her third-person narration.

She wanted him to be what she
Never wanted herself to be,
A character, fully fictive,
Unreal, fully believable.

Begin again. "He went back in.
He knew the odds were against him
By law. He knew he was a fool.
And still, he went back in again,

And he rolled his last roll and saw
He had won this one, one more roll
Coming, and so he rolled again."
She paused. She could see where this led.

She had to choose whether to stay
Within the iron universe
Of ruthless probability
Or give in to a fantasy,

A change of genre, down which path
Readers might or might not follow,
Into the old woods of fairy
And foolishness, everything false.

Let her little, cooked-up loser,
Avatar of self, keep winning
And thereby get away from her,
Or haul him back to the failure

She had set out for him, painted
Very deliberately, cornered
And cowed and about to go broke?
She wavered and he sensed a haze

Thicker than the cigarette smoke
That hung around the casino.
He felt an ache in all his joints
At once and his head was spinning.

Then she thought, "why not?" She had him
Sit back down in his depression
In his seat in the dark valley
Ghosted with gamblers' fallacies,

Groggy but slowly focusing
And she wrote that he bet and won,
Probability warped around
His mask, and he kept on winning.

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