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
-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!"
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.”
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
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
"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"
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
To make peace with old man Death, Jack said he was Sorry.
"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.”
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.
And recalled all the good times and a few of the worst.
They cried a little and they laughed a little.
And they buried her in the earth.
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.