The Story of Alouette

Ciaran Carson

You were telling me a story of your great-grandmother’s
over a bottle of Burgundy by a bubbling fire.

Deep in the Forest of Language there dwelt a manikin
not called Rumpelstiltskin. His name was not that important.

One day a riderless mare trotted to a halt at his door.
The manikin brought her to stable and fed her some hay.

He was surprised when the mare upped and spoke in the King’s French.
I am not a mare, she said, but the King’s daughter bewitched.

And because you have fed and stabled me I shall become
princess again. And she changed as she spoke before his eyes.

In return you have three wishes. I only want one wish,
said the manikin. I’m a manikin. Make me a man.

The by now fully-formed beautiful woman blinked at him
and in the blank and pupil of her eye he became man.

You took a long sip of wine. And what happened then? I said.
The princess summoned a horse from nowhere and galloped home.

The man walked to a great city. He became a joiner.
He grew skilled at his trade and his heart was in all he made.

He grew justly famous for his miniature chests of drawers,
each crafted from a plank of his oak house in the forest.

But still he pined for the day that he’d set the princess free.
He never looked at a woman until the day he died,

his last wish to be buried in the Forest of Language,
his body to be laid in a box of his own device.

To this day, if you happen to pass that shadowy glade
you may see a ghostly rider riding a ghostly mare.

You lit a cigarette. And as for the princess? I said.
She married an English prince and got beheaded, you said.