Penny Wise, Pumpkin Foolish

A poem based on a Canadian Folk Tale

by Elizabeth Faris

Autumn Landscape with Four Trees - by Vincent Van Gogh


by Elizabeth Faris

The west was once a sprawling scape

That few had ever seen

Tempting savvy pioneers

And others very green;

Among them was a banker’s clerk

As meagre as a twig

With not a thing to bear him up

But dreams to strike it big.

And to a piece of untamed land

He soon secured the rights

He had a plan to build a hearth

To warm his winter nights;

That hopeful soul soon realized

To make his daydream real

There’d be a deal of work between

The hunger and the meal.

To clear his lot of stump and stone

He’d need some bestial force

The only way to get it done

Would be to buy a horse;

But when it came to equinese

He didn’t have a clue --

Inquire of his fellow man

Was what he had to do.

The first from whom he sought advice

Adhered to one firm rule:

“Any brute whose ears are long

Is balky as a mule”

A second neighbour cautioned him:

“Beware the beastie’s bite…

And if its teeth are long and sharp

Don’t let it from your sight!”

“Find a nag of stately gait!”

Was what a third one said

“For if she drags her hindmost parts

She’ll boot ye’ in the head!”

On one precautionary point

They all seemed to agree:

He must avoid a renegade --

The kind inclined to flee.

That city boy now daunted by

The task that lay ahead

No answer could he salvage from

The many books he’d read;

And so, to clear his mind of all

The worries that were there

He set out on a country road

To take the autumn air.

As he strode along his way

He came upon a field

And there, a farmer taking pause

To contemplate his yield;

All about that rustic’s feet

Pumpkins did abound

And in amongst this bumper crop

Manure strewn around.

It happened that the banker’s clerk

Had never seen the like

Only schooled in urban ways

Since he was just a tyke;

And so, he neared the ruralist

As timid as could be

To ask about the orange things

That grew so copiously.

The other’s ears perked up at that

A twinkle filled his eye

For he was a resourceful chap

(some even called him sly)

He eyed the young man up and down

And took stock of his legs:

“Why, this here is the bower where

My mare has laid her eggs!”

At that, the settler’s eyes grew wide

His heart began to pound

Grasping the potential of

The treasure he had found;

If he could just secure a horse

Before it misbehaved

What deeds he might accomplish with

The hours that he saved!

Emboldened in his eagerness

His voice became a shout:

“Will you sell me one of these

So I can hatch it out?

I’d surely make it worth your while

A profit you would earn;

Just tell me how to care for it

And bring it to full term.”

“You’d have to keep it very warm”

The tricky man replied

Affecting the befuddled air

Of one who can’t decide;

“Do you have an ample hearth

And fuel to build a blaze?

And could you perch upon it for

Two score and seven days?”

It wasn’t long ere hands were shook

A contract struck between:

Ten dollars for a horse-to-be

No better deal there’d been!

The largest egg was singled out

To wrestle down the road --

It was considered worth its weight

To ease his future load.

Once the dupe regained his home

And ere he did retire

He saw to it his prize was warm

And kindled up the fire;

Then stacking wood to last the night

He rummaged all about

For all the blankets he could find --

Himself, to go without.

No supper did that sparrow eat

There was no time for that!

Instead, atop the egg he leapt

Where all the night he sat

And fed himself upon his dream

Of raising up a horse

Custom made to clear his plot

And keep a steady course.

So soon the nights grow bitter cold

When winter fills the air!

The simpleton began to shift

Upon his orange chair;

The tinder box now come to naught

The cupboards all run bare

To see to their replenishment

There’d been no time to spare.

Seven weeks had come and gone

Without a single stir…

He fretted that the big event

Was never to occur;

Cold and tired and discontent

A prospect came to mind

That if the egg were broken now

A perished foal he’d find!

And sure enough, a week from then

The shell acquired a spot:

The sturdy rind was softening

And had begun to rot!

The poor chap finally recognized

His dream was not to be;

He’d have to throw his prize away

Else what a smell there’d be!

So gathering up the mushy mass

He stumbled out the door

And wobbled through his little yard

Disheartened to the core;

Far enough away from home

A shallow bank he knew

Camouflaged by leaf and branch

Where it could sit and stew.

Summoning his scant reserves

He held the thing aloft

Then heaved it down the brambled slope

(its landing was not soft!)

Rolling, rumbling all the way

It smashed as it touched down

Into a hundred pieces widely

Scattered all around.

Now strictly by coincidence

A hare had made its nest

Among those tangled bushes where

The pumpkin came to rest;

Springing up, the thing was spooked

Almost out of its skin

And fled in utter terror of

Forsaking life and limb.

The poor aspiring patriarch

Seeing the bunny flee

Took that leaping lepus for

His would-be progeny;

To its heels, the settler took:

“I thought the egg was bad!

I’d never do my youngun’ harm

Believe me -- I’m your dad!”

Of course, he could not catch the hare

Whose clip was very fast

Instead, he slumped down on a log

To process what had passed:

Had he spent all autumn long

Intent to hatch a colt?

All his time and patience just

To see it finally bolt?!

But gradually it dawned on him

That Fate had had its way:

He would have had his work cut out

To make the critter stay!

Had not its ears been very long?

Its teeth looked sharp indeed!

To cap it off, its hindmost parts

Foretold a kicking breed!

So, getting up and dusting off

And putting on his hat

The silly fool made up his mind

That was the end of that;

And if he just saved up his coins

And focused on his goal

He’d soon acquire the sum it takes

To hatch a better foal.

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