All songs written by Stephin Merritt.
The Ugly Little Duck
It was glorious in the country. There were plants. They were yellow and green! And the stork was speaking Egyptian, for Egyptian his mummy had been. 'Neath a burdock tree sat a mother: sat and sat, that her children would hatch, which they did, mostly, but one other--the big round one that just didn't match--it seemed to take forever. One unhappy day came the duckling. Though his egg had been faithfully warmed, he was so much larger than average. He could best be described as deformed. He was much too gray and too fluffy, as the other ducks loudly opined. When he cried, they said, "Don't get huffy. You can keep on living. We don't mind. It's just that you're so ugly." So he left early in the morning, but he found wherever he would roam that, despite some change in the scenery, everyone was as vile as at home. As he settled in for the winter, overhead flew a flock of such birds that this vision stuck like splinter. They were all too beautiful for words. That winter it was freezing. I can't tell you how much he suffered! This description will have to suffice: he was paddling round the lake, when his poor feet were frozen in ice. When it snowed again, he was buried. Then it snowed some more over his head. There he sat, too cold to be worried. Truth to tell, he just thought he was dead. He didn't mind that one bit. But the spring was here, and a thaw came. Our half-dead little hero survived! And the daffodil and the crocus sang aloud, "One more spring has arrived!" And the lovely birds gathered round him. He was nuzzled and doted upon. They he knew his family had found him. He'd become the most beautiful swan. "I never dreamed of such amazing luck when I was just an ugly little duck!"
The Red Shoes
A bad young girl with hair as white as milk got witches' shoes, which shone bright red and had been finely woven from the oldest silk, with drops of blood to dye each thread. She put them on. When she began to dance, she heard the witches play their strings, which have been finely tuned to dying elephants and to the shrieks of toppled kings. She pirouetted and she grand-jetéed, et cetera, till she was out of breath. And when the last note had been finally played, the bad young girl had danced herself to death.
The Ballad of the Snow Queen
In the center of the old town is the plaza where the young boys go with their sledges in the slippery snow. We begin our little tale of woe with the sledge, all red and trusty, of a plucky little boy called K-- who hooked onto any passing sleigh, till one led him very far away. 'Twas the Snow Queen, iwis, who had taken him hold. When she gave him a kiss, he no longer felt cold. She was tall and white with beauty, and she wrapped him in her bearskin coat. He discovered they could simply float on the air, as if upon a boat. They abandoned the sleigh as they took to the wing. With her second kiss, K-- could remember nothing. And she said to him then, with her icicle breath: "If I kissed you again, I should kiss you to death."
The Little Maiden of the Sea
The little maiden of the sea was not at all like you and me: where we have legs, she was a fish, and she could only say, "I wish... I wish I were not incomplete. I wish I had some dainty feet." You see, one day she'd met a prince, and she'd been pining ever since (the little maiden of the sea). She'd gain her own immortal soul if she became the prince's wife. She autovivisected. Whole, she walked! Each step was like a knife--a knife into her dainty feet--and she could neither speak nor sing; but, surely, now she was complete. Her prince would think of marrying the little maiden of the sea. He married someone else, of course; and, saying nothing, she went home. Then something turned, by mystic force, the little maiden into foam.
The Collar and the Garter
He speaks as sweetly as he can, but words do not enthrall her. They dance around the washing-pan, the collar and the garter. He tartly starts up repartee, but her retorts are smarter. She will not name a wedding day, the garter and the collar. His forces rally and advance, but forward men appall her. So to and fro, and so they dance, the collar and the garter. He swears, if he should lose his love, then love will gain a martyr. They part, and that's the story of the garter and the collar. He keeps his braggadocio through years of fall and squalor, and toasts the maid who loved him so. The collar and the garter.
The Little Hebrew Girl
The little Hebrew girl heard her mother's dying wish: "Don't become a Christian. Just be Jewish. Honor our tradition of denying God above; heed the pigeon of religion and ignore the dove of love." The little Hebrew girl was a maid for Calvinists. She read in the gospel: Jesus exists! Yet she persisted in her tribal sacrilege. She would nix the crucifixion, always dredging up her pledge. "Mama... I love you." The little Hebrew girl, having lived her fleeting time, rested near the churchyard where the bells chime, promising we'll climb that final day to Peter's gate. Maybe she can hear them ringing. Maybe death is not too late. "Mama... I love you."
(Come, chum, from glum humdrum! Drum Mum from some numb slum, some dumb slum scum bum gum, some bum plum rum. Yum! Um, hum some, thrum some, bum some bum rum. Some come from Mum; some come from cum. Strum, thumb! Thrum, thumb! Gum some plum, Mum. Thumb some bum cum, dumb slum cum chum.) A naughty boy led others in a jest about the tiny storklings in their nest who were afraid and told the storkess so. She said, "Be patient now, but when you grow, bring all good children sisters and brothers from yonder swamp, where unborn babies hide. But that loud boy who jeers above others, bring him the babe who dreamt too much and died. We'll show that nasty, vicious little fool the stork is not the bird to ridicule."
The Little Matchstick Girl
So she lights another match, but soon the spark is gone, so she lights another match and lives on. And she sees a stove of brass. How warm its fire burns! But the match goes out. Alas, cold returns. So she lights another flame and sees a table strewn with dried fruit and meat and game, bright as noon. Then, more splendid to behold, the goose hops from the plate and walks forth--and then it's cold, dark, and late. And another tiny light... She sees a Christmas tree all lit up with colors bright and pretty. Then the Christmas lights rise higher. "A falling star!" she sighs. Then there is no other fire, and she dies.
The Top and the Ball
I was made, so they say, in the burgomaster's shop by whom else but the mayor. I'm one important top. "Do I know you?" she said, "for I do not speak with all. I've got cork in my head. I am one beautiful ball!" "Can't we be sweethearts?" "No, I don't think so." "Shan't we be sweethearts?" "No. There are reasons why we will not tootle together: you were made from some tree, me of African leather. And, besides, there's a swallow who always says, 'I will!' That's a promise, or almost, and your chances are nil. We can't be sweethearts." "About that swallow..." "We shan't be sweethearts." "Oh." Soon the ball disappears. She just bounces off somewhere. Then the top, after years, spins away into thin air. When they meet in the gutter, she's droopy, old, and wet. Though her heart's all aflutter, he's sure they haven't met. "Were we old sweethearts?" "No, I don't think so." "Sure we weren't sweethearts?" "No!" In the garbage, old friends look even older. In the garbage, even old friends get the cold shoulder. "Can't we be sweethearts?"
The Story of the Mother
"Although my child has died," the mother said, "that doesn't make him permanently dead. I must petition Death for his return." She made her way into the lands below. There was a rosebush there, where things don't grow. It said, "You want your child? Give me your blood." And on a thorn, her flesh was torn. That's how rosebushes grow down there. So then she met this great big centipede who wanted something from her. It decreed: "You want to hold your child? Give me your arms." In lands beneath, they grow strange teeth to tear your flesh more painfully. But on she staggered and stumbled, for her baby's sake, and found herself beside a talking lake: "You want to see your child? Give me your eyes." Which turned to pearls and sank in swirls into liquid oblivion. In the form of a spider, Death hung there beside her and kissed her and made her his wife.
In the Almsyard
She never leaves the almshouse--she's too old. Out in the almsyard, tots with hair of gold romp and frolic, twitter twitter, gaily clad; yet all their carefree laughter makes her sad. Those babes would play elsewhere, did they but know about the tiny girl who lies below--buried alive years ago by unknown knave--seduced with toys and candy to her grave.
"Isn't it strange?" said the inkwell, "all that comes out of me?! The famous lines! The valentines! And sometimes poetry. Just think! Without an inkwell, where would the poet be?" "I'll make you change your mind," said the pen, plucked from the tail of a bird. "Those famous lines, those valentines, I wrote them, every word. Without a pen, never again would poetry be heard." Forget the inkwell and the pen: when Auntie Toothache comes again, the poet, saddest of all men, can sing no more. When Auntie Toothache starts her torture with her pliers and her lance and her fires, she desires him to dance. And so they dance... And Auntie Toothache wields her tongs and makes her poet sing her songs in screams and whimpers till he longs to die right now. Then Auntie Toothache makes him vow (with one more cup of fire ants) that he'll give up poetry and take up dance. And so they dance... He never writes another line. His life becomes a valentine to Auntie Toothache and her fine degrees of pain. From lack of sleep he goes insane and fancies he's the King of France, beset by bees. Auntie Toothache whispers, "Dance!" And so they dance... And they dance...
In China, Said the Moon...
"In China," said the Moon, who brings me nightly news, "I chanced to gaze upon a girl with tiny shoes. With pain in her sole, she stirs her fishbowl. Her four fish, far from free, are far more free than she." "In Fez-land," said the Moon, "I guided a young man astride his great white steed beside his caravan. Through long nights he sighed and longed for his bride he loved, as he had vowed. But then... but then a cloud..." "In Lisbon," said the Moon, "I kissed a blackamoor, the slave of Camöens, the Lusiad's auteur. The faithful slave's palms were held out for alms to pay for food and rent. There's now a monument."
Odious Odense, city of my birth. Happy that day when ya vanish from the earth! Me for Copenhagen, me for Greece and Rome! Every day's an adventure when you're not home! And, in a thousand years from today, Americans will come to play in giant flying metal birds to view our beauteous antiques and hear some fearsome German words and tour all Europe in two weeks. A marble marvel ev'ry hour, a stunning country ev'ry day. They'll lope up Copenhagen's tower, but they will never pay for Odious Odense... And as a new spring dawns, hail to thee, the muse of our new century! She wears a Garibaldi hat, yet cares for Aristophanes. Part artist, part aristocrat, and lover of cacophonies, she telegraphs her laughter from her rococo locomotive. Well might some write that she is dumb, but she would never live in Odious Odense...
Copyright (c) Mar 2006 by The Distant Plastic Treehouse