so they came wandering from the woods
hand in hand, the boy younger
clothes like torn leaves
their hair dry rushes
and we broke off harvest
dropped scythe and rake
crossed ourselves in fear
of their green
as true as I stand
their strange babble
like corncrakes in the stubble
thrushes fluting in the hedge
refused our bread, chewed
raw green beans, like cats
lapped water from the hand
years on, green no more
the boy being dead
the girl baptised and godly speech
restored - or learned anew -
she told her tale: she spoke of bells
a river, sunless St Martin’s Land,
of tending flocks, a deep ravine -
truth or fancy? She married well.
Time twists memory to legend -
fragments jag, distort
like a splintered glass -
but this we swear:
from somewhere unbeknown
two green children came.
About the author:
After decades teaching in Scotland and Yorkshire, Lynda Turbet now lives in north Norfolk, where she observes the world from her wheelchair and tries to make sense of it all through writing. Her work has won prizes, has been published in online and print journals, and in themed anthologies.
This is the story of the green children of Woolpit, Suffolk, which dates from the 14th century and is depicted in a window of the village church.
The first time I was, I was a tiny wee kitten. My grey shadowy-colored mother birthed me with my brothers and sister in a little niche in the pile of logs against the monks’ house.
She usually lived in the barn among the warm goats but we were summer kits and out little cave was cool and safe from the hounds in the stable.
I grew to be a fine man-cat, and my stripey brothers and I fought. My handsome sister ran off with a midnight tom. We were dispersed, my mother back to the barn, and I to a man with a sweet singing voice.
My man was called Siadhal and he had fine white hair like me. We worked in the night to begin our days, he worked with words, and I hunted mice in the granary, and made kittens with my mother’s other daughters.
He lived in a little stone dwelling-place all by himself, my Siadhal. A table, a bed, a basin for himself, a basin for me. I outlived him. I had a better diet: richer and more filling. One morning he was still.
I told the other men, and they wrapped him up and planted him in the grass.
I lived in the granary after, I ate many mice and made many kits. And when I was still one morning,
the men wrapped me up, and recited Siadhal’s words to me, and planted me in the grass with him.
I did not last so very long, this time I was born. My mother was an old cat, and we were so many.
We nested in a pretty basket, though, kept by the fire in a dark stone house.
The lady liked the kits and gave us her bits of roving and wool. Roving is a tangle, a thick spider’s web made over hundreds of spider-years, but with no tasty spiders to eat. But there were more hounds than there were kits and kind ladies, and the hounds were not careful with their large rough feet, shining teeth set in rosy gums, and great lolling bodies.
Did you know, once a man read a poem that said what my Siadhal had written about me, in another language and he made it into a song? It is a fair song, for a sweet voice either man or woman to sing.
I am Pangur, white Pangur, and my monk and I are happy alone together, a scholar and cat.
I don’t know why the man wrote the song. He wrote many songs about solitary people, though,
just like Siadhal and myself, alone together. Maybe he saw a white cat and thought of the poem.
Maybe he knew the poem and wanted to praise the work to do daily, Siadhal at his words
and me in the granary catching grain-fat mice for dinner.
The poem is by a man who knew my first homeland well. His words fit well into the rhythms of Siadhal and the other men of the monks’ house. A happy rhythm, like the steps that lead to
the pounce on the dinner!
Or the little dance Siadhal’s feet made when the joy of his work filled his body.
Once I was born to a city cat who lived in the street. We were birthed in the bin, amid fish and potato peelings. She was a fey one, my mother that time. Scared of her own shadow, and the white-skirted girl’s too, the girl who put out cream for her. But fish are very tasty, and we all lived to climb up from the bottom of the bin in time.
I didn’t much care for the street, I like being white and clean, I am vain, I admit it. So off I went to find a house, mewing in the mews and looking for a girl or lad to take me in.
I found one before winter, and spent the rainy days in a window ledge, not far from the canary in its
swaying gibbet. But out in the rain I went after liberating the canary from its long march of the same five notes to death by bringing swift and sharp claws to its lovely pale breast.
So it was, many houses, many meals, many nights in the rain. A cat cannot live on cream alone,
and mice were scarce in such houses of comfort. A noisome parrot, smell and squawk kept me nestled in my lady’s bed chamber for many months, with cream and fish, until her silly mother a woman with odd beliefs also squawked that I’d smother the baby.
Houses, birds, babes. And then I found the house of the ancient hound. A low hound, a dark hound, a hound with enormous ears, he is an old hound, a blind hound, a deaf hound a hound whose bones make the sounds of creeping footsteps on the stair. He is too slow to chase me, too slow to roll on me, too darkened and quieted in his faculties to harm me. Instead, he warms me, and I rub his back. I keep my claws inside. We share a daily catch of fish, and so here I’ll remain.
I’m Little Cat or White Cat or I’m Honey.
There was white cold stuff, it was cold. The lady with hair light like mine saw me. She put me in her shirt.
We have a house. With plants and books.
There’s another cat. She’s called Missy. We have baskets with blankets under the window. Mine is green. Missy’s is blue.
I can’t get in the window like Missy. She can jump. I’m too little, my legs don’t stand still for jumping.
Instead they wobble. I’m better at climbing.
Missy sleeps on the bed on the left pillow, and I sleep on the bed below the left pillow, and the Lady
sleeps on the right pillow.
The lady writes books. Missy and I play and sleep. Missy sometimes catches bugs,
and eats them up. I have never caught a bug.
I have a mousie made of brown felt with a pink string for a tail. The lady made it for me. It smells nice and tastes good when I chew on its nose.
Our house is warm in the white cold time. When the lady goes away, Missy and I sleep in our baskets with the blankets.
When she comes home, we lean on her legs. At night sometimes we jump on her feet. And other times we are tiny kittens and nest on her shoulders.
Sometimes I am just an imaginary cat. A would-be cat. Alongside the would-be black cat she would call Behemoth.
Now I’m in a movie, but it’s not really me. It’s another Pangur Bán, one made of lines and colors and circles and film. But he has a good story. He’s in the right place, all the right places. The monks’ house, the forest, a boat, the homeland, places with fish, birds, tasty things.
I think many cats will be Pangur Báns, what with little children and wise adults seeing the film in which I am and am not. But they aren’t really me, and I am just waiting.
I am just waiting for the next scholar, the next solitary one, alone in a little room, happy with learning.
He may be a monk, or he may be a doctor. She may be a writer, or she may be a scientist. He may be dark, or she be fair, or he be tall, or she be little. Waiting for a Pangur Bán.
People say, just wait, if you want a cat, one will find you. Once I came to a woman through a mail slot.
Once I came from a field, where a man who made music saw me when he was running. I’m waiting for the right one, the one happy alone, who will be happy with me alone together, scholar and cat.
And then I’ll come.
About the author:
I am based in Texas, where I write about history, myth, social justice issues, and the environment. My work has appeared in Lily Poetry Review, Gingerbread House, About Place, and other venues, and has been set to music by numerous composers. My chapbook Making Mythology was published in 2020 by Louisiana Literature Press, and my novella in verse Protectress was published by Unsolicited Press in 2022.
Discussing disabled characters in fairy tales and folklore!