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Here for your late night reading is an old Polish folk tale told by many people over the years on both sides of the ocean now as adapted by me an old Polish philosopher from the Bronx:
Many years ago, but not so many that people have stopped telling the story, there lived in a small village of east Poland a beautiful young woman. At the time my story begins, Anna, for that was her name, had reached the thirtieth year of life on this earth and she was not yet married. She lived alone in the family's modest cottage tending a small vegetable garden, some chickens, and three goats. Both her parents had died of influenza one winter when she was but a little girl. With the help of her neighbors, Anna had carried on alone after the tearful funeral and like a tree planted by a river now had grown into her maturity. She was loved by the villagers for her good will and natural beauty.
Talk of this beautiful virgin spread beyond her village, and she had many suitors. As yet, none had won her favor or hand in marriage. Some of her neighbors were growing concerned that Anna would end up a spinster. They could not understand why she never accepted proposals of marriage from so many handsome and fine gentlemen. How could they know----they never asked Anna, and the turned away suitors had nothing to say about their rejections.
Now, learn the truth of the matter. Anna remembered the unconditional love her parents had for each other and for her. The deep joy of that conjugal and familial love ended when her parents were buried in the church cemetery so many years ago, but Anna woke up every day with the hope that she too would be gifted with such a love. She had witnessed so real and so constant a love between her parents while they lived that she desired nothing less for her own life. Her sadness was that every man who sought her attention and her affection would make the same mistake. One after another--such a long line of them--would inevitably say to her: "You are so beautiful! Marry me. I want to wake up every day of my life seeing your beautiful face before me."--or words to that effect. Hearing such mere flattery, Anna's heart would turn cold, and she would abruptly dismiss the man, saying: "I will not marry you, sir. I want to be loved for love's sake---not just for my face." And so she remained unmarried.
Now I don't know how it happened, but I am told that Satan learned of this remarkable woman---of her great beauty and of her principles. Out of curiosity---angels and fallen angels seem to be eternally curious about us humans---Satan decided to go up to that humble Polish village and see this Anna up close and personal.
Taking on the guise of an old peddler (rather than a cat or owl or spider) Satan knocked on her cottage door asking for charity. Anna had been trained by her mother never to open a door to a stranger no matter what, so she opened her shuttered window instead and handed down some bread and cheese with a sincere "God bless you, sir!" She closed the shudder before Satan could get but a glimpse of her beautiful face. Miffed, Satan shuffled away and planned to encounter her next day at the market with a youthful look, perhaps as a Polish cavalry officer in shiny brown boots, sword at the belt, a luxurious mustache, and a plumed hat to crown it all.
The market day was sunny and filled with vendors, buyers, and laughing children darting all over. Anna traded her two dozen eggs and a round of her best goat cheese for the dry goods she needed. With her basket full, she walked away from the market and was just about to take the country road home when she was approached by the handsomest devil of a man ever. A young, dashing Polish officer strutted towards her, head held high reminding Anna of her truly fine feathered Polish rooster.
"Here, allow me to carry your basket for you," smiled the gallant officer. Now this was an all too familiar line to Anna who had not carried her own basket back from the market since she had blossomed into her young adulthood. However, she felt instantly attracted to this man, though she couldn't tell why. That fact alone made her heart stir. This fellow exuded a mysterious charm -- some sort of charisma -- she knew she had not met anyone as fascinating -- what was it about this man that made him so extraordinary.
Then she stopped talking to herself and began to listen to what he was saying to her as they walked up and down the hills toward her cottage. His prattle was actually intelligent, interesting, entertaining. She felt herself warming toward this man and was considering inviting him in for some tea and cookies as they approached her door.
But then Satan made the same mistake as all the others. He said in a resonant voice, "I have to confess, Anna. I am falling absolutely in love with your face. I could spend eternity happy to just see that face every day with me...." Before he could go on, Anna took her basket from him and without saying more than a quick "Thank you. Good bye," she stepped into her home and closed the door with a sharp bang. Now you don't slam the door in Satan’s face and get away with it. The powerful leader of all fallen angels stomped away with steam coming out of his ears, and the demons all about that land heard Satan shout in a mind language you and I would never hear: "Tonight, I shall appear to her as I really am! And then we shall see what happens!"
That night, after Anna had done the supper dishes, read some, said her evening prayers, and was lying in her darkened bedroom at peace in that wonderful place between being awake and almost asleep---POW! a flash of bright green fire and yellow sulfurous smoke-- Satan appears at the foot of her bed! Anna screams, bolting up in her bed, holding her covers to her chin, eyes wide open, her mouth agape.
"Don't be afraid, Anna," says Satan, "It is I."
To her horror, Satan looks uglier than any human artist ever imagined. A frightening, twisted, superabundantly evil face stuck on top of a scaly green torso with wiry black hairs growing out everywhere, bony arms reaching out with long, sharp nailed fingers, and most grotesque, Satan is absolutely sexless---no genitals---a nightmarish alien too bizarre to actually exist yet there looking, leering at her with bulging firedrake eyes.
"Anna, Anna. Come with me to hell!" she hears Satan say without ever opening those vile clenched teeth.
"No!" she screams. "No!" "No! You can't take me to hell against my will. My mother taught me that nobody not even the devil can make me do something against my will. And I will not go with you!"
Satan smiled his best demon smile and replied, "Your mother taught you well. But Anna, think on this: if you come with me now you will be the most beautiful woman in all of hell. I guarantee it! Come. Come, Anna. Be the most beautiful creature in all of hell."
"I don't need to go to hell to be the most beautiful woman around," Anna snapped back. "I already am the most beautiful woman in my village, and I didn't have to go anywhere with anyone to be that! God made me so."
"Ha, you are as clever as you are beautiful," said Satan with raised eyebrows. "But look here, Anna---" Satan continued and floated to her night table.
Anna cringed away pressing her back against the wall behind her bed. Satan picked up the hand mirror lying there and held it before Anna's face. "Look at your beautiful face, Anna. Such shining eyes. Such rosy cheeks. Look at those full beautifully bowed lips. And such glorious hair---like the finest silk. Look, Anna, look. But you know, Anna, in but twenty short years all this beauty will fade away. Those eyes will become red, watery, bleary. Your skin will turn to wrinkled dry leather. Your lips will shrivel into thin cracked lines. And this hair will turn dirty gray and fall out in clumps. Before you know it, you will be an old crone! But come with me now, Anna, and you will be eternally young, eternally fresh, and eternally beautiful. Come with me now to hell and I guarantee you shall be like an eternal rose that never fades, never wilts."
Satan's words reached deep into Anna's heart. The truth was that Anna was always filled with horror whenever she saw the bent and aged women of her village. A time had come years ago when she began averting her eyes from seeing them---these so ugly ancient ones.
Without thinking, Anna's right hand reached out toward Satan’s outstretched talon claw which held for her the promise of endless youth. Just before their fingers touched, a question rose from Anna's heart without bidding, without thinking---it just came up and out surprising them both. She softly asked, "Is there love in hell?"
"Love in hell?" screeched Satan pulling back that black and hairy paw. "Of course not! How utterly ridiculous! Love in hell? Hah! There is no love in hell, my pretty! Never ever any complications like love!"
Anna had already pulled back her hand when she shouted back at Satan, "Then I will not go with you! Love---true love---is all I have ever wanted in my life. Love is what I hope for. Love is what I wait for. If there is no love in hell, I will not go there with you or with anyone!"
Satan reeled back knowing the seduction had failed utterly and POW! in a microburst of green and yellow sulfurous clouds the arch demon instantly fell back to hell. There in that abyss of everlasting selfishness Satan steamed with hatred of Anna---changing color from bilious green to bright red---as would a hapless lobster dropped into a boiling pot! "I may not be able to have you here in hell against your
will," Satan’s seething soul sputtered. "But I can curse you, woman! I can curse you so badly that you will turn into an old boot before two years turn over! AND I WILL CURSE YOU NOW! NOW! NOW!"
Satan screamed this curse so vehemently that more damned souls took notice than when Lucifer tried to do Job in with hellish torments. Remember Job? Remember Job covered with oozing sores sitting there on that fly ridden dung heap? Well, all the damned in hell remembered poor old Job when they heard Satan’s vehement howling. Poor Anna, they sneered sardonically as they twisted and squirmed in their own agony. This would be worse---far worse than what happened to Job. For reasons more perverse than you or I could ever understand, these damned souls took a modicum of pleasure in their hope of witnessing Anna's coming suffering.
That very night as the villagers of that small Polish village slept in peace, Anna's sweet dream turned to a nightmare. She woke up racked with a burning fever, her every joint aching.
It was only the beginning. For days and days the fever burned on. Ann's flesh became so hot she thought she was on fire. Her hair not only dried out but began to fall. She would find clumps of it in her sweat soiled sheets. Her skin began to burst with sores first on her back and then on her legs and arms---last of all, the oozing red boils disfigured her face. Neighbors came early on to give succor, but as Anna never bettered in the slightest for all their ministering, they soon stopped coming. Talk was that Anna had contracted a venereal disease from one of her many suitors.
After the first year of such ravaging passed without any respite, even the village priest ceased coming to visit. He with his congregation had prayed for Anna at every Sunday Mass for so long to no avail. After they had stopped visiting Anna---the stench was terrible---they quickly forgot her. They just inadvertently turned their hearts to other more promising concerns. Out of sight, out of mind, as the saying goes.
Satan never forgets. And Satan is at heart a wicked voyeur who gets off by secretly watching us suffer. But I am digressing. In the timelessness of hell, Satan remembered Anna and decided to return to her village again just to see how she was getting along. The arch-fiend wanted to see her ugly. She might die soon and then it would be too late.
So one bright Polish spring morning, when the grass was just turning green and forest song birds were making happy music, Beelzebub flew to Anna's cottage window in the clever disguise of a fly. Sticking six hairy feet to the outside of her kitchen window, this black, noisome peeping tom with two superabundantly complex eyes looked in. There sitting in a simple oak table was Anna. No one but Satan would have recognized her as Anna. She had become a hag. Satan buzzed in glee. Lovely Anna, the most beautiful girl who had ever graced her village, looked like and old, broken, discarded boot. But Satan then saw something that was a puzzle. Sitting across from Anna was a man -- a broad shouldered and square-jawed farmer -- not at all handsome, but there he was bigger than life. And he was smiling.
This was Ignatz, the only parishioner that had not given up on the Christian responsibility of corporal mercy. His faithful kindness not only had comforted Anna's heart but had won it, too. A year ago, standing before the wooden crucifix by the crossroads near Anna's cottage, they had exchanged vows and so had married themselves.
Satan, still a gross and ugly black fly stuck to the outside of Anna's kitchen window, then noticed that Anna and Ignatz were not looking at each other but were looking down at something on the wooden floor there near the table. It was a rustic cradle---the very one Anna had slept in when she was a baby so many years ago. Now it held a newborn baby. It was their baby! Just five weeks old and already a cute fellow with rosy cheeks and straw-blond hair and big, big gray eyes. He was reaching up for them with his pudgy arms and tiny hands. Anna's eyes brightened to see such a gift. She saw him on mornings like this with the sun sprinkles all over his sweet face as if he were the first child ever on earth. Ignatz, the father, seeing such innocent beauty would think in his heart's heart that God Himself had come on earth.
Then Satan felt it. It came right through the glass window. Love. There was this love, simple and pure human love pouring out from mother to father to child and around and around in what songsters have called "a circle of love." As your storyteller, I say some of this superabundant, unconditional love came radiating out of that kitchen in Poland and struck that demonic black fly with a divine energy so powerful that it and Satan’s soul was knocked for a loop right off the window and onto the dirt of the yard. Anna's hungry rooster happened to be strutting by just then
and snapped up the fallen fly with one brutishly sharp peck of its beak! The proud red rooster crowed at the taste of it.
As Satan’s eternal soul fell once again to hell, the damned ones waiting, waiting, waiting for their master's return heard this horrible scream: "I SHALL NEVER UNDERSTAND WHAT GOES ON UP THERE! AAAAHH! I SHALL NEVER UNDERSTAND WHAT GOES ON UP THERE! I SHALL NEVER, NEVER UNDERSTAND WHAT GOES ON UP THERE, UP THERE, UP THERE!"
Every story of man and woman must continue as long as they wake up to a new day on this blue and beautiful planet -- and so does the old Polish Folk tale about Anna (and it seems by force of existential happenings about her red rooster, too).
The Story Of the Polish Red Rooster
Who Swallowed A Nasty Black Fly
Only the blue beetle in the grass saw it happen. He was crouching low so the red Polish rooster would see him as a blue stone and not supper. He flinched, however, when the rooster struck like a blaze of lightning at something near him. A big black fly had landed on its back right there on the dirt, a few inches away from his shiny body and from the huge hungry red rooster. There was the red flash of the peck, and the fly was gone.
The rooster cackled once and then began to shudder as if he had an electric shock going through him. His head shot straight up, his beak pointing at the sky. Pulled up by some invisible force onto the very tips of his six toes, the rooster quivered like a prong of a struck tuning fork.
Now I do not know how much a beetle can be amazed, but if you or I had been there to witness what the beetle next saw, we would have been absolutely astounded. A blackness began to creep up the rooster’s taught, trembling body! Beginning from the very tips of his feet, all color began changing into a shiny coal-black. Legs turned black. Every red feather on his body turned black. His eyes became two black pearls. His beak grew into a grotesque black hatchet.
As if in pain the rooster opened his beak mouth to scream; an obscene, pointed black tongue stuck out like a lance. His outcry was not a frightened squawk but an ungodly raucous CAW! Anna's red rooster was being metamorphosed into a crow!
When the evil sorcery was finished, all quivering ceased, and with a sudden leap, this transubstantiated crow flew up and away into the gloom of the forest on broad beating ebony black wings.
The blue beetle remained stone still for a while, entranced by what had occurred. Then as if wakened from a nightmare, he snapped up onto his six little legs and quickly went on his way toward the smelly dung heap behind Anna's barn.
The hungry cry of Anna's baby woke her before dawn. She carefully slipped out of her sleeping husband's embrace and walked across the bare wood floor to the cradle. Even in the dark she could see baby Pawel's big round shining eyes looking up at her.
She called his name softly three times as if it were the beginning lyric of a song. His crying stopped at the very sound of her voice. Having heard its melody since that wondrous sightless life of sound when first the tiny bones of his inner ears were formed not too many months ago, his mother's voice was a living presence there deep in his mind's gray cells and in his heart's first feelings and in his soul's eternal knowing. Together with the soft drumming of her heart and the wind song of her breathing, there was ever so often the surprise of this mellifluousness resounding within his little ocean home. It did not matter what words Anna was speaking; he knew it all as music, as "the speech of angels."
Anna lifted him up into her arms and snuggled him against her warm breasts. The baby, smelling the milk which was already wetting his mother's nightgown, quivered with delight. She quickly carried him to the nursing chair there by the fireplace. Anna gave little Pawel one of her full breasts and became a oneness with him. In the quiet darkness of the cottage, Anna hummed an old Polish lullaby about the baby Jesus lying in the straw. Loving and eating are one for all newborns. What kisses are given the mother's nipples! The sweetness of mother's milk: God's first birthday gift to Pawel and to the Savior of mankind. In the sacred warmth of this Madonna moment, both mother and child slipped into a deep sleep.
With a startling but sweet cry of praise to the morning sun, a lark woke the mother but not the child. Anna gently placed the baby back into his cradle and then glided on quiet feet over to the big bed to wake her husband with a touch of her hand.
Side by side they kneeled to offer God their morning prayers. When they finished, they rose, kissed, got dressed in silence, and then walked out of the cottage door into the gilded morning light and the cool air of the new day. There were the chores to be done before breakfast. Ignatz went to the back pasture lot to milk the two nanny goats, while Anna got a bucket of corn for her chickens and the empty wire basket to collect fresh eggs.
Now Anna had but seven hens and that one glorious red rooster, so it took her only two throws of corn to the hungry chickens for her to notice that the rooster was missing. Setting down the bucket, she ducked her head and went into the dark and dry hen coop. It was empty except for the eggs she saw in the nests. She quickly went out and walked to the edge of their clearing to see if the rooster had roosted in one of the trees. No. She then looked for signs of scattered bloody down left by a bandit fox. There were none.
Her husband suggested that the rooster may have flown into the woods to roost, so Anna told him to watch the baby while she went searching in the dark forest.
After a bit of plodding and looking up into the thick branches, Anna heard a gobbling sound in the distance. It sounded not at all like the crowing of her rooster but was clearly the sound of a large bird. She made her way toward the strange sounds out of feminine curiosity. Soon she came to a small clearing and heard the clucking sounds coming from up above.
Looking up into the morning Mary blue sky she saw to her amazement a pair of black crows doing loops of tandem flight. The larger male was chasing after the female. It was a mating chase, and it was the large black male crow that was making loud gobbling sounds. It was his ardent attempt at a love song.
Anna marveled at this extraordinary sight. The crow although black in every feather must have a red heart of love within. She mused to herself this spontaneous wish, "Perhaps someday even the black crow will be transformed by the secret workings of love. From the inside out----from the inside out."
Later when she had returned home believing she had not found her rooster, she told her husband about the crow singing his gobbling love song as he chased after a mate flying loop after loop in the assure sky.
Ignatz smiled and reminded her of the sacred saying engraved in Latin on the wooden door of the village church where their first born had just been baptized: AMOR OMNIA VINCIT.
“Yes,” Anna mused out loud. “Yes, my dear husband, love does conquer all things!”