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Death comes when he's called

Those moments when frustration drives you to call out to the ether, thinking nobody's going to hear you? In folklore, someone's usually listening.


Calling out supernaturals. 9/30


Today's story is a tiny one. It comes from a collection of Romani stories gathered from storytellers in Europe, Asia, and North America. The author, Diane Tong, photographed many people in the communities she visited, and her book is dedicated to several friends within the culture and of Romani descent.*


Our storyteller gives us in 171 words a full picture an old woman's worn out life:


Every morning she rises with the sun and walks her tired old bones all the way to the forest. On her back she carries a bundle filled with the sticks she collects from the forest floor. Every day the same routine with no one to help her and her years are weighing heavily on her.


One day she decides she's had enough of this and calls out to Death to come rescue her from this monotony. Immediately he arrives, asking smooth as silk what he can do to help her. The old woman thinks better of her request and recovering quickly asks that he help her back on with her bundle. Suddenly her burden feels lighter now that Death is close by!


Lesson learned: Death has ears everywhere so be careful what you ask him for.


In the words of the storyteller themselves, "We only want to die when death is far away from us." (p 114)


*That said, it was published in 1989 and the author uses the word "Gypsy" throughout. I do not feel comfortable using it as I have read that many Romani consider the word to be a slur so I use it only in context and as part of the following bibliography.


"Death and the Old Gypsy Woman" from Gypsy Folktales by Diane Tong (NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1989), p. 114.


From Tong's notes: This short tale of a wise old woman appears in a volume on Romani published in Germany in 1886.


Burden (the lyrics)


These bones are tired of walking

These legs are getting old

My back's been breaking as the sun goes down

Gonna let this burden go


This morning I woke when the sun came to call

And I shut my eyes, 'said, "no, sun! no, sun!"

I don't want to go to the forest again

Gathering sticks in my bundle


There's nobody here who will carry the load

And I grind my teeth, 'said, "no one, no one"

So I got to go to the forest again

Gathering sticks in my bundle


These bones are tired of walking

These legs are getting old

My back's been breaking as the sun goes down

Gonna let this burden go


No cloud in the sky as the sun beats me down

And I mop my brow, 'said, "no, sun! no, sun!"

'Cause I have to go to the forest again

Gathering sticks in my bundle


The forest is wild; there are sticks on the ground

And I fill me arms, 'said, "no fun, no fun"

Now I got to go through the forest again

Carrying sticks in my bundle


These bones are tired of walking

These legs are getting old

My back's been breaking as the sun goes down

Gonna let this burden go


I'm stumbling home with my bag on my back

And I sit right down, 'said, "no, sun! no, sun!"

I don't want to live in this body no more

I'm calling on Death to release me!


The end of my days has finally come

And I don't got much, 'said, "no son, no son"

So where are you, Death? Are you coming for me?

I'm calling on you to release me


These bones are tired of walking

These legs are getting old

My back's been breaking as the sun goes down

Gonna let this burden go


So Death said, "what do you want, old woman?

Why do you call my name?

What can I do for you, woman?

You've been living so long it's a shame"


And she said, hand me that bag, help me put it back on

I'll be on my way, 'said, "go, son! go, son!"

I don't want to die now you're right next to me

I'll carry my sticks in my bundle


These bones are tired of walking

These legs are getting old

My back's been breaking but I ain't dead yet

Gonna bring my burden home

Gonna bring these old bones home

Gonna bring my burden home


"Burden" will appear on The Wanderlings Volume Four, a collection of summer-themed and summer-written songs inspired by women in folklore.



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