The truth is,

I’m tired of doing pirouettes in front of this paper castle
I want to stand on both my legs
I want to wear flat shoes
and tromp into the garden
or out onto the streets
wearing rain gear
and snow boots

I know the impression I made
on the one-legged
tin soldier who lay
before me on the shelf
He thought I was the most
beautiful thing alive
and in the sight of me
he became ever more wretched
and defective

Now he has fallen out of the window
and onto the street
and I want boots
to march through the trenches
and find him and tell him
that I am nothing more
than cardboard and paint
and could he forgive me
for presenting him
with such a cutting fantasy

We are both missing
the other leg to stand on,
but I don’t care, I could share—
Aren’t we already not far apart?

Don’t we already
share the same heart?

November 11, 2013

The poem and illustration are inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s story, The Steadfast Tin Soldier. In the story, a defective soldier who is missing a leg is lying on a table in front of a paper castle. A paper dancer does pirouettes in front of the door, wearing a tinsel rose and a blue scarf. The soldier falls in love with the paper dancer, and then one day, after being carelessly put on the windowsill. a mischievous wind comes along and blows him onto the street.  He falls headfirst, three storeys down, and now it’s downhill all way for the soldier. He is swept into the rain gutter and into a lake where he sinks and is swallowed by a carp. The carp is caught, and, amazingly, he is returned to the table in the nursery, but then he and the paper dancer are blown into the fire. His tin body melts with her tinsel rose, and, in the morning, the maid who comes to clean out the fireplace finds, in the ashes, a single tin heart.

When I went to draw the paper dancer, I was surprised that she became real, and more surprised when the shadow of the castle door behind her took the shape of a man. Here is my offering for Remembrance Day, in memory of my grandfather who fought in the First World War, and all the wounded soldiers, then and now.

poem and illustration by Michelle Tocher

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