Category Archives: Poems

Century House

Today’s guest post comes from Verily Sherrilee

My house is 100 years old this year. When I purchased it, it was a ways off from the big 1-0-0 and I didn’t think too much about the age, but now that we’re at the century mark, it occurs to me that this is a remarkable number. If the house were a person, a birthday card from Obama would be showing up this year.

I never learned any house-handy maintenance tricks when I was growing up. My mother was a great gardener and both my parents were terrific at remodeling rooms, steaming off wall paper and hanging new. But other than that, neither of them was all that handy. Of course we moved around A LOT when I was growing up so may we weren’t in a house long enough for anything to go wrong.


So I’ve had to learn my own maintenance skills. Luckily I live near a GREAT hardware store with great staff who are very patient with my questions; they didn’t even laugh when it took me FOUR trips one weekend to finally finish the great woodwork mitering project before Baby came. These days the internet helps as well; I was able to figure out how to change the insides of my kitchen faucet by looking it up on YouTube! Among other things over the years I’ve 100House2replaced sash windows, changed out electrical switches, redone the baseboard woodwork, cemented a gap between the house and steps and, of course, put in many new toilet flush valves and flappers. It’s always something around an old house.

So this poem really resonated with me when I ran across it.


The morning brought such a lashing rain

I decided I might as well stay inside

And tackle those jobs that had multiplied

Like an old man’s minor aches and pains.

I found a screw for the strikerplate,

Tightened the handle on the bathroom door,

Cleared the drain in the basement floor,

And straightened the hinge for the backyard gate.

Each task had been a nagging distraction,

An itch in the mind, a dangling thread;

Knocking a tiny brass brad on the head,

I felt an insane sense of satisfaction.

Then I heard a great crash in the yard.

The maple had fallen and smashed our car.

“Handyman” by Barton Sutter from Farewell to the Starlight in Whiskey. © BOA Editions, 2004.

Do you have a maintenance skill you’re proud of?

Zero to Sixty

Back when I was 12 years old I spent an unusual amount of time reading about cars that I was too young to drive.    At the end of every article in Motor Trend, there was a list of specifications that gave the raw statistics regarding the wheelbase, the overall length, the width, the curb weight and the acceleration.

How long did it take the 1967 Mercury Cougar to go from 0 to 60?  I don’t remember, because I didn’t care.

Speed was the least important detail to me – a kid who loved cars as design objects more than conveyances.  I was much more interested in the roofline, what the grill looked like and the style of the door handles  than with anything that had to do with engines.

Drag racing made no sense to me – how could you properly admire the shape of an automobile when you couldn’t see it through a cloud of burning rubber?

I think it’s fair to say I’ve never had much appreciation for the whiplash takeoff no matter how it happens.  Which is why I can’t explain  my admiration for this video from SpaceX – a crewman’s-point-of-view look at the latest test of a mission abort system that jettisons the capsule (astronauts included) at well over three hundred miles per hour, going from zero to 100 in a few short seconds.

This is exactly how I’d like to experience liftoff – by not being there. Odd that the very risk of sitting on top of a rocket is mitigated by sitting on top of even more rockets that are designed to rush you away from the first set of rockets if necessary.

And while the powerful liftoff happens predictably at zero, the neck-snapping launch abort comes out of sequence – when you’re, by definition, not quite ready.

At, say, two.

15, 14, 13, 12
into the mystery we’ll delve
14, 13, 12, 11
rockets blasting into heaven
13, 12, 11, 10
computers count and tell us when
12, 11, 10, 9
every nuance must align
11, 10, 9, 8
could abort, it’s not too late
10, 9, 8, 7
way back when, it was eleven
9, 8, 7,6
if one valve misfires or sticks
8, 7, 6, 5
we may not get out alive
7, 6, 5, 4
waiting for the engine’s roar
6, 5, 4, 3
gonna pull some extra g
5, 4, 3, 2
4, 3, 2, 1
tower cleared and launch undone.
3, 2, 1, 0.
welcome back, already, hero.

When have you changed plans at the last minute?

Similar Simians Self-Select

Here’s how influential baboons can be – they have digital natives questioning the value of social media.

A recent study of baboon behavior found that baboons like to hang out with their own personality types.  Those identified as bold tended to hang out with like-minded baboons, while the meek ones prefer the company of their own sort.

As a result,  groups remain socially isolated and new information tends to stay within the group that discovered it.

Sound familiar?

No, not to me either.  No one in my circle cares much for animal studies.  Even if the creatures aren’t harmed, we tend to agree that they have a right to privacy.

But Trail Baboon poet laureate Schuyler Tyler Wyler, who, frankly, is not one of us, found the report inspiring.  So he penned the following few lines of deathless verse:

Those bold baboons are reckless beasts
They’re wild and fast and free.
So when I want to socialize,
they’re not my cup of tea.

I much prefer the timid ones.
Baboons who are demure.
If thoughtful and considerate,
I’ll hang with them for sure.

And when we convene a confab
to trade news and give reports,
we will screen for type and temperament
to weed out the wrong sorts.

So that when we all are gathered
we’ll stay focused, we’ll be tame.
All our thoughts and inspirations
will be pretty much the same.

Where do you get new ideas?

Pipeline Poem Worsens Word Spill

Header image by Robin Drayton

The news is full of  multiple pipeline projects as protesters try to have their say and slow moving regulatory processes grind on.

Constructing such things is a costly marathon for proponents and opposing them takes time, organization and stamina. Casual observers are sometimes at a loss to know which side should prevail.

The vast number of words generated in any major pipeline fight gush from multiple sources and flood the terrain with claims and counter-claims.

To help sort it out, I commissioned a relevant poetical work from Trail Baboon’s Poet Laureate, Schuyler Tyler Wyler, a well-known literary thief.

At first, STW refused the commission because, he said, “Nothing original can come from it” and “These pipeline battles always end the same way.”

But of course nothing original ever comes from a Schuyler Tyler Wyler poem.

After I showed him the money that could quickly be made, STW said (true to form) that he would do it if he could be allowed to dig another well known poem out of the deepest reaches of our shared language reserves, refine it to remove all the art, beauty and originality, and then ship it directly to me as quickly as possible with his own brand attached for immediate payment.

Because I was desperate and out of time to come up with a post for today, I agreed, even though I knew the result could be a horrible explosion or simply a foul, long-lasting mess.

Sorry, once again, Robert Frost.

Two pipelines converged in my neighborhood,
And sorry I could not protest both
and be one activist, long I stood
Bemoaning one as much as I could
For contents which I use, and loathe.

Then hating the other to be fair.
For though I’d use it just the same
a spill from it would sew despair,
and consequently foul the air
while no one would accept the blame.

Such strong objections did I raise
to both, that from my dual attack
each paused in the approval phase
and judges issued legal stays
while regulators walked them back.

But only for a moment, though
then did it all just recommence.
A lawyer’s herd did overthrow
my arguments, with piles of dough.
And that has made all the difference.

What have you spilled?

Less Air Apparent

Header photo by Frankileon from Flickr

I asked Trail Baboon poet laureate Schuyler Tyler Wyler to craft an ode to sports figures who, more probably than not, cheat.

Of course he wanted to know who I was talking about.

“No one in particular,” I said.  “But everyone, sort of.”

Naturally he wanted to know what sort of poem he should write, which was a funny question because STW only writes one kind of poem.

“Just give me some immortal lines that deal with taking advantage of a situation and lying about it afterwards, ” I told him.  “If it means you have to steal someone else’s poem,  just don’t tell me about it.”

Within the hour, he had produced this:

If you can grip footballs when all about you
With jealous stares are criticizing you.
If you commit such fouls that tall men doubt you,
And call your claims of innocence, “Untrue”;
If you’re a pitcher who is fond of scuffing
Or muscled batter – super steroid size.
Or a striker –  injured?  No, but bluffing!
Who fakes so well he even cries:

If you can bet on games and not have fans desert you,
Or ride the Alps while chemically enhanced,
And still the masses want to wear a shirt you
signed and wore while pedaling through France.
If scandals sprout around you, and get covered,
just pray your own malfeasance never shows.
There is a chance your sins won’t be discovered.
But – if it is – Hey, welcome to … the pros!

I told STW this was such a blatant ripoff of Rudyard Kipling it was an embarrassment and even I couldn’t look the other way. “What is more”, I said, “you didn’t even steal the whole thing. If this lousy poem was a football, it would be deflated by about half.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. “I’m an artist. Where’s my money?”

How far should rules be allowed to bend?

Control Issues

In today’s hyperactive social media environment, it does not take long for good reputations to get ruined by a bit of breathless over-reaction to common problems.

A quick tweet, a tossed-off Facebook post, a carelessly shared You Tube video, or a thoughtless headline might be all it takes to permanently shame a good citizen.

Or a starlet.

Or a spacecraft.

Yesterday’s New York Times headline, “Russian Space Station Cargo Ship Is Said to Be Out of Control“, smacks of the same type of discriminatory treatment given to a string of young, boisterous female celebrities, all of whom were declared, at one time, officially O.O.C.

Trail Baboon Sing-song poet laureate Tyler Schuyler Wyler insisted that I give him a moment to come to the defense of the poor, maligned Progress 59 capsule with a few lines of soon-to-be-forgotten verse.


One cannot be a star today without a robust hide.
And for anyone who reaches high, expect a rocky ride.
But as long as I’ve got pitch and yaw, a cargo, and a goal.
It’s unfair to try to shame me with that trope – “out of control.”

While it’s true I’m not mature, (this is the first time I have flown)
I’m more stable and more focused than that wingnut, Lindsay Lohan.
I admit our mission so far hasn’t made the throngs admire us,
But I’m not as O.O.C. as that sad train wreck, Miley Cyrus.

I may tumble out of orbit very soon, it now appears.
But I won’t completely self-destruct like gaudy Britney Spears.
So I don’t feel like a failure, though I’m sinking by degrees.
I will simply resupply a patch of Earth that lacks debris.

What’s the worst thing that’s been said about you?

Rough Landing Haiku

Space travel fans and recyclers are full of admiration for the people at Space-X, who come closer with each attempt to doing something the throw-away generation of the ’60’s didn’t even consider. They’re trying to create a rocket booster that can carry a vehicle to orbit, and then land, vertically, the same way it took off.

To allow some room for error, they built a barge that can float out in the ocean, away from population centers. Smart, but problematic, as it creates a somewhat unsteady surface.

This last time they came quite close to making it work.

I love the slow yielding to gravity at the end, as it gradually becomes clear we are not going to remain vertical.

The fall takes about 7 seconds – just long enough to read three lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables.

if there is no land
just a barge in the ocean
there is no landing

falling down to earth,
a job anything can do,
gets tricky at last

hold the platform still
and I will stick the dismount
at some other time

practice makes perfect
but first some big explosions
for entertainment

Space X says next time, they’ll try to do the landing where there is actually some land.

When has practice made perfect for you?