Category Archives: Poems

Lake Mistake

Congressman Beechly’s post yesterday about lake ice reminded me that even our biggest lakes freeze over.

Lake Superior became quite icy this year but is quickly thawing out. All the Great Lakes get icy, though Lake Michigan seems to stay warmer. Perhaps Chicago is so dynamic it has an effect like one of those heaters you put in the bottom of a birdbath. Or maybe the still-weighted-down bodies of all the 1920’s gangsters tossed in the lake emit enough bad karma to keep the water moving.

Of course even these massive bodies of water have personalities. For some reason, looking at a map of our marvelous Great Lakes reminded me of the time more than a decade ago when then-U.S. Senator Norm Coleman appeared to get two of them mixed up, which led to two things public officials and their constituents hate in equal measure – criticism and poetry.

“We have Duluth, which is located on Lake Erie, which is the entryway, the gateway to the Great Lakes …” Senator Norm Coleman, during a debate about the National Intelligence Reform Bill, US Senate, September 28, 2004

Lakes of Confusion

A person could, if he were weary
Confuse Superior and Erie
For both are wet and natural.
Their first names are identical!

They both are colored blue on maps.
They both have buoys. Both have traps
for mollusks, fish, and water thingies.
They’re full of waves and boats and dinghies

Politically you can’t divide ‘em.
Both have swing states right beside ‘em.
Round the edge are geese and ducks
And on the northern shore – Canucks!

Except for size and depth and clarity;
History, geography (a minor disparity)
Color, flavor, smell and name
It’s fair to say they are the same.

It’s something of a minor art
To tell these Greatest lakes apart.
So here’s a hint from one who’s tried it.
One has the other’s name inside it.

Superior is clearly better.
Deeper, wider, has more letters.
If you mix them in your stupor,
Take Eri out, it still is Supor.

Tell us about your favorite lake. 

Burn After Reading

Once I heard that some state officials in Florida have been cautioned against using the words “climate” and “change” right next to each other” in official documents, I felt inspired.

Not by the restriction, but by the way it appears to have been delivered.

Such a written rule would be subject to ridicule of course. But it appears this bit of language and thought control (if it exists), is being carried out as a matter of verbal-only policy making.

This is genius, and also a throwback.

For eons human beings have remembered complex stories and concepts through an oral tradition and the construction of elaborate rhymes. I was intrigued. How could you make it quick and memorable but also put it in a configuration that would enable you to  distribute the “rules” uniformly but without a trace?

I summoned Trail Babboon’s poet laureate, Schuyler Tyler Wyler, and instructed him to create a few lines of verse that would be capable of communicating such a language prohibition to legions of bureaucrats, paper-trail free.

I told him:

  • Verse one must ban the term “climate change”
  • Verse two must outlaw “global warming”
  • Verse three has to prohibit “greenhouse gasses”
  • The fourth verse must end with the word “irony”.

S.T.W. was unimpressed with the subject matter, but for ten dollars he got to work and was back within the hour:

It’s wrong to talk of “Climate Change”.
That phrase is now verboten.
These words, in tandem, don’t arrange.
It upsets them what’s votin’.

And “Global Warming” is taboo.
Because we do not buy it.
For thinking only, you’re free to.
But as for speaking? Quiet!

And likewise,”greenhouse gas” must pass
into the realm unspoken.
This rule must stay invisible
like air on which you’re chokin’.

These verses are not policy.
They’re a device, mnemonic,
to stop the floods. Y’all’ll see.
Effective and ironic!

What words or phrases would you like to ban?

A Little Bend in the Light

I was trying to get my mind around the news that astronomers have observed multiple images of a supernova exploding by simply looking in the right place and understanding the strange effects of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, when the phone rang.

It was Trail Baboon poet laureate Schuyler Tyler Wyler calling to beg for a commission.

Things have been a bit tough in the poetry game of late, and what with large companies like General Mills and Target retrenching, the slogan and tagline market has dried up almost completely.

“Give me something complex to boil down into a few lines of verse,” he said. “I have to keep my toolkit sharp in case the discount clothing and packaged food industries bounce back and there’s a sudden need for fresh jingles.”

Of course I gave him the only thing I had – that a star exploding on the other side of the universe nine billion years ago has appeared in our sky at least four times, and it all makes perfect sense. I told him I would buy him a cup of coffee next Wednesday if he could make it rhyme.

Here’s his reply:

To see a Supernova pop
is not so hard to do.
Just float some denser galaxies
between the star and you.

Then get it properly aligned
Nine billion years ago,
to let dark matter intervene
so you can watch it blow.

The light from the explosion
has to go around each side.
So when you view the fireworks
you see it multiplied!

The images arrive distinct
and separate as they please.
A single Supernova that can say
cheese cheese cheese cheese.

What spectacle would you watch over and over and over and over?

Seuss Deuce

Today is Dr. Seuss’s birthday, so in his honor I’ll recall one of the many times I’ve ripped him off by doing a weak parody of his timeless work.

In this case, the original act of larceny occurred in the summer of 2013 when New York City commuters were astonished to find dead shark riding a New York Subway.

This idea of a Straphanger Shark was, I thought, almost Seussian. The master, however, would have gone bigger – much bigger.

I realize now that I never finished that earlier version, so this time it has an ending, if not a moral.

We were heading for home on the subway one day
We were too tired to speak. There was nothing to say
It was Sally and me at the back of a train
that smelled fishy and dank, but we didn’t complain.
The car clattered and rattled and squeaked on its track.
The lights flickered a bit. It got bright and then black.
And then darker than pitch. Clearly something was wrong.
While the squeaking we’d heard transformed into a song.
“What’s that noise?” Sally shouted. The deafening trill
became loud as a whistle and two times as shrill.
And then all of it stopped – both the train and the sound!
When we got off the floor we both looked all around.
Peering deep in the tunnel – the source of the din –
we saw two giant eyeballs there, peering back in.
“Don’t be scared” said a voice. “I am harmless,” it joked.
“You’re too late,” I replied, for my trousers were soaked.
“I am sorry for that.” He was big. He was pale.
“You can just call me Moby. The Whale on the Rail.
“He should not be down here,” stammered Sally, to me.
“Because whales belong down in the depths of the sea.”
“That is true,” said the whale. His breath stank of dead fish.
“But as long as I’m here, we can do what you wish.”
“There are games for commuters and whales we can play.”
“If you have a sharp knife and a sea bass to flay.”
“We do not have a knife,” I replied, in a peep.
“That is not a good game. You go back to the deep.”
But the Whale on the Rail only blinked at us twice.
Then he said, “Maybe some other game would be nice.”
“How ’bout ‘Where’s Your Blowhole?’ he said. “That is fun.”
“Not for us,” shot back Sally. “Because we don’t have one.”
“So you think,” said the whale. At his voice, the car shook.
“But you always find one in the last place you look.”
“The conductor is coming,” I said. “Swim away.”
But the Whale only smiled. “I would much rather play.
At that moment, the subway door opened up wide,
and a grizzled man step-clumped his peg-leg inside.
The whale’s eyeballs grew bigger – as large as the moon
at the site of this man and his ten-foot harpoon.
As the beast turned to flee, the conductor’s remark
was succinct – “This is more than a simple dead shark.
It’s the demon I’ve chased for a decade or more!”
As he hurled his harpoon out the subway car door.
When that missile hit home the rope wriggled about,
and entangled his leg as it quickly played out.
“Call me Ahab”, he said, as the line became tight.
He shot into the dark and was soon out of sight.
But we heard him exclaim as he bounced down the rails,
“The New York City Subway – it’s no place for whales!”


Recommend a book you’ve read recently.

O Crispiness!

Header photo by Cameron Strandberg from Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, Canada

I like my potatoes crispy whether they are french fries, hash browns or chips.

But when they’re in the ground in places like California and Colorado, I’d like them to get a little water. That could become harder in the years ahead, especially since NASA researchers now say a “megadrought” may be ahead in the western and central plains states.

This is all connected to climate change and our unfortunate habits of consumption, which we (including me) can’t seem to shake.

Somehow it has me thinking about the poem Katherine Lee Bates wrote in the summer of 1893 after drawing inspiration from the view atop Pikes Peak in Colorado – one of the areas destined to suffer under the coming Great Dehumidification.

We know her words today as the lyrics to “America the Beautiful,” though by 2050 it might make more sense to change it up a bit.

O beautiful for cloudless skies,
for parched and scorching sands,
for burning mountain tragedies
for cracked and blistering hands!
America! America!
There’s no place dry as thee!
We’ve earned a good Sahara-hood
From L.A. to D.C.

The land at first was green and lush
Indians, thanks a lot!
But after shove had come to push
It started getting hot.
America! America!
We filled the air with gas.
And made the rate exacerbate.
De-moisturized! Alas!

O Mega-drought! The experts say
if we eschew our cars,
we might, calamity delay.
But that’s not who we are!
America! America!
We’d rather face the thirst,
than pay the toll through self-control
so prepare for the worst!

What’s your favorite anthem?

Billionaire Limericks

Whatever bad thing might happen to you today, you will not know the sting of slipping down or falling completely off the billionaire’s list.

While there are more billionaires than ever before, some have lost ground to newcomers and upstarts, which serves as a reminder that everything is relative.

And it also reminds me that there are just not enough limericks about billionaires.

A woman who’s worth a gazillion
met a man who had only three billion
“You’re too low for my taste,”
she said, “I’d be disgraced
to be seen with you at the cotillion.”

Like the Buffets, the Lowells and the Cabots,
your investments have mated like rabbits.
While the money had fun
you’ve become overrun.
And you’re dwarfed by the vault it inhabits.

You felt rich today when you awoke.
But you just lost a billion on Coke.
Now your status has lapsed
as your wealth has collapsed.
Just a millionaire. What a poor bloke!

On what list of amazing individuals should you be featured?

Lonely Mountain

It’s both intriguing and heartbreaking to read this headline: Mountain-Size Asteroid To Fly by Earth on Monday.

It’s intriguing because this will offer a valuable chance for Earth-bound scientists to examine a large asteroid without having to leave the ground. The asteroid, known as 2004 BL86, will glide by at a distance of 745 thousand miles – roughly three times the distance from here to the moon.

In space terms, that’s close.

Not close enough to be dangerous but sufficiently close for radar observatories in Puerto Rico and California to collect images and data that will help us understand more about 2004 BL86’s surface, composition and orbit.

The resolution possible at this distance with radar telescopes is said to be good enough so that the pictures will reveal details as small as “the length of a typical car.”

If nothing else, we’ll soon know if 2004 BL86 has enough parking.

But it’s heartbreaking because the author of the source article called the asteroid a “mountain“, which fixed an image in my mind that I can’t shake.

While we’re watching it, what if it’s watching us?

I see a solitary wanderer, roaming the universe, looking for a home and scouting the nearby terrain for something that appears familiar and, if not friendly, at least fun.  A space mountain would spot many likely companions on Earth’s surface, including (of course), Space Mountain.

They say we’re safe from a collision with 2004 BL86, but that doesn’t account for the power of loneliness and longing.

Twinkle, Twinkle, lonely peak.
Is our planet what you seek?
As you fly by, so detached,
can you spot an earthly match?
Twinkle, Twinkle, if you please.
Just don’t join the Pyrenees.

Have you ever crashed a party?