Category Archives: Poems

The Back 40 Boneyard

In a southern Michigan soybean field, a farmer found a bent fence post, caked with mud.  Which was no big deal, until he discovered it was actually part of a fifteen thousand year old pelvis of a Wooly Mammoth.

Wooly Mammoths, which are extinct, seem rather exotic for southern Michigan. Though the news accounts carried no suggestion that the farmer felt annoyed by this unexpected find, it had to be a pain in the butt to halt daily agricultural operations to bring in the archaeologists.

But Trail Baboon’s singsong poet laureate, Schuyler Tyler Wyler, became quite excited when I told him about this story, because he considers the Wooly Mammoth to be his totem animal.

Both STW and Wooly Mammoths are large, hairy, under-appreciated creatures whose unexpected appearance can sometimes lead to feelings of disappointment that the discoverer has not found a real elephant, or a serious poet.

STW’s latest work speaks of this in the hirsute behemoth’s lilting voice.

A farmer works for higher yields,
to see his family’s bread won.
But gets my carcass in his fields!
A crop!  Alas, a dead one.

My bones are no commodity
to trade on the exchange,
An old organic oddity.
low-salt, no cage, free-range.

To dig me up is more than play.
I’m ingrained in the ground.
Though true, I’m trespassing today,
‘Twas not when I fell down.

So now they’ve dug up my remains,
and inventoried fully:
Acres of soybeans, tons of grains.
One ancient Mammoth, wooly.

But I’ll make no apology
to that exhausted farmer.
His harvest – part mythology,
part prehistoric charmer!

Ever find a surprise in the dirt?

Calving Laws

A very thorough article in the New York Times about the collapse of Greenland’s Ice Sheet was less than precise about the timeline for rising ocean levels.   Melting on this scale is unprecedented in human history.  University of California – Irvine professor Eric Rignot was quoted saying ‘‘‘We’ve never seen it. No human has ever seen it.’’

The problem is made worse by the fact that ice is complicated.

“Glaciologists remain vexed, for instance, by the physics of how ice cleaves off the edge of the sheet. As Rignot told me, ‘‘We don’t have a set of mathematical rules to put in a numerical model to tell you how fast a glacier breaks into icebergs.’’ He emphasized that discovering these rules, known as calving laws, could be all-­important. Richard Alley, a glaciologist at Penn State, told me: ‘‘Problems that deal with fracture mechanics — volcanic eruptions, or earthquakes, or things that involve the question ‘Will it break or not?’ — tend to be difficult. You ask, Will the ice shelf break off a lot or a little bit? Will the cliff left behind crumble? Will it crumble fast? Will it crumble slow?’’ So far, Alley says, we can’t be sure. But a formula might tell us in advance how fast the ice sheets might crash into the sea.”

After I told Trail Baboon’s sing-song poet laureate Tyler Schuyler Wyler about this unfortunate gap in scientific understanding of the effects of climate change, he immediately warmed to the idea of taking it on as an artistic challenge.

The great glaciers up in Greenland look serene and sharp and still.
But they’re melting at the speed at which great glaciers often will.

If you want to know how fast that is I’ll share this helpful clue:
Mammoth  ice chunks liquefy as quickly as they sometimes do,

They will crack and pop and shift and drain from bottom to the top.
Getting worse exactly at the rate that ice shelves go “ker-plop,”

when they drop into the ocean with sufficient force to flatten,
and to cause enough displacement to submerge lower Manhattan.

To assess the speed precisely you can do this computation –
Take the age of your old Buick times the planet’s population

Then subtract the number of bike trips you took to work last May
from the setting on your thermostat on any average day.

Then divide this by how often you drive to the corner store
plus how long you let it idle while you run back in for more.

Add that number to the time it takes to soak in a hot tub
and you’ll know how quickly glaciers melt!

Glub glub, glub glub.

Glub Glub.

Where’s your favorite spot to view the ocean?

A Vocal Point

Every now and then a bit of research comes along that turns commonly accepted wisdom upside down. And so it is with a recent study of howler monkeys and chimpanzees.

According to the New York Times, the researchers concluded that to gain a mating advantage, species evolved either to make very low frequency sounds, or have much larger testicles.

But none had both.

For human men, the possible ramifications of this conclusion are world-altering, even though the Times article clearly states the research examined differences between species and so it has no application to human beings.

But our imaginations are not limited by such inconvenient facts.

When I mentioned this to Trial Baboon’s Singsong Poet Laureate, Tyler Schuler Wyler, he was moved to adjust his rather snug jeans, and pen a few timeless lines to extrapolate the findings:

It’s obvious, when all’s compared,
that “E” equates to “MC squared.”
And likewise, with a monkey’s calls,
A sexy voice means teensy balls.

If human beings follow suit
the big-balled man sounds like a flute.
and deep voiced guys (like Barry White)
can wear their trousers extra tight.

While penny ante Pavarottis,
(Never seen by girls as hotties)
Make their trade-off down below –
With every squeak, cojones grow.

So fellows with a treble voice
must favor baggy slacks by choice.
Though baritones may get romance,
the tenors need room in their pants.

How do you like your clothes to fit? 


Ice Virus Soup

A French research team plans to wake up an ancient virus to study its genetic structure.

This comes as a huge surprise to me.  I’m a cable-connected-American, so the only French people I ever see are on the Food Channel, fighting over condiments.

I had no idea they could be scientists too!

But why would such a person try to revive a virus embedded in a cake of ice?

Only one reason I can think of – glacial ice is a surprise ingredient, thrown in at the last minute to heighten the souffle’ challenge! Leave it to the crafty French to know the secret – bring out the hidden viral flavors and this frosty addition to an ordinary recipe will be a memory-maker.

And (maybe) a killer!

I commissioned Trail Baboon poet laureate Tyler Schuyler Wyler to respond to this story with a few lines of simplistic verse, and although he thought his inept rhymes might sicken a few unsuspecting readers, he did it anyway – because there was money involved.


One wonders – What forgotten woes
reside inside what once was froze?
Old viruses, encased in ices!
Are they strong, like southern spices?

Let’s research it! Here’s the deal –
I will dump some on your meal
and then take notes as you complain
about the fever in your brain!

Science is a lot like cooking.
Tasting, testing, always looking
for the flavor of the day.
inside a pathogen souffle!

That’s the foodie’s fondest wish
uncover some forgotten dish
of which we all are unaware
and dress it up as modern fare –

Like Hepatitis Cassoulet
and Dengue Fever au Flambe’
Chicken in a Herpes Glaze
with fresh Ebola Bouillabaisse.

Mononucleosis Stew
and Influenza Dip au jus,
Spicy Cowpox over rice.
with Meningitis Torte sounds nice.

Steaming viral soup selections.
Tasty, trendy mass infections
locked in ice. Forgotten. Dated.
Soon you’ll see them nicely plated!

What food makes you sick?

Why I Don’t Eat The Coleslaw

Header image by Amanda Wood via Flickr

I have been thinking about and reading lately the voluminous works of Ogden Nash, a silly poet who was taken seriously. How he managed to become widely known by working in the disrespected field of light verse is still perplexing. Nash died in 1971. There has been no one like him since.

You hardly hear about Nash today. People have a way of vanishing. Even the most accomplished artists and statesmen can quickly become inconsequential, postmortem.

But during the many hours I’ve spent standing in the supermarket checkout line, one thing I’ve learned that you can stay relevant if you manage to perish under a cloud of suspicion.  If you can’t do that, at least make your exit in some unconventional and potentially memorable way.

It turns out Nash died after eating “improperly prepared” coleslaw, although few details about the incident are available online. The official cause was said to be Crohn’s Disease, aggravated by side dish.

Here is where we might identify some fame-extending mysterious circumstances. How could Nash, a well-known hypochondriac, so casually imbibe a lethal helping of such an unhelpful multi-layered vegetable?   Was he force-fed into oblivion?  Or was it intentional?

In pursuit of the truth,  the public demands a dogged persistence.
But all it will get right now is doggerel.

Did Ogden Nash know?

Did Ogden Nash, with his last breath,
decide to die a funny death?
His final meal – some stringy gabbage
hid the reaper ‘mongst the cabbage.
Did fate, ironic, choose to slay him
with this side of gastro-mayhem?
Or did Nash select this gaffe
to seal his doom with one last laugh?
One last punchline – Woe betide
all those who chews coleslawicide.

Describe the circumstances of your ideal, intriguing death.

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?