Category Archives: Poems

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?  

POTUS Minimus

Tonight the President of the United States will deliver his annual State of the Union address.

This is a ceremonial event that has it’s own set of routine features:

  • The president will trumpet his accomplishments and challenge his many foes.
  • He’ll introduce a list of guests sitting in the gallery.
  • The phrase “My fellow Americans …” will be included, even though roughly half of all Americans are not fellows.
  • Media reports will list the number of times he was “interrupted” by applause.
  • It will take a while.

Or he could set a precedent for State of the Union addresses, which are causing less and less of a stir news-wise because they are so predictable.

He could boil it down to three lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables.

Hey Americans,
Skip fancy salutations.
State of the Haiku!

Legislation? Eh.
A divided government
means more golf for me!

Posturing feels good
Until your talking points meet
My sharpened pencil.

Everyone stand up!
I’m so pleased to have you here
Sitting by Michelle.

The Union is strong!
Good, Tops, Awesome, or The Bomb.
Not many options.

Anyone can be president. Write your own State of the Union!

Birds of a Feather

"Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0"

The latest word from the journal Science about Bar-headed Geese is that they can fly really high.

Like almost-the-summit-of-Everest high.

Actually, legend has it Bar-headed Geese have been seen flying over it at 29 thousand feet, but researchers have only tracked them to 24 thousand using GPS. But that’s still mighty impressive, given the physical cost of getting to that altitude for a bird that constantly flaps its wings.

They do it by staying close to the ground. Sounds easy, but in the Himalayas, the ground is quite vertical. That means these amazing birds gain and lose vast amounts of altitude only to re-gain it over the course of a long journey – something like going on a roller coaster ride if you had to run the length of the tracks rather than ride.

It makes one think Old Mother Goose may not have always been the doddering, bespectacled granny figure in a rocking chair. Perhaps she looked down on Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay while making up rhymes somewhat like  (but not quite) “To Market, To Market.”

To mountain, to mountain, to go very high.
Down again, down again, out of the sky.
To mountain, to mountain, to flap in thin air.
Down again, down again, nary a care.
To mountain, to mountain, on wings and not legs.
Down again, down again, hawks can suck eggs.

The stamina of these amazing birds was described this way in the Science article:

“In the lab, they nudged geese to run on treadmills in reduced oxygen to simulate high altitudes, which revealed that the birds could keep running at top speed for 15 minutes. Humans would not be able to sustain that pace in such conditions.”

Goosey, goosey flyers,
Bird who never tires.
Upskies and downskies
What strength your life requires!

As speedy as the jaguars,
As fearsome as the bears.
An up-and-downy athlete
who doesn’t take the stairs.

Picture it – a goose on a treadmill. Fifteen minutes, full speed, nonstop. Who says science isn’t fun?

What was your most amazing physical feat?

Limerick Formation in Space

I had no idea there was an object in the asteroid belt big enough to be considered a “proto-planet.”   Ceres is about to get its close-up as a NASA probe closes in for a rendezvous in three months.

Ceres (pronounced SEER-eez) has enough gravity to hold itself in a spherical shape, and scientists think there may be some water there, but apparently that is still not enough to get past the “proto” stage, planet-wise. I confess I am not aware of the technical requirements for a space rock to advance beyond big-asteroid status, but there is some doubt that Ceres will ever qualify.

Why?  For me, a place is not a place unless it can generate a decent limerick.

Based on my remote amateur observations, Ceres will fall short, as witnessed by these promising starts that were never able to form fully functioning rhymes:

There was a young fellow from Ceres
Who delighted in posing odd queries.
Such as, “Why do birds fly?”
And “What constitutes pie?” …

There once was a woman from Ceres
an admirer of Timmy Leary’s.
She said “Let’s all drop out”
For she was no Girl Scout …

An ill-defined creature from Ceres
Had appendages he called his “dearies”.
They were all rather cute,
but fell out of his suit …

Sorry, Ceres. Planetude seems very far away indeed.

To prove that you originate from a genuine place, write a limerick about where you’re from.

Rules To Live By

The principal assumption about personal criticism in Washington seems to be that everyone is fair game and only an over the top rebuke is likely to get noticed, so swing for the fences.

But over the weekend, Republican Congressional staffer Elizabeth Lauten found out there are still limits on where one may direct one’s snarky comments.

Lauten chose to use Facebook to disparage the president’s teenage daughters, Sasha and Malia, for their clothing and their attitudes during a ritual press conference to pardon a pair of turkeys just before Thanksgiving.

In the process she discovered that there are still rules of conduct in Washington, although they are unwritten because putting them in writing would codify a sense of decency, which suggests weakness.

How can we afford that?

Lauten resigned yesterday, jettisoned by the party for stepping over an invisible, but obvious, line.

In the absence of an actual rule about this, perhaps an aphorism would be enough – a very brief, pithy saying that carries more than its share of obvious truth.

I tried to write an aphorism about this, but alas, I am too wordy.  A clumsy rhyme, however, is something I can do.

When you take to the Facebook to chastise the youth
take care whom you choose to call out as uncouth.
Though it’s fun to disparage and cool to embitter
take heed when when your snark begins trending on Twitter.
The clothing you hate and the eye rolls you dread
are a preview – the next thing to roll is your head.

When have you crossed the invisible line?

A Sure, Steady Hand

Today is the anniversary of the day in 1307 when William Tell famously shot an apple off his son’s head at the command of a brutal overlord,  Albrecht Gessler.

I know in the story this was all was done under duress and that Tell and the boy had no opportunity to object. But I still think that as the target of a foolish stunt, no 21st century child would stand idly by (literally) while dad lifts the crossbow.

An unquestioned faith in ol’ pops’ abilities is rare these days, at least in terms of modern popular culture.  There are very few father figures on TV who are reliable and/or competent in any area. Doofuses and failures, most of them.

So if the William Tell story unfolded today, I suspect there would be some push back from the offspring. And as long as we’re totally making things up, I am also quite certain the argument, if it happened, would be framed in a lame verse.

My son, stand straight with posture firm.
Don’t slouch or wriggle, lurch or squirm.
I’m widely known as quite the shot
and if you stay upon your spot
I’ll cleave the apple quick and clean
where it is balanced on your bean.

My father dear, though you mean well
this plan of yours, I think, doth smell.
It’s hubris, pure. And pride to boot
that makes you think that you can shoot
a fruit that’s perched upon my gourd.
One flinch by you – I’m with the Lord!

Hold very still, with eyes tight shut,
Before you can say “Hey, dad, what …?”,
I’ll put an arrow to my bow
and aim the missile, then let go
and through the apple it will flit
Before you can say “Holy split!”

I don’t think mom would be too pleased
if, as you let that go, you sneezed.
I know you sometimes scratch an itch.
I’ve seen you sleeping, dad. You twitch!
You blurt, you fart, it’s all abrupt.
Am I to die if you erupt?

Don’t worry, son. I’m cool and calm.
My mind’s at peace. My soul’s a psalm.
I’ll shoot it straight and true, I know.
We shouldn’t over talk it, though.
Just know that I’m not known to fail
When fruit, with arrows, I impale.

Are you a good shot?

Thin Soup Celebration

There was a hopeful sign this week out of a gathering of officials of the Catholic church. They said some things about gays and lesbians that fell somewhat short of complete condemnation.

In a preliminary document produced by some senior clerics at a lengthy Vatican meeting that would otherwise go unnoticed by most of the world, it was acknowledged that “Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community.”

For those who have been waiting for a fundamental shift and an embrace of common sense and simple humanity from a bureaucracy that maintains gays are “intrinsically disordered,” being bestowed with generic “gifts” and unidentified “qualities” can’t be dancing-in-the-streets news.

But it did make me think of how we all feel after a long winter when we’re hungry for the thaw. It’s remarkable how little it takes to cheer you up when one is desperate for a sign of warmth.

No fireworks yet, but I think the moment is worth a three-limerick salute. However I only have two, because I couldn’t think of enough good rhymes for “intrinsic”.

All those Catholic guys who are gays
are “disordered”, the church doctrine says.
But their spirits, it lifts
when it says, “They have “gifts”!
Minor progress – with major delays.

I have scorned you and left you maligned.
But my views have been lately refined.
You’re intrinsically bad,
but that’s not iron-clad!
You have qualities, too, of some kind.

What’s the most watered-down compliment you’ve received (or given)?