Category Archives: Poems

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?

About these ads

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)?

On Top of Mt. Salty

Word that a new topographical map of the sea floor has revealed the existence of thousands of mountains rising from the bottom of the world’s oceans sent me scurrying to the local tavern, where I found Trail Baboon poet laureate Schuyler Tyler Wyler in his usual spot in the dark recesses at the back of the establishment, once again trying to extinguish the tragic flame of disappointment which burns at the center of his tormented soul.

He greeted me as he always does, with these words:

“Go away. I have no poems.”

This is a self-defeating theme for S.T.W., who believes he was born 100 years too late, long after Americans stopped appreciating poems that rhyme.

“Every possible word combination has been tried already,” he whined. “I have arrived at the scene too late, just like an explorer who discovers his mountain has been climbed.”

But when I told him that there were now thousands of new mountains that haven’t been seen or conquered, he brightened up. When I commissioned a few lines of verse to commemorate the discovery, he positively beamed. And when I paid him half the total as an advance, he immediately used the money to buy three more drinks so he could get to work.

A giant lurks beneath the waves – a monument to time.
As stately as a mansion and as as silent as a mime.
I see its summit shimmer – such a distant, lonely place.
I resolve to face this monster and to climb it to its base.

Every mountain is a challenge to go where no one has been.
So the brave heart makes provision – boots, a backpack and a fin,
and with stiff determination not to falter, fail or drown
the adventurer approaches and proceeds to scale it down!

On the summit of Mt. Salty I’m exuberant. I brag.
On the pinnacle of Salty I have placed my simple flag.
I drink in the scene around me as I relish my moment,
then embark upon the process of a swift, controlled descent.

As I climb it becomes darker. It gets colder as I go.
But I’m grateful it’s not windy and there isn’t any snow.
With each step I feel the pressure to achieve this mountain’s root.
Do I have the strength and courage to ascend it to it’s foot?

It is nighttime on the mountain when I make my little camp,
I am tired but determined. In my tent, it’s rather damp.
As I close my eyes I see how I’ll defeat this pile of slag.
At the bottom of Mt. Salty I’ll look up to see my flag.

But my sleep is so unsettled. I’m untethered and alone.
I am tossed about in waves of doubt and buffeted by foam.
In my dreams I feel I’m floating far away from what I seek.
When I wake, I see my banner – far below me, at the peak!

What’s your mountain?

Stand Up Guy

With yet another new research fragment drawing us toward the conclusion that sitting is a hazard, I urged Trail Baboon Poet Laureate Schuyler Tyler Wyler to take up his pen to write an anti-sitting poem.

STW wrote back immediately to say that he was “offended.” As a Serious Poet, he does not produce doggerel on newsy topics for the purpose of entertainment. He argued that he finds nothing inspirational in sports medicine research, and besides, if the latest data is correct my request that he write a poem is essentially a demand that he shorten his life, since creating poetry is one of the sitting professions.

I told him to try writing standing up, but he answered with a firm declaration that such a thing is simply impossible. “It takes intense concentration and focus to create a work of genius.” He said “Having to remember to keep my balance will dull the edge of inspiration.”

STW noted that great poets, like Billy Collins and Charles Wright, have already written on the topic, and their work is unabashedly pro-sitting. How could he contradict people he respects and maintain his integrity?

I answered with an assurance that the audience for this blog is very close to zero, so his reputation will not suffer. And “a work of genius” is never required for a mere blog post. I suggested that if he felt stuck, he could give himself a head start by stealing the work of someone else, like the wooden-legged Welsh poet W.H. Davies.

Then I offered him $50 to drop the complaints and get me something within the hour. He thanked me and got to work.

A person can stay trim and fit,
As long as they can’t stand to sit.
So learn a lesson from the cows.
Take to your field in stately rows
to watch the world before you pass.
and never plop down on your grass.
Your buns will become firm and tight.
Your frame will thin, your face will light
With other benefits. Perchance -
much longer-lasting seats of pants.
And if you’re standing like a crop,
when death arrives, there’s room to drop.
But have them stand you up again,
for vertical internment‘s in.
Upon your narrow tombstone fit
these words: “He couldn’t stand to sit.”

What’s your favorite type of chair?

Mashie, Niblick, Limerick

In an increasingly busy, hyper-productive, multi-tasking world, many of us are overwhelmed with undone work and yet are still blessed with ample time to examine and complain about the prioritizing skills of other people. I may have absolutely no idea what it takes to do your job, but I know sloughing off when I see it! And as Americans, it is our birthright to offer uninformed criticism of our leaders. That’s how we manage to get outrage over President Obama’s interest in golf.

Yes, he lives over the store and can never really disconnect from the job, but even so, whenever I hear that he is relaxing, I feel like I’m not getting my money’s worth. How can he be so lazy when time is precious and the world has so many urgent problems?

Plus, golf seems like an un-serious hobby for a grown man with big responsibilities. Golfers have been known to wear silly clothes and ride around in tiny cars, just like circus clowns. Several of their implements wear flouncy covers and some of the terms of the game (birdie, bogie, mulligan) sound childish. Even the names of some of the ancient tools of the trade (mashie, niblick, brassie, baffing spoon) seem comical.

It made me want to create some bad limericks about Presidents and golf, which, although they are clearly inferior to good limericks, took just as long to write.

Hours, literally.

Don’t tell me I’m not an expert on wasting time!

A Senator griping in Texas
said the president’s golfing effects us.
“If he’d stop chasing pars
He’d have time to start wars!”
Though how that would be better, perplexes.

When the president lines up a putt
tension strains his political gut.
He aims leftward, though slight,
but it breaks to the right,
every time, as if stuck in a rut.

There are critics who count all the swings
that the president hacks, chops and dings.
He plays more than we’d like
But far, far less than Ike
who still managed some serious things.

When the POTUS hits grass that is rougher,
F.B.I. agents won’t let him suffer.
Though it’s way overgrown
they will summon a drone
which can blast it out for the first duffer.

If the world watched you work, what would it criticize?

Trap Door

My imagination was captured the other day by this article about recent discoveries at an intriguing place in Wyoming called Natural Trap Cave.

The cave was first explored by paleontologists in the 1970’s, and then sealed up for thirty years.

The 2014 expedition has been making news for the variety of animal remains found in a well-preserved state at the bottom of this naturally formed pit. It’s 85 feet deep with a hidden opening perfectly positioned to receive unwitting prey in full flight from a pursuing animal, or scavengers too hungry to resist getting tragically close to the edge.

Since no one has been in the cave for several decades and the only way to get down to the bottom is to rappel (or fall) in, I immediately took Natural Trap Cave off my vacation spot list even though it would be a true wonder to behold.

But because art can transport us to places we will never go, I did commission Trail Baboon’s Sing-Song Poet Laureate Schuyler Tyler Wyler to craft a rhyming masterpiece from the point of view of some prehistoric horse, pack rat or other careless mammal who tumbled into the abyss.

This is what he gave me:

Sprinting through the underbrush I hurtled at a run.
And by the time I saw the hole my plummet had begun.

A sudden transformation. Total darkness fell at noon.
My legs continued churning like a roadrunner cartoon.

I couldn’t gauge the distance. Eighty feet? Perhaps a mile?
No matter. At the end – I’m just a fossil on the pile.

I’ve been here undisturbed for 20,000 years (about).
To every new arrival, far too late, I say “Watch out!”

While I admire the brevity of this work (you can’t write an epic about falling 85 feet), I did challenge STW on his use of the roadrunner cartoon imagery. A short-faced bear (extinct 11,000 years ago) is just one of the animals found at the bottom of this pit who would have no familiarity with the Merrie Melodies oeuvre. The others include every single creature whose remains are down there.

Thus, I argued, this work violates the rule that says an artist must honor the boundaries of the fantasy world he creates. Obviously, the poem-writing skeleton of an extinct animal would never have had the chance to watch Saturday morning TV. Thus, the roadrunner reference makes no sense and should be removed.

STW responded in verse, as usual.

While I honor all opinions about every work of mine,
You’ve mistakenly put “artist” and “boundaries” in the same line.

You cannot know what I had in mind, exactly, when I wrote,
I control the contours of my world and you don’t get a vote.

When the animals looked upwards from their unexpected leap,
they had visions, as you would, if you were dying in a heap.

And what last hallucination would you see at your life’s close?
Some would opt for God or Yaweh. But for me, it’s Warner Bros.

If the TV was on in your hospital room at the very end, what would you want to watch?