Category Archives: Poems


Hair Scare

For a brief time yesterday the parade of horribles that makes up the world’s news was interrupted by the delightfully wacky story that all North Korean men have been ordered to get the same haircut as the Hermit Kingdom’s leader, Kim Jong-un.

The BBC, which broke the story in the western media, walked it back a few hours later by amending the headline to limit the Hair Dictum to male students, rather than all men.

It remained a nice frolic for feature writers though, because anything involving the suppression of young people is irresistible eyeball candy for the oldsters who follow news headlines all afternoon.

But sourpuss editors who do not want a good time to last too long subjected the story to some journalistic analysis and concluded this entire totalitarian trim tale was probably a hoax, because real North Korean men who have been seen out walking around in broad daylight recently are not sporting Kim Jong-un’s side-buzzed, floppy-topped do.

What a pity. I had already commissioned an ode to Kim Jong-un’s Hair Order from Trail Baboon Poet Laureate Schuyler Tyler Wyler, who is only capable of crafting juvenile sing-song verses.

And once STW begins a project, he cannot stop until he’s done.

I sat down in my barber’s chair
for one more monthly shearing,
For years Bob cut my thinning hair,
a gradually growing clearing.

“I’ll take the usual,” said I,
“the way I always do.”
“The usual?” he said. “But why?”
“The usual’s not you.”

“For I can cut it how you like.
My stylings are the smartest.”
I said “If you can make it spike,
I’ll know you are an artist.”

“A spike,” said he. “I’m on the job.
Your spike will be sublime.”
“If that won’t work,” I told him, “Bob,
the usual’s just fine.”

He spoke at length to every strand,
he clipped and combed and pasted,
Caressed each follicle by hand.
No single hair was wasted.

But as completion quickly neared
Bob’s face slumped in a frown.
The spike that he had engineered
stood briefly, then fell down.

“That’s fine,” I said, “A noble fight.
The challenge was too tough.
It won’t take long to make it right.
The usual’s enough.”

It only took a little while
A peaceful, quiet respite
But when I saw my newest style
I looked just like a despot.

Hair was collected in a clump
Like a racer’s in the luge is.
As if a wild bear took a dump
on Moe of the Three Stooges.

I looked at Bob. His face was cool.
I said, “This is deranged.
I asked you for ‘the usual.’”
“That’s it,” he said. “It’s changed.”

“That spike was never meant to be.
‘Twas preordained to flop.
All hairstyles now, are, by decree,
dictated from the top.”

What’s ‘the usual’ for you?

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Photo by Matt Wier under Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike 3.0 license

Twinkle Winkle

Photo by Matt Wier under Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike 3.0 license
Photo by Matt Wier under Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike 3.0 license

I really don’t have the patience to go out and stare at the night sky for very long, which is why I so appreciate it when brilliant people who follow the paths of planets, stars and asteroids tell us that something highly unusual is going to happen and then it does – right down to the second!

Early Thursday morning, March 20, the distant (78 light years away) star Regulus will be briefly obscured for sky watchers in parts of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Eastern Canada by the passage overhead of an asteroid named Erigone, pronounced (air-RIG-oh-knee).

Is this a big, jaw-dropping kind of space event, like a solar eclipse or an incandescent alien swarm of interstellar bees engulfing the moon and setting it on fire?

No! But it is quite rare. Rare enough so that maps have been published and in the nation’s most populous area serious people are thinking about staying up until 2 am to see a tiny light in the sky not be there for about 14 seconds, and then come back.

Simple pleasures are the best.

Pleasures as simple as a familiar nursery rhyme, re-cast as a conversation between an Earthbound observer and a distant light.

How appropriate that each verse, when sung sweetly, lasts exactly as long as Regulus will be invisible.

Regulus, so far away,
Spotted you towards break of day.
You’re a bright but tiny dude.
Star of the first magnitude!
Regulus, intense and proud.
Shiny, showy, sharp and loud.

Twinkle, Twinkle, little star
Now I don’t see where you are!
You were there but now you’re dark.
Were you light or just a spark?
So long star. This has been real.
Hey, you’re back! So what’s the deal?

Asteroid Erigone,
floating between you and me,
had the angle and the size,
to obscure me from your eyes.
Briefly blotted out, you see.
Thanks a bunch, Erigone!

Twinkle Twinkle, little star.
Resurrected! There you are.
Thought I lost you for a time.
Just a verse within this rhyme.
That was much too long, I think.
Twinkle, winkle, twinkle, wink.

Some people, Hollywood stars, mostly, can pull off a wink and make it seem sexy. When I wink it just looks like I’ve got something stuck in my eye, which is why I never do it.

What makes a wink work?


Lights Out!

Today’s post comes from perennial sophomore Bubby Spamden.

Hey, Mr. C.,

I’m really pumped about some new research coming out of the University of Minnesota, which seems to confirm what I’ve been saying for years to the administrators at Wendell Wilkie High – it’s a waste of everybody’s time for the high school day to start at 7:30 am! Me and my friends cannot wake up that early in the morning. We’re just lurching around for at least the first two class periods of the day.

You know how zombies are always looking everywhere for brains because they don’t have any of their own? That’s us!

So now a bunch of high schools are finding a way to start as late as 8:30 or even 9 am, which would be awesome if we could get that at Wilkie. And it pays off!. Test scores are better, and more people are actually paying attention in class, which has the teachers all freaked out. Some of them haven’t been listened to by anybody in years.

At the start of second hour last Wednesday, me and Ashley found Ms. Hecubensen sitting at her desk, weeping. When we asked her what was wrong she said somebody had asked her a question in first hour, and it wasn’t about going to the bathroom. That had never happened before!  And then there we were, asking if she was all right, which just made her cry even more.

That got me thinking. One thing that could mess up the benefits of a later school starting time would be if students just got distracted by social media and stuff and stayed up extra late and came in exactly as tired as before, just one hour later.

So Ashley and me wrote some lullabies to keep that from happening. We used the tune of “Rock-a-Bye Baby” because it’s the only lullaby we know. And we did it during second hour because Ms. Hecubensen is our new favorite teacher.

Since we had that “real” moment together, we know she likes us too much to yell at us.

Rock-a-bye Freshmen, Twitter can wait.
Facebook will always have an update.
Turn off your laptop, lower your lids.
And stop your complaining, you little kids.

Rock-a-bye Sophomores. Texting must end.
None of those people are really your friend.
No one can bully you while you rest,
Your brain needs some sleep to prepare for that test!

Get some rest Juniors, because you can.
Now that you are such fine women and men.
Your sophistication runs very deep
And you can’t be awkward while you’re asleep.

Rock-a-bye Seniors. Lead lying down.
Dream of yourself in a cap and a gown.
Soon enough you will be looking for work
so rock-a-bye Seniors. Sleeping’s a perk.

When should the day begin?


Is There Cheese After Life?

Archaeologists have determined that a mummy entombed 3,600 years ago was adorned with lumps of cheese – apparently to give her something to enjoy in the next world.

I can see why this woman’s custodians wanted to send her packing with a few tasty morsels. What is there to look forward to in a bring-your-own-cheese afterlife? Not much, I would guess. Sounds pretty cheap.

What’s amazing is that the deceased person in question, the so-called “Beauty of Xiaohe”, is so well preserved after 3,600 years. The New York Times described the burial location as being in a “terrifying desert”. The name of the place, Taklamakan, is said to mean “go in and you won’t come out.”

I’d think anyone would be relieved to check out of such an arid wasteland. But something doesn’t seem right. Now that the Beauty of Xiaohe is closing in her fourth millennium of mummydom, why hasn’t she gotten around to eating her snacks? When I set out on a long trip, I pretty much empty the goodie bag in the first hour and wind up hitting every rest stop afterwards. To leave the fromage unmolested for so long shows admirable restraint, and qualifies The Beauty of * for a poem or a nursery rhyme of some sort.

Naturally I chose the one that ends with cheese.

In the original, which is (inexplicably) about a farmer trapped in a computer (a Dell), the verses gradually have his estate acquire a wife, a child, a nurse, a cow, a dog, a cat, a mouse, and finally, the only prize any dead person truly cares about – cheese. This one is only slightly different.

The mummy doesn’t smell
The mummy doesn’t smell
Heigh-ho the derry-oh,
The mummy doesn’t smell.

The mummy lost her life. (2x)
Heigh-ho the derry-oh …

Her life wasn’t mild.(2x)
Heigh-ho the derry-oh …

It could have been worse. (2x)
Heigh-ho the derry-oh …

We’re looking at her now. (2x)
Heigh-ho the derry-oh …

And we are all agog. (2x)
Heigh-ho the derry-oh …

She has no body fat. (2x)
Heigh-ho the derry-oh …

Her tomb is like a house. (2x)
Heigh-ho the derry-oh …

The house has some cheese. (2x)
Heigh-ho the derry-oh …

The oldest cheese we’ve known.
The oldest cheese we’ve known.
Heigh-ho the derry-oh,
The oldest cheese we’ve known!

What food would you want to be buried with?


Lottery Prayer

Some people actually pray to win a huge chunk of cash in the lottery, which is understandable when you consider how many common problems would be instantly solved by a sudden infusion of $400 million into your personal account.

But I question the tactic of using prayer to ask God to reward you with helpful, timely interventions. One look at a day’s worth of woe as it unfolds in the news is enough to convince a sober observer that God doesn’t feel a particular sense of urgency about rescuing good people from calamities.

Besides, if there was a divine desire to make you rich, would God need to use the Lottery to do it? I don’t think so – not as long as we have Las Vegas and Wall Street and You Tube.

And as we’ve discussed here before, there is ample evidence that winning a huge jackpot could easily turn out to be the worst thing that has ever happened to you.

We have explored before what sort of language one might use when beseeching the deity for decent numbers, but there is infinite variety possible within every simple form. So with all that in mind, I went ahead and bought my single ticket for Wednesday’s Powerball while muttering this quiet prayer.

Now I play the Powerball,
I pray my numbers come up, all.
And if I become rich today,
I pray I won’t throw it away.

By partying until the dawn.
By buying yachts for hangers-on.
By funding every worthless scheme
presented as a noble dream.

By hanging out in seedy bars.
By buying worthless classic cars.
By sending distant kin abroad.
Investing in a mammoth fraud.

By launching my own space balloon.
By subsidizing Trail Baboon.
By backing bets my buddies cast
On horses that will finish last.

I pray, in short, for money smarts,
to add to all my other arts.
The wisdom and the sense to see
I shouldn’t play the lottery.

How to squander a fortune? Let us count the ways.


Stopping By The Woods on (the last) Snow Evening

An opinion piece in the New York Times suggests we are nearing a time when there will be precious few places in the world with enough snow to hold a Winter Olympics.

Things are changing that fast.

It is remarkable, especially during this unusually brisk and frosty winter, to think that piles and piles of snow could become an oddity reserved for only a few of the planet’s people.

I wish I could say I was doing something to stop this tragedy from unfolding, but my first response to just about any calamity is to write a parody of one of some great author’s work. Not a very effective strategy to stop climate change, but in my defense I can say that I was not driving a gas guzzling SUV all the while I struggled with the task of re-writing Robert Frost’s masterpiece.

Whose woods these are I think I know.
He does not come in winter, though;
The town folks easily get stuck
On nights with just a little snow.

My horse was once a pickup truck.
I had to sell it. Drat the luck.
There’s no more gasoline or oil.
Just horsey rumps and horsey muck.

The world is hot. The oceans boil.
The glaciers melt. Our treasures spoil
It’s something grand to watch the snow.
So strange to see it hide the soil.

That’s why I stopped here for the show
For generations long ago
And future ones who’ll never know
A time when woods could fill with snow.

What is the rarest wonder you’ve witnessed?

turning tree

The Geezer Trees

The internet has something for everyone, including the advanced-age contingent desperately trolling websites looking for a tidbit to suggest that they still matter.

turning tree

That news came yesterday in the form of a global study of trees that reached a surprising conclusion. Big old trees suck up much more carbon than younger trees and continue to grow aggressively in their later years, overturning the depressing expectations about aging and decline that appear to remain true with just about every other living thing.

Somehow, elderly trees manage to stay relevant. They dominate the forest. Of course this cheerful news demanded a parody of what may be America’s best-known tree poem. With apologies and thanks to Joyce Kilmer

I’m thrilled to hear this new decree
That old age benefits a tree.

An elder tree, with vigor blessed
adds height and girth and all the rest

At rates that common sense confounds!
But old folks also put on pounds,

and widen out and suck up space.
Should old trees be less in your face?

The answer: an emphatic “No!”
These geezer trees – please let them grow!

And when an elder tree expands
wrap ancient trunk with heart and hands

and hug it tight! It’s adding mass
to kick those young trees’ woody ass.


What improves with age?


‘Twas the Night …

God bless Clement Clark Moore, who gave parodists a simple rhyme to corrupt each year at this time. I have made a life’s work out of repeatedly ruining “A Visit From St. Nicholas“, Moore’s 1823 verse credited with creating many of our popular notions of Santa Claus.

I do this because it’s easy, because I’ve been invited to a Solstice party where people are encouraged to bring seasonal poetry, and because “Twas the night before Christmas …” is so ingrained in our holiday tradition it cannot be damaged by any assault.

And it’s endlessly updatable:

‘Twas night of the solstice, a dark one throughout.
I was under surveillance – there wasn’t a doubt.

My cell phone activity had been compiled
and parsed and examined and noted and filed.

My Internet searches were hacked and collected.
My GPS data was tracked, as expected.

So as I settled down, warm and snug and alone
there was nothing about me that couldn’t be known.

When out on the lawn arose a great cry.
There were copters and fighter jets up in the sky.

The harsh glare of searchlights swept down through the trees.
The whole street was soon filled up with black SUVs.

There were Seals from the Navy attacking my door.
They were backed up by SWAT teams. I knew not what for.

So I did then what people do when they’re confused.
I turned on the TV and went straight for FOX News.

And there to my wondering eyes did appear,
Geraldo Rivera – bare-chested, sincere.

He had jumped out of bed and run straight to my place
Because word was the N.S.A. was on the case

of a fugitive miscreant – here at my home.
Who would be apprehended, just like Al Capone.

And I realized as I heard door jambs implodin’
They’d mixed me up once again with Edward Snowden!

Because stalking technology’s easily conned
When you buy the same stuff at Bed, Bath and Beyond.

So as laser sight pinpricks danced jigs on my chest
I said “there goes my dream of a long winter’s rest”.

While I waited for Seal Team Six, soon to arrive
For my interrogation, (that’s if I survive)

I considered the peace of the season we’re in.
How our Mother, the Earth, will reliably spin

and we’ll turn toward the light that will banish our fear
On the longest and darkest night of the whole year.

Have you ever suffered a case of mistaken identity?


Anniversary Verse


When the significant date of an historic event arrives, all of our analog and digital media get together to transmit in a variety of ways what I’ve decided to call a Calendar Reactive Anniversary Pile On, or CRAPO.

That’s a bit coarse, I know. But like CRAPO is how I feel each time another somber reflection of past tragedy pops out of the entertainment/information gizmo I had turned to for a little weather or some sports scores.

So on a whim and to lighten the mood I commissioned Trail Baboon sing-song poet laureate Schuyler Tyler Wyler to write a ditty to relentless retrospectives.  Here’s his best effort:

This is The Day. Where Were You When?
Do you feel now like you did then?
On screens or paper, each device
demands you suffer through it twice.

Do you recall the words you said?
The thoughts you had? The things you read?
Devoted decades to delete it?
Write that down for me. I’ll tweet it!

Like planets orbiting a star
the worst news never goes too far.
It disappears a while and then
it comes around again, again.

I told STW he failed with this assignment because the mood is too heavy. He agreed and blamed it on this particular poetic form, which he said is too simplistic to have an official name. He’s decided to call it an Octosyllabic Triple Quadrain with a Hangnail for that one stubborn nine-syllable line in the second word clump. Not that it matters what we call it, but I heard once that dark things can feel less awful if we put a name on them.

Name something you’ve named.


We Are Not Snakes!

Biologists in California have discovered some new legless lizards living in a few very specific areas, most notably at the end of a runway at the airport – LAX. These previously unknown creatures spend most of their lives underground and a very small area, and may have eyelids and ear holes, which are just a few of the tiny details that distinguish them from their more familiar writhing cousins.


We amateurs would call them snakes anyway, because up to this point most of us didn’t know there could be a non-snake with a that distinctly snakey look – all wriggly and appendage-free.

For some reason, the notion of legless lizards at LAX made me consider the trials facing these unfortunate creatures – they spend their lives in the area the size of a small tabletop at the end of a runway that launches countless humans riding mammoth rumble-machines into exciting far-flung journeys.

So bleak – rather like living without money in South Minneapolis.
Envy is a possibility, not that there is an option to wriggle on board. “Legless Lizards on a Plane” is a bad idea for a movie on a number of levels, not the least of which is the amount of dialog it would take to repeatedly explain that they are not snakes.

So I decided they need a limerick.

The no-legged lizards at LAX
watched the planes pass while flat on their backs.
With each flight that occurred
They were profoundly stirred
with each tooth shaken free of its plaques.

Where’s the loudest place you ever lived?