Category Archives: Poems

Spiral_Staircase

Up the Viral Staircase

About fifteen years ago I heard how blogging would change the world of journalism and transform the ways we consume information.

Someday every person would write a blog and traditional news gathering would soon give way to a million beautifully written first-person accounts of every important event and critical issue. Paid reporters would become obsolete.

I thought that was silly, and I was certain blogging was something I would never do.

Time made a fool of me on that last point.

But I’m not yet convinced that personal blogs can change the world aside from simply increasing the level of written noise. Although with so many computer users out there offering their precious attention to online articles, the potential seems great.

In a sense this is like playing the lottery – you don’t blog for very long without entertaining the fantasy that something you’ve written will “go viral” and lead to a situation where so many people are following you and reading your work, you can lounge around in your pajamas all day, making a comfortable living by sharing your interesting thoughts with an eager, easily transfixed world.

The power of massive popularity is potent! I started blogging in the Fall of 2008. Almost six years in, I’m still viral-resistant and massive-popularity free.

But the other day I read about a survey that explains what I have to do to score big. The researchers took a look at what it takes for online content to be widely shared, making the person responsible for said content an overnight sensation.

All you have to do is follow the steps upwards to glory, right? A sort of viral staircase. It turns out certain kinds of articles are shared more readily than others.

The problem is this: writing one of those articles sounds like a lot of work. I didn’t start blogging to put in any actual effort.

The survey, from BuzzSumo, is pretty clear about what succeeds. Long, in-depth, well-researched pieces (at least 2,000 words) are preferred by influential people who share lots of “content”. The most widely shared posts inspire feelings of “awe”, “laughter”, and “amusement”, in that order.

And if you don’t already know the difference between laughter and amusement, your cause is hopeless.

There were more viral content triggers listed based on interviews with people who were asked why they shared a particular story online.

The reasons were:

  • To bring valuable and entertaining content to one another
  • To define themselves to others (give people a better sense of who they are)
  • To grow and nourish relationships (stay connected with others)
  • For self-fulfillment (to feel more involved in the world)
  • To get the word out on causes they care about.

And one more thing – most of the top-shared articles were quizzes! This conforms with the theory that people will readily share a thing if they think it provides a window into their own personalities.

All very instructive, and of course I’d love to write a post that will be seen by millions. How am I doing on the checklist? Not so well. At this point I’ve written fewer than five hundred words – not even a fourth of the way to the required 2,000 word point for world-dominating status.

Sigh.

Clearly I will have to find a way to short cut this guaranteed-viral content process.

How? With a stupid poem, of course!

I’ve highlighted all the key words so there can be no doubt in anyone’s mind that I’m doing what I can to touch every important base.

Please please please share what you saw -
A blog that filled your heart with awe.
It’s deadly aim on social cues meant
you felt waves of deep amusement.
And when thinking of it, after,
you convulsed in gales of laughter.

Observations, so aligned
your personality defined.
A simple string of words has willed
that you feel fully self-fulfilled.
And if you don’t know what that is,
It’s too late now – this is a quiz.

A post that hits its targets well
and rings each viral content bell
except this heartless length command -
the word count must exceed two grand!
At seven hundred now – No dice!
Unless, of course, you read it thrice.

How good are you at following directions?

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Bar_magnet

Polar Pivot Poetry

The European Space Agency, analyzing data from a trio of paddle-shaped satellites charmingly called The Swarm, has announced observations that indicate Earth’s magnetic North Pole is drifting southward.

This could mean the magnetic poles are about to flip, something that has been geologically documented as part of the planet’s history, though it only occurs “every few million years.”

So you’ll forgive me if I’ve forgotten exactly how that went the last time. Our magnetic field protects us from deadly cosmic rays, so any alteration is disconcerting to say the least.

How are we supposed to feel about this? The changeover is said to take a few thousand years, so it’s unlikely that you’ll wake up tomorrow with the poles suddenly reversed, but the mere thought of it is already creating a very disturbing effect.

It has started to generate random limericks.

Yes, the poles of our magnetic field
have been known to occasionally yield
to the urge to reverse.
It’s a magnetic curse
when the flip side … Surprise! … is revealed.

Then your compass will turn to the south
and the polarized teeth in your mouth
will so quickly invert
that it won’t even hurt
But you’ll lisp with each thought you espouth.

Your internals will somersault too.
Turning upside down inside of you.
With intestines for brains
You’ll develop new pains
Sitting down on the parts meant to chew.

But your head’s where the flip will appall.
For the plumbing down low now stands tall.
Every word that you speak
Will sound more like a leak
Which may not seem too different at all.

When have you flipped?

103H

Opposites Detract

A new study says polarization has increased in the American electorate over the past 20 years.
More people are hard left or hard right, they have a greater tendency to associate with like-minded people and are more dismissive of those from the opposing camp.

Concerned about this trend and wishing to do something to counteract my worldview-limiting leftward ideological isolation, I reached out to our Trail Baboon poet laureate, Schulyer Tyler Wyler, who has three names that he uses regularly and moneyed relatives so I assume he’s a staunch Republican.

As soon as I noted my concerns about political disfunction and revealed that I have voted exclusively for Democrats in the last four presidential elections, he cut the conversation short and has since refused to deal with me directly, preferring that I communicate with him through Roderick, his minion.

I asked Roderick to relay the message that I wanted a short work of sing-song poetry to lament this destructive partisan trend in our national conversation. Roderick brought back the reply that I could ask for a poem but under no circumstances could I or my “fellow travelers” dictate anything about the content.

I took that to mean it might not be a lament.

The voices of our people rise.
Our minds are all made up.
Our taking points are no surprise.
We simply echo, “Yup”

We are not cattle of the field,
But up our minds are made.
All curiosity, congealed.
All doubts have been allayed.

Don’t think our thoughts inflexible.
Just made, all up, our minds are.
Alternatives are execrable.
Consigned where our behinds are.

I think STW is mocking me here.  Unless he’s agreeing with me.  It’s so hard to tell when you can’t read someone’s label.

What makes you unorthodox?

Photo by NASA,ESA, H. Teplitz and M. Rafelski (IPAC/Caltech), A. Koekemoer (STScI), R. Windhorst (Arizona State University), and Z. Levay (STScI)

All the Colored Lights

The latest space sensation is a new photograph from the Hubble Space Telescope that takes in ultraviolet (UV) light along with the infrared and visible light to reveal a deep look at a universe resplendent with thousands of galaxies and a riot of color.

This represents a significant upgrade to the hobby of stargazing.

Don’t get me wrong – I love the tiny pinpricks of light that dot the night sky. Even though my aging eyes are less and less able to see them with each passing year, I do take a moment from time to time to marvel at the pageant overhead.

But I know I’d spend a lot more time looking up if this is what I saw.

Photo by NASA,ESA, H. Teplitz and M. Rafelski (IPAC/Caltech), A. Koekemoer (STScI), R. Windhorst (Arizona State University), and Z. Levay (STScI)
Photo by NASA,ESA, H. Teplitz and M. Rafelski (IPAC/Caltech), A. Koekemoer (STScI), R. Windhorst (Arizona State University), and Z. Levay (STScI)

This is a view to inspire awe and poetry.

Which is unfortunate, because I’m not much of a poet. But I know somebody who is. Or at least I know somebody who thinks he is, which is more than enough because this is a simple blog and not the Norton Anthology of Timeless Verse.

Singsong poet Schuyler Tyler Wyler took one look at the amazing image above and quickly penned a few self-referential lines, which is his habit. He is as fixed in his path as the stars and planets themselves, though much less beautiful when observed deeply.

But there’s one thing this amazing photo has taught me – not to worry about the small things.  The universe is big enough to swallow any poem a human can devise, and it will suffer no ill effects.

Behold!

“The night sky is a wonder!”
the astronomer had said,
as he carefully explained
how starlight shifts from blue to red.

But I wasn’t really listening.
I didn’t truly see.
As I took in all this grandeur
and the tininess of me.

Yes, I know the light reveals
how Heaven’s tapestry is knitted
and the spectrum that we view
is only part of what’s emitted.

But when I stare into space
on any normal summer night
I admit I’m disappointed
that it’s mostly black and white.

Which is why, every December
with the Cosmos overhead
I put all my time and effort
into Christmas lights instead.

How colorful are you?

Smokestacks

A Polluter’s Lament

Featured Image taken by Dori (dori@merr.info)

Last week’s White House National Climate Assessment was remarkably blunt about the reality of our situation – that we are already experiencing the effects of an environmental shift.

For some of us in the baby boom generation who have been following this issue for a long time, this comes as a surprising development. Yes, we had heard that our habits of consumption were contributing to a potential catastrophe, but it always felt our role was simple – to create the problem and then to start a conversation about how later generations would face it and solve it.

Sorry about the mess, guys. Good luck!

Now this latest report seems to suggest the we are not going to be able to skip out on the check after all. Any chance I can go back and un-drive all those miles and un-click all those switches that let the power flow?

I didn’t think so. Would a poem of atonement help? I asked Trail Baboon sing-song poet laureate Tyler Schuyler Wyler to write one up, and he agreed because every stanza could include a reference to death – his favorite subject.

The warming fields and rising seas
The melting ice and dying trees
The drying lakes that will not freeze
This all has come up by degrees.

We’d heard it was a thing to dread.
And by our habits it was sped.
But also was it often said,
It won’t get bad ’til we are dead.

But now they say it has arrived!
Not something still to be derived
for our descendants to survive.
It came while we are still alive!

Our sadness, is, of course, profound.
For glacial ice now in the sound
and forest creatures elsewhere bound,
and us, that we remain around.

What have you witnessed that you thought you would never get to see?

senior_xing

No Coots Like Old Coots

We know that older fellows can get a little grumpy. Even guys who have been perfectly good company for most of their lives can bend towards gruffness in later years, and now some researchers have identified the tipping point at age 70.

That’s when it really starts to go downhill.

The headline from Oregon State’s news service took a glass-half-full approach, choosing to emphasize the uplifting and hassle-free late-60’s over the spiraling-downward-into-the-abyss 70’s. The progression, however, is clear.

No one knows why the data shows such a sharp decline in cheerfulness and sociability after 70, but there it is. And it’s left to those of us on this side of the divide to try to explain it, because those over-70 coots don’t give a damn whether we figure out how brain biology works or not.

“Who the Hell cares?  I didn’t live this long just to waste my time explaining crap to you!”

Perhaps more rigorous study and solid scientific proof of this cognitive change could help the exasperated elderly mediate some of their tirades.  But it’s hard to take in new information when you are already seething, so let’s step back a bit and reduce the journey from sweet to sullen to a simple, lilting rhyme!

 

At Fifty Nine – Feeling Fine.
At Six and Zero – Still a Hero.
At Sixty One – Loads of Sun.
At Sixty Two – Yabba Dabba Doo!
At Sixty Three – Bright with Glee!
At Sixty Four – Ready for More.
At Sixty Five – Vibrant, Alive.
At Sixty Six – Full of Tricks.
At Sixty Seven – Oceans Eleven!
At Sixty Eight – Still Kinda Great.
At Sixty Nine – No, Really. Fine.
At Seven and Zero – Becoming Nero.
At Seventy One – Not Much Fun.
At Seventy Two – I’m Watching You!
At Seventy Three – You Talking to ME?
At Seventy Four – Always Sore.
At Seventy Five – A Hornet’s Hive.
At Seventy Six –  Literally Kicks.
At Seventy Seven – Won’t Leaven.
At Seventy Eight – Evil Incarnate.
At Seventy Nine – I’m tired of rhymes!

 

Where’s your tipping point?

 

 

Kim_Jong-un

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?

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?

Sunset

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?

cheese-mummy670

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?