A Lover’s Rhyme
Late Last Night I Went to Bed
Mr. Shaker the Undertaker
The Blind Man Who Saw Through Lies
The City Girl
The Fleet Girl
The Girl Who Did Handstands
The Gold Miner’s Industry
The Hollow Man and the Zealot
The Man of the Prairie
The Man Who Loved Beer
The Political Scene
The Proud Porcupine
The Restoration of Frost
The Ripps Go Fishing
The Three Magicians – The Amateur Magician
The Three Magicians – The Grim Magician
The Three Magicians – The Playful Magician
To Make a Bed
A Lover’s Rhyme
On an autumn morning, chill and fair,
early snow slicks Istanbul’s cobblestones,
baklava scents the Bosphorus air,
and caressing lovers lie as bare as bones.
Leafless branches reticulate the Charles Bridge,
while wind knots the old square’s fog;
crows stare balefully from Saint Vitus’ ridge,
and lovers vanish in the shadows of Prague.
One spring day in the serried Balkans,
where the granite rises in a sagittate spine,
amidst meadows and wildflowers two lovers lie talking,
deaf to the world in the midst of that chine.
Each lover’s story is like a scene in an arras,
woven by hand from Kabul to Paris,
in the dells, the cities, and the lands in between,
where time doesn’t matter in the weave of the scene.
There once was a jester in court
For whom punning was his favorite sport
He said to the queen
Now I think it’s obscene
The way that you move in your court.
Late Last Night I Went to Bed
Late last night I went to bed
And tentacles crawled around my head
They pulled me deep
Into my sleep
The tentacles around me curled
And pulled me to another world
One with dreams and nightmares real
With swimming sharks and snakes and eels
With valley floors with heads of stone
With dancing skeletons made of bone
With burning coals and fires blue
You know these lands, for you’ve slept too.
I stood atop a rocky spire
And looked upon the world entire
I saw winged creatures gold and black
And leapt from the spire to one’s back
It sailed with me past ticking clocks
And places where mermen lived in rocks
And then I fell from that beast’s back
And plunged and plunged into the black
A cyclops hairy, vast and great,
Roared that I’d be the next thing he ate
His voice rolled off the cave walls as he spoke
And remained in my mind after I awoke.
The cities are shaking with the rumble of traffic
It seems like half the birds are missing toes
The sunbeam on her face makes her look seraphic
Laying amongst the bedsheets, wearing no clothes.
It’s a cold water flat and the sink’s always dripping
The winter sun’s horizontal, weak, and cold
There’s snow on the sidewalks, people are slipping,
And it seems that, long ago, the city’s heart was sold.
Then he turns her head, and he kisses her lips
She wraps her arms around him, sees his eyes above;
She spreads her legs and lifts her hips,
And in the cold and lonely city, they fall to making love.
A short time later, and already they’re both old and grey.
That’s just the way time goes, just the way life is.
They grew together and grew their own way
Till not even they knew what was hers and what was his.
Because on that day, all those years ago, they traded hearts.
He gave her his, and she gave him hers,
And he said, “Life is made of new beginnings and old parts,
But what I have you can have, and what is mine is yours.”
And she took what he had, and she gave herself to him.
They gave each other everything; nothing did they save,
Sharing the thoughtful moment, and the slightest whim,
Until there was nothing they could give, that they hadn’t already gave.
In the pond, between brown trout and rock dove,
Spawns the short-lived mayfly,
Who, like brief life and yet briefer love,
Exists for a revolution and then does die.
Between the head of the path and its end,
Whether it be hard stone or soft dirt,
Whether it lies straight or climbs and bends,
In life, in love, there is pain, and there is hurt.
We are mayflies, alive for but a brief time,
Inhabitants together of these strange parts;
Why, then, should we give our prime
To anything but what is dearest to our hearts?
Mr. Shaker the Undertaker
Old Mr. Shaker was the town’s undertaker
And to see him marked a very dark day
He’d wrap you in sheets, burn you in heat,
Or embalm you in formaldehyde.
Old Mr. Shaker would pack you off to your maker
And he’d whistle as he went by in his ride.
He was the one not to meet if you passed in the street
For he measured you up with his eye
He’d say to himself, This man’s six feet, two hundred,
Why just think if he’s sundered—
I’d have the perfect shape casket for him!
Or maybe he’d think speculatively,
It’d be droll if consecutively
The Anderson triplets came in!
For the girl with blonde locks
I’d find a blonde box
And for the middle child with parted hair…
Now him, I’d dissect with great care!
I’d take his heart to Kentucky
To a transplant that’s lucky
Then I’d attend the Run for the Roses…
I’d send his brain to D.C.
So the politicians could see
The organ they should use when they speak!
I’d send his arms to the Navy
For times wet and wavy
So they’d have two more appendages to swim
I’d send some blind man his eyes
So that he’d realize
The colors of the world he lived in
And that last Anderson child,
The most beautiful and mild,
I’d have her embalmed for all time.
I’d drain all of her veins
And I would go to great pains
To ensure she was properly styled.
Then like a man with a truck who is mounting a duck
I’d find her a space over the fireplace
And affix her there as the revered child.
And if in a thousand years she’s forgotten
At least she’s not rotten
Although I wouldn’t want to say how she’d smell…
Old Mr. Shaker was a versatile undertaker
And he had been for a good while
He was at once butcher and baker
In his mortuary made of green tile.
A boy was once born in Afghanistan
Near the peak of a Hindu Kush mountain
He came during a short, gentle spring
To a mother who would sing
And he became a kind and gentle man.
The Blind Man Who Saw Through Lies
There once was a man with no eyes
Who nevertheless saw very well through most lies
Whether the lies were subtle or bald
And whether they soothed or appalled
Before the blind man they had no disguise.
The City Girl
There once was a girl born in the city
In a neighborhood both dark and gritty
Her mother gave her books and red bows
Her father called her his lovely rose
And she grew up to be both bright and pretty.
There once was a coronavirus
And news of it did much to tire us
All the games were postponed
And the children sent home
So the disease’s demise was desirous.
March 12th, 2020: President Trump cancels flights from Europe due to COVID-19, popularly called the coronavirus. The following day, the NBA postpones its season, following a positive test from Utah Jazz player, Rudy Gobert.
The Fleet Girl
There once was a girl with no feet
Who nevertheless was really quite fleet
She raced an arrogant man
Who sneered as he ran
Until he lost by a foot in the street!
The Girl Who Did Handstands
There once was a girl with no hands
Who nevertheless loved doing handstands
She’d stand on the stumps of her wrists
As if they were fists
And wave her legs in the air for her fans!
The Gold Miner’s Industry
Under the naphtha torch’s light lie tailings of ore.
Shadows flicker on a collapsed mine shaft
Which fell one night like a melancholy piano score
On men whose lungs tore each time they laughed.
And here the mercury man’s shop stands on mud.
His skin’s peeling off. His ankles are deathly thin.
He washes gold in a mercury-filled pan of wood
Then sets that metal in fire to burn away its silver skin.
What will become of him?
He will work for little, until he dies.
He will lie, cold and grim,
Amid the gold that draws our eyes.
The Hollow Man and the Zealot
The hollow man and the zealot lay skylighting the vast desert on their stomachs
watching for anything mobile and columnular, squinting into the waves of heat
and the low hellfire sun which dipped crepuscular like a ball of blood.
Above the crest of the world the sun hung suspended, huge and balanced,
and the men fell in to watching it as if towed by a riptide into Andromeda and Ursula seas.
It set in a neon cataclysm, banded the faroff mesas, until all else became parentheticals and mud.
When the moon came out, it came out vanilla and strong
like the sunless flowering of night blooming jasmine
while from the distance rode a backlit man not deadtired nor horseworn before the floating circle
and the hollow man whose diction was three parts doggerel, whiskey, and graveyardsong
rasped smokily I tell thee wait; I have the time, the time.
He slid from under his belly a heavy revolver and spinning its cylinder made ready to kill.
Can’t hardly wait whispered the zealot who like all unwise men was mercurial
and who braided with such characteristic the strains of violence, insecurity, and assumption
and so saying he ran his hand through his short black hair as was his habit
and tendered the necklace of bleached doe’s teeth he wore for motives superstitious and bestial.
At a canter the rider lifted off his hat in that lonesome waste and the zealot spat in derision.
Hush hush hush! rasped his companion Hold your nerves and spit!
The rider came along across the shale, through the dwarf scrog and a crowd of desert bats
looking like some classical and celestial organism astride his white horse.
He wore a bandolier braced with bullets, pistols in his belt, a rifle across his back,
rode with the drumming energy of a raw heart while wondrousstar-staring as if the Leonids were at that
moment showering. He rode as if nothing lay or had ever lain in his course.
He rode as if, if he chose, he could empower a man to paint his godless world black.
The hollow man lay his thumb on the hammer of the revolver, cocking till it clicked and held.
He sighted along the barrel; just after he pulled the trigger the man popped crazy off his horse
and the hollow man seeing such sight rose and fired again and the horse fell
and so seeing turned his back and walked from that deathquilt without looking to see its pattern.
The zealot rose fingering his toothy necklace giggling at such dreadnought wanton force
then followed the hollow man, vanishing deep into the cobalt lit mesas and scrub chaparral.
The zealot and the hollow man sat sitting round a fire surrounded by soaring mountains
and near them sagged a dilapidated church, a steepled shack, with three rotten wooden steps
and inside: bare rafters termite ridden floorboards and a baptismal font of rose porphyry
carried by the zealot’s jackass through the metamorphosed and steep passes of the mountains,
and the hollow man sung singing, All the wicked man’s foibles and vile contretemps
the wicked man’s sins, the wicked man’s deeds, I make for free. I make for free. I have for thee.
And without a warning, the hollow man pulled from his holster his revolver and, aiming it at the zealot,
fired the gun six times in lethargic lethal succession and when the zealot dropped dead
the hollow man emptied the cylinder, refilled it with bullets, and left the fire burning,
for at his core he was empty, not full of hate, nor vengeance, nor malice, nor rot,
but full of no emotion, neither melancholic nor apathetic, just a husk of humanity in dread
shape with only a penchant for the spoken word and any skeletal song he might be heard to sing.
The Man of the Prairie
A boy was once born on the prairie
In a bleak night’s blizzard in January
The drifts blew high against posts
And the wind howled like wild ghosts
He grew to be a hard man and solitary.
The Man Who Loved Beer
There once was a man who loved beer
And he drank till he was filled up to his ears
He hiccuped and laughed
And said, That’s a mighty fine draft!
I think that I’ll drink it all year!
He’s a true plainsman
With dreams bigger than the town
And when the city limits expand
The plains dwindle down.
There used to be bison on those plains
But they vanished years ago
Then so did the rains
With the water in the arroyo.
He can see the ghosts of cattle
In herds of ten thousand head
Now there’s no more than the rattle
Of a snake in this homestead.
There’re no fences in his mind
Outside there’s wire running every mile
The unbounded country was lined,
Developed, and made infertile.
The prairie land
Waves wheat like a hand
To an early untimely end.
His last sight of the plain
Is with a helpless glance
Like the land is a missed train
Vanishing in the distance.
The Political Scene
There once was a political scene
Where politicians were awful and mean
They loved to berate and to hate
And when they called themselves great
The people wished they’d get COVID-19.
He sat as the only prisoner beneath the low hanging ceiling with a drip
in the humid cell with the small barred window that looked into the jungle,
and he looked in at the captain who struck a match for the cigarette between his lips
while outside the rain splashed into the ferns and the dense vines’ tangles.
The captain was leaning back in his chair, and he was playing solitaire
with a pack of dog-eared cards as a ceiling fan spun slowly overhead
like a child pushing against a mountain, for the fan could not move the heavy air,
while the rain poured down in drops as big as grapes and as heavy as lead.
The prisoner knew that in this prison there was no time or meaning to life
that the thing to do was to survive with as little pain as one could manage,
and the captain coughed after he exhaled and set the matchstick near his knife
then set his chair down and laid his elbows on the table, rickety with age.
The captain turned over his card, and the prisoner watched with interest
for there was nothing to do in the monotony except to stare,
like living in the doldrums on the sea, and it seemed killing time was best
so the prisoner watched as the captain leaned back again in his chair.
The captain studied his cards, and he took the cigarette out and exhaled.
The smoke drifted up to the ceiling fan, and the fan dispersed the smoke,
then the captain laced his fingers behind his head, for his interest had failed,
and the prisoner glanced down and fingered his shoelace, which was broke.
Then the prisoner knew the electricity went out because the fan slowed and stopped,
but there was no change in the captain, so the prisoner lay back on his bed
and listened to the dull music of water as the rain continued to drop;
there was no wind, and there were no thoughts in the prisoner’s head.
Far in the distance came the deep whoomping sound of a mortar being fired,
so the prisoner lifted his head, and he glanced at the captain
but the captain hadn’t moved; he either hadn’t heard or was just too tired,
and the prisoner glanced around gloomily at the cell he was trapped in.
It was made of stone and cement and contained a toilet, a sink, and a bed.
The bed was a mattress without box springs, sheets, or pillows,
and on that mattress the prisoner lay again, his hands beneath his head
and considered briefly, without contrition, the paths that he once chose.
Six months ago, a white woman had entered the prison, and the captain stood straight,
and the prisoner spoke in his broken English to make the woman smile,
and after the translator interviewed him, the prisoner knew she had come too late,
for the prisoner felt her presence not as a warmth but as a kind of wicked trial.
And it used to be that on Fridays, the captain would serve them both coffee.
The captain would sit next to his cell and hand the coffee through the bars,
sometimes they would play cards and even talk in a way that was almost free
and the prisoner learned that his jailer, too, was a prisoner of the long hours.
Now the captain leaned back in his chair with his eyes shut, and the prisoner slept,
and there were no sounds except the steady drumming of the rain.
Whoever fired the mortar did not fire it again, and the peace was kept,
and the electricity returned, so the fan began to turn again,
then the captain opened his eyes, he lit another cigarette with a match,
and he shook the match’s flame out with a few flicks of his wrist
and the captain considered the loneliness of his official watch
and put out of his mind those chances that he had always missed.
The Proud Porcupine
There once was a proud porcupine
Who was well pleased with his needles and spines
One winter he became ill
And he lost all his quills
Now he’s sad because he looks like a swine.
The Restoration of Frost
The Restoration of Frost is, so far as I know, the only mystery to ever be written in the form of a terza rima. A terza rima is a kind of a poem that uses a rhyme in the pattern ABA BCB CDC DED, and so on. The form was made popular by an Italian, Dante Alighieri, who wrote a terza rima poem which included the seven circles of Hell. It was called The Divine Comedy.
My poem, The Restoration of Frost, tells the story of a cynical, hardboiled detective whose name is Frost. One day, the wife of a diamond merchant comes to Frost, and she tells him that her husband was murdered by the butler, that the diamonds have been stolen, and that the butler has disappeared. The police have proven powerless, and she believes that the hard-drinking Detective Frost is her last hope.
Illustrations by Amanda Güereca.
He sits up nights with whiskey, learning French,
in a lonely apartment amongst sirens,
squalling sounds, swindling, and a human stench.
“Alouette, je te plumerai … each pin,”
he mutters, “Fall naked from the sky, bird,
into men’s cold cities and thrice-damned dens.”
Outside the sun rises: pale, weak, obscured;
even as the man sets, sinks in his drink,
as the moon wanes, and the night is interred.
Sewers exhale their smoke; trashmen, their stink;
Madmen envision grey futures of death;
the sun shades the city sky orange and pink.
The rousted city draws its first morning breath.
It lifts itself from quotidian sleep,
aciers son esprit, et se déroule son fouet.
Yet the man, with his head on his hands, sleeps,
the unstoppered glass bottle beside him:
king of his castle, captive of his keep.
Then comes a knocking: hard and fast and grim.
“What?” mutters the man. “Who’s there? At this time?
I warn you, faults are thick where love is thin.”
“Open up! There’s been a terrible crime!
My husband’s lying dead, dead on our floor!
Ash and dust extracted from the sublime!
Are you Detective Frost?”
“But you once were? Detective Frost, that is?”
The man opens, just a crack, his front door.
“That was another life. What’s your name, Ms.?”
“Emily King. Can you investigate?”
She is a woman of puffy eyelids,
her mane of hair seems to be half her weight;
she wears short heels and a Desigual dress,
and sways like a pendulum oscillates.
“The police,” she says, “Have made no progress.
My love’ll be buried, to rest in peace;
his warm largesse became cool emptiness.
He is beyond the clergy and police;
he’s at the disposal of God’s great will.
And our lost wealth was in a worn valise,
but can be regained by a man with your skill.
I’ve heard you were once great. Almost divine.
So help me. Please. Come on, say that you will.
I’m in my hour of need—”
—“Stop,” he signs.
“I’m not the shadow of the man I was.
I’m a drunk now. I live like listless swine.
I’m not who you want, if I ever was.”
“Well for God’s sake, at least open the door.”
“You’ll just see straight whiskeys and neat vodkas.”
“Open the door! Damn it! Open the door!
All the way! Not just a crack! Look at me!”
He swings the door open halfway, then more.
There is a silence as he blinks and sees.
There she stands in the shabby corridor,
flickering like a candle in the breeze.
“Fine. Let me get my coat from off the floor.
It’s a bitter dawn, made worse by the cold,
and my intent to restart what I forswore.”
He mutters as he walks, “Where’s my billfold?
Where’s my coat and my hat and my resolve?
Time never brought wisdom, just made me old.”
“How long will this mystery take to solve?”
she calls, “How long till the criminal’s nicked?”
“Damn it,” he mutters, “I shouldn’t be involved.”
He calls back, “Impossible to predict.”
Silence. Then, “Can I call you Detective Frost?”
He mutters, “You can call me ‘Derelict.’
Or maybe even ‘Detective Well Sauced.’”
But he calls, “Yeah. Yeah, you can call me that.
Look, let’s go. I think my damn billfold’s lost.”
He walks out the door, putting on his hat,
leaving the front door unlocked behind him.
“You’re not locking up the door of your flat?”
“Lady, inside my place, pickings are slim.
Any robber is welcome to my trash.
Now, let’s go.” And he pulls down his hat brim.
The drive takes them past tall maples and ash,
along a quiet, winding road near cliffs
and views that overlook winter’s panache.
The houses in this part seem formal, stiff.
Quiet monsters that look down and glower,
giving the peons a conceited sniff.
“These places give fine looks to wealth’s power,”
says he. “I don’t like ’em.” There’s no reply.
They enter her drive, pass a stone tower.
Frost asks, “Why didn’t the guards raise a cry?”
“We think,” she says, “It was an inside job.
“William is missing with no alibi.
William is the butler and is macabre.
His sense of humor always disturbed me,
But he seemed cleaner than the pope’s façade.
His bad humor was the sole fault to see.
So we kept him… To my endless regret!”
“Hm. Tell each detail of last night to me,”
says Frost. “Any trifle may be an asset.
I must know the times, the places, all things.
Don’t withhold anything from your vignette.”
“My husband was known as a diamond king:
Michael was the CEO of DeBeers,
a job which brought us wealth and its trappings.
Last night, he got a shipment from Algiers,
a shipment worth fourteen million dollars,
which were to be bought by Dubai’s emirs.
Maintenance, by the company installer,
on the office safe, made that place unfit
for even the care of a prize much smaller.
Needless to say, Michael abandoned it.
He brought the diamonds home in a valise:
a small, innocuous, brown leather kit.
He told no one of the stones in the piece.”
“Then how did you know what was in the bag?”
“Well, he told me, of course, to keep the peace.”
“To keep the peace?”
—“I asked about the bag.
I thought it might be linked with a tryst.”
“Geld a stallion and you’re left with a nag.”
“Oh please! Men are pigs! True men don’t exist.
Some men are true to infidelity,
but that’s all. The honest man is like a mist:
looks white, but he’s gone with day’s clarity.
So Michael showed me diamonds in the purse,
diamonds of unusual rarity.
He said to me in a voice quite terse,
‘Don’t say a word of this to anyone;
Its loss would be too great to reimburse.
I’m revealing this out of affection,
trust in our partnership, and profound love.’
These words must have caught William’s attention.
He was passing on a small walkway above,
one used for that room’s second floor of books.
He’d been, I fear, overhead like a dove.
‘What’d you see with your stealthy, furtive looks?’
—‘Nothing, just sorting the shelves.’
‘That little lie puts me on tenterhooks,’
Michael whispered to me. ‘Between ourselves
let’s not let that valise out of our sight.’
Then, ‘Will! Em and I want the house to ourselves!
Go on home, my man, and have a nice night!’
Then, in a whisper, ‘Better if he’s gone.’
Then, louder, ‘And see that your mouth’s zipped tight!’
Will came down from the walkway he was on,
gave us a little bow, and left the room.”
“Did he leave the house, not just the salon?”
“I can’t be sure. I can only assume.
I assume that he left; we did not check.
Then I guess he returned, through the sunroom.
The door was ajar, accessing the deck.”
“Tell me where your husband’s body was found.
In the sunroom? In the study? On the deck?”
“I found him in the hall, dead on the ground.
I had heard a scream, rushed out; a door closed.
It clicked softly shut with a fatal sound.
Mike was just unconscious, I first supposed.
I ran to him, neglecting the thief’s escape.
I saw piano wire, his neck exposed,
long lacerations across that landscape
of innocent flesh and beloved skin.
His mouth was lying horribly agape;
his lips were purple, his face white and thin.
His eyes stared into a world beyond ours.
All that was left was what might have been.
I screamed for what seemed to be hours
I then rushed to the door and found it locked,
but heard the window of that damned tower
pushed open hard by the one being stalked.
Then I saw diamonds scattered on the floor.
Then clearly as sun shines I could concoct
the whole scene as if I’d seen it before:
Mike was garroted by piano wire;
the killer had hid behind the hall door,
and when Michael had tried to retire,
the craven killer sprang out, strangled him,
and stole the valise that he did desire.
Michael’s screams—telling, bloodcurdling, grim—
brought me running from my chamber too late
with just time to hold him to my bosom,
to see my man forever insensate,
and the door of the study being locked,
and to feel on my heart a doleful weight.
Oh heaven, Detective Frost! I’ve been mocked
by a cruel fate and damned to lonely life:
all paths were open, now they are all blocked.
The servants entered, and, sharp as a knife,
the maid called the police, and the driver,
who kept his mind calm in this bloody strife,
ordered the grounds closed to that conniver.
‘The window!’ I cried, ‘I heard it opened!’
Bless the soul of the quick-thinking driver,
he said, ‘Will cannot get out! He happened
in his dark escape into a high room
in which he is now surely imprisoned:
to leap from that place would spell certain doom.
No, he must still be inside that study;
his quickest refuge shall be his fastest tomb.’
We waited in that place of perfidy,
like a hunter waits for dangerous prey,
near to the body, lifeless and bloody.
When the police came before the break of day,
they forced the door. But the room was empty!
The detectives checked for another way
that the criminal might have gotten free.
There is a drainpipe along the house wall,
but it is connected only weakly,
and any climber would certainly fall;
the frail pipe would tear away from the house,
and gravity would wrap him in his pall.
And the ground is soft. Not even a mouse
could escape without leaving a footprint.
Yet no impressions were without the house.
Further inquiry yielded not a hint.
The detectives left for other business.
And that is why I’ve asked you to represent
my side in this perplexing and anxious
matter, which seems so simple but is not.
The man, William, killed my husband, backless
in his fell execution. Then he sought
refuge in a room without an escape
except for a window whose height cannot
be negotiated by man or ape,
and yet when the door, locked on the inside,
was forced, there was within no living shape.
But there was not a single place to hide!
Where’s William? Murderer of my husband?
Thief, assassin, evil personified!”
“One thing’s sure,” says Frost, “Nothing will be banned
from the net of inquiry. All’s open.
Your account’s been near all I could demand.
Yet some questions remain. When all seemed done,
did the cops lock the door before leaving?
Could William have escaped from his bastion?”
“The detectives locked the door, perceiving
that if Will were inside, he could well flee.”
“And yet, while the cops were conceiving
that such a bold escape could come to be,
still they departed the scene of the crime?
Such actions seem, to be frank, unseemly.”
“Further inquiry was a waste of time,
was what the shrugging detectives told me.”
“Well, they’ve left us the work of muck and grime;
we’ll be on our own,” Frost replies blithely.
“Ah,” says Ms. King, “We have arrived at last.”
The mansion looms behind a copse of trees,
its wings spread, like a dark bat’s, wide and vast.
Great windows look, from behind the old copse,
inward: shared wine and spilled blood, dry at last.
The great home stands on a cliff’s rocky tops;
grey granite underlays its foundation.
Their car crunches gravel up to the door, stops.
Frost gets out. “I’d like an examination.”
“Certainly, my late husband is inside.
He has not been moved from his location.”
“Ms. King, I’ll begin my research outside.”
“Uhhh, as you wish. But the detectives said—”
“Ma’am, seasoned sailors trust but wind and tide;
they pay no mind to what the lubbers said.
This William left us with the silent dead,
So I’ll go where my thoughts will have me led.
I’ll see the clues, and ensure they’re well read.
Now, the wildest fires may start with sparks,
so keep vigilant; there’s danger ahead.
This scene could become the darkest of darks—
Yet still I’ll tell you, ‘Stay hopeful, Ms. King’:
even the softest killers leave their marks.
I’ll find the thief, the killer, the cruel thing.”
“In a time when everything has gone cold,
you’ve made winter’s white death show signs of spring.
Thanks. Some kind words are more precious than gold.
There’s in brave substances a common core:
invisible to the eye, lovely to behold,
in those that cast not their shadows before,
those who walk with their faces to the sun,
like heroes who stand ready at the fore.”
“I ain’t all that. I’m just a mother’s son.
Now go inside, stand your guard with the rest,
and I’ll work. Sooner began, sooner done.”
Detective Frost watches her leave, “What’s guessed
at in the darkness, without facts,” he states,
“Is a surmise which must be reassessed.
I won’t give her story an ounce of weight,
till I’ve confirmed the empirical facts:
the fox won’t tell of the chickens he ate,
and the stuff of greed is what honesty lacks.
I’ll take her story with a grain of salt,
til I see the grounds and scene of attack.”
Walking over wet leaves, puddles, and gault,
his eyes wandering over the edifice,
walking fast at times, now making a halt,
Frost strolls the grounds: solemn, thoughtful, cheerless.
He ambles to the foot of the mansion
where a drainpipe of uncommon thinness
descends from the rooftop then does run
past a window large enough for a man.
Frost shakes the pipe, which almost comes undone,
for the pipe is affixed by no more than
three rusting brackets of uncertain strength
from where Frost stands to where the pipe begins.
“Hm,” says Frost, “And most certainly the length
of the drop from the window to the ground
supports an extent of her narrative’s length.
Nor are there strange indentures to be found.
The ground is too soft not to be impressed;
the mud testifies: Ms. King’s account’s sound.
Now, let’s see what eggs the bird has in her nest.
In a woman’s home is her façade found,
and in her unreadable heart: the rest.
Detective Frost strolls quietly around
to the massive front door, which he enters.
He strides up the staircase that’s marble bound
with red and white tiles like blood in winter.
On the second floor, Frost finds the servants
and Ms. King waiting. “Not to the sprinter
will go this race, but to the observants,”
Frost says, nodding approvingly, “Patience
can be more opportunistic than chance.”
“We have stayed at our proper assignments,”
says one man tiredly. “It’s been a long night.”
“I believe Ms. King said you had good sense,”
says Frost, “You’re the driver, if I am right?”
“That’s right, I am. And my name is Michael.
We’ve been waiting outside this room all night.
We’ve been sleepless and angry and watchful.
The door of this study has not opened;
It’s not admitted nor dismissed a soul.”
“I’ll do my best to bring this to an end,”
Frost replies. “And see your care rewarded.
I must now see Mr. King’s tragic end.
Ms. King? Could you lead me to the blest dead?”
Ms. King wordlessly points to a sheet
that covers the corpse like a sad shroud’s spread.
Detective Frost walks to the corpse’s feet,
then steps forward, and he pulls back the cloth.
Mr. King’s face is placid, his look neat.
“Is there much to see?” Ms. King, her voice wroth.
Frost examines the neck’s lacerations,
“No, but with little meat we must make much broth.”
Then he says gently, “My consolations.”
He tenderly covers the departed.
Frost stands. “Another examination
of this puzzling study must be started.
Who has the key? Please, let’s open the door;
we’ll see if the law has been outsmarted.”
Ms. King produces the key, “Yes, let’s explore
the interior of this baffling room;
time’s come: we won’t find what we don’t search for.”
Ms. King inserts the key of the room,
turns the lock, then she enters the chamber.
Detective Frost follows into the gloom,
flicks the lights, says, “Let’s see what did occur.”
The illuminated room contains books,
a desk, a globe, a humidor of fir,
liquor bottles, paintings, knick-knacks, and nooks.
“All these things,” Frost says, “That I now see, were
in their same place before? Anything look
out of the ordinary? Or disturbed?”
“No,” she says, “Everything is in its place.”
“Well, all right,” says Frost, not a bit perturbed.
He examines the walls, books, and shelf space.
He walks to the window, gauges the drop,
pulls the pane on its hinges, steps back a pace.
Then he pauses to consider the chase.
He looks from the door to the room’s window,
passes his eyes over a standing vase,
mutters, “Where, indeed, could this killer go?”
reviews the room again, opens desk drawers,
and does, on Ms. King, a doubtful glance throw.
“Ms. King, if you’ll permit, I’ll step outdoors.”
“Do you have any clues, Detective Frost?”
“I have hopes. Michael and maids, guard the doors.
Don’t open or close them at any cost.”
With those words, Frost sweeps out of the study.
He heard the doors being shut as he crossed
the hall, past the shroud and body bloody,
then down the marble stair, and out the door.
“Not sure how to clear a case so muddy,”
he mutters, “Or which line to next explore.”
Frost pulls from his coat a Haitian cigar,
sits on a bench, brings his thoughts to the fore.
“What dark things were illumed ’neath night’s dark star?”
he wonders aloud, as he considers
the night’s events, and lights up his cigar.
“And those diamonds—sweet smelling, but bitter!
How’d the lady play her game? Fair or foul?
was it the sparkling stones that undid her?
Or… is her tale true as the hoot of an owl?
I shall just take time to review the facts…”
He sits; the smoke wreathes his head like a cowl.
He puffs and puffs: the cigar glows, reacts.
The smoke swirls in thick clouds around his head,
then wafts, by a breeze laden with bees-wax,
through brisk air, where it then dissipated.
Frost frowns. He stares thoughtfully at the smoke.
He looks at his cigar, wrinkles his forehead.
He looks again at the slow, drifting smoke.
He purses his lips, uncrosses his legs;
overhead rustle the leaves of an oak,
“I’m deep in the bottle, but not the dregs,”
says Frost, “I have one creative idea.
Shipwrecked sailors can still feel their sea legs,
just as I, a ruined hound, can still smell a
scent. I will smoke my coffin nail indoors,
and I will test the strength of my idea.”
Frost strides inside along the marble floors.
He ascends posthaste up the spacious stairs,
enters the hall, makes for the study doors,
past Michael, Ms. King, and the maids’ stares,
all while puffing madly on the cigar.
He shuts the room’s windows against the air.
“Leave the door open and stay where you are!”
he commands, sitting at Mr. King’s desk,
raising his chin, sending smoke near and far.
“Mr. Frost!” says Ms. King, “This is grotesque!
Get it together—don’t smoke in my place!
This is a somber scene, not a burlesque!”
“This smoke is needed for solving the case!”
Indeed, as Ms. King, Detective Frost, Mike,
and the others watch, the smoke slowly traces
to the wall, then drifts through a crack, ghost-like.
“My God,” Ms. King whispers.
—“Shh!” orders Frost.
“Don’t let the mouse see what the cat looks like!”
Frost motions to Mike and the maids, “No cost
is too high to pay for the man within;
he’ll readily ensure your lives are lost.
Between careless and care, let caution win!
The butler’s hidden in a secret space;
he’s behind the wall where the smoke got in.
The smoke was drafted to that hidden place.
His secret was betrayed by air currents;
so little reveals such a huge disgrace.
But I suspect he has no deterrent
to forced entry; his weapon was wire,
swiftly snatched in a mood black and fervent.
But come danger, we shall fight fire with fire.
Had he shown restraint, so would we now.
Both crooked and straight wood burn alike in fire,
so beware: righteousness earns no golden crown.
We shall take him by surprise, Mike and I,
but we may need you all to take him down.
Are you set? If so, stay. If no: Goodbye.”
“We’re set,” whisper the maids.
—“And I,” says Mike.
“All’s well if he’s in hell, so says I,”
says Ms. King. “While the iron’s hot—we strike!”
“All for one, one for all,” says Detective Frost.
“We’ll break through the wall as a hammer’s like,
fight him till he’s taken or we’re all lost;
we’ll never quit, never capitulate,
until that sinister arachnid’s lost!
On the count of three, no one hesitate,
we’ll put our shoulders to the dummy wall,
then wed the devil to his absent mate.
Ready? One, two, three! Shoulders to the wall!”
Ms. King, Mike, Detective Frost, and the maids
throw themselves against the study’s false wall.
The wall collapses beneath their combined weights,
as they crash into a dim compartment,
where dust thickens like fog in humid glades.
Cringing at the force of their bombardment,
is William the butler, valise in hand,
whose blood-stained hands tell of his dark event.
The five raiders untangle, try to stand,
as William beats at them with the valise,
and deals them blows with his bloody free hand.
Detective Frost, shouting, “Death makes good peace!”
launches himself at his deadly opponent
and begins beating him into pieces.
“Stop! Stop!” cries William, quailing, curled, and bent.
“Never!” roars Detective Frost, “I’m feeling good!
My life is becoming your punishment!”
“Stop! Stop! I’d take it back, if I could!
I’d have left the wire, forgot the rocks,
I’d have gone on home, as I knew I should!”
“The past is only a number on clocks!”
cries Ms. King, “You can’t bring my husband back!
What’s done is done, now our judgment talks!”
“Enough!” shouts Michael, “We’ve won the attack.”
He pulls Frost off of William, as Frost shouts,
“I haven’t had enough man! Hold me back!”
So Mike stands between Frost and the mad rout,
and Frost, a moment later, breathes deeply.
Mike says, “Stand up, Will; we’re taking you out.”
“That poisonous cobra got off cheaply!”
exclaims Ms. King.
—“There’s more to come,” Mike states.
“The judicial fangs will sink more deeply.
But come on, Will, you’re going to Hell’s gates.”
Detective Frost and Mike tug Will to his feet,
as Ms. King phones the police’s heavyweights.
They wait calmly for the police fleet,
resting in the study, hardly speaking,
till Ms. King asks, “How’d you solve it so neat?”
“While outside, I saw the cigar smoke drifting,
and I thought that result would happen as well,
if something was here to do the drafting,
such as a small crack from a secret cell.
I didn’t think the killer had left the house,
but he’d hidden himself so very well
that it was like catching the squeak of a mouse.
I feel like William probably observed
Michael use this hidden room in the house,
and, though the butler, himself he served
more truly than members of this sad place.”
“Take these three clear diamonds, richly deserved,
as my thanks for solving this opaque case.
I believe that you redeemed your name as well:
stumbling out the blocks, but winning the race.
Although I’m shocked to hear the tale you tell.”
As to my reputation’s return, only time will tell.
Frost replies. “But I’m not surprised, my green clientele:
I’ve seen worse in the past, more malevolent and fell.
Greed’s a terrible driver, if released from its cell;
it’s a cold-blooded killer, if it’s not thwarted well.
Better a closet in heaven than a kingdom in Hell.”
The Ripps Go Fishing
Brutus was a child of ten.
He spat at cats and stabbed dogs with pins.
Mr. Ripps, his father, was a wealthy man
And spoiled him as only true fools can.
So Brutus got whatever he pleased,
Till his teachers wished he’d get diseased.
Now life went on in this unpleasant vein
Till the school year stopped and holidays came.
Then the Ripps flew to the Caribbean sea
To do some fishing and be carefree.
They booked a place on a charter boat
Where the crew were hard enough to cut your throat.
Captain Burner was the toughest of all.
He was harder (and meaner) than a cannonball.
But the Ripps didn’t know this when they booked the trip.
No. Nope. They just liked the captain’s ship.
So the day arrived, and they all set out,
With Brutus asking if they’d catch some trout.
Captain Burner told him, “Alas, my friend, No.
We’re fishing for sailfish and dorado.”
Upon hearing this Brutus stamped and screamed,
And he demanded a cone of his favorite mint ice cream.
“What! There’s none aboard,” Burner said with a frown.
“Now, my child, won’t you please settle down?”
“Hey!” cried Mr. Ripps, “Don’t you talk to my child that way!
I’ll have you know I could buy both your boat and bay!”
Well, Captain Burner scowled, but he wandered off,
While Brutus wept and sneezed and dramatically coughed.
His father patted him gently on the arm
And said that, with him there—well! Brutus could know no harm!
Yet soon they reached the waters deep.
There, they woke Brutus who’d gone to sleep.
They threw in the bait, and they started to troll,
And that’s when Brutus demanded to hold the pole.
The Captain said, “Dear child, sit by.
If a big fish got on while you held that pole—well, you might just die.”
Then, quite unnecessarily, Brutus kicked him on the shin
And laughed and cursed and gave a horrid grin.
Well, the captain yelped and gave a black look,
While Mr. Ripps said, “Attaboy, son! You kick that crook!
Don’t you let the captain tell you not to hold that pole!
You be the fisherman, son; you know your role!”
So Brutus tried to lift the fishing pole out,
But it was as heavy as sin and stuck like grout.
Now when Brutus could not pull the fishing rod free
The unpardonable wretch wailed repulsively.
He screamed, “I hate this fishing, and I hate that man!”
He wept crocodile tears, and he pointed his hand.
“That’s right!” said the father. “Now I’ll make this clear.
I’m the boss of all of you here!
Now get something on that line, and let’s catch some fish!”
“Very well,” nodded the captain grimly, “You’ll get your wish.
We’ll put something on; no need to wait.
I’ll use you and your rotten son as bait!”
And so saying, Captain Burner commenced the dénouement:
He took the Ripps, and he tied them on.
Then he tossed his customers over the hull
And brutally ended that swift battle.
Well, that was incendiary,” Burner said calmly. “Brought up some sparks.
One small change here, my crew, we’ll now fish for sharks!”
And after a loud hurrah and a noisy hurray,
The crew caught two big sharks that day.
The Three Magicians – The Amateur Magician
There once was an amateur magician
Whose spell made a common apparition
From a deep, white fog
He brought forth a huge dog
That had not a jot of ambition.
The Three Magicians – The Grim Magician
There once was a grim magician
Whose countenance was hard and patrician
He produced a wild storm
And drew forth a skeletal form
That had long ago seen the mortician.
The Three Magicians – The Playful Magician
There once was a playful magician
Who brought his happiest ideas to fruition
He’d make rainbows at night
For his children’s delight
And he made the moon sing like a silvery musician.
To Make a Bed
She pats the white pillows.
The bed is not her own,
as light carries through tall windows
onto the marital pattern.
From room to room, she straightens
and makes the tattling sheets.
She scrubs and cleans the wash basins;
she dusts the powder room.
Affairs between the man
and wife have gone unknown,
though Sarah sees what goes unsaid
when it comes time to clean:
the way tall waves are made in storms,
the sheets have creases,
except through men who forget,
who smooth their wives while leaving creases.
Yet Sarah almost can’t hate this man,
his lust and greed, so far apart
from how she would stand if she were in his stead.
It is as if he is oblivious as a child.
Yet hate him she can. It is not impossible.
Sometimes her hands, as if unwilled,
do rip and tear covers, hurl them quite far,
away from that bed. As if the sheets were masts
in gales at sea, they flap with her strength.
She shakes them, wanting to shake the past
affairs and sins away. One washing isn’t enough.
Through shaking, flapping, the creases go.
Action is best, to calm one’s nerves.
She thinks of him, as she replaces the soap:
out with the old, in with the new.
She scrubs at him in the shower,
with each hard swipe, a bit of grunge is gone.
The lines of black mildew erode
under her strong cleaning.
Her mistress enters, the bright woman,
with hair that rolls and curls on her shoulder
and eyes that flash like a quick bird.
“Are things well, Sarah? How is your day?”
And Sarah, quite near revealing all,
now stops and starts as he walks inside,
filling the room with a presence unwanted.
“Oh yes, Miss,” she breathes.
“Indeed. Everything is well.”
“We’re pleased with you,” Rosalyn says,
her arm snaking around her husband’s.
“You do good work in here and in the rooms.
The beds are made with tight, hard folds—
you have energy in your small bones.”
“Yes, ma’am” says Sarah. “It’s conviction
for jobs done well. One thing I know—
that clean bedrooms can make a mind the same.”
He says, “If it’s the same to you, please leave
my shelves the way they are. I like a mess.
I have my things the way I remember,
and touching them would mean losing them.”
“Yes,” Sarah says. “I understand you.”
“But you do do your job, I think, quite well,”
he continues. “The showers are clean,
the place is dusted, the rooms are neat.
Why, you could hardly tell a person lived here!
Everything dirty washed away!”
Quite cheery, he vanishes, pecking Ros’ cheek.
They wait moments.
She stares at Sarah, woman appraising woman.
Servant and mistress relations quite gone.
“What’s wrong? I see something that’s strange in you.
You know something,” says Rosalyn.
“Something that maids can learn when they do work.
What do you know? Is it about, well, him?
Don’t lie, dear Sarah, the shame is not on you.
But, I… I think I know already. It is an affair.”
She leans against the wall.
Her dress seems weak, heavy:
as if the cloth were thin armor,
as if the pearls were made of lead.
“Is it?” says Rosalyn. “Is there someone he’s known?”
“I hate to say it,” Sarah says. “No, I care little for him—
I mean I hate to hurt you, dear.” She takes Rosalyn’s hand.
Her hand is warm and weak, unlike the girl
that Sarah knows as being strong and fierce.
Every strong heart can break.
“But I don’t mind damaging him. He cares
only a small amount for you, I think.
When washing, I am scrubbing him off you.
I scrub away the day, the night, the times
when he and she make love like animals.
Not like people. Not like humans. Not like couples.
Their love is expensive—too expensive!—
because it costs another. It costs you much, I think.
I pay for it also, a price no one should pay.
Yet I pay not as much as you.”
“Oh!” says Rosalyn. “Is it—oh! No! I don’t care!”
They sit with soundlessness for a long time.
At times, silence can clean a wound, can heal a pain.
They hear him hum, a warm and wild and joyous sound.
It comes from in the hall.
Then he calls her by name, “Oh, Rosalyn! Rosalyn!
Rosalyn! Where, dear, are you?”
She does not speak.
The calling drifts away. Perhaps he went outside.
Perhaps some work is in some need of doing.
Perhaps the lawn is going to be mowed.
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.
All that is important is that the sound is gone.
The joyous hum is gone.
“I must not sit for long,” says Rosalyn.
“I must better him, move on now.
But I don’t know where to begin or how to start.
This dirty, filthy thing is stifling me. What can I do?”
“Here,” Sarah says, handing her a sponge. “I will help you.
First we should rearrange his shelves. We have our tidying to do;
sometimes it does good to clean and work.
Sometimes it does good to erase his memories.
Listen! Listen. The voice was once tenor:
Imagine—yes, and just consider—yesterday he was silent.
Our clips snap tightly, our pliers are handy,
our clamps are unforgiving, our machines
Some things are working right around here.
We don’t even have to be too cautious.
As with all open secrets there is a
wink, a nudge to the vacillators, a cold
hard ethical argument to the protestors, and then
the show goes on.
The show must go on.
On the one hand we sit at a round table
and discuss the pros and morals of
torture. This, while people’s
worlds are being unraveled, a skein of
yarn held by a thread, dropped from a
The demolition of a sturdy warm home,
tall, distinguished, memories in every cranny.
All that is left is the thread, the
The skein, the home, the soul—deconstructed.
It is the metamorphosis of butterfly—
vividly colored, light—into caterpillar.
From caterpillar to cocoon. Cocoon to seed.
It is a human eclipse.
It is a vanishing.