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 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.
Mr. Shaker the Undertaker considers his prospects.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I write a lot of poems and short stories, and I can’t remember them all. The Prison was one that I found recently. Usually, finding a poem will bring back a memory. Not so with The Prison. I had no recollection at all of writing it.
First I Googled The Prison to make sure that it wasn’t a poem that I’d liked which someone else had written. It turned out not to be someone else’s poem. It turned out to be mine. As I hunted, I found drafts of The Prison on my computer. I had indeed composed this poem fifteen years ago, and I had just forgotten about it completely.
When I found the drafts, I remembered what I was doing at the time. I was in college, and I had been reading Graham Greene’s The Power and theGlory and thinking of his famous character, the Whisky Priest. Around that same time, I was also interested in the crisis in Burma (which is how Myanmar was called back then), and thinking of the Whisky Priest and the Burmese Crisis together led me to this poem.
It’s a rhyming poem that talks about how a prisoner and his jailer wait in the sloughs of inactivity.
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 Captain’s Company is a wild west tale of ruthless, barbaric bandits and their raid on a village that is isolated in the wastelands of the malpais.
Mountains scarred the dusk sky as the wain creaked along the ridges, grit and dust billowing beneath, while a man in a cotton jerkin sat upon a thwart leading a train of horses with loose reins through scores of leagues, through the grey and brown livery of the land.
Atop his wooden cart burned a lit brazier expectorating malodorous white smoke, and the brazier burned as its fuel the litter and leavings of the dross of humanity. Lying acrossways upon that brazier skewered through with a stick was the head of a blackened doe, the sharp stick having been passed through its ears, and the head all cooked until the flesh was carbonized and the driver, that partisan of violence and ciphers, dragged behind his wagon by a hawser a monstrous burin which graved upon the land a deep trail so that his track could be traced. And when the burin became stuck upon stones buried in the sediment, he only beat the horses carelessly, as thoughtlessly as if he’d learnt abuse by rote.
And there came after him a ragged lieutenant whose good eye was rimed by cataracts, and whose poor one was covered by a patch encrusted by mucus and blood, and there was behind them their crew slogging with horses through that calyx, that whorl of a valley surrounded upon by all sides mountains and the dust. There existed no liquid agent to slake any thirst, so the horses had foamed, and the limping animals had all dried of their lather some long time past. Yet the men continued to beat them, until one animal fell, and the men not even considering the future or perhaps making incongruous concessions to ritual or fortune or deity did not pause to butcher the bony beast, only left it exposed. When the men were some leagues further on, the moon lay in a crescent like the cushion of a lackadaisical, bohemian artist, and the horse was lost from sight. The men pitched their tents at the foot of the mountain, and they pulled from their pockets specie of gold and silver and muttering passed them about to study the faces and obscure origins of their dead makers.
When the sun rose in the morning, the lieutenant set down a dense sun dial carved of jasper, and aligning the gnomon with true north calculated the time, while the leader of that crew, having apathetically discarded both spit and the head during times previous, measured the altitude of the mountain with an iron sextant which he wore around his neck upon a lanyard. There was on that morning a man who would not rise, for he was sick with dehydration, and the lieutenant saying, So see this man’s true color amid this desiccant! did in fact remove from that man both his hands as an attainder, and burning the flesh from them, scraped passively the cartilage and muscle while he rode as a man is wont to whittle a stick, and the blind lieutenant was left with the bony remains of two hands that afternoon as the company passed up the mountains. When the men passed near a steep ravine, the lieutenant cast the bony hands into the gorge, and the men continued traveling. They turned a hairpin corner, found a spring of water was issuing forth from the granite, and the leader of them all put his lips and tongue to the wet wall in a kiss, and he sucked. When it was the last man’s turn to drink, he made haste despite his thirst, for the men were already riding further along the steep path, and in such circumstance he pressed his lips to the vadose wall which smacked of calcite and stone, and he drank.
At last the company reached the mountain’s peak, and they bivouacked in a fissure in the rock, without a fire that night, for their strength lay in their secrecy, and they woke before dawn, and by the time the sun rose they had descended down the mountain a quarter of its height.
The town below lay in a bed of silica, agate, yuccas, and aloe, and there was in it only one street and the leader of that company spit forward upon his horses, and he beat their flanks with a tawse riddled with glass shards. There were upon the horses’ flanks the scars of many beatings, and the animals screamed beneath that taxing thong. The burin acted now as an anchor by which to keep the animals from stumbling down the hill, for the heavy cart that the captain sat upon threatened at all times to overtake the animals from behind and to run them down, and so it would have if that great implement were not being dragged behind. The cart was loaded with the tools of miners: dynamite, powder, torches, picks, mattocks; and the weapons of fell armies: rifles, revolvers, grenades, machetes, bullets, shells, and even a chipped scimitar from God knows where. The town which lay at the foot of the mountain had by now onlookers filtering into the streets, and upon seeing the company in the mountains descending appointed a manciple to coordinate weapons and to revet the bank. A townsman glassed the party with binoculars, observing in that gruesome congress its cynosure and the wagon that he sat upon, and drawing his hand upon whiskers more salt than pepper, remarked, If that ain’t Dylan’s gang, I’m hanged from a honey locust. And indeed as Dylan’s gang approached, the desert town assumed a sepulchral air, as the men in the town barricaded themselves inside the hastily fortified bank: a bolus of eyes peering around pillars and single shot barrels steadied upon countertops, muzzles aimed toward the bank’s locked door.
At the edge of the town, Dylan halted the men with a raised hand, and a company man unhitched the burin from the wain. He spoke to his men in a voice rasping with effort, as if he’d lost his voice in a sickness and would never regain it, No one here is getting out alive. I am the last dynast of the devil’s family, the armature of the dynamo of chaos machines, and the cholera of men. We will hang the tellers and the bankers naked and dead by their wrists to a rafter, for it is only through displays of hegemony that we can grasp dolor and sublimate it, for in violence we express our sorrow and in violence we celebrate our sorrow! At the conclusion of such rasping, the men let out a muted, ragged cheer, and Captain Dylan opened the chest upon the wagon and the men distributed among themselves weapons of war, while the captain hung grenades from rings gusseted into his jerkin and slung rifles by their straps over his shoulders and with a cocked revolver in each hand at waist level strode into town without looking back even to see if his men followed behind him or fled, and the lieutenant grasping at sticks of dynamite, for he was an admitted poor shot what with his eyes, stuffed the dynamite into the pockets of his jacket and hefted a half full keg of powder from the trove and, stowing the barrel upon his shoulder and thus armed with the explosives and feeling inside him a desiderate for wanton cruelty, he began the walk into town
Dylan’s company walked right up the main and only street.
The wind blew a hot breeze, and there were the sounds of scuffling about, of final preparations from within the bank, and a few mutterings from Dylan’s company. Dylan himself fired the first shot when the men were still some ways off from the bank, and he shot straight through the bank’s door, then ejected the spent smoking casing, and reloaded. With a whoop, the men stormed the bank, loping and shooting, and when they drew near the entrance the snipers on the rooftops began to pick them off, but Dylan’s men howled and were indomitable, and the flimsy lock upon the bank door gave way at the second shoulder thrown into it, while from inside the rifles were fired, and more of Dylan’s men were shot down like dogs.
There was a score of men inside the bank, and all were in the end beheaded and hung from their wrists naked as the captain ordered, and the vault of the bank was blasted open, and from that trove more gold and silver bars were thrown into the coffer, and a man who had lain in hiding rose above the counter suddenly, and with a single shot he terminated the life of the lieutenant and for his efforts, the townsman was hung upside-down and naked from a rafter while a company man slit his throat with a bowie knife so that the townsman’s death, among the many others, might serve as a terrible example and cautionary tale.
There were folk screaming from rooftops, and all were ignored.
Captain Dylan shut the trunk of the chest and locking it with an iron padlock bade his men to saddle up, and they did, a new man riding to the fore in replacement of the late lieutenant, this new man with a jacket whose mantle was of fox fur and he was without teeth and in such raiment he stank of something foul and wicked, and saying only very little the men beat their horses into activity and began the journey towards a distant town, their faces to the setting sun, their shadows lying long behind.
The Cigarettes were a hard core band full of righteous punks and rage,
The singer supported anarchy and sang it out on stage;
Lily was the drummer girl, a saucy lass in black,
She wore a fishnet pair of slacks, her thong rose out the back.
Jimmy was the trumpeter, always barefoot when he played,
Smoking reefers in the club and forever getting laid.
Molly was the bassist, she was a poet in her soul,
Writing chords and lyrics about Hell and money and control.
The city board of Farmington, a town conservative and straight
Booked The Cigarettes unwittingly for their Annual Harvest Fête,
When October came around the leaves turned orange and black,
The pumpkins ripened on their vines, the hay was heaped in stacks
Mrs. Trot put on a dress, her corset, stockings, and her hat,
And toodled out with Mr. Trot who was wearing his cravat.
On the way they met the Smiths who ran the local mill,
They were dressed in modest best, as humble as a hill.
The evening started very fair, with meats and fruits and pie,
There was cider in the goblets and a pretty autumn sky,
And then the band began to play, you could hear them from a mile:
A pounding drum, an ominous hum, the locals lost their smiles,
Then on the stage a screaming rage, as the singer yowled and croaked,
The sun went down, the lights came on, the fires flared and smoked!
The locals of Farmington were first transformed by fear,
And then they caught the wind of it and began to lend an ear!
“This band is fuckin rockin!” shrieked Mrs. Trot and threw the horns,
“Yeah, this is how we celebrate the reaper and the corn!”
And soon enough the town of Farmington said to Hell with our respect!
And threw themselves into a night of drink and dance and sex!
And every year thereafter… the townsfolk booked The Cigarettes!
There are many things that go bump in the night:
Monsters and coal stoves can cause us some fright.
There are creaky old floors and loose attic fans,
Leaves in the wind, and tumbling garbage cans.
But sometimes you’re sleeping and a missile will roar,
Like those over England in the Second World War.
And that, my darling, is when I’ll come for you,
When the night is stygian, colored deep black and dark blue,
You’ll see, my friend, by the light of a bomb,
My grin broad and lethal, my eyes full of calm,
And I’ll crook a green finger for you to come here,
And when you reach my side, then it’s Death for you, dear.
For that is my name, my ancient job, my old trade,
I’m the one who waits by the road in the glade,
I’m the one who whispers your one and true name,
The one who ignores both your money and fame,
I’m the one to watch out for, by town or by cave,
I’m the one to spirit you along to your grave.
I’m sick today, my throat is red;
I’m sick today, I’ll stay in bed.
My body’s sore, I don’t feel right
I sweated through the endless night.
I’m sick today, I think I’ll die.
I’m sick today, this is goodbye.
I feel all achey, my head’s not straight.
My body’s stopped, my brain is late.
Thanks for the Get Wells and your smiling face;
I need no soup; I’m a hopeless case.
Thank heaven for my pillow, and thank heaven for bed,
I’ll lay in mine until I am dead.
Then you can put me in the coffin,
And lower me down,
My friends will weep,
When I’m in the ground
Where I’ll be amongst the spiders and ticks,
The worms and beetles and… Oh! I am sick.
The Williams host a fine dinner party, but a monster shows up uninvited, wearing a tuxedo and monocle.
A fine party was thrown at the Williams’ home,
And the guests they all wore their best.
Lily had come with her hair in a bun,
A tennis bracelet, and a brooch at her breast.
And Cindy’s diamonds did shine,
While her emeralds looked fine,
And the gentlemen wore cuff links and vests.
But of all the attendees who came,
One was not quite the same—
He stood out from the rest of the crowd.
He wore a suit (that is true),
And he had polished his shoes—
But it wasn’t his clothes that stood out…
He was a good nine feet tall,
And nearly as wide as the hall…
With a face like a tyrannosaur!
He was mottled and scaly,
His white eyes glimmered palely,
And on his sharp teeth were remnants of gore!
Mrs. Williams she said,
“Now I may be misled…”
(Here she gave her husband a forward shove)
“But you should tell him, my love,
That although we’re delighted,
This fellow has not been invited,
And this party is just not for him.
And if he’s aggrieved,
Well, firmly ask him to leave,
And tell him we’re sorry, but there’s been a mistake.”
So Mr. Williams approached the stranger and said,
“Good evening, my name is Fred,
But then Fred stopped himself there…
Because the monster gave a menacing glare,
And Fred’s heart dropped in his chest for a mile
Before he steadied himself and put on a diffident smile.
“Ahem! My friend!” Fred began again,
As he puffed his chest and sucked his gut in,
“Well, I see that you have six arms!
And that’s just one of your charms—
For at the end of your arms there are claws,
And razor sharp teeth in your crocodile jaws!”
At that the monster gave a broad grin,
That creased his pebbly skin.
Then the monster looked through his monocle,
That made his eye seem maniacal,
And he took his top hat off his head.
And wouldn’t you know it,
But there were two antennae and so it,
Seemed he had already heard everything that Mrs. Williams had said.
The monster said, “I hope you won’t fret,
If I’m not ready to leave just quite yet,
Because the reason I’ve come,
Is to feast upon some
Of the guests whom I have just met!”
Then the monster flexed his great chest,
And the muscles burst out of his vest
Revealing skin that was like a dinosaur’s!
There was screaming and wailing amidst his terrible roar,
As the monster broke from his formal wear,
He commenced to rip and to tear
The doors from the walls
The ceilings and halls,
And to destroy everything that was in sight
He ate up Mrs. Williams,
And her diamonds worth millions,
And then he disappeared into the night.
When the dust cleared from the raid
And all the guests stood afraid
One man stood up and began to proclaim,
“Well, Mrs. Williams she was a fine host,
And so I propose a fine toast,
Of her finest and Frenchest champagne!”
And so the glasses were raised
And the revelers continued on in their ways,
Drinking and dancing that night.
For it’s better to stay up,
Through the small hours and sup,
Than to try to sleep while you’re frozen with fright!
Two skateboarders ate a pizza pie
While switch smithing at Hollywood High.
They got switch feebles; they got nollie tres;
They got onions and tomatoes and peppers for days…
Chris was wearing black, and Lux was wearing pink,
Chris he had the piercings, and Lux he had the ink…
Chris he frontside flipped it, laid down a Muska hammer,
The cops showed up, and they hauled them to the slammer.
Well, the pizza it got lonely, it was chillin in the box,
It stood up on its crust, said, “I feel as burly as an ox!”
The pizza looked around through its pepperoni eyes,
And the folks who saw it standing up were taken by surprise!
The pizza took a handful of melted mozzarella
And styled it like the haircut of one very sick fella—
At the tip of its slice was a cheese mohawk,
And the pizza swaggered and it staggered down the L.A. block.!
The pizza gave a knuckle bump of crushed red pepper
To the homeys and the players, the pimps and high steppers!
The girls smelled its fine aroma on the September breeze,
Said, “I want all of that, without the calories!”
Well the slice kept on walkin Highland Avenue
Said, “I’ll stop and Dave and Buster’s, and there I’ll grab a brew.”
So he waltzed on in to the restaurant,
And a fellow looking down said, “This is what I want!”
Then he picked up and ate the slice of funky pizza.
Here is a blank verse poem about a man walking down the path of life, with Death always trundling along a few steps behind.
Well, I walk hand-in-hand with Life,
And Death walks a few steps behind,
And wherever I go, and wherever I lead,
Death is sure to follow.
So I had a few words a few years ago,
With that reaper known as Death.
I said, “So long as you’re coming wherever I go,
I’ll go wherever I want.”
He said in reply, “That’s a very fine view,
Just keep in mind, my friend:
When your time comes,
I’ll take you away,
You cannot run too far or too fast.”
So I nodded and considered,
And I went on my way.
And Death walked a few steps behind.
This is a poem about Tim, a baby tiger at the zoo, whose stripes all fall off when he rubs against his water trough.
Tim the Tiger was born at the zoo,
With a trait that caused a hullabaloo:
When the cat rubbed against his water trough,
Every one of his stripes fell off!
And the baby tiger was left all orange.
The stripes lay like leaves on the ground,
Fluttering in the wind, with rustling sounds.
So the zoo director said to glue the stripes back on,
In the depths of night, before the dawn,
So the baby tiger wouldn’t be all orange.
Well the night that night was a deep, dark black,
When the keepers re-adhered the stripes to Tim’s back.
And the baby cub thought it a very fine game,
Because they petted and stroked him and said his name.
For the baby tiger never knew that he was all orange.
So the keepers worked by Orion’s dull shine,
And, finishing, found they’d made an odd design!
For without the aid of their trusted sight,
They’d glued the stripes from left to right!
And they’d left Tim’s tail completely orange.
Well the people came to the zoo next day,
And they admired the very stylish way,
Tim the Tiger seemed to stand
With his stripes in a horizontal band,
And a tail that was entirely orange.
And although the zoo director was raging mad,
The keepers they were not too sad,
For they said, “Well, if he thinks that Tim has caused a stink—
Just wait till he discovers that our penguin’s pink!”
And over time the stripes fell off, and Tim was left all orange.
Here are three strange and funny limericks. One about two young lovers, another about a group of “Pizzanistas,” and a third about a green iguana who smokes marijuana.
Two Young Lovers
There once were two young lovers
Who disappeared each night under covers
They’d reappear at the dawn
With all the night gone
And wonder whether she’d be a mother.
There once were some rebel Pizzanistas
Who were as zealous as the Sandinistas
These rebels put their pepperoni instead
On the underside of the bread,
And called themselves pizza artistas!
The Green Iguana
There once was a green iguana
Who loved to smoke marijuana
When he smiled his lips curled,
When he smoked the smoke furled,
And he lived in a state of nirvana.
Yellow was feeling sunny,
Blue was feeling blue,
And although Red was being quarrelsome,
Yellow told him to come too,
To a midday picnic party
In a field beside a wood,
One day when the sun was shining
And the temperature felt good.
Well, Blue asked his two neighbors,
The colors Purple and Green,
If they would like to come too,
To the pleasant picnic on the green.
Although Purple felt too aristocratic
To make an appearance there,
Green accepted quickly,
Because she loves the clean, fresh air.
Orange was feeling warm,
Toasting his feet before the fire,
When the invitation came to him,
To join the other colors on the shire.
But he was feeling too contented
In his old, ancestral home,
Wearing his pumpkin-colored robe,
And reading from a pleasant tome.
So Orange and Purple, they stayed in,
But the others joined Yellow that day,
On an afternoon when the warm wind
Carried the fragrances of dirt and hay.
They spread out a checkered blanket,
Which was checked with red and white,
And Yellow said the blanket made her think
Of her friend who reflected beams of light.
At that, impetuous Red nodded and said,
How he and White had once had a drink,
And Red said that his passion had led
Them to produce the color known as Pink!
Well, the other colors blushed to hear this,
But Red was well known for his lack of tact,
So they each continued in their way on that sunny day,
And let every color be as is their nature to act.
In my world,
Anything can be.
In my world,
I’ll be loud and be free.
Or I’ll be quiet and silent,
As soft as a thrush.
I’ll be a man painting nature,
With a soft bristle brush.
Or I’ll be as stealthy and lethal
As a Navy Marine,
Stalking enemies in jungles,
Always moving unseen.
In my world.
In my world,
Anything can be.
I’ll grow and I’ll grow,
Until I’m as big as a tree.
I’ll drive fine cars down the main drag,
And all the people will stare,
Saying, “There goes the one man,
Who has not a care.”
I’ll be Mr. Philanthropic,
I’ll be rich and drink wine.
I’ll help the poor and the needy,
The deaf and the blind.
I’ll cure AIDS and cure cancer
Without breaking a sweat.
I’ll teach the illiterate to read
More than one alphabet.
In my world.
In my world,
Anything can be.
In my world,
I’ll be happy and free.
In my world,
I’ll always be me.
They say, Dreams are for children,
They say, You won’t make it, why try?
They say, The world’s looking hopeless, Just shut your mouth and get by. But that’s not how good minds work,
And there many who care;
They’re out there, these good folk,
In fact, they are everywhere!
They’re hiding in plain sight,
In all kinds of clothes,
Some wearing stone jewelry,
Others in high heels and hose!
In our world,
I’ll see them around.
In our world,
No one can trample them down.
It’s a wide world out there,
With room for more views than two.
It’s a wild world, my friend,
And it’s as strange as a zoo!
It’s your world,
And others’ too.
And in my world, my friend,
there’s always a home for you too.
Wilbur the whale had a distinguishing feature
That made seem nobler than his fellow sea creatures:
For on his grey face, the good Lord elected to place
A handlebar mustache that made Wilbur look ace!
In all other respects,
Wilbur met the strict specs
That govern how a baleen whale should be built…
But in this one critical facet
He’d been given an asset
Claimed by no other whale of his ilk!
Wilbur became the pod’s greatest star
And lady whales swam in from quite far
To view and admire his whale whiskers.
For it must be admitted,
Amongst even the most jaded of blisters,
That big blonde mustaches don’t often grow on a whale!
Yet Wilbur he had one, and it was a gem,
Bushy in the middle and curled at both ends!
It required no maintenance,
Nor had it ever.
All that it did was make its wearer look clever!
So Wilbur he swam on through the deep seas,
Year after year, as fine as you please.
He grew old, and he wrinkled,
But that mustache never crinkled,
And he stole a thousand lady-whale hearts.
They just couldn’t resist
The chance to be kissed
By a debonair whale with a mustache so fine!
He’d lift up his eyebrows, and he’d kiss their whale cheeks,
And they’d coo, “Oh, that Wilbur’s divine!”
It was noon in the tropics when Lily and Mary squared off
Each on the beach with all their clothes off!
Mary from Dublin, Lily from Perth,
To see who could be the most burnt person on Earth!
The winner would be the one who turned brightest red
From the tips of her toes to the top of her head!
They were the two whitest people that the Isles could find
They’d advanced to The Finals ahead of their kind—
They’d beaten out raven-haired girls with melanin-tinged skin,
And broad shouldered blond men with too much chest hair to win.
Mary had beat out a Russian who was as white as the moon,
But who forfeited as soon as her feet turned maroon!
While Lily had won a very close race,
With a Norweigan who lost due to her freckled face.
Now the Sunburning Championship is followed worldwide
With a million dollar prize purse and the accompanying pride.
The Sunburning Championship has been vied for for years
And its motto for the past hundred has been, “Sun, sweat, and sears.”
The two contestants, Lily and Mary, were not entirely unique
With light hair and blue eyes upon each pasty physique.
Both peeled and both blistered, neither’d ever browned.
But what set them apart was how UV treated them like a ground.
Sunlight seemed to channel right to them, like power through wire,
Then heat their skins inordinately, till you’d swear they’d catch fire.
While Lily was as white as her pretty namesake,
Mary was born like a girl bred to be baked:
She had albinos on each limb of her family tree:
So oddsmakers disfavored Lily at one to three.
Their corners each oiled the girls head to toe,
Slathered them with palm oil and pounds of Crisco.
Now the sun looked down like an unblinking eye
As the girls lay on the Saint Lucian sand and started to fry!
Within the first hour they turned as pink as a shell
Then started to heat up till they became hot as hell.
Soon Mary and Lily each turned vermillion
As they sweated and fried and dreamt of that million.
The fans of the Irish were waving their flags,
Till the Scottish supporters called the Irish, “Scumbags!”
Fights broke out and pints of beer they were spilled
And word spread that a Scotsman had been inadvertently killed.
Yet still the girls sweated and still the girls fried
Burning in misery till they wished they had died.
The sun burnt their foreheads; the sun burnt their eyes;
It burnt up their armpits, and it burnt up their thighs!
The girls started screaming and writhing in pain
While their coaches all shouted, “Don’t give up, or give in to the strain!”
An hour then passed, and then did another.
And in her sunstroke, Mary began to plead for her mother.
The judges looked closely and called a doctor in,
He said, “Can you finish?” Mary murmured, “I think I can win.”
So the doc nodded at the judges for the match to go on
While the girls kept on burning like badly barbequed prawns.
Time kept on passing, and the girls dreamed of the shade
While their skin slowly turned to raspberry marmalade.
When at last the sun set, both girls were burnt raw,
So the judges who checked them declared the contest a draw!
The Scottish fans rioted; the Irish threw stones;
While the girls they just lay there, burnt to the bone.
There needs to be a word for laughing at horror
When something’s so awful that you laugh in surprise
And you say, “I know it’s not funny…”
But there’s still a laughing look in your eyes.
Like when you hear of the man who was a quadriplegic for life
Falling down in the kitchen to land on a knife.
He would scream out in pain, but he can’t move his lips!
He’d get off the knife, but he can’t move his hips!
Still he’s not quite dead yet, the very poor dear—
Though he may wish he were, as he’s overtaken with fear—
For in the thin walls of his house, a bad electrical wire
Has found inflammable ground and started a fire!
And as the flames rise up, our victim’s consumed
By smoke and fire that blaze him to his doom.
Whoever it was that said Nature’s so sweet
Has never been chaff, has been only wheat.
But for a man like me who is often the chaff
When cruel tragedy happens, I have to weep as I laugh!
And I know it’s not funny to laugh at these things,
When the blades of life are cutting one’s wings,
And the depths of horror are so profound that you cry
Yet an inapt smile appears near the tear from your eye!
So what can you call it when you are laughing at horror?
It’s not quite “schadenfreude,” and not quite “sadistic;”
It’s certainly not “tasteless,” because that’s too simplistic.
I really believe that we must make a word
For a feeling that each of us has sometimes incurred.
I have no proposals, nor have I quaint dictum,
So, like all of you, I’ll just try to not be a victim.
“Clean” Dean the mighty Marine
Couldn’t tell whom
He’d killed or he’d seen.
He was classified to be in many Black Ops
And his superiors referred to him as one of their “mops,”
Because Dean Ian the Cleaning Machine
Was able to leave no trace at a scene.
A contractor is working?
Now he’s working no more.
Disappeared forever to even a score.
Clean Dean the Careful Marine
Left the place looking like
His hit had never been.
One day Clean Dean left the Marines.
He stopped lifting weights;
He became long and lean.
He got into the horses;
He got into the tracks;
He read books about gardening
And espionage paperbacks.
Clean Dean the mighty Marine
Met a lady one day whose name was Colleen.
They got along smoothly,
And he bought her a ring.
He proposed in the fall,
And they were married in spring.
Clean Dean bought a car for the baby
A safe car with four doors
Because Collen was expecting.
The years passed by,
These Dean could not sweep away.
He lived through the seasons;
He lived through the days.
Clean Dean grew old and found God.
His babies had babies,
And he once thought how odd
It was to grow old,
When he’d been convinced he’d die young.
Clean Dean, however, lived till he was ninety-one,
And before he died, his doctor marveled at him
Said, “It must be good living that has kept you so trim.”
And Clean Dean the Ruthless Marine
Gave not a thought to the horrors that he had seen
To the corpses he’d made or the dark places he’d been,
But said with a smile,
“Doc, what’s fascinating,
Is how the world keeps on turning,
Without taking notice of you
It’s a sphere of green and of white and of blue,
And taken at a distance, like from the nearest star,
We folk are so very tiny, that no one knows who we are.”
And so Clean Dean the Mighty Marine
Died one day and Earth kept revolving,
Persisting in its course as it does for all men,
Going and going as if we’d never been.
I met a fellow in the bar last night
Who thought he was William Tell
Wanted to shoot a beer can off my head
I told him to go to Hell.
But he gave me a look like the last buffalo
Dying out on the plains
So sad and lonely it made me act
Like I had forgotten all of my brains…
The barman told us to take it outside
But I told him that I liked where I was
Sitting in front of that big saloon mirror,
Listening to the neon lights buzz.
I took up a bottle of cold Miller Lite
And I set it on top of my head
But when the fellow stumbled ten paces off
I figured I’d soon end up dead.
He cocked back the hammer on his Colt three fifty-seven
And as I watched the cylinder turn
I froze up with my brain full of spiders,
And my stomach crawling with worms.
He closed one eye, and I saw the gun waving
Not a few inches upwards and down
And I cautiously asked him whether he meant
to shoot up the ceiling or into the ground?
The fellow slurred, “I used to do this when I’d hunt antelope
I’d calculate the angle, the distance, and slope.
I’d never miss then,
I’d put bullets through hearts,
For gunmanship is nothing but poise and practice and smarts,
And I possess each in equal parts!”
He stuck his tongue between his lips
And told me to stand very still
And as the barrel waved before my face
I turned a snake green, and I felt very ill.
The fellow slurred, “Whatcher eyes wide for?
I won’t do you no harm!”
Then he licked his lips and drooled a little spittle,
And then the fucker shot me—right in the arm!
The bullet knocked me back against the bar
And the patrons all screamed and ran
A tequila bottle shattered, my stool fell and clattered,
And I heard a shout of “Goddamn!”
Well I clutched my arm, and I started to stand
When I saw the fellow aiming again
I started a prayer, and I leapt out of there,
Talking fast on my way to, “Amen!”
He fired the gun, and the mirror blew out,
Shards of glass flew all over the place.
I poked my head up over a table
And found him aiming the gun at my face.
So I made myself scarce as the gun fired again
And destroyed a bottle of gin.
“Ceasefire, truce!” I shouted to him,
“The bottle’s broken—you win!
If you want me to tell folks you shot it first try,
By heaven, I’ll put it in song!”
“Can I count on you?” he slurred in a shout,
“I want ’em to know I don’t shoot wrong!”
“You can count on me till the end of your days,
From now until the end of all this!
By the time I’m done talking
The people will say, There goes the man who never once missed!”
“Well, I suppose that’s allright,” the drunk fellow said,
“My friend I’ll take up your word.”
Then he looked all around and he put the gun down,
And he said, “I’m sorry I shot up the bar.
But to see the mirror blow out
And hear folks scream and shout
Well that’s enough to make a man’s day.
And after all no one got hurt, just men being men,
Let me buy you a drink, my new friend.
This’ll all turn out right, the world’ll keep turning,
And we’ll all end the same in the end.”
I said I could use a beer and cigarette,
As I picked myself up off the floor.
“A cig?” he said, “I could shoot the cherry off it, I bet.”
And I took off running—right out the door!
Bill “The Butcher” Proctor was the town’s local doctor
And he had had much more than a nip.
When a woman came in with a broken hand,
He took off her leg at the hip.
When the woman woke up she just looked down and sobbed.
“Why, oh why, do you cry?” asked Doctor Proctor,
“It may be true that you’re left with one thigh,
But you’ll get used to that by and by.”
“You fool, you bastard!” the woman screamed at the man,
“I came in to your clinic with a pain in my hand!”
“Hm,” said the doctor, looking down at her leg.
“Well. Yes. Hm. I see.
“In my condition I thought I saw something wrong with the knee.”
And he thought, “Left uncorrected, this could spell serious trouble for me!”
“I’ll sue your quack practice for all that it’s worth!”
Screamed his patient in fury as she wept and she cursed.
Dr. Proctor scratched at his chin, then he put her under again.
He murmured, “I’ll fix this wreck right up in a sec!”
And with the sound of a snick and the sound of a sneck
He cut off his patient’s head at the neck!
“There,” he said, holding her head up by the hair,
“There, there, there! Now, now, she can’t complain to anyone anywhere!”
She heard the click of the ratchet,
and saw the oil pan, sweat, and the grease.
Heat waves shimmered out over the prairie,
while wind stroked the wheat.
From his back beneath his black ’70 Camaro,
he saw her bronzed, crossed legs swinging.
He tightened the oil plug, came out from under the car,
and filled the reservoir with oil.
He wiped his hands with a red rag, and he felt
her eyes on him.
She was sitting on a lawn chair sipping lemonade,
with the prairie stretched out behind.
She didn’t smile when he looked at her,
but she met his eyes.
He checked the oil level, shut the hood,
and ran the car while he put his tools away.
Want to go for a ride, he said.
Yeah. Where to?
It’s the road that matters, he said,
And what you do while you’re on it.
So you don’t know where you’re going?
I know exactly where I’m going, he said.
I’m going where my heart leads.
She smiled at that, and she got in.
They drove out past the steel pump jacks
into a fairy land of wind farms, where the towers
stood like giants and cast shadows
that bent northeast.
As the stars wheeled up, they stopped roadside
to pick buffalo grass and daisies, then they drove on again.
The moon was a quarter full, and as they swept
through the panhandle, she put her bare feet
up on the dash, and she knotted a daisy necklace.
She put it around her neck, and when he looked over
she was wearing the flower necklace,
and hanging in her ears were silver earrings
shaped like crescent moons.
Although he knew already that he was in love,
He felt it again, and he told her so.
When the night was deep and black, they stopped again,
out there on the pavement, and he put his hand around her waist.
Together they looked up to the stars,
and they made up stories for constellations,
listening to one another, to the cicadas,
and their hearts.