Verse and Worse
Notes: This book is still copyright and falls under the “Otherwise noted” copyright notification.
Books by Daniel W. Fry
Verse and Worse
The White Sands Incident
Steps to the Stars
Atoms, Galaxies & Understanding
To Men of Earth
The Curve of Development
Verse and Worse
Daniel W. Fry
Exposition Press Hicksville, New York
© 1979 by Daniel W. Fry
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, in whole or in part, in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. Address inquiries to Exposition Press, Inc., 900 South Oyster Bay Road, Hicksville, NY 11801.
Printed in the United States of America
To those dear but foolish friends of mine,
who have long insisted that I publish my feeble
efforts to woo the muse, this small work is lovingly dedicated.
If, someday, they are forced to read it, it will serve them right!
Bits of logic, shards of reason,
Stored herein until the season
When the need for them arises;
Jumbled thoughts and vague surmises.
Continuity is lacking,
Sanity is slowly cracking,
Reason totters on its throne;
Chaos here shall reign alone.
Yet within these muddled pages
Lies the wisdom of the ages.
Here the thoughtful and discerning
Satisfy their need for learning.
Answers find to every query,
News and views on many a theory.
Knowledge, wisdom, understanding
Body, mind, and soul expanding.
History, mystery, fact and fiction,
Colloquial speech and proper diction,
Philosophy (atrocity!) minds aghast,
The age of man from first to last.
But now this verse, endorsed by sages,
Must end forthwith, though protest rages.
Although its nonsense disengages,
This book ain’t got that many pages!
(At the critical age of eleven, the author contracted a slight case of Poesy, a common and sometimes persistent form of mental aberration that leaves its victim with the belief that he can put a series of words together, using rhyme and meter, and come up with something that still has some kind of meaning. The first example of the grim, but typical, result is given below.)
Our teacher says we have to learn,
‘Cause if we don’t we’ll later yearn
For knowledge that we haven’t got,
And ignorance will be our lot.
We’ll be the outcasts of our race;
In shame we’ll have to hide our face.
So study hard and learn each day,
Or else there will be hell to pay!
When parents note our failing grades,
Their protests will not be charades,
But loud and clear they’ll speak their minds,
While they’re tanning our behinds!
September 11, 1920 (Age 11)
El Centro Elementary School
South Pasadena, California
You think the prosaic things of life
To romance never stoop?
Then listen well to what
I found Within a bowl of soup!
It was a very common soup,
A kind you often see,
In which is found the alphabet
From A and B to Z.
Now X and Y, I soon observed,
Were locked in close embrace,
And a cheery look of love I saw
Upon each letter’s face.
But U and I were all alone,
And very far apart,
As if upon a different plane,
With each a lonely heart.
Then to me came a wistful thought,
And from my heart a sigh
If only U could just be X,
And I were only Y!
June 3, 1923 (Age 13)
On yon purple mountain tall,
Perched, like pride before a fall,
The desert sun doth blaze with all his might.
Brazen glare in western skies,
Day, with grim reluctance, dies;
And dying, yet adroitly vies with night.
A glowing train of many shades
Slowly through the sky parades,
And then is gone, as swiftly fades the light.
Darkness triumphs, it would seem,
But suddenly there comes the gleam
Of myriad stars which lend their beam to sight.
No poet I, ’tis plain, and still
This sight my wondering soul doth fill
With rash desire which brings the will to write.
August 15,1927 (Age 18)
Antelope Valley, California
When the angry god of the thunderbolts
Hurls forth his blazing brands,
And the dust devils dance on the vast expanse
Of ever-shifting sands;
When the black clouds fly through an ominous sky,
In a chaos of swirling strife,
It is then that the Big Rock River feels
The thrill of returning life.
From its bed, long dead, through the arid years
‘Neath the pitiless blazing sun,
It leaps once more, with a growing roar
A new life just begun.
A short life, aye, and a merry one,
In a reckless remorseless way;
What man hath wrought is set at naught,
When the Big Rock holds its sway!
The great bridge falls from its granite walls,
A plaything crushed and bent,
To pitch and yaw in that churning maw
Till the river’s wrath is spent.
The boulders gray fling gleaming spray
To taunt the glaring sun,
In the grinding crush of the water’s rush,
Till its desert course is run.
August 4,1928 (Age 19)
Antelope Valley High School
Antelope Valley, California
Once, in my early youth, I asked,
What is this place in which I dwell?
It isn’t heaven, that is sure,
Nor do I think it’s hell.
It must be somewhere in between,
And since I’m sure that’s so,
I really should make up my mind
Which way I want to go!
The road to heaven, it is said,
Is narrow, steep, and rough,
And he that travels on that road
Will find the going tough.
The road to hell is broad and smooth,
And downhill all the way.
It’s easy just to coast along,
Or so the preachers say.
I’d like to take the easy road,
Most anybody would.
It’s so much simpler just to coast,
And many think they should.
But yet a road is just a way
To get from place to place,
And if I take the road to hell,
I’ll meet the devil, face to face.
His reputation is not good
It’s said he’s mean and bad
And those who dwell within his realm
Must suffer and be sad.
I don’t think I would like that;
There’s grief aplenty here.
The sound of strife and combat
Is always somewhere near.
I guess I’ll take the heavenly road,
Though narrow, rough, and steep.
They say that, once in heaven,
There’ll be no more need to weep!
Just float upon a fleecy cloud,
And dream away the years,
Where alabaster cities gleam,
Undimmed by human tears.
I’ll spend a thousand years or so
In this idyllic life,
But then perhaps I’ll feel the need
For (just a little) strife
A little struggle, grief, and woe, just as a change of pace —
So then perhaps I’ll take my leave,
And try the other place!
June 17,1929 (Age 19)
While pondering a mystic tome
Late on a dreary eve,
I felt my restless spirit rise
And senses take their leave.
I dreamed, and my spirit wandered
To a far and weird shore,
That never a living human soul
Had visited before.
There Ishtar, goddess of beauty,
Ruled her chosen few;
And Ashtoreth, and Jagahuth,
The gods that the ancients knew.
Egyptian gods of the sunlight
Neith, and Mout, and Re
Still issued their sacred edicts,
Which their subjects still obey.
Each god had some who worshiped
And praised his name alone,
And could not see the other gods,
Though each was on his throne.
‘Tis thus the endless pattern flows,
With naught that’s new or old;
The heavenly god is future bliss,
The earthly god is gold.
And so I woke. Though ’twas but dream,
Let it remind us yet,
That life is but a waking dream,
Lest we forget!
December 1929 (Age 20)
The sun is a ball of blazing hate
That glares from a molten sky.
The burning sand foretells my fate
As it whispers, “You’re going to die!”
My canteen’s empty, I’ve lost my way,
My burro strayed in the night;
And now the desert has seized its prey,
And I’m fighting a losing fight.
There’s a girl could tell you why I came.
Thank God, she won’t know where.
In all this world, no other soul
Will ever know, or care.
Like the heart of that girl is the desert;
It knows not the word forgive.
And the man who fails in the desert,
Forfeits the right to live!
The buzzards are wheeling overhead.
They’re gathering, one by one.
But my guts are gone and I can’t go on.
God help me now! I’m done.
My fingers tremble as I roll the gum
And press it onto the quill.
Then, over the flame of the peanut oil,
I slowly roast the “pill.”
The black gum bubbles and starts to smoke,
And I know it’s cooked enough.
Then I drop the mess in the pipe’s black bowl.
And take that first big puff!
I’ll be a successful man tonight,
Loved and respected by all;
For the poppy serves its servants well,
And answers their every call.
I’ll be a famous artist;
My paintings will have no peer.
I’ll be a noted scientist,
Or perhaps an engineer.
IT be a wealthy man tonight,
With riches in endless store
To satisfy my every whim,
To open every door.
IT have the love of a woman tonight;
She’s as fair as fair can be.
Though she only comes through the poppy smoke,
She loves no one but me!
Tonight I’ll scale the dizzy heights
For which men vainly strive,
And I’ll have more of the things man wants
Than any man alive!
Then I know I’ll awake, in the cold gray dawn,
With my head ablaze with pain,
And a thirst that nothing on earth can quench.
Then I’ll be myself again.
(I’ll be the man that I’ve learned to hate,
The man that I really am!)
A hopeless, helpless failure,
With no one to know, or care,
Riding the ghost ship ILLUSION,
Adrift on the sea of DESPAIR.
(Thoughts upon Awakening)
(Apologies to William Shakespeare)
To rise, or not to rise? That is the question. Whether ’tis
nobler in the mind to strike off the unseemly shackles of
Morpheus, or to slip quietly back into the soothing arms
of Lethe. To dawdle comfortably along the path of the
least resistance, or to struggle mightily for small and
Life is not for ease and comfort, nor yet for peace and security,
for the ultimate in all of these goals can be achieved
only in death! The question is not whether our goals are
reached or our struggles are successful, for it is the struggle
itself that is the essence of life. Inanimate things do not
struggle, only living things.
It is by our dreams, our deeds, and our daily toil, therefore,
that we prove we are animate, sensate, and cognizant.
It is by our aspirations and our struggles that we justify
our own existence, and make our tiny unnoticed marks
upon the endless scroll of history.
(Apologies to Henry Wadsworth Long fellow)
Under the spreading sycamore tree,
La Panza fire camp stands.
Through song and verse its fame shall reach
To many distant lands.
An army tent with frame of wood,
Some shelves to hold the grub,
Some nails to hold our coats and hats,
A rough plank floor to scrub!
Two iron cots with broken springs,
Some worn-out pads for same,
A threadbare blanket draped upon
Each pallet’s sagging frame.
Two battered pots, a coffee can,
Some dishes, worse for wear,
Some tarnished knives, and forks, and spoons,
To serve our simple fare.
Refrigerators are unknown,
Iceboxes there are none;
No cooler graces our domain,
To thwart the broiling sun.
No bathtub, shower, or toilet seat,
Washbowl or kitchen sink,
Are to be found for miles around;
No water fit to drink.
A stream of bugs and flies and ants,
Ten thousand strong, or more,
Comes crawling through a hundred cracks,
And through the screenless door.
They mix with all our food, of course,
No way to keep them out,
And though our protein is increased,
We’d rather do without!
No TV news or radio,
To keep us up to date;
The world might end, we’d never know,
Nor reach the pearly gate.
It’s not the nicest place to be.
There is one comfort though:
This is the fifteenth day of June,
just twelve more weeks to go!*
*Written at La Panza Fire Camp, a two-man standby facility of the California State Forestry Department near Bakersfield, California.
Tell me not, in mournful grumbles,
Life is just a dish of prunes,
For the smoothest dancer stumbles
When the devil calls the tunes!
Life can be a bowl of cherries
If we meet it with a grin,
Shrug our shoulders at misfortune,
Take it squarely on the chin.
Life is not for gloom and sorrow,
But for glee and mirth and cheer.
Smile today and laugh tomorrow,
Chuckle daily through the year.
Lives of comics oft remind us
We can make a buck or two
Poking fun at traits that bind us;
Levity will see us through.
If you brood upon your troubles,
Sad and lonely you will be.
And you’ll have a peptic ulcer,
Just to keep you company.
A smile is easier to accomplish
Than a frown, or so ’tis said.
So just be lazy, keep on smiling,
Even if you’re sick in bed!
Muddled thoughts, disjointed phrases,
In verse with neither rhyme nor meter,
Expressing vague and fleeting concepts,
Which the reader’s mind strives vainly
To bring into focus.
Shards of reason, mental discords,
Artistic cacophony in written form,
Containing profound messages
In a-strangely garbled tongue,
Which defies literal translation.
Brain in neutral, pen idling along,
Some of our modern poets
Fill many a page with trash like this,
Which noted critics duly laud,
Though neither they, nor we,
Will ever understand it!
*Written after reading twenty pages of modern poetry in a writer’s magazine.
(Apologies to Clement C. Moore)
‘Twas the night before Christmas
And all through the streets,
Mobs of people were shopping
For presents and treats.
The buses were loaded
Till no more could ride;
The stores were so jammed
One could scarce get inside.
The clerks were all harried,
And worn to a frazzle;
For them the bright tinsel,
Had lost all its dazzle.
A gift for Aunt Hattie,
And one for my cousin,
Two more for the Joneses,
And the kids want a dozen!
Then there’s turkey and cranberries,
Mincemeat for pies,
Cookies and candies and Gosh!
How time flies!
I set out this morning
Thinking shopping was fun,
Now the day’s almost over
And I’m only half done.
My poor feet are aching
I’ve trotted so far;
From the car to the stores,
And the stores to the car.
My arms are so weary
Of bundles and bags.
My wallet is empty;
My Yule Spirit sags.
Though I know it’s the season
Of good will and cheer,
I’m so glad that it comes
Only once in the year!
(Apologies to Lewis Carroll)
The Gostak doth the dosh distimm,
The linguists all maintain.
But if it does, and I’m sure it does,
So doth the Whooping Crane.
The wiley Wogs, in flying togs,
Were seen to board the plane.
But then they flew too far, too fast,
And ne’er were seen again!
Two turtles from Galapagos,
With all their skill and might,
Set out to gubb the Gooney Bird,
Which caused him quite a fright.
The rain that falls in Spain, they say,
Falls mostly on the Main.
But if it all fell elsewhere,
What would there be to gain?
This silly verse gets worse and worse,
But no use to complain;
It’s not the verse that is at fault,
The writer is insane!
(Apologies to Henry Wadsworth Long fellow)
Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the kitchenware made by Paul Revere.
For Paul was a silversmith, skillful and neat;
He could fashion a kettle that couldn’t be beat!
Silver on copper he bonded with care,
Creating the finest of Sheffield Ware.
His teapots were priceless, though not used for tea,
For most of that had been dumped in the sea!
His fame as a craftsman had spread through the land.
One would think that historians would give him a hand.
But all that our history books tell us, of course,
Is that Paul Revere once took a ride on a horse!
What is the reason, preacher friend,
For man’s sojourn on earth?
To add a cubit to his height,
Or only to his girth?
Why must we learn our lessons here
Through sorrow, toil, and pain
And if we fail to get the point,
We do it all again?
If I were God, I think that I
Could make a better place,
Where lessons could be taught, and learned,
In comfort, and with grace.
But as I look around me here
I know it wouldn’t work;
Unless they feel the pain of need,
Most folks are prone to shirk.
If you would pass through heaven’s gate,
Exalted and sublime,
You simply have to work like hell,
And struggle all the time.
(Apologies to Rudyard Kipling)
If you can keep your cool when all about you
Are blowing theirs, and saying you’re to blame,
If you can march ten miles with full equipment,
And never let the sergeant know you’re lame,
If you can wait an extra hour for mess call,
And not compare the cooks to crippled snails,
Or sit all day and peel those damned potatoes,
Until you’ve filled a dozen army pails,
If you can swing a pick from dawn till sunset,
And never count the blisters on your hands,
Then walk a sentry beat till after midnight,
All at some stupid martinet’s commands,
If you can goof off when you should be working,
And still escape the CO’s watchful eye,
Or weasel out of all your KP duty,
While hitting up the cook for extra pie,
If you can take your sergeant’s caustic comments,
And never say a word beneath your breath,
Or find the snake your pals put in your blankets,
And not wish you could strangle them to death,
If you can lick a boot upon occasion,
And not feel too degraded by the act,
And still keep the respect of all your buddies,
By using equal parts of brass and tact,
If you can start a crap game in your barracks,
And bet your wad upon a single roll,
And then throw snake eyes, like a rank beginner,
And never brag how far you’re in the hole,
If you can stand up straight when at attention,
And always give a proper crisp salute,
And show respect and reverence for superiors,
While wishing you could give them all the boot,
If you can keep your ODs bright and spotless,
And pass inspection on full-dress parade,
And make your bunk up every single morning,
The way the rule book says it should be made,
If you can make the grade on one-day passes,
And not convince your girl friend you’re a goon,
Then, my son, you’ll make a first-class private,
And what is more, you’ll be a sergeant soon!
We’ve heard that fluoridation
Is soon to come our way,
And we’ll just have to drink the stuff,
No matter what we say!
The “experts” say, in their expert way,
And they really seem to think it,
That fluoride cuts down tooth decay,
And so we all must drink it.
Now healthy teeth are fine to have
The false ones aren’t so handy;
If fluoride only fixed our teeth,
Its use would be just dandy.
So pass around the drinking glass
Be sure it’s fluoridated;
For all our rules of health, alas,
Have now been “liquidated.”
Who cares a lot if kidneys rot;
We’ll simply do without ’em.
And if our brains go down the drain,
We just won’t think about ’em.
If hearing fades, and deafness comes,
It really doesn’t matter;
We just won’t have to listen
To the television chatter!
If vision dims, and joints grow stiff,
And hands begin to quiver,
Our teeth will still be firm and sound,
Although we’ve lost our liver.
When lungs collapse, and heart grows still,
We’ll go without a sigh,
For we’ll have a lovely set of teeth
To grin with when we die!
Twinkle, twinkle, distant quasar,
Tell me whence your mighty rays are?
Energy whose huge dimension
Beggars human comprehension.
Speculation burgeons, therefore,
As to what, and how, and wherefore.
How I wonder, mystery star,
What in hell you really are.
Little grains of sawdust,
Some enzymes, set to brood,
A tasty sugar coating,
Tomorrow’s breakfast food!
My mind has built a launching pad
Upon the planet Mars,
From which it oft goes wandering
Among the nearer stars.
Our solar system’s planets
Are soon left far behind;
The speed of light can never match
The travel rate of mind.
The three Centauris are, of course,
The first upon my list,
For they’re the nearest stars of all,
And hardly could be missed.
Next there is Bernard’s star.
It’s just eight light-years out,
And blessed with several planets which
No star should be without.
Then there is Polaris,
Our planet’s guiding star;
It tells the errant mariners
Exactly where they are.
Next in line is Sirius,
The brightest of the stars;
It has one planet only,
About the size of Mars.
It cannot be detected, though,
By telescope at night;
Its orbit’s noneclipsing
From earthly line of sight.
The distant quasars beckon me,
Though I don’t know what they are.
Although my mind is fancy-free,
It’s never been that far.
Someday I’ll tour the universe
On Einstein’s curving track.
But, if I do, you’ll never know,
For I won’t be coming back!
(Apologies to Edgar Allan Poe)
Once, within my cottage dreary,
Where I tottered, drunk and bleary,
Tripping over many a bottle
Lying empty on the floor,
While I staggered, nearly falling,
Suddenly there came a bawling,
As of someone loudly calling,
Just outside my cottage door.
” ‘Tis my boozem friend,” I muttered.
“Coming back to drink some more!”
(Boozem friends can be a bore.)
Ah, how well my memory serves me.
The mere thought of it unnerves me!
Of that bleak and dreary cottage
That had been my only home.
How I longed to see the dawning
As I waited, stretching, yawning,
Retching, coughing, groaning, cursing,
As all drunks have done before.
But no daylight was forthcoming,
When I heard the violent drumming
Of a heavy fist a-thrumming,
Drumming on my cottage door.
“Hold your horses, Jim,” I grumbled,
As I staggered, tripped, and stumbled,
In my haste to reach my pal before
He’d battered in the door.
But my haste was unavailing,
For the hasp had long been ailing,
And beneath that lusty flailing
It could hold its own no more.
With a final screech of protest,
It fell inward on the floor.
Through the door, now swinging toward me,
Came a form that nearly floored me;
This was not my drinking comrade,
But a huge and hairy ape!
Not a sign of greeting made he,
Not the least attention paid me,
Neither grunt nor grumble gave he,
As he sat down on my chair,
On the sagging, creaky rocker,
That was my only chair!
Never have I been so shaken.
Instant leave I would have taken
From my monster-ridden cottage,
But my knees gave out instead.
Though I knew I should be fleeing
To some safer place of being,
The strange sight that I was seeing
Dropped me limply on my bed,
On the springless, threadbare pallet
That served me as a bed.
Being prone to deep imbibing,
I’d seen sights beyond describing,
For when liquor weaves its magic spell
Strange things are in the air.
Small pink elephants come wheeling,
Round and round a snake-filled ceiling,
But who ever saw a hairy ape
Upon his rocking chair?
On the creaking, squeaking, sagging wreck
That was his rocking chair?
For a long time I sat dormant,
Suffering the mental torment
Of the coward trapped in danger
From which he cannot flee,
Staring at this fearful creature,
Hypnotized by every feature,
From his hugely muscled chest and arms
To bloodshot eyes that glared at me
With stark contempt and loathing
And a bit of hellish glee!
Then he rose and started for me.
Limb from limb he might have torn me
If his hamlike paws had closed upon
My slight and scrawny frame.
But, at last, I leaped to action,
And my feet, obtaining traction
On the rough and splintery flooring,
Took me hurtling through the door,
Of that horror-haunted hovel,
(Which I have seen no more).
My escape brought no elation;
My one thought, acceleration!
As my flying feet went skimming,
Through the cold and dewy morn.
For the day at last was dawning,
Though the villagers, still yawning,
Were just emerging from their beds
To greet the rising sun,
As I passed on through the village,
Like a bullet from a gun!
Through the woods and fields of clover,
And the highway south to Dover,
My eager feet propelled me,
With never-flagging zeal.
Though one’s home may be his castle,
Be he lord or lowly vassal,
When hairy apes inhabit it,
It loses all appeal;
And I had no wish to test the ape,
To see if he were real!
Since that day, I’ve been eschewing
All the fruits of still or brewing,
And have gained in weight and strength,
But, most of all, in peace of mind.
I have grown a little older
And, perhaps, a trifle bolder,
Though I have no wish to fraternize
With apes of any clan.
If one should now come calling,
I would find it less appalling,
For I’d know that it was just an ape,
While I am now a man!
Star light, star bright,
Guide my wandering thoughts tonight.
Strike off the shackles of space and time.
Release my spirit and let it climb,
Free of its shell of flesh and bone,
Far from its earthly bondage zone.
Let me soar through boundless space,
Moving at will from place to place,
Observing with awe what God hath made,
Myriads of galaxies unsurveyed
By man, who in his prideful quest
Of knowledge, still ignores the best.
Quasars and pulsars let me scan.
Help me to grasp the master plan
That governs all God’s vast domain,
From blazing star to gentle rain.
Unveil the mysteries of life,
Replace with peace our constant strife.
I do not seek for wealth or fame,
For pedestal or hallowed name;
No bust of mine shall grace the wall
Of Father Time’s eternal hall.
From life I make no great demand,
But only pray to understand.
(Apologies to Robert Service)
A bunch of the gals were whooping it up
In the Maids and Matrons Bar,
And the lady that tickles the baby grand
Was smoking a black cigar.
Beside the buffet, the lady in gray,
With a goblet of cherry wine,
Was smacking her lips and swinging her hips,
And singing “Sweet Adeline.”
With the face of an angel, the voice of a devil,
And a figure just halfway between,
She ruled the place with feline grace,
And the air of a jungle queen.
When out of the street, which was filled with sleet,
And into the smoke-filled room,
There stumbled a gal by the name of Sal,
With the reek of cheap perfume.
She looked like a dame who might have known fame,
But never a child or a spouse,
As she strode to the till, and laid down a bill,
And said, “Let’s all have drinks on the house!”
No one could place the lady’s face,
Nor could we recall her name,
But we drank her health, just to share her wealth,
While she had three shots of the same!
The liquor was strong, and it was not long
Till her eyes had begun to shine.
Then she stepped to the jukebox beside the bar,
And slipped in a shiny new dime.
Some music came forth, both raucous and loud,
‘Twould have made any welkin ring.
Then she threw back her head and opened her mouth,
And-oh Lord!-how that woman could sing!
Her song told a story of romance and love,
Of tender affection and care,
But then came a note of deception and doubt,
Of anger, and fear, and despair.
It told of the loss of the loved one’s love
To the artful seduction and lure
Of a siren in gray, whose habits of play
Brought disruptions no Cupid could cure.
‘Twas a real tearjerker, no doubt about that;
There was not a dry eye in the house,
Till the lady in gray said, “Be that as it may,
I still say this dame is a louse.”
The song died away, then it burst forth again,
Like Mt. Pelee’s eruption of doom,
And it said, “I will slay this hussy in gray,
Before everyone in this room!”
The two came together like bulls in a field,
With heads down and loaded for bear.
It was plain that they had but one purpose in mind
To rip, and to slash, and to tear.
Their dresses were shredded,
their bra straps gave way,
Their undies were yanked at and torn
As they clawed at each other, until they emerged
Just as nude as the day they were born.
Though both were exhausted, and panting for breath,
And scratched from their heads to their heels,
They grinned at each other and slowly shook hands,
Ignoring their bruises and weals.
Said the lady in gray, “‘Twas a wonderful fray.
You fought like a true jungle cat.
I’ve lost all my clothes, and some skin from my nose,
And no man is worth more than that!”
Said the gal known as Sal, “You’re a good sport, pal,
And I’m sorry I blew my cork.
The guy was a louse who liked to play house,
But was deathly afraid of the stork!
Let’s pick up our shreds, find some needles and thread,
And do what we can to repair.
For, in this year of grace, we can’t leave the place
Until we have something to wear!”
In the long winter evenings, in many a bar,
The saga is told to this day
Of the fight to the finish by the gal named
Sal And the battling lady in gray.
(Apologies to Henry Wadsworth Long fellow)
Speak, speak, voracious guest,
Who, with unbridled zest,
By some hungry fiend’s possessed.
Why do you seek me?
Armed not with beggar’s guile,
But with cherubic smile,
Munching my food the while,
Speak! I entreat thee!
Then from contented lips,
Still savoring my sirloin tips,
As one who ambrosia sips,
Came a soft purring;
And as I bended near,
Lending an eager ear,
Its curious tale to hear,
My fancy luring.
“I was a pampered cat
In my prior habitat.
No one would tell me `Scat!’
To send me fleeing.
I ruled the household then;
Silk cushions lined my den.
Servants to me were men
For my well-being.
“But, on a fateful day
Nearing the end of May,
All this was swept away,
And I was homeless.
My mistress left the house
After a tiff with spouse,
In which she called him `louse’
And other vermin.
“Spats they had had before,
But this one was something more.
Names were called by the score,
And not rescinded.
She vowed she would not stay.
He said, `So go away!’
And there was hell to pay,
In my `Blue Heaven.’
“Since then my weary feet
Have trod full many a street,
Seeking some snug retreat,
To spend my days in.
If you have rats or mice,
Which you may think less than nice,
Then take my sound advice,
And give me haven.
“I’m now a working cat.
I spare no mouse or rat.
I’ll keep your habitat
Free of all rodents.
I’ll earn my board and keep,
Assuring you peaceful sleep
Unmarred by varmint’s squeak
Or gnawing habits.”
Rats or mice I had none,
But, when the day was done,
I longed to have someone
To share affection.
That’s how it came to be
That this furry mound you see,
Now curled upon my knee,
Came to my dwelling.
Beneath the sun that beams on me,
Tanning my hide from head to heels,
I bless the hours from noon till three
For soaring gulls and splashing seals.
For many years I strove amain
From dawn to dusk, to earn my bread.
Some clothing too, I sought to gain,
Also a place to lay my head.
But always in my dreams I saw,
As I labored day by day,
The little cottage I would own
Beneath the palms, beside the bay.
It buoyed me up through dreary hours
Of meaningless, exhausting toil,
This dream of life ‘mid blooming flowers:
My own small patch of fertile soil.
Each weekend from my meagre pay,
To help my lifelong dream mature,
I took a tithe to lay away:
A fund whose growth was slow, but sure.
An interest rate of five percent
Was not enough, I thought,
So off to Merrill Lynch I went.
A few choice stocks I bought.
The market rose, with me in tow;
My little pile increased.
In order to be “in the know,”
The proper palms I greased.
The mortgage market beckoned me
With large discounts for cash,
And into this I plunged with glee,
Though I was never rash.
The import-export trade seemed good,
Offering a fair and fast return,
And so I felt I really should
Go into it, if just to learn.
But then one day, to my surprise,
As I totaled up the score,
I found each time my income rose
My income tax rose even more!
I had no wish to spend my days
Working with might and main
To earn a buck, in various ways,
While Uncle Sam took all the gain.
The time has come, I told myself,
To start my life anew
To put my business on the shelf
And make my dreams come true.
I bought myself a tropic isle,
Not far from Bali’s shore,
And built my cottage, native style,
With palm trees by the score.
I did not want too large a place;
My friends and guests are few.
Its nineteen rooms, in any case,
Would simply have to do.
The teletype within my den
Chatters from nine to five.
Each weekday, at the stroke of ten,
My stock reports arrive.
I pay them little mind, of course,
When in my ivory tower.
That delegation from the bourse
Can wait another hour!
So now my dreams have all come true;
I’m in my cottage by the sea.
So why the hell am I so blue,
And bored as bored can be?
(Apologies to John Greenleaf Whittier)
The sun, that scorching August day,
Rose over fields of new mown hay,
And brought, by noon, a sweltering heat
That chapped the skin, and blistered feet,
Slow tracing through the molten sky,
Its incandescent prophecy.
An all-embracing wave of heat
That parched the corn and seared the wheat,
Stripping all moisture from the grass
And brush that lined the mountain pass,
Whose tinder dryness beneath the sun
Foretold the holocaust to come.
A breeze came up just after three
And whispered a hellish litany
Among the leaves, and twigs, and bark,
That lay, just waiting for a spark
To set them free of earthly ties
And send them flaming to the skies.
No one knew from whence it came,
But suddenly there was a flame
That leaped up from the valley floor
With billowing smoke and growing roar:
A seething, swelling sheet of fire,
As though hell would to heaven aspire.
The forest lookout from his tower
Watched the racing flames devour
Brush and trees of every kind,
Leaving only ash behind.
“Five thousand acres this will be,
And maybe even more,” said he.
A dozen “borax bombers” came,
Spewing retardant on the flame
In futile efforts to stem the tide
Of a fire front now some two miles wide,
Sweeping unchecked from crest to crest.
The fire crews had no time to rest.
The superintendent shook his head,
“We haven’t got a chance,” he said.
“No army could this fire contain.
All we can do is pray for rain,
And since there’s not a cloud in sight,
We’ll have to pray with all our might!”
For three long days the fire roared on,
Defying efforts of skill and brawn
To halt its relentless onward rush,
Devouring miles of trees and brush.
Two thousand crewmen worked in vain,
While every one of them prayed for rain!
The smoke swept up in a boiling cloud,
Wreathing the sun in a crimson shroud.
The fine white ash resembled snow,
As it fluttered down on the men below.
The smoke so thick it obscured the view
Of the nimbus clouds that were forming too.
The fire crews were exhausted and beat,
Days of frustration and constant retreat,
Their labor futile, with nothing to gain,
But now there came a patter of rain!
The crewmen cheered, the fire only hissed
Contempt for the rain, little more than a mist.
But now in the heavens the thunder god roared,
Opened the floodgates, and down it all poured.
In one short hour, in a five-mile arc,
Not a flame was left, not even a spark.
Silence descended, peace came at last;
Fire and rain were both in the past.
The crewmen, drenched but jubilant still,
Gathered their gear and trudged down the hill,
Where trucks awaited to carry them back
Hot meals and a well-earned stretch in the sack.
Though the fire is over its problems remain,
In the soil erosion of next winter’s rain.
(Apologies to Robert Service)
There are strange things seen on the TV screen
By the kids who sit and stare
At Superman and Mighty Mouse,
And Bugs, the canny hare.
Their glassy eyes, ecstatic sighs,
Cross-legged on the floor,
All indicate their hypnostate
That calls for more and more.
Commercials pass like blades of grass,
Unheeded but for one
The Crispy Crunchy Sugar Snacks,
Just made for kiddies’ fun.
They’re neat and sweet, and good to eat
For breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Each box contains a special treat,
So every kid’s a winner.
Now brave Captain Marvel comes,
With blare of trumpets, roll of drums.
Evildoers flee like rabbits,
Forsaking their unlawful habits.
Soap operas are for housewives, bored
By humdrum lives that don’t afford
The pangs of love, the shattered dream,
With which all TV sagas teem.
Will uncle’s business really fail?
How soon will Dad get out of jail?
Will Dr. Jones abort the child?
This long suspense could drive one wild!
Whodunnits are for late late shows,
With plots both pale and weak.
Insomniacs with bleary eyes
Look on while others sleep.
The boob tube is a strange device,
A friend both tried and true
But only for those idle souls
Who’ve nothing else to do!
February 11, 1978
It was a Lockheed Lodestar
That flew through stormy skies,
And the pilot had taken his lady love
To charm her with his lies.
“Sweet are your lips as the honeycomb,
Your skin like the whitest milk,
Your every touch is a fond caress
As smooth as China silk.”
“Belay the guff!” his love replied,
“Till we are back in town.
Your starboard engine’s heating up,
The oil pressure’s down.
“We’re bucking winds of sixty knots
A hundred miles from land.
The gauges say we’re low on gas.
I hope you understand.
“This crate is not amphibious.
If it should hit the drink,
In thirty seconds, more or less,
The two of us will sink!
“What good will my lips do you then,
However soft and sweet,
if both of us are nothing more
Than food for fish to eat!”
The pilot laughed a hearty laugh.
“Forget your fears,” said he.
“This plane will fly through any storm,
And over any sea.”
But even as he spoke the words
In confidence and pride,
The starboard engine sputtered twice
And then gave up and died!
In vain the pilot tried his skill,
Employing every art.
In spite of all his efforts
The engine would not start.
“Oh well, we’ll make it yet,” he said.
“Though it’s tough it had to stop,
The portside mill will get us home
If we rev up the prop.”
“You’ve lost your mind!” his love replied.
“It’s doing all it can.
Another dozen RPMs
And it will lose its fan!
“There is an island east of here,
Just two points off our bow:
It’s only twenty miles away;
We may get there somehow.
“It hasn’t any landing strip,
But the beach is firm and smooth.
You’ll have to use your landing lights
To hit it in the groove.
“The island’s just a mile across,
And no one’s living there.
There’ll be no lights to guide us;
We’ll have to try a flare.
“We’re losing altitude, you know.
It should be plain to see:
We simply have to reach some land
Before we reach the sea!”
The crippled Lodestar limped along,
Approaching its unknown fate,
While all its passengers could do
Was say a prayer, and wait.
“Twelve minutes gone,” the pilot said.
“It should be close at hand.
I’ll drop a flare and maybe we
Can spot the patch of sand.”
The flare was dropped and, sure enough,
A scant half-mile ahead,
A strip of beach came into sight.
“Thank God,” the pilot said.
But then the darkness came again,
As swiftly as a blow,
For the flare had reached the ocean
Less than fifty feet below!
The race resulted in a tie Between the sea and land.
The Lodestar slapped a breaking wave,
To bounce upon the sand.
The landing gear washed out at once,
And belly down it pressed
Straight up the beach for twenty yards
Before it came to rest.
The pilot heaved a mighty sigh.
“So here we are,” he said.
“We’re in one piece and A-OK,
Though we probably should be dead.
“But since we’re not, I shall begin
Again where I left off,
To tell you that your lips are sweet;
Your skin is smooth and soft.
“I’ll send a mayday to the base,
But tell them not to worry.
Tomorrow afternoon will do,
There really is no hurry.
“They’ll send a chopper from the base
To take us back to town,
And an LST to load the plane,
Since its landing gear is down.”
The night wore out and came the dawn.
The day was bright and fair.
While at the base two crews set out
To save the stranded pair.
But when the rescuers arrived,
By sea and from above,
They found the victims of the wreck
Still busy making love!
(Apologies to Henry Wadsworth Long fellow)
By the shores of Bali-Bali,
In the South Pacific waters,
Stood the grass but of Mowegee,
Mighty sorcerer Mowegee.
Sun and moon rose and descended,
At his masterly command.
Ocean tides obeyed his bidding.
He controlled both sea and land.
Every day his people gathered,
His great wisdom to acquire;
How, by rubbing sticks together,
One can have the gift of fire.
How a spearhead can be fashioned
From a well-shaped bit of stone,
And a necklace of great beauty
From a piece of herringbone.
Pots and other home utensils
Can be made from moistened clay,
And the tiny, manlike figures
With which the children play.
How to pray to great Mandaba
For forgiveness of one’s sins,
And to Moki, god of harvest,
To fill the storage bins.
Endless bits of precious wisdom
To his flock Mowegee taught.
Men from all the nearby islands
Eagerly his counsel sought.
But, as season followed season,
Days and months grew into years.
Great Mowegee shrank in stature;
Common men became his peers.
All his knowledge now was common;
His great wisdom shared by all.
Little more had he to offer;
Greatness gone beyond recall.
“That old goat is surely senile,”
His once-staunch admirers said.
“He now mutters words of nonsense.
Cogs have slipped within his head!
“He says men will talk with others
While they’re many miles away;
Food will come from `supermarkets,’
If one has the `dough’ to pay.
“Huge canoes, propelled by fire,
Built and sailed by human hands,
Soon will carry men and cargo
Back and forth from distant lands.
“He insists that our descendants
All will someday learn to fly
In machines they have invented,
Soar like eagles in the sky.
“All day long he sits and mutters
Prophecies of what’s in store,
But the things he says are foolish.
Truly, he’s become a bore!”
Now Mowegee sits in silence,
Dreaming dreams of future days.
No one comes to share his wisdom;
None consider what he says.
Thus it is, and always has been,
When there’s wisdom to be taught:
It should always be presented
In small bits, and slowly brought.
Human minds have human limits,
Only so much can they hold.
Visions of the far-flung future
May be seen, but seldom told.
I think that I shall never see
A thing as pesky as the tree
Some foolish soul, in years long gone,
Allowed to grow on our front lawn.
When March winds blow, its branches crack.
And so, I think, will my poor back
Each time I have to lug them hence
And toss them over our back fence.
When May arrives, birds build their nests
In every branch, and all have guests
With whom they chatter constantly.
Oh, how I loathe that pesky tree!
When autumn comes, the leaves rain down.
Our lawn’s the messiest in town.
In vain I rake and rake and pile;
It stands and mocks me all the while.
I swear by all the gods I know,
That pesky tree has got to go!
And yet, deep down inside of me,
I know how much I’d miss that tree!
Alamogordo, New Mexico