Poetry

Uncle Jim

I got a chuckle from Peter Meinke's poem "Uncle Jim" that was featured today on The Writer's Almanac.  I had a (great) Uncle Jim who was an interesting character...but not like this one.

What the children remember about Uncle Jim
is that on the train to Reno to get divorced
so he could marry again
he met another woman and woke up in California.
It took him seven years to untangle that dream
but a man who could sing like Uncle Jim
was bound to get in scrapes now and then:
he expected it and we expected it.
Mother said, It's because he was the middle child,
and Father said, Yeah, where there's trouble
Jim's in the middle.
When he lost his voice he lost all of it
to the surgeon's knife and refused the voice box
they wanted to insert. In fact he refused
almost everything. Look, they said,
it's up to you. How many years
do you want to live? and Uncle Jim
held up one finger.
The middle one.

"Uncle Jim" by Peter Meinke, from Liquid Paper: New and Selected Poems. © University of Pittsburgh Press, 1991. Reprinted without permission. (buy now)

Autobiography of the Cab Driver...

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I liked this poem by Rebecca McClanahan as featured in Tuesday's The Writer's Almanac.

Autobiography of the Cab Driver Who Picked Me Up At a Phoenix Hotel to Catch a Four A.M. Flight and Began to Speak in (Almost) Rhyming Couplets

I got two problems. One,
I never see the sun
and two, if I did,
I couldn't take it, never could.
Now, my sister? Out one day
and brown the next. That's the way
my father was. We never
took vacations but he used to steer
on Sundays with one arm
out the window. Get dark as a black man.
Something in his blood, I guess.
Once I bought me a mess
of tanning cream, but something
kept me from using it.
He's been dead a whole
year. They say there's not a soul
on the streets this hour,
but the souls are just now rousing.
Yes Ma'am, when I see daylight I slide
into my coffin and close the lid.
Cooler that way. They say if you can survive
a summer in this heat, you're a native.
My brother's child? She claims to be one,
but I tell her she's got Made in Japan
stamped all over her keister.
Hey lady, you still on Eastern
time? You can have it. Yesterday
the TV reporter in Cincinnati
was three feet in snow. I phoned
my old drinking buddy back home
to rub it in. Lied and said I was out
today without a shirt. Barefoot.
He said you can keep those hundred
degrees. I said you don't have to shovel
a heat wave. Young lady, you okay?
Looks like you're fading. The longest day
I ever lived was the night
I left for Vietnam. What a sight,
would you look at that? Damn
jackhammers at three a.m.
They sure like to play in the dirt here.
Yes Ma'am. It's the same everywhere.
The shortest distance between
two points is always under construction.

Things You Didn't Put On Your Resumé

From the December 5, 2006, installment of The Writer's Almanac, a poem of the same title by Joyce Sutphen:

Things You Didn't Put On Your Resumé

How often you got up in the middle of the night
when one of your children had a bad dream,

and sometimes you woke because you thought
you heard a cry but they were all sleeping,

so you stood in the moonlight just listening
to their breathing, and you didn't mention

that you were an expert at putting toothpaste
on tiny toothbrushes and bending down to wiggle

the toothbrush ten times on each tooth while
you sang the words to songs from Annie, and

who would suspect that you know the fingerings
to the songs in the first four books of the Suzuki

Violin Method and that you can do the voices
of Pooh and Piglet especially well, though

your absolute favorite thing to read out loud is
Bedtime for Frances and that you picked

up your way of reading it from Glynnis Johns,
and it is, now that you think of it, rather impressive

that you read all of Narnia and all of the Ring Trilogy
(and others too many to mention here) to them

before they went to bed and on way out to
Yellowstone, which is another thing you don't put

on the resumé: how you took them to the ocean
and the mountains and brought them safely home.

Kryptonite

Via the November 13, 2006, episode of The Writer's Almanac, a poem of the same title by Ron Koertge in Fever:

Kryptonite

Lois liked to see the bullets bounce
off Superman's chest, and of course
she was proud when he leaned into
a locomotive and saved the crippled
orphan who had fallen on the tracks.

Yet on those long nights when he was
readjusting longitude or destroying
a meteor headed right for some nun,
Lois considered carrying just a smidgen
of kryptonite in her purse or at least
making a tincture to dab behind her ears.

She pictured his knees giving way,
the color draining from his cheeks.
He'd lie on the couch like a guy with
the flu, too weak to paint the front
porch or take out the garbage. She
could peek down his tights or draw
on his cheek with a ball point. She
might even muss his hair and slap
him around.

"Hey, what'd I do?" he'd croak just
like a regular boyfriend. At last.

Cinderella's Diary

Via The Writer's Almanac, from Fever by Ron Koertge:

Cinderella's Diary

I miss my stepmother. What a thing to say
but it's true. The prince is so boring: four
hours to dress and then the cheering throngs.
Again. The page who holds the door is cute
enough to eat. Where is he once Mr. Charming
kisses my forehead goodnight?

Every morning I gaze out a casement window
at the hunters, dark men with blood on their
boots who joke and mount, their black trousers
straining, rough beards, callused hands, selfish,
abrupt ...

Oh, dear diary—I am lost in ever after:
Those insufferable birds, someone in every
room with a lute, the queen calling me to look
at another painting of her son, this time
holding the transparent slipper I wish
I'd never seen.

Poems About Silly English Spellings

via Boing Boing, the web site for the simplified spelling society has a bunch of cute poetry illustrating the goofy-ness of English spelling rules. For example,

I take it you already know

Of tough and bough and cough and dough?

Others may stumble, but not you,

On hiccough, thorough, lough and through?

Well done! And now you wish, perhaps,

To learn of less familiar traps?

Beware of heard, a dreadful word

That looks like beard and sounds like bird,

And dead: it's said like bed, not bead -

For goodness sake don't call it deed!

Watch out for meat and great and threat

(They rhyme with suite and straight and debt).

A moth is not a moth in mother,

Nor both in bother, broth in brother,

And here is not a match for there

Nor dear and fear for bear and pear,

And then there's dose and rose and lose -

Just look them up - and goose and choose,

And cork and work and card and ward,

And font and front and word and sword,

And do and go and thwart and cart -

Come, come, I've hardly made a start!

A dreadful language? Man alive!

I'd mastered it when I was five!

Headlines

From the April 15 installment of The Writer's Almanac, "Headlines" by Robert Phillips
from Circumstances Beyond Our Control: Poems, The Johns Hopkins University Press:

Headlines

War Dims Hope for Peace.
Plane Too Close to Ground, Crash Probe Told.
Clinton Wins Budget; More Lies Ahead.

Miners Refuse to Work after Death.
Include Your Children When Baking Cookies.
War Dims Hope for Peace.

Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Experts Say
Prostitutes Appeal to Pope.
Clinton Wins Budget; More Lies Ahead.

Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half.
Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide.
War Dims Hope for Peace.

Stolen Painting Found by Tree.
Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over.
Clinton Wins Budget; More Lies Ahead.

Iraqi Head Seeks Arms.
Police Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers.
War Dims Hope for Peace.
Clinton Wins Budget; More Lies Ahead

We Bring Democracy To The Fish

As featured on The Writer's Almanac:

"We Bring Democracy To The Fish"
by Donald Hall
from White Apples and the Taste of Stone

We Bring Democracy To The Fish

It is unacceptable that fish prey on each other.
For their comfort and safety, we will liberate them
into fishfarms with secure, durable boundaries
that exclude predators. Our care will provide
for their liberty, health, happiness, and nutrition.
Of course all creatures need to feel useful.
At maturity the fish will discover their purposes.

People Who Take Care

by Nancy Henry from Hard, © MuscleHead Press, as featured in the February 11 The Writer's Almanac:

People who take care of people
get paid less than anybody
people who take care of people
are not worth much
except to people who are
sick, old, helpless, and poor
people who take care of people
are not important to most other people
are not respected by many other people
come and go without much fuss
unless they don't show up
when needed
people who make more money
tell them what to do
never get shit on their hands
never mop vomit or wipe tears
don't stand in danger
of having plates thrown at them
sharing every cold
observing agonies
they cannot tell at home
people who take care of people
have a secret
that sees them through the double shift
that moves with them from room to room
that keeps them on the floor
sometimes they fill a hollow
no one else can fill
sometimes through the shit
and blood and tears
they go to a beautiful place, somewhere
those clean important people
have never been.

Explaining Relativity to the Cat

by Jennifer Gresham from Diary of a Cell, featured on today's The Writer's Almanac.

Explaining Relativity to the Cat

Imagine, if you will, three mice.
Contrary to what you have
heard, they are not blind
but are in a spaceship
traveling near the speed of light.
This makes them unavailable
for your supper, yes.

So these mice, traveling near
the speed of light, appear
quite fat, though there is
no cheese aboard. This is
simply a distortion of mass,
because the mass of a mouse
is nothing more than a bundle
of light, and vice versa. I see
how this might imply mice
are in the light fixtures,
undoubtedly a problem, so
let me try again.
If two people attempted
to feed you simultaneously,
no doubt a good situation,
but you were on a train
traveling near the speed
of light, the food would
appear unappetizing, falling
to the plate in slow motion,
an extended glob of protein
that never smelled good,
if you ask me, train or no.
The affinity of the food
for the plate, what we call
gravity, is really just
a stretch in the fabric
of a space-time continuum,
what happens when you
have sat in a seat too long,
perhaps on this very train.

Oh kitty, I know how you hate
to travel and the journey must
have made you tired. Come now,
lick your coat one more time
and let us make haste
from this strange city
of light and fantastic dream.

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