At the VA: 1968

At the VA: 1968

Live each day like it’s your last,
and someday you will be right.
Says Granddad – a man in his
77th year…I was entering my 12th.
After that:
A Doctor enters the day room
of the VA  hospital,

Doc crushes his
cigarette in the ashtray  near the
door. It’s a clove cigarette doc says.
Piss poor excuse for a smoke.
Chesterfields are a smoke.

Then:
Who’s the young man says doc.

My grandson – he says.
Granddad looks pale.
I say:
I hope we can go home soon and
hunt rattlesnakes in the timber behind the house.
Someday grandpa says.

I want to plant corn in the spring he tells me.
So do I, I tell him.

Knee high by the fourth of July.
he tells me.

Corn planting knowledge will serve me
well in years to come.

A hotel clerk in Colorado insulted your
grandmother on our honeymoon in
1920 he tells me.

Poor guy didn’t know grandpa.

*
Doc leaves and
darkness gathers.
We talk about
the War (again)
the Big One.

We talk about the Navy.
When you get old enough,
join the Navy, he advises.
Never join
the Army.
Too much marching in the Army.
A guy is free on the ocean even if  he doesn’t
know it.
I say I will never join
the Army. Ever.

Granddad is dying.
Prostrate is shot
In five more days
he’ll go on
planting corn
and sailing
the
seas.

A tale of two souls

I looked through
the glass once, and I noticed
your soul moving quietly
wonderfully, methodically
from room to room
occasionally pausing to
move some small pieces
of furniture, to try on
new clothes, to adjust
‘Cupid with Butterfly’
above the headboard,
to return Kant to the
bookshelf, and
to position the blinds for
late afternoon sun,

and you have
caught me too, an Old Soul
with creaky bones and
hardened liver, moving
cautiously down the steps
to the basement, groping
in the dark, hoping to find
the light switch, hoping the
bulb still has life, hoping
the floor isn’t damp and
the electrical panel has
survived the storm.

Happy National Clerihew Day

It’s July 10th everyone, and if you aren’t celebrating already, you should be. For those of you who might not know a clerihew from a sonnet, a clerihew is a style of poetry developed by Edmund Clerihew Bentley (July 10, 1875 – March 30, 1956).  Clerihews are four-line poems that are for the most part humorous and/or whimsical. Clerihews always begin with a person’s name on the first line. The person might be real, or fictitious.  As an example, I will post Bentley’s first clerihew here:

Sir Humphry Davy
Detested gravy.
He lived in the odium
Of having discovered Sodium.

To be a true clerihew, a poem must conform to the following rules:

  • In must begin with a person’s name
  • It must contain rhyming couplets of AA/BB
  • The content must describe the person noted in the first line
  • It must be funny. Serious clerihews are strictly forbidden

I close with another wonderful clerihew from Bentley:

What I like about Clive
Is that he is no longer alive.
There is a great deal to be said
For being dead.

Enjoy the celebrations my friends.

Last night in Key West

put it back in the blender.

pack the Keys disease, &
haul in the bikini, Patricia.
The games are over. No
more days playing nights
no more sand seeking shovels.


Philly awaits, shit can
Margaritaville, print the
boarding passes and order
a cappuccino,

the Old Order
Amish knew what they were
doing. Stay close to home
and ride in a buggy.


Fun is relative. 3 hours
in the air is all it takes.
You could write a song
you could discover a myth
remake cocktail napkins
fortune will find you
sobriety will find you.


The old man finds you whether you’re
looking for him or not.
You’ll give up the Ghost
before Big Torch Key goes down.
You’ll be buying the condo
in Vail before Islamorada is
under water.
You’ve a decade to party.

Does doggerel poetry matter?

“doggerel” Merriam-Webster.com. 2021. https://www.merriam-webster.com (4 June 2021)
dog-ger-el: loosely styled and irregular in measure especially for burlesque or comic effect
also: marked by triviality or inferiority.

I have to confess, I had not heard the term ‘doggerel’, or more specifically, of ‘doggerel poetry’ until a couple of years ago. Strangely, I came across the term while reading an online article about Bonnie Parker. Bonnie Parker, if you recall, was one half of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde crime duo. Bonnie and Clyde, or to be more inclusive, the Barrow gang. The Barrow gang cut a wide swath across America’s heartland back in the 1930s, robbing small businesses and a couple of banks (contrary to popular belief they were not ‘Robin Hood-esqe’ bank robbers of popular culture and myth). They killed anyone who got in their way and managed to elude the law for over two years before they were gunned down in a roadside ambush in Louisiana in May of 1934.

In any case, prior to dying in a hail of bullets, Bonnie had been jailed on a number of other miscellaneous charges. During her time in the slammer, Bonnie busied herself by writing poetry. More specifically, the article reported that Bonnie spent her time in jail smoking Camel cigarettes and writing doggerel poetry. So, of course I jotted that down in my blog-book so that someday I could write a bit about it here on EEOTPB. And of course, that day has arrived.

There are numerous examples of Bonnie’s poetry on the internet, so it’s no secret she liked to write. But I will not link to any of her doggerel poetry here. The Barrow gang are believed to be responsible for thirteen murders, nine of them police officers, so I will end my personal introduction to ‘doggerel poetry’ at this point.


But doggerel poetry has a long history, tracing its roots to Geoffrey Chaucer, who coined the term  ‘rym doggerel’ for the Tale of Thopas. Since then, doggerel poetry has been written by both the infamous (see Bonnie Parker, above) and the famous: think Shakespeare, think Ogden Nash, think Doctor Seuss.

One of my favorite examples of doggerel poetry was written by Edward Lear and William Monkhouse. I note it here:

There was a young lady of Niger
Who smiled as she rode on a tiger;
They returned from the ride
With the lady inside,
And the smile on the face of the tiger.

—attributed to Edward Lear and William Cosmo Monkhouse


And so you ask, do I have any doggerel poetry that I have written? Let me see…

Here is a short one that I wrote while searching for seashells on a beach near my home only a couple of weeks ago:

TITLE: Gathering Shells and other Events

How many shells wash in from the sea
a million and one? A million and three?
how many grains of sand to fill your pail
how much wind to hoist a sail
how much fire to burn a forest
how much cash to lift the poorest
how much time till it’s all over
how many bees in a field of clover
how many answers fall on deaf ears
how many prayers end in our tears

Thank you for reading.

Hurricane season – 2021

As I write this blog today, storm clouds are gathering over Florida’s Indian River just a hundred yards from my office window. My digital weather station reads a cool 84 degrees with 78 percent humidity. There is thunder in the distance. I glance at my calendar – it’s Thursday, June 3rd.  How the hell did the frigging season sneak up on me, I say to myself. It’s hurricane season and I’d damn near forgotten about it. We are 3 days in now. I haven’t even read a report from the folks out in Colorado predicting how many storms we’ll have this year.


So, I ask Alexa to play “Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season” by Jimmy Buffett just to commemorate the occasion. Halfway through the rendition I realize the absurdity of it. As much of a JB fan that I am, it occurs to me that no one reasons with hurricane season – hurricane season reasons with you. If you live near the coast you know there is no reasoning with a natural phenomenon that can easily expend the energy over ten thousand nuclear bombs in the course of its life span. I’m not reasoning with something like that. I am evacuating.


The central Florida coast where we live has been relatively untouched by hurricanes over the past few decades.

Knock on wood.

Locals like to downplay storms. When my wife and I bought our house here a couple of years ago our realtor assured us that “they usually go the other way”. Neighbors scoffed. “They get them down south” they said. But they assured us we were safe here on the central Florida coast. Being from South Florida, we weren’t so sure. We’d been through many of these storms. We knew how to prepare. We knew when to stay (sometimes) and when to evacuate (sometimes).  We recall the storms of 2005. We recall Katrina (which did touch part of South Florida before devastating the Gulf Coast), Rita, and Wilma. My wife and I  have T-shirts that say we survived Hurricane Irma in 2017 (we evacuated) . We aren’t strangers to these monsters. We’ve dodged them, out run them, and ridden them out.


Hurricane poems.

So, after all this time in the Sunshine State, you’d think I would have written a poem about hurricanes, wouldn’t you? I knew I did, but I had to go digging for it and I finally found it back in my poem archives from 2011. I am not going to rewrite it; I will leave it alone unedited and let the chips fall where they might:

Named storms and hurricanes

I’m on my porch
waiting for the end.
I am drinking a bourbon, because it is made
from corn, from the Midwest where I was born.


where the hurricanes were far away and we
listened to the radio for storm reports of
downed barns and bridges washed out
no hurricanes in North Platte or Scotts Bluff
just empty plains stretching away for
a couple of hundred miles toward Wyoming
and Billings, Montana.

No thought of a
storm with a name – what would you
name it? Cody, or Laramie?

Would you
board up the chicken shed,

Put away the
tools?

So we wait for 45 more storms here
in my home in the tropics.

It is
hot here

there are disturbances off
of Africa – across the Atlantic Ocean.
We can bury the dead where they fall,
we can prepare and fear, we can
wait for September where there is
a lot of lead time. Such a big ocean

after it’s too late

Most things we find out about,
after it’s too late:
the cop in the bushes
at the bottom
of the hill leading out of town,
the trick question on the exam,
the angry ex-husband,
the tired trucker,
the overworked accountant,
the agitated barber,
the lady with the strange perfume,
in the crowded elevator,
the strange weeds growing in,
the nasturtiums,
the odor in the ‘fridge’,
the photo she left behind,
the snake in the woodpile,
the match in the trash,
the lock that sticks,
the blind man in the crosswalk,
the codicil in the will,
the tickle in your throat,
the persistent cough,
the round in the chamber.
We think we know it all because,
we get off easy so many times,
that we think we can do it
forever.

An inch closer to the flame

Was that death I heard downstairs,
rattling the pots & pans.
Was that My Maker I spotted,
on South Ocean Avenue with his thumb out,
hitching north toward Mar-a-Lago.
Was that a congressman I spied,
in the light of the quarter moon,
reading from the collected works,
of a great poet long gone on,
to his literary reward?
Let’s drink gin and discuss the market,
and the rise of the hedge fund cowboys,
and their three thousand-dollar shoes.

Press on.

Make sure the great and
glorious fires of freedom remain stoked.
Make your peace with the Big Guy,
but there is no need to go overboard.
You’ve had decades to explore Buddhism,
plenty of time to clean out the cobwebs,
maybe give  up the booze.
Don’t let them talk you into anything,
you  don’t need another vacuum cleaner,
another Volkswagen, or another juicer…

For crying out loud,
there hasn’t been a decent
communist, walking
42nd Street since 1956…
The Beats are dead.
The hippies have retired to Martha’s Vineyard
and to the Hamptons – and Sag Harbor.

Nobody reads the poets anymore.
Poetry doesn’t sell.
Reality sells…reality TV sells better.
Old men in suits sell reality TV.
Old poets die in overstuffed chairs
by the fire – the lucky ones.

The fence

Last night I dreamed
that I was building a fence,
– a wooden fence.
I was dressed in leather gloves and
engineers cap,
and brown, duck-bib overalls.

Alone in the early spring sun,
hammering ten-penny nails
into hand-hewn plank,
after hand-hewn plank,
pound, pound, –
board against hedge post
level it up, then pound some more,
–sweat dripping from the tip
of my beard.

“What a great fence,” I hear someone
shout from the edge of the pasture.
But I pay no attention to him.
“Join us for drinks at 5 another yells out.”
“Your ass is on the line,” says still another…
I ignore them all.
I am immersed in
a project that can
be finished with brute force,
with only fresh spring water
needed for replenishment,
out here on the Frontier,
far from the cocktail bar,
and corporate conference room.

So confident in my keen sense of detail
and hand-to-eye coordination am I,
that I barely notice
the Finish Line in view,
driving one nail after the next…
my back aching from unloading planks
and aligning them properly,
scarcely stopping to smell
the nightingale, and the Forsythia,
pound, pound
– the Great Western Wall between
marauding Angus steers
and the berry patch
is nearly complete.
But I awake to incompetence.
No Forsythia, planks, berries
or steers
– only a flashing cursor on an empty screen
and the sound of traffic rushing past on the
street below

Civil unrest in America

Depending upon the time I am allowed,
I will try to work through it,
I will try my best
to uncover the inner workings of
my heart – your heart – I will try
to make the day last a little longer
to live in it – as best I can.
I will savor the daylight
and respect the night.
I will take solace in evening shadows and
morning coffee and afternoon port wine
and conversation about social unrest
and urban decay.
Together we can decry the lost
art of penmanship and civility
on the freeway.
So come sit with me on the porch.
No shoes allowed.
We can leave the dishes in the sink
and the bed unmade.
To hell with the cellular phone…
turn it off and leave it in the oven.

And there’s no need to
do the laundry just because
it’s Tuesday.
We can file for a waiver – this is
after all
America.