It’s Labor Day!

Labor Day, by Will T. Laughlin (1994)

Text Version without the goofy formatting:

It’s Labor Day! It’s Labor Day!
And school is only a day away!
I thought the Summer was here to stay,
But it’s Labor Day! It’s Labor Day!

Panic. Panic. Panic.
I feel like I’m on the Titanic:
       I’m silently sinking,
       And all that I’m thinking
is Panic. Panic. Panic.

They say it’s September, but I
Don’t even remember July.
       One moment it’s June,
       Then it’s over too soon
And the Summer is saying, “Goodbye!”

It’s Labor Day! It’s Labor Day!
And school is only a day away!
The world is ashen and grim and grey,
For it’s Labor Day! It’s Labor Day!

Dread. Dread. Dread
Of Reading & Math & Phys. Ed.
       They say my new teacher’s
       A terrible creature
With eyes in the back of her head.

There are Back-to-School sales at the Mall,
But I can’t understand it at all!
       “It must be an error,”
       I whisper in terror.
I run, but my legs are too small —
       I suddenly stumble,
       And head-first I tumble;
I’m carried away by the Fall!

(This happened just the other day…)

I’ve written some verses that kids respond to, but which their parents tend to greet with stunned horror. This is one of them:

This happened just the other day:
When I went to the beach to play,
I saw a silly man who lay
     In sand up to his chin;

I watched him for a little while.
His hat was a peculiar style,
And when he saw it made me smile,
     He’d wink at me and grin.

“What would he do, do you suppose,
If he should need to scratch his nose,
Or if the sand-fleas bite his toes?”
     I wondered as I sat;

And as I watched the silly man,
A headless fellow crossed the sand,
Picked up the head, and off they ran,
     And that was that.


The Turtle Song

When I was growing up, there was a stretch of dirt road that led through the marsh not far from my home. The road is long since paved over, and the marsh is houses; but back then, I used to see hundreds of frogs and turtles killed trying to get from one side of the road to the other. I’m not sure which amazed me more: the fact that this dirt track got enough traffic to flatten so many animals, or the fact that the animals kept trying so hard to cross from one unpromising bit of marsh to the other. I wondered what was so important that these creatures felt they needed to risk their lives. Something beautiful, I hoped. Something… unexpected.

Many years later, the memory of that road led me to write this poem. There is more music in this short verse than in anything else I have ever done. It needs to be read aloud: if you listen very carefully to the last stanza as it is read, you can hear the distant, whispery Voice of the Turtle in the background.

Where, oh where do the turtles go
    when they go
        so
            slow?

Turtle, and tortoise, and terrapin, too
Wend their way at the end of the day
To the beautiful sandy shore of the bay,
    And there they bask in the evening glow
        As the sun sinks low
            so
                slow.

And what do the turtles do, when they go
    where they go
        so
            slow?

Turtle, and tortoise, and terrapin, too
Join hands (or fins) — and the dance begins,
In gentle pirouettes and spins.
    They dance for the sun, as it sinks to rest
            in the distant West,
    And they sing a melodious terrapin tune
            to the rising moon.
    If you listen — shhhh! — you can almost hear,
    As they sing their song in a voice so clear,
        And sweet,
                and low
                    and oh,
                        so
                            slow.


(In summer…)

In summer, when everyone’s stewing
In the heat of a hundred degrees,
There is nothing we’d rather be doing
Than to go for a swim in the seas.

But sometimes you feel on your footsies
A pinch, or a pull, or a grab
As though someone where biting your tootsies —
It’s probably Old Mother Crab.

She pinches your toes (none too lightly),
And gives them a twist as she feels them.
You’re safe if your toes are on tightly,
But if they’re on loosely, she steals them.

Then, off in the deep green water,
Where the purple seaweed grows,
The Crab Woman makes for her daughter
A beautiful necklace of toes.

So when you go down to the ocean,
Be certain you’re doing it right:
Bring a shovel, a pail, and some lotion,
And make sure that your toes are on tight!


(Through the tall grass…)

I’ve often suspected that the gap between lions or tigers and the cats with whom we share our lives is not as deep as we think. Deep down, all cats are Great Cats.

Through the tall grass on the African plain
The stealthy lioness walks.
     A fever burns in her feral brain —
     Her muscles ripple, her sinews strain
To pounce on the one she stalks.

Her senses sing, for the scent is hot —
She eases forward, and then
     With everything else but the hunt forgot,

     The kitten falls out of the flower pot
And has to begin again.


The Pirate Valdez

The Dread Pirate Valdez is a character who’s mentioned in Shakespeare, but who never actually appears on-stage. The name suggested certain things to me. I don’t usually get this obvious with a message, but even back in 1993 — when I first wrote it — it made me furious what was being done to our oceans. The situation has not improved.

Night. The ancient lighthouse-keeper
Looks to the sea, as the dark grows deeper.
He turns to his children, and this he says:
    “My children, beware of the Pirate Valdez!”

“He sails the seas in a leaky scow,
With garbage piled from stern to prow.
Used syringes are his treasure,
And oily sludge his greatest pleasure.

“He stands on his pile of smelly things,
And this is the terrible song he sings:

        ‘Hooray for trash, and oil, and sludge —
        I love it more than chocolate fudge!
        I love it more than wealth or pelf!
        I love it more than life itself!’

“He picks up a barrel of stinky goo
And throws it into the ocean blue.
Then the Pirate laughs ’til he splits his sides
As it floats ashore on the morning tides.

        “‘Hooray!’ he sings, ‘for the color grey!
        All of the Earth should look this way!’

The ancient lighthouse-keeper turns;
A terrible light in his dark eye burns.
He looks to the sea, and again he says:
    “My children — beware of the Pirate Valdez!”


(My Uncle Mike has got a bike…)

This verse is a prime example of the way I like to start silly, and then get progressively loonier.

My Uncle Mike has got a bike —
      It’s painted red and white,
And up and down all over town
      He rides it, day and night.
The wheel in front is six feet tall,
      Festooned with ribbons frilly.
The wheel in back is very small,
          very small,
              very small;
It looks extremely silly.

Now, some have bikes, and some have trikes,
      And some have unicycles,
But no one’s ever seen the likes
      of funny Uncle Michael’s.
He rides at a tremendous speed,
      So high above the ground!
He calls it his “velocipede”,
          velocipede,
              velocipede
Because he likes the sound.

Each day, when Uncle Mike has fed
      His crocodile and kitty,
He puts a mouse upon his head
      And rides into the city.
And if the city makes him sad,
      The mouse sits by his ear
And whispers to him, “Marmalade!
          Marmalade!
              Marmalade!”
And this will give him cheer.

My Uncle Michael loves to race —
      He’s won a lot of medals.
The children gather everyplace
      Where Uncle Michael pedals.
They give his kitty cat a snack,
      And pet his crocodile;
Then Uncle takes them piggy-back,
          piggy-back,
              piggy-back,
And makes them laugh and smile.


The Edge of Sleep

Sandman, Sandman,
flying by my door,
all the house is sleeping —
Listen to them snore!
I’ve been up for hours —
still I’m not asleep.
I’ve counted pigs and monkeys,
and I don’t like sheep.

Sandman, sandman
waiting by my bed,
sprinkling your magic
dust upon my head,
Please don’t leave me sleepless;
won’t you come and pour
on my weary eyelids
just a little more?

TOO MUCH, sandman!
My pillow is a dune!
My blankets are the ocean,
sparkling in the moon.
From underneath the bed,
the porpoises have come,
asking me for cookies,
but I have none.

Sandman, sandman,
come and give me one!
The sun is in the oven,
and it’s only
            half
                   done…


                        … zzzzzzzz.


A Lullaby for children to sing to their parents

Now the time has come to dream,
      Now the starlight twinkles.
Mommy, rub your moisture cream
      Deep into your wrinkles.

Dad, forget your daytime cares,
      put aside your workday chores;
Don’t forget to say your prayers,
Comb your few remaining hairs
      And shake the rafters with your snores.

I’ll be sleeping down the hall
      With my faithful Teddy.
If you need us, give a call:
      We’ll be there and ready.

Your faces are a funny sight,
      With bleary eyes and hair unruly —
If you should (as well you might)
Meet the Boogeyman tonight,
      please — don’t frighten him unduly.