Rhymes and Dances (1990 – 2003) was an attempt to recreate the surreal, slightly sinister world of nursery rhymes in verses for adults. Later on, I revised the collection for use as song texts. While the whole set would make a good song cycle, I’m no longer sure that they should all be read together. I’ve excerpted the verses I think stand on their own.
Ducks in the Garden was set for chorus by San Francisco-area composer Michael Kaulkin. This beautiful and astonishingly straight-faced piece was performed in summer 2012 as part of a program called “Poetry on Musical Wings” by the San Francisco Choral Artists:
Whispersoft, on cockroach feet,
Something skitters down your street,
Silently and softly creeping
To the house where you lie sleeping;
Squeezing ‘cross the windowsill,
Prowling ’round the house, until
Scenting out your cozy bed
And curling up around your head.
Whispersoft, but crystal-clear,
It speaks these words into your ear: “What’s it feel like to be… dead?“
Heaven help you if you meet
What comes crawling down your street
Whispersoft, on cockroach feet.
peering from his prison in the
middle of the mizzen-mast,
Thought he saw a pretty little
Where Matilda, melancholy,
Languished in the candlelight,
playing on her fortepiano
music that the Quartermaster
really couldn’t recognize.
Soon she set to sipping from a
bottle in her reticule
(medicine her mother gave her
daily for her dysentery)
Then onto the mezzanine
Miss Matilda fought a bitter battle, but expired —
Expunged by the feral quadrilateral.
A is for public reminder of guilt B is for making mistakes spelling “quilt” C is the Bishop’s affirmative ocean D is a canon in retrograde motion E‘s for dyslexia — or maybe not; F is for fomething fo old we forgot G is for Innocence, horrid and pimply H is for ‘N’, which is putting it simply I is for ‘C’, because… oh, never mind; J is a bird (the pedestrian kind) K is for anything but ‘kangaroo’ L is a magazine; M is one, too.
N is for Nothing.
O is for stories of Heaven and Hell P in the stairway is starting to smell Q is for billiard ball — where did the hair go? R is (we think) for cogitamus, ergo… S is egregious; no need to name it T is too weak, but on whom shall we blame it? U is the answer, or so say the sermons — V don’t do anything wrong, for ve’re Chermans. W stands for itself, ‘double-V’ X should be crossed out — but how could it be? Y is the soldier that dies on command
and Z is for functional, harmless and bland