Excerpts from Rhymes and Dances


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:

(-or- Watch on YouTube)

(whispersoft, on cockroach feet)

Hornpipe, or the Byzantine Mezzanine Mis-en-scène

Ducks in the Garden


L’homme armé

(the elephant goad)

Emily Dickinson Goes Nuts


(Whispersoft, on cockroach feet)

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.

Hornpipe (or, The Byzantine Mezzanine Mis-en-scène)

Quartermaster Quatremaine,
      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
      crept a

Miss Matilda fought a bitter battle, but expired —
Expunged by the feral quadrilateral.

Ducks in the Garden

Morning comes —
The day is fine;
Ducks in the garden
Standing in line.

Noontime comes —
Sun overhead;
Ducks in the garden
Buttering bread.

Twilight comes —
Shadows grow long;
Ducks in the garden
Playing mah-jongg.

Nighttime comes —
Full moon shining;
Ducks in the garden
Pleasantly dining
    (As only ducks can)
    On Peking Man.


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

L’homme armé

Based on the famous 15th-century tune.

L’homme, l’homme, l’homme armé
    L’homme armé
L’homme armé doibt on doubter

Buy a, buy a, buy a gun
    Buy a gun
To be safe from such a one.

Emily Dickinson Goes Nuts

I dreamt I had a silver sponge —
I held it in my hand;
I stood where jet-black rivers plunge
into transparent land —

I dreamt I saw a shepherd’s hut
on velvet mountain pass;
The windowpanes were solid rock;
the walls of clearest glass —

I brushed past curtains made of stone,
and when I’d entered in,
I met a horrid man of bone
whose teeth were made of skin.

He handed me the silver sponge —
at once I was transported
into a place where muskellunge
and wolverines cavorted.

I dreamt I had a silken sword —
I woke, and I had none —
And so I wandered out the door
And melted in the sun.