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.

Three More Bells for Edgar Poe

Another left-handed homage to Poe. This one is definitely not for kids.


Hear the ringing of the bells,
      Front-door bells!
Time to open up the door and see what this one sells:
      Thirty Days to Total Fitness?
            “Act today! You’ll get a present!”
      Or a mad Jehovah’s Witness
            Come to make herself unpleasant?
      Come to pry at your endurance
            Every Tupperwhere you look?
      Come to sell you life insurance,
            Or a Dianetics book?
Come to ring upon the bell,
      on the bell, bell bell —
You can never, ever tell
      by the bell
            if they mean you ill or well.
      Then the buzzing of the clock you
            couldn’t stand at 5 a.m.,
      Or the loud alarms that shock you
      When a burglar breaks your lock? You
            Wax nostalgic over them.
You can never, ever tell
      Not by sight or sound or smell,
Who’s come ringing at the bell,
      at the bell, bell, bell;
Damn the bell, bell, bell, bell,
      bell, bell, bell;
Something worse than just a curse upon the bell.


Hear the droning of the bells,
      Bismuth bells,
From the stern monotony of bureaucratic hells!
      How you whimper, whimper, whimper
            As their voices crash to earth,
      Drag your drooping spirits limper
            And exungulate your mirth!
      How the hellish, heavy thunder
            Pounding down about your head
      Seems to split the world asunder
            With the crying of the dying
            And the groaning of the dead!
      As the bells strain in their courses,
            Comes Apocalypse, no less:
      Unimaginable forces —
      Seven wraiths on demon horses —
            OH MY GOD! THE I.R.S.!!

Carried forward by the knells
      Of the bells, bells, bells,
And the pounding of the hoofbeats
      That come raining down like shells —
To the bleating and the beating
      of the bells, bells, bells
            Of the bells, etc.
And the taxes, and the bills!
      And the bills, bills, bills,
For they’ve got you by the balls
      With the bills
And the sense of deep futility that flatteningly falls
On the balls, balls, balls, balls,
      Balls, balls, balls
From the tolling of the bureaucratic bells.


Hear the boinging of the bells,
      Rubber bells!
What a world of imbecility their peal compels!
      How they blither, blither, blither
            In the trembling ear of night;
      And their music, bumbling hither,
      Makes the cerebellum wither
            With its idiot’s delight.
      And you can’t escape the feeling
            As you stand amid the din:
      If the bells continue pealing,
            Soon you won’t have any skin.
They are neither dead nor living —
Neither vengeful nor forgiving —
      They are boobs,
And their god it is who giggles
      As he jiggles, jiggles, jiggles,
Jiggles panic from the bells,
      From the bells;
And his frilly wimple wiggles,
      And his merry organ swells
And accompanies the bells —
      Oh, the bells, bells, bells,
Ugh! the bells, bills, boils, biles,
      bowels, bulls, bells!
Oh, the drooling and the puling of the bells.

(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

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

And what do the turtles do, when they go
    where they go

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,

(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!”