The Other Side of Solitude (story poem)

When I was in high school, I had a very serious intention to work just enough to save money for a boat, load it with various vegetable seed packets, a few fishing poles, and enough supplies to last a lifetime, find a tropical island and abandon mankind altogether. The idea persisted for years, especially when I was working at jobs I didn’t care for or sitting in traffic breathing carcinogenic fumes. So I wrote this poem to put the idea to rest once and for all. The peace of solitude is delightful only temporarily. The spirit withers and dies without at least one other soul to share our lives with.

3687135D00000578-0-Tailbacks_for_hours_The_Port_of_Dover_advised_local_traffic_to_u-a-22_1469310532471

I was on my way to work a while back,
just trying to earn a few lousy bucks.
I was running late again, as usual.
Why? Because L.A. traffic sucks!

To make matters worse, I was dog tired
and “dog tired” is the perfect description
because my neighbor’s mutt barked so much,
I couldn’t fall sleep without a prescription.

On weekends, when I might have caught up on sleep,
I was kept awake by all the neighborhood brats
screaming their heads off and bouncing balls.
The little suckers were always driving me bats!

Oh, and let’s not forget the other city sounds
like sirens, garbage trucks and leaf blowers,
chainsaws, car horns, and low-flying planes,
loud neighbors, jackhammers, and lawnmowers!

Noise

I would tell you all about my wonderful job
but it was so bad, you just might start crying.
It was the most mind-numbing job imaginable.
If I described it, you’d think I was lying!

Coming home, stuck in traffic, as usual,
my mind would drift to my “happy place”,
an imaginary island where I would go
to escape from the city’s rat race.

lrgAS_JK-OG11

There, palm trees swayed in gentle tradewinds.
There was white sand and a turquoise-green sea.
But the greatest thing about my fantasy island
was that there was nobody else there but me!

I would daydream about exploring the tidepools.
My job could be inventing new kinds of fun
like surfing, diving, playing with dolphins,
and laying around under the tropical sun.

I was so lost in my fantasy, I didn’t see
the streetlight changing from yellow to red.
The next thing I knew, I was spinning around
and when I woke up, I thought I was dead.

A nurse was looking down at me, smiling.
She said, “Hello, there! How do you feel?”
The next greeting I got was from Mr. Pain.
Let me tell you, the agony was unreal.

It took me over six months to walk again.
By then, I was more convinced than ever
that the city would be the death of me yet
so I made a plan I thought was real clever.

I would quit my job, clear out my savings,
sell my house and everything else that I own,
then buy a small boat and some fishing poles,
find that island and live my life all alone.

I’d had it with struggling and busting my hump
at a lousy job that held no meaning for me.
Who says I have to contribute to progress?
The stupid hive wouldn’t miss one less bee.

There are hundreds of islands out in the Pacific
and a few that haven’t been found by Marriott yet.
The next thing I knew, I was at the helm of my boat
with only a map but no job, no boss, and no debt!

a72780f8353c4fea80fee0c16df732f9--sail-away-night-skies

I sailed for months and searched high and low.
I saw many islands that looked perfectly fine
but on almost every one, I saw human beings,
and I’d had enough of them for one lifetime.

I was starting to become very annoyed and frustrated
when off in the distance, through my brass telescope,
I saw a fertile, green island that looked deserted!
I shouted with joy and my heart swelled with hope.

tropical-island-hd-wallpaper-2

I anchored my boat and paddled the raft to shore,
then explored the whole island from side to side.
It was a true paradise full of peace and tranquility.
It was so beautiful, I just broke down and cried.

The next few months were harder than I had expected.
I had to build a hut that could withstand all the seasons.
But on nights when the wind would rattle the walls,
I wondered why I left and had to search for the reasons.

fbe24dd2501919a1f5b2358d28f8abfa

Finding food was hard, too. The fish didn’t always bite.
I was so unskilled with a spear, I felt like a putz.
I got so hungry one time, I almost went crazy.
I mean, one can only eat so many damn coconuts!

Still, anything was better than sitting in traffic
doing two miles an hour in a square, metal tomb,
wasting my life at a job I truly detested
and seeing nothing but my own little room.

I felt like a modern-day Robinson Crusoe
living a simple life by my own blue lagoon.
I thought about my neurotic boss back in L.A.
working himself to death; that pathetic buffoon.

At long last, I found the peace and quiet I’d sought
while lying in the sand, surfing, tanning and such.
I enjoyed it for a while, but I gradually realized
that you can even have peace and quiet too much!

Businessman on Deserted Island --- Image by © Paul Barton/Corbis

The more time passed, the more I fought to remember
all the reasons I had run from the world of man.
I’d spent a year of my life struggling to survive
with nothing to show for it but a hut and a tan.

This caused me great sadness and confusion
because for years, I had dreamed of this place.
Who would have thought that after only a year,
I would be longing to see another human face?

images

I missed conversations, and even the arguments,
though they had once caused me so much dismay.
I even missed the sounds of the bustling city,
the great din and clamor, and children at play.

I missed reading the newspaper in the morning,
though the pain there drove me out of my mind.
But how could I stop caring about my human family
or pretend that I’m not a part of mankind?

What was more noble? More virtuous and wise?
To hide there and ignore humanity’s plight?
Or to add my voice to the battle against evil?
To get dirty and bloodied in the good fight?

I spent a few months trying to convince myself
that I was just going through a homesick phase
but I started finding it harder to sleep at night
and a terrible loneliness enveloped my days.

redturtle_cannes_c

Finally, the peace on the island grew much too dark
so I pulled up my anchor and headed for home.
I had learned the first truth God Himself did of man –
That it’s not good for anyone to live all alone.

After six weeks at sea, the harbor approached.
The town was throbbing with life, garish and loud.
I docked my boat, and with a heart full of joy,
blended back into the crazy, wonderful crowd.

Top 25

To Rhyme or Not To Rhyme

1-1

A war has been raging for decades. It’s a war we don’t hear about on the news. Like religion and politics, it isn’t discussed in civilized company. This war is not fought with guns and bombs, it’s fought with pens. It is the horrible, ghastly war between . . . rhymers and non-rhymers. The iambic pentameter crowd versus the free verse crowd. No prisoners are taken and no mercy is shown by either side.

All kidding aside, I like them both, but only if both are ultimately understandable. “Ultimately” meaning after two readings. If the poem is so abstract that only the writer gets it, the writer failed, not the reader.

The free verse army says rhyming poetry is childish and unsophisticated, largely as a result of syrupy poems in Hallmark greeting cards. And let’s face it, they usually are. It’s hard to rhyme well (without sounding like a nursery rhyme) and tell a good story that accesses emotion.

The rhyming crowd argues that it takes as much or more talent to write a meaningful, emotionally impactful poem that also rhymes and has meter, structure and rhythm than it does to write one that has none of that. To them, criticizing rhyming poetry is like saying Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Robert Frost and even Shakespeare (who wrote a heck of a lot of sonnets) were a bunch of nincompoops.

Here’s a good example of a rhyming, emotionally moving poem. The story behind it is almost as good as the poem itself.

A friend of mine found it at the bottom of an old box in his parents’ garage. He asked his dad about it. He said the author was a man named Vernon Watson, who performed in theaters around London in the 1930’s and 40’s. He would sing, dance, tell stories and recite poems. A little bit of everything. The audience would start out laughing and end up crying, or vice-versa. He performed under the name Nosmo King, and thought up that name one night while looking at a “No Smoking” sign in one of the theaters. Here it is. I dare you not to get choked up.

muzhik-gorod-valenki-chb-bomzh-dozhd

Providence

Have you ever been broke? Just broke to the wide?
With what you stand up in and nothing beside?
Living on scraps the best part of the week
When you can get them, and with nowhere to sleep?

1959-slapende-zwerver-ed-van-der-elsken

I’ve been like that on a cold winter’s night
When the streets were deserted and nothing in sight
But a slow-moving bobby whose job is to see
That the public’s protected from fellows like me.
Who get put inside to answer in court
Why they’re wandering around without means of support.

It always strikes me as a queer sort of joke –
To pick on a man just because he is broke.
Do they think he enjoys wandering around in the rain,
Soaked to the skin with a dull, aching pain
Through his stomach, forgetting his last decent meal
And just praying for the time when he’s too numb to feel.
Life isn’t worth much when you get to that state –
Of just waiting to die and nowhere to wait.

8311bac156cf97c5812188daacd5903a

I remember the time, it’s a long while ago,
When I stood on a bridge with the river below.
The last food I’d had was two days before
And I never expected I’d need anymore.
That night was the worst that ever I’d known,
With a dirty, wet fog that chilled to the bone.
I set my teeth hard and I set down my heel
On the rail that my hands were too perished to feel
When a sniveling pup came out of the fog
And whimpered at me, just a scrap of a dog.
Bedraggled and dirty, like me, just a wreck,
With  a sad, little face on his poor, scraggy neck.

Unknown

A few seconds more and I would have died
But he licked my hand and I just sat down and cried.
I wrapped up the poor little chap in my coat
And carried him off with a lump in my throat.
I took him along to the one place I knew
Where they’d give him a bed and a biscuit or two.

ca461f07f0900c39766ab6f7c2279aed

They didn’t seem keen on taking him in
But the sergeant-in-charge gave a bit of a grin
When I told him, “The dog could do with a meal.”
He said, “I’ll fix him up, but how do you feel?”
It may be perhaps that the sergeant had seen
the state I was in, I wasn’t too clean.
The hunger and cold that I’d suffered all day
Exhausted my limits and I fainted away.

Well, they fed me and slept me gave me two bob.
The following day, they found me a job.
I’ve worked ever since and I’ve put a bit by.
I’m comfortable now and I don’t want to die.
I’ve a nice, little house in a quiet, little street
With a decent-sized garden that’s always kept neat.
I’ve worked there a lot when I’ve had time to spare
And I’m so proud of one little corner that’s there,
With the pick of my flowers ‘round a little old stone,
That stands in a corner, all on its own.
It bears an inscription, not very grand.
The letters are crooked, but you’ll understand –
That I wasn’t too steady, I couldn’t quite see,
At the time that I carved it, quite recently.

These are the words I carved on the stone –
“Here lies my friend when I was alone.
Hopeless and friendless, just lost in a fog,
God saved my life with the help of a dog.”

20748274_10155604580756350_4140877580574991524_o-1

~ Vernon Watson AKA Nosmo King, 1930

 

11. Homeless

maxresdefault

3d1bf6ee0b7cbf816a6937511dbcf499--vintage-dachshund-vintage-dog

one_man_and_his_dog___by_fbuk

The photo of the dog’s tombstone was actually made by a friend of mine as a prop for a filmed version of this poem we made. (I played the homeless man.) The words on the stone are a little different because I wrote it from memory and didn’t have this – – –

A YouTube video uploaded by someone who had one of Vernon’s old 78’s. (For you youngsters, 78’s were vinyl LP’s that pre-dated 33’s and 45’s.) His diction and delivery is very heightened and melodramatic, as was the style of the time. His voice reminds me of Boris Karloff’s quite a bit. Oddly, the version I have also has a few more lines than Nosmo’s recorded version. Enjoy!

Talky Tina (for fellow Dollophobia sufferers)

IMG_6970

When I was a kid, I was constantly terrified.
My imagination was a bad neighborhood.
I read scary comics like “Tales From The Crypt”
and watched horror films more than I should.

The first Sunday morning of every month,
I could be found at the local drug store
looking for the latest issue of “Monster”
and other mags filled with blood, guts and gore.

On Saturday night, my buddies and I
would stay up late and watch B-horror flicks
presented by Vampirella or Seymour
and get our horrification fix.

One would think I was a pretty tough little guy
from all these “inappropriate” movies and rags
but I was actually the world’s youngest insomniac.
I had suitcases under my eyes, not just bags.

But the thing that scared me the most, by far,
didn’t haunt houses or howl, creep or crawl.
Frankenstein and Dracula were big sissies
compared to typical, everyday DOLLS.

During sleepovers at my best friend’s house
all the dolls in his little sister’s room
made me not just run back home to mommy,
I’d run straight back up into the womb.

I couldn’t stand their cold, lifeless grins;
their painted-on, glassy-eyed stares.
They attempted to murder me night after night
in tortured, tormented nightmares.

Then Rod Serling had to throw in his two cents
and make my night-time fear level climb
when he introduced me to a one “Talky Tina” –
the freakin’ scariest doll of all time!

Every night after that, I’d perform a routine
to make sure I was completely alone.
I’d check in the closet and under the bed
with fear that made me quake to the bone.

As I lay in my bed, hiding under the sheets,
a sweaty, petrified, nervous wreck,
I’d hear Tina say, “I’m going to kill you”
and feel her little hands grabbing my neck.

Of course, that was a long, long time ago.
Now I’m all grown up, brave and strong.
Talky Tina never comes to call anymore
and my slumber is peaceful and long.

But sometimes even now, when the moon is right
and the wind makes shadows dance on the wall,
I imagine I see a small figure run by.
I imagine I hear Tina call.

I pull in my dangling hands and feet,
yank the covers up over my head
and I’m that goofy kid all over again
lying scared and alone in my bed.

 

Merely a Strand (poem)

0814dioramas02

The Museum of Natural History tour
Was full of mystery and wonder that day
As the elementary school’s field trip
Was slowly ushered to each display.

The tour guide spoke about the beasts,
Stuffed and mounted behind the glass
And described the way they had lived
For the fascinated, wide-eyed class.

“This is an elephant,” the guide explained,
“It once roamed the African plains.
They went extinct because of poachers
Despite many conservation campaigns.”

Grande_Galerie_Louis_XV_Elephant

The class then moved to the next window
Where a lion stood, regal and strong.
The guide said, “It’s hard to believe
But even he didn’t last very long.”

milwaukee-public-museum-lion

The class was awed but sadly silent.
Next, they saw a rhino on display.
“I don’t know how or why,” she said,
“But this giant was also taken away.”

schad-rhino

The same was true of the giraffe,
The gorilla, the hyena, the bear,
The moose, the elk, the buffalo,
No animals were left anywhere.

The museum was more like a graveyard,
Its wonder was so mired in sorrow.
So many species poached to extinction
By men with no thought for tomorrow.

They finally came to the last display,
Figures of a woman, a child and a man.
The guide said, “This is what ruled here
Before our time on this planet began.”

LAT_ATOMIC112308_46433a_8col

“We sent scouts to find a new home for us
Because we devastated our planet, too.
They found this world, barely inhabitable,
With just enough resources to start anew.”

“We’re not really sure what happened here.
We know there was pestilence, famine and war.
But it’s a mystery why not one survived
When they once ruled from shore to shore.”

“There was an artist in their 15th century,
A man named Leonardo Da Vinci, who said,
‘All will be hunted down. All destroyed.’
What filled his heart with such dread?”

CMC-DaVinci

“We also discovered a poem, or prophecy,
By a man named Seattle, an Indian chief.
It seemed he saw his conquerer’s future
When he wrote it through tears of grief.”

blogger-image-1894027648

“He asked, ‘What is man without the beasts?
And said all living things are connected
But there were too many who didn’t believe
So Seattle’s wise words were rejected.”

“He warned of ‘a great loneliness of spirit
From seeing nature not as friend but as rival.
And a world without other life forms marked
‘The end of living and beginning of survival.’ “

interconnected

“He warned man did not weave the web of life.
In all its complexity, he was merely a strand.
By destroying the web, they destroyed themselves
Which is why not one was left upon this land.”

“We certainly would have met the same fate
Had we not discovered this new place to live.
So let us learn from our past, and from theirs,
And always take much less than we give.”

~ Mark Rickerby

“Nothing will be left. Nothing on the land. Nothing in the air. Nothing in the sea. All will be hunted down. All destroyed.” – Leonardo Da Vinci (1452 – 1519)

Little Things (poem)

window

A man who hungers for the adulation of millions
and puts little importance on the love of just one
often finds nothing mattered more than that love
When the days and the battles of his life are done.

Little things like romance were a petty distraction.
Love taken for granted, vanity none could endure.
And at the end, in a lonely room full of trophies,
He finally learns how big the little things were.

How We Survive (poem on film)

A friend just made me aware of this homemade film (or maybe a short film project for school) made somewhere in England, based on my poem How We Survive.
Of everything I’ve written, that poem gets around the most, which I’m glad about because grief, as we all know, is a terrible burden.
These young ladies actually created some very touching moments. I especially like the ending.