The Journey (love poem)

To emerge from the chrysalis of fear
In the haunted cave of sorrows.

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To plunge into the sea of hope
And shimmering tomorrows.

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To drift to the island of dreams
On soothing waves of bliss.

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To sleep in the sands of peace
And awake to your sweet kiss.

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The Withered, Old Stick (love poem)

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In my garden, there was a withered, old stick.
It was a beautiful flower, before it got sick.
I tried to pluck it but, with a defiant stance,
My wife said, “Don’t, honey. Give it a chance.”

Many months passed and the stick didn’t grow.
It just stood there laughing at me and my hoe.
(A gardening tool, not my wife. Come on!) 
But I kept my word and left the old stick alone.
A full year passed and it still hadn’t grown.

Then one morning while pruning a plant nearby,
Something green to my right attracted my eye.
A delicate bud had come up through the earth.
The old stick was not dead! It was a rebirth!

All that time, my wife never once gave up hope.
I called her to see it, though I felt like a dope.
I should have known she was right – for, you see,
Long, long ago, she did the same thing with me.

For Haters of Rhyme

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I once spent a night in a cave at the foot of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. I had run out of money after six months of bouncing around Europe and the Greek islands and was waiting for my flight home in a few days. Because I was in my twenties, I was too naive to feel scared, but I did feel lonely that night. It’s hard not to in a dark cave, even with the city bursting with light and excitement. (It was a Saturday night.) There was even a hot air balloon festival not far away, so the night sky was filled with illuminated, multi-colored balloons. 

I had wandered through the city before going to the cave, attended a concert, had dinner, saw the Plaka (old section) one last time, but finally snuck under the chain link fence surrounding the Acropolis, snuck past the guards and their German Shepherds, laid out my sleeping bag in the cave, lit a candle, and started to fall asleep when I heard . . . bats. I tried to sleep anyway but the thought of waking up to one of them sucking on my jugular vein made sleep impossible. So I sat up again and took out a book of poetry that was so tattered from touring Europe with me, the pages were falling out. 

The book was called The Best-Loved Poems of the American People. Most of the poems rhymed because they were written by poets from the Romantic Period such as Longfellow, Dickinson, Byron, Keats, Shelley – the biggies. These poems made sense, had messages, and were perfectly constructed. I came to respect rhyming poetry because of them. Many of the answers to the greatest questions of life were in those poems. I wasn’t alone in that cave at all. They were with me. Their words sang, just as they did for the boys in Dead Poet’s Society in the cave they found on the school grounds. The words dripped from my tongue like honey. They helped me “suck the marrow out of life.”

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But not everyone has the same respect I developed for rhyming poetry. In fact, I recently posted a rhyming poem on Facebook and was told by someone that rhyme should be limited to lullabies and Hallmark cards. This person probably likes or at least respects the legendary poets above, but feels somehow that what they accomplished should no longer be attempted, and to do so, in her words is “stupid” (both writing rhymes and rhyming poetry.) Yes, stupid. She made this comment about a very serious poem I wrote (see my previous post called Journey to God) and a very silly poem called Yoga Makes Me Fart. Everyone got a kick out of it except . . . her. Both poems were deemed to be “stupid” by this self-proclaimed writer and connoisseur of the arts.

That’s another thing about pseudo-intellectuals. They think it’s low-brow to say words like “fart.” But a rhyme with a very long history, most notably by Roald Dahl in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, goes –

A little nonsense now and then, is relished by the wisest men.

So I like offending snobs. In fact, I enjoy it immensely. Normally, I would calmly discuss my reasons for enjoying and writing rhyming verse, but since this person decided to break out the S word, I decided to write a poem especially for her. Of course, it was a rhyming poem – you know, just to annoy her some more. Suffice to say the gloves were off. I don’t suffer the S word very well, I’m afraid, especially from someone with no literary accomplishments. Besides, rhyming poetry has been used to expose blowhards and nincompoops for centuries, too. It’s a fine tradition.

The fact is, I have no tolerance for someone with no discernible talent, someone who hasn’t faced and surmounted the struggles the acquisition of talent demands, yet somehow feels qualified to pass judgment on works of great passion by someone who has. If that sounds arrogant, so be it. A little arrogance can and should be wielded sometimes in life, but only when battling those who are arrogant with no foundation. The only thing I could find that she has written is a self-published book called Witless. You know, because Clueless was already taken. I’m not kidding. You can’t write this stuff.

I was also baffled by how someone can hate something as harmless as rhyming. Some people need to choose bigger causes for their lives. You know, ending world hunger and like that.

If she ever comes across this poem, her arrogance and self-delusion will probably lead her to conclude that she really got to me for me to write all this about her, like that old Carly Simon song You’re So Vain (you probably think this song is about you.) But, of course, it isn’t about her at all. It’s about art, expression, and smacking down anyone who attempts to suppress it in any of its forms. It must be done, but artfully. I laughed myself sick writing the poem below. I enjoyed it. And that’s the main purpose of art of any kind. Enjoyment. The subject of the poem probably won’t enjoy it quite so much.

So here’s a little nonsense. I hope it entertains. And if you start to feel sorry for the subject of the poem at any point, just remember, she deserved it.

The Ballad of Lucy Calhoun

This here is the ballad of Lucy Calhoun.
A bitter, cantankerous, mean, old buffoon.
What happened, you ask, to blacken her heart?
Poems that rhyme and people who fart.

“Rhyming is for lullabies!” she’d often say,
Unfazed that the masters all wrote that way.
No, rhyming of any kind gave her the fits.
Longfellow and Dickinson were a couple of twits. 

Until she suddenly woke up and saw the light
While suffering with the flu one night.
She sat up and, with a horrible start,
Let out a prize-winning, head-spinning fart.

It was so loud and mighty, it expelled a bug
That had lived there for decades, fat and snug.
It landed on the floor and let out a shriek.
Then Lucy passed out and slept for a week.

When she finally awoke, she walked to her table
And discovered that she too was finally able
To write flowing verse with heart and soul
Now that that insect was out of her hole.

Like the Grinch, her heart grew three sizes that day
And she vowed to forever write this new way
And stop driving everyone out of their wits
With babbling free verse that nobody gets.

Now that she had a bug-free rear end,
She said, “I’ll never again harass or offend.
Instead of being a jealous, hateful, old cow,
I’ll learn how to write, too, starting right now!”

And the poetry Grinch, forever-after,
Respected rhyme that rippled like laughter
And said, “Maybe I was dead wrong before.
Maybe rhyming poetry is a little bit more.”

And because her cold heart had unfurled,
She finally got published in the real world
The Romantic poets hadn’t gotten it wrong.
Her mediocrity was her greatest foe all along.

Thus ends the ballad of Lucy Calhoun.
A stern warning for egos that are over the moon.
Before calling the works of another the worst,
Prove yourself their intellectual equal first.

The Honesty Bar

Photo: © Europen Parliament/P.Naj-Oleari
pietro.naj-oleari@europarl.europa.eu

Stop by our brand new concept bar!
It’s at the corner of Gone and Far.
In this bar, we make drunks think
of what is served with every drink.

You’ll find no Fuzzy Navels here.
No fancy names for wine or beer.
At their core, they’re all the same.
Just alcohol by every name.

Try the Rage if you’re a little mad,
Or Heartache if you’re feeling sad.
Or if you want to stay free and wild,
Enjoy our new Desert My Child.

If it’s truth you’re after, we deliver,
Like the ever-popular Destroy My Liver.
Why drown it? Embrace your sorrow.
Order the My Head’ll Hurt Tomorrow.

Delusion is all we refuse to sell.
Try the Fry My Last Brain Cell.
Why pretend to be an oak or pillar?
Have the delicious Marriage Killer.

Your perfect drink is on our shelf.
Try the Miserable or the I Hate Myself.
There’s magic in our drinks. You’ll see.
Have a What the Hell is Wrong with Me.

If you love honesty, we’re your venue.
You’ll find your true self on our menu.
There’s the Long Lost Love, of course.
And enough Regret to choke a horse.

You’ll be amazed at all we’ve got.
Like the I Can’t Laugh Without a Shot.
So step right in, don’t be so shy!
But if you are, try the Chance Gone By.

If you’re not a slave to envy, hate or fear
And just like an occasional wine or beer;
If you don’t languish in a neurotic stew,
This is probably not the place for you.

But if you do, our staff stands ready
When your nerves feel a bit unsteady.
We’ve got no cures but at least we try
To serve the truth as we help you die.

~ Mark Rickerby

To Rhyme or Not To Rhyme

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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~ Vernon Watson AKA Nosmo King, 1930

 

11. Homeless

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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!

End of the Road (love poem)

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I once walked through a forest,
deep and cool and wild,
filled with awe and wonder
as if I were just a child.

I once stood on a mountain.
Ancient winds flew through my hair.
It seemed the world around me
had become a silent prayer.

But despite the roads I traveled
and all the ground I gained,
this empty place, this darkness
in my spirit, still remained.

I’ve walked a thousand lonely miles
and crossed stormy oceans blue
searching for a feeling
that I’ve found right here with you.

And I could tell a thousand stories
of what the earth, to me, has shown
but all the beauty of this world
falls far short of your own.

For there is no greater wonder
nor peace that I have found
than holding you in darkness
with your heart the only sound.

Your laughter heals my deepest sorrow
and your eyes, so kind and warm,
have become this torn ships refuge
from a bitter, raging storm.

Gratitude (poem)

A segment of this poem appeared in the books Chicken Soup to Inspire the Body and Soul, and Chicken Soup for the Soul – Older and Wiser. I hope you enjoy it!

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Poets, it seems, are often too dismal
as if life and all in it were truly abysmal.
I too often strive to soothe worries with rhyme,
dwelling on sorrows and the passage of time.
When there’s so much to celebrate, to chance and explore!
Seems very ungrateful to wish there was more.

Say I wrote all my troubles, one by one, in a row.
How much further the list of my blessings would go!
Just look at this glorious Eden we live in.
Can you think of one thing we haven’t been given?
Miraculous! Perfect! Not one thing is wrong.
Still, men find every reason to not get along.
We have moonlight and sunsets and rainbows and flowers.
Deep, starry nights and bright, happy sun showers.
Wondrous creatures, every kind, shape and size.
Birds singing to greet us each day when we rise.
Such wonder and mystery without and within.
Well, I’m too full of love to hold it all in.
My heart feels as though it may split at the seams.
It can barely contain all my plans, hopes and dreams.
I’m completely astonished, awakened and free.
I’m everything that life should be!

I climb up a mountain to breathe in the air
and leave behind with each step one more useless care.
The sun ripples like laughter across the wide sea.
I smile at a flower and it smiles back at me.
The wind lifts a scent from the meadow below
and reminds me of the first girl I kissed, long ago.
I kneel in the clover, feel my spirit expand.
A bright butterfly stops to rest on my hand.
The clouds, ever present, yet no two the same
give lively imaginations a game.
“Look! A sailboat! A rabbit! An angel! A swan!.”
And it’s the best kind of game because no one’s ever wrong.

Everyone should have a special place like my hill
just to rest and let the mind roam free where it will.
Far away from the traffic, the noise and the dust
in the crystal clear sunshine of a world they can trust.
Life’s easy to master when we strive not to worry
and snatch up the whip from the cruel hand of hurry.
When we stop struggling to accumulate more than we need
for the god with the insatiable appetite – greed.
You can’t take it with you. That old line is true.
And you know, when it’s all said and done, we won’t want to.
For when our old, mortal husks fall away and are buried,
all we’ll need is the goodness and love that they carried.
So relax into life, breathe deep and let go.
Attain what you need but don’t sell your soul.
For it’s a treasure far beyond the mere baubles of men
and once lost, much harder to earn back again.

Just a few thoughts from my heart to yours
hoping that one or maybe two will endure
to make some dreary day a little bit brighter
and the load that you carry, perhaps, a bit lighter.
Though the author claims no special wisdom or power
to lecture from atop some ivory tower.
I’m just one more soul, no different from you,
whose made all the mistakes and a few new ones, too.
But somehow survived all those nights without end,
my tired, tattered spirit refusing to mend,
wondering what so much pain could be for,
the spiritual carnage of a personal war.
For it’s in punishing ourselves that we can be most unkind
and the most torn, fearful battles take place in the mind.
But the hardest climb leads to the best, brightest view
so this is my humble message to you
like a bottle set adrift on some far, lonesome shore
from my small, solitary island to yours . . .

Though we may never meet, we are friends through this poem.
In this way, we can never be truly alone.
For though we’re apart in time, place and name,
we are joined in the same, sanctified mortal game.
We may differ in doctrine, language and race
but in the most sacred ways, we have perfect grace.
We both dream and love. We both bleed and cry.
And as sure as we’re living, we someday must die.
So now, while the grapes are plump on the vine,
take time to laugh and savor the wine.
Turn your heart to the beauty that’s in and around you.
Walk gently, with love, and the same will surround you.
You’ll surely see further the farther you go.
And remember – it’s pain which helps us to grow.
For with all of its sadness, its heartache and strife,
with all of its sorrow, it’s a wonderful life.
Yes, with all of its sorrow, it’s a wonderful life.