Thursday, December 3, 2015

no more

there are no more secrets for spies to steal
no more mysteries to be revealed
no more conspiracies to be exposed
that is just the way it goes

everything is out in the open
wisdom of the ages? - keep hoping
what you see is what you get
enlightenment is falling without a net

alas! the younger generation
heeds no stately peroration
from graybeards staggering to the grave
dreams are now reality’s slaves

oh poor demystified planet!
now just one big slab of granite
who will write your epitaph
when the gods chuckle and the angels laff

Thursday, November 5, 2015


by sardanapalus sternwall

long ago and far away
i was served tea on a silver tray
in cups of whitest porcelain
and my reputation was without stain

the servants in their silent shoes
brought me the paper with the morning news
which i perused with a silent prayer
of thanks that such was not my share

of fate to be recorded
in these chronicles of a world disordered
by passions insensible
and demands incomprehensible

even then a faint presentiment
alerted me to what it all meant
as each tray was taken away
marking another vanished day

the servants had no faces
the jam and crumpets left no traces
a silent demon smiled upon
the silken curtains carefully drawn

some day the servants will disappear
and i, ensconced in purple fear
will stand at my window as the dawn
reveals the monsters on the lawn

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

a curious confession

my old friend f————— was, to put it perhaps a bit uncharitably, the most ostentatiously cultured man i ever knew. though largely an autodidact, and having no official connection to any university or other cultural institution, he had strong views, which he was not loath to share, on a wide variety of subjects, but particularly architecture and literature. i have to confess i have forgotten exactly what his views on the former were , not having any strong opinions on the subject myself. in literature he was partial to the poets of the renaissance. he seemed unaware that few people - at least in the english speaking world - nowadays read or have the slightest interest in petrarch, boiardo, tasso, and ariosto , and i would on occasion gently twit him about this. he also had an encyclopedic acquaintance with the nineteenth century novel, not just the acknowledged masters like balzac and dickens but forgotten authors like nodier, paul de kock, mrs braddon, and mrs trollope.

as you might have suspected, he held the tastes and manners of the modern age in the most severe contempt. in this, he found little opposition at the club we both frequented.

he was reticent as to his personal life, if any , and though no foe to food and drink, could not be styled a gourmet, an oenophile, a glutton, or a drunkard.

it was therefore with some surprise that i listened to his statement late one night when we were alone at the club - with the fire burning low and a couple of emptied bottles between us - that his fondest dream had always been to be - a lumberjack.

not because he particularly enjoyed the thought of felling trees or because he relished the company of other lumberjacks, but because it would afford him the opportunity to indulge in huge hearty meals of ham, bacon, eggs, potatoes, and flapjacks, which he would then work the bulk of off in a long day of vigorously swinging his axe, followed by a sound night’s sleep, and awake to a new morning of more hearty meals of ham, bacon, eggs, etc…

such was his vision of true felicity.

my rejoinder to this confidence, if any, i have completely forgotten.

although f———— continued to frequent the club until his sad demise, neither he nor i ever alluded to this conversation again.


Monday, September 21, 2015

3 poems

the twilight of twilight

in a long forgotten age
poets maudits were all the rage
drunk, unshaven, and ill dressed
the bourgeoisie they quite impressed
with words grandiloquent and sage

every mountebank and magus
made a claim yet more outrageous
in their desperate ascension
to the summits of pretension
with every street corner their stages

they measured out their days
in bistros and cafes
watching honest citizens pass
they trembling raised a glass
as they composed their unmemorable lays

one no longer hears or sees
much about poets maudits
their absinthe-stained cravats
and battered wide-brimmed hats
have vanished in a green reverie

bohemian nights

a slubberdegullion named suzy
drifted through the days blue and boozy
she followed the pattern
of an unregenerate slattern
and could not often choose to be choosy

she had no reserves of gold bullion
when she dined it was often on slumgullion
when her partners in crime
threw her a lousy dime
she said, hey pal, thanks a mullion

no one was up to the task
of ever caring to ask
if suzy had any dreams
or just floated down life’s stream
holding tight to an empty flask

one night she was just gone
but no one commented on
that most unremarkable fact
whether from indifference or tact
and they kept on drinking until dawn


ezra wrote some poems
they didn’t take up much space
he had a twinkle in his eye
and a smile upon his face

ezra wrote some poems
they didn’t take up much space
he had made his contribution
to the culture of the human race

the years stretched out before him
repetitious, bleak, and long
he had some thoughts on the history of civilization
that his fellow humans found quite wrong

ezra wrote some poems
they didn’t take up much space
they will be preserved forever
in a silent purple place

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

the ballad of willy and nora and old doc

willy white and nora green
were connoisseurs of the unseen
willy wanted love and cash
nora pined for jewels and flash

what they wanted they wanted now
they didn't need it just anyhow
they were sick of being hurt
treated like some kind of dirt

ever since the world was new
people told them what to do
passed them by in cadillacs
with hard rain pounding on their backs

as they passed from town to town
the locals tried to wear them down
threw them in the county hoosegow
with hardly even an excuse, now

when a guy can't make a buck
and a dame's down on her luck
and can't take it any more
what can they do but try to score?

humans have been around too long
seen every dance, heard every song
though suckers are born every day
it's harder to find new tricks to play

when willy and nora hit parkerville
the night was cold and very still
old number 9 sped down the track
they knew there was no turning back

even the general store was closed
willy sighed and rubbed his nose
nora blinked and suppressed a yawn
said "no use standing here, come on"

should they try to peddle their wares
down among the squares
hiding behind their shades so drawn
and their perfectly barbered cubes of lawn?

over time the world had changed
human mores had been rearranged
people hardly walked the streets
but had become much more discreet

all the streets were now main
there was one big central brain
almost nothing left residual
of a standup individual

the time had passed for talk
willy sat down on the sidewalk
nora squinted with her weak sight
and said "i think i see a light"

they had been down this road before
from shore to shining shore
from malibu to plymouth rock
it was time to see old doc

every town has an old doc
don't act shocked
every tribe in the bush has one
ever since the world begun

but although they are all brothers
some old docs are worse than others
some have just the thing you need
others only have their greed

some are worth their humble pay
and send you happily on your way
others, fortunately not so often
will drive the last nail in your coffin

the town in which our tale commences
was hidden behind white picket fences
willy and nora passed whole streets by
without attracting a single eye

where was old doc?
a distant steeple clock
mocked their desperate hopes
they were on the ropes

the whole world was asleep
time on its serpent skin did creep
it was different from times past
they had come to the end at last

the old laws no longer applied
they were being taken for a ride
the light that nora thought she saw
was brushed aside by midnight’s paw

yes, old doc was there for sure
but no longer dispensing cure
his withered carcass could be found
six feet under the ground

on his stone was this inscription -
he has written his last prescription
for fifty years he filled the scores
but they don’t write them like this any more

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

a call to arms

by rev. percival jackson sternwall

oh once upon a time the earth was round
and flags were firmly planted in the ground
men gazed up at them in silent awe
respected women, and obeyed the law

they went to work and earned their honest pay
and saved their hard-earned money day by day
ready to go to war if it need be
determined to keep their territory free

what evil spirits could look down on this
and sneeringly see ought amiss?
what monsters of perdition could find joy
in smashing such pure gold without alloy?

yet these good men and true woke up one morn
and wished that they had ne’er been born
for all that they had built up with such trust
lay shattered - scattered in the whirling dust

now demons walked the once free land
and taking little children by the hand
laughed at the barren fields and empty homes
of another empire fallen like troy and rome

o inheritors of this new armageddon
what shall you place your faith upon?
must moloch laugh through all eternity
or will you stand and cry “it shall not be!”

Friday, June 26, 2015

at the club

a drizzly november day.

old baines, who was no longer as young as he once was, had somewhat neglected the fire, but sir gerald hardly noticed, engrossed as he was in an article in the gazette about an uprising in the chilean back country.

sir gerald was reading the account with keen interest, as he had a fair amount invested in some copper mines in the threatened area.

in the corner of his eye sir gerald noticed sanderson, the club bore, approaching.

sanderson, in his usual fashion, took the seat nearest sir gerald, without speaking, but fixing his prey with his enormous sad brown eyes.

sir gerald knew that it was no use ignoring sanderson, as he would speak, eventually, after what he regarded as a proper interval.

“look here!” sanderson finally exclaimed.

“yes?” sir gerald did not look up.

“it’s the damnedest thing!”

“what is the damnedest thing?” sir gerald enquired politely.

“i have the damnedest time shaving in the morning!”

“you do not say so.”

“i have indeed.” sanderson touched a spot on the left side of his pale face, just above the jawline. “i have a patch here - right here - where the charge must be returned to again and again before i can get my whiskers clear.”

“perhaps you need a better trained valet.”

“valet! ah - i wish i could afford a valet. but in times like these - with the markets as they are, i have had to economize - a sad thing to admit, but it is so. i can no longer afford a decently trained valet.“

sir gerald turned his page in the gazette with a forceful snap. “the markets are indeed volatile. especially in south america.” he finally turned his gaze on sanderson. “do you have investments in south america?”

“i only invest where the union jack flies.”

“ah. a prudent course.”

“i have always followed the advice of the late lord morseby - to only hunt where the rain falls, and only invest where the british flag flies.” sanderson shook his sad head. “but as i was saying - as i was saying - “

“yes? as you were saying?”

“it’s this damned face of mine. and shaving in the morning. sometimes i feel as if a curse has been placed upon me.”

“perhaps you need a sharper razor.”

“that may be. that may be! but where to find one?”

“the czechs are reputed to make fine razors.”

“you do not say so?”

“it is what i have heard. they are said to be the most expert in europe for all things pertaining to iron.”

“indeed! superior even to the germans?”

“so i have been told.”

“eh?’ sanderson pondered. “perhaps the czech gentleman have particularly stout whiskers - stout whiskers - and this has caused them to develop a sharper razor. what do you think?”

“that may well be,” sir gerald answered with a shrug.

“well. it is worth thinking about at any rate.” suddenly changing the subject, sanderson asked, “what is this you are saying about south america, eh?”

tapping his gazette, sir gerald gave sanders a brief précis of the situation in chile, and its effect on the copper market.

“the devil you say!” cried sanderson. “the devil! someone should take these rascals in hand - round them up - round them up and hang them all. no nonsense!”

“perhaps easier said than done, “ sir gerald replied.

“not at all. not at all. just needs a bit of push. a bit of anglo-saxon push, none of your damned gauchos lying about in the shade.”

sir gerald did not reply, but neatly folded the gazette and placed it on the table beside him.

sanderson, as if exhausted by his outbursts, leaned back in his chair. “damned rotten weather, eh? looks like we are in for some rain.”

sir gerald glanced toward the window. “i believe it is already raining.”

sanderson followed his gaze. “why, yes, so it is. so it is indeed.”

Saturday, June 20, 2015


by alice marston sternwall

amanda was a solemn child - her nurse
oft found her wandering barefoot in the fields
sad victim of an ancient family curse
against which truth and beauty were no shield

such times with farm folk would amanda speak
and quest them on the symbols in the skies
and though her speech was most exceeding meek
no comprehension glowed in her pale eyes

the nurse, a hawkfaced old frenchwoman stern
with little patience and less charity
to no avail could make amanda learn
that naught was gained by talking to the trees

the trees, the rocks, the running streams, the clouds
were all recipients of amanda’s words
although they never answered her aloud
unlike her truest, dearest friends - the birds

anon upon a rock the old dame sat
and left amanda to her babbling cries
the verdant meadow spread its welcome mat
a hive of life whose buzzing never dies

all unrecorded went amanda’s dreams
vanished like dew upon the sun warmed grass
like bubbles in the slow meandering streams
like sunbeams in the long days as they pass

Monday, April 27, 2015


i am a wandering troubadour
traveling from town to town
i long for a lady’s soft amour
but receive a burgomaster’s frown

i grieve for the glorious days of yore
when gallantry ruled the earth
for heroic knighthood my heart is sore
though i be of humble birth

how little joy to walk a land
in which poetry never flowers
where love must tremble at the priest’s raised hand
and mammon cruelly glowers

o black-clad men of reason
who lay waste to the woods and fields
in what untimely season
must you set wolves on a poet’s heels?

we are on this earth to love
and for no other cause
no angels line the skies above
to enforce your cruel laws

i am a wandering troubadour
traveling from town to town
i long for a lady’s soft amour
but receive a burgomaster’s frown

Saturday, April 25, 2015

old chums in chicago

i had long suspected cousin mark of murdering grandmother.

wishing to get to the bottom of the matter i requested a leave of absence during the christmas holiday and journeyed back to the cedars, an undertaking i found quite lacking in stirring up nostalgic memories.

by good fortune cousin mark was away, visiting old chums in chicago. i had a long talk with a gardener who had been in the employ of the estate since the aforementioned unpleasantness, and i prevailed on him to tell his tale.

it was as i suspected, and after assuring the fellow that his livelihood would not be compromised i notified the authorities.

i am retired now, and live alone at the cedars with only one servant. as i sit by the low fire with a good crackling log during the long chilly nights i often reflect on cousin mark and am drawn to the conclusion that he was guided not by malice, but only by weakness.

Saturday, March 28, 2015


by alabama joe sternwall

why are the streets deserted?
because a child will slap your face
they say i owe the man some rent
but i ain’t even got a place

have you ever been accused
and you ain't done nothing wrong?
they arrested me for murder
and i can't even sing a song

they arrested me for forgery
and i can’t even sign my name
they arrested me for cheating
but i don’t know the rules of the game

they arrested me for peeping
but i been blind from birth
they arrested me for vagrancy
but i’m a stranger on this earth

they arrested me for stealing sheep
but i don’t eat no mutton
they arrested me for exposure
but i always button my buttons

they arrested me for everything
since i can’t remember when
for preaching without a license
but i never confessed no sin

they arrested me for rustling
but i can’t even herd a cow
and for setting a bomb on the railroad track
but i swear i don’t know how

i never met st peter or paul
and the devil is my twin
and i washed my hands in a muddy stream
but i can’t say rightly when

i threw my bottle in the river
because the whiskey was all gone
and sat beside the waters of egypt
with the whore of babylon

the road is long and lonely
and the night is dark and cold
i could go on like this forever
but my soul is already sold

Saturday, March 14, 2015


once there was a guy named bob
his fellow humans thought him a slob
even his mama didn't like him much
and his brothers and sisters never kept in touch

bob would go for long walks at night
but was never blinded by a sudden light
he was never mugged or accosted by strangers
and was curiously immune to danger

zombies and werewolves walked the streets
but none of them he chanced to meet
alien spaceships patrolled the skies
but kidnapped other girls and guys

he had a television in his little room
but viewed it as the voice of doom
and preferred, if you please
his solitary fantasies

sometimes when the weather was hot
and his brain as usual was empty of thought
or even when the night was cold
and nothing in his mind would unfold

he would put on his coat and hat
open his door and just like that
find himself outside in the street
without a soul to meet or greet

this night was a little different
where had everybody went?
you’d say, the streets are empty, not really true
there’d always be some people, one or two

but tonight the streets were really bare
there was just nobody there
bob thought it was sort of strange
and wondered by whom it had been arranged

bob had suspected from birth
that he would be the last person left on earth
the gypsy had told him he was fated
and through the centuries he had waited

he had watched other people grow old and die
but kept his mouth shut, because he was sly
and was afraid of how they would regard him
if they knew his chances of dying were so slim

and now the moment had finally come
he thought he heard a distant drum
the letters of fate would be unsealed
and his destiny was to be revealed

raindrops began to fall on his head
as onward the street inexorably led
he awaited a sign - a light - a token
and yet the silence remained unbroken

day later dawned in a swirling mist
bob was never found nor missed
other humans passed by in streams
with even sadder and grander dreams

Friday, February 27, 2015


what can you rip the lid off, when all the lids have been ripped?
what do you with the champagne glass, when all the champagne has been sipped?
what do you do with the river, when the last sun has set?
what do you tell satan, when he comes to collect on his bet?

what can you do for an encore, when the last note is played?
where will the last raindrop fall, when there are no more parades?
what will st george do to pass the time, when the last dragon is slain?
who will swallow the last white pill, when there is no more pain?

when the last train leaves the station, who will wave goodbye?
not the cat asleep in the corner, or the dog with a tear in his eye
not the hamster chewing his piece of wood, oblivious to fate
or the cockroach crawling desperately across the empty plate

when the last man dies, who will dig his grave?
when the master ascends to heaven, who will free his slave?
not the maid asleep on the mistress’s bed, when the trumpet sounds
or the fox running forever, away from heaven’s hounds

it’s midnight in st louis, sunrise in algiers
the countess discovers her rubies gone, and wipes away a tear
the international jewel thief taps his cigarette on his case
in the window on the speeding train - just another pretty face

Thursday, January 29, 2015


different folks lead different lives
some live in palaces, some live in hives
some live in mansions, some in hovels
some in holes that they dig with wooden shovels

some only breathe a few minutes, and then die
others live a hundred years, and that's no lie
some ride through the city on the shoulders of the mob
others walk the lonely highway, can't even find a job

some men are treated by women real nice
they crawl all over them like bedbugs or lice
other fellows can't even get kissed
and never know what they have missed

some women find men handsome and faithful
rich, well groomed and properly grateful
other poor girls are enslaved by mad beasts
who will never let go until they are deceased

some folks never learn to read
from the wisdom of philosophers they are freed
some folks never go to a museum
there are some pretty pictures there, but they don’t see’em

the world is a deck with a trllion cards
that you can’t figure out though you try so hard
the chips will fall whether or not you may
i don’t have anything more to say

Friday, January 16, 2015

the white dog

by major stafford sternwall

last night i had a strange dream, a dream so strange i can hardly begin to describe it.

i was walking down a street and then over a bridge and a chap i knew in school passed me by without so much as a glance, and i thought, good heavens, am i going mad - does nobody recognize me, do i no longer exist - and i kept walking across the bridge which seemed to have no end, and i thought, i wish i had had a dog when i as a boy, and then do you know, the strangest thing happened, a big white dog came bounding toward me, the friendliest fellow you ever saw, and i thought, at last, at last i have a true friend, and then i woke up -

and i realized i was out of cigarettes. and the tobacconist would not open for another two hours at least.

how i wished i could go back to sleep and meet my friend the white dog again.

but it was no use. once awake, i can never get back to sleep.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

dead man's cliff

some said his name was billy
some said his name was biff
but they had to pick up the pieces
when he drove off dead man's cliff

he drove a 57 'vette
the coolest car invented yet
he came down highway 101
as the sun began to set

the boys thought he was a stuckup clown
the girls desired him for a mate
he drove through town like a conqueror
he drove through town like fate

the girls rushed out of the soda shoppes
and gathered around him like flies
and melted like cotton candy candles
when they looked into his eyes

he said he had been to paris and rome
and lived in a mansion in l a
his dad was the king of hollywood
and his mom was the queen of the may

he had wealth to toss like confetti
enough money to burn a wet mule
he had sat at the feet of wise men
but knew there was only one school

and that was the school - of love
the school of love - and regret
for he had had his heart broken
by someone he was trying to forget

the girls were thrilled with his story
they wept to hear his tale
they elbowed each other for his attention
but his love was not for sale

the stars stood still in the heavens
as billy made his pick
he settled on shirley stevens
the others drifted away - heartsick

they had to watch as shirley
so rich, so blonde, so blasé
had the corvette's door opened by billy
and watch as they sped away

of all the girls who were shattered
peggy smith took it the worst
when the race for billy's heart began
she was sure she would come in first

she slunk home to the little cabin
where she lived with her drunken dad
she had never been so late before
this time he was really mad

he told her she was a harlot
who had blackened his good name
and she would have to hit the highway
when the next daybreak came

peggy lay in the darkness
hoping that she would die
when she heard a tap on the window
in the sweet bye and bye

there was no time for romantic words
there was no time for palaver
it was peggy's desperate prayer come true -
it was billy come to save her!

his blue eyes blazed in the darkness
his spine it stood up stiff
"i have come to save you, my darling
but my name isn't billy - it's biff

there is no time to explain my deception
you will have to trust me, i fear
but wait for me in the moonlight
i will be back for you, my dear

but first i have to clear my name
there is one thing i have to do
just wait for me, my darling,
and to you i will be true"

he vanished into the darkness
lit by a single star
a star like peggy's wildest dream
so near, and yet so far

the f b i was on biff's trail
for a bank job up in spokane
so far he had eluded them
in the night and wind and rain

peggy waited by the window
until the sunset glowed
her teardrops fell like silver jewels
alas, biff never showed

no one ever knew for sure
if his name was billy or biff
they had to pick up the pieces
when he drove off dead man's cliff