Tuesday, December 27, 2016


by alice marston sternwall

agatha was a solemn child
with no desire to run wild
while other children played with balls
agatha dreamed of stately halls

lined with books by ancient sages -
how she longed to turn the pages
containing the wisdom of the ages -
agatha’s life went by in stages

she remained solemn as she grew
she loved the old and scorned the new
and ne’er embarked on slope so slippery
as caring ought for fads or frippery

if romance ever touched her heart
she gave no sign, but played the part
of one whose only love, forsooth
was pursuit of eternal truth

agatha gained a name of sorts
the god of fame with her did sport
two books of epigrams, quite terse
spread slowly through the universe

a fearful illness wracked her being
she realized her days were fleeing
doctors and priests alike she spurned
but sought to gather all she’d learned

into a final testament -
then to her acolytes she sent
an invitation to attend
a gathering before her end

attracted by her flickering flame
the mothlike followers duly came
and found poor agatha almost gone
with little hope for the next dawn

they gathered round, from many nations
when to their sudden consternation
a violent storm outside was heard
obscuring the sibyl’s final words

then when the thunder did retreat
the faithful begged her to repeat
her prophecy - but , broken-hearted
found agatha’s spirit had departed

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

thus doth it end

mr z had things to say
and he posted them every day
then one day to him it occurred
that all his passionate words
in the cloud were just floating away

he suddenly got to his feet
and went outside in the street
the world was deserted and bare
only he was taking the air
he fell to the ground in despair

he resolved to mend his ways
and care not for censure or praise
to become a wandering minstrel or monk
or a sidewalk-sitting drunk
or just lay there forever in a daze

at length hunger attacked his frame
and to his eternal shame
he went inside for a bite
the old thoughts returned so bright
and he got back into the game

mr z has things to say
and he posts them every day
with his trusty laptop and phone
and pizza delivered to his home
he wouldn’t have it any other way

Sunday, October 16, 2016

blue hour

a languid young lady named lou
wore a dressing gown of blue
her silver mirror reflected
the scarlet life she had selected

a perfume bottle of green
contrived to complete the scene
she heard a knock on the yellow door
she had passed this way before

her saucy maid entered the room
with an air of impending doom
oh miss lou, she cried
there is a gentleman outside

to say this is very hard
but he is from scotland yard
and it is his unpleasant task
some questions for you to ask

thank you, lily, said lou
i know that your heart is true
leave us now if you please
with this gent i will shoot the breeze

lou greeted her unwelcome guest
with an air that would have impressed
the queens of england and france
if they had been there by chance

the detective’s name was bash
he sported a gray mustache
and without further ado
he delivered this message to lou

madam, i think it best
that you do not resist arrest
i have a charge to relate
approved by a magistrate

that on august twenty-sixth
you were seen in company with
a man named albert bend
who came to an untimely end

and was found with four bullets in his head
unmistakably dead
in an alley behind a chip shop
where his body had been dropped

his previous movements’ history
had remained a mystery
though we searched from south to north
only now has a witness come forth

to fil in the lacunae
of the deceased’s last night and day
as a result of this information
i must ask you to come to the station

of course, replied lou with a drawl
wait a moment while i put on my shawl
for the night has a noticeable chill
but i always cooperate with old bill

outside a car was parked
a black sedan, unmarked
with lou settled in the back seat
it rolled away down the street

evincing no sign of regret
lou lit a cigarette
and watched as the streets unfurled
in the fog enshrouded world

the trip went on and on and on
were they going to drive until dawn?
though she did not break into song
lou knew that something was wrong

this was not the way to the yard
her captors played a strange card
all lou could do was wait
to learn the decree of fate

she felt they were near the river
and indulged in a ladylike shiver
at the sound of a midnight clock
the car pulled up to a dock

life is but a dream
it won’t do to shout or scream
and on that note, my friend
our tale comes to an end

a languid young lady named lou
wore a dressing gown of blue
she never knew what was false or true
and neither do i or you

Saturday, October 15, 2016

the street

andy woke at midnight
and listened to the rain
remembrance of reality
overflowed his brain

betty lived across the hall
she had trouble sleeping
especially when andy
was awake and silent creeping

chandler was the landlord
or maybe the concierge
he had terrible dreams at night
and in daytime terrible urges

danny lived around the corner
in a cardboard box
he had seen and done it all
and was immune to shocks

eddie drove a taxi
up and down the street
he kept his brogans polished
and his fingernails filed neat

frankie was a player
for eternal fame
if coach would only put him in
he could change the game

gilda was a night person
slept but once a week
but did not take it kindly
when called out as a freak

harry was called “the horse”
for lack of imagination
among his fellow tenants
in the chambers of degradation

irma was a “floozie”
a word now obsolete
but she brooked no nonsense
when she walked the street

johnny was the leader
what he said went down
but what good did it do him
when everyone left town

karen wrote a novel
and lost it on the bus
and then went home and hanged herself
without any fuss

larry was a wino
who had once been a preacher
murder was his mama
and hard knocks was his teacher

maggie was a mother
who ran away and hid
she just couldn’t help it
she didn’t like kids

nick was a cowboy
born out of time
if he could have rode with jesse james
it would have been so fine

olive was a poet
her fingers often shook
as she wrote down her secret thoughts
in a

little red notebook

pete was a dreamer
with long and hairy arms
and wished that more women
would appreciate his charms

quigley was a dreamer too
his dreams ran deep
most of his fellow humans
thought he was a creep

ricki was a sleeper
would have liked to sleep all day
but society had taught her
that that was not o k

shirley only wanted
to be left alone
all humans were her siblings
and all the world her home

toni heard voices
in the walls and in the air
inside or outside
they were always there

uncle joe had a mustache
which sometimes did droop
he was not a member
of any organized group

vinnie was a gambler
whose luck had run dry
he sat on the sidewalk
and watched the world go by

wanda was a pushy sort
who aggravated many
and when she counted up her friends
she found she had not any

excuse me for a minute
while i catch my breath
an old friend is calling
and his name is death

oh young people
hear my words
the street is for the people
and the air is for the birds

zeroes on the wheel of life
zeroes in my brain
zeroes are beyond counting
we will meet again

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

a king

adapted from the akkadian

a mighty army took the field
to no opponent did it yield
a king rode forth with upraised sword
urging on his thundering horde

cities fell like windblown flowers
nations knew their final hours
empires heard, from sea to shore
the laughter of the god of war

the victor king, whose name is lost
his enemies’ last defenses crossed
he buried them in burning waves
and made their kings and queens his slaves

upon the conquered lands laid waste
towers and castles he now placed
and monuments to his own fame
as eternal glory he did claim

philosophers rushed to his throne
sculptors etched his face in stone
artists painted him for the ages
scribes with his story filled up pages

of all the lackeys at his call
the poets had least shame of all
and sung and scripted the monarch’s praise
in endless verses all his days

eventually the great king passed
assured his memory would last
inscribed in stone, and words, and song
in archives vast, and towers strong

the years went by, then centuries
as swiftly as a summer breeze
new kings rose up, to glories new
demanding each of fame his due

our king was lost beyond time’s mist
as history’s unending list
of mighty heroes onward scrolled
and tales of him no more were told

jackals prowled, and pilgrims stumbled
through his palaces as they crumbled
the ruins fell beneath earth’s crust
and all the poems turned to dust

Thursday, May 19, 2016

the party

your friends are at the party, the ones you’ve known for years
they’ve shared your joys and triumphs, laughter and tears
they see you coming, and turn on the charm
and welcome you with open mouths and clutching arms

there’s plenty of potato chips, and plenty of booze
and they can’t wait to tell you the news
who fell out with who, and who fell down the stairs
and who in sad circumstances was caught unawares

the fox is in the henhouse, the train has left the station
life is a chronicle of degradation
and though the shocking chronicle never ends
it’s all right, because we are all friends

outside the wind begins to howl, the rain begins to patter
and everything you hear starts to not matter
there’s nothing left to say, and who wants to think?
you happily accept another drink

you look up and the party’s almost done
everybody has had enough fun
you notice time has left its nasty traces
on all the old familiar faces

who are these people anyway, and who are you?
they are your companions, tried and true
your shoulders sag, your shoes begin to scrape
and all you want is to escape

outside you are welcomed by the wind and rain
it’s over - until duty calls again
safe inside your clothes you are nice and warm
out of the fog appears a shuffling form

she wheels her vehicle along
mumbling a sort of little song
the cart is filled with plastic bags
and adorned with little american flags

how fortunate you are
to have your locked upholstered car
you have your i d, safe and dry
and can look authority in the eye

you have your friends, your registered name
your knowledge of how to play the game
no use to cry, no use to moan
and yet like her - you are alone

Friday, May 13, 2016

pals and booze: a fragment

the original concept of the pal
is lost in the mists of time
but i summon it, o muse
to invigorate my rhyme

let women, priests, and bureaucrats
judges, jailers, and fat cats
look down their long and pointed noses
true pals will always come up roses

the only thing better, i confess
is pure delirious drunkenness
but what are pals, in song or story
but those who share in liquor’s glory?

oceans ebb and flow
empires come and go
some win, some lose, but only booze
will light life’s brightest fuse

and when bright dawn comes pitiless
to sneer at night’s now lost excess
consider that the coming end
may be your best and final friend

Friday, April 22, 2016

not that

morrison happened to be at the f—— — — club when the unfortunate dustup occurred between caldwell and burnaby, and after a few meaningful glances from the other members who were present, he attempted to negotiate a truce between them.

caldwell assumed his usual air of slightly self-satisfied indifference, as if to say, “come now, is this really worth arguing about?” - his habitual pose after deliberately provoking someone in his sly way.

but what, really, could good old morrison do? after listening to both sides, he cleared his throat snd addressed burnaby -

“well, old fellow, i agree that caldwell here could have been a little more tactful - i might even venture to say, a bit more gentlemanly in the way he expressed himself - but after all, we are not children here, to cry about hurt feelings, eh? i suppose one member of the f———— club can express himself in a forthright fashion to another member, can he not? and on any subject he pleases, eh?”

“but not about that!” burnaby cried wrathfully. “not that!”

and despite’s morrison’s effort to restrain him, he rushed out the door, down the stairs and into the street, where a steady rain was falling.

poor jeffsworth had to be despatched after him, to give him his hat and umbrella.

although the incident was never spoken of, the feeling of good fellowship at the f—— — — club had been irretrievably punctured, and the club began its slow decline.

sometimes, on rainy afternoons, i can still hear burnaby crying - “not that! not that!”

Monday, April 18, 2016


call me a carnivore, call me a bum
but everything is yum yum yum
my shoes are scuffed and my suit is not neat
but everybody needs something to eat

as earthly creatures walk through dust
and to survive do what they must
to get the energy to move their feet
some are eaten that others may eat

oh how my senses quicken
at the thought of deep fried chicken
and how my soul doth quake
at the dream of a thick steak

o vegetarians so solemn
i just take’em as i swallow’em
and prelapsarians so stern
please let me take my turn

with philosophers and fools
at the banquet of molecules
some called living, and some not
some ice cold, some piping hot

i shove them down my throat
with a half-remembered quote
from a suave gourmet who stated
that all to be devoured are fated

the universe is one big mouth
draining its glass from north to south
chewing itself from east to west
without rest

so let the hot sauce burn
for some day your own turn
at the celestial barbecue
will come due

Sunday, April 17, 2016

out of the woods

people are bad, they should be good
once they lived in an enchanted wood
and listened to the voices of witches and elves
but now they just want to be themselves

and so they burnt the forest down
and packed their bags and came to town
and sit in rooms and watch television
and never know what they are missing

but what they are missing who can say?
as i was saying just the other day
if only i was a movie star
and had a rolls royce with a built in bar

and everyone in the world was my friend
and the good times would never end
what would i have to look forward to?
i would still be sad and blue

wouldn’t you?
and yet it’s true
i would get no sympathy
just because i was me

and not people who were not myself
how i wish i could be an elf
or a witch in a forest dark
or a dog being walked in a park

by a human who wants to get back
to cut himself some slack
and just stare at the ceiling
because the world has lost all feeling

i am sorry if i lost my train of thought
sinking in civilization’s rot
my soul has been sold and bought
and all is what it once was not

Friday, April 8, 2016


humans are strange creatures
with many curious features
they have two sides to their brains
a fact difficult to explain

the two sides are at war
but do not know what for
and why humans do the things they do
no one knows - strange but true

a human could get by
with some water and a patch of sky
a banana to ward off hunger pains
and a tree to sit under when it rains

instead, in many instances
they choose to spend their brief existences
forming empires and nations
and heeding prophets’ stern orations

to rise against the things that are
and listen to voices from afar
the voices of creatures who never die
but live forever beyond the sky

in such ways they fill up the minutes
that flow through the world while they are in it
it may seem curious from afar
but that is just the way they are

o you from galaxies far flung
and universes no longer young
who are you to judgment render
on human life so soft and tender?

their life, like yours, is only smoke
and if they treat it as a joke
or matter for the deepest sorrow
it will all be the same tomorrow

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

dark night of vengeance, part 2: phll and bill

part two of ?

for part one, click here

the streets are merciless
they don't care if you confess
to the most desperate crimes
or stoop to pick up nickels and dimes

phil stumbled through the night
with no coherent plan of flight
but only hoped to make his way
through the darkness into day

he had seen it all before
he had heard the oceans roar
in his drowning desperate brain
and had felt the whole worlds pain

he was the cursed one
the seventeenth son of the seventeenth son
but just as you would expect
he got no respect

in his youth he had struv
to earn the world’s love
but to his eternal shame
he could not learn the rules of the game

when emily brown, who had welcomed his advances
on bill smith cast friendly glances
phil had no veneer of civilized grace
but his passion blazed forth on his red face

emily laughed out loud
and quickly attracted a crowd
which with untrammeled hoots and jeers
derided poor phil’s primal masculine fears

phil seized emily by the throat
the onlookers quickly took note
and rescued the poor damsel
before phil could finish sending her to hell

phil was charged with assault
he hired a lawyer named walt
walt did the best he could
but the results were not good

phil testified so forlorn
but the jury reacted with scorn
to his tale of provoked passion
for such pleas were no longer in fashion

the judge brought down the hammer
phil got five years in the slammer
and as he was led away
he heard his rival bill smith say

as a law-abiding citizen i insist
that five years is a slap on the wrist
and when you get out, old son
your troubles will have only begun

emily brown went away
exactly where, no one could say
bill smith blamed phil for her fleeing
and hatred consumed his whole being

in letters to phil, bill let loose
with an endless stream of abuse
and promised phil, when let out, a harsh fate
because bill would be waiting at the gate

four years went by - and then
phil busted out of the pen!
when two true desperadoes named roger and clyde
obligingly took phil along for the ride

roger and clyde left phil by the side
of a dark road - with nowhere to run or hide
hunted - without a friend!
hunted - though the road never end!

somehow the years went by
always out of the corner of his eye
phil waited for the hand on his shoulder
as he grew slower, weaker, and older

phil somehow found employment
though he never knew what anything meant
and fell into a routine
and almost forgot who and where he had been

of desires he had only one -
to remain in oblivion
was that now to be denied?
to the pitiless sky phil cried

his cry echoed down the dark street
and the flapping of his running feet
and the bubbling in his brain
were only heard by the wind and the rain

(to be continued)

Thursday, February 4, 2016

the ballad of the moogle and the dink

i don’t know if you have noticed, said the moogle to the dink
but we have been too long without a drink
my friend, you are right, the dink replied
let us remedy that situation, before our souls are tried

and so they entered the first bar that they approached
and there they found a rabbi, a nun, and a football coach
the rabbi was weeping into his beer so foamy
and the nun was saying, sir, you don’t even know me

the football coach was singing a happy song
and the bartender was trying to hum along
cheer - some good, some not so good - was spread
when suddenly the bartender dropped dead

good heavens cried the moogle, as he sat upon his stool
they never taught us about such things in school
i hope the poor fellow was properly insured
and that a long wait for our drinks we must not endure

this place is cursed, the dink replied, alas
there seems to be no one to fill our glass
and this poor fellow seems to have no friends
to mourn his most untimely end

not so, the football coach suddenly asserted
no, not at all, the rabbi weepingly blurted
he was the finest of men, the nun assented
and yet his earthly form was only rented

if the pope were here - he left only minutes ago
all the proper prayers he would surely know
but we can only meditate on fate
and hope for our next drinks we have not long to wait

these meditations of the assembled drunks
were interrupted by a gang of punks
and hoodlums with an agenda of their own
who proceeded to make the place their home

the bartender’s corpse was quickly tossed aside
no barbaric impulse was left unsatisfied
the coach, the nun, the rabbi, and the dink
watched helplessly and knew not what to think

the moogle shook his head and softly sighed
this, my friends, is the end of earthly pride
all is mirrors, all is smoke
and no one ever got to tell a joke