Tuesday, April 13, 2021

late one night

the swede got off work
at the factory and
came home and found
his mail order bride dead drunk
on the floor. an old wallet was
on the table and the
swede thought it belonged
to the polack. he went
out and went down to
the beer hall. the irishman said
the polack had not been
around all that night.
the swede went over
to ikey rosen’s pawn shop and
bought a knife
with five blades. next he went
over to the laundry but the
chinaman had not seen the
polack either. the chinaman told
the swede to go home and
sleep it off. later the chinaman
told the oft told tale to sheriff joe black.
look very bad, the chinaman said.
the swede will be all right
the sheriff told him, it’s not like
he’s some hotheaded
dago who is going
to get all excited and go
loco. the sheriff went outside
and looked down
the street. colonel porter’s
filipino houseboy snd a
couple of negroes were shooting
craps in front of miss wilson’s
dress shop which was
closed for the night. a cloud
passed over the moon.
the sheriff almost
stepped on a black cat and
it ran away, spitting fire and rain

Monday, April 12, 2021

last call

long away and far away
life was a brand new broadway play
folks looked rich but were really broke
did nothing all day but drink and smoke

style and class were tattered dreams
not yet awakened from or so it seems
no one entered without knocking
a few things were still considered shocking

peyton crull was the last of his race
he had a drink in his hand and a scar on his face
his life had been a total waste
he was reputed to have peculiar tastes

every afternoon at five
peyton almost came alive
he switched from gin to whiskey
and his eyes grew misty

the fire in his brain burned low
as he thought of days of long ago
but he had other thoughts as well
on which he would occasionally dwell

he dreamed of a future bright
in which everything would be all right
a happy day to come
in which he would not be a bum

in which one happy human race
with a single smile on its happy face
would hold him in its warm embrace…
the fantasy faded, leaving no trace

caught like a fly between two spiders
trampled on by the other riders
on the nostalgia-future train
peyton lifted his glass again

and drank to those who came before
and those still wandering on the shore
and those on the horizon dim
marching with glittering eyes toward him

he drank to the damned and the elect
and those who showed him no respect
yes, those were the worst of all…
did he hear a footstep in the hall?

up on the hill

there once was a guy named bill
he had a mule and a dog and lived on a hill
the mule wore a hat made in spain
and the dog had an old tin can for a brain

the dog’s name was frankie lee
what else would it be?
the mule was called sleepytime joe
he always went with the flow

they did not get many visitors
revenue men or spanish inquisitors
an occasional lightning bolt
would give them a nudge or a jolt

trees grew on the hill
the way trees will
birds lived in the branches
and took their chances

snakes crawled on the ground
some bigger than others
and bears and possums avoided them
if they had their druthers

one day bill got a postcard
from a lawyer in the town
and terrible things transpired
but nobody wrote them down

bill and joe and frankie lee
are no longer to be found
but a portion of their old black stove
still sticks up from the ground

Friday, February 26, 2021

the lizard

i dreamed i was a lizard
with a long white shiny tail
and i made myself a sandwich
while jesse james robbed the mail

i found some ham and mustard
in the desk of william mckinley
but the mustard was a little low
and so i spread it thinly

boss tweed called my attention
to a spider on the wall
but the spider was no friend of mine
and so i heeded not his call

the queen wrote me a letter
on which the maid spilled tea
i knew that such things happened
but not to the likes of me

it has been my misfortune
to live in troubled times
woe and disappointment
are the subject of my rhymes

o you who ride on snow white steeds
and in carriages of gold
save your dimes and nickels
so that your fortunes my be told

do you remember the governess
who stole your favorite doll?
she tells fortunes down on main street
and waits for you to call

if you were a nicer person
you would favor her with your trade
but on second and third thought
some things are better left unsaid

Sunday, February 21, 2021

the lion

lambs eat grass
lions eat lambs
humans shoot lions
and send urgent telegrams

i shot my first lion
the telegram reads
he thought he would live forever
but i was waiting in the weeds

the look on his face
when he breathed his last
was absolutely priceless
but the sky was overcast

a buzzard circled overhead
with a knowing wink
i went back to base camp
and mixed myself a drink

the days go by
and we fill them as we can
i will see you in london
in september, old man

by then the nasty rumors
will all have died down
and we, who will live forever
will reconquer the town

Thursday, February 18, 2021

thoughts on a cloudy day

rich people have more money than poor people

beautiful people are better looking than ugly people

young people are younger than old people

and don’t know what it was like

how about you?

do you know what it was like?

you can’t get there from here

well, maybe you can, you can try it

but don’t say i didn’t warn you

some days it rains

some days it shines

some days it doesn’t pay to get out of bed

it’s a long road that has no turning

you can’t fight city hall

but you can throw the rascals out

it’s time for a change

a new day is coming

you heard it here first

but don’t get your hopes up

the clock is ticking

they don’t make them like they used to

they said it couldn’t be done

they could be right, they could be wrong

a broken watch tells the right time twice a day

that’s all for now

my name is joe

but tell them jack sent you

don’t mention my name

i think your mother is calling you

she wants you to shine her army boots

and so’s your old man

that’s all for now

i already said that, didn’t i?

the snake

i was born by the river in a little shack
i wanted to conquer the world but couldn’t get on track
i found a bag of gold in a hole out back
and got a ride to town from a guy named mack

he left me at the station at fifth and main
mixed emotions swirled around in my brain
the feelings i had were hard to explain
but with the bag of gold i got on the train

ckickety clickety clickety clack
no one suspected what i had in my sack
i bought a ticket for the very last stop
at the stroke of midnight off the train i did hop

the moon looked down with a wistful frown
i put my bag on my shoulder and entered the town
the streets were filled with men with guns
but i did not know anyone

i was accosted by the famous jack slade
i looked in his face and was not afraid
you look like a tenderfoot, he said
give me that bag or i will shoot you dead

i handed it over without a qualm
knowing i would never come to harm
slade opened the bag and a snake popped out
he had no time to even shout

the snake hardly made a sound
and slade fell to the ground
the rounders witnessing the scene
turned various shades of green

the hour has come at last
i heard black dan riley gasp
the owlhoots all drifted away
and night slowly turned to day

the end is quickly told
the snake did not turn back to gold
i was left with no cards up my sleeve
and a story no one will believe

stranger, take pity on me
all i wanted was to be free
i grasped at the ghost of a chance
but only devils can dance

Sunday, January 31, 2021


i dreamed i was tom sawyer
fishing in a muddy stream
and tom caught a catfish
but it was not what it seemed

the catfish was abe lincoln
and he tossed tom a dime
and said, hold on to it, my boy
it must last you for all time

be wary, said walt whitman
for all this will be forgot
what is seen will be wiped clean
but what is whispered will not

then up stepped henry ford
wearing a necktie made of worms
for he was not george washington
and certainly not george burns

do not cut down the cherry tree
lest all this glory end
tom paine is in the parlor
making huey long his friend

mr vanderbilt has four aces
and grant a pair of kings
jesse james looks over his shoulder
as boss tweed pulls the strings

a new book will be written
when the old world returns
but the children will not read it
for no one ever learns

tom reeled in the catfish
and took the hook from out its mouth
custer set out for the territory
ambrose bierce went south

poem for grandma

i wrote this poem
i wrote it just for you
i really wrote it for grandma
so that is not strictly true

once there was a little dog
who lived in a far away continent
he barked like he hated the world
but that is not what he really meant

the little dog had a friend
who took the form of a cat
but life is a dream
so do not make too much of that

the dog and the cat were owned
by a merchant named mr smith
and that is all i know
i hope it is enough to go on with

i could tell you a long story
if you have nothing but time
it may not make much sense
and it may not even rhyme

mr smith had a secret life
in which he was a wizard
but everybody has a secret life
so that is not so surprising, is it?

the dog’s name was doctor doom
and the cat’s name was plain jane
and i forgot to mention the canary
who was isabella, queen of spain

there was a cow named dolores
she was empress of portugal
and a duck named walter worhington
who was everybody’s pal

there was a worm in the back of the garden
named harold trumbull the third
and a sheep named little gus
who was always true to his word

they all had secrets
from the authorities and from each other
and i will finish the story some other time
because that’s all for now, brother

the mystery

just when ethel thought that everything was "back to normal" , a postcard arrived from cousin stephen, not from ankara or calcutta but from bournemouth - only two miles away.

rabham, the hired man, was watching her from the french window, so she placed the postcard in the desk drawer and turned briskly toward cousin markton, who was lounging on the blue divan and smoking his eternal meerschaum.

“cousin stephen will be arriving later today."

"stephen, stephen. can't seem to place him. "

"you would have met him at the wedding of cousin sophia and cousin tancred. tall, slender, bit of a bully, bit of a cad, more than a bit of a snob."

"with one green eye and one violet? wore a monocle over the violet eye?"

"the very same."

"what's he been up to, eh? no good, most likely." markton took his pipe out of his mouth and studied it. "staying a while, is he?"

"he doesn't say how long he intends to stay."

"hmmm." markton twitched his shoulders and put his pipe back in his mouth.

“he might stay a long time,” markton finally observed.

“he might,” ethel agreed.

“or he might only stay a day or so.”

“he might do that also.”

“it’s a bit of a mystery, isn’t it?”

“i suppose it is.”

“everything is a bit of a mystery, isn’t it, when you get right down to it.”

ethel changed the subject. “the hired man is standing at the window again, staring at me.”

“you mean rabham? oh, he’s quite harmless. besides, how do you know he is staring at you particularly?”

“i know that he is. would you mind going outside and speaking to him?”

“oh, very well.” markton sat up, carefully knocked the ashes out of his pipe , and placed the pipe beside the ashtray on the low table beside the blue divan.

with a slight groan, markton pushed himself up off the divan and went outside and confronted rabham.

ethel watched them through the window.

after a couple of minutes, markton turned and reentered the house, followed by the hired man.

“rabham has a little sing he would like to sing to us,” markton announced.

“really?” ethel asked.

“yes, go ahead, rabham.”

rabham took a deep breath, and standing erect as a soldier on parade, commenced to sing in a loud clear voice.

king richard went out riding
a-riding out one day
he cut off friar bacon’s head
and hid it in the hay

maid marian went out walking
with a white dove in her hand
then rode upon king richard’s back
until they reached the holy land

king richard drew his iron sword
and slew the heathen turk
maid marian drank the good king’s health
and then went back to work.

“that was splendid, rabham, quite splendid indeed,” markton announced when the song was finished.

“thank you, sir.”

“would you care for a slice of seed cake?”

“thank you, that's very kind of you, sir.”

“just don’t eat it all,” ethel admonished rabham. “we have to save some for cousin stephen.”