The House With the Grave of the Girl Out Front

There was, in the town where I grew up,
A house with a tombstone laid out front.
It was flat, not upright, and on it was sprawled
A forlorn girl, sculpted from stone.

We used to wonder as we passed
Whether underneath there lay a corpse.
We’d joke in nervous tones about
The stuff that the worms were eating below.

One day on the way to the town swimming pool
A boy named Marty thought of a jest
He lay down upon the cold granite child
And curled his arm ‘round the girl’s stony breast.

We laughed at his antics, the guy was a nut.
We walked on but he continued his joke
When out from the door overlooking the street
Came the girl’s angry mother and her sister too.

“How dare you disturb the sleep of the dead!”
The mother said shaking, her grey face contorted.
“Hey lady,” said Marty, “Don’t get mad at me–
you were the one put her out on the street.”

The mother, enraged, flew back in the house,
The rest of us scattered, fearing the worst,
But Marty just laughed, and taunted the girl
‘till finally she spoke, in a mesmerized voice.

“My sister was no one that you ever knew,
She did you no harm—not poor Tara Lee.
You’re evil—there’s no other word to describe
The hurt that you’ve brought to my mother and me.”

Marty got up, and brushed off his pants,
And started to walk with the rest of the gang,
But before out of view he fired one last shot
“I’ll bet,” he yelled loudly, “your mom kills you too!”

The girl stiffened sharply and drew herself up—
“You horrible boy, you’re awful!” she cried.
Marty just laughed and hollered back “Skag!”
While we ran ahead, and he lagged behind.

· · · · ·

We grew up together, then drifted apart,
We each wandered off on our separate paths.
Marty stayed local, and worked for his dad,
He never aimed higher, and didn’t much change.

He dated around, but didn’t get serious
Until it began to be noticed a bit.
“That Marty, how come he can’t find him a girl?”
The townsfolk would ask, and he heard the talk.

And so in the span of couple of months
He wooed then he won a girl none of us knew.
She lived south of town in a house they would share
Once they’d slipped on the rings and had said their “I do’s”.

She was borderline tacky—to give you a flavor
Her bangs flipped up à la Farrah Fawcett-Major.
Her bridal flowers were baby’s breath.
And she went by the name of Liza Beth.

They walked down the aisle to Mendellsohn’s music.
And then slipped away, for their honeymoon.
They kept to themselves, we never saw Marty–
We figured they had what they needed themselves.

And then just as quickly as it had begun
The marriage was over, said Marty “It’s done.”
He moved back with his parents and stayed home at first
But then we would see him in bars by himself.

“Come join us,” we’d say, but he would refuse,
He’d stare in his glass as if oceans it held
And we wondered why—what was wrong with him?
Where was the quick laugh of boyhood days?

I happened to join him one cold New Year’s Eve
There was only one seat at the town hotel bar.
He looked straight ahead at the foam on his beer
but couldn’t avoid my inquisitive tongue.

“So tell me,” I asked him, intending no harm,
“Whatever happened to your Liza Beth?”
He turned and he looked at me, cold to the eye,
And recited these words with a chilling regret:

“We met and we sparked but we never made love,
She said we’d save that for our wedding night.
When under the covers I embraced her body
It turned into cold stone and spoke these words,”

“’The woman you married is the one who was buried
Beneath the stone marker in front of the house,
Where my sister and mother endured your crude joking
And you walked away with a cynical laugh.

“’And so the worm turns, as always it does,
If one has the patience to wait long enough.
Now I am the one who gives you an embrace
That unmans you now and forever my spouse.’”

“She grasped me,” he said, “her hand hard as stone,
And said these fell words, in a harsh, loveless tone:
‘Just as I am, so shall you be,
as lifeless and cold as death only can be,”

Thus spake the wraith named Tara Lee,
Then paused and spoke again, did she.
“’You will never have a son or daughter—
You will never hear their laughter
Because impotent you shall be,
From now through all eternity.’”

I gazed in his eyes, but saw nothing there,
They offered a view like a bottomless well.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said with alarm
And tried to escape from his gaze and his grip.

“You got off lucky,” he said, “but not me,
“I’ll be paying forever the price of my jokes.”
“Too bad,” I said standing, leaving him with this unction,
“There’s all kinds of pills for erectile dysfunction.”

“You don’t understand,” he said and started to cry,
“I haven’t said yet what she then did to me.”
I trembled as manically he gripped my arm,
Made no sudden moves, lest he do me harm.

“’You’ll get an erection,’ she said, “hard as a bone,
And once that has happened, ‘twill turn into stone.’”
His tale ended there, he hung down his head
Finally crushed by what he’d just said.

I reached to console him, I patted his back,
I said “You’ll be fine, pal, I know you’ll be back.
In fact,” I joked mildly, “If you want my view,
There’s plenty of guys who’d trade organs with you.”

“Granted,” he said, “I had turned hard as stone.
You’re kind and really, I don’t mean to cavil–
But she reached in her nightstand, removed her hot comb
And whacking my granite, she smashed it to gravel.”

Moral: A smart remark can come back to haunt you.

I Wish I Could Break Your Honky-Tonk Heart

You said you was goin’ outside for a smoke.
A half hour later I called up your folks.
They said you weren’t there and just laughed at your joke.
And you weren’t in bed when I next awoke.

I got in the car to drive around town.
I’d find you if I had to hunt you down.
Our life is a circus, and I play the clown.
If I let myself cry, I’d most likely drown.

I wish I could break your honky-tonk heart
Into little pieces and tear them apart
Then throw them away like sharp little darts
At the next man who falls for your honky-tonk heart.

I found you at Darrell’s, the bar down the street.
A place where loose women and tight men might meet.
I looked on the dance floor, my vision complete,
And you there a twirlin’ so light on your feet.

I said “Come on home, your babies need you.”
You said “They’ll be fine, I’m losin’ my blues.”
You knocked back a drink, and kicked off your shoes.
Tomorrow the whole town will all know the news.

I wish I could break your honky-tonk heart
Into little pieces and tear them apart
Then throw them away like sharp little darts
At the next man who falls for your honky-tonk heart.

Walking My Lobster Back Home

 

On learning that the poet Gerard de Nerval had a pet lobster he walked on a leash.

 

Gee but it’s great after being out late–
Walking my lobster back home.
There’s little risk that she’ll turn into bisque,
Walking my lobster back home.

She grows quite bored of the maddening horde,
So I recite her a poem.
She slept with me once and complained that I snored,
Walking my lobster back home.

We stop for a while, she gives me a feel,
And snuggles her claws to my chest.
She’s not like a dog or a shrimp that you peel
Her green roe’s all over my vest.

When we stroll about I keep her on a leash,
Sometimes she borrows my comb.
We go out to eat and of course she has quiche,
Walking my lobster back home.

She rides on my back to a little clam shack
For a re-test on Teapot Dome.
She borrows my pen and she fails it again
Walking my lobster, talking my lobster
She’s sure my baby, I don’t mean maybe
Walking my lobster back home.

You Forgot To Be Beautiful

An evening of jazz, how pleasant one thinks,
then you hear a noise like a kitchen sink
being tossed out a window into a dumpster
or bombs bursting in air over Fort Sumter.
There’s a hint of three tomcats all tossed in a bag,
then shaken, not stirred as a loathsome gag.
You smile and applaud, but as a critic quite dutiful,
you tell the quartet, “You forgot to be beautiful.”

aacm
AACM:  Gack!

 

The public unveiling of a grand civic sculpture:
when disrobed, it looks like an arthritic vulture.
There’s rusted metal enough for a two-car collision,
the sculptor would think my praise quite high derision.
His manifest intent is epater le bourgeois,
I can only conclude that the guy is a doucheois.
When I meet him, I admit, I got kinda cute-iful:
“Hey man, great stuff—but you forgot to be beautiful.”

picasso

The Greeks had it right, if you want my view,
the good, the beautiful, and also the true.
Anything else—why bother trying it?
You can call it art, but I ain’t buying it.

picasso1

The lady’s got two noses on one side of her face–
somehow, something looks . . . out of place.
If I could I would take my Artgum eraser
but the museum guard would pull out his Taser.
I’d be laid out twitching on the marble floor,
while the docents cried lustily “Give him some more!”
And so she retains a weird double snootiful.
My artistic advice—don’t forget to be beautiful.

 

The Corrupting Influence of Staten Island Picnics

Picnics on Staten Island Blamed for Ruin of Young Girls

                                           New York newspaper headline, 1884

 

If I had a daughter, I wouldn’t let her go
on a picnic with just any Tom, Dick or Joe
to Staten Island, ruin of young girls,
so precious, so dainty, beneath their spit curls.

picnic
Let’s get this party started!

 

On a picnic you’re likely to encounter ants
that can climb up your legs if you don’t wear long pants.
To scratch them requires an action indelicate
which you must do yourself, you can’t ask your fellow-cate.

picnic1
Oh yeah!

 

If you start to sweat, he may see your nipples
as your perspiration down you ripples.
If your face grows flush, he may think it passion
and take liberties if he thinks himself dashin’.

picnic2
Beneath those snarling exteriors lie snarling interiors!

 

With all of these threats to a young woman’s virtue
it’s best if she sticks to a quite early curfew
because things can get ugly, indeed quite hairy
if she succumbs to his wiles and should miss the last ferry.

Youth is Not Wasted on the Young

There once was a man of an uncertain age
Who felt his life slipping, that he’d turned a page,
So he dumped the Mrs. and gave her some dough,
And set off to find self, where’er it might gough.
He tried Grecian Formula to blacken his locks,
Wore slim-fitting sweaters, bought new argyle socks.
A little red sports car was of course required
And a personal trainer was quickily hired.

His friends and companions, they noticed the change
And more than one came soon to think he was strange.
His vocab was sprinkled with “awesome” and “skeevy,”
He watched Jersey Shore on his new high-def TV.
He’d buy rounds of drinks at a bar that had ferns
He studied the ways of the young, and he lerned.
He found you have friends if you freely spend money–
Folks hark to your talk, and think your jokes funny.

Once he was settled in his brand new skin
He looked round himself, and he took it all in.
He’d mastered the art of playing the dandy
And now it was time for some major arm candy.
He took up with a bleach-blonde aerobics instructor,
He briefily wooed her, then brieflier fucked her.
She found him too fast, “like a bleeping Niagara.”
She told him to get lots of full-strength Viagra.

One word to the wizened was more than enough–
He went to the drug store and purchased the stuff,
And when next the lovebirds climbed into the sack
He was like his old self at the beast with two backs.
He huffed and he puffed through the first time, then twice,
He recalled all he’d read of Hugh Hefner’s advice.
He would have been golden, except for one fact,
He lay back and suffered a mass heart attack.

Moral: If it’s not one thing, it’s another.

There’s Danger in Your Eyes, Cherie

There once was a man, whom to each woman fetching
Would extend an invite to come look at his etchings.
Once they were safely ensconced in his apartment
He’d make timid moves in the seduction department.
He’d look at them longingly, then sing off-key,
“There’s Danger in Your Eyes, Cherie.”

femme fatale

The gals would get flustered at this song from the thirties,
It was just the thing when you wanted to get flirty.
Kisses that taste like wine, all that lyrical stuff,
That reduced to print looks like so much guff,
But when sung in the mode of a 30’s crooner
Made of this diffident chap a first-class spooner.

nelson1

All he had to do was trace over one word–
The name of each night’s particular bird.
But he couldn’t, he wouldn’t, he’d stumble every time
He had the soul of the poet, and was a slave to rhyme.
And so, upon the ears of a lovesome chickadee
He’d forget her name, and call her “Cherie.”

cherie

Then they’d all flee, thinking he was a cad,
He wasn’t, though he’d have liked to be, bad.
It just wasn’t in him, he found out by trying,
He was faithful to sheet music, and no good at lying.
And so on his couch, alone once a girl’d flee,
He’d hum to himself–danger, eyes, Cherie.

nelson eddy

And then, just when things began to seem lost,
He inveigled a young thing and her heart did de-frost.
She seated herself on his worn-out divan
He cleared his throat, and then he began–
“There’s danger,” he sang, “In Your Eyes, Cherie,”
To which she replied: “That song’s about me!”

Moral: When pitching woo, don’t shake off the catcher’s signs.

To The Woman Checking Her Pits in the Friday Sales Meeting

It’s hot, I know,
and there are places you’d rather be;
the beach for one, same with me,
and with you I would go.

But we are stuck here, my dear;
me in the front and you in the back row
while before us drones the regional manager,
about moving product.

I see you check your pits,
your nose tilted downwards
like a duck plucking at its
pin feathers. It’s the weather,
and we’re all sweating, same as you.

There are risks to sleeveless
dresses in the heat;
yes, they help you stay cool, but by ventilation,
and so your musky fragrance is a revelation.

You hope you don’t offend, but Lord, woman—
look at these men! The thought of your sweat
is the furthest thing from their minds: “Beer, tube, ballgame—

Ugh!” they would grunt if they could.
So let us go, in our minds’ eyes,
to a place that is cool;
a dark and shady grove is best,
and we’ll remove that summer dress.

The Night of the Red Sox Living Dead

One afternoon, while heading home
Upon a hot commuter train,
I fell asleep, and dreamed this poem,
As summer’s light began to wane.

I saw a scene of baseball’s past
When stadiums were built to last
With brick-and-ivy outfield walls
Bombarded hard by sluggers’ balls.

And every man, and every maid
Would swelter in the noon-day heat.
And by the time the game’d been played
They’d smell as bad as postmen’s feet.

My reverie became a wish
That bordered close on heresy:
That Fenway Park, the Red Sox home,
Become an air-conditioned dome.

And as I slept the train rolled on
Past Back Bay then to Newtonville,
My narcoleptic state absorbed
What otherwise was time to kill.

Through Wellesley Farms to Wellesley Hills
And Wellesley Square I slept.
Through Natick and West Natick too
The engineer appointments kept.

When hot and groggy I awoke
To the conductor’s awful yawp,
The scenery out my window showed
We’d rolled four stations past my stop.

I stumbled off the train to see
A wave of fans in front of me
With baseball caps upon their heads
That bore the letter “B” in red;

it was–

The Night of the Red Sox Living Dead.

Their heads had swelled (or was it mine,
That lay asleep for all that time?)
“Ortiz” and “Schilling” on their backs.
With wild surmise and looks quite wacked.

They staggered towards me, two by two,
I froze, then turned and tried to flee.
Well, what exactly would you do,
If I were you, and you were me?

They seemed intent on mayhem mad
Or maybe something even worse.
As I imagined just how bad,
A mother hit me with her purse.

“Get out the way, we’re comin’ through!”
She screamed from deep within her lungs.
She pushed a snot-nosed kid or two–
Why is youth wasted on the young?

I stumbled back on to the train
Not knowing how or even why.
Crushed flat beneath a press of flesh
I thought that I was going to die.

We rattled back towards the town
From whence I’d come when wide awake,
Squeezed tight so I could make no sound
Squashed flatter than sardine pancakes.

West Natick first, plain Natick next
By Wellesley Square I’d caught my breath.
“Excuse me,” I could finally say,
“I’m getting off, my stop is next.”

“This guy here thinks he’s getting off!”
A ghoulish fan saw fit to scoff,
And then a chilly chorus said,
“He didn’t say the magic word!”

I racked my brain both high and low,
Then left, then right and upside down.
What sound would cause the zombie hoard
To let me off at Wellesley town?

I couldn’t think, I had to beg,
“Please tell me,” I implored a girl.
“I’m really not too bad an egg,
If not the nicest in the world.”

She looked at me with deep brown eyes
That bore through me like fine drill bits
A loyal fan, quite undersized,
She’d brought along a catcher’s mitt.

Child of the Damned, in schoolgirl clothes,
A tartan kilt of blue and green;
She wore a pair of Mary Janes
Her brown locks tossed by breeze unseen.

“If you want to get off this train
In Wellesley Square, one stop away
You’ll have to say the magic word!
Or ride with us to Yawkey Way!”

I didn’t want to go that far, I’d rather
–if the truth be known–
Be sitting in my easy chair
And watch the stupid game at home.

She read my mind by ESP
The zombies then advanced on me.
“Just say the simple syllable
And we’ll ride on while you go free!”

My mouth was dry, no words would come
I guess you’d say I’d been struck dumb.
In fear I struck a fetal pose,
And on they came, as zombies come.

The little girl sank to the floor
Like Jolson, skidding on her knees,
And screamed “You silly nimmynot–
The word you need to say is ‘Please’!”

Available in Kindle format as part of the collection “Red Sox and Yankees: Why Can’t We Be Enemies?”

For Refrigerator Poets, Verse Builds Bodies and Minds

SOMERVILLE, Mass.  By day, Toby Shasniff is an installer for Fallmere Appliances, a retailer with a large share of the local market for those who find big-box stores in the suburbs hard to reach or intimidating.  “It’s a pretty menial job, but I take pride in it,” he says as he tightens a dishwasher’s rubber hose to a faucet with a wrench.  “Every now and then a housewife short of cash will tip me with wild, uninhibited sex for putting in a stackable washer-dryer combo, but that’s pretty rare.”


“Thanks for the wild sex–let me know if you have any problems with the lint trap.”

 

By night, however, Shasniff moves from the mundane to the sublime as a participant in the New England region’s growing number of refrigerator verse competitions, a sort of cross between a strong man contest and a poetry slam.  “I go to open mic poetry nights sometimes, and it’s just not the same,” Shasniff says with barely-concealed disgust.  “Those guys are out of shape from smoking and ‘crafting’ their delicate little sestinas.”

In refrigerator verse competitions poets must bring their own appliance to the stage, often after climbing steep stairs to cramped night clubs and maneuvering around tight corners.  “The essential tools of my art include a set of magnetic poetry tiles and a heavy duty appliance dolly,” says Bobbi-Jean Nason, one of the few female refrigerator poets, who grew up bucking hay in Missouri.  “I try to stick to traditional poetic forms, but one night I dropped a crate of sonnets on the stairs and I had to improvise with free verse.”


Dolly:  Essential tool of the poet’s craft

 

Refrigerator poets are locked in a struggle for the soul of contemporary poetry with so-called “flarf” poets, who compose with the aid of computer-generated web searches, and “conceptual” poets, for whom the concept behind a poem–such as reading the white pages of Shaker Heights, Ohio, while taking a bath in public–is more important than the quality of the verse or its content.


” . . . to ask if I used deodorant is a question that smells itself.”

 

A fourth group, the “performative” poets, seek to produce poems that have an immediate impact on society rather than merely causing “a little ripple in a stagnant pond of academics,” says Rod Huden, a former practitioner who is now confined to the Ernie Doerr Home for Wayward Boys in Keokuk, Iowa, after passing one of his poems to a bank teller:

read my work close
i don’t write trash
small bills only
hand over the cash

Shasniff is running late and tired tonight, having just finished a Sub-Zero refrigerator “install” at an MIT professor’s starkly-furnished condo in Cambridge, for which he had to park a block away because of the neighborhood’s density.

refrigerator
“You’re all set in your kitchen quite Quaker.
It’ll take a few minutes to start the ice-maker.”

“I’m going more for a freezer effect tonight rather than a mere refrigerator poem,” he says as he takes magnetic tiles in hand and prepares his thoughts extemporaneously.

Bird’s Eye peas–I must get on my knees
to reach thee, sequestered as you are beneath
Eskimo pies, to which I’ll treat myself after
eating my vegetables, starch and meath.

 

Available in print and Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection poetry is kind of important.

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