Dancing With the Refrigerator

In the fifties when the madness of dance
descended upon the youth of the land,
enflamed by images of other teens
flickering across TV screens

dance

from Philadelphia, of all places,
practice was essential if perfection
was to be achieved, and a necessity,
since able males willing to serve as partner

were in short supply.  It was as necessary
as a pessary had been to their mothers
for girls to practice their steps holding
on to the handle of a refrigerator.

dance1
Stoic, stolid, the appliances stood
doing their duty as men would,
allowing the girls to shine; after all,
a fridge is just an appliance.

I wonder what passions pulsed
through their Freon tubes,
trapped beneath their skins of
avocado green, harvest gold and white.

To feel the warmth of a girl’s hand upon
their handles, tiny lights unlit within; up
in their freezer compartments their brains
frozen like those of boys they stood in for.

dance2

For the duration of a 45 rpm record, they might
believe themselves beloved, but of course
nothing would come of it.  The most
morganatic marriage Faulkner could dream of

did not contemplate that an icebox
would lose its cool over
a gamin’s brown locks.  And
as for those girls, now long grown,

let us hope they have men
as solid, if less cold, and capable
in their domestic dealings
of better expressing their feelings.

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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 staying 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 pop quiz about 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.

Oliver Cromwell, Sunday Night Spoilsport

In his 1650 address to the Irish, with which he opened war on them,
Oliver Cromwell asserted that it was the English who taught the Irish to work.

Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

Great, just great. Thanks for reminding me,
Cromwell—you jerk—
that it was the English
who taught the Irish to work.

Just as I was getting all mellified,
or in popular parlance, slightly fried,
with a beer, then wine, then a gin and tonic
you thwart my addiction to stuff other than phonics.

I had almost completely forgotten about my job,
then you go and spoil it, you insufferable snob.
Easy for you to say, you with your warts
while I’m trying to chill in flip-flops and shorts.

I gather you were a Roundhead, and not a Cavalier.
Those of us who’d like to kick back with just one more beer
side with your opponents in this weighty question
we’ve eaten our shrimp, it aids the digestion.

But no, I’ve got to set my alarm for five
while you rest easily, no longer alive.
I curse you, you spoilsport, scurvy knave;
I hope if you hear this you spin in your grave.

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 placid exteriors lie placid 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.

I Wish I Could Break Your Honky-Tonk Heart

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

honky4

I got in the car to drive around town.
I swore that I’d find you, that I’d to hunt you down.
Our life is a circus, and I play the clown.
If I start to cry, I’ll most likely drown.

honky3

I wish I could break your honky-tonk heart
Into little pieces and tear them apart
Then throw them away like sharp little darts–
Let another fool fall for your honky-tonk heart.

honky2

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,
With you there a’twirlin’ so light on your feet.

honky1

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.

honky

I wish I could break your honky-tonk heart
Into little pieces and tear them apart
Then throw them away like sharp little darts
Let another fool fall for your honky-tonk heart.

a session with my poetry coach

It was the form letter that sent me over the edge.  “Thank you for submitting your poem to plangent voices,” it began.  “Please excuse the standardized response, but due to the volume of god-awful submissions that we receive, we do not have the time to crush the spirit of each writer personally.”


elena gotchko:  Had her capital letters surgically removed in 2009.

 

Signed–elena gotchko, editor-in-chief, the lower-case poetess who I’d help to catch on with the little rag in the first place!  I thought to myself, if I couldn’t call in a personal favor from someone like elena, who I knew back when she was cutting her own hair to show the world how disaffected she was, I might as well hang it up as a poet.


Self-haircut:  “Which side do you like better–the short or the long?”

 

But that would mean giving up on the art form that I’ve been enamored of ever since I noticed, as a mere lad of twelve, the couplet so beloved by young boys on the wall of a bathroom stall.  You know the one:  

Here I sit
all broken-hearted
Paid a nickel to shit
and only farted.

The fierce beauty of those lines, their startling honesty, the possibilities they opened up to me–how could I forsake that epiphany?  Dammit–I wasn’t going to give up that easily!  My kid has a hitting coach, my wife has a fitness coach–I was going to get myself a poetry coach!

I opened up the Yellow Pages and flipped to the “p’s.”  Poetry, Anthologies.  Poetry, Brokers.  Ah, here we go–Poetry, Coaches.  There were three, but only one in my area code.  Buy local, I figured, and gave the guy a call.

“You have reached the office of Elliot Wurzel, Poetry Coach, turning poetasters into masters for over a decade.  If you have a question regarding assonance or consonance, press 1.  For issues regarding meter, press 2.  For problems with your account, press 3.  For all other matters, please stay on the line or press zero.”


Valerii Yakovlevich Briusov, Neo-Acmeist poet and housecleaning fanatic

 

I held while Valerii Yakovlevich Briusov, Russian Neo-Acmeist and the only poet with four i’s in his name, read from his justifiably-obscure oeuvre.  Finally, a sonorous voice came on the line and introduced himself in blunt fashion–”Wurzel here.”


“You call yourself a poet?  Drop down and give me ten Alcaic stanzas–NOW!”

 

“Uh, Mr. Wurzel, I’m looking for a poetry coach.”

“Umm.  What seems to be the problem?”

“Well, I can’t seem to get out of the slush pile.  Can’t even win Second Runner-Up in those contests with prizes in the high two figures.”

“Poetry is like maypole dancing,” he said cryptically.

“How so?”

“It’s one of those art forms that has far more practitioners than spectators.  You’re up against very long odds.”

“I know–that’s why I’m calling you.”

“And it is well that you did,” he said.

“Don’t you mean ‘good’?” I asked.


John Milton, Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of Blank Verse

 

“Never use a nickel word when a dime word will do,” he counseled me.  “That’s the last free advice you’re getting, by the way.”

We haggled a bit over rates–I didn’t want to sign up for a long-term membership like at a health club and then have him commit suicide, the occupational hazard–if not the occupation–of versifiers.

“Okay,” he said.  “Let’s get started.  Read me the first poem you ever wrote.”

I cleared my throat and launched into “Thoughts on Waking After Spending the Night at a Kosher Vegetarian Commune”:

This is kosher, this is trayfe–
One unclean, the other safe.
All day long we work and slayfe
Keeping kosher from the trayfe.


Actual Kosher vegetarian commune

 

“Hmm,” he hmmed, as he considered my complex a-a-a-a rhyme scheme.  “Not altogether bad–but you need to accessorize.”


Heidi Klum, accessorizing.

 

“Isn’t that what women do when they want to complete and complement an otherwise humdrum, pedestrian outfit?”

“You seem to know a lot about fashion,” he said.

“My dad was in women’s clothing.  Don’t duck the question–what’s that got to do with poetry?”

“Think of your poem as it hits an editor’s desk.  It’s like a woman standing in line outside an exclusive night club.  It’s got a lot of competition.  You’ve got to tart it up a little if you want to get past the doorman.”


“Sorry sweetheart.  Come back when you’ve fixed that godawful spondee in the third verse.”

 

I was starting to appreciate my coach’s wealth of experience.  “Like how?”

“First of all–dedicate it to someone.”

“Like who?”

“It helps if it’s a foreign name, somebody obscure, somebody the reader will be ashamed to admit he doesn’t know.”

“Gimme a for instance.”

“That’s an add-on,” he said,  “Five bucks for access to my exclusive database of hitherto-un-dedicated-to names.”


Zsa Zsa Gabor, with Porfirio Rubirosa

 

I grudgingly agreed–what choice did I have?–and listened as he flipped through some papers.  “I’ve got just the thing,” he said with satisfaction.  “Porfirio Rubirosa!”

“Who’s he?” I asked.

“See–proved my point.  Sounds foreign and romantic, but you can’t quite put your finger on him, can you?”

“Shortstop for the Minnesota Twins?”

“You’re thinking of Zoilo Versalles, who’s also good–don’t get me wrong.  He’s just not right for your poem.”

I felt gratified that I was getting personalized attention.  “So who’s Porfiri–”

“Rubirosa was an international playboy, polo player and race car driver, legendary for his prowess with women.”


Kowa-bunga!

 

“Okay–sounds good.”

“During his heyday, large pepper grinders were sometimes referred to as ‘rubirosas’ among the fast-living international set.”

He’d lost me.  “Because?”

“Because of the voluptuous shape of the grinder, the sensuous . . .”

“Okay, I got your point.  So what else needs fixing?”

“You need to strike a more outraged political tone.”

“But–it’s a little comic poem, just a pun that I . . .”

“Listen–do you want my help or not?” he fairly shouted at me.

“Well, you are the coach.  But what if I’m . . . not outraged.”

“If you’re not outraged–what are you?”

“More like–amused.  The Human Comedy.  As Mencken said when asked why he lived in America if he found so much unworthy of reverence here, ‘Why do men go to zoos?’”


H.L. Mencken

 

“That’s not going to help your career,” he said.

“What if I take a bi-partisan approach–criticize both sides?”

He considered this for a moment.  “Might work–what did you have in mind?”

“Well, I’d go after both Dick Cheney and Joe Biden–a Democratic and a Republican vice president–in one stanza.”

“Okay,” he said with a skeptical sigh of impatience.  “Hit me.”

Here comes the fat man, emerged from hiding place–
“Gee, I’m awful sorry if I shot you in the face!”

“That’s a start,” he said grudgingly.  “Now wrap it up.”

Old Joe Biden,
squeaks like a door hinge,
Schooled at Syracuse,
whose mascot’s an orange.

There was a silence at his end of the line.  “Un-freaking–believable.”

“Thanks,” I said, a bit surprised that I’d broken through his reserve.

“This is a major upheaval in poetry!” he exclaimed.

“What–what’d I do?”

“You’ve solved a problem that has bedeviled poets for centuries.  You’ve discovered a rhyme for ‘orange’!”

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