1. The Panic Bird
Just flew inside my chest. Some
days it lights inside my brain,
but today it's in my bonehouse,
rattling ribs like a birdcage.
If I saw it coming, I'd fend it
off with machete or baseball bat.
Or grab its scrawny hackled neck,
wring it like a wet dishrag.
But it approaches from behind.
Too late I sense it at my back --
carrion, garbage, excrement.
Once inside me it preens, roosts,
vulture on a public utility pole.
Next it flaps, it cries, it glares,
it rages, it struts, it thrusts
its clacking beak into my liver,
my guts, my heart, rips off strips.
I fill with black blood, black bile.
This may last minutes or days.
Then it lifts sickle-shaped wings,
rises, is gone, leaving a residue --
foul breath, droppings, molted midnight
feathers. And life continues.
And then I'm prey to panic again.
2. Another Reason Why I don't keep a Gun in the House
The neighbors' dog will not stop barking.
He is barking the same high, rhythmic bark
that he barks every time they leave the house.
They must switch him on on their way out.
The neighbors' dog will not stop barking.
I close all the windows in the house
and put on a Beethoven symphony full blast
but I can still hear him muffled under the music,
barking, barking, barking,
and now I can see him sitting in the orchestra,
his head raised confidently as if Beethoven
had included a part for barking dog.
When the record finally ends he is still barking,
sitting there in the oboe section barking,
his eyes fixed on the conductor who is
entreating him with his baton
while the other musicians listen in respectful
silence to the famous barking dog solo,
that endless coda that first established
Beethoven as an innovative genius.
3. A Barred Owl
The warping night-air having brought the boom
Of an owl's voice into her darkened room,
We tell the wakened child that all she heard
Was an odd question from a forest bird,
Asking of us, if rightly listened to,
"Who cooks for you?" and then "Who cooks for you?"
Words, which can make our terrors bravely clear,
Can also thus domesticate a fear,
And send a small child back to sleep at night
Not listening for the sound of stealthy flight
Or dreaming of some small thing in a claw
Borne up to some dark branch and eaten raw.
4. Children's Story
Once upon a time not long ago,
when people wore pajamas and lived life slow,
When laws were stern and justice stood,
and people were behavin' like they ought ta good,
There lived a lil' boy who was misled,
by another little boy and this is what he said:
"Me &you tonight are gonna make some cash,
robbin' old folks and makin' tha dash,
They did the job, money came with ease,
but one couldn't stop, it's like he had a disease,
He robbed another and another and a sista and her brotha,
tried to rob a man who was a duty undercover,
The cop grabbed his arm, he started acting erratic,
he said "Keep still, boy, no need for static,"
Punched him in his belly and he gave him a slap,
but little did he know the little boy was strapped,
The kid pulled out a gun, he said "Why d'ya hit me?"
the barrel was set straight for the cop's kidney,
The cop got scared, the kid, he starts to figure,
"I'll do years if I pull this trigger"
So he cold dashed and ran around the block,
cop radioes it to another lady cop,
He ran by a tree, there he saw this sister,
a shot for the head, he shot back but he missed her,
Looked around good and from expectations,
so he decided he'd head for the subway stations,
But she was coming and he made a left,
he was runnin' top speed till he was outta breath,
Knocked an old man down and swore he killed him,
then he made his move to an abandoned building,
Ran up the stairs up to the top floor,
opened up the door there, guess who he saw?,
Dave the dope fiend shootin' dope,
who don't know the meaning of water nor soap,
He said "I need bullets, hurry up, run!"
the dope fiend brought back a spanking shotgun,
He went outside but there was cops all over,
then he dipped into a car, a stolen Nova,
Raced up the block doing 83,
crashed into a tree near a university,
Escaped alive though the car was battered,
rat-a-tat-tatted and all the cops scattered,
Ran out of bullets and still had static,
grabbed a pregnant lady, got out the automatic,
Pointed at her head and he said the gun was full o' lead,
he told the cops "Back off or honey here's dead,"
Deep in his heart he knew he was wrong,
so he let the lady go and he starts to run on,
Sirens sounded, he seemed astounded,
before long the little boy got surrounded,
He dropped the gun, so went the glory,
and this is the way I must end this story,
He was only seventeen, in a madman's dream,
the cops shot the kid, I still hear him scream,
This ain't funny so don't ya dare laugh,
just another case 'bout the wrong path,
Straight 'n narrow or your soul gets cashed.
Walters, Ricky. The Great Adventures of Slick Rick (album). Def
Jam Records, 1988.
5. Jim Who Ran Away from His Nurse and Was Eaten by a Lion
There was a Boy whose name was Jim;
His Friends were very good to him.
They gave him Tea, and Cakes, and Jam,
And slices of delicious Ham,
And Chocolate with pink inside
And little Tricycles to ride,
And read him Stories through and through,
And even took him to the Zoo--
But there it was the dreadful Fate
Befell him, which I now relate.
You know--or at least you ought to know,
For I have often told you so--
That Children never are allowed
To leave their Nurses in a Crowd;
Now this was Jim's especial Foible,
He ran away when he was able,
And on this inauspicious day
He slipped his hand and ran away!
He hadn't gone a yard when--Bang!
With open Jaws, a lion sprang,
And hungrily began to eat
The Boy: beginning at his feet.
Now, just imagine how it feels
When first your toes and then your heels,
And then by gradual degrees,
Your shins and ankles, calves and knees,
Are slowly eaten, bit by bit.
No wonder Jim detested it!
No wonder that he shouted "Hi!"
The Honest Keeper heard his cry,
Though very fat he almost ran
To help the little gentleman.
"Ponto!" he ordered as he came
(For Ponto was the Lion's name),
"Ponto!" he cried, with angry Frown,
"Let go, Sir! Down, Sir! Put it down!"
The Lion made a sudden stop,
He let the Dainty Morsel drop,
And slunk reluctant to his Cage,
Snarling with Disappointed Rage.
But when he bent him over Jim,
The Honest Keeper's Eyes were dim.
The Lion having reached his Head,
The Miserable Boy was dead!
When Nurse informed his Parents, they
Were more Concerned than I can say:--
His Mother, as She dried her eyes,
Said, "Well--it gives me no surprise,
He would not do as he was told!"
His Father, who was self-controlled,
Bade all the children round attend
To James's miserable end,
And always keep a-hold of Nurse
For fear of finding something worse.
Harrison, Michael, and Christopher Stuart-Clark, eds. The Oxford
Treasury of Classic Poems. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996
6. Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.
I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.
The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.
A man and a woman
A man and a woman and a blackbird
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.
Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.
O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?
I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.
When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.
At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.
He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.
It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.
7. Flash Cards
In math I was the whiz kid, keeper
of oranges and apples. What you don't understand,
master, my father said; the faster
I answered, the faster they came.
I could see one bud on the teacher's geranium,
one clear bee sputtering at the wet pane.
The tulip tree always dragged after heavy rain
so I tucked my head as my boots slapped home.
My father put up his feet after work
and relaxed with a highball and The Life of Lincoln.
After supper we drilled and I climbed the dark
before sleep, before a thin voice hissed
numbers as I spun on a wheel. I had to guess.
Ten, I kept saying, I'm only ten.
Grace Notes: Poems. New York: W.W. Norton, 1991
8. Brandon Branson's Backpack
Brandon Branson's backpack
is unusually large.
He drags it into school
the way a tugboat drags a barge.
The main compartment holds
about a hundred hardback books.
The outside has a zillion
little pockets, straps and hooks.
Inside it has his calculators,
one for every class,
plus eighty markers, pens and pencils,
adding to its mass.
It holds his new harmonica
plus three or four kazoos,
his binder and his lunchbox
and an extra pair of shoes.
Of course it has his mittens
with his winter coat and hat,
a soccer ball, a basketball,
a baseball glove and bat.
A CD player, headphones,
and a TV, with remote,
a telephone, computer,
and another hat and coat.
His skateboard and his scooter
have their own equipment rack.
It even has a space to park
his bicycle in back.
A teacher found it in the hall
today at 1:15,
She looked around for Brandon
who was nowhere to be seen.
She got some other teachers
who considered it and frowned,
then groaned and moaned and pulled
and dragged it off to lost and found.
They struggled through the doorway
feeling out of breath and strained,
and all of them were curious
to see what it contained.
They cautiously unzipped it
and they pulled it open wide,
and there was Brandon Branson
napping happily inside.
9. Memento Mori in Middle School
When I was twelve, I chose Dante's Inferno
in gifted class-an oral presentation
with visual aids. My brother, il miglior fabbro,
said he would draw the tortures. We used ten
red posterboards. That day, for school, I dressed
in pilgrim black, left earlier to hang them
around the class. The students were impressed.
The teacher, too. She acted quite amused
and peered too long at all the punishments.
We knew by reputation she was cruel.
The class could see a hint of twisted forms
and asked to be allowed to round the room
as I went through my final presentation.
We passed the first one, full of poets cut
out of a special issue of Horizon.
The class thought these were such a boring set,
they probably deserved their tedious fates.
They liked the next, though- bodies blown about,
the lovers kept outside the tinfoil gates.
We had a new boy in our class named Paolo
and when I noted Paolo's wind-blown state
and pointed out Francesca, people howled.
I knew that more than one of us not-so-
covertly liked him. It seemed like hours
before we moved on to the gluttons, though,
where they could hold the cool fistfuls of slime
I brought from home. An extra touch. It sold
in canisters at toy stores at the time.
The students recognized the River Styx,
the logo of a favorite band of mine.
We moved downriver to the town of Dis,
which someone loudly re-named Dis and Dat.
And for the looming harpies and the furies,
who shrieked and tore things up, I had clipped out
the shrillest, most deserving teacher's heads
from our school paper, then thought better of it.
At the wood of suicides, we quieted.
Though no one in the room would say a word,
I know we couldn't help but think of Fred.
His name was in the news, though we had heard
he might have just been playing with the gun.
We moved on quickly by that huge, dark bird
and rode the flying monster, Geryon,
to reach the counselors, each wicked face,
again, I had resisted pasting in.
To represent the ice in that last place,
where Satan chewed the traitors' frozen heads,
my mother had insisted that I take
an ice-chest full of popsicles- to end
my gruesome project on a lighter note.
"It is a comedy, isn't it," she said.
She hadn't read the poem, or seen our art,
but asked me what had happened to the sweet,
angelic poems I once read and wrote.
The class, though, was delighted by the treat,
and at the last round, they all pushed to choose
their colors quickly, so they wouldn't melt.
The bell rang. Everyone ran out of school,
as always, yelling at the top of their lungs,
The Inferno fast forgotten, but their howls
showed off their darkened red and purple tongues.
EchoLocations. Ashland, OR: Story Line Press, 2000
10. Shadow March
All around the house is the jet-black night;
It stares through the window-pane;
It crawls in the corners, hiding from the light,
And it moves with the moving flame.
Now my little heart goes a beating like a drum,
With the breath of the Bogies in my hair;
And all around the candle and the crooked shadows come,
And go marching along up the stair.
The shadow of the balusters, the shadow of the lamp,
The shadow of the child that goes to bed--
All the wicked shadows coming tramp, tramp, tramp,
With the black night overhead.
Robert Louis Stevenson
11. Macbeth, Act IV, Scene 1
Round about the cauldron go;
In the poison'd entrails throw.
Toad, that under cold stone
Days and nights hast thirty one
Swelter'd venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i' the charmed pot.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg, and howlet's wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,
Witches' mummy, maw and gulf
Of the ravin'd salt-sea shark,
Root of hemlock digg'd i' the dark,
Liver of blaspheming Jew,
Gall of goat, and slips of yew
Sliver'd in the moon's eclipse,
Nose of Turk, and Tartar's lips,
Finger of birth-strangled babe
Ditch-deliver'd by a drab,
Make the gruel thick and slab:
Add thereto a tiger's chaudron,
For the ingredients of our cauldron.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
12. Nine Little Goblins
THEY all climbed up on a high board-fence---
Nine little Goblins, with green-glass eyes---
Nine little Goblins that had no sense,
And couldn't tell coppers from cold mince pies;
And they all climbed up on the fence, and sat---
And I asked them what they were staring at.
And the first one said, as he scratched his head
With a queer little arm that reached out of his ear
And rasped its claws in his hair so red---
"This is what this little arm is fer!"
And he scratched and stared, and the next one said,
"How on earth do you scratch your head ?"
And he laughed like the screech of a rusty hinge---
Laughed and laughed till his face grew black;
And when he clicked, with a final twinge
Of his stifling laughter, he thumped his back
With a fist that grew on the end of his tail
Till the breath came back to his lips so pale.
And the third little Goblin leered round at me---
And there were no lids on his eyes at all---
And he clucked one eye, and he says, says he,
"What is the style of your socks this fall ?"
And he clapped his heels---and I sighed to see
That he had hands where his feet should be.
Then a bald-faced Goblin, gray and grim,
Bowed his head, and I saw him slip
His eyebrows off, as I looked at him,
And paste them over his upper lip;
And then he moaned in remorseful pain---
"Would---Ah, would I'd me brows again!"
And then the whole of the Goblin band
Rocked on the fence-top to and fro,
And clung, in a long row, hand in hand,
Singing the songs that they used to know---
Singing the songs that their grandsires sung
In the goo-goo days of the Goblin-tongue.
And ever they kept their green-glass eyes
Fixed on me with a stony stare---
Till my own grew glazed with a dread surmise,
And my hat whooped up on my lifted hair,
And I felt the heart in my breast snap to
As you've heard the lid of a snuff-box do.
And they sang "You're asleep! There is no board-fence,
And never a Goblin with green-glass eyes!---
"Tis only a vision the mind invents
After a supper of cold mince-pies,---
And you're doomed to dream this way," they said,---
"And you sha'n't wake up till you're clean plum dead!"
James Whitcombe Riley
I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish'd, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went-and came, and brought no day,
And men forgot their passions in the dread
Of this their desolation; and all hearts
Were chill'd into a selfish prayer for light:
And they did live by watchfires-and the thrones,
The palaces of crowned kings-the huts,
The habitations of all things which dwell,
Were burnt for beacons; cities were consum'd,
And men were gather'd round their blazing homes
To look once more into each other's face;
Happy were those who dwelt within the eye
Of the volcanos, and their mountain-torch:
A fearful hope was all the world contain'd;
Forests were set on fire-but hour by hour
They fell and faded-and the crackling trunks
Extinguish'd with a crash-and all was black.
The brows of men by the despairing light
Wore an unearthly aspect, as by fits
The flashes fell upon them; some lay down
And hid their eyes and wept; and some did rest
Their chins upon their clenched hands, and smil'd;
And others hurried to and fro, and fed
Their funeral piles with fuel, and look'd up
With mad disquietude on the dull sky,
The pall of a past world; and then again
With curses cast them down upon the dust,
And gnash'd their teeth and howl'd: the wild birds shriek'd
And, terrified, did flutter on the ground,
And flap their useless wings; the wildest brutes
Came tame and tremulous; and vipers crawl'd
And twin'd themselves among the multitude,
Hissing, but stingless-they were slain for food.
And War, which for a moment was no more,
Did glut himself again: a meal was bought
With blood, and each sate sullenly apart
Gorging himself in gloom: no love was left;
All earth was but one thought-and that was death
Immediate and inglorious; and the pang
Of famine fed upon all entrails-men
Died, and their bones were tombless as their flesh;
The meagre by the meagre were devour'd,
Even dogs assail'd their masters, all save one,
And he was faithful to a corse, and kept
The birds and beasts and famish'd men at bay,
Till hunger clung them, or the dropping dead
Lur'd their lank jaws; himself sought out no food,
But with a piteous and perpetual moan,
And a quick desolate cry, licking the hand
Which answer'd not with a caress-he died.
The crowd was famish'd by degrees; but two
Of an enormous city did survive,
And they were enemies: they met beside
The dying embers of an altar-place
Where had been heap'd a mass of holy things
For an unholy usage; they rak'd up,
And shivering scrap'd with their cold skeleton hands
The feeble ashes, and their feeble breath
Blew for a little life, and made a flame
Which was a mockery; then they lifted up
Their eyes as it grew lighter, and beheld
Each other's aspects-saw, and shriek'd, and died-
Even of their mutual hideousness they died,
Unknowing who he was upon whose brow
Famine had written Fiend. The world was void,
The populous and the powerful was a lump,
Seasonless, herbless, treeless, manless, lifeless-
A lump of death-a chaos of hard clay.
The rivers, lakes and ocean all stood still,
And nothing stirr'd within their silent depths;
Ships sailorless lay rotting on the sea,
And their masts fell down piecemeal: as they dropp'd
They slept on the abyss without a surge-
The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave,
The moon, their mistress, had expir'd before;
The winds were wither'd in the stagnant air,
And the clouds perish'd; Darkness had no need
Of aid from them-She was the Universe.
George Gordon, Lord Byron