Mocking My Betters

Dear Hope Nation,

I have a simple love of poetry—I like what I like and I ignore what I don’t. For instance, I like A.E. Housman way more than any other straight American male I’ve ever met. His plangent tone brings actual tears to my eyes, although they’ve never moistened my face. To most contemporary readers, he is a hack—sentimental, stilted and silly. For instance, XL from A Shropshire Lad:

“Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?
That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
and cannot come again.”

Still, I like him, and because I do I find it easy to write poems that mock him and his style:

To a Child Starving Young

Empty my cereal box of Chex,
Dropless my jar of milk,
Starving before I have tasted of sex
Or worn a ribbon of silk.
Life in my skin is draining away,
Bones will be next to rot.
Lacking the energy to go and play
I am a famished tot.

That was written in real time with no rewriting. It’s not good or funny, really, but it amuses me.

Wallace Stevens is another poet I like a lot. His “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” is a series of snapshots, each taken from a different mental angle and with very different lenses. Because I am incapable of writing such verse, I write a parody. A second example of this mockery dates back a while, and was written when I was brainstorming ideas for a date with a woman with whom I was smitten:

Thirteen Ways of Looking at Dates (with apologies to Wallace Stevens)

  1. Buy .a 22 rifle and ammunition at Wal-Mart.  Save receipts.  Shoot river rats.  Return rifle for a full and courteous refund.  Ask for partial return on unspent ammo.  If denied, buy rifle back.
  2. Check handles of parked cars.  Split the take.
  3. Fight over an obscure topic in a public space.  The pronunciation of “salmon” at a church service, say.  Invite the congregation to take sides.  Join hands and sing “Let Us Break Bread Together.”   Let the minister connect the fishes and loaves.  She is, after all, a professional.
  4. Walk the streets with water balloons in each hand.  Growl at any person who takes notice.  Throw water balloons at those who don’t.
  5. Meet at the vegetable aisle at Shaw’s.  Make vaguely erotic but mildly disconcerting gestures with eggplants, tomatoes and string beans.  Become offended at first mention of roughage.  Leave without buying anything.
  6. Plot preemptive revenge against people who have done us no harm.  Yet.
  7. Stare and point at strangers.  If necessary, whisper in a gutteral and vaguely Eastern-European tongue.  Serbo-Croatian, perhaps.  If confronted, deny all knowledge.  All knowledge of anything.  Period.
  8. Go to Friendly’s.  Spot dead celebrities eating Fribbles.  Request their autographs.  Do not let Charles Laughton escape without taking his picture.
  9. Follow a man in a blue coat. When he arrives at his destination, ask him his favorite number. When he tells you, s l o w l y count out that many peanut M&M’s into your hand. Eat them in front of him. Say thank you and depart.
  10. Visit a tack shop.  Ask the clerk for a saddle that would fit a 150-pound horse shaped like a man.  Ask whether it is acceptable to taste the bits before buying them.  Lick a riding crop.  Ask clerk whether she has been naughty or nice.  Giggle menacingly.  Laugh in a way that suggests violence.  Leave quietly.  Don’t look back.
  11. Go to the dollar store.  Request a price check on numerous items.  Ask how to sign up for their bridal registry.  Do not blink during the visit.
  12. Attend a youth hockey game.  Cheer wildly for players with even numbers.  Declare them America’s best and brightest.  Initiate derisive chants toward the odd.  Accuse them of heresy.  Suggest that their fathers have had liposuction.  And vasectomies.  Before they were conceived.  If tears ensue, accuse odd players of not being able to take a joke. 
  13. Play tag at the emergency room.  When security is called, complain of a headache.  Demand aspirin.  Demand bottled water to wash down pill.  Complain of anhedonia.  Demand joy.  Demand pleasure.  Take hostages.  Read this poem to them.  Demand suggestions for future dates.

Even poor, tragic Kit Marlowe is the victim of my need to mock my betters. The poet and playwright died young because of, take your pick, murder by church agents for Marlowe’s atheism, a barroom fight, intrigue by Queen Elizabeth, a homosexual affair, jealoousy by another playwright or, for all I know, alien abduction. In addition to “Tambourlaine” and “Doctor Fastus,” Marlowe wrote the brief and beautiful poem, “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love,”which I of course sullied with my nonsense.


Inertia is the king of this household;
That coffee mug’s been on the floor three days;
Those stains by the back door are getting old;
How have I spilled thee, let me count the ways.

Three socks draped on my bedstand for two weeks,
The Father, Son and Holey Ghost (I’m sorry);
The desktop dust’s arranged itself in peaks;
The window grime makes every night look starry.

Yet even in the midst of this decay,
I find my mouth’s wide open in a holler:
“I love you more with every passing day;
Come live with me and share my squalor.”

I don’t even know to whom this last poem pays homage. (In that last sentence, the word “homage” can be read as “insults to genius by far lesser mortals.”) Doubtless it was someone far more gifted than I, for there are few less so.

Broken Ventricles and Busted Atriums

Pain is the glue that knits broken hearts together,
A fragile adhesive that stays
Even as love has fled.

I dance no dance of joy,
No happiness hula,
No terrific tango.

My frantic shaking
Helps me forget
Keeps the hurt from settling in one place.

If you’ve read this far in fifth-rate poetry, give yourself a star. Then go read some good poetry.

You matter. I matter. We matter.


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