MT 2-5 Monkey Meets Pontius Parrot

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Monkey
Meets
Pontius Parrot
(With glorious  memories of Macarronic Latin)

 Pontius Parrot is very clever
and very pontifical.
He pontificates from his pulpit.
“Pretty Polly!”

His name isn’t Polly
and he doesn’t have a pulpit
but he parrots words
in Macaronic Latin:

“Caesar adsum jam forte.”

Pontius Parrot is
perky at the podium.
He bounces up and down,
preens himself prettily,
rattles his chains,
shakes his bars:

“Brutus aderat.”

 Shame and scandal
wear him down.
A dysfunctional family
of feathered friends
henpecked him
until he was black and blue
and threw up copiously:

 “Caesar sic in omnibus.”

He dips his wings in holy water,
calls for some soft soap,
and washes
feathers and claws.

Poor Pontius Parrot,
He can only say
“Repent!”

“Brutus sic in at.”

Comment: Anyone who suffered through school Latin, especially if they went to boarding school or grammar school, will recognize famous Macarronic Latin quotes such as the verb bendo, whackere, ouchi, sorebum, and the one the author of Monkey Temple reproduces in the above poem. If you are unfamiliar with Macarroni Latin and have had the good fortune to have avoided both grammar and boarding schools, just read the Latin normally in English and you will establish its Macarronic meaning.

Lullaby

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Lullaby
Wednesday Workshop
11 July 2018

One of my close friends asked me if I would write her a lullaby. Without a moment’s hesitation, I said “Yes, of course”. Like a fool, I rushed in where no angel would ever care or dare to tread. I sat down and straightaway started to write.

The first thing I discovered was that a lullaby has to rhyme. I couldn’t write one unless it went bumpety-bumpety-bump + rhyme. I wrote several of those and they were all awful. Well, I thought so anyway, and I couldn’t imagine any young child willingly go to sleep while having an adult leaning over them and chanting at them.

The next thing I found out: it’s not easy to write poems, even a lullaby, for other people. Why not? It took me some time to understand that while I write poetry from within myself, heart, stomach, and gut, the lullaby I was writing was not written for me, but for a second person who was not me. What would this friend like to read? How would they like it to sound? By extension, there were not two people involved: I was also writing for an unknown child whom I had never seen. I didn’t know their likes and fancies, nor what would fill them with fear, nor what would successfully send them off to sleep. This three-way traffic was unnerving.

Third problem: a lullaby is a cliché and is filled with clichés. Close your eyes. Sleep, baby, sleep. I will rock you. More important, perhaps, the clichés are not just verbal, they live in the rhymes as well: sleep, deep, keep.

My telephone talks with other writers led me to the theory that rhythm was what mattered. Rhythm, comfort, rhyme, gifts, and the allaying of fears. So easy to write, so hard to fulfill, especially in an age of instant communication. As I wrote, so different formulae marched through my head. I recalled the lullabies my parents and grand-parents sang for me, apparently not very successfully, I was a terrible infant at bed-time. I have more memories of being set to bed, often without supper rather than being sang to in bed. Then there was boarding school (age 6) and the faceless matrons in comfortless dormitories where, more often than not we cried ourselves to sleep. Hush little baby don’t you cry.

So, rhythm, rhyme, nonsense words, dream worlds where everything is good. Along with traditional lullabies like All through the night / Ar hyd a nos, my head filled up with reminiscences of Dylan Thomas, and in the evening, when the sun goes down, / I ask a blessing on this town, and Federico García Lorca, La luna vino a la Fragua / The moon came to the forge.

So much happening. So much laundry passing through the washing-machine of my mind where the waters churned away and rhymes were soaped, rhythms were bleached, ideas were blended and rinsed. I wrote five. I am not sure of any of them. They certainly kept me awake most of last night, syllable counting on my white woolly sheep-fingers, that brought no sleep. I tried counting my blessings too, but that didn’t work either.

Question: does anyone actually want to read my lullabies to keep a child awake? If so let me know. You might persuade me to post one or two.

 

Friday Fiction: Sentences

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Friday Fiction
27 April 2018
Sentences

“Use lots of verbs to catch the reader’s attention. Keep your sentences short.”

… people don’t like long sentences … life sentences … things like that … though death sentences may be short, ugly, and brief … unless there’s a power shortage when you’re sitting there all wired up … or they’ve watered down the drugs in the tube they attach to the needle they put in the shunt already plugged into your arm …

… you’ve read the news … seen the pictures … if you live close enough you may even have stood out in the street with a candle and your friends watching the power shortage hit downtown … district lights flickering off … road lights shutting down … big blankets of blackness … as they put all available electricity into the power circuits that lead to the electric chair …

… use short sentences … like the one they read to me when I was six … then they locked me away in a boarding school for twelve long years … until I was eighteen … I ran away … again and again … they beat me … again and again … short sentences … ‘hold out your hand’ … ‘pull down your pants’ … bend over that chair’ … six of the best … no verb in that one … yet the words still strike a note of fear into those who have been publicly humiliated and flogged in a boarding school dining room … in front of all the boarders … and the day boys as well … ‘don’t cry’ … ‘little baby’ … ‘mother’s pet’ … ‘mummy’s darling’ … blubbing like a baby … and this at six years old … or seven … or eight … lashed on hands or backside by a grown man wielding a bamboo cane …

“Keep those sentences short.”

“Bend over.”

“Place your hands against the wall.”

“Don’t cry like a baby.”

“Take it like a man.”

Honey Pot

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Honey Pot

 silently
from the top board
he steps into space

a flying bomb
a heat-seeking missile
a depth charge
on a mission

knees tucked into chest
arms clasped tightly
around knees
he plunges towards
his chosen target

floating on surface
open-mouthed
gazing at the sky
dreaming his lazy way
across the summer pool

mission accomplished
he explodes
beside the floater’s head

ah
the perfect
honey pot

 

Nobody’s There

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Nobody’s There

 Reality:
a red brick
sitting on the master’s desk
in the ivory tower
of a Cotswold Manor.

The history master enters,
sees the brick,
sizes it up,
seizes it
and, without looking,
hurls it at the window.

Summer term:
the days are warm.
The windows are open.

End over end,
the brick tumbles
through blue air
to land with a thud
on the quad’s black tarmac
right at the feet
of the school pastor.

He looks around.
There’s nobody there.
The brick must have
materialized
out of thin air.

The pastor shrugs,
stoops down,
picks up the brick,
puts it in his briefcase,
and carries it away.

“Here endeth
the first lesson:
Book of Brick.”

 

Chalky

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Chalky

 Dead accurate he was
with a piece of chalk,
hit you wherever you sat:

“Bonk!”
right between
the eyes.

 “Pay attention, boy.”
“I was paying attention, sir.”
“Then repeat what I just said.”

 And the boy repeated it,
word for word.

 “Sorry.
Here, have a peppermint.”
“No thank you, sir.”
“Guess and how, then.”

 He put his hand in his pocket
and pulled out a handful of coins.

Sooner or later
we all tried,
but nobody ever guessed
how much money
he held in his hand.

Painting

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Kingsbrae 10.4
10 June 2017

Painting
for
Geoff Slater

I took a line for a walk.
It was
as disobedient as
an untrained puppy on a leash,
as crazy as a kite
in a wind-filled sky,
as joyful as
a schoolboy when they cancel school,
as easy as
pie when the R is squared.

The dog walks round in circles,
gets my legs caught in his leash.
The kite, all twisted strings,
comes tumbling down a ladder of sky.
The apple pie is a pulled-up sheet,
folded double, and I am a child again,
trapped in my boarding school bed.

“Color me now,” my painting cries
and I fill the spaces between the lines:
blue for happiness, blue for hope;
yellow for the lion mane of the sun;
red for the redbreast;
brown for the worm;
and green for schoolboy freedom
at the end of term.

Journal: I had the great pleasure of working with Geoff Slater this afternoon. He sat me down at his painting table, alongside all the children, and gave me a palette, brushes, water, cleaning paper, and a rainbow of paint. Then he placed an easel and a canvas before me and put an apron on me to protect me from the paint. “Go for it,” he said. I looked at a field of white … and I remembered … “Drawing is taking a line for a walk” … so I drew a line, first a beak, and then a head and an eye, then I added wings, and legs … it was wonderful. The children were laughing with me and I was slapping the paint around with great delight. “Let me see, let me see,” they cried. And then, when they saw it: “What is it?” It was even more fun when I started to fill the spaces between the lines. This is, or was, the first time I have ever placed paint upon a canvas. In my old age, I have started to paint. “Is it a worm or a fish?” they asked. “Is the bird going to eat it?” “Is the bird spitting it out?” Such curiosity … and even I didn’t know the answers. “What’s the bird’s name?” asked one little girl. “Eagle-eye,” said the other. “And the worm’s called Squirmy,” added a third. “Are they talking?” another chimed in. “Yes,” I said. “I think they’re friends and they’re having a chat.” What fun. We left the painting out in the sun to dry … and now I don’t know where it’s gone. Let me know if you see it, anyone.