The Prize

Underneath the rutabagas,
Carol dug and dug.
She didn’t find a blessed thing.
She gave a little shrug.

She thought she’d seen a glimmer.
She thought she’d seen a gleam.
But the earth gave forth no secrets.
Dirt was dirt – or so it seemed.

Next morning, during breakfast dishes,
Carol glanced outside.
What she spotted through the window
made her hazel eyes grow wide.

Out beyond the berry-briars
where the rutabagas grew
shone a light bright as epiphany!
Her mission was renewed.

She ran outside, her trowel in hand –
she’d find it now, she vowed.
But when she reached the rutabaga patch,
a voice boomed loud:

“Your arrogance will fail you, dear.
The prize shall not be yours.
So take your tiny shovel,
turn around, and go indoors.”

Carol paused, astonished
at this strange, malicious cry.
Then she choked up on her trowel,
a glint of purpose in her eye.

The dirt compressed beneath her boots;
the briars made no scratch
as she stomped into the center
of her rutabaga patch.

As Carol crouched down low
and thrust her trowel in the ground,
she jumped a bit in startlement
at one indignant sound:

“A-humph!” she heard, then
“So, you think to excavate my home?”
She turned to meet the glare
of an ill-tempered garden gnome.

“The diamond that I’ve buried here
is not for you to take!”
He said, before he rushed her,
brandishing his little rake.

She started, then she stood up,
then she said to him, “OK.
Sir, I wouldn’t want to steal it.
It’s your diamond, anyway.”

The gnome stood still and blinked at her,
and tears fell from his eyes.
He said, “You’re the only human
who declined to take my prize.”

“And therefore, if you want it,
this fine gem belongs to you.”
But Carol said, “No, thank you.
Have some rutabagas, too.”

The garden gnome bowed deep,
picked up his diamond, left that place,
and he carried with him
newfound fondness for the human race.

“Hope” is (after Emily Dickinson)

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That tickles at the nose –
And keeps on irritating –
Until you’ve snoze – and snoze –

And Sensibility – is lost –
And so much you’d condone –
To make this nagging, feathered thing
Leave you the eff alone –

I’ve felt it at the bleakest times –
It springs eternally!
And – never – will it GO AWAY.
It asks too much – of me.

body

so get this:

jesus died

they hung his body on a tree
and then he died
(dead is dead)

but now they say
he’s resurrected

they put his body
in a grave
and then
and then

the grave was empty!

so get this:

now they say
that we
are his body

that’s crazy, right?
how are we supposed to
rub some mud
in a blind dude’s eyes
and make him see?

that’s crazy
the only thing
that i know how to do
with mud
is make bodies dirty

dead is dead
and if you think otherwise
that’s crazy

but if you want to get
your body dirty
i can help you out

The Stuff I’m Made Of

65% oxygen, so I may inspire
18% carbon, to help me form diamonds
10% hydrogen, to ignite my combustion
3% nitrogen, so I’m a high-protein snack
1.4% calcium, to fortify my chompers
1.1% phosphorus, making me luminous
73% muscle, ’cause I eats me spinach
22% fat, ’cause I scarfs me donuts
3% bone – thank you, calcium!
58% water swelling my ugly bag of skin
patches of hair keeping bits of me warm
a score of shiny nails to dig in the mud
a couple of grimy spirit-windows
two feet that stumble on smooth floors
ten fingers that flounder over keys
a derriere well-adapted to sitting still
a heart like a neodymium magnet
a durable web that binds me to you
a little dog, desperate for approval
a pirate who gives away his booty
a child at storytime, lost in wonder
an octillion of this universe’s molecules
and approximately one of creation’s souls

Underneath

I know it’s not real.
I know.
My father told me so,
and I believe him.

He always tells the truth.

So I know
that when my father
turns off the light,
and it’s quiet
(at first)
and then I hear the scritch,
       scritch,
               scritching,
I know
that it’s all in my head.

And I know
that when I call out,
“Stop!
Stop scritch,
        scritch,
                scritching
underneath my bed!”

and I hear in reply,
       no, little poppet
       you do not want me
           to stop
       because if I stop
           scritching
       then I will begin
           chewing
I know
that too
is all in my head.

My head
is clearly not right,
but I do not want it
to be chewed
off my neck.

So I don’t try to stop
the scritching
anymore.

It has been
one hundred and eight days
since I last slept.

And now,
because my nails
have grown
so fine and sharp,
and my teeth
       all in my head
       all in my head
have become
so long and cruel,

I know that
it is time for me to leave.
It is time for me to go
and find another child’s bed
to scritch
        scritch
                scritch
underneath.

The Best Laid Plans

Pounder McGurrell was a very fine squirrel,
and he hoarded his nuts with a miserly zeal
in the stump by the dump
and the hole near the pole.
He had no fear of missing a meal.

Pounder McGurrell was a very fat squirrel,
and by any squirrel’s measure as rich as a king.
He would crash on his stash,
snooze and snore, dream of more!
And he wasn’t afraid of a thing.

Pounder McGurrell was a satisfied squirrel,
with a pride-swollen heart in his oversized breast,
but he woke with a croak
to sustained, pounding rain.
The typhoon liquidated his rest.

Now Pounder McGurrell is a dog-paddling squirrel,
as he watches his nuts float away.

And that’s all I’m going to say.

driving

ever since i was a child
i’ve been having the same dream

i’m driving
(even as a little boy
i dreamed of driving)
over a suspension bridge
the kind where the road curves up
to a summit
and then back down
to rendezvous with the far bank

except

in my dream
when i reach the top of the arch
i can see
there will be no meeting at the shore

the road ends at a drop
i’m going too fast
and i plunge
screaming
into the cold dark water

over the years
my dream has mutated
and sometimes
rather than a bridge
the highway forms a towering parabola
or a roller-coaster loop
which even the most skillful driver
could not hope to negotiate
without falling
screaming
into the depths

each time i have this dream
it is terrible
and as i see the behemoth approach
my heart is filled with fear
yet i am powerless to turn away

last night
i had the dream again

i recognized the road i was traveling on
i knew well what was coming
yet i was powerless to turn away

i saw the colossal arc of skyway
which i knew
no sane driver
would attempt to traverse

i saw the wave-licked surface
of inky waters below

it was sunny in my dream
a beautiful day
other drivers on this road seemed
unperturbed

it’s always like that
in this dream

and i knew i could not stop
and i could not turn
and i had no choice
but to try and fail
and fall
and die

i was cold

but at the feet of the leviathan
i closed my eyes
and pressed the pedal to the floor
and i whispered a prayer
(though i do not ever pray
like that
i do not pray for rescue)

and then
and then…
i don’t know

my brain moved on
to another province of sleep
leaving me suspended
with hands on the wheel
eyes shut tight
gravity pressing me
compressing me
back into the seat

did i make it?
or did i hurtle downward
to the indigo water
as i’ve done in so many
dreams before?

i don’t know
i honestly don’t know

but i know
that i closed my eyes
and i said a prayer
i pushed the gas pedal hard
and i told my fear

honey
you can have the back seat
this time around
and i recommend
that you buckle up

At the Bridge

I can smell your frail hope, little goat
Just as clear and strong and pungent
As the tantalizing odor of your fear

They’re quite alike
These two fine scents
Sweet and tangy
Toothsome and rich

Like juicy mutton roasting, charring
Over crackling, reaching flames

But the aftertaste
So scrumptious
Deep and secret in the throat

That’s how you know
That’s how you recognize the savor
Born in some peculiar corner
Of the soul

And I, little goat
I love fear the very best

And it’s terror most exquisite
That I cherish in the darkest folds
And crannies of my
Prune-dry, shriveled heart

So now you’ve met the troll
Now it’s time to pay the toll

I see you quivering up there
One tiny hoof a-tap-tap-tapping
On the closest creaky floorboard
Of my bridge

I see your soft chin-hair convulsing
Like itty-bitty mousie in his trap
Sorry, broken-backed and scared

And oh so scared
And oh so scared

But you know
You mustn’t cross my bridge
Oh no, you’ll never budge
Until I’m satisfied

Are you ready, little goat?
Ripe to settle your wee debt?

Then come on now
Come on quick
Come on under with the troll
Come and see me down below

Emergent Phenomena

So I’m digging in the back of my sock drawer, looking for that cool pair with the blue and orange stripes that I wear only seldom (despite their grooviness) because for those socks, you need the right ensemble.

Anyway my fingers feel something stiff like paper, and I pull it out. Turns out it’s a photo – an old photo – a little yellowed and crinkly at the edges. So I’m like, why is there an old photo in the back of my sock drawer?

And I look at it, and it’s like this greenish flash goes off in my head behind my eyes, because I know, right in that first instant, what I’m looking at. It’s a photograph of the moment – the exact moment – when life first emerged on earth. When that first self-replicating amino acid was synthesized In a steamy tidal pool as thunder crashed above. (I couldn’t hear the thunder of course – it was just a photograph.)

And I’m standing there thinking, how could there possibly be a snapshot of the moment of abiogenesis in the back of my sock drawer? To this day, I honestly have no idea how that happened.

But this morning my kid sister comes into the kitchen and she’s like, all right, who recorded over my Demi Lovato album with this grunting? So I say, hey can I give that a listen? And she’s like, sure, whatever.

And I listen, and it’s like this sonic boom goes off in my head between my ears, because I know, right in that first instant, what I’m listening to. It’s a recording of the moment – the exact moment – when consciousness first emerged on earth. And as my ancient ancestor hoots and squawks about the fully-formed thoughts she just had for the first time maybe in the entire universe, I can’t help but think…wow, man. What’s next?

10 Things Not to Say in a Job Interview

Sorry I’m late; I
got here by unicycle.

I wasn’t sure where
to park it, so
I just left it
in the revolving door.

I might not get it back?
That’s OK.
It’s not mine.

I don’t know if the guy
I took it from
is going to make it.
I hit him pretty hard.

But that’s OK.
I don’t want
to work for him anymore
anyway
I want to work for you.

Well, not “for”, exactly.
I’m pretty sure
I could run this place much
better than you.

You might as well
put down that phone.
It doesn’t work anymore.

Your cell phone
won’t work either.
I’m jamming it
with this device.

Be a pal and
write down your password
right here.
(I can get it
against your will, but
it will hurt.)

Great! Now just exit
by the window
and on the way down
think of all the worries
that you’ve left behind!