My brief career as a poet

Sam Smith -For a brief time in the early Sixties I worked for Roll Call newspaper on Capitol Hill. The editor, Sid Yudain, gave me considerable leeway including letting me write occasional poems.

The most impressive one, lengthwise at least, was called A Representative Christmas List. It was an ode containing the name of every member of the House of Representatives. The poem took a full page in Roll Call, with the print superimposed on a screened clip-art picture of Santa Claus. It committed such unpardonable offenses as rhyming bacchanal with the Chesapeake & Ohio Park Canal as well as asking “Herlong, oh Herlong America, must we suffer this?”

About 390 names into the poem, I ran short of ideas and copped out with “we might write a line that ran ” and then listed most of the remaining names followed by “You see it’s going to rhyme but will it scan?” Then I closed out with:

Forget about that, let’s dance the flamenco
We made it from Abbott all the way to Zelenco
Only Christmas Day will tell
Whether Santa did as well.

I would continue to write columns and verse for Roll Call using a pseudonym throughout my subsequent time in the Coast Guard, but not long thereafter my muse crashed when my new wife hinted that she didn’t think it such a good idea to send out Christmas cards like the one that went:

Down the little snowflakes fall
Bringing hazards to us all
Spreading for the years to come
Particles of strontium.

Gently landing helter skelter
On each roof and fallout shelter
Permeating corn and beans
And eventually genes.
I really wouldn’t give a hoot
But three-eyed kids just don’t look cute
MERRY CHRISTMAS

My career as a published poet was over. I still, however, have a few of my early works, which follow:

Improving Santa, Image-Wise 

Hair too long, seldom preened,
Never brushed or Vaselined,
Cheeks too dimpled and too red
Alcohol or overfed?

Beard too large, wrong shade of white,
Collar fits somehow not right,

Hat not smart for mature man,
Face in need of southern tan.

Shoulders should be naluraled,
Stomach should be Metrecaled,
Belt is gauche and much too wide,
Coat needs vents on either side.

A sack like that just doesn’t swing,.
Attache case would be the thing,
That ancient sleigh will never do,
Get that man a Chevy II.

Now you’re set to do your bit,
I ‘tell you, baby, you’re a hit,
Quick, Virginia, take a look,
Santa’s real now—not a kook.

We’ll see his rating soar no doubt . . .
What’s that, S.C.? They threw you out?
Well, some are fickle—you Can’t be sure;-
Cheer up, old man, and try next door.

The gnu and me

I like to go down to the zoo
And there I sit and watch the gnu.
I’ve also noticed recently
the gnu has started watching me.
For hours we just share a stare
A happy unproductive pair
Economists we might impress
With our total uselessness.
Still it’s the G-N-U for me.
Let others boost the GNP

Waiter, I Think There’s a Subversive in My Soup
Little men of little faith,
Claim they’ve seen the nation’s wraith
Fearing not atomic war,
But a coup by those next door
Everywhere lies hidden danger
Doubt the friend, doubt the stranger’
One fine day their cause they’ll smother
When they start to doubt each other.

TO A BURNED-OUT BULB
Little light bulb that burned bright
In the socket of the night;
You created expectation
Of long-term illumination.

I bought you just the other day
In hope that you would light my way
Through all the lengthy months to come,
Unfailing watt and amp and ohm.
But your makers do decree
Fleeting electricity;
The short life-span of your flame
Edison would fill with shame.

Once there were some light bulbs that
One year’s darkness would combat,
But how fast your gleam is gone
So that other bulbs may spawn.

How soon your glare-free life’s complete,
Created to be obsolete.
Built to last but not too long;
Christened with a funeral song.

Production in this mighty nation
Was aided by your liquidation.
Still as you breathed your final watt,
Did you regret what you were not?

I’m told that it’s part of a plan;
Consumption is the end of man.
Though progress praises your brief spark,
I shall curse you in the dark.

Advertisements

The neighborhoods of Fred Rogers and Donald Trump

Sam Smith – An exceptional new documentary on Fred Rogers hit a theme for me about two thirds through: I realized that Mr Roger’s neighborhood was the exact opposite – in decency, integrity, friendliness and happiness – of that being created by Donald Trump.

Fred Rogers wasn’t a perfect individual. He was, in that fine definition of a saint, a sinner who tried harder. He took his own difficult childhood and turned it into something else not only for him and for millions of others. Nothing could be further from the cruelty, falsity, and greed projected in Mr. Trump’s neighborhood.

As I watched the film, I was reminded again of how television and movies have chosen mainly not to celebrate the good but to reflect the evil around us. This is not wrong in itself, but without any major alternatives to this cynical media world, how do we learn how to behave differently? To love? To be kind? Where are our role models for good?

The reason Mr. Rogers moves even adults is in part because he was a model of how we might handle things differently. He was a little corner of hope and joy in a nation that would soon  join Mr. Trump’s neighborhood.