The Whale On The Rail

Today is Dr. Seuss’s birthday, so in his honor I’ll recall one of the many times I’ve ripped off his timeless work.

In this case, the original act of larceny occurred in the summer of 2013 when New York City commuters were astonished to find dead shark riding a New York Subway.

This idea of a Straphanger Shark was, I thought, almost Seussian. The master, however, would have gone bigger – much bigger.

I realize now that I never finished that earlier version, so this time it has an ending, if not a moral.

We were heading for home on the subway one day
We were too tired to speak. There was nothing to say

It was Sally and me at the back of a train
that smelled fishy and dank, but we didn’t complain.

The car clattered and rattled and squeaked on its track.
The lights flickered a bit. It got bright and then black.

And then darker than pitch. Clearly something was wrong.
While the squeaking we’d heard transformed into a song.

“What’s that noise?” Sally shouted. The deafening trill
became loud as a whistle and two times as shrill.

And then all of it stopped – both the train and the sound!
When we got off the floor we both looked all around.

Peering deep in the tunnel – the source of the din –
we saw two giant eyeballs there, looking back in.

“Don’t be scared” said a voice. “I am harmless,” it joked.
“You’re too late,” I replied, for my trousers were soaked.

“I am sorry for that.” He was big. He was pale.
“You can just call me Moby. The Whale on the Rail.

“He should not be down here,” stammered Sally, to me.
“Because whales belong down in the depths of the sea.”

“That is true,” said the whale. His breath stank of dead fish.
“But as long as I’m here, we can do what you wish.”

“There are games for commuters and whales we can play.”
“If you have a sharp knife and a sea bass to flay.”

“We do not have a knife,” I replied, in a peep.
“That is not a good game. You go back to the deep.”

But the Whale on the Rail only blinked at us twice.
Then he said, “Maybe some other game would be nice.”

“How ’bout ‘Where’s Your Blowhole?’ he said. “Lots of fun!”
“Not for us,” shot back Sally. “’cause we don’t have one.”

“So you think,” said the whale. At his voice, the car shook.
“But you always find it in the last place you look.”

“The conductor is coming,” I said. “Swim away.”
But the Whale only smiled. “I would much rather play.

At that moment, the subway door opened up wide,
and a grizzled man step-clumped his peg-leg inside.

The whale’s eyeballs grew bigger – as large as the moon
at the site of this man and his ten-foot harpoon.

As the beast turned to flee, the conductor’s remark
was succinct – “This is more than a simple dead shark.

It’s the demon I’ve chased for a decade or more!”
As he hurled his harpoon out the subway car door.

When that missile hit home the rope wriggled about,
and entangled his leg as it quickly played out.

“Call me Ahab”, he said, as the line became tight.
He shot into the dark and was soon out of sight.

But we heard him exclaim as he bounced down the rails,
“The New York City Subway – it’s no place for whales!”


A Poem Seen Through A Filter

This provocative post came from perennial sophomore Bubby Spamden of Wendell Willke High School.

Hey Mr. C.,

We’re just about to get out of school for another year and I can’t wait. Whenever May comes around I start to think about much fun summer is going to be and I kind of lose track of things, which is too bad because that’s exactly when we’re taking all those tests.

This year I was really sweating it in English class because Ms. Filbert-Nutt got this idea that we should all memorize the same poem – this thing by Robert Frost about a yellow brick road somewhere in the forest or something. I’m not too good at remembering things, probably because I’m kind of old, for a sophomore.

Anyway, she told us in September we’d have to learn it, and as soon as you felt ready to recite it you just had to tell her and she’d give you two minutes to do it in class. Alicia Bombardo did it the very next day, of course! I kept putting it off, and by the time March came around she started calling on people who hadn’t done it yet. I had to use my fake sore throat voice a couple of times just to get a pass.

So I thought I’d managed to dodge it completely, but then last week when we were doing the essay part of our year-end exam, it turned out she wanted us to write it on the test paper! Longhand!

And it was just my luck I was sitting a little behind and just off to the side of Stephen Craft. He’s kind of smart but he’s also wiggly and he’s got these really thick arms and he kind of hunches over his papers when he writes. So I was only able to get a glimpse of word groups here and there while he was writing it out.

It’s not easy to copy from someone’s paper when they’re all fidgety like that. Especially if the teacher is as fussy about cheating, which Ms. Filbert-Nutt is.

Anyway, I did my best. But when she gave me the paper back I had a “D”, with a whole bunch of question marks scribbled around my answer to that poem question, along with this note: “What happened here? Talk to me!”.

Here’s what my paper said:

Two woods diverged in a yellow road,
And travel I could not sorry both
And long be one, traveler I stood
And as far down one looked as I could
Bent to where it in the undergrowth;

Then just the other, as took as fair
And better having the perhaps claim
Grassy it wanted, and because was wear,
Passing the that as though for there
Worn about them really had the same,

Both equally and morning that lay
Step in no leaves had trodden black
Another first marked I for Oh the day!
Way how on knowing leads yet to way
Ever should I come if I doubted back.

With this telling shall I be a sigh
Ages somewhere and ages hence:
Roads a wood diverged in two and I,
Traveled the one I took less by,
Made the all and has that difference.

So now I have to have this meeting with Ms. F-N and I think my whole grade kind of rests on it. Mr. C., I’m wondering if you could help me think of something good to say that isn’t too false, but isn’t totally honest either. Something with just enough spin that it could keep me from flunking my sophomore year. Again!

Your pal,

I told Bubby that I try often enough but I’m not a very good liar – whenever I tell a whopper people see through me right away. All my excuses tend to fall flat so I didn’t think I could help him. He wrote back and accused me of making that answer up, which, of course, was true. But he asked me to pass it along.

What should Bubby say to improve his grade?

Our Bipolar Mother

Seasons change, but the dividing line is usually not drawn to sharply.  For every mid-March warm spell, there’s a St. Patrick’s Day blizzard on the way.


For this post in what passed for the Spring of 2013, America’s Singsong Poet Laureate, Schuyler Tyler Wyler, climbed into his drafty garret to produce a May Day Ditty.

Embrace the May, but be a cynic.
Mother Nature’s schizophrenic.

She brings us air so sweet and mild,
and then a freezing zephyr wild.

She’ll green some grass, hey nonny nonny,
then kick your ass a little, honey.

Drape floral garlands ’round your feet,
then fill your face with freezing sleet.

Get out and do your May Pole dance,
but put some hot sauce in your pants.

Though May bringst bees and buds to flower
Conditions changeth by the hour.

When has a sudden change caught you unaware?

Inactive Account Manager


Ever helpful Google has developed a gizmo to deal with your vast digital treasure after you have gone rogue.

The Inactive Account Manager (I.A.M.) can be set to delete or distribute your files if you do not log on for a specified time – 3 months, 6 months or one year.

As part of the set-up process, you have the opportunity to write a message to the person who you designate as the recipient of all your gmail. This message is delivered after your prolonged absence from Google’s universe sets the gears in motion.

I suppose this would be a strange e-mail to write, since it will only be delivered once you have been offline for at least three months. In today’s world, that means dead, or nearly.

So what should you say?

I put this question to Trail Baboon’s Rhyming Poet Laureate, Schuyler Tyler Wyler, and he came up with a message that is carefully organized to have 14 syllables in each line, because in Egypt, the Amenti, an area west of the Nile where souls go after death, was divided in 14 parts.

I asked STW to explain this in more detail and he couldn’t. He said he read it in an unsolicited e-mail that came from a Nigerian Princess.


I’m sending this unwelcome note because I am logged out.
I trust you’ll know the reason why, and what it’s all about.

I’ve been inactive ninety days, and you know that is odd.
I might be comatose, or sick, or wind surfing with God.


I could be traveling abroad – a touring man of leisure.
Or like some old soap opera star – a victim of amnesia.

I may have lost my password or forgotten it or both.
But Google doesn’t care. For it has sworn this sacred oath:


When I fall silent ninety days the system will arise
to notify you properly and then – this grand surprise!

The Garbage I collected (that’s the “G” in “gmail”, dear)
My digital detritus – will now suddenly appear.


The messages that plagued my nights. The crap I learned to rue.
I now transfer into your care. I give it all to you!

The newsletters from NASA and my Facebook friends’ remarks.
They all belong to you today – the compliments, the snarks.


The many mails I didn’t read, the very few I did,
They’re yours forever more my love. Here’s looking at you kid.

Inactive Account Manager (it’s known as “I.A.M.”)
Has concluded I’m No Longer. That is why you’ve got my Spam.


Here’s hoping I am still on Earth and not somewhere beneath it.
At least I know I’m Free At Last From Gmail. I’ve bequeathed it!

No Jumping!

Bathtub Safety Officer Rafferty often watches the news, horrified.  Then he scolds.

At ease, civilians!

Keep your feet on the ground and you’ll be fine, unless you’re standing over some kind of a sinkhole. I’m here to tell you about a public safety menace currently making the rounds – namely the cavalier public discussion about, and reviewing of, Sunday’s vivid basketball injury to Louisville’s Kevin Ware.

If you operate a TV station or cable channel that is constantly re-running this footage, shame on you! If you are someone who has been describing this injury in gruesome detail to people who didn’t see it, shush. And if you haven’t heard anything at all about it all, please, never mind.

In all my years as a professional alarmist I have worked hard to unsettle audiences everywhere by sharing explicit injuries using full-color photos, close-up videos and the most powerful tool of all, words. But I’ve never seen anything like this. Ware’s tibial twist threatens to make jumping the new smoking. And it has sent people into their respective camps.

I have learned that there are really only two different kinds of people – The Squeamish, and Everybody Else. One type is nearly incapacitated by the mere thought of a traumatic injury. The other type shrugs.

If you are a Squeamling, you know how little of someone else’s pain is required to send you into the full fetal position. If you are a Shrugger, really – you couldn’t care less. But I still want you to stop jumping, so I’ve made up a little poem to help you remember.

Be careful when leaping
Stay low when you soar
Go up just enough,
not a quarter inch more.

Between you and the ground
do not put too much room.
your leg bones are not
as tough as you assume.

So be frugal when launching
yourself into the air.
Because when you return,
you don’t want to be Ware.

Yours in compulsive, marginally irrational caution,
Bathtub Safety Officer Rafferty


The Frozen Birds of Spring

The first day of spring rarely seems spring-like.



Of all the creatures seasons bring
I love the frozen birds of spring
Their frigid talons clutch the trees
They work to bend their icy knees

They set their snowy, arctic eyes
to sing an ode to slushy skies.
Though winter lingers far too long
They lift constricted throats in song

Their warbles, painfully expressed
from slushy lung and freezing breast
emerge, reluctantly, as squeaks
In polar air through frosty beaks.

These chilly chirps congeal and thud,
like hardened bricks of song-filled mud
that tumble out a brittle tune
made by a bird who came too soon.



Death Complaint Haiku

Considering death, I have noted with chagrin the vast number and variety of possible exits from this life – most of them unpleasant and all of them unjust.

And yet, some days it seems like the universe wants to find memorable ways to demonstrate that it is inherently unfair, causing innocent people lose their lives in unfortunate accidents. I am reminded of this by the astounding case of Mr. Jeff Bush of Seffner, Florida.

One Thursday, he climbed into his bed only to have a sinkhole open right beneath him. What are the chances?

Bush’s brother attempted a rescue as the bedroom was collapsing, but it was not to be. First responders looked and listened for a sign that the victim was still alive in the hole, but no signal was received. Authorities have determined the body to be “unrecoverable”, due to the awkward logistics of these unexpected openings in the porous limestone that undergirds Florida and several other states.

There are no “good” ways to go and every loss is a tragedy. But this one seems particularly capricious. In fact, an aggrieved person would be justified in lodging a complaint at the Pearly Gates. Though with so many new arrivals having legitimate gripes, a word limit on the appeals would be wise, no doubt.

Could you put it in a haiku?

I had just started
“Now I lay me down to sleep”
What was your hurry?

Piano movers
really shouldn’t text while they
are holding the rope.

Never listen when
any photographer says
“Take one more step back”

Other times I ate
identical sandwiches
they slid down just fine.

In retrospect that
pricey, stable stepladder
was a better buy.

That locomotive
was slower than my Harley.
Timing is crucial.

Speaking of timing, later might be way too late. Better write yours now.