Category Archives: Poem

My Mother’s Brother

My uncle Stanley turns eighty-six tomorrow. He’d be the first to admit that. Stan is one of those people whose birthday often falls on or very close to a major holiday. In his case, he must compete for attention with a basted, golden-brown bird. (Indeed, I found numerous greeting cards, like the one shown in this post, celebrating the coincidence of a person’s birthday with Turkey Day—not to be confused with Turkish Republic Day, which involves more fireworks and presumably less pumpkin pie.)

Today, at a small family get-together for Thanksgiving, I read a poem I wrote in my uncle’s honor. Stanley is fully capable of reading on his own, but my sister suggested that an oral presentation of the verses might be festive. I tend to shy away from having all eyes on me, but among friends and fam, I can be a bit of a ham—or turkey, as the case may be. When my sis and I were kids, we would put on “little shows,” with singing, dancing, and skits—about which I feign embarrassment to this day.

Below you will find an audio recording of my truly underwhelming recitation of the poem at today’s gathering and, below that, the text of the same.

Stan the Man

Stan the Man

I’d like to write a poem
About my mother’s brother;
To love him is to know him—
There really is no other.

But few words rhyme with “uncle”;
“Carbuncle” is the cutest.
Does Stan like Art Garfunkel?
He might prefer a flutist.

No, no, that just won’t do;
I have a better plan.
Yes, I will take my cue
From words that rhyme with “Stan”!

For one thing, Stan’s a man;
This cannot be disputed.
In Valley San Fernan—
Has he been firmly rooted.

Stan looks at life quite gaily,
This son of Chuck and Ann;
His boy plays ukulele,
His girl Duran Duran.

What’s Stan without his Linda?
She’s Jane to his Tarzan.
Their bond no one can hinder;
She bakes him bars pecan.

Stan likes to tell a joke;
He tells it very deadpan.
He’s such a witty bloke—
And drier than a bedpan.

On weekly family Zooms,
Stan educates the clan—
All in our separate rooms,
More smart than we began.

To list Stan’s qualities,
A year’s too short a span;
He aims always to please,
And I’m his biggest fan.

Tap, Tap, Tap

Well, this was unexpected. I was trying to write a song, and a poem came out. “The Raven and the Nightingale (Took Tea with Mary Shelley)” happened quickly, over the last two days. Mostly, I listened and wrote down what I heard. (And consulted an online rhyming dictionary a few times; RhymeZone is an amazing resource for not only rhymes but phrases and quotations.)

In the poem, the raven is an allusion to Edgar Allan Poe, and the nightingale is an allusion to John Keats—for the straightforward reason that Poe wrote the famous poem “The Raven” (1845), and Keats wrote the famous poem “Ode to a Nightingale” (1819). Born within fourteen years of each other, Poe, Keats, and Mary Shelley (who published the novel Frankenstein in 1818) were contemporaries—Poe in the United States, and Keats and Shelley in England and Italy (though Poe lived in and around London for five years as a boy).

Maybe I’ll try to turn the poem into a song. But for now…

The Raven and the Nightingale (Took Tea with Mary Shelley)

A bird of ebon crossed the sea
And met a songbird in a tree.

“’Tis bitter cold upon the heath
Let’s find a roof to be beneath.”

They lit upon a windowsill,
Where nightingale began to trill.
“I have a better way, old chap,”
And raven showed him: tap, tap, tap.

“A raven! And a nightingale!
Come in and fill your belly.”

The raven and the nightingale
Took tea with Mary Shelley.

“You saved me from a fitful sleep.”
She sighed and let Darjeeling steep.
“I’ve been alone so long, you see,
It’s grand to have some company!”

The raven and the nightingale
Ate little cakes with jelly.

The raven and the nightingale
Took tea with Mary Shelley.

The raven quoth, “There goes the dark!
’Tis morn, the province of the lark.”
Said nightingale, “Since we are free,
Let’s go to where they make the tea!”

“Dear raven and dear nightingale,
Safe travels to New Delhi.”

The raven and the nightingale
Took tea with Mary Shelley.

Shall I Compare Thee to a Winter’s Day?

It was too cold to take out my phone, so I lifted this photo from the Internet.

The sun sank as I walked along the south bank of the River Thames. All I could think of was the cold. The biting wind felt bone-chilling to this California girl. Then the hulking, timber-framed structure came into view: a polygonal building, approaching circular, with whitewashed walls and a thatched roof. My eyes misted over. As I toured Shakespeare’s Globe, reconstructed close to the site of the original, I enjoyed no respite from the frigid conditions—it’s an open-air arena, after all.

The day before (chilly, rainy), I had seen Antony and Cleopatra at the National Theatre. Ralph Fiennes (stirring, mellifluous) played one of the titular roles. (I’ll let you guess which one.) The production spanned three-and-a-half hours, with one “interval,” and featured a live snake. Between this performance and my trip to the Globe, I reasoned I’d had enough Shakespeare for one week. I’m not sure I was right.

Shakespeare’s sonnets, illustrated

The (heated, indoor) exhibition at the Globe included artwork illustrating some of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Even before I knew I would be visiting London, I had decided to write a Shakespearean sonnet. That’s in the realm of things people decide to do, right? In a conversation with my husband, I discovered that maybe people, in general, are not as excited by archaic poetic forms as I am. The conversation ended with one of us calling the other a nerd.

Shakespeare’s sonnets are in the public domain, so I considered including one in this post. But my own effort appears below, so that would be like hanging the Mona Lisa next to a stick figure. (You can determine which is meant to be which.) Did you know the Shakespearean sonnet was developed by the Earl of Surrey in the 1500s, prior to the Bard’s birth? Shakespeare made the form famous, however, in his great sonnet sequence, printed in 1609.

I liked at least five things about writing a Shakespearean sonnet:

  1. Its formal structure. I do well with limits.
  2. Its meter. Sticking to the required iambic pentameter guarantees a nice rhythm.
  3. Its rhyme scheme. ABAB CDCD EFEF GG is more forgiving than the Petrarchan pattern, which requires that two sets of four lines rhyme with each other.
  4. Its length. As poems go, sonnets are relatively short. When you get to line 14, you’re done!
  5. Its closing couplet. This pair of rhyming lines at the end provides an opportunity for great pith.

In an example of much ado about nothing, here is my attempt at a Shakespearean sonnet:

Perception and Vision

My mind was sick, and so my body. Blight
Surrounded me and bound me in a dim
And frightful prison. Blisses flickered bright
But did not stay to mitigate the grim.
Reality had I reversed and flipped,
Projecting war and vain imaginings—
A camera obscura in a crypt.
There is another way to look at things!
Beyond the body, seated in the mind,
Is endless light. It sheds the truth on all,
Unveiling sinlessness ever enshrined—
Shining away my fathomless cell wall.
With no more steps to take, a tick I wait,
Among the lilies thick outside your gate.

By the way, the Globe’s gift shop is the mother lode for anyone looking for a present for me.