Archive for September, 2010

The Kingdom of Homophonia

September 28, 2010


The Kingdom of Homophonia

On a cold, damp night, the king’s favorite knight
Was feeling a little bit hoarse
Although not allowed, he wasn’t too proud
For singing aloud to his horse
(The horse, named Harry, had a brother named Larry
Who was truly more hairy than he)
Now Harry could see it was scary to be
Overlooking great cliffs by the sea
Of course, man and horse followed coarse course
Towards the castle of Don Palindrome
They had chosen to roam to the city of Rome
For that’s where the Don made his home
At a quarter to eight, the two stopped and ate
On a knoll by the side of the trail
The pair had fair fare: an apple, a pear,
And barbecued brisket of quail
They rode down the road and passed a plain plane
Which they had not seen in the past
Man slept as horse led, though its legs felt like lead
They no longer traveled so fast
When the brave knight awoke, a spooky voice spoke,
“Just what are you doing down here?”
A giant hole had swallowed them whole
And something quite scary was near
A sorceress named Shirley appeared and exclaimed,
“Surely, you will die today!
You’ve discovered our coven and you will know
Why visitors do not get away.”
The young knight interjected he had not detected
Which witch was truly in charge
When an old witch named Carrie proceeded to carry
A bucket that was rather large
Gizzards and guts from previous guests
(Who’s to say whose innards they were)
The knight turned pale as he peered in the pail
Staggering away from her
Carrie declared, “They’re two victims right there.
And their hides ain’t going nowhere.
You’re aware that in hours your flesh will be ours
You’ll make a delicious pair”
The two were too scared and quite unprepared
To wind up as anyone’s meal
For four long days, witches roasted and braised
When Beth finally said to Lucille,
“I’d like you to meet the meat we will eat.
It’s time to sprinkle in thyme
And oh, by the way, how much do they weigh?
Does anyone have any lime?”
Although in a daze from not eating for days
The knight had come up with a plan
He had been able to steal a sharp piece of steel
Which he hid in the palm of his hand
Not able to cut clear through the knot
He managed to slide around
Then Harry bit through and off they threw
The cords which held them down
They had no time to heal with witches at heel
As they headed back to the trail
By the hair on his tail, Harry’s speed did prevail
And they both lived to tell this tale

by Richard W. Bray

Ridiculous Journey

September 25, 2010

Ridiculous Journey

Half way between here and nowhere
My brand new car broke down
So I got out and started walking
Towards the nearest town

I happened across a diner
And decided to stop for some chow
The cat behind the counter
Said only, “Meow, meow.”

I ordered a tuna omelet
With a side of Kitty Bits
I washed it down with milk
I was starting to lose my wits

I paid my bill with catnip
And headed on down the road
In my haste I nearly stepped on
One humongous toad

His name, I guessed, was Ribbit
Or at least it was all that he said
We hopped to the nearest hotel
I slept on a damp lily bed

I was awakened at two in the morning
By various animal sounds
I rushed right down to the desk clerk
Who turned out to be an old hound

I rang the bell for service
The dog stepped into the room
I complained about my problem
He just howled at the moon

Unable to return to my lodgings
I decided to head for my car
Yonder I heard a cock crowing
I knew it wouldn’t be very far

A meerkat guided my journey
My car was easy to find
I started the engine and headed for home
Before I lost my mind

I pulled into my driveway
Now overcome with relief
My dog was there with my paper
It was almost beyond belief

I took the paper from Fido
I was just regaining my grip
When he looked at me and uttered,
“I heard you had quite a trip.”

by Richard W. Bray

The One That Almost Got Away

September 21, 2010

The One That Almost Got Away

Eustace used to yell at Ted
He yelled so loud he lost his head
It rolled and rolled right down a hill
It rolled past Jack. It rolled past Jill
The head continued to pick up speed
And trundled right down to the sea
When it fell in I heard a plop
Sadly for Eustace, it did not stop
The head descended deeper and deeper
Past flounders and sturgeons and past the keeper
Of the gates to a dangerous zone
Where even the bravest won’t venture alone
The head was captured by a squid
Who hoped to feed it to her kid
When a hungry shark tapped it away
It was grabbed by a guppy who wished to play
Sea volleyball with a huge anemone
The head shut its eyes for it couldn’t bear to see
Countless tentacles smacking it round
When all it wanted was to reach dry ground
An eel was getting ready to serve
When a school of piranha caused it to swerve
The head was snatched by a graceful skate
Who was looking for a paperweight
The skate headed home to bring his wife
A conversation piece to spice up life
When the head was snagged by a Dutch fishing boat
(I hardly believe these words I wrote
But I saw it myself, so I know it’s true
Still, let’s keep this all between me and you)
The sailors who took this head from the sea
Decided to send it back home, C.O.D.
A competent doctor was quickly dispatched
Who was able to get the head reattached
Now Eustace rarely raises his voice
He’ll write a note when given the choice

by Richard W. Bray

Trading Cards

September 20, 2010

Trading Cards

Tommy got some trading cards and they were pretty cool
Robots, zombies, aliens—he took them all to school
He traded them to Danny cuz he really liked to deal
For an old lunch box and toaster tarts, he knew it was a steal
Then Carol saw the wondrous cards and said, “They’re so unique!”
Dazzled by the magic cards, the girl could hardly speak
She bartered coat and shoes for those fantastic trading cards
Her barefoot walk home through the snow really wasn’t hard
Carol was renowned for her tremendous sacrifice
The cards increased in value and, indeed, in price
Her phone rang off the hook that night with offers great and grand
A poor young lad named Webster even offered his right hand
Eventually a boy named Bob proposed the perfect bid
For Robert Jacob Winthrop was an enterprising kid
He mortgaged off his parent’s house while they at a show
He’d double his investment before they’d ever know
Bob took all precautions to protect his precious cards
He showed up at school now with six big bodyguards
He commissioned the town blacksmith to build a special box
With a battery of safeguards, including several locks
A youngster they called Rufus asked, “Whatya’ holdin’ there?”
Bob responded hastily “Kid, get away from here!
I’m a famous trader and I have no time for lose
If you don’t get away right now, you’ll really have the blues”
Rufus looked at Bob and said, “It wouldn’t hurt to be nice.
I just want to see the cards that fetched so great a price.”
Bob showed the cards to Rufus who said without suspense,
“But they’re just like the ones I got for fifty-seven cents”

by Richard W. Bray

Manly War Romancer

September 18, 2010

George Orwell

W_H_Auden_and_Christopher_Isherwood (3)

Auden and Isherwood

Manly War Romancer

Auden pronounces War is murder
Mister Orwell has a hissy:
Do not scorn the deeds of men
You damn, limp-wristed sissy

Orwell ran to join a war
Chris and Wystan sailed away
Orwell took one in the throat
But lived to write another day

Does this poem have a moral,
A message, or an answer?
Gladly lust for life unlike
A manly war romancer

by Richard W. Bray

Some Thoughts on Slaughterhouse-Five

September 15, 2010

Some Thoughts on Slaughterhouse-Five

Like Billy Pilgrim, the hapless protagonist in his great anti-war novel Slaughterhous-Five, Kurt Vonnegut survived “the greatest massacre in European history” (101). Vonnegut and several other American prisoners of war were spared incineration during the Allied firebombing of Dresden because they were quartered in an underground slaughterhouse. When Vonnegut and his compatriots emerged after the night of pyrotechnics, they discovered a moonscapes containing the charred remains of “one hundred and thirty thousand people” (165). In the novel Billy Pilgrim tells actress Montana Wildhack that the “little logs” he saw “lying around” Dresden after the attack were actually “people who had been caught in the fire storm” (179).

Slaughterhouse-Five is a novel about time, space, fate, extraterrestrial creatures, irony, violence, verisimilitude, greed, revenge, and grace. But mostly it’s about war, “the incredible artificial weather that Earthlings sometimes create for other Earthlings when they don’t want those other Earthlings to inhabit Earth any more” (106).

War is always failure: A failure of imagination; a failure of compassion; a failure of communication; a failure of restraint. Kurt Vonnegut is repulsed when Americans celibrate the ugliest and stupidest thing human beings do by having parades and singing songs like “Glory, Glory Hallelujah.” He suggests a more fitting tribute:

“Perhaps, when we remember wars, we should take off our clothes and paint ourselves blue and go on all fours all day long and grunt like pigs. That would surely be more appropriate than noble oratory and shows of flags and well-oiled guns” (Cat’s Cradle).

Americans emerged from World War II with a hard-won sense of pride that our soldiers and citizens had endured many hardships in order to destroy great evil. This is true, of course, but life is never this simple. There is always much bad accompanying even the greatest good. For example, the defeat of Nazism would not have been possible without the immeasurable sacrifice of the people of the Soviet Union. So in order to destroy Hitler, America had to support Stalin’s equally putrid regime, which would continue to enslave much of the world for decades. We also found it necessary to incinerate hundreds of thousand of civilians in Dresden, Hamburg, Tokyo, Nagasaki and Hiroshima (not a complete list).

Determining the rightness of actions which caused so much death, suffering and despair is beyond the capabilities of any human, so I cannot say with certainty that WWII had to be fought. However, Kurt Vonnegut is willing to concede that America’s role in WWII was necessary, although it left us with some unfortunate legacies:

One of the great American tragedies is to have participated in a just war. It’s been possible for politicians and movie-makers to encourage us we’re always good guys. The Second World War absolutely had to be fought. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. But we never talk about the people we kill. This is never spoken of.

The “success” of the raid on Dresden is largely omitted from the official narrative of WWII (191). Even today, Americans are smugly self-congratulatory when we speak about WWII, as if the entire world should be perpetually thanking us. But as Vonnegut notes, it’s never right to feel good about war.

“I myself have seen the bodies of schoolgirls who were boiled alive in a water tower by my own countrymen, who were proud of fighting pure evil at the time” (116).

So what can we learn from a book about the ugliest and stupidest things that human beings do? Kurt Vonnegut doesn’t offer any easy answers. Slaughterhouse-Five “is short and jumbled and jangled” in content and narrative “because there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre” (19).

The greatest wisdom in Slaughterhouse-Five is offered by the Tralfamadorians, a race of extraterrestrial beings who abduct Billy Pilgrim in order to study earthlings. The Tralfamadorians, who function in four dimensions, are able to see a person’s entire life span at once. From this perspective

All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is. Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all, as I’ve said before, bugs in amber (86).

Slaughterhouse-Five is not the feel good Oprah Book of the Month. There is no Secret, and this is all the advice you get:

“one thing Earthlings might learn to do, if they tried hard enough: Ignore the awful times, and concentrate on the good ones” (117).

When Kurt Vonnegut was writing Slaughterhouse-Five, he told movie producer Harrison Starr that he was working on an anti-war novel:

“Why don’t you write an anti-glacier book instead?” Starr asked (3).

Vonnegut agreed with Starr on the futility of his project: “What he meant, of course, was that there would always be wars, that they were as easy to stop as glaciers. I believe that, too” (3).

Since that time (1968), however, humanity has made considerable progress in the War on Glaciers. This thought might have aroused a chuckle from Vonnegut, but I doubt it would have heartened him much.

One final thought from Robert Browning

In one year they sent a million fighters forth
South and North,
And they built their gods a brazen pillar high
As the sky,
Yet reserved a thousand chariots in full force–
Gold, of course.
Oh heart! oh blood that freezes, blood that burns!
Earth’s returns
For whole centuries of folly, noise and sin!
Shut them in,
With their triumphs and their glories and the rest!
Love is best.

by Richard W. Bray


September 14, 2010


Although their chances for triumph were slim
Debbie and David and Gertrude and Tim
Set off on their journey with vigor and vim

Across jungles and forests and deserts and seas
Past lions and tigers and dragons and bees
In speedboats, on horses, in planes and on skis

The four were compelled on their eminent quest
To a kingdom of various trials and tests
Through a mystical closet of sweaters and vests

They scuffled with demons and monsters and fiends
And werewolves and vampires and wicked old queens
And goblins and ogres and evil machines

They struggled for decades and centuries and more
They won all their battles and settled old scores
With praises and plaudits and triumphs galore

Our heroes retired, folklore’s great winners
They pardoned the saints and punished the sinners
And still made it back to their families by dinner

by Richard W. Bray

You Should

September 11, 2010


You Should

You should wake up early
You should never stop to play
You should not waste your time
You should work hard every day

You should save up every penny
You should put it all away
You should be very frugal
You should plan for rainy days

You should maximize potential
You should see what you can be
You should live to make more money
You should be just like me

by Richard W. Bray

Robert J. Dutton

September 9, 2010

Robert J. Dutton

Robert J. Dutton, a nice little boy
For both his folks, a true pride and joy
He’s kind and helpful in all manner of chores
He does all the dishes and oils creaky doors

But young Robbie Dutton has one little flaw
So minor it’s hardly worth mentioning at all
Despite bribes and threats and forecasts of doom
Robert J. Dutton just won’t clean his room

As days and weeks and years passed by
Robert J. Dutton—this wonderful guy
Began to emit an unhealthy aroma
One kid who smelled it went into a coma

The source of this odor, of course, is his room
I’ll attempt to describe it with minimal gloom:
It’s fusty and musty and dusty and dank
Kids in Australia complain ’bout the stank

The haphazard pile of waste on the shelf
Could only be seen by a junkman as pelf
Green grimy grunge covers the floor
It oozed ‘cross the room and spilt out the door

The garbage and junk and offal and rubble
And gunk and debris are a great source of trouble
The litter and rubbish and refuse and trash
Threaten to cause the walls to collapse

Beneath it all (this hurts to explain!)
Are twelve frozen meals—or at least their remains
The walls are caked with much muck and mire
The strong methane fumes are a real risk of fire

When finally the neighbors couldn’t take any more
They called the police who didn’t wish to explore
The cavern of filth at the end of the hall
So Officer Murphy decided to call

Federal agents, all the great masters
Of famines and floods and natural disasters
Who red-tagged the house they would not dare enter
That haven of crud was smut’s epicenter

The room was declared off limits to all
The army reserve has been placed on call
The Duttons, of course, have all been sent packing
For raising a boy whose neatness was lacking

by Richard W. Bray

Thin Ice

September 7, 2010

My teacher got annoyed and said,
“You’re skating on thin ice”
I said, “Let’s make some snow cones”
And I got detention twice

The skeleton in my closet
Cannot come out to play
It’s not that I have secrets
I’m scared he’ll run away

If the fork in the road
Had been a spoon
My piano would be
Out of tune

We can cross that bridge
If we actually get to it
Or we could swim the moat
I’m not afraid to do it

Did you pull my leg?
Or did you really lose my keys?
I can no longer walk
You dislocated both my knees

I threw my watch off the cliff
To see if time would fly
My daddy sent me after it
I’m not a happy guy

“Do you want to wet your whistle
With pop or tea?”
“Can I please have a drink?
I’m not a referee”

“If you don’t do your chores
You’ll be in hot water”
“I really can’t believe
That you’d boil your only daughter”

by Richard W. Bray