or tom later in life
- Ask, and parse, for words are never far;
- In a fairy grotto in sultry Bangor
- A glass menagerie is but a perspex arboretum
- A fearsome visage through the door
- I hate fish
- There lies in far Brazil a wood
- The men of steel who conquered Jason's realm
- The afternoon was nearly over when the Old Pretender came
- The phantom bantam mantra-man
- O serve me well, sarcophagus,
- If I trust you now
- A riddle is a riddle; the opposite is not.
Ask, and parse, for words are never far;
Ask again and soon your knight will see
That he who asks three times will see the star
And seeing that, fulfil the one in three
Who king of kings and curly crumpets are.
'Tis not for thee to know. The star.
'Tis not for thee to know what we all know
Nor yet to speak in tongues that no man speaks,
To follow where the water seems to flow
To where the witless wizard's stewpot reeks.
And where the elephants play nightly in the snow
And play pontoon with tigers for a stake of sugar-iced leeks.
'Tis not for us to know that thou art dead.
I see the worms are crawling from your ears
And your flesh, O faithful disciple, once red,
Is indigo, and doubtless in arrears:
Are you really sure you do not want to go to bed?
Not to rent a sheet or two and leave it all in tears?
'Tis not for me as I have often said
To seek to know the truth about dead kings;
My secret life's confined to dreams in bed:
Just fantasies and no awakenings?
So supple are the princes. So silent are the dead.
Aleppo was the parity, Goliath had the slings.
In a fairy grotto in sultry Bangor
An elfin feast
Without meringue or
In a goblin's kitchen in untilled Sheppey
Tea was brewed
Without the tea
In a funeral parlour in straight-laced Dorset
A coffin sat;
Do not endorse it,
In an abattoir in the great U.L.,
We supped so long
That the fire-bell
In an unfed stomach of the cow that grazes,
Chewing slowly on the cud,
Awaiting digestion, there sits an old nun
(She is a fake, I say, a dud);
No deity she praises,
No pious prayer she raises
To the goddess's son;
But sits sublimely sanctified in intestinal mud
And unrelenting gazes
At a bud.
A glass menagerie is but a perspex arboretum
Cold in winter -- difficult to ventilate or heat 'em.
And people who reside therein should throw no weighty stone
Should cast no false aspersion,
Should seek not to attain conversion,
And for their unrelenting sins atone.
A draughty church is where I wait, all nervous, in the wings:
I find it hard to quite ignore the gargoyle as it sings.
The people who reside herein must be stone deaf by now
Applauding so extremely
Disguising so unseemly
As if the nicest thing to be was but a dairy cow.
While lying in a pyramid in ancient Egypt land,
Maid Miriam did clutch a little apple in her hand.
She thought it was an apple but in fact it was some sand,
And she swallowed it and choked
And not long after croaked
A song much longer than she'd planned.
But hold your camels!
Try pinewood panels!
And fill the bath!
Rats must be cooked in the hearth.
A serenade of rubbish
Xella can't endure
Underdone cooked cabbage:
Her manner is demure.
A fearsome visage through the door
A weevil-child of awful ilk
A young princess with eyes of silk
With skin of ice and lips of milk
Unseen by mortal eye before.
A whisp'ring voice assails my ear,
I spit the raffle-tickets out
And to the undeserving lout
(All Ascot shuns this gaseous tout)
No vouchers here I fear.
Oh, dark and spurkish is her voice
The sound enraptures me:
The distant buzzing of a bee
The rapturous warbling of the flea
The purr of a Rolls-Royce.
Oh, weak and wiry are her limbs
As lissom as the slender reed
That brooks no ill for T V Bede.
Yet drinks she still much Pimms.
Her nicest feature, though, is this:
Instead of two, three legs has she,
And this is just as well, for we
Play cricket with this miss.
I hate fish
I have no wish
To choke upon their bones;
But every dish
Each scaly swish
My love for you atones.
My love for you
Still yet so true,
Expressed but in my groans,
Hath conquered swords and stones
And lowly weasels too.
I hate birds
And girls in blue
That say no words
Save How d'you do?
It is impossible to be
Indifferent to such as thee
Whose ilk I start to rue.
Say, how do you do?
Do such as you munch fish-paste?
Too much as you might wish-waste?
My serpent-farms are too
Select for you and you!
There lies in far Brazil a wood
Where baldness dogs the folk
Who all their children choke
For being much too good.
There lies there too a leaning tower
Made of carrot-spawn,
Where knights in waiting wait forlorn
And dream of future power.
Betwixt these two yet most impressive
In blue and red and green
There stands a jester who, obsessive,
Frolics before a Queen.
Above the least, yet far below
The heights sublime of death there sings
A poet, lost in thought, whom no
Admirer hates, not least the kings.
The agriculture favoured by the denizens of Thrace
Consists of molehills mountainised to form a ring of mud
Around the which the doctors run at Whirling Dervish pace
Attempting to divine the cause of wombats chewing cud:
Never knowing, never guessing that the reason for that race
Only weeping and unleashing purple beads in bud
Where and when the truth?
Do ask him for, forsooth
I needs must know the reason if it should be comprehended
Before it's ended.
The men of steel who conquered Jason's realm
Were from a distant planet in the sky.
In spaceships they came: at the helm
An insect stood with watchful eye.
They came in pairs of brilliant blue,
Their speech was like a sharpened flame
Which set on fire the Maribou
Who watched as they relentless came.
Arcolanthe, Arcolanthe, ease my burning heart!
Oh quench the flames with pints of beer
With garbled talk, indifferent cheer
Before we have to part.
Just one day more, dear heart, then I
Shall have to disembark
Shall have no longer chance to bark
Nor aptitude to fly.
Now succour, love, and comfort me, for Perkin is my name;
A periwig has kept my forehead warm
For many a winter, through many a perilous storm
The hapless Argonauts to Daulis came.
I played that woman all the tunes I knew
And when I finished time had ceased to go.
My thoughts are not the things that she should know
My thoughts are of a very uncouth form.
And, like the stanzas of a genuine poem,
Inept to fly the fathoms far to Rome
And seek a deeper home.
The afternoon was nearly over when the Old Pretender came
Hobbling and shouting that the weather made him lame
(He in his shame!)
Eschewing not fame
The evening settled down between the striped and sullen sheets
Trying to ignore the random clatter of the parakeets
(The bedesman eats
Neither haggis nor meats
Break it up! The police prefer the night to sombre day
Not surprising when the gas board is North Sea, I'm sad to say.
The meter man fished female plankton from the sea
Such useful power sources these lady glow-fish be.
And even when
The chicken is a hen.
Better late than never is a motto I abhor;
Better poached than fried is the egg upon the floor;
Better than us all are Byron, Yeats and more
But better we than Sophocles; for Plato is a bore
And Sophocles sophisticates: although we pitch and yaw
We cannot see, for now our eyes are sore.
Conductors aren't allowed to keep the score
The phantom bantam mantra-man
His flaming eyes on stalks
Has chatted with me, man to man
As one who tiptoes as he talks.
The ghostly gherkin grocer's boy
Delivers hourly chocolate;
Oblivious of the hoi-polloi
That round about his chariot wait.
The wrenchd mandrake as it dies
Attempting to determine
The relative absurdity of flies,
The crassitude of vermin,
Shrieks to a neighbouring green tomato
Ripe me, now's your chance!
The leaves reply astonishingly, in a sharp falsetto,
No more romance.
The piano in the kitchen has been spoiled by cooking-fumes:
The grease drips off the keyboard
Which the greengrocer exhumes,
For no man shuns this seaboard
If he's practised all his scales
And weathered all the gales
That braves the direst storm is not, I think,
A quinquereme that swords of men could sink.
O serve me well, sarcophagus,
Desert me not so late
(My poetry's anonymous)
And that's not hard to rate.
O tell no more the weeping child
To leave the wolf at bay,
And tell no king of temper mild
To say what he should say.
His word is but an empty saw,
Seen oft then heard no more
A wretched mess
(His poetry is poor).
Yet poorer far, more wretched still,
The kings who thund'rous reign:
Over the isles serene he will
Soon abdicate insane.
And should you see through my disguise
I'll run a mile post-haste,
And weave a web of chronic lies
Like "I eschew fish-paste".
Secretly the apple grew
Secreting, lest someone should know.
If I trust you now
If I say you'll not be naughty in the trees
And chop off every bough
Then I don't know who you think you mean to please.
But if I doubt your word
If I think you'll cause great havoc in the leaves
Of the tome you'll spread with lemon curd
Of custard pie? It's quite absurd:
I know the glow-worm grieves.
But if you eat the kettle,
If you take the non-stick saucepan from the stew
You'll be able, at last, to rate the mettle
Of the few
That eat the nettle.
And if the grand survival ball starts to roll away
I'll love you for reviving me enough to pave the way
To a meal in hall and oh! the thrill of apple sauce and beans
Or else perchance a subtle pie of stoats and aubergines;
And top the whole with trifle and delicious pale-pink cream:
My clothes are what they seam.
A riddle is a riddle; the opposite is not.
The first is but an Irishman, the other is a Scot.
Lancelot, irascible, arraigned the ocelot
For no apparent reason.
Poetry is poetry; this work of art is not
A tied-line on the telephone, a kitten in the cot.
The teacher playing tennis and the pupil on the pot
Have locked me out. The key's on
Trust. I hope you'll give it back.
Not crumpled, mangled, wrecked but still
A key, agree? Unless I crack,
You'll write yet more, until
The junk is on the rack.
Sonnets now have thirteen lines; the last is but a rat,
And if you don't believe me try to strangulate a spratt;
Try to start a ruined car, or to cart a stewing-steak
And you will find, as I have found, be made as oft I make.
This life's a fake:
A great mistake.
©1973, 1999 The Rat Fathom Poets
Edited by Peter Christian
May 31 2023.