My interest in reading poetry started with the great Dr. Seuss. My interest in writing simple rhymes followed immediately after that when I made my first attempt to rip off “The Cat In The Hat.” It’s fair to say that this original act of larceny is at the heart of all my poetic work since then. In fact, I steal directly from Seuss as an attempt at commentary whenever the world produces something as absurd as a gaudy talking feline who tries to manipulate vulnerable children into adopting his sinister agenda.
In other words, I do it every week.
My wordiest effort of this type is 1999’s “The Pet on the Net”, an earnest attempt to caution children about the risks of careless engagement with the internet. We all know how well that worked. But utter failure is not enough to convince me to stop writing Seuss knock-offs.
In this more recent example from the year 2013, my word crime was prompted by a widely publicized story that New York City commuters found dead shark riding a New York Subway. The so-called “Straphanger Shark” case made me wonder what other denizens of the deep might also be riding the rails.
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.
‘Cause the squeaking we 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 about ‘Where’s Your Blowhole?’ he said. “That is fun.”
“Not for us,” shot back Sally. “Because we don’t have one.”
“So you think,” said the whale. At his voice, the car shook.
“But you always find one 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 is no place for whales!”