Category Archives: Poetry

Poetry in the service of prose is no vice.
Prosody on deadline may be no verse.

Americans Can’t Just Let It Snow

Loose Leaves, 1st run Tuesday 1 February 2000 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 2000 Donrey Media Group

How did you like that snow? Surprised by it? Surprised it lasted like it did? You shouldn’t be. Weather folks had it nailed all along, give or take half of a day.

For all the times we make fun of the TV meteorologists and the National Weather Service, not to mention the private forecast services, nobody admits how often right they are these days. When they are wrong, it’s usually only by a matter of hours.

Sometimes, weather-people are very wrong, but 90 or 75 percent chance of something falling does mean 10 or 25 percent of no precipitation. Odds like that would bankrupt race tracks and casinos in a week. Why didn’t we trust this?

You remember the winter storm. Forecasters said early in the week, with certainty, snow would fall heavily by Thursday afternoon. It might start as early as late Wednesday.

Snow began at 11 or so Thursday morning, and it came down heavily from the start. That’s a pretty accurate forecast. Plans by schools and businesses were set for Thursday when nothing fell by very late Wednesday.

Forecasters also said it would not warm up until Sunday and then only just above freezing.

The snow as predicted stayed on the ground, melting to slush in clear or lightly clouded skies, then refreezing in the night so as to snarl traffic to Saturday shopping and Sunday school. That was an accurate forecast, too.

Let’s open! Let’s close!

Oh, the poor, poor weatherman,
We love to mock all that he says.
We seek ever-greater acumen,
Then do what we want anyways.

Forecasters have radar, cell phones,
Satellites see what gravity prevents.
Nothing’s sure, on this make no bones,
But eighty percent should give sense.

Hundreds wrecked in the first six hour,
But thankfully no one was killed.
From sliders walkers had to cower,
Cars had to collide, then they chilled.

Up to thousands per fender-bender
Post-deduct’s, dents costly to fix. The
rest to your choice of tow trucker,
Pray premiums won’t rise for kicks.

Hospital crews thankfully on hand,
Yet they were not too often needed.
Clinics now keep banker’s hours, can
That be ’cause banks now over-seeded?

Woe are we who must commute by slide,
Paper carriers made the hills at times.
Thanks come to stores open with pride,
Close cafes for repast in pastimes.

We can stay home with our Internet,
For twenty a month we are all set.
Until ice snaps precious phone poles,
Then we’ll sled, build fires, drink cocoas.

Superintendents, supervisors,
Why’d you wait ’til noon to lock up?
Trust the TV, there’s no precedents,
Fear it’d cost test scores or markup?

Those who live in hurricane-land
Skeptics too so they teach us little.
At first siren some flee the sand,
The rest seen worse, stay noncommittal.

Our Cape Fear lies everywhere,
The place Fate stops to look around.
For once our snow and ice melts in air,
Floods and twisters will come aground.

Just timidly I trust newscasting,
Despite these claims of confidence.
I hate to feel like I am lying,
When I cancel some appointments.

We claim to want to know the future,
We pray for truth, we bet for sooth.
Science, history guide ever better,
Prophecy though sure we keep aloof.
Oh, the poor, poor weatherman,
We love to mock all that he says.
We seek ever-greater acumen,
Then do what we want anyways.

We’ll figure out, one of these days, that we Americans can take a day off for a good reason like a strong threat of snow and nothing bad will happen. We won’t go broke. Our children won’t suddenly turn ignorant.

Western European countries, with better-educated children and often higher standards of living and stronger business productivity, give employees months off every year with no concern.

We could learn from such economies. Or we could push ourselves, metaphorically, up very close to stoplights on icy roads, begging for a green light before the yo-yo behind the yo-yo behind us jumps the gun, and cracks all of our bumpers in a bucket brigade of snow.


Tapping Trees to Sing and Shop Amid Thoughtful Growth

Loose Leaves, 1st run Sunday 21 May 2000 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

Ben Pollock

Copyright 2000 Donrey Media Group

DATELINE MIRTHOLOGY — Jasper Jacks was surprised by the outcry over his Wise Acres shopping center. He could think of many reasons why residents protest, but they only had one.

Let’s see, he thought: College Avenue at Starburst Lane is the busiest intersection not just in Fayetteville but all of Northwest Arkansas. In fact, for blocks all around, there are dozens of stores.

“So you think, Jasper, that residents are worried about air pollution from cars and traffic congestion?” consultant Fenster Wiggle said. “Do you think they’re pro-business and worried how one more department store will profit when within blocks there’s Stage, TJ Maxx, Goody’s and Wal-Mart, not to mention the mall with Penney’s, Sears and Dillard’s?”

“Surely they’re not anti-growth,” Jacks said. “Nell Jung, that’s the lady in the tree, has a mobile phone, and her platform is built of cut timber.”

“Their cause is thoughtful growth. Thoughtful growth is not necessarily more expensive but is time-consuming. It takes time to figure out how to build well. Cleared land will be naked of nature for generations,” Wiggle said.

The two executives met at a picnic table in Gulley Park. Wiggle liked the lesson it eventually would teach Jacks. Gulley’s trees generally stand on its perimeter; most are young. It’s a huge, hot field, great for throwing flying discs but not for shady, lazy, all-afternoon picnics.

Wiggle pulled out his cell phone and called Longhand the poet.

Then Fenster stood and waved, for the black-hatted, blond-ponytailed versifier was swinging on a swingset 100 yards away. Longhand didn’t own a cell phone.

* * *

(We interrupt this satire to bring you a fable.)

Once upon a time there was a man who lived in a pretty old house in a pretty old neighborhood.

The azalea bush on the shady east side bloomed and flourished. The azalea bush on the sunny west side dropped more leaves with each passing season.

One morning the man went out with a shovel. He was going to dig up the sad azalea and replace it with a baby bush that would thrive on sun and heat.

From out of nowhere, Goldie the cat walked up.

“Meow. I like to nap beneath that azalea. It will be two years before the new bush is tall enough for me to hide under,” said Goldie.

“Cat, I own this house. I can do what I want,” said the man.

“Meow, then. I am going to sit on top of this azalea bush right here and yowl and embarrass you to the neighbors — until you go away,” said Goldie.”

Goldie jumped on the bush. The bush was spindly, and she broke all of its stems. It died.

MORAL: Knock, knock?

Who’s there?


Azalea who?

Azalea bracelets, pot roasts and clothes.
I’ll pay the rent and the light bill,
Then azalea some more of those.

(We now return you to our regularly scheduled satire.)

* * *

Fenster first recommended that the name of the anchor department store be changed.

“Dohl’s is too ethnic,” Wiggle said.

“No, our tenant is proud of the family name. It’s … it’s German, isn’t it?” said Jacks.

“Dole’s. It’s middle America,” Wiggle woozed. “D-o-l-e-s is as American as pineapples and bananas.”

Longhand recrossed his legs. He hated business meetings. He hated meetings. He hated business.

Prompted, Wiggle told Jacks he should do two things to cancel the negative publicity of tree-sitter Nell Jung.

The first task was to underwrite Jung’s Heart of Gold Consensus.

“They won’t take money from Dole’s or me,” Jacks said.

“Yes, it will. All these groups need funds. You are not to tie any obligations to it.”

“Whoa, really?” asked Jacks.

“Jasper, just give them a big check every quarter with absolutely no strings. Some of its membership spontaneously will be reluctant to cross you.”

“Whoa, really?” said Jacks.

Jacks wrote a check to the Heart of Gold gang. “What’s the second thing?”

“Dole’s has to have a theme song that appeals to the protesters. Shoe and computer company commercials use revolutionary rock songs. Longhand has parodied the one about the Kent State shootings. Also, this ditty will encourage customers to charge purchases.”

“I don’t do ditties. I don’t parody,” Longhand said. “I am a poet. This is an homage to a classic street anthem.”

Longhand strummed his ukulele and sang:

Tin Lizzies on Dickson Street,
We gotta move retail uptown.

La la, spring in the air,
La la, spring in the trees.
“Nell, how’s the view up there?”
“Great, Earth. Your day to seize.”

If we didn’t mine and harvest,
How could you and I drive to cafes?
Our plunder makes life full of zest;
The kids will fix this in future days.

For sale at Dole’s I owe.
For sale at Dole’s I owe.

Jasper Jacks smiled as he opened his checkbook again, humming the melody. It brought back memories.

“She’ll come down,” he thought.


The Search Is Continuing, an Elegy

Loose Leaves, first published Tuesday 20 July 1999 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben Pollock

Copyright 1999 Donrey Media Group

I got out of kindergarten one day —
Perhaps all us kids were free: Class canceled?
Jan-girl had the TV volume up high
So Mom, Sis, me would find no word muffled.

Dark horses, a long box with flag draping:
Gee whiz, gloom can fly into antennae?
Three-year-old in winter coat saluting
On such a sunny day, a little boy just like me.

When we click the Everything Box now
We soon regret there’s just one line of news.
Clicking channel to channel, all somehow
Report, “The search for the plane continues.”

It’s all we can do to keep death at bay;
A good theory: Take one day at a time.
Else eat, drink; when the sun shines roll the hay,
Expecting a giant’s leaps for mankind.

Some of us stave off death with routine,
Some block death’s glance with adventure.
We daily work grunts use the former scene,
Did you gamble three lives on the latter?

You have a wedding, attend others’ vows,
Did you try to live so long, taking no cuts?
Some in our group steer only toward big wows.
Let me paint a picture: “Still Life with Ruts.”

It’s fall again, two-hand touch so no harm,
cradling that football in the compound,
fending off all comers with the other arm.
We cannot let fate tackle those who bound.

Live as long as you can, return lobs,
Cruise through college, come what may.
Take a position, then find better jobs,
Hail, Business. By George, keep death away.

Avoid the limelight, your mom may have taught,
You then would be seen as better than most.
To stay a private public man, not caught,
Bar no tests, we saw few warts that’d cost.

John, you’re supposed to be better than us,
No, we expect you to be just like us.
Go ahead: Excel, lord it over us,
Risk your perks, waste gifts, mock our public trust.

Did peer John hit that late-thirtyish point
When we think we finally have crested.
There we dare to ask (maybe he didn’t),
Can descent on cliff or knoll be bested?

Starting middle years you have to wonder
Does eating sensibly really matter?
Why not sport at 38 with some wings?
No devil, you, but not yet an angel.

I, perhaps we, thought that you would remind
Us of Jack, Bob, Ted, after you turned gray.
Then, your own man, not to be left behind,
Run and win a Senate seat, come what may.

Sooner or later, right? That’s the motto
Of daredevil, playboy, sometimes a hero.
Why couldn’t you keep death an arm away?
Sorry it was sooner. Sorry it was you.

* * *

Several readers of the recent “Loose Leaves” column about bread have asked about details on sourdough in particular and baking in general.

I own several cookbooks with terrific bread recipes. Here are two books I especially recommend. Neither, however, covers bread machines.

For beginners, “The Enchanted Broccoli Forest” by Mollie Katzen, $18.95, paperback 303 pages, 1995, new revised edition, Ten Speed Press.

If you’ve baked some already, “Bread Alone: Bold Fresh Loaves from Your Own Hands,” by Daniel Leader with Judith Blahnik, $25, hardcover, 332 pages, 1993, William Morrow & Co.

As requested, here is the Potato Herman Sourdough Starter. It came from the June 17, 1992, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Place 1 cup water, 1/2 cup table sugar and 3 tablespoons instant potato flakes in a 1-quart, non-metal jar and mix well with a nonmetal spoon. Cover jar with paper towel secured with rubber band (to allow the starter to breathe). Leave jar on counter for several days, stirring once a day. When real bubbly, feed Herman (recipe follows) and let sit on counter 3-4 hours, until bubbly again, then use or refrigerate.

To use in a sourdough-bread recipe, first mix required amount of Herman with an equal amount of flour and let sit out 3-4 hours.

Feed Herman after each use or weekly when not used. If not baking with Herman, dispose of 1 1/4 cups of starter then feed by adding 1 cup water, 1/2 cup table sugar and 3 tablespoons instant potato flakes. Stir with nonmetal utensil and recover jar with paper towel secured by rubber band. Refrigerate.


Balladeer Commandeers All the Ears

Loose Leaves, first published Tuesday 13 April 1999 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben Pollock

Copyright 1999 Donrey Media Group

DATELINE MIRTHOLOGY — Gus Donenough stood up to silence the Donenough Foundation board so that he could introduce the poet. Nearly everything was ready for the upcoming Live-Stock Town Fair. Plenty of artisans had signed up for booths. The musical acts had signed contracts. The community fair logo was redesigned.

“You directors thought we should have a theme song this year,” Gus said. “Longhand here is the right man for the job. He knows us and the area, and his grasp of prosody is loose as is his grasp of reality. So the price is right.”

Longhand was seated next to Gus. He wore a tattered photographer’s vest over a T-shirt and khaki cargo pants with buttons, not Velcro. Pockets top and bottom were bulging with who-knew-what. His hat was floppy, broad-brimmed and black, likely from a military surplus store. Below were faded red Converse canvas shoes.

“Don’t be off-put by Longhand’s long flowing blond hair, ladies and gentleman,” Gus said. “It’s a wig.”

Longhand loped to the lectern in the dark-paneled conference room of the Donenough Foundation. He smiled vaguely then began a sing-song chant.

* * *

When the year rolls over to spring
With pollen in the air,
Pack up kith, kin and lawn chairs, bound
For the Live-Stock Town Fair.

There’s sharp brown peaks topped with pine trees
Printed on souvenirs,
But our soft hills sport scraggly oaks:
This logo drawn after beers?

We are busy, our bodies stressed.
This passes for fun, it passes for art.
And we’ve got to find our car before dark.

Thousands already have come and gone
When we get to Live-Stock
We park in mud, we trek in mud;
We’re tough, each a weekend jock.

We spot candy apples, corn dogs,
Onion blossoms, funnel cakes.
Our noses pull to concessions:
Lord, the prices. What high stakes!

We are busy, our bodies stressed.
This passes for fun, it passes for art.
And we’ve got to find our car before dark.

Well fed, we head to the craft stands
Hot, sleepy and nearly broke.
But eager for culture, we ask,
“What’s fine, what’s really folk?”

There’s pottery, carvings and quilts
Fired, cut or loomed so dear.
After 23 booths we realize
It’s the same as last year.

We are busy, our bodies stressed.
This passes for fun, it passes for art.
And we’ve got to find our car before dark.

Bet we get the shows we pay for,
The price of admission.
This band never had a video
On cable television.

Surely children will be amused
By juggler, mime or clown.
Longhand plays to that captive queue
That waits as if knees bound.

We are busy, our bodies stressed.
This passes for fun, it passes for art.
And we’ve got to find our car before dark.

On this, our first spring day outing,
Skin turns beta carotene.
You’d think Live-Stock’d have a table
Selling lots of sunscreen.

Have we missed any artisan,
Bypassed a face-painter?
Quick, gather family and bags
Before we grow fainter.

We are busy, our bodies stressed.
This passes for fun, it passes for art.
And we’ve got to find our car before dark.

* * *

“Members of the board, may I have a motion?” asked Gus.

“Have we paid this guy yet? someone asked.

The directors moved to each put a dollar bill in Longhand’s hat.

The resulting radio and TV announcements drew a record 355,000 people to Live-Stock, according to Donenough Foundation estimates. Longhand was invited to appear on local-access cable television, a career highlight.


When the chips fall, make lemonade

Loose Leaves, 1st run Tuesday 27 July 1999 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 1999 Donrey Media Group

Is there no justice anymore? I kept trying to commission a kangaroo to hear my two litigations, but Rent-A-Roo has been booked solid for weeks. Apparently, they’ve been kept hopping with all the other nuisance-negligence and frivolous-favoritism lawsuits that have been filed recently.

I’ve been injured in accidents I’ve admittedly caused myself.

Not infrequently, I heat the kettle for tea and slosh the boiling water over the mug onto the laminate from where it sluices to my tender waist (I’m leaning on the cabinet).

The defendants could include the electric company; the oven maker, seller and installer; the mug maker; the countertop maker, seller and installer; and my favorite tea company for getting me hooked on caffeine in the first place. I was thinking of suing the estates of Herr Fahrenheit and Monsieur Celsius, for setting the boiling point of water dangerously high.

Then again, I don’t have a hope to win a scalding-beverage complaint. Judges, chancellors and even arbiters by now surely are sick of hearing them.

My other two complaints, however, had a shot.

Because I was blaming myself, I also was my plaintiff’s defendant and vice versa. The last thing I needed, therefore, was legal representation; I would have had to hire at least two lawyers. Not only was I a plaintiff representing himself but also I was the defendant and the defendant’s attorney.

Binding arbitration now was the only way to go, with my cat, B.C., as magistrate. B.C. is wise beyond her considerable years, 15 as of Memorial Day weekend. She would be fair. Being an independent feline, she never favors her owner.

B.C. first demanded a signed release absolving her of blame for when I accidentally step — and sometimes slip precipitously — in something she’s left on the floor during the night.

I signed because of the need for justice in my two complaints, even though I could have gotten a pretty penny from “old gray whiskers” herself, the animal shelter that sold her to me and cat-care books I bought, all of which treated hairballs as a “minor inconvenience” and not life-threatening to nearby humans.

B.C.’s disclaimer didn’t mention the media. Comic strips and TV treat hairballs lightly. They’re not funny, and my rights are violated when the media poke fun at me and others like me. “Others like me” … hmm, class-action action?

B.C. jumped up onto her favorite blanket on her cat ladder. She only appeared asleep by the sunny window.

Your honor, last week in the kitchen I scooped ice and poured lemonade into a plastic tumbler to take with me to work. I honestly tried to be careful but I hit a rut at the end of the driveway and the cup leaped from the holder and sloshed down my leg.

Specifically, an ice cube hit the reflex point at the knee, so I kicked the floorboard. I didn’t feel that because the ensuing frostbite from the lemonade froze my toes.

The car sustained damage, too. The acid from the lemon melded the carpet fibers, and the sugar made everything sticky.

Your honor, within weeks, there were ants. I would’ve cleaned the floorboard, but it constituted evidence.

What, B.C., you say you have observed there is no carpet in the car and that’s why it appeared to have melted?

And you’ve found in favor of me, the defendant, and that me, the plaintiff, owes myself a million dollars? Yes, ma’am.

Oh, next case. I bought a bag of tortilla chips but in driving away from the store I couldn’t help but open the bag and munch.

Since of course I was focused on driving, I don’t notice that I was gobbling chips too big for my mouth. The corn crispies abraded the corners of my lips. With all that salt on the chips, my mouth stung for hours.

I admit that “chip lip” is not the responsibility of the bakery, the store where I bought the bag or Mother Nature for producing the salt, the corn meal and the partially hydrogenated oil.

What, B.C., if I make you wait for din-din, for an “unreasonable” 15 minutes to finish watching some TV, I certainly can make myself wait for treats, too?

Meow. You’ve found in favor of me, the plaintiff, and that me, the defendant, owes myself a million dollars? Yes, ma’am.

A man who represents himself in court,
Certainly has a fool for a client
And an ignoramus for a lawyer.
A man who acts as his prosecutor,
Is presumed guilty until convicted.


‘Watch for Hail’ when Life’s a ‘Bed of Roses’

Mirthology column, 1st run Wednesday 18 April 1990 in the Arkansas Democrat

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 1990 Ben S. Pollock

Retirement had been no bed of roses for Mildred Lynch Pierce Fenner Smith, especially since it was not voluntary. The recent visit from the governor, however, meant an escape from leisure.

Mildred reprimanded herself for the phrase “bed of roses,” but her anger at his request blurred her thinking. She believed such cliches arise because they fill a need for people much too busy to speak originally.

The governor had pushed Mildred, state poet laureate, into the land of emeritus — with a proclamation and plaque — because her talents no longer were consistent. Her attempts at rhymes, increasingly, skipped entire vowels.

The other day, however, the governor called on her to commission a project. He said he needed her creativity to put a law into action.

Mildred almost scalded her hand on the teapot.

The measure was sound: Warn people about the dangers of water. The nation had been swept with regulations affixing labels on beer, wine and liquor. Cigarettes had had warnings on their packages for years.

“‘Water kills.’ That’s what the signs need to say, but make it pretty, could you, Mrs. Lynch Pierce Fenner Smith?” the governor asked.

“Mrs. Smith is sufficient. Sir, what is the logic behind the water law? Look at tobacco. Daily morning coughing jags, shortness of breath after walking a block, chest pains when the boss looks at you cross-eyed — after all those symptoms, will a surgeon general convince smokers?” Mildred said, then thought of another objection.

“You know, what I’d write, governor, if you had given me the beer and booze assignment? ‘Alcohol burs thinking, impairs bodily functions and can be addictive — that’s why some people like it.'”

“Yes, dear, but water warnings will reduce our liability insurance premiums. The ‘We Tried to Tell Them’ defense is good for a 20-percent discount. I need your touch on all three lethal forms — solid, vapor and liquid.”

Mildred thought a moment and recited:

“Watch for hail
“When you fetch the mail.”

“That’s beautiful. That’s awful. That’s perfect,” the governor said, then elaborated after Mildred glared at the “awful.”

“Mrs. Smith, prose warnings are too matter-of-fact: ‘Slippery when wet.’ ‘Road may ice in winter.’ Those never get noticed,” he said.

“People are too stupid to drive slowly after an ice storm never believe such highway signs are meant for them,” she said. “What do you want of me?” Sometimes Mildred was a bit intolerant. Maybe it was her age.

“The Legislature wants a printed version of corny commercial jingles, the inept kind that race around your head hours after you’ve heard them,” he said, putting on his coat.

After that last insult, Mildred wished she hadn’t served the governor tea in her best china. A politician is more used to disposable cups imprinted with slogans.

Yet, she had been bored these last months. She got out a yellow legal pad.

Mildred initially considered fooling the state government by writing well. Then she understood her job. No one pays attention to clear writing.

A committee’s a commission, after all. She often wrote to order in the old days, though people demanded quality verse. Now, she settles for “bed of roses” even when thinking to herself.

She began writing with a good fountain pen.

A sticker to be affixed on all steam kettles:

“Grab a mitt or a potholder,
“For when you hear the whistle,
“That kettle didn’t grow colder.”

Meter, rhyme, both are fine, Mildred thought with a smile. Now for bathtub posters:

“They say cleanly is next to godly
“And scum always rises.
“But when your bathtub walls turn gray,
“Your quest toward divinity
“Could land you on your bum.”

Scum-bum. A diagonal rhyme — moving from internal to end-of-line — is barely acceptable. Thank heavens her rhythm is intact. She’d lose her pension if she ventured into free verse.


Cheating the Greeting Cards with Revolt for Originality

Loose Leaves column, 1st run Sunday 22 April 2001 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 2001 Donrey Media Group

BIG CEDAR LODGE, Mo. — What can be worse than amateur poetry? Perhaps only off-key singing by a relative you dare not criticize. On the other hand, what is better than specifically local verse? Nothing, provided such recitations come in short doses and at the right times.

A family friend, back in Fort Smith, used to write poems for special occasions. The last couple of times, he was taken aside and asked not to recite them anymore. He told me this over dinner a few years ago and then gave me a half-dozen of them, hoping for kind words.

He got them.

There was one for a young cousin on his wedding, some to honor birthdays or anniversaries of friends or family and one honoring a colleague’s retirement.

No one would have mistaken them for works of Tommy Eliot or Johnny Donne (or Bill Shakespeare), but they were personal and sincere. If the rhymes sometimes were forced, they at least were clever puns in the spirit of Ogden Nash.

Sadly, my friend — really my mom’s friend — was not well enough to come here for my mom’s birthday.

My big brother flew in from California and big sister from North Carolina. The reunion followed four months of planning, e-mails and toll calls (for this long-established, generally classy place does not have a toll-free number).

I presented Mom a couple of poems. She doesn’t need any more earrings or purses, especially now that we kids went in together on nice ones.

This seems a good time, weeks before the contrived Mother’s Day, to call a revolt against greeting-card companies, greeting-card shops and greeting-card aisles in multipurpose stores.

Etiquette experts agree handwritten notes outclass greeting cards, no matter how much one customizes the printed message.

A box of blank cards, from any of the above enterprises, can cost little more than a single, fancy greeting card.

Before or after “Happy Birthday,” “Happy Mother’s Day” or whatever, pen out a dozen words or a dozen lines about and to the recipient.

“I love you” is spoken or written too rarely. But for this, the Three Magic Words truly are not enough.

Folks might also use fancy pens and careful penmanship. I have to believe in the authenticity of crossed-out words. There is no choice, for I tinker with word choice, am easily distracted and am just sloppy. A last resort is to type it in and print it up.

Unfortunately, not everyone reads etiquette books. Despite good stationery and intentions, you may be rewarded by being thought of as cheap for not buying a $7.95 deluxe greeting card that takes two stamps even if you hand-deliver it.

Thank goodness I am married and no longer date women who think they know better. My wife actually does know better.

Fie, of course you can write as well as Hallmark. If your unique sincerity or cleverness dismays the recipients, get new friends. And new relatives while you’re at it.

My mom’s sonnet, however, would not come together. Desperate, already the seven of us seated at the 7 o’clock birthday dinner in Top of the Rock at Big Cedar, I returned to the lobby. In two minutes I wrote up two couplets on one of the index cards I always carry. It was just right, not to being mention short and timely.

7 at 7

Here we are, seven at seven
To celebrate a day stolen from heaven.
With Mom at the center, we turn
About, focus, years of love discern.

Two mornings after B-Day — “Hey, Mom, you don’t look a day over -0,” we joke — my sister-in-law insists I read the delayed sonnet at this, our last meal.

Life Is Not a Gift Shop

It takes something like a birthday
To group us in a lodge, after so long.
We could look back as … say-what? Say
“What if’s?” “What happened’s?” But, Mom, we are strong.
Surely a woman is more than her pride,
Yet that is all we, the three cubs, can see.
So entitled, we story-tell, not snide,
But, our picture of her, it may have to be.
What then to number? Count a string of jobs?
Count homes, hometowns; dare we tally her men?
The woman has to be more than these parts,
Must try to see the whole, for our sake, then.
We move day to day like bread by the slice.
From your end, the loaf with odd cuts is nice?

* * *

Before 1941, Ernie Pyle traveled across America. Those columns described small-town life. Pyle then traveled with the troops during World War II. The columns were unadorned and brisk. He merely wrote down what the boys said. This had not been done before. Or since. A Japanese sniper killed Pyle on April 18, 1945, a day now called National Columnists Day. It has no greeting cards as yet.