This is a poem I wrote when I was courting my wife. I read it to her over the phone late one night. She had heard the few Sam Cooke songs played on the radio (You Send Me, Venus, etc.) but no others. At one point as I read it to her, she let out a little gasp, one of those sudden inhalations that let me know I really got her. Since I quote some Sam Cooke’s lyrics in the poem, I give him more credit for that gasp than myself. But for all the enjoyment his singing has given me, it is credit gratefully given.
The poem will be vastly improved by listening to the Sam Cooke song referenced while reading – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwuCLxCfdB0
I can’t watch a sitcom so soon after the news.
Too much sadness has left my heart barren tonight.
Sirens are screaming somewhere in the distance
In this old world, it seems like nothing is right.
Television and movies seem to thrive on this stuff.
I suppose it keeps the almighty bucks rolling in.
Maybe peace and quiet never last very long
Because so many profit from horror and sin.
So let’s turn off the TV and light a few candles.
Put on some Sam Cooke – an album, not a CD.
I know they sound better, but they have no charm.
I like the lived-in crackles of an old, vinyl LP.
Turn it up loud enough to drown out the madness,
The hubbub of all this progress for its own sake.
Sometimes all the mayhem invades me too deeply
And I need some soft music to ease the heartache.
Yeah, that’s better. Nobody could sing it like Sam.
The sweet, simple melody makes you feel so fine.
I’ve heard this song so many times, it’s part of me.
It’s like I wrote it for you; like the lyrics are mine.
If I go
A million miles away
I’ll write a letter
Each and every day
‘Cause honey, nothin’, nothin’
Can ever change this love I have for you
There aren’t many refuges in this old city;
The silence marred by shouts and alarms.
I’m just old-fashioned – born too late, as they say.
I hide in music, but especially in your arms.
Even Sam fell victim to the night and this city,
Shot down in his prime in some seedy motel.
He had so much left to give when he was taken.
His music makes me feel like I knew him so well.
Those old songs never fail to quiet my soul.
I wish this world could be the one they created.
Though I know their harmony is just an illusion.
Back then, like today, folks still fought and hated.
Music brushes away the dust of this world
And reinvents it again the way it should be.
My favorite songs are a lot like fairy tales.
They turn their back on reality, just like me.
Music and love both serve a similar purpose
For a union of souls is the grandest refuge of all.
In this slow dance, we create our own fairy tale.
I’m the prince and you’re the belle of the ball.
Oh, you’re the apple of my eye
You’re cherry pie
You’re cake and ice cream
You’re sugar and spice and everything nice
You’re the girl of my dreams
Thank you for the peace you’ve given to me.
Thank you for loving me the way that you do.
I wish I could hold you just like this forever.
There’s no greater heaven than here, close to you.
Sam’s singing all the words I don’t tell you enough.
Strong, clear and sweet, and wrapped up in a song.
He’s smiling in heaven, singing just for you and me.
The day’s washed away, and we have all night long.
If you wanted
To leave me and roam,
When you got back,
I’d just say welcome home
Cause, honey, nothin’,
nothin’ can ever change
This love I have for you
Sam Cooke 1/22/31 – 12/11/64
Sam is buried at the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California, a few miles from where I live. I visited his grave one day (against cemetery rules) and sang a few of his songs next to it. I hope he heard in heaven and was merciful in his critique. What they lacked in virtuosity, they made up for in sincerity.
This is an old one, written one day when I was lamenting more than usual the loss of childhood and the state of mind I had then. I don’t have many photos from those days so I’ll borrow a few from my favorite movie, Stand By Me, which is more or less the same thing.
was sharing secrets in tree-houses
on warm, summer nights
as a golden sun set over a perfect world.
was Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher,
the flush of spring on their cheeks,
walking in the sunlight
along the banks of the Mississippi.
was filled with friends
who looked right at me
with clear eyes, hiding nothing.
Friends whose hopes were my hopes,
whose enemies were my enemies,
whose dreams intermingled with my own.
But, now, I am too full,
too full of the world.
I have seen too much.
The minds of those that, once,
I believed to be noble, incorruptible,
defiled by greed and vanity.
Spirits as wide and open as the dawn
mutilated by disappointment.
Poets of the finest natures
who could reach into hidden paradises
and pluck out rare blossoms
twisted by fear and desperation.
I am too full.
I have absorbed this world,
so bloated with pain and pretense.
It is in my pores too deep to wash away.
I can no longer recall
what it was to be clean, hopeful.
I have been polluted, inside and out.
I have seen too much.
I have breathed in, too long, this air
so thick with despair.
You were right, Robert,
though I didn’t believe it,
couldn’t believe it
from my lofty, teenage perch
twenty years ago.
But you were right,
“Nothing gold can stay.”
They say time heals all wounds.
Some it has but mostly
it has made my spirit lonely,
crying out for friends it once knew
before time took them away.
Friends whose word was everything;
friends who came running when trouble started;
friends who judged me for who I was,
not what I had accomplished.
But they are all gone now,
lost in the parade.
I forgive them
for I know what life demands of us.
I’ve changed, too.
But logic comforts only the cold intellect
and makes no less the longing,
no less the sorrow.
Do you remember me?
I remember you.
We were blood brothers once.
We pricked our thumbs, pressed them together,
and said we were bound for all time
but I don’t know where you are today.
Susan, my childhood love,
we drew a chalk rainbow on the sidewalk
and made promises, simple but deeply felt,
promises we knew we would keep
no matter how old we became.
Are the promises of childhood
still floating in the high air
above the sidewalk,
waiting to be fulfilled?
Or were they washed away
by time and the elements
along with the chalk rainbow?
None I have today fit the definition I had back then.
And I miss them.
I miss them
and I wish they could come back
though I know it is impossible.
Slugs have consumed the gardens of their spirits
and I wouldn’t recognize them anymore.
Perhaps they wouldn’t recognize me, either.
A little more is forgotten each day
like the remnants of childhood
sold off at garage sales
or passed along to other children
who can put them to better use.
It’s true – we must put away childish things
or this world will swallow us whole.
But I can still remember
when I was young,
how the sun, streaming
through the edges of my curtain
made me want to run out into it,
to my friends,
to new adventures.
I remember how easy it was to shake off sleep
with them calling outside.
I want to feel the sunshine
pull me out into the world again
the way it used to.
Through my window and out into the world.
The world I once believed it to be.
~ Mark Rickerby
There’s this guy named Hep Cat.
He wears a little cap.
He likes to sit in coffeehouses
writing lots of crap.
He sports a little goatee
and dresses all in black.
People say hello to him
but he never answers back.
He smokes nasty Galois cigarettes
and blows it all around.
He loves to bug the pink lung crowd
as they complain and cough and frown.
If someone dares confront him
about the awful stench,
He feigns to spit on their shoes
and shouts foul words in French.
I couldn’t stand his rudeness
but I’m not much for fighting
so I snuck behind him stealthily
to see what he was writing.
He looked so wise and worldly
from across the smoky den
but when I looked real close, I saw
he was writing “the” over and over again.
I was on my way in to the coffeehouse,
fixin’ to grab a quick bite
when I noticed a sign in the window
which read, “Poetry reading tonight.”
Now, I consider myself quite a novice
cuz my poems often tend to rhyme.
The beatniks and the free verse crowd
would prefer it if I were a mime.
I guess I’m just old-fashioned.
Some folks think I’m a little dense
for thinking a poem should have meter
and make some kind of logical sense.
I really just don’t understand it
for if the critics’ charges are true,
Shakespeare, Longfellow and Dickinson
were a bunch of idiots, too.
I gathered up all of my courage
and added my name to the list
but planned to go on real late
when everyone would be good and pissed.
That night, it was standing room only.
I held all my poems in my lap
waiting for my turn to read
as the MC delivered his rap.
The poets were diverse and interesting.
No two were alike at all.
An old man read a poem about kinky sex
and a biker read, “Ode To My Doll.”
A wild-eyed environmentalist
convinced me we all were doomed.
An ex-con described how he’d almost gone mad
until a rose in his cell had bloomed.
A lawyer read one that brought tears to my eyes,
recalling his Peace Corps days
and how his heart had grown steadily empty
building a beautiful, golden cage.
The night was in full swing.
They’d all set an expansive tone
when a guy came in through the alley door
and stood in the shadows alone.
He looked around the room with rancor
as if he wished we all were dead
and a storm of contempt and hostility
seemed to swirl above his head.
Then the MC called my name
so I stepped into the light
and read a couple of rhymers.
They were the first ones of the night.
I noticed a nice, old couple
breathe a deep sigh of relief,
and I saw the hipsters roll their eyes,
hoping that I would be brief.
When I finished, I got a nice round of applause
and, spent, returned to my chair.
Then the MC said, “Thank you, Mark.
Now, is there a ‘Hep Cat’ anywhere?”
He was wearing his usual uniform,
dressed in black from head to toe.
A turtleneck and a French beret
worn with a rakish slant, just so.
As I heard his name, I remembered.
I knew that I’d seen him before.
He was the guy that no one could stand.
A first-rate, Grade-A, crashing bore.
He always seemed to go out of his way
to be sullen, obnoxious and rude
and anytime he walked into the place,
he never failed to bring down the mood.
I shouldn’t have but I’d spied on him
a couple of months before.
He looked like he was writing a novel
but it was only “the”, nothing more.
I had kept the discovery secret
of the hideous pretense I had found.
He’d worked so hard building his image,
I couldn’t bear to tear it down.
“God love him,” I thought. “The poor guy.
He’s just too tightly wound.
Who am I to judge if he wants to hide
in some cheap disguise he found?”
He skulked slowly up to the stage
with his usual smirking frown
but instead of beginning, he waited
for the murmuring to die down.
I thought, “This guy is so arrogant.
He’s really a sight to behold.
For someone who writes nothing but “the”,
he sure is incredibly bold.”
Then I thought that maybe the “the” incident
was something I misunderstood.
Maybe it was some abstract exercise
and I was condemning him more than I should.
So I opened my mind, sat very still,
and decided to give him a chance.
After all, many geniuses often seemed mad
to those who judged by a cursory glance.
I even managed somehow to ignore
the bitter, seething contempt
He obviously felt for his audience.
No one from his ire was exempt.
Now I’m not exactly Sinatra
but this guy didn’t have a clue
about how to win the heart of a crowd.
He did everything but throw his own poo.
And though I struggled and strained to follow,
his poems just made no sense at all.
Disjointed fragments of insane dreams.
The King’s English mangled and mauled.
An old expression came to mind,
one that really seemed to fit.
“If you can’t dazzle ’em with brilliance,
then baffle ’em with bullshit.”
I finally had to give up in despair
but Hep Cat, he droned on and on.
Something about “flaming cantaloupes”
and a “door knob’s evil spawn”.
See what I mean? It made no sense at all!
I guess you just had to be there.
His words made me physically nauseous.
I felt like I needed some air.
But for etiquette’s sake, I toughed it out
till he finally looked up from the page.
The MC saw his chance, grabbed the mike
and said, “Okay! Next up on the stage . . .”
But Hep-Cat grabbed it right back and said,
“I better hear some applause and fast!
You people wouldn’t know poetry
if it jumped up and chewed on your ass!”
The hipsters pretended they got it
and broke out in whoops and cheers.
Some people clapped out of courtesy,
others just clapped out of fear.
Though Hep Cat weighed only 130 or so
and wasn’t much of a threat to the men,
everyone knows that a lunatic
can have the strength of ten.
“To hell with you all! I don’t need you!”
He yelled as he stepped off the stage.
“You all can kiss my sweet, white ass!”
then he kicked over a chair in his rage.
And away he stormed through the alley door
being a melodramatic pain-in-the-ass.
“Well, that was fun!” the MC said,
“I hope he’s off to anger management class!”
I was finally forced to conclude,
though it pained me to discover
first impressions are sometimes dead-on
and one CAN judge a book by its cover.
~ Mark Rickerby
Disclaimer: The pretentious coffeehouse poet-type guy portrayed in this poem is fictitious. Any similarity to any actual pretentious coffeehouse poet-type guy is purely coincidental.
Does anyone know where the little boy went?
The little boy who used to be me?
He’s still alive somewhere inside this shell,
Though the shell is all you can see.
Can you still see him reaching out for love
From behind these time-worn eyes?
The child with a heart as bright as the stars
Hiding beneath this thin disguise?
What a cruel trickster Father Time can be,
Changing our costumes as we age.
From infant to child, and from young to old,
A new character with every stage.
We might as well be four different people.
The adult barely resembles the child.
The external transformation is so complete,
Young and old are rarely reconciled.
But there are some whose eyes still twinkle,
For whom the child within never dies.
The outside world can see only the surface.
Only they know how their surface lies.
What can we learn from all this changing?
From the fact that nothing is real?
How can we judge by a deceptive façade
That hides the way we truly feel?
The way to get the whole picture, it seems
Is to think of everyone that we see
As the child they were, who they are today,
And the old person they soon will be.
We should also see them as dead and gone,
Their short life on earth finally done,
With all their trials rendered null and void,
All their battles either lost or won.
Whitman wrote, “The powerful play goes on
And you may contribute a verse.”
The same is true for every person we meet.
We make their lives better or worse.
Thus, we should measure disheartening words
And make sure they need to be spoken
So we won’t be among those who caused dismay
If they reach the end of life heartbroken.
And when those we’ve known are old and gray,
Remembering years they left behind,
Comforting words we said might return again
With the memory that we were kind.
I see pride all around me
Though I’m often quite confused
About the variety of reasons
For which the word is used.
Some are proud of country
And some are proud of race.
Others are proud just because
They have an attractive face.
But what do all these things say
About a person’s actual worth?
What point is there in being proud
Of an accident of birth?
I know this may sound nasty.
Who knows, I may be out of touch
But to be proud of a thing like race,
One must not have accomplished much.
I could say I’m “white” and “American”
but what on earth does that prove?
The only thing that matters
In this life is what I DO.
The only thing that matters
Is the kindness that I show
And the work that I contribute
To help myself and others grow.
When I wander through a graveyard
And read inscriptions on the stones,
I see only words of love and praise
Written in rich, poetic tones.
There’s no mention of nationality
Or of looks or wealth or race.
Those things don’t seem to mean much
In a hallowed, spiritual place.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my country
And that can never be undone
But it makes more sense to measure
Who I am by what I’ve done.
For when my heart stops beating
And my time on earth is through,
The only thing strong enough to last
Will be the loving deeds I do.
What is it then, you ask, that makes
My life wealthy and well-spent?
The greatest joy I know are poems
Which, into this world, I’ve sent.
To know that some small words I wrote
Have eased a troubled, aching heart.
There is no greater feeling.
There is no greater art.
And maybe someday, years from now,
In some far-off place and time,
Some traveler will find my grave
And brush away the leaves and grime.
He’ll kneel down in the grass,
Lay his hand on the cold stone
And say, “I came here to thank you.
You made me feel much less alone.”
I suppose that’s why I struggle
To find the right words to say –
To be like the poets who guided me
When I had lost my way.
So I’ll keep on writing poetry
Until my life is through at last,
And I’m honored that they’ll be read
Centuries after I have passed.
And if you ask me what I’m proud of,
I won’t hesitate. I know it.
I’ll say it loud and clear, my friend –
“I’m a writer. I’m a poet.”
(c) 2006 Mark Rickerby
The Lion and the Flea
On the wind-tossed bluff, the lion stood,
Quietly surveying his vast domain,
With immense power emanating
From his fiery eyes and flowing mane.
From the weeds below, a tiny flea
Leapt onto the enormous lion’s paw.
The flea’s strength was its invisibility,
Which made it safe from the lion’s claw.
So the flea survived on the lion’s blood
And the moral – I’m sure you can guess.
No matter how hard the little flea sucked,
He could never make the lion any less.
(c) Mark Rickerby 2014
I was driving with my four year-old today and seeing if she could remember the names of the months and the order they came in. She did pretty well (with a little hinting at first letter sounds.) Then I asked her if she remembered the names and order of the seasons. She missed a few so I thought about how I could help her remember them easier. As usual, I wrote a poem. I read it to her tonight at bedtime and she seemed to enjoy it. Feel free to share it with your little ones! 🙂
Months and Seasons
In January, the year begins
and the air is crisp and cold
Winter’s snowy beard is long
and he’s starting to get old.
In February, it’s not so chilly
but Old Man Winter still holds on
for he knows the spring is coming
and when it does, he will be gone.
In March, the first signs of spring
Come with a whisper, not a shout.
Green buds begin to peek to see
if it’s safe to come back out.
In April, bright sun showers come.
The air is full of spring’s perfume
as bees and birds and butterflies
soar and glide from bloom to bloom.
In May, the sun shines brighter
on all the children as they play.
After months of cold, the flowers
Put on an exuberant display.
In June, the sun grows anxious
for its days of glory to begin.
Spring is summer’s closest friend
so we see each, and they both win.
In July, the sun is beating down.
Every creature seeks the shade,
dreaming of cooler winter months
and the flowers spring had made.
In August, the sun starts to wane.
It’s fury once again is spent.
The autumn comes to give it rest
and asks it kindly to relent.
In September, cool winds blow again
as if to warn of winter’s chill.
Days are filled with schoolyard fun
and nights are long and still.
In October, the sun is all but gone.
Leaves that were green begin to fade
to brown and yellow, red and gold.
And in dying, beauty’s made.
In November, the trees prepare
for the long, cold months ahead.
Only the heartiest flowers grow
and the trees’ leaves all are shed.
In December, the other seasons
are covered over when it snows
but winter has beauty all its own
as the year comes to a close.
So that’s the story of the months
and the seasons we love to see,
each glorious in their own ways,
each full of grace and majesty.
Mark Rickerby (c) 2015
When I was a child, I thought there was a wall between childhood and adulthood, a wall I would climb over one day and never look back. But there is no wall. The child I used to be keeps showing up all the time and whispering “come and play” while I’m trying to do adult things. Truth be told, I invite him in because he’s the only thing that keeps me from losing my mind entirely. I even memorized an Aldous Huxley quote so I could say it to anyone who accuses me of being immature.
“The childlike man is not a man whose development has been arrested. On the contrary, he is a man who has allowed himself to continue to develop while most adults have muffled themselves in the cocoon of middle-aged habit and convention.”
Upon hearing this, they will usually say something like, “Oh! Well, if Aldous Huxley said it, go ahead and keep being a jackass.”
I finally decided to write children’s books so I can stay a child forever, and make a few bucks like adults are supposed to do.
This fear of being an adult is probably a composite of all the unfortunate adults I met throughout my life who grew up too much, who lost the child completely, and became pale, gray, dusty, lifeless shells. Some eyes have twinkles and some don’t. Many things can put it out, mainly grief, or loss of any kind. I want to keep mine. I’ll die before I let it burn out. We’ve got to fight for our twinkles.
Playing with my daughters helps, too. Their world is so much bigger than mine. As hard as I protect my twinkle, and though I have never stopped playing with the child I was, I’ve been a grown-up for so long now, I have forgotten much. It’s inevitable. Thankfully, my children let me into their world and are always happy to show me around.
Two worlds have I known along the path of this life –
one of serenity, the other of strife.
The first world I knew was a magical place
of warm smiles and laughter and kind-hearted grace.
Of meadows and tulips, wood shoes and white blouses.
Of bread trails and bonnets and gingerbread houses.
Of blind mice and windmills and Little Jack Horner.
Of Winnie and Tigger and the tree at Pooh Corner.
Of fun-loving pirates and billowing sails.
Of serpents and mermaids and friendly, blue whales.
My young eyes saw the world as a sweet, gentle place
without hatred or killing over nation or race.
There was no better or worse, only different from me
and it made life enticing, a grand mystery!
I remember gazing in wonder, unexamined and pure,
at the indigo sky. Oh, the thoughts it allured!
So many places someday I would see!
So many people to share it with me!
But the wind-spinning freedom which was my young world
grew shrouded in darkness as adult years unfurled.
And the strangest thing is I never noticed peace die.
I just knew it was gone and I didn’t know why.
Thus began the long years of searching for answers,
questioning poets, musicians and dancers,
politicians and teachers, gurus and sages,
spending my youth between dusty pages
to recapture a feeling, stolen or lost,
and hold it again, no matter the cost.
Many years have passed now. I’ve grown old and gray
and I watch the games that my grandchildren play.
I can hardly recall how my youthful heart yearned
and I won’t bore you with stories of the lessons I’ve learned.
But I will tell you this – joy isn’t somewhere “out there.”
It cannot be studied or found anywhere.
It’s something you’ll either let in or you won’t,
something you give to yourself or you don’t.
Do you hear what I’m saying? All the searching’s for naught!
All that you need, you’ve already got.
There will surely be pain. That’s life’s one guarantee.
But how much we suffer – that’s up to you, and to me.
– Mark Rickerby (c) 2004
Since there’s still some time left to travel this summer, here’s something that will hopefully inspire you to (as Jimmy Stewart said in It’s A Wonderful Life) “shake the dust of this sleepy, little town off your boots and see the world!”
I lived on the Greek island of Santorini one summer many years ago and have dreamed of returning ever since. Here’s a poem about my happy memories of that time, and an homage to Greece and the Greek people. I hope you enjoy it. Opa!
Raven hair falling across the pillow.
Denim hanging over a wooden chair.
Half-written poems litter the table.
The village is dancing, everywhere.
This frenetic crossroads of the world,
bursting with life, is heaven to me.
So many people I haven’t met yet!
So many places I’ve yet to see!
The wind is cool but the sun is rising.
Bikes are waiting, tickets to anywhere.
We’ll ride this morning through the hills
then relax in the sand without a care.
Tropical oils are carried by ancient winds
as life-loving hedonists deepen their tans.
A girl weaves bright threads into your hair.
A radio plays melodies from faraway lands.
I dive from a cliff into the bright blue Aegean
and return to you, fresh as a newborn child.
We lie together on rocks ’til we’re golden brown,
then rush back home to heed the call of the wild.
On the way, a smiling man sells us homemade red wine
as a spectacular sunset ends one more perfect day.
The yellow lights of the village flicker and twinkle
inviting everyone to come and eat, dance and play.
What else could we need in life? What else but this?
Reveling in all that it is to be human and young.
How many live lifetimes never knowing this feeling?
How many die with their sweetest songs unsung?
So come with me, now – not tomorrow or “someday”.
Right now! Pack your bags. We’re leaving tonight.
The wide world is throbbing outside our windows.
It’s time to do EVERYTHING we said that we might!