Category Archives: short poems

Short Poem: ‘Cryo Limerick’

The correct thing to do, when you’re dead,
Is have someone take care of your head;
There’s no chance of more drama
Without Futurama –
Don’t say you weren’t warned – act, instead.

Humans have tried to beat death since forever. Chinese herbs, Egyptian mummification, unlikely (but lucrative) promises of Paradise. In the present rapidly-evolving environment, transhumanism thrives on the ideas of physically and genetically modifying us for a longer life, and cryonics suggests being frozen as an “ambulance to the future” when repairs might be possible. The “head in a jar” image captures the wry appreciation that this stuff may work in the future, but won’t be of any use to us. But so what if the chance of success is a fraction of a percent? That still beats the chances of further life after cremation, or after being processed through the bodies of worms…

This limerick was originally published in ‘Transhumanity‘, edited by James Hughes. Both the magazine and the transhumanist movement have gone through changes of name and state, but the ideas are no longer as far on the fringe as they were a couple of decades ago.

“Futurama…?” by Emanuele Rosso is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Short Poem: ‘Days’

Where do they go, the days, twirling around?
Leaves in a dust-devil, swirled on the ground –
Water makes whirlpools just touching a drain –
Then the basin is empty. And no days remain.

September, heading towards the equinox and (in the northern hemisphere) winter. The end of the summer, back to school, back to work, loss of freedom, into the cold and the dark. Another year gone–having a September birthday doesn’t help!–the trees giving up, dry leaves falling and whirling in outside corners of asphalt and concrete… Head south, where it is still summer!

This short poem was published on a page of short pieces in the September issue of Lighten-Up Online – thanks, Jerome Betts!

“Water down the drain” by David Blackwell. is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Short poem: ‘Every Little Mammal’

Every little mammal
Likes a little cuddle.
Man or mouse or camel,
Life becomes a muddle
If there is no cuddle
For the simple mammal.

There’s nothing much to this little poem. Sometimes an awareness of a rhyme or near-rhyme sparks a thought, sometimes a random thought contains words that rhyme, or nearly… and if it’s not a large thought, it’s not a large poem. But it’s there all the same. And if you’re really lucky, you can find an appropriate illustration…

This short poem was originally published, like a hundred others of mine, in Snakeskin. Thanks for all of them, editor George Simmers!

“Illuminated Manuscript, Collection of poems (masnavi), A mouse, clutching the reins of a camel, at a stream of water, Walters Art Museum Ms. W.626, fol. 94b” by Walters Art Museum Illuminated Manuscripts is marked with CC0 1.0

Short Poem: ‘Cultural Field Trip’

Properly stroppily,
Off to Thermopylae
Busloads of schoolchildren
Grudgingly go;
Hoovered, manoeuvred
Off into the Louvre’d
Be better for profs who are
Trudgingly slow.

No, I agree, that’s not a true Double Dactyl because it doesn’t have a single-word double dactyl line. It’s just one of those poems I’ve written for no other purpose than to play with rhymes. The poem was published in this month’s Snakeskin, editor George Simmers privately commenting: “As an ex-teacher I empathise with the trudging profs.”

“Mona Lisa Madness” by Joe Parks is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Short Poem: ‘Old Soldiers’

Sitting blowing bubbles
Each one a tiny world
Of monumental troubles
And how they all unfurled.

“The desert, Cairo, jaunty,
A blue room and whore –
And so I said to Monty –
And so we won the War!”

Bernard Law Montgomery, afterwards Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, was Britain’s star commander of the Second World War. “Unbeatable and unbearable” from North Africa to northwest Europe where he had control of all Allied land forces under Eisenhower, he was the figure that British veterans tended to suggest that they had had some useful contact with.

Always arrogant, opinionated and outspoken, he later opposed American tactics in the Vietnam War, as in the New York Times in 1968: “The United States has broken the second rule of war. That is: don’t go fighting with your land army on the mainland in Asia. Rule one is, don’t march on Moscow. I developed those two rules myself.” Familiar enough to fans of Risk and Civilization and The Princess Bride…

“Two Old Soldiers” by jf01350 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Short Poem: ‘Young Men Go Off To War’

Young men go off to war
And score
Deaths, rapes, across an alien nation
Which they chimp-like can revel in –
Which they in later years regret,
Never discuss, never forget.

The one thing that Donald Trump and Joe Biden could agree on: get out of the trillion-dollar waste of Afghanistan. Trump had Pompeo negotiate with the Taliban–the US would leave in 2021 so long as the Taliban didn’t kill any more US personnel; he presumably wanted to wait until the 2020 election was over, because the withdrawal might be chaotic and would look bad anyway. Biden stuck with the Trump agreement, and his calculation must be that, messy or not, hopefully it will be ancient history by the 2024 election.

You can’t fault the US for wanting to go after Osama Bin Laden after 9/11… but that’s separate from trying to stay and nation-build a supremely difficult and corrupt country. And it was probably not criminal under international law, whereas the subsequent Iraq invasion *was* illegal and breached the UN Charter, as Secretary-General Kofi Annan said. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz (and Tony Blair)… many people see them all as war criminals, unpunished, and leaving their front-line pawns (if they survived) to live with guilt and PTSD.

The American defeat in Vietnam turned out to be very good for the Vietnamese. Let’s just hope things turn out well for the Afghans. And congratulations to Joe Biden for getting the US out – you can’t impose human rights on a corrupt tribal society by invasion. It doesn’t work like that. There are far more constructive ways to approach international human rights issues… like cleaning your own house first.

This poem was published by Visions International, a poetry journal with perhaps a brighter past than present.

“New recruits at physical jerks – Flinders” by State Library Victoria Collections is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Short poem: ‘Life Extension’

Religion leers
“Join me, or you face death”
And History jeers
“Inevitable death”,
But Science still adheres
To schemes to postpone death…
The path of a 1000 years
Starts with a single breath.

It’s interesting to speculate how long it will take before humans can start regenerating enough key pieces of our ageing and failing bodies that we can uncap our lifespan. A matter of decades rather than centuries, I think–but not soon enough for me, I fear.

The last sentence of the poem riffs on the Chinese saying attributed to Lao Tzu (also rendered as Laozi and Lao-Tze) that “The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.”

The poem was originally published in Bewildering Stories, a weekly of speculative writing of all types, edited by a multinational team but headquartered in Guelph, Ontario.

Photo: “Death” by Andrea Kirkby is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Short poem: ‘Beach’

Here on the vast beach, you, my hundred friends,
Can see how sea stretched tight round curved earth bends,
How empty sun-filled sky fills timeless Time.
My arms stretch out, but you can’t see how I’m
Trapped, caged, confined, boxed in, in love, alone.
Come, sun, burn beach and skin, bleach hair and bone,
Flay life to its essentials: love alone.

This poem was originally published in The Rotary Dial, a wonderfully rich monthly published as a pdf in Toronto, much missed after suddenly stopping publication. It was edited by Alexandra Oliver and Pino Coluccio, both prize-winning Canadian formal poets, Oliver being the more serious and Coluccio less so, as his collection titled ‘Class Clown‘ suggests.

Coluccio was very kind in comments about my poem, calling it “Borderline Hopkinsesque in a way, ecstatic quality” which made me reevaluate and revalue it. This is one of the interesting things about having your work published, or even merely read by others – things that you take for granted may be found exciting by others, just as things that excite you may just elicit yawns elsewhere. One human may have some diversity of moods, but that is nothing compared to the enormous diversity of humans as a whole. It is fascinating to hear the reactions of others, in all things.

‘Beach’ was subsequently republished in The HyperTexts and in Better Than Starbucks.

WARNING: The Rotary Dial domain name now appears to have been taken over by an unrelated and anonymous group. I would avoid it.

Photo: “beach” by barnyz is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Short poem: ‘Golden Childhood’

Golden girl on a sunset beach
With a dog and a horse,
Golden boy spears a silver shark
Under the sea;

Is such a dream forever in reach
Or forever false?
We stumble, emotional, through the warm dark
Back to the sea.

I wrote this in my 20s when I was saying goodbye to the Bahamas – my father had died, my mother had sold the house and moved back to Europe. For the next few decades I lived in Denmark, Canada, the US… but eventually came back to the sea.

The poem was originally published in Candelabrum. I always had difficulty with that seventh line. Originally it had “emotionally”, and I sort of justified it with the line itself being a stumble… but it’s a bad line, too many syllables, too many consonants. Sometimes when I submit a poem to a magazine, the editor points out a flaw, and more rarely, offers a useful alternative. Poems can always be tinkered with.

Photo cropped from “Girl riding a horse at sunset on Bali” by Jimmy McIntyre – Editor HDR One Magazine is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Short Poem: ‘For Eliot’

I guess
Success
Not elation
Or creation
Alone may men not mock;

God bless
T.S.,
Spared the temptation
Of our generation —
Writing rhymes for rock.

First published in Metverse Muse in India. As you might guess, I wrote this before Andrew Lloyd Webber set that “Old Possum” T.S. Eliot‘s rhymes to music for the West End and Broadway hit Cats, disturbing everyone (except the Poetry Foundation)’s understanding of both Eliot and musicals.

Photo: “T.S. Eliot” by duncan is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0