A Canzone for Comedy’s Kingdom
“Most comedians aren’t funny, daddy.” Maddie (seven years old), A Fairy in her Fairyland…
Thinking of hotels and schedules, part
Of me arrived in York on time. Life towered
Over life at Castle Howard, I’m told. Men parted
Ways with men at Hadrian’s-too-impartial-
Wall, the guidebook said. The Shambles’ people
Sold my daughter crisps. My scone departed
On some snickelway near Stonegate. Partial
To its victims, Clifford’s Tower made peace
Seem necessary in its damp height. Peace:
A thing with bricks: the joke York’s walls imported
As we napped next door. York Minster’s life
Came to where history took a viking’s life.
There the Rose Window brought the past to life
For Maddie. Yorkshire pudding ripped apart
Stray thoughts of food on the crypt tour. The life
Of parties filled its Horn of Ulf. When life
Handed us a barbican, two words
Came to my ears: Let’s dance! The Ouse’s life
Said bye, and hopped our train to Edinburgh. Life
Is funny in the North Sea’s shadow… People
Through a window threw a window, people
Said of Calton Hill. Another life
Was in the bagpipes, blowing whisky’s peace
And quiet down the Royal Mile. A peace
Divided served me haggis for some peace
Of mind. As Maddie made a friend for life
With travel, ghosts arrested “Rest in Peace,”
My heart and my attention by a Pic-
Tish war axe on display. The rains took part
In the Mons Meg of Maddie’s smile in pic-
Tures there, with laughter in her heart and peace
In mine. My tears the Firth of Forth moved toward…
I would’ve laughed, but the crags cried when towards
The palace, history fell flat on the peace
A child imagines is. Scott, of all people,
Got a monument to watch the people
Come and go by train. The kirks’ dead people
Waved, but homework makes the afterlife
Disappear. At Penrith Station, people
Boarded double-deckers, like the people
Standing still as sandstone by some pieces
Penrith Castle left. In Keswick, people
Skipped the longest colored pencil people
Never mocked with “pointless,” to take part
In a stone circle, its bleak peaks’ depart-
Ment. Cornish, safe cafés near Moot Hall… People
Clapped for its one-handed clock. To Words-
Worth’s cottage, time said nothing; we moved towards
Windermere on time. The sheep moved towards
Hills’ itineraries. Blackwell’s partial
Light set sail on the lake below. Herds
Of cattle spotted us up there, rewarded
By a vision of my own true peace:
Corri walked a thousand ginnels towards
Faith and family, up from Settle. Towards
Teatime, gin and tonics toasted life.
We left for Glasgow. Nighttime texted life:
“Typos are always wiht us.” Cheerful people
Breakfasted on sun around the People’s
Palace, strolled the River Clyde. Some people,
When jokes told in poor taste taste great, live life
In a necropolis… St. Mungo’s peace
Was in George Square, when Mackintosh taught part-
Ners how a wedding vow makes love to words.
The cattails sway. The ospreys overdose
on methadone. The day resumes unsigned.
Seductive isn’t worth, but has a price.
The Ozarks’ darkness steps from pine to pine.
Each water strider drives a creek’s Amen.
A perfect muskrat trap, the prairie grass
swings open like a gate. The banjoes sing.
The cattails sway. The ospreys overdose.
The value of what isn’t isn’t praise.
The clovers cover all our normal wrongs:
spent arrowheads, tossed guns and crickets’ eyes
on methadone. The day resumes unsigned.
A grand acquaintance, but an awful friend,
the starry sky looks down at each lake house.
The caverns pawn their earthy apothegm:
Seductive isn’t worth, but has a price.
The ripples grow as large- and smallmouth bass
tug at the end of a string. It comes in a can:
the fermented; the end of a thing and the past.
The Ozarks’ darkness steps from pine to pine.
What drives each water strider drives cement
and kin insane. A memory paints the west
too red for blood and spots a lion’s horn.
The cemeteries sleep. Like prison bars,
the cattails sway.
Portrait of Frida Kahlo by the Poet’s Daughter (Little Girl)
After Victor Hugo
Hang your drawing, Madeleine!
Hang it from the mandolin
Strings which spring has drawn
Closer and which sunlight climbs
Down to drown the world in rhymes.
Change the pitch of dawn!
Let it flower, Madeleine!
Let it shower Tamburlaine
Of that wounded Friday’s tears:
Deer, with Frida’s hope, and fear’s
If I were, dear Madeleine,
What the landscape gave the Seine
In your picture, you’d
See me in a parrot’s skull,
Tipsy on a thimbleful
If I were, sweet Madeleine,
Riches only paints contain,
I’d play hide and seek
There, among magnolias,
Broken columns and this bus
…Driven by a duck.
It’s all good, right Madeleine?
See, this heart’s a porcupine.
Memory’s down with that.
Chattanooga’s cactoid breaths
Think of pseudotsugo deaths.
Memory’s done with that.
Come to think, Miss Madeleine,
Of this Ford Econoline
Winged and giving birth,
What if burgled cupboards groped
Upwards, or the streets eloped
To annoy the earth?
Comb that light, Dame Madeleine.
Brush its dark potato vine.
Shut ice water’s eyes.
Velvet polycythemia’s stash
Crashes academia’s ash
And fly swatters’ flies.
Tell the sun, bright Madeleine,
“Sun, take one clomipramine,
Don your Sunday best!”
Braid its amuse-bouche with fright’s
Root, or Scaramouche’s tights.
Shine a peaked request.
Wrap a ribbon, Madeleine,
Round the poppies’ discipline!
If you wish, that brick
Kiln can wrestle erstwhile themes.
Or Diego, drenched in dreams,
Can rewind the chick.
Frame it for me, Madeleine!
If you wish, in palatine
Umbrage. Moses flags
From the monkey’s tray of scowls
Dressed like nurses dress, or dolls.
Midnight’s masked in rags.
Greene & Greene: The Gamble House
After Paul Muldoon’s “Sleeve Notes” from Hay
"And the most marvelous thing of all is that, while everybody is agreed to praise these remarkable institutions, there is not a single state which cares to imitate them." Xenophon, on the Spartan way of life, from the Constitution of the Lacedaemonians
“…The Romans lost no time in changing over to the Greek type [of military equipment]…for this is one of their strong points: no people are more willing to adopt new customs and to emulate what they see is better done by others.” Polybius, The Rise of the Roman Empire
The soul of grammar, in these teak corbels,
holds up nearly as much – I mean well – as one’s
private doubt. Scarcity’s nook concerns
every detail of the 8,100 square foot house.
I’m sure you already thought of this, but
that well-meaning king-post truss in the attic
squishes our previous faction until it is as small
as small can get, or cedar psychobabble
with a silver wash. As if for a grandson’s
nightlight, what it really took to hang this lantern
may prove positively pointless in its art glass’s
light, yet originality is not quite kaput
atop the Sarouk rugs in this realistic
entry way, whose extroverted flight is tan and tall.
Good Housekeeping included a fine article on the eco-
friendly alterations and additions made glad by Ivory.
Tsuba shapes are everywhere, like the brass
screws of prior commitments.
Bird’s-eye maple, with ebony inlays, dents
the dust jacket on my eyes for a good cause.
Japanese joinery pays meticulous
attention to what the stone path really means –
making inroads to some ideal adolescence –
in connection with shades of mushroom and moss.
“O come on, all ye lookie-loos,
come stand inside my ornamental pond
come wear the feathered boas
of the past the way my rooms wear echoes:
like an earring.”
Before the days of duck, duck, goose,
these bronze and silver slumbers
had a goal. “To wait upon you hand and foot
in kohl like building codes.”
The rear terrace, unlike many architectural gems,
is a perennial staircase
beyond the sunk costs of bed wetters and Archimedes.
This, then, must’ve been the bedroom’s
on the sleeping porch, with commonplace complacency.
I seem to recall its full-figured depth, its full-
figured fame on a black walnut fortune
carrying me off like a raven did a lizard
down the block just now. “Grief is greedier
than greed,” a man running his thumb along the rails
might say. It’s triangular as the nightingale’s tune
from the low-pitched front gable. I’d hazard
a guess these wrought iron straps were second-guessed by the dyer.
Was I a fool or not to park my Hyundai Accent
underneath that tree? It’s got a longer face than the Gospel of Mark.
Maybe it’s that babel of silence
hanging over this overhang…I’ve
a hunch it got Gustav Stickley’s goat to impersonate law and order
native lumber for the chairs.
A gnashing of green teeth outside “Little Switzerland”…
Voila! Not quite a canton or phantom twin,
but Pasadena appreciates
experiments in inglenooks and window seats.
What might strike odd itself as odd
is how barbaric air gets queued
up by opening the front door. Bungalow
or not, it was unwilling to fail Aunt Julia;
her covered balcony was making headway
toward the alameda
in her heart, I’m told. Her care
for each potted plant was no match for en plein air.
Before we hear the wrought iron straps play their Basement
Tapes, let’s listen to the soft sugar pine countertops in the kitchen cover “Gimme Shelter.”
The open mortise gives it moral flexibility.
This room was the boys’;
it’s spread out like a capillary
bed, you see. Emil
Lange emulated bone meal
for the gnarled California sigh
of the leaded art glass entry doors.
Green, disoriented muck and mire
is inextricably intertwined
through thick and thin and the piano’s wires.
Charles told Henry, “I’ve procured us all the best sorrows
in the local area.” To which Henry said, “Except tomorrow’s.”
Inside the din of the piano’s wires,
the Hall brothers wined
and dined as the Greenes cried out, “Meyer? You schmuck!”
and Meyer passed through the leaded art glass entry doors
to a calypso singer’s psi.
For want of a scarf joint, the meal
was served cold. The weather from Lima,
Ohio had come to pillory
what it had perceived as abys-
mal business practices; “Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.”
Before we take the freeway home, through rainfall’s “Helter Skelter,”
let’s wonder, in this butler’s pantry, what that thunder’s bass meant.
It almost reeks in earnest of chardonnay:
the secret in secret doors;
Row” has plenty of secrets that will always
be with us. Sick of feeling disgusted,
the front gables’ low-
furnished David B. Gamble’s foremost needs.
Is it any wonder the mullion’s design
is called the cloud lift,
by arts and arms, inspire milk and wine?
That foundation stone pretends to say “cheese”
like some chalk outline from Law & Order:
Special Victims Unit. Fugitive
or not, the corbels’ teak poetic license
is no match for the souvenir bookmark
I purchased in the garage for – dun, dun – 99 cents.
With religious eyes and scientific canine
teeth, these tourists play the part of supervisor.
Compared to perfect bedrooms,
bedrooms here put lonely geysers
to bed and shame. The softened edges of the dire
daylight disappear an eyesore
outdoors. These beams of burden indirectly knew a boudoir.
The low undulating walls
below, have come, in time, to imitate the coombs of Côte d'Or.
Emulating the imperfect, Tiffany lamps
adorn the writing desks.
The ornamental pond looks past the face of music’s symmetry
from clinker bricks. To catch a glimpse
of encaustic-tiled focus,
make like creeping ficus, up and over the vis-à-vis.
The coal of building codes
for several feet of longhand writing: “Is it gaol
or jail?” No one knows. The Lombards,
before the days of puff, puff, pass,
were used to hearing
kings’ demands in hallways like shoes.
I bet the Greenes called this beam “Boaz,”
as the kitchen’s soft sugar pine
countertops and values.
Taking a page from meaning, the exposed
rafters want someone to influence –
or, among the orange groves, you might say possess.
To look up from the sunken driveway to the pediment,
memory and passions form a gnarled posse
in a person standing naked as an accident.
Forgive my asking, but is it considered unsavory
to flourish within view of the Arroyo Seco?
The Gamble House, to cope with the gambrel
of time, emulates the gyroscope’s gimbal
like so: pulling out all stops, the nervous
stops with tsuba shapes that nowadays
are comfy in our comfortable ambition.
Not only do these ebony inlays, again
and again, reach out for empathy and tout,
like one agog at a shootout,
what’s real – I mean well – but they also learn
to imitate the no-tell motel’s
echoes from the sea and season’s turn.
It did it just an hour ago; the wide world’s forelock,
clipped and flipped à go-go. “Let’s paint the walls
white as ivory” didn’t stick.
Jake Sheff is a pediatrician in Oregon and a veteran of the US Air Force. He's married with a daughter and six pets. Poems of Jake’s are in Radius, The Ekphrastic Review, Crab Orchard Review, The Cossack Review, and elsewhere. He won 1st place in the 2017 SFPA speculative poetry contest and a Laureate's Choice prize in the 2019 Maria W. Faust Sonnet Contest. Past poems and short stories have been nominated for the Best of the Net Anthology and the Pushcart Prize. His chapbook is Looting Versailles (Alabaster Leaves Publishing).