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Jake Sheff 

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.

Missouri Rag


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

   With inhabitants

Of that wounded Friday’s tears:

Deer, with Frida’s hope, and fear’s

   Weeping coconuts. 


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

   Of decrepitude. 


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

sink-or-swim ethos

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-

pitch somehow

furnished David B. Gamble’s foremost needs.


Is it any wonder the mullion’s design

is called the cloud lift,

when crafts,

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).

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