All-star show

Cassiopeia is on lead guitar,
Centaurus is on drums,
Virgo toots a saxophone
and Gemini just hums.

Orion is lead singer
in the all-star cosmic show.
Canis Major sings the high notes,
Canis Minor, those below.

All around us, every night,
the cosmic party jives,
the syncopated rhythms
of our constellated lives.

No need to buy a ticket,
free entry at the door.
Enjoy the music while it lasts
— there won’t be an encore.


Morning prayer

At ten to eight I stoop to fate
and gibber out of bed,
praying for an earthquake,
with many thousands dead.

I listen to the BBC,
hoping for disaster:
a plague of killer rabbits,
or a typhoon near Doncaster.

Slouching down the motorway,
I yearn for total carnage:
a lightning bolt from heaven
or a landslide close to Barnage

‘Each dawn I die’, the poet said,
but what the hell would he know?
He doesn’t drive to Sheffield
for the morning shift at Twemlow’s.



The shutterbugs are swarming
outside my bedroom door:
they’d love to get a photograph
of me and Eleanor.

‘Fie upon thee, shutterbugs,
thrice fie and cold damnation!
Can’t a chap bedip his pipe
without this scrutination?’

‘Away, away, vile snappers,
before I lose my senzes
and bring my stout shillelagh
crashing down upon your lenses!’

‘Did Ansell Adams die for this,
did Warhol kick the bucket,
to snap a gentle beldam
as she’s just about to s—k it?’


Travel advice

I can’t speak for Marco Polo
or for Captain Cook.
but I do know that travelling
is not for every schmuck.

Consider Captain Weaver,
who left from Icefloe Head
in a barrel of tomatoes
that froze and sank like lead.

Consider Ebeneezer Tweeze,
explorer of the Nile.
who hired a team of turtles
and barely went a mile.

And on this point who can forget
the fate of Wandering Walter,
whose journey to Medina
left him stranded in Gibraltar?

So if you plan to travel,
remember most of all
that the world is very big,
and you are very small.


A note to the D.

The Rivers Nursery introduced the peregrin peach in 1903, and I haven’t heard a single complaint about it from that day to this. Everyone loves the peregrin peach, and the Rivers Nursery is held in high esteem around the world.

In contrast, the nuclear bomb was introduced in 1945, and I’ve heard nothing but complaints about it from Day One.

The solution is simple: turn over all weapons production to the Rivers Nursery. They’re beautiful people, believe me.


Technique poètique

People are fascinated by the process of poetic composition, and often ask me about my technique. It’s really not as complicated as people imagine, and I’m happy to share it here:

1. Select any book and open it at page 25.

2, Now select the word that is five lines down and two words across on that page, and make a note of it.

3. Open a different book at page 33 and select the word that is eight lines down and four words across. Again, make a note of it.

4. Continue in this way, using increments of 8, 3, 2 (for humour), 11, 3, 5 (for satire), and 14, 0, 1 (for inspirational).

5. When you reach the end of a line in any book, make a new line in your poem, and continue to calculate as before.

6. For the total number of words required, subtract the total number of pages in the first book from the corresponding number in the second book. The square of the result is the total number of words needed for your poem.

NOTE: You must begin at page 25 for every new poem, regardless of genre. There are no exceptions to this rule, unless you are unable to appreciate the difference between poetry and posturing.


The cure

I might take a walk into town later today, if the sun comes out. If not, I’ll spend a few blissful hours at home with Compton & Toller’s Herbal Compendium, where I have a lot of friends too.

It’s a marvellous book — over 700 pages! — with large colour photos of nearly all the herbs under discussion. They’re listed alphabetically — from Abizzia Bark to Yucca — and within each section, our authors discuss their history, how to cultivate them at home, and how to use them in cooking and/or medicine.

For most people, I think the main interest will lie in the vast range of health conditions — from Abdominal Cramps to Yeast in the Nethers —that can be treated very successfully with natural herbs. For instance, did you know that Night-blooming Pigweed is very effective against…..

Hold on, is that…?

Yes, the sun is out… woo-hoo!

Now go away.



We anchored off Cape Anticipation, and waited. Air and sea were calm, but I sensed uneasiness among the crew. Cascarino and Delamere were on the poop deck, as usual, but they were silent. They seemed watchful, hesitant. They were hauling lines, looking sometimes at each other, and sometimes, as one man, towards the shore. Then I realised the whole crew was behaving in the very same way, like mumchance concelebrants at the burial of the dead. To a man (and two dogs) the crew was looking towards Cape Demise, which lay abaft our starboard by five hundred metres.

As their Captain, I felt it my duty to try to break the spell (if spell it was) that
had been cast upon the whole of HMS Clueless. You’ll see in my Report that
I first asked Flyleaf to help me, but he, like everyone else on board, was mute,
motionless, marmoreal, immutable. So on my own account, I dragged Old Dunsinane up from my cabin and fired off a salvo  —  three loud halloos in rapid succession that shook the air and echoed off the cliffs at Bounceback Point.

But outcome came there none, out. I might as well have fired Old Dunsy under water, at forty fathoms, for all the issue it produced on the spellbound surface of the frozen earth.

As the salvo’s echo died away, and dissolved in the gathering gloom, I noticed that Partington, the cabin boy, was shivering and slavering like a rabid dog, at the foot of the mainmast. I rushed to the lad  —  for lad he was  —  and my heart bled to see him in the throes of some supernal paroxysm that wracked his slender frame. He was babbling incoherently, incessantly. It sounded like “Reefs in the Andaman Sea”, or “Keep some bananas for me”. I just couldn’t be sure. Whatever the case, my old heart misgave me to see him in such a state, and to be unable to help him. Ordinarily, I would have prepared a poultice of hot mustard and fiery twemlows, but the lad was just fourteen! What right had I to intervene? By this time, all certainty had fled the ship, and was languishing on the sand at Benighted Beach, and I was loath to follow.

I studied the coastline with heightened scruple, but to no avail. It was a bleak, desolate void, from Faraway Point to Other End Cove. A feeling of  —  what?  —  came over me. I’d felt it only once before, at Cape Slightly Alarmed, but not as keenly as now.

What happened next lies deeply engraved in the heart of  —  what? I’ll never understand it, as long as I live. It’s all in my Report.

But one thing is certain: words are beautiful, and we are infinitely blessed by their fathomless treasures.

© Gerald Nelson, 24 April  2017

Monkey puzzle

There should be something you can take
to make everything alright.
We’ll call it Twemlow’s Potion
— just a spoonful every night.

Then the whole world will be grinning
like nine demented apes,
we’ll be leaping from the rafters
and swinging from the drapes.

But we’ll soon grow tired of happy,
and of endless jolly japes.
Then we’ll sit around like monkeys
asking ‘How can we escape?’


The poet’s progress

I’d like to be a pote of note
like Tennyson or Keats,
then I’d put my hair in curlers
and flounce about the streets.

‘Mais oui, Madam, a poet
of considerable renown!
Perhaps you’ve read my sonnet,
‘The Beldam & the Clown’?’

‘It caused a huuuuge sensation
in the New York Times.
Cosmo Twilb reviewed it,
and adoooored my silken rhymes.’

— ‘Can’t say I ever ‘eard of it,
cos pomes is not my line,
though I do like your ‘airdo,
— can’t do a thing with mine!’

And so I progress through the throng
of dull unlettered churls,
and cause a huuuuge sensation
every time I toss my curls.


Stirring the soup

I always find it difficult
to make a quick decision:
Would choosing Campbell’s Oxtail Soup
besmirch me in derision?

The Campbells faction would say ‘No’
— they’re loyal to the brand —
but what of Baxter’s Beefy Broth,
‘The Finest Ever Canned’?

You see my cruel dilemma,
the cause of my dismay?
The Campbell/Baxter problem
simply will not go away.

Round and round the problem turns,
in an endless loop
— and what is it that distinguishes
a broth from a soup?


Press here

I might try some sabre-rattling
among the superpowers;
just a bit of harmless fun
to pass the idle hours.

‘Donald — look behind you,
old Pooty’s got a gun!
Pooty, put your shirt on,
and march upon the Hun.

‘Eternal leader, Mr Kim,
why not launch a rocket,
somewhere in the ocean,
where the baddies cannot stop it?

Mrs May (if I may),
you look a little ruffled.
Have you tried a nuclear bomb,
a bull’s-eye on Brussels?

Let’s all get together,
put an end to this pretence:
just press the goddam button
cos I’m sick of CNN.


The tailor’s dilemma

Can the pantaloons of ardour ever be repaired,
after being torn to tatters in the turbine of despair?

Can the cuffs of youthful candour ever be restored,
after being decimated in the cyclone of discord?

Can the feathered caps of early joy be ever worn again,
after being tossed into the air by nasty evil men?

These and other questions I have often asked my shrink,
but he just tells me ‘Cut it out, and go easy on the drink’.

Sentimental education

I’ll bet that when Hitler was a toddler, his Mum used to tickle him under the chin and say:

— ‘Who’s my favourite little boysie-woysie, eh? And won’t you promise your old Mumsy-wumsy you won’t invade Poland when you’re a big boy?’

— ‘I pwomise’. (But in German, of course: ‘Ich pwomise’.)

Similarly, Jack the Ripper was cute as a button at four years old. His chin was constantly being tickled by every passing beldam in Whitechapel:

— ‘Aww, so cutesy-wootsy! Such a goody-woody ickle boy!’

You see how chin-tickling, combined with mawkish nursery babble, can have deadly consequences, though they may lie dormant for many years.

Think of the suffering that could have been avoided if these infants had had a manly father-figure to give them clear, unsentimental instruction:

— ‘Don’t touch Poland and never hit a woman. Got it, son?

— ‘Got it, Dad. Any chance of a tickle?’

A beard with a point

I take special pride in my Vandyke beard, which is both scholarly and waggish.

Weekly pruning of the Vandyke is a ceremonial affair: sharpened Toledo snippers, a fragrant pomade of apple & cognac, a brush of hairs from the lumbar region of a Siberian fox. These are carried by Twemlow to the casement window, where the light is best just before noon. Next, a pewter dish of hot (not scalding) water, and the looking glass I stole from a tribe of Berbers in Morocco.

Then the crafting can begin: angles are measured and re-measured, the point is honed and re-honed, until courtly elegance is teased from rusticated gloom.

The beldams certainly appreciate a well-pruned Vandyke, and the pointier the better. When I join them afterwards in the Orangerie, I can actually hear their maidenly intakes of breath as I enter the room.

Call it vanity, but call it vanity with a social purpose. With my crafted Vandyke and my Pumblechook breeches, I like to think that I bring some glamour to their dull lives.


Man & mentigo

A casual glance in the mirror on Tuesday revealed an isolated pock, signifying nothing, By Friday, however, that isolated pock had became a full-blown mentigo, signifying a pustular eruption on an unprecedented scale. Pock followed pock, until by Saturday afternoon, they were fighting for space on my face like dunes on the moon.

I tried everything: laundry-grade steam, salves of mustard and fiery twemlows, hot towels infused with arnica and sosporetum, and the epidermal layer from the cheeks of woodland stoats.

But all to no avail! The mentigo had taken a firm hold, and would not be suffered to abate one jot, much less to take up its bed and walk.

I’m not ashamed to say that I cried — howled! Call it vanity, but a pock-marked face in semblance of a toad is not endearing, under any system of aesthetics. (Kant may demur, but look at the face on him.)

For days I lay prostrate on my bed, dreading visitors, shunning any contact with my fellows. Kafka’s Gregor sprang to mind, and did not bring any comfort — remember how he ended up?

But — as I said afterwards to Pilbeam of the Times — the face that launched a thousand pocks can also bounce back from the knocks and grab them smartly by the rocks to re-assert its pallor.

And that’s exactly what I did: superb trowel work (not seen since Tintoretto), and a backward glance at Michelangelo’s David — that’s all it took to create what you see before you today.

Oh, you may say it lacks expression, that it’s frozen, frigid, featureless, forbidding, frightening even.

To which I say ‘A fig for your f-words. My physog is mine own, and I wear it proudly, if heavily. How many of you can say that, truthfully?’

We’re leaving now, McAlpine. Bring the truck around.

Face it

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day,
or cut right to the chase?
If summer ever looked like you
she’d never show her face.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day,
or stop prevaricating?
If summer wore a face like yours
the earth would stop rotating. 

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day,
or get right to the point?
Your face in summer sunlight
puts my whole world out of joint.


Family affairs

Let’s see if Dale Lombardo
has anything to add
to the statement he made earlier
about his missing dad.

So, Lombardo fils,
what about Lombardo père?
You really think he’s run away
on some steamy love affair?

‘That’s the way I see it,’
says spry Lombardo fils,
‘He’s travelling with a beldam
though he’ll claim that she’s his niece.

I’ve seen the two together,
and I’ve even seen him kiss her.
As far as I can work it out,
she’s my eldest sister.’


The lonely impulse

I had just started on the head when the phone rang.

Bloody typical! I’d been all alone the whole weekend, then Ring-ring, Ring-ring (really loud), just as I was starting to work.

And to make matters worse, it was some twat selling double glazing. Well, you can imagine how I felt. That sort of thing puts me right off my stroke. You need to be relaxed — poised even — before you even consider home decapitation. If you’re not, you’ll make an almighty mess of it, believe me.

I switched off the phone, but the interruption had unsettled me. I just couldn’t concentrate. I threw myself onto the ottoman and lay there for hours, fuming.

— Did the phone ring when Michelangelo was daubing the Sistine Chapel? — No!

— Did Shakespeare have to listen to double glazing salesmen? — No, he did not, and the result speaks for itself!

Modern life is just not conducive to the lonely impulse that is and always has been the wellspring of great art.

I know I’m probably over-sensitive, but I can’t help it.

And stop reading this — you’re making me nervous.



Let’s see if Seymour Clearly
has anything to say
about the disappearance
of the Prince of Mandalay.

— Where were you, Seymour Clearly,
on the night of June the twelfth?
Were you at home in bed
or engaged in acts of stealth?

— At home in bed, Inspector,
dreaming of the East,
with mango trees and honey bees
and wild exotic beasts.

— I’m glad to hear it, Seymour,
for the Prince cannot be found.
If you see him on your travels,
just call and we’ll come round.

— Righty-ho, Inspector,
you can rely on me,
your vigilant explorer
in the land of reverie.


The squinzies trimmed

Oh I love to twill your dillbees
and to tweek your bizzly moll,
though I sometimes get my fingers caught
in the squinzies of your knoll.

You think that you might shave it
or maybe just a trim?
The twilling would be thrilling
cos your dilbees are so slim.

— Oh you do love talking dirty,
my verbose paramour!
Ok, you crank up the lawnmower
and I’ll get on the floor.