When sweet April, with its gentle
Winter's desert turns to Spring's bright flowers;
Daylight Savings Time the early gloom
Banishes, that restless souls
Emerge from their long labors into light,
long segue into night;
And Spring Break the youthful heart
To travel south for undisclosed delights;
Then do folks
again seek out their muses,
Making pilgrimage on tours and
Some spend ten days on islands in the sun,
tour three cities on the run;
Still others like to gamble, win or
On land or on a luxury liner cruise
That sails to nowhere two
nights and a day
For time out on the sea to rest and play.
such a cruise a friend and I set sail,
She to gamble, I to hug the
And search the emptiness for long-sought peace,
As she in poker
looked for her release,
Both of us worn ragged from the fray
was the substance of each working day.
After dinner and a little
A stroll out on the deck, some light romancing,
down to try her luck at cards,
Leaving me to turn back to the
Wondering why neither of us said
The words we acted out each
night in bed.
After a while, the chill drove me inside
bar, where others chanced to bide
Their time until their partners
And so I listened to what they were
"By God!" the bartender said. "I swear TV
Holds not a
candle to a tale at sea
Told with vigor, sailing with the wind
it reach port, no sailor left behind!"
"Here, here!" a soldier said, in
With rows of bright bronze medals to adorn
chest, and on his head there lay
The honorific of a green
"These stories that you speak of, I have many
That I could
tell, could I be sure that any
Of you my simple tales would like to
A bearded backwoods farmer at the rear
Said, "Yes, as long as
I can tell one, too,
Though not, perhaps, as skillfully as
"Damn the skill!" our host cried. "Just say what
next! The spirit trumps the plot,
And vivid characters are vastly
Important than what tricks you have in store.
For tales to
bring us clarity and pleasure,
We must have characters that we can
But enough of this philosophy! I say
That while we wait,
we while the time away,
Each to tell, with energy and grace,
be it beautiful or base,
Long or short, with farce or fancy
Just as long as it is never dull."
And heartily all in the
To tell a tale, as you shall shortly read.
But before I
tell the tales that were told,
In imitation of a bard of old
first describe the company,
At least as they that night appeared to
There was a SOLDIER, a military man,
Who, from the time that
he first began
To fight, loved battle and its savagery,
for it when he could not be
At war, as gamblers lust to be at
Life shrunk to win or lose, the heart a husk,
himself had little use for cards.
His lover, though, a friend of many
Would gamble money when he could not life,
Addicted as he was
to fear and strife.
This soldier fought the first war in
And then the second, just now coming back;
Fought in Somalia
Sometimes straying into Pakistan.
whose blood he might be spilling,
He was a master at the art of
He felt a kinship to the men of yore
Who, like him, for
their people went to war,
Guarding the frontier or gaining ground
those who wished them harm could not surround
Them and then slaughter
them at will,
For men do often wish their fellows ill.
only contempt for those who sneered,
And claimed to love those whom
they should have feared,
Like children safe from harm only
Their parents keep an eye on predators.
They think their
playpen is the world, and toys
They hug and talk to are the real
He loved his country and democracy,
Freedom, God, and
Proud to be a
warrior, and true,
A man who'd gladly give his life for
There was a NUN, though in civilian dress,
Who came out on
the cruise under duress,
Accompanying a friend, also a nun,
liked roulette as much as anyone,
But kept her bets and aspirations
Uncomfortable that she played at all.
brides of Christ would often see
Their pent-up longings as
And pray to be forgiven for their sin,
Though chaste, for
they would often stray within.
Thus the sin of gambling was a
Peccadillo, looked at overall,
And though the non-gambling
She could not censure someone she so
She had a figure large and manly built,
With pale blue
eyes set in a cup of milk,
Lips just barely pink and cheeks so
They looked near corpse-like in a certain light,
was passionate and full of life,
To Christ and her good friend an
A GURU sat beside her, ghastly thin,
of mystic consciousness within.
He could survive with neither food nor
And, as he told a skeptical reporter,
Could feed forever on
Within the atoms of his cells. And he
this for weeks in deep
Meditation, deeper far than sleep,
arose at the appointed time
As though awakened by some inner
This guru with the animals could speak
And into past
lives take a tactful peek,
Identifying what, so long ago,
blocked some energy that would not flow;
And, for a fee, reach back
into the past,
And free it to flow easily at last.
well his secrets so that they
Could be acquired, more or less, by
Gurus, who then could pass them on
In seminars for those who
would life hone,
Looking for a better way to be
In touch with truth
and cosmic energy.
Although he had no need for goods or
They came in great abundance of themselves;
Nor did he give
one cent of them away,
But he enjoyed them, and would often
With beautiful young women in his pool,
Then bed them in his
mansion. For the cruel
Fates of billions gripped by poverty
rightly their responsibility,
And all that he acquired rightly
He had a Jesus beard, his hair a frizz
High off his narrow
head, and haunting eyes
As big as saucers wandering the skies.
mistress of the moment down below
Was giving baccarat another
While he, like a bodhisattva, sat serene,
The perfect guru --
lithe, long-limbed, and lean.
There was a THERAPIST, a woman
Who cared much for the patients in her care,
Mostly girls who
were, as she had been,
Afraid to eat and dangerously thin.
have died but for her therapist,
Whom she became, but with a common
For she could copy only
what she saw,
But in her mentor there was much, much more.
became a stripped-down version of
The woman who had saved her through
She loved her patients, too, but could not be
that love a person, whole and free,
As though she were an algorithm,
To debug children who were self-abused,
And had no function
other than that one,
Leaving her, her emptiness when done.
was quite wealthy inadvertently,
Having little urge to spend the
That came along with what she did of need.
Nor could she but of
her disorders read,
Anxious not to miss one single study
clear up some vexing difficulty,
And be of use to her in
She was demure, but still she could not
Inconspicuous, for she was blessed
Or cursed with beauty. And
though she always dressed
In modest skirts and blouses not too
Her body fought her clothes with all its might.
makeup, her thin face
Drew stares attracted to its classic
Her eyes were cobalt blue, and her hair gold,
Held in a bun
to hide it, though the bold
Colors said what she refused to
And though she told her patients not to fear
but their urges to enjoy,
She herself could never find a boy
herself to freely without shame.
Her present boyfriend gambled, and she
Reluctantly with him, she knew not why,
And now sat with these
Waiting like some knick-knack on a shelf
the doctor, fought to heal herself.
There was a MERCHANT who
The finest that did ever grace a vine.
He knew not
only Dole from Beaujolais,
But also the best vintners in Valais,
which terroir produced which subtle taste.
He was full 50
inches at the waist,
An epic epicurean connoisseur,
As much consumer
Enthusiast who loved to share his joy
for like elan in his employ.
He made good profit on the wines he
And when he bought, his word was good as gold.
He knew the
worth of every drop divine,
And paid and charged precisely for each
None could cheat him, none could feel shortchanged.
a generous man, and oft arranged
For tastings of the finest vintages
Enjoying the vivacious company,
Yet knowing shrewdly some in
time would buy
Wines that else they'd never dare to try,
all who came there well
For pleasure and for future
He was a man whose work and play were one,
each move for profit and for fun,
Calculating both with equal
For each the other god ought ever serve.
There was a
STUDENT there, of history,
Who hung his new Phi Beta Kappa
Proudly from the pocket of his vest,
Displaying his achievement
on his chest.
Summa cum laude and valedictorian,
hoped to be a great historian,
Discovering the secrets of the
Then telling them as stories that would last
As long as there
were memory and time.
He thought the old historians sublime
venerated Parkman and Prescott,
Henry Adams, Gibbon, and the
And loved old letters, ledger books, and rolls
Of who paid
taxes, judgments, fees, and tolls,
Springing most to life among the
Although he was but thirty hours wed,
His bride now gambling
He loved her, yes, but couldn't wait to go
where some letter or some ledger book
Might contain a clue where next
And next, and next, and next, as endlessly
what would else no longer be.
There also was a LAWYER there, who
Turn topsy into turvy, bad to good,
Convince a jury one way,
then the other,
And make you think your sister was your
He had a silver tongue that said what paid,
worth every penny that he made,
Charging by the second on the
So some, to say hello, took out a loan.
And if you could not
pay, that was too bad,
For he'd take all the money that you had
borrowed, begged, or stole from who knows where.
He would save Bin
Laden from the chair
Or Hitler from the charge of genocide,
long as they could pay to ride.
He said that all men had a right to
It wasn't his place to inquire within.
The law gave all the
right to a defense
Regardless of their guilt or innocence,
as they could pay the lawyer's fee.
And so he argued well enough to
Convinced he was not only rich, but good,
And served the law, as
every lawyer should.
A COUNTY SHERIFF lingered at the bar,
who knew the limits of the law,
And what should be enforced, and what
For laws can overregulate, and ought
To be applied with
wisdom and restraint.
When battered women filed a
This sheriff would invite the husband in
And match him
shot for shot with scotch or gin,
Allowing him to growl about his
And how the bitch was ruining his life,
Then twist his arm
until he screamed with pain
And tell him if he touched his wife
He'd personally beat him till his balls
Went bouncing like
two ping pongs down the halls.
He kept his county orderly and
And was by reputation fair and mean.
No gambling was allowed
unless he got
Each Monday night his customary cut;
construction could take place till he
Made sure there was enough
Supplied by his men working on the side,
Or suddenly the
law would be applied
So strictly that no truck could leave the
Without somehow running a red light.
He was a big man,
mountain-like, with hands
Like melons, and a paunch above his
That weighed a hundred pounds all by itself.
Nor did he ever
flaunt his well-earned wealth,
But lived just like folks, who liked the
He ran things, and so each Election Day
Gave him their votes, as
many times before,
More interested in order than in
A FARMER who was just
as big as he
Sat near the back, his first time out at sea,
struggled with his nausea as the ship
Just barely rolled, biting on a
All but buried in his massive beard.
It was, in fact, far
worse than he had feared
When wife and daughter dragged him on this
He was never meant to be afloat,
But loved the land, its
fields and wooded hills.
Now he felt the emptiness that fills
heart so full it bursts with passionate pain:
O never would he put to
He was organic, strictly, and his farm
Would never do
its ecosystem harm,
But balanced this with that so expertly
bounty could be gleaned eternally,
The only input being sun and
And compost, turning garbage into gain.
He grew fresh
vegetables for restaurants
And raised goats to make cheese for true
Had fruits and berries customers could pick,
to make man or nature sick,
But everything was fed with nature's
Grown and cared for as was right and good.
He talked to
plants and animals all day
And understood just what they had to
Sensitive to nuances of needs
Expressed through colors,
textures, blooms, and seeds,
And taught his interns everything he
So they might be organic farmers, too,
And help him nurse to
health the sickly earth
That to all living things had given
His farm was not a business but an art
Whose beauty gave
sweet comfort to his heart.
The CHEF was also visiting the
Having finished for the day, a star
Among sea-going master
chefs, who could
Make even cheap and frozen foods taste good.
made a single cream stock and pureed
Each day a different vegetable; so
Of one soup many, and he did the same
With gravies, sauces,
toppings, in the name
Of offering his guests variety,
was little to be had at sea.
He was well paid and had invested
But cared not whether markets rose or fell,
For he spent all
his days alone at sea
And planned to leave his wealth to
He loved his literally rootless life,
And never wished
for children, home, or wife,
But had good fellowship enough on
And took his pleasure with whoever would
Enjoy, in all due
haste, his narrow bed,
Then leave, for he was resolutely wed
the sea, whose grip none could annul,
That wrenched him from all rivals
with its pull.
The ENGINEER was also there, a man
Who made quite
different choices, and began
A family when he was a boy, by
But then made providence of circumstance.
Each day away he
missed his family;
However, his vocation was the sea.
well a well-designed machine
And kept its innards oiled and wiped
Of grit that might it prematurely wear,
For he protected all
within his care,
Human and machine, and did his duty
Not for gain or
honor, but for beauty.
There was a DOCTOR, skilled at fixing
Whose husband was among the band's trombones
Playing in the
club two decks below.
She was young and beautiful, and so
shone like night among the stars,
Whose voice and figure spoke of soft
Yet whose intellect was sharp and bright
As any operating
Each day she cut and sewed, screwed down and
Installed new hips and knees, and wrists revamped,
tunnels cleared and bone spurs shaved,
For this was, yes, the life that
she had craved
And studied for, for ten long, lonely years,
black and woman. But her fears
Of finding no one who would share her
And love such an intimidating wife
Soon met their match in
Lionel, who played
Trombone with all the best bands, and who
Her feel like some sweet song he had composed
And now could
savor any time he chose.
They lived quite well, of course, but with some
For those on whom their consciousness was built.
on boards and gave to charity,
Spoke in schools and were
Paid their nanny and their part-time maid
More than most,
and oft came to the aid
Of friends and family sunk in desperate
But still they felt some vital organ bleed
Within; for busy,
busy all the time,
That was one wound that they would never
There was a woman, seven times a WIFE,
Who traded up in
husbands all her life,
As some do houses, buying first a small
bedroom with no ground around at all,
Then moving up to something a bit
Until the last, whose settlement would net her
give or take ten grand.
There was no better lover in the
So good that of her husbands there were many
believed she was worth every penny,
For they were just as cold and hard
And had but little heart or charity.
She saw no reason
she should not be rich,
And liked to hear herself be called a
For that meant she had won, the lover's rage
her to turn the page.
She made good use of surgery and gym,
kept her little body neat and trim,
Her white hair blond, her wrinkles
all smoothed out,
Her perfume and her makeup thick. No doubt
a good deal older than she seemed,
But still her ancient eyes with
MINISTER, devoted to the Lord,
Was there to wed two congregants on
Who with their friends and families played below
remained above, contented so.
He was a liberal, and tolerant
much that might make other preachers rant,
Believing as he did that
faith should be
A choice one struggled with continually,
once and then forever closed.
And so in church the questions that he
Were those to which he had himself no answer.
died early on of bladder cancer,
And now their son was stricken with
Arousing anger difficult to tame.
But he was not averse to
With God, as Abraham once did, using
His own principles
against Him, thus
Insisting He be ethical and just.
To him God
was the personality
Of all that is, was, and would ever be,
whom he laughed and wept and played
And had a heart-to-heart each time
Sometimes angry, sometimes full of joy,
A friendship that
his doubt could not destroy.
For why give up so beautiful a love
something he could not be certain of,
And live a life of such
When one had but to look to see His face?
minister believed it was his duty
To counter modern anomie with
And find a place for faith where science reigned
be neither backward nor constrained,
But would become a choice, not
wrong or right,
But bountiful and sane and full of light.
BAKER and a BUYER, also there,
A MAYOR, SALESMAN, and
And I were all the others that there were.
BAKER baked in the old-fashioned way,
By hand, as did his ancestors.
Delis, grocery stores, and restaurants
Paid him well to do
what his paisans
Used to do in rural poverty,
Now become a
How strange! he thought, that what the poor would
Was now exclusively for the elite,
The same ingredients,
techniques, and taste
were ubiquitous before erased
By modern greed, that made of people
And severed them from all that gave life wings.
it was his pleasure to preserve
What else would disappear, and thereby
A family line of bakers stretching back
Beyond the curve of
memory, one speck
Of ancient craft, now far more lucrative
then, but still a life less fit to live.
His sons and grandsons
learned the ancient ways
Precisely in the glare of his strict
But he was old, though vigorous and thin,
And knew quite well
the moment he was gone
A corner would be cut, and then another
what was his life's purpose lost forever.
The BUYER worked for a
large clothing chain
With stores in malls from Brooklyn to
And though she earned a modest salary,
Much depended on the
Might make on what to buy the coming season.
little gifts would never be the reason
She made the choice of this or
that new line,
But she enjoyed the choicest food and wine,
her way to visit factories
Stopped off at Waikiki and Tuileries,
got free tickets to whatever shows
Or concerts, plays, sights, sports
events she chose,
And dressed far better than she could
Of course she never asked for a reward,
And always chose
the lines that best would sell
And be most in demand and
She had good business sense, an expert eye,
somehow what customers would buy
Two years ahead, what numbers would be
And figured in her head right on the spot
The price that should
be charged and what would be
The markup on whatever she might
She thought only of her employer's good
Because she knew
that all her vendors would
Shower her equally with gifts galore,
so she could be loyal to her store.
She was past middle age, but trim
And still looked pretty good in her slit skirt.
her was a SALESMAN, much younger,
Who came to share her cabin out of
Not for her body, but her company,
That is, the one she
purchased for, for he
Was desperate for a lucrative commission
hoped thereby to narrow her decision
With just a little romance on the
Perhaps a bit more suasive than a bribe,
While she enjoyed the
Without the slightest post-coital intention
buying anything he sold, which was
Too risk averse to generate much
These lovers, then, were sitting at the bar
as though no truth could mar
Their happiness, as both parlayed their
Haunted in the hollows of their hearts.
The MAYOR was
part-time, of a tiny town
Of neither interest, quaintness, nor
Now a bedroom of a major city.
Once, long ago, some might
have called it pretty,
But now it was developments, the same
town called by a different name,
Just rows on rows of models
Sprawling out as far as one could see.
This mayor was an
Of urban planning, no less, and, God bless
Had tried hard to apply the principles
That she laid out in
But, alas!, sometimes the plainest truth
with real life share a leaky roof,
For life is devious, while thought
And what one thinks is there is often here.
And so it
was with her: the plans she wrought
Sat like lovely toys that no
Developers would maximize their profit,
would do their best to stop it.
To court and back, and forth and back
Until, when funds and energy were spent,
was reached, in which her plans
Just barely peeked their heads above
A textbook case of textbooks being wrong.
she should have known that all along,
And turned her posture totally
Keeping both feet firmly on the ground.
Her first priority
And so she made each personnel selection
competence but loyalty,
Rewarding those who worked most valiantly
get her votes, or gave to her campaign
And got their wealthy friends to
do the same.
The next was keeping taxes low, and then
things just barely going when
Previously she would have called for
For things that are, are hard to rearrange;
works, and what is new
May often key relationships
Self-interest was the only constant here,
And so the mayor
learned to hold it dear,
Championing no sensible solution
meant a campaign contribution
With which she could reward her loyal
An army dedicated to her ends.
Nor could construction
in that town occur
Without some agent representing
Receiving in a bag a wad
Which she secreted in a good-will stash
earning her good will
As she gave freely from the common till
local clubs and charities and teams,
A Robin Hood of far more certain
It all worked well, as she well understood,
And wrote it
down, though of course she could
Not publish it or teach it
For these were crimes, as she was well aware.
she was, away upon the sea,
Though still in constant touch through her
A handsome woman, smart, and single still,
had withered what had been her will.
The ENTREPRENEUR sat near her,
on the phone,
Physically, not virtually, alone,
talking to someone
24/7, always on the run
Even when most sitting
still, as now,
Supposedly vacationing. But how
Could he unwire when
a deal was just
Unraveling, or some plan might go bust
well-timed word from one whose clout
Alone could bring the bursting
The world moved on; one had to be connected,
what one might miss might be perfected;
One might miss the boat as it
And all because one missed one freaking email!
little child afraid to miss
Whatever lay beyond his goodnight
This entrepreneur would, if he were able,
Never sleep, nor
slip the virtual cable
Umbilical, that kept him live and well
loving every minute of his hell.
For hell it was, as he well knew,
He was addicted to this real roulette,
The kind that
governed quantity and price,
Just as his wife was wed to cards and
Money was to both of them just chips
To gamble on the market
or on ships.
He won, she lost, both equally obsessed,
caring only for what happened next,
Both aware of their own grotesque
Yet slaves to power, potency, and chance.
Now that I've
described the company
And how we came that evening to agree
tell a tale to pass the time,
Let me tell the tales, both coarse and
Instructive, useless, fun, sad, gripping, true
In ways no
truth could tell the truth to you.
The bartender was judge, who took a
And numbered slips put in for all there were.
Each took one, and
so he made a list,
And said that at the end he'd choose the
The soldier was the first to tell a tale
As we to nowhere
through the night did sail.
"I guess it's fitting I be first," he
"Since I was first to go where our host led,
And said I'd like
to tell a tale if you
Would like to hear it, and it seems you do.
here it is, and may our judge judge well,
For all have well-loved tales
they long to tell."