The Secret Society of Spies

-- a collection of poetry --

written by michael soetaert

illustrations by donna stevens

The Secret Society of Spies

 

The Secret Society of Spies

had decided without a doubt

that Mr. Greene was an enemy agent.

Why else would he put up a fence

higher than any kid could climb?

Why were strange cars always coming and going?

And what in the world was every light

doing on in his house

at 2:38 in the morning?

No doubt coordinating vast squadrons of submarines

to suddenly surface somewhere,

and just like that –

the Russians would have taken over!

And that is why

the Secret Society of Spies

took it upon themselves

to dig a tunnel to Mr. Greene’s garage

and ruin everything.

 

The digging had just started

when they had to stop and decide

whether or not to let Eddy Engels in;

and even though Eddy couldn’t run fast,

or hit a ball,

and even though he’d probably tell

their secrets to everyone

(including his big sister),

it was decided to let him into

the Secret Society of Spies,

because Eddy could get another shovel,

and that way they could dig twice as fast.

 

And so Eddy was initiated

into the Secret Society of Spies

by parachuting from the Big Tree,

jumping Mrs. Hobson’s fence –

while she was at home,

promising to stay away from girls

(especially Mary Ann Walker),

and sneaking cookies from his mother

(all of which was more than any

of the other members had ever done).

 

Finally Eddy got to swear

to the Secret Society’s Secret Oath:

 

     “I promise never to tell no one

     nothin’ about the Secret Society of Spies.

     To never give out the secret password –

     when we have one,

     and to never let no one in on

     the Secret Society’s secret code,

     as soon as Kevin Cline makes one up.”

 

And after Eddy signed his name

in red ink pen blood,

he became an official member

of the Secret Society of Spies,

which meant he got to dig first.

 

Billy decided he’d be the first one through the tunnel,

popping up in Mr. Greene’s garage

right smack in the middle of all the Russian spies.

And even though he was mortally wounded,

Bill would manage to kill them all,

just like they did in the movies.

No one would ask

when Billy cam limping into school,

one arm in a sling

and half his head in a bandage –
they would have heard it on the news.

Mrs. Addison wouldn’t even ask Billy for his homework,

and Mary Ann Walker

would beg to be seated next to Billy,

but he wouldn’t let her.

 

Kevin Cline had just decided

he couldn’t dig through a tree root

when Eddy started jumping around like crazy,

but all the while trying to act like

he wasn’t pointing at Billy’s father,

who wanted to know

just what they heck they thought they were doing

by digging a hole in the backyard?

Billy tried to lie about buried treasure,

and everyone else suddenly had to go home,

leaving Billy to fill in the hole

and sit in his room for the rest of the night

by himself.

But Billy was certain Mr. Greene

had figured out what was going on

and now was madly packing away all the transmitters.

And nobody would ever know to thank Billy

when the submarines never surfaced down at the creek.

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The Creature

 

There’s a creature

living in the sewer

underneath the city

that no one has ever seen –

no one living, that is.

An it comes out at night

and eats things.

 

I kow, I have proof:

It ate the thrash cans

right off Mr. Ballow’s pack porch;

It at Billy Balinski’s bicycle,

whole, not even a ballbearing left;

It ate Mrs. Cline’s cat,

didin’t even have a chance to meow;

And it has real long, skinny arms

it slithers like snakes;

that’s how it got the marbles

out of Mike Maloney’s dresser drawer;

it at them, too.

 

I’ve heard it walking at night;

it goes

Sluth!  Sluth!  Frump!

The frump is where it limps

from being shot by a whole division

of the National Guard

back in 1947.

It ate them, too.

 

So lock your doors

and bolt your windows,

And for God’s sake –

don’t go outside

if your hear a

Sluth!  Sluth! Frump!

or it will eat you, too.

In Passing

 

Billy had neatly penned,

“Pass to Mary Ann,”

on the folded piece of paper,
which was now getting wet

in the palm of his hand.

 

“Henry the Eighth came to the English thrown in 1509...”

 

Before Billy could even think why,

or had time to talk sense to himself,

the note shot across the aisle

like a snake popping from a can,

 and began its journey around the room.

 

“...and Henry married Anne Boleyn in 1533...”

 

Judy Jefferson had no respect

for the sanctity of the mail;

giggling like a noisy radiator,

she passed the note

to Mike Maloney,

not even folded back up.

But Mike was in the wrong direction

and Randy was headed away

and Jimmy wasn’t really going to

but he did

and Brenda Beavers... Brenda –

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Put the note on Mrs. Addison’s desk!

 

“...and Henry executed Catherine Howard

by cutting off her head.

 

     “I seem to have a note on my desk.

     (Thank you, Brenda)

     It says:

            ‘Dear Mary Ann,’

     (must be Mary Ann Walker –

     the only Mary Ann in class)

            ‘I love you.

                        Billy.’

     (must be Billy Balinski –

     the only Billy in the room).”

 

Billy felt like crying,

but that would only make it worse.

If only the Creature

would come out and eat him.

If only a spaceship from Mars

would blast him away.

If only he could bury his head

deep enough under his arms

and could no longer hear

Mary Ann saying,

“Ouuuuuu!”

Mrs. Hobson

 

Mrs. Hobson was a spy.

She had sonar and radar

and all sorts of stuff set up everywhere

she used to know where any kid

in the neighborhood was,

and exactly what he was doing there.

And she had a telephone

that would instantly dial any mother

and let her in on the secret, too.

 

It was rumored Mrs. Hobson

had alarms that would go off

if a kid even started to climb her fence.

If a guy came anywhere near

to stepping on one of her billion flowers,

he’d probably set off a landmine,

and if he didn’t,

Mrs. Hobson would certainly shoot him –

maybe.

It was rumored she had once pulled a gun

on someone’s big brother.

It was true, though,

Mrs. Hobson would use her instant telephone.

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Two Out in the Ninth

 

The bases were loaded with two out in the ninth.

Of course, any inning could’ve been the ninth,

since there were only three guys on each team,

and if someone’s mother called him home

they didn’t have enough kids left to play.

 

The whole game rested on Kevin Cline. 

It didn’t rest on Billy Balinski anymore;

he stood behind home plate hating Mrs. Hobson

for causing him to make an out.

If her backyard hadn’t been there,

he would have just hit a foul,

but since it took so long

to walk around and go through Mrs. Hobson’s gate,

it was an out if you hit it in her yard,

and Billy didn’t get another chance.

So instead of being the hero,

Billy had to catch.

 

Kevin Cline swung at the ball

like he was trying to kill it,

knocking at a whole four feet,

and Mike Maloney came running off the mound like crazy,

making a mad dive for the ball,

because if he got it

before Kevin reached first base,

then Kevin would be out.

But Kevin said it was headed towards foul territory,

so it didn’t matter.

All the guys came in from the outfield

and were all yelling

about how Kevin should’ve been out,

and all the guys on Kevin’s team

were all yelling about how he was safe.

It was finally decided that he was safe,

since everybody on Kevin’s team

said they’d go home if he weren’t.

So all the ghost runners

went back to where they were,

the guys went back outfield,

and Kevin went back to try again.

He waited and waited

and didn’t swing at four or five balls,

and when everybody was getting really mad,

he finally hit one Randy Anderson

really thought he could catch,

but he missed it anyway,

and the ball went into Mr. Ballow’s garden,

which meant it was a double,

since kids weren’t allowed

to go into his garden.

All the guys on Kevin’s team

were jumping up and down,

saying the score was tied,

since all the ghost runners

would have scored on a double.

But the other guys said the last ghost runner

had to stop on third,

because they didn’t want the score tied.

Everybody finally decided

to decide after they got the ball back.

 

Billy was chosen to go in after the ball

(since it was Billy’s ball)

while the others watched in case they had to run –

Mr. Ballow was meaner than Mrs. Hobson,

and would come out and take away their baseball,

and he probably carried a gun and everything.

 

Billy had almost gotten his ball

when Mr. Ballow came bursting out his backdoor,

and everybody ran everywhere,

leaving Billy to grab the ball

and then step on everything getting out of the garden,

which made Mr. Ballow yell even louder,

but Billy never looked back,

rounding third base and sliding safely into home.

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Not Caring About Anything in Mrs. Addison’s Sixth Grade Class

 

Billy didn’t care

if he got cooties

from Mary Ann Walker,

or if all the kids

teased him at recess,

saying,

            “Billy loves Mary!

            Billy loves Mary!”

 

Billy didn’t even care if he were black-balled

from the Secret Society of Spies,

or if he had to stay

in the sixth grade forever,

as long as Mary Ann were there.

 

Billy was willing to hold her hand,

if Mary Ann would let him.

And he was even willing to kiss her –

maybe on the lips and everything.

 

But what Billy would’ve traded

every last one of his recesses for

was Mary Ann Walker

to just quit saying,

            “Ouuuuuu!”

every time his name was mentioned.

The Alligator Under Billy Balinski’s Bed

 

There’s an alligator

under Billy Balinski’s bed,

its idiot-grinning teeth waiting

for that very instant

Billy’s foot hits the floor

to suck him in,

like his mother’s Hoover

had done to his sister’s doll,

only his sister’s doll

hadn’t gone all the way down;

it’s feet were left sticking

out between the rollers.

Billy imagined that’s how he’d look,

only his feet would be kicking

and he’d be yelling like crazy

with his head deep down inside

the alligator’s belly.

But no one would hear him,

because no noise can penetrate an alligator.

But Billy Balinski

wasn’t going

to give that alligator a chance,

even though Billy

had to pee so bad it hurt.

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Dreaming of Heaven

 

The nun stood in front

of the boys’ Sunday morning

sixth grade CCD class,

as big and black and unmovable

as any mountain there ever was,

and from somewhere behind

all of those black clothes

she dreamt out loud

about heaven,

while Billy Balinski,

with his mind out the window,

tried to figure out what the heck

CCD stood for.

One of the C’s had to be Catholic,

but durned if he could get the other two.

 

“And in heaven the wine

flows from fountains like water…”

 

Billy’s uncle had given him wine once.

Billy still remembered

running to the bathroom

to spit it out

while his uncle laughed like a lunatic

Billy had seen once in a movie.

 

“…and in heaven the streets

are cobbled with gold…”

 

Billy couldn’t ride his bicycle on the street

in front of his grandmother’s house

because it was cobbled.

But if it must be cobbled,

why not chocolate?

At least you could eat chocolate.

11Dreaming2.jpg
10Dreaming1.jpg

“…and only good little boys and girls

get to go to heaven…”

 

Billy wondered if anyone

would be able to hear

Judy Jefferson screaming

from inside the cinder block box

where the janitors burned their trash

on the playground,

or if anyone would see

Billy running away.

 

Billy knew that he was slowly strangling,

but he dared not fool with his collar

unless he wanted his necktie to fall off again.

 

Jesus hung over the blackboard

looking down on the nun

with sad, swollen eyes;

the blood on his hands

still looked fresh.

Billy couldn’t help but imagine

that Jesus would rather be someplace else.

Moon Shot

 

After planning all week to rob 7-11,

the whole idea was given up

since no one in the Secret Society of Spies

knew anyone who could fly a helicopter.

So they decided instead

to be the first kids ever

to put a grasshopper into outer space,

which would be easier than robbing 7-11,

except maybe for making the rocket.

 

The tin can capsule looked pretty good,

except the cardboard fins were kind of crooked,

and the nosecone kept falling off

every time the astronaut hopped against it,

so Mike Maloney taped him to the bottom.

Then everyone went around to each other’s houses

and poured any and everything

that just might happen to be flammable

into an empty Clorox bottle.

 

Mike said their launch pad

didn’t look like how it was done on TV,

but Kevin told him it would surely work,

and would probably be the way

they’d be doing it in the future.

 

Billy lit the kite string fuse,

but they had to blow it out and do it over again

because they forgot the countdown,

and when the flame finally reached the Clorox bottle

everything just caught on fire.

Everybody starting running around

not knowing what to do

with the bottle melting like ice cream

and the fire rolling across the lawn.

 

Suddenly Billy’s father came out of nowhere

with the garden hose and an old blanket,

and he beat the fire like crazy

until only a charred spot remained.

Eddy Engels went running home,

and Kevin and Mike suddenly had to go home, too,

but Billy’s mother wouldn’t let them keep a good secret.

 

Billy stood in his room

fearing the end of the Secret Society of Spies –

all of its members locked away forever.

And Billy wondered if everybody else

was envying the grasshopper,

who surely felt no pain.

12Moon.jpg

The Barbershop

 

There’s a dungeon

in the basement of the barbershop,

and that’s where the barbers

would throw little boys

if they misbehaved

and didn’t sit still.

They threw you down there

because there were no stairs,

and the fall would surely kill you,

unless you landed in the tank

with the alligators

(which were way too big

to fit under any bed),

and before you were completely wet

or even had a chance to scream

they would have eaten you whole.

But if by chance you missed the tank

and survived the fall,

there was absolutely no way out

of the dungeon,

because the walls

were slimy and impossible to climb.

And there you would have to wait

for whatever it was

that lived in dark damp slimy dungeons –

Rats and bats and snakes and spiders

and probably even the Creature himself!

And that is why

Billy Balinski barely breathed

when the barber cut his hair.

13Barbershop.jpg
14Crusade.jpg

Billy’s Crusade

 

Billy had yawned

all week long

as Mrs. Addison talked about

the Crusade of 1213.

 

And now Billy’s history book,

where that chapter

had laid undiscovered

for so many years,

was torn in two,

its pages

blowing across the playground

(probably all for emphasis).

And Billy sat crying

with his nose bleeding,

while the big kid from the eighth grade

walked away –

still with Billy’s ball.

The Vampire

 

Billy was completely hidden

underneath the covers

with only enough of his head sticking out

to see the curtains flapping

like bat wings in the breeze.

 

There was a vampire in the closet

hanging upside down from the clothes rod,

the same vampire from the late show.

Billy knew he was there

because he hadn’t heard him –

you never hear vampires

until it’s too late.

And now he was waiting for Billy to move

from the safety of his bed

and the crucifix on the wall.

 

And if Billy were to get up –

Zap!

the vampire would bite him,

right on the neck!

And Billy would be a vampire, too.

 

Poof!

Billy would appear

in Mrs. Addison’s sixth grade class,

his black hair slicked back

and his cape still flapping

from the flight in.

Billy could hear them all screaming

when he showed his fangs,

and they would run away –

except for Mary Ann Walker,

whom Billy would hypnotize.

One bite and she would be

in his power forever.

 

Billy never looked back at the closet,

waiting for the bite that was surely coming,

as he got up to go to the bathroom.

15Vampire.jpg

Deep Trouble on a Thursday Afternoon

 

Billy sat outside the office waiting

while the principal called his mother.

Billy hadn’t been in this much trouble

since the third grade,

when he found out you’re not supposed to hit girls,

even if they hit you first.

But what really made Billy feel like crying

was this whole mess wasn’t even his fault.

 

Judy Jefferson had stood outside

the cinder block box and shouted,

“Billy Balinski, I know you’re in there!

And if you think I’m coming in there, too,

you’re crazy!”

But she had anyway.

Randy Anderson dared her,

and he wasn’t in trouble.

And nobody caused her to trip and fall –

that was her own stupid fault.

And it was Kevin Cline who had given Billy

the dumb rubber spider in the first place.

 

But none of that mattered

to Judy Jefferson,

or Mrs. Addison,

or the principal,

and it wouldn’t matter to Billy’s father,

and that is what made Billy cry.

Flunking the Sixth Grade

 

Billy laid in bed

with his bare feet propped by the window –

certain he’d catch pneumonia,

then he wouldn’t have to go to school

and explain to Mrs. Addison

why he didn’t know the names of all the capitols.

Billy didn’t know the states’ names, either,

but one good case of pneumonia would cover that, too.

There was no use faking –

Billy’s mother used a thermometer and everything.

It would have to be the real thing.

 

If only he had one of those tape recorders

James Bond once used

to learn Russian while he slept.

Compared to Russian,

fifty capitols would be nothing.

Maybe he could learn the fifty capitols in Russian.

 

Billy had seen a show once

where a statue of somebody

turned into a real person

and helped some lady out of a jam.

But Billy had already checked –

Jesus was glued solid to his cross.

 

It was no use;

his legs were starting to hurt,

and he didn’t even have a runny nose,

much less a sore throat.

And besides,

nobody ever caught pneumonia in May.

16Flunking.jpg
17Last.jpg

The Last Meeting

 

The Secret Society of Spies

was holding an emergency meeting

(all except for Eddy Engels,

who no one bothered to get).

They sat tightly locked together

in the tunnel

where the creek ran under the street,

their egg-white eyes

taking in each and every detail

on the slick glossy pages

as Mike Maloney carefully turned them.

And with each new page

Billy Balinski’s heart beat faster and faster,

and his breathing grew harder and harder.

All Kevin Cline’s brother had told him

was true – mostly.

Billy wondered if Mary Ann Walker

would look that way

when she grew up.

Probably – but certainly not that big.

The emergency meeting had to end

because Mike Maloney

had to get the book back

to where his brother had it hidden

up above the heating duct

down in the basement.

But before they all went home

the Secret Society of Spies

all decided to take out

the part in their oath

about not liking girls.

Seventh Grade Alone

 

Billy had never believed

Mary Ann

when she said she was going away,

to Egypt or Kansas,

or someplace unheard of,

where Billy couldn’t go.

 

When her daddy got transferred,

she would be gone,

and there was nothing Billy could do.

 

But Billy had decided he’d try anyway.

Every time there was a new “For Sale” sign

he’d pull it up,

and throw it somewhere

it could never be found.

He’d run through the yard screaming

to scare the lookers away.

He would flatten the tires

on the moving van – somehow.

He would even ask them not to go.

 

Billy sat on the porch

staring into the night,

his hands propped up by his knees,

wondering if Mary Ann would write him

from around the world?

Would she ever think about him?

Would she even remember

who Billy Balinski was?

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19Back.jpg

Some of these poems have appeared in UNCLE, Pteranodon, Image, and Rhino magazines.  Many thanks to their editors.

 

A special thanks to Mark Sanders.

 

Dedicated to Chad Butcher, a friend of Billy’s.

 

Everybody here was once real,

but they’ve long since grown up.

 

Copyright © 1984, 2022 by the Holy Grail Press, Portland, Oregon.