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
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.
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;
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.
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 –
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)
‘Dear Mary Ann,’
(must be Mary Ann Walker –
the only Mary Ann in class)
‘I love you.
(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,
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 –
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.
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.
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,
“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,
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
to give that alligator a chance,
even though Billy
had to pee so bad it hurt.
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
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.
“…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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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 –
the vampire would bite him,
right on the neck!
And Billy would be a vampire, too.
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.
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,
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.
nobody ever caught pneumonia in May.
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
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?
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.