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More Poetry

by Michael Soetaert

Cap’in, Cap’in

(goin’ down fast)


Cap’in, Cap’in, goin’ down fast,

throw me a line so I can last.

Was there once, goin’ there again

(if a line don’t rhyme it ain’t no sin).

Came in first so I wouldn’t be last,

got out back so I wouldn’t be past.


Your remember ol’ Earl I say to a friend.

(But how could you forget him then again?)

(this line’s here just for space)

“Don’t fall in love, it’ll stick to your face.”

That’s what Earl’d always say.

(Who the heck is Earl anyway?)


Knew a man who made gold bricks.

(That’s fine, but can he do balloon tricks?)

Got a quarter pie to make seven pence.

(That last line just don’t make sense.)

You might think my grammar is bad,

shows ya the quality of schoolin’ I’ve had.


Electric toaster ate the cat,

looped single and a busted bat.

Airplane crashed into left field,

turned right and forgot to yield.

Poetry’s fun when it rhymes

(throw up if you’re havin’ a helluva time).


I ain’t too fat ‘cause I’m thin

(stop complainin’ or I’ll start over again).

Knew a man who got hit by a subway train,

serves him right for standin’ in the rain!

This poem’s just a little bit weird

(hold on and we’ll stop at the pier).


Cap’in, Cap’in, goin’ down fast,

throw me a line so I can last.

You may think this is a bunch of bloody rot;

read it again so you can get the hidden thought.

Your might read it twice again for fun;

if you’re looking for the meaning, well, there is none.


Hang on to your hats for the weekly show.

(Do you think it ain’t a poem if it don’t rhyme?)

I’d better be careful of what I say,

this ain’t much of anything, anyway.

While you read this I hope you had a ball;

getting’ tired of writin’, so this’ll be all.


Early 1974

An Ode to Deep Poetry


Have you ever while reading a poem

thought, “Golly, this sure is dumb!”

And to the guy next to you quietly shout,

“Geepers, what the heck is this about?”


For several hours you try to find

the hidden meaning deep in your mind.

Not wanting to feel really dumb,

to explain you finally ask someone.


After reading it says the creep,

“Gosh, the meaning sure is deep!”

So you ask him to please let you in,

and he says, “It’s... but then again...”


After trying to explain for a minute or three,

it’s about then you begin to see,

both the explainee and the guy who wrote the poem

ought to be put in some sort of home.


So the heck I say to these deep rhymes,

on them I’m not even going to waste my time.

You can throw ‘em out with the rinse;

I’m going to read something that makes sense!


November 1975

Stink Bait


Undisturbed for countless years sleeping soundly, half buried in the soft, silty sand there was a thing – whatever it was – weighing forty-six tons (most of which were teeth).  All two hundred and ten ferocious feet of its black bulky body was covered with thick, crusty scales; it had little tiny feet and a huge polliwog tail, but mostly it was teeth – rows upon rows of terrible, treacherous, very sharp teeth.


Making his way through the thickets and trees, old wind worn Wendell wound his way down through the woods to his favourite fishing hole, armed with only his fishing pole – and a jar of stink bait.  Leaning back against a tree and resting his pole on his knees, Wendell wiped the tobacco that had dribbled down his stubble, and then pulled from the pocket of his faded coveralls the greasy, slimy jar of stink bait.  And giving the stubborn lid a twist there immediately arouse such a stench that every nose in the county was opened and for a mile around all the leaves turned brown.  With his face streaming tears and his sinuses perpetually cleared, Wendell told himself that without a doubt, “That’s the most powerful stink bait I ever sank a hook into!”  So seated comfortably on the bank with the water suffocating the stink that the stink bait stank, Wendell let his line out.


“Ya gots to go deep when yer usin’ stink bait,” Wendell told his reel as the line went winding down.  Down past the flowing reeds and the swaying moss and the rusting cans and the little fish swimming in rows, down past God knows what, that stink bait sank.  And the line kept winding down, down even deeper, past where the bubbles bibble and waves waff, deeper and deeper into the dank, where that stink bait still stank a stifling stench.  And finally it had gone as far as it could go, and it came to rest on the nose of that thing – whatever it was.


And without hesitating or even thinking twice, it gave a swish from its mighty tail and a push for this little feet, and that thing – whatever it was – headed for the top, all forty-six tons (most of which were teeth).  Wendell saw the water bubble and boil and churn, and then it turned a dark bluish gray, but Wendell never saw that thing – whatever it was.  He only saw the teeth.  They never found Wendell, nothing, no trace, no clue, no tobacco stains.  All that thing – whatever it was – left was that jar of stink bait.


July 1981


"Stink Bait" was published in the December 1981 edition of Road / House.  

In Search of a Unicorn


They came down from the highlands

in their battered convertibles

with the rusted trim,

those proprietors and promoters

of the world’s greatest shows,

In search of a unicorn –

the unique freak

that no carnival

could be complete without.

After an afternoon

of endless searching,

 in every sleepy

beer stained saloon

within twenty three miles

of where they had paid some gypsy

to tell them

where it should have been,

their patiences' were depleted,

their car exhausted,

so they settled instead

for some destitute farmer’s

sad plow horse,

which they dyed blue

and then stuck on

a candy-striped papier-mâché horn.

And housed inside

the battered remains

of some moth-eaten tent,

the people all paid their quarters

so they could come inside

to scoff at it.


August 1981


"In Search of a Unicorn" was published in PinchPenny in their June/July issue of 1982, and in Midwest Arts and Literature in Spring 1983.

Grampa’s Funeral


Dressed in my only suit,

I was led to Grampa’s coffin;

Mama held me with one hand

and cried with the other.

I wanted to cry, too. 

I didn’t.

It was the first time

I’d ever seen grampa

without his pipe.


Mama stayed inside

crying with all the women;

I got to go out with my father

because I was a man, too.

They all stood around shuffling,

uneasy in their stiff suits,

smoking and joking,

their muffled laughter

mingling with the smoke.

I shuffled, too.

I wasn’t allowed to smoke.


Uncle Bill told about the time

he was a deputy sheriff.

There was a robbery.

He hadn’t even gotten his gun out

when he was face to face with the robber.

The robber had eaten fried onions.

Uncle Bill’s face was powder burned,

but he missed.

Uncle Bill still remembers

the sound of the bullet

speeding past his ear,

The robber got away.

Uncle Bill never became sheriff.


Uncle Claude remembered

driving his car into a train.

Becoming completely sober

the second before he hit.

The car tearing to pieces,

feeling each one of his bones breaking,

hearing people running,

the doctor whispering,

certainly he couldn’t survive;

Gramma holding his hand,

softly sobbing.

“One foot in the grave,

but the other one wouldn’t go.’”

Everybody chuckled.


Dad told a war story,

the kind I’d never heard before

and never again. 

No one laughed.

The boat stopped too far from shore.

Screams and bombs and cries.

Left alone,

trying to hide,

knowing he’d be found.

He stayed there and it got dark

and quiet;

afraid to move,

waiting and praying.

Even crying.

When the sun finally shone through

he could see

the burning boats,

smoldering sand.

He wasn’t alone.

They had won.


The cigarettes were done.

The smoke had cleared

when the women came out.

Everybody went home.

There was no more crying

or story telling.

Mother and father

stayed up very late.

I had to go to bed.


November 1981


"Grampa's Funeral" was published in Image in the Fall of 1982.

Trade Winds


Sidewalk cynics

set up their stands

and sneered at passersby,

who ignored them.


One by one

they all left their posts

to blend in with the crowd,

while all their pamphlets

were carried away

by the same trade winds

that had pushed the Mayflower,

full of pilgrims,

many years ago


January 1982


"Trade Winds" was published by Midwest Arts and Literature in the Fall of 1982.

The Bell Tower



high above the churchyard,

the old monk sat alone,

reading from his gold bound bible

in the softly fading glow

of his slowly burning candle,

scratching with his quill,

“Deus Leges Dei Hominibus.”


The soft night mist

fell silently on the window,

slowly rolling down the saints,

leaking through the ceiling –

dripping, dripping, dripping –

into the chalice

set in the corner to catch it.


A nighthawk,

feathers ruffled in the rain,

returned to her nest

in the crevice
where the bell used to be

with food for its young.

And without thinking,

returned to the wind

above the waves

breaking from the sea.


March 1982


"The Bell Tower" was published by Midwest Arts and Literature in the Spring of 1983.

War of the Worlds


From the back seat

we stopped to watch

the best part of the show


The part where the spaceships

come crashing down

while the people,

scared and huddled,

sing hymns,

waiting for the end.

But it never comes.


From under the seats

and over the mirror

we pieced ourselves back together.


While the people,


came from the churches

and watched the little men

stumble from their ships and die.


April 1982


Midlands published "War of the Worlds" in the Spring of 1983.

In the Bathroom



slides back the mirror

as I’m brushing my hair

and my head disappears.


April 1982


"In the Bathroom" was published in the February 1983 edition of Blue Unicorn magazine.

The Crossing


for Julma


The nuns will send for the priest

when the time is gone.

And he will cross her with water,

water blessed by his touch.


Then she will be bathed and dressed,

and laid upon a bed of silk,

with the effigy of Jesus

hanging from above.


There he will come once gain,

to burn the scented ash of incense,

to say the soft spells of quiet magic,

to sprinkle the sealed box.


And after she has been carried

to where the dry dirt falls from his hands,

the workers will fold the noisey chairs

with the same rhythmic sway of oarsmen

who will never reach shore.


May 1985


Published in Type magazine, Spring 1988

Good Headhunters


Do good headhunters go to heaven
If they've lived a good headhunter's life?
If they've said their headhunter prayers,
and been good headhunter husbands and wives?

If they've never hunted heads out of season,
and always did their headhunting-est best,
do good headhunters go to heaven
when good headhunters are laid to rest?

And at night do they sit and wonder,
instead of going to their headhunter beds,
if good white people go to heaven
if they've never hunted a head?


December 1986 


"Do Good Headhunters Go to Heaven?" was published in Suttertown News in the their March 10-17, 1988, edition.

Autumn Crows


Autumn are the days

of the crow,

picking incessantly

at the dead things

in the road.


They laugh

with the contagious cough

of old funeral ladies

who crackle the dead leaves

that hide behind the stones.


Having picked

the broken bones bare,

they rise like black shrouds

tangled in the air.


And then they fade.


September 1987


"Autumn Crows" was published in Type magazine, Number 22, in the Spring of 1988.



I’ve never seen

cement crack,

but the cracks are there,

lining the sidewalk

like the broken rungs

of some fallen ladder.


Invaded by weather,

seasons plotting,

pushing from below

and pulling from above,

until only those jagged pieces

of artificial rock remain,

causing us to stumble

and then to go around.



on one side,

and I,

the other.


November 1987


"Erosion" won first place in the Miscellaneous Category (along with a prize of $10) in the Springfield (Missouri) Writers' Guild Poetry Contest for the Year of 1988.



Cold cows

collect the rain

that slips through

the steel skies,

while they eat

the quickly fading green

of grass,

grass turning red.


Beyond the fields

stands the edge of trees,

like stubborn skeletons

refusing to fall,

turning loose the last

of their brown and cracked flesh

only grudgingly,

one piece at a time.


And beyond the trees

rise the steeples,

surrounded by their testimonies

of remembrance,

strewn with the brightly coloured plastic

that patiently waits,

waits to be hidden by the snow.


November 1987


"November" was published in Brontë Street magazine, Volume 2, Number 2, in the Autumn of 1988.



Pigeons can’t fly.

Not really.

They sit on their ledges

nodding buoyant heads

like rear window hula dancers


While their coils run down,

the coils that sproing them

from their perches

like those silly suction spring toys.

They’re sproinged

into the uncertainty of open air,

pretending purpose

with their useless wind wings,

Continuing outward until

they reach the end

of the invisible elastic

that binds them to the ledge,

snapping them back

to bounce off the walls or the windows,

finally falling safely to the edge,

Where their coils rewind

and their springs reload


Until the day finally comes

when that invisible elastic

doesn’t snap back,

leaving them spiraling

downward to the street

to be smashed flat

by big bus tires.

And there,

their little gears

too crushed to know,

they await the rains

that will wash them

down to the sewer drains,

away from the disgust of the passersby.


January 1988

Cancellation Notice


The International Guild

of Alcoholic Poets

Who Live in Two-toned Trailers,

Half of Which Must be Pink,

will no longer meet

on alternating Thursdays

of every odd month

at the third trailer on the left

and will probably never meet again,

since the detox treatment really seems to be working

this time.

However, members should be advised

that all notices are subject to change.


March 1988

Mrs. Einstein


Albert Einstein reads his books

while Mrs. Einstein sews and cooks.

He sits and thinks deep, deep, thoughts

while Mrs. E. darns his socks.

And while Mrs. Einstein scrubs the bath,

Al sits downstairs working math.

She takes out the garbage and washes the floor,

cuts out coupons and goes to the store.

She mows the lawn and does the wash;

she fixes the roof out over the porch.

She scrubs the toilet and unclogs the sink,

and all the while Al sits and thinks.

And when Al finally comes to bed

with abstract concepts still filling his head,

he’s ready to tell the Mrs. his thoughts so deep,

but Mrs. Einstein is sound asleep.


April 1995

October Grasshoppers


blithely ignore all prognostications

as they scatter like errant leaves

before an indifferent wind

on the dry and broken grass

of the roadside


Those incontrovertible signs

The woolly caterpillars

and the persimmons

and the buckeyes

The leaves that turn from green to red to brown

before falling like lost souls

cast out of perdition


How many more days

before the hoarfrost

finely dusts the ground

like nitre on catacomb walls


They pay no need to the obvious

until the obvious pays heed to them

and their frozen bodies


crunch beneath the feet of passersby


October 1999

Unicycle Bob


Unicycle Bob was the most amazing circus act

that I have ever seen. 

Unicycle Bob couldn’t ride the unicycle for squat. 

I mean, he could hold his balance most of the time,

but he was always running into things.


Come to find out,

Unicycle Bob was just this guy from my home town

who didn’t even travel with the circus. 

I think he was an investment banker or something as equally exciting. 

He just wanted to be in the circus,

if only once. 

So he talked the circus owner into letting him ride his unicycle

on a tight rope

over the lion cages

with no net. 

What did the owner have to lose?


I must’ve been all of eleven,

sitting there in the stands. 

And here comes Unicycle Bob,

wearing a bright yellow shirt

and a yellow derby hat. 

Where do you get yellow derby hats? 

So Bob climbs up on the pole with his red unicycle. 

He must’ve been fifty feet off the ground,

and below him all these lions are starting to take notice.


Well, Bob bows to the crowd after the big introduction,

and everyone goes quiet,

except for the lions;

they were really getting into the show. 

And then the drum roll starts

and right on cue Bob takes off.


He actually made it about two feet

before he fell head first into the lion cage. 

It really didn’t matter if the fall would’ve done Bob in. 


That was pretty much the circus for that Saturday afternoon.


I can’t help but think Bob would’ve been better off

if he’d learned to juggle torches,

or maybe if he’d learned to ride the unicycle better,

but I guess we’ll never know.


November 2001

Ahh… Sisyphus


At least Sisyphus

gets more exercise than I do,

pushing the obnoxious rock up the hill,

and he gets regularly scheduled breaks,

what on the trip back down.

There are no surprises,

no demands that he work overtime.

He never has to fill in for a sick co-worker;

no one expects him to push two stones

until McMurty gets back from out of town.

He never has to fake enthusiasm for his boss,

smile at the office party,

or buy presents for the secretaries at Christmas.

And I bet nobody expects him to donate a share of his salary

every year to some pathetic charity,

just so the office can have 100% participation,

and prove that he’s a part of the team.

Quality Management.

World Class Customer Service.

A regular stand-up kinda guy.

He never has to worry that it will get worse.

And he never has to wonder if what he does

will really, truly ever make any difference anywhere in anything.

Of course, he is in hell.

So I guess there is a downside.


 December 2004

Charley the Choo Choo


Charley was a big, red choo choo.

Everyday he’d go from Hiville to Loville

and then back again.

Charley would take grains and cereals from Hiville,

and he’d get all sorts of good things to eat from Loville.

Charley was so busy going to and from Hiville and Loville

that he never even slowed down at all the little towns he passed through,

or even tooted twice to all the little girls and boys

who would come out and wave every time he passed by.


Charley chugged on, day after day,

and probably would’ve chugged on forever

had it not been for what happened one sunny day

while Charley was at the roundabout in Loville

getting ready to make the trip back to Hiville.

While they were loading Charley with all those wonderful things to eat

a little bird flew down and sat on the wire

that ran right beside the tracks.

And the little bird asked,

“Doesn’t that just bore you to tears?”

And Charley replied, “I don’t understand.”

“I mean,” said the little bird, “you just do the same thing, day in and day out,

going back and forth and back and forth.

You never get to see a distant grove of trees

or find out where the river begins.

You never get to see the sun rise over a far away mountain

or feel a tropical breeze on your face.

You never even get to haul anything different.

That would bore me to insanity.”


And then the little bird flew away before Charley could ask it anything more.

But still, Charley thought about what the little bird had said,

which was something Charley had never thought about before.

And the more he thought, the more he realized

that maybe that little bird was right.

And Charley came to realized just how unhappy he really was.

And he got to thinking that maybe he’d never been happy all along.

So Charley the big red choo choo

made up his mind right then and there

that he was going to see the rest of the world.


The first place Charley went was into the town of Loville.

He went right down the middle of the street

looking into all of the shops and theaters and dance halls,

and at all the strange people who hung out on the street corners

wearing big hats and flashing gold-capped teeth.

But before Charley got very far at all,

a policeman stopped him and said,

“You can’t drive down our streets.

Streets are made for bicycles and cars, not locomotives.

Your sharp steel wheels will leave ruts in our roads

and make it too lumpy for people to drive on.”

So Charley had to leave.


The next place Charley came to was the country,

where he went past a farm.

There he saw horses and cows playing in a field,

and chickens and ducks playing in the barnyard,

and dogs and sheep playing in the meadow.

And Charley wanted to play, too,

only the farmer came out and said,

“You can’t be here.

Farms are made for animals.

Your chugging scares the chicks and ducklings,

and your smoke makes the grass turn brown.”

So Charley had to leave.


The next place Charley went was the forest,

where he saw the deer hiding in the thickets,

and the birds flying through the branches,

and the bears playing in the grassy glades

while honey bees flew busily about

and fish flipped playfully in the little stream that tumbled over the rocks

as it wound its way through the woods.

And Charley thought it would be a wonderful place to stay,

only Charley couldn’t stay there, either,

because a forest ranger came up and said,

“Forests are no place for locomotives.

Your big wheels crush the wild flowers

and your noisy whistle scares the bunnies and woodchucks.”

So Charley had to leave.


In fact, everywhere that Charley went,

whether it was the mountains or the prairie,

the beach or the desert,

it was the same thing --

Charley had to leave.


Finally Charley ended up right where he had begun,

at the roundabout in Loville.

But there he found that they no longer wanted him.

Charley had been replaced by a sleek, new diesel,

which the builder had been careful not to give a personality to,

so that it never got bored.


Since Charley had no place else to go,

he chugged over to the old trainyard

where they put all the broken trains,

and there Charley chugged his last chug.


And it was there that the same little bird

came and found the rusted hulk of what had once been Charley.

And since Charley’s old smoke stack was such a perfect place,

she built her nest there.

And that is where she returned year after year to build her nests.

And when she grew old and died,

her children continued to come back and build their nests there, too,

and so did their children after them.

And I suppose they still do.


May 2001

Lost Dog


I’m a lost dog,

alone on the street.

I’m a lost dog

got no doggy treats.


I chased a squirrel

and then a cat.

When I finally looked around

didn’t know where I was at.


Now I’m a lost dog,

don’t know where to go.

Is it here or there?

I just don’t know


I hope it’s not long

before I am found.

Don’t wanna end my days

sittin’ at the pound.


‘Cause I’m a lost dog,

So far from home.

I’m a lost dog,

I’m on my own.


I’m a lost dog.

I got no leash.

I’m a lost dog.

Someone help me please.


I’ve seen my picture

tacked up on a pole.

But I don’t know how to read.

I don’t know where to go.


That’s why I’m a lost dog,

I got no bed.

I’m a lost dog

no one scratchin’ my head.


I miss my people.

I miss my friends.

Don’t think I’m ever

gonna see my home again.

I promise to sit.

I promise to stay.

If I ever find my home

I ain’t ever goin’ away.


Don’t wanna be a lost dog.

Somebody help me please.

I’m so darn lost

can’t even find my fleas


I’m a lost dog.

it’ll always be now.

I’m a lost dog,

I’m just gonna howl.







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