The Boy Who Played with ABZs

In celebration of Shel, who left us 22 years ago today.


Shel SIlverstein, 1930-1999 Shel SIlverstein, 1930-1999

A long time ago when the earth was green,
a boy was born named Silverstein
who, as he grew into a man
discovered that he had a hand
for drawing and for writing
poems that could
stretch the way
you looked

He wrote for
hottie magazines
with playmates
he hung out
with the folkies
in a village
we call
but all THAT—

is ancient history

and Shel would never
want for us to go
all biographical
when good old
is far more fun.

And so,
the day fifteen years
ago, the 10th of May,
when death bells
for our sweet
Shel, here is
an ABC that tells
of you and me
and him
and possibly
a guy named Jim.

A is for ardent, adapt…

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~~a pantoum~~

the winds of rage are pushing us apart
my friend, I cannot see your face
the mask that keeps our friendship safe
is shredding past repair, for now

my friend I cannot see your face
without recalling something gentler
is shredding past repair for now
the distancing, it makes us strangers

without recalling something gentler
navigation goes to pot, I lose true north
the distancing, it makes us strangers
you need space, I need a quiet spot

navigation goes to pot, I lose true north
when I allow your wrath to penetrate;
you need space, I need a quiet spot
these viral times demand a lot of us

when I allow your wrath to penetrate
the mask that keeps our friendship safe
becomes grotesque, distorting truth
the winds of rage are pushing us apart.


The pantoum is a Malayan verse form that is sometimes compared with French forms like the villanelle and rondeau. But it’s not about meter or rhyme; the pantoum repeats lines in a twisty way, described best, imo, by Joyce Carol Oates:

“…a poetic form marvellously suited for conveying extreme states of mind—mania, paranoia, delusion. Writing a pantoum is quite an experience….felt each time as if I were descending into madness, and holding on only by way of a rigorous discipline—in itself a bit mad.”

Wishing you health and sweet moments of calm…

© Elaine Stirling, 2020
Image: “Slave ship”, painting by J.M.W. Turner

To Begin, Begin


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~~a Petrarchan sonnet~~

To begin, begin. There is no other
way to seize the day except in bite-size
momentary victories. The big prize
skips on flagstones, a child to her mother.

Forget the chase! To curse one another
blows this ship to smithereens. No surprise
arrives unseen, though to these wearied eyes
respite delights, a shy, tender lover.

Forgive these shuttered days their laziness.
Allow the crashing, cruel thoughts to plummet.
Breathe confusion upward to a summit
of new symmetries where right and left hand
clasp, polarities dissolve to kindness
slowly to my knees, glancing up, I stand.

© Elaine Stirling, 2020

The title of this sonnet comes from a quote by the poet William Wordsworth who was born this day, April 7, 1770.
Image comes from Public Domain

I Cross the Street When I See You Coming


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~~a viral villanelle~~

I cross the street when I see you coming
because I care that much, I let the tears
fall freely in the bitter wind, so not to touch

my face and long for yours. What’s overcoming
us feels hobnailed, forged of amniotic fears.
I cross the street when I see you coming.

March is nearly over. We’ll be sunning
soon on balconies alone, while Easter nears.
Fall freely in the bitter wind, so not to touch

the viral jokes that, underground, are running
like dank sewer fires. This might last for years!
I cross the street when I see you coming.

Fact is, I might leave you first. Outrunning
negativity’s a marathon that sears, adheres.
Fall freely in the bitter wind, so not to touch

what aggravates. Just let it pass. Cunning
and sweet humour unseats cranky cavaliers.
I cross the street when I see you coming,
fall freely in the bitter wind, so not to touch.

Stay well, friends!

© Elaine Stirling, 2020
Image from Fox9, photographer unknown.

Moistures & Excitements


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unidentified boys’school Date: circa 1905 Source: postcard

True poets do not care that they are read,
the dead ones even less so for they see
the cold rigidity of young hearts bled
of spontaneity. Poor Miss McCree
with ruler tapping meter dares not share
her dreams, mad fuelled by Donne, of Principal
Trelawney. Moistures and excitements, where
are they to hide, cursed, shamed, inimical
to education’s thrust? Alas, a lass
who craves, a lad whose chemistry betrays
him, they’ll not quiver reading Leaves of Grass
but gnash on facts, bound tight like whalebone stays.
While students parse sweet Emily’s refrain,
her slanted lines dash wild against the pane.

© Elaine Stirling, 2020

The Clowns Are Staying Home Today


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The clowns are staying home today. The crowds
have paid their chits, the popcorn gal has learned
her bit, to shake and salt, the tent pole’s
rigged, I’ve polished all my epaulets,
but something small and mean,
gargantuan, has taken down our show.

The beast, let’s call him Ovid, starts to show
his claws and sticky coronet in crowds
whose throats just itch a bit. It doesn’t mean
a thing, the bigwigs say. Have you not learned
that crying wolf is in your head? Let’s
all stay rational. Set up the poles,

we’ll make a go of it! The poles
of left and right who love to show
how much they know will never say, let’s
get along. Conflict brings the crowds.
It’s our best selling point! We’ve learned
to milk, to squeeze the teats of mean.

As a barker, though, I do not mean
to rattle this strange circus, bring the poles
down on our heads. I haven’t learned
yet—have you?—how to navigate a no-show
of a billion tents with rumbling crowds
who’ve nowhere left to go. Let’s

sit with this a while, please. She who lets
the river calmly pass respects the mean
whose curve now shapes the crowds.
Our global weight is snapping poles
in two, four, six, eight. A primal show
is playing to us all, the simple and the learned.

Oh, the things we will have learned
when Gargantua has shat his last! Let’s
not forget who rules the inner show:
the human spirit, heart, who mean—
and ultimately do—well. Set up the poles,
sweet clowns. We’re expecting great crowds!

Author’s Note: This is a sestina, a medieval Spanish poetic form that uses a spiraling repetition of six end words to bring the reader through a vortex, and hopefully a new state of mind by the end.

May we all rise above this soon, and thrive!

© Elaine Stirling, 2020
The image comes from a 2014 blog entitled “Porque ríes, payaso?” Why do you laugh, clown? I don’t know the artist or the blogger’s name.

Viral Ides


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Ides, strange ides today, we crowd as one, bugged,
we march in step, in place, nowhere to go,
can’t cross the seas, a need to be unplugged
and yet to know, I fear the sneeze, the blow.
How many weeks, you say, before the weak
can self-identify? How far is wise,
for when I think of you and thoughts turn bleak,
have I not compromised my own demise?
Immunity’s a pitchy thing, a shade
that darts, a ninja one cannot deploy
mid-storm, and yet, might there not be some made
and ready balm inside me to enjoy?
May sweet simplicity befriend us through
these weeks we learn to be instead of do.

© Elaine Stirling, 2020

Sending wishes of good health to all!

A Sonnet for Sir Terry


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What, oh what, would you make of us today
satirically, Sir Terry, this spinning
disc of whirling thoughts? Do you grandly play
among the stars or do you creep, grinning,
with the spectre we fear so much to touch?
All this advice, inadvertent adverts
very soon will not amount to much, such
fun to elbow bump, though grumps still pervert
at every mimsy turn the joys of life.
Four pachyderms atop a turtle shell.
As science, faith, and politics suffice
to stir the worst and best, I cannot tell
nor must I, thankfully, explain the WHO,
the what or whyfor. Sans wi-fi will do.

Stay healthy, friends!

Image creator unknown: Happy to attribute if anyone could help out.

Secrets to a Happy Life


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~~a Petrarchan sonnet~~

On a wide variety of topics
ranging in breadth, diversity, and scope
from hopes and dreams of a modern zygote
to climate trends in Belizean tropics;
from last year’s indie top pick biopics
to Hittite methodologies for grope
as practiced by a hundred lusty popes,
I could spew a font of vague specifics,
work us up a head of steam, but no, thanks.
These days, I spend all coming revenue
on nourishing my limbic streams with joy,
ignore the creaking politics of cranks
who think resentment somehow clears the view.
To love, to learn, these hold my full employ.


The Petrarchan sonnet, despite the name, was not created by Petrarch, but by Renaissance poets who enjoyed composing in Italian. The structure is octave and sestet: eight lines to introduce the problem or premise, and six for the solution. The rhyme scheme ABBAABBA CDECDE has a different feel from Shakespearean. I’ll need to write a few more before I can explain that difference in words.

© Elaine Stirling, 2019
Image: Lisa Bobechko

Two Zero One Nine, Do You Read Me?


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~~a glosa~~

We stand on the far promontory of centuries!
What is the use of looking behind us
since our task is to smash
the mysterious portals of the impossible?

“Futuristic Manifesto”, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti

Everything’s progression. You and me,
we’re both respective tips of blades
made sharp—or dull— by “Father looked
at life like this, and mother that, so I…” 
And if we die sans heirs, we all still
influence. Creation grinds our vagaries
to dust beneath my feet and frees
me from the appetite to disagree.
Keep up or don’t. Like Etruscan sentries,
we stand on the far promontory of centuries,

contributing with earthy bits and pieces
to terroir that grows a wine particular
to you, I find abrasive or a sickly sweet,
and yet, I’ll creep at night to taste again, in case
I missed some subtlety, and by a single peep
my concave/convex lens adjusts. It grinds us
into sharper focus or like plates tectonic
grates and makes distinct new continents:
Pangaea, panacea, panegyrics, all blinds us.
What is the use of looking behind us

if dread and praise have lock stepped 
so that nothing good I say to you
is heard, and every unintended slight
cuts to the bone? We’ve split apart 
and there’s a fact that oceans of affinity
will never trouble to correct. You dot, I dash,
we are a code no more in vogue, a set
of peeves like kitchen knives whose history
provokes no interest, even less of cash.
Since our task is to smash, 

as far as I can tell, the misbelievers
of their woebegotten truths so there’ll be
less of them, it stands to reason that by leaving you
to tilt your mills and me to grind my axes,
some third construct of our selves will
circumlocute to an axis made more plausible,
dare I say fun, with extra-sensate lubricants.
Meanwhile, the new year, like a chariot, rolls in,
its wheels, friction-free, making audible
the mysterious portals of the impossible.


Filippo Marinetti (1876-1944) was a poet and founder of the Italian Futurist movement. His work is brash and energetic and crackles with outrage. If Marinetti were alive today, social media would be all over him, and we’d be making or breaking friendships based on our alliance. Love it or loathe it, Post-modernism, too, will be history one day.

The image comes from a deck of inspirational cards called Art Oracles. This glosa proves to me they work. 

© Elaine Stirling, 2018