The very first poem that reached out and grabbed my attention by the lapels was inscribed on a little plastic tag attached to the sliding grip-tab of the zipper of a brand new coat I received when I was in third grade. It wasn't only the cheddar-sharp rhyme and rhythm pattern, or the creative cleverness of the mis-spellings it included that caught me up in its thrall, but the absolute simplicity of the four-liner. Suddenly Life had 'gifted me' with this unexpected trinket... and trinkets never failed to make me happy in those simpler times.
Here is what it said:
Spring haz sprung
The grass has riz...
I wonder where
My jacket iz...
It was as tiny and sweet as a cherry Life Saver on my tongue, and I memorized it and recited it often on the playground. It seemed to have a positive effect on my peers. Girls seem to like it especially. I told my friends that I had written it, a lie that eventually even I came to believe myself.
Yes. That's right. I lied. And...
OK, I'll admit it: I'm lying right now. The above little cutie of a jingle was neither my first, nor the one that exerted the most influence on my wordsmith development during those seminal years. The one that did that... and oh, I blush to identify it... (OK, there were actually two) came my way in second grade...
Our teacher, Miss Wutzerface, was doing a poetry unit with us (or should I say to us?). I doubt the old bag could've written an actual couplet to save her own wrinkled skin, so she was doing the only thing she could do: reading to us some humorous (but innocuous) little limericks from a book of them she kept on her desk. I remember particularly liking this one:
The bottle of perfume that Willie sent
was highly displeasing to Millicent.
Her thanks were so cold
that they quarreled, I'm told,
o'er that silly scent Willie sent Millicent!
Yes... limericks can be cute and clever, and 'cute and clever' have always worked for me. But no... the Millicent limerick isn't the one that pulled me in forever, either. On the contrary, it was the two Miss W. didn't read...
See, she made one mistake. After reading two or three limericks that we all enjoyed, she made the mistake of saying this: "I'd like to read you more limericks, boys and girls, but I can't. Most limericks are just a tad on the naughty side... and most of the other ones in this book are just that... a little too naughty for me to read aloud, I'm afraid."
Now, she had no way of knowing this at the time, but 'naughty' for me was a powerful buzz-word. In fact, it was right up there in the list of my all-time favorite vocabulary words. I had been naughty, see? I had been naughty often, in fact, and had always wholeheartedly enjoyed the experiences immensely. Loved them! 'Naughtiness' was practically my middle name... Consequently, my focus was now on that book, which she proceeded to leave... on... her... desk (mistake #2)!
Over the next few days, I would hover around her desk, especially when she was being distracted by helping somebody on their homework. My hand then, which had a life of its own, would tiptoe on its fingertips over toward that book and surreptitiously leaf through it while my voyeuristic eyes looked on from afar. And my God! Not only were the limericks indeed... deliciously 'naughty,' but they were (gasp!) illustrated as well! I was aghast! I was... well, I was titillated is what I was... My breathing was altered. And I was mesmerized. Consumed. I didn't know it then, but I had discovered the softest of 'soft porn.'
It was forbidden fruit, that's what it was! And I had to have it! I couldn't help myself! And over the next week or so, I covertly managed to tear two of the most... shall we say... erotic ones out of her book, secreting them back home to my room! Where... inspired, and with pen in hand, I began to experiment... with limericks! The evil was in my blood! I was on my way to becoming... a poet!!!!!!!!
Here are the purloined poems...
PINOCCHIO by Tom Lyford
Did the virgin-pure, see-no-evil
hearts of any of those other little boys
in the flickery moviedark leap up
(like mine) at all of those all-night,
carnie-barker come-ons amid the
sparkleworks of Pleasure Island…
those Big Rock Candy Mountain
free cigars… that stained-glass
church window just begging you
to pitch a brick through it… that
get-away-with-it ‘Rough House’…
or those mugs of draft beer at the
Pleasure Island Pool Hall Emporium...?
Did the no-curfew concept also set
their y-chromosomes resonating
like little tuning forks in the dark?
Did Pinocchio arouse the
snakes and snails and puppy
dog tails in those guys too?
Or (Good Lord!) was I
the only donkey boy