A Hundred Collars
by Robert Frost
[from North of Boston (1914)]
Lancaster bore him—such a little town,
Such a great man. It doesn't see him often
Of late years, though he keeps the old homestead
And sends the children down there with their mother
To run wild in the summer—a little wild.
Sometimes he joins them for a day or two
And sees old friends he somehow can't get near.
They meet him in the general store at night,
Pre-occupied with formidable mail,
Rifling a printed letter as he talks.
They seem afraid. He wouldn't have it so:
Though a great scholar, he's a democrat,
If not at heart, at least on principle.
Lately when coming up to Lancaster
His train being late he missed another train
And had four hours to wait at Woodsville Junction
After eleven o'clock at night. Too tired
To think of sitting such an ordeal out,
He turned to the hotel to find a bed.
"No room," the night clerk said. "Unless——"
Woodsville's a place of shrieks and wandering lamps
And cars that shook and rattle—and one hotel.
"You say 'unless.'"
"Unless you wouldn't mind
Sharing a room with someone else."
"Who is it?"
"So I should hope. What kind of man?"
"I know him: he's all right. A man's a man.
Separate beds of course you understand."
The night clerk blinked his eyes and dared him on.
"Who's that man sleeping in the office chair?
Has he had the refusal of my chance?"
"He was afraid of being robbed or murdered.
What do you say?"
"I'll have to have a bed."
The night clerk led him up three flights of stairs
And down a narrow passage full of doors,
At the last one of which he knocked and entered.
"Lafe, here's a fellow wants to share your room."
"Show him this way. I'm not afraid of him.
I'm not so drunk I can't take care of myself."
The night clerk clapped a bedstead on the foot.
"This will be yours. Good-night," he said, and went.
"Lafe was the name, I think?"
You got it the first time. And yours?"
"Well, a teacher."
Hold on, there's something I don't think of now
That I had on my mind to ask the first
Man that knew anything I happened in with.
I'll ask you later—don't let me forget it."
The Doctor looked at Lafe and looked away.
A man? A brute. Naked above the waist,
He sat there creased and shining in the light,
Fumbling the buttons in a well-starched shirt.
"I'm moving into a size-larger shirt.
I've felt mean lately; mean's no name for it.
I just found what the matter was to-night:
I've been a-choking like a nursery tree
When it outgrows the wire band of its name tag.
I blamed it on the hot spell we've been having.
'Twas nothing but my foolish hanging back,
Not liking to own up I'd grown a size.
Number eighteen this is. What size do you wear?"
The Doctor caught his throat convulsively.
"Fourteen! You say so!
I can remember when I wore fourteen.
And come to think I must have back at home
More than a hundred collars, size fourteen.
Too bad to waste them all. You ought to have them.
They're yours and welcome; let me send them to you.
What makes you stand there on one leg like that?
You're not much furtherer than where Kike left you.
You act as if you wished you hadn't come.
Sit down or lie down, friend; you make me nervous."
The Doctor made a subdued dash for it,
And propped himself at bay against a pillow.
"Not that way, with your shoes on Kike's white bed.
You can't rest that way. Let me pull your shoes off."
"Don't touch me, please—I say, don't touch me, please.
I'll not be put to bed by you, my man."
"Just as you say. Have it your own way then.
'My man' is it? You talk like a professor.
Speaking of who's afraid of who, however,
I'm thinking I have more to lose than you
If anything should happen to be wrong.
Who wants to cut your number fourteen throat!
Let's have a show down as an evidence
Of good faith. There is ninety dollars.
Come, if you're not afraid."
"I'm not afraid.
There's five: that's all I carry."
"I can search you?
Where are you moving over to? Stay still.
You'd better tuck your money under you
And sleep on it the way I always do
When I'm with people I don't trust at night."
"Will you believe me if I put it there
Right on the counterpane—that I do trust you?"
"You'd say so, Mister Man.—I'm a collector.
My ninety isn't mine—you won't think that.
I pick it up a dollar at a time
All round the country for the Weekly News,
Published in Bow. You know the Weekly News?"
"Known it since I was young."
"Then you know me.
Now we are getting on together—talking.
I'm sort of Something for it at the front.
My business is to find what people want:
They pay for it, and so they ought to have it.
Fairbanks, he says to me—he's editor—
Feel out the public sentiment—he says.
A good deal comes on me when all is said.
The only trouble is we disagree
In politics: I'm Vermont Democrat—
You know what that is, sort of double-dyed;
The News has always been Republican.
Fairbanks, he says to me, 'Help us this year,'
Meaning by us their ticket. 'No,' I says,
'I can't and won't. You've been in long enough:
It's time you turned around and boosted us.
You'll have to pay me more than ten a week
If I'm expected to elect Bill Taft.
I doubt if I could do it anyway.'"
"You seem to shape the paper's policy."
"You see I'm in with everybody, know 'em all.
I almost know their farms as well as they do."
"You drive around? It must be pleasant work."
"It's business, but I can't say it's not fun.
What I like best's the lay of different farms,
Coming out on them from a stretch of woods,
Or over a hill or round a sudden corner.
I like to find folks getting out in spring,
Raking the dooryard, working near the house.
Later they get out further in the fields.
Everything's shut sometimes except the barn;
The family's all away in some back meadow.
There's a hay load a-coming—when it comes.
And later still they all get driven in:
The fields are stripped to lawn, the garden patches
Stripped to bare ground, the apple trees
To whips and poles. There's nobody about.
The chimney, though, keeps up a good brisk smoking.
And I lie back and ride. I take the reins
Only when someone's coming, and the mare
Stops when she likes: I tell her when to go.
I've spoiled Jemima in more ways than one.
She's got so she turns in at every house
As if she had some sort of curvature,
No matter if I have no errand there.
She thinks I'm sociable. I maybe am.
It's seldom I get down except for meals, though.
Folks entertain me from the kitchen doorstep,
All in a family row down to the youngest."
"One would suppose they might not be as glad
To see you as you are to see them."
Because I want their dollar? I don't want
Anything they've not got. I never dun.
I'm there, and they can pay me if they like.
I go nowhere on purpose: I happen by.—
Sorry there is no cup to give you a drink.
I drink out of the bottle—not your style.
Mayn't I offer you——?"
"No, no, no, thank you."
"Just as you say. Here's looking at you then.—
And now I'm leaving you a little while.
You'll rest easier when I'm gone, perhaps—
Lie down—let yourself go and get some sleep.
But first—let's see—what was I going to ask you?
Those collars—who shall I address them to,
Suppose you aren't awake when I come back?"
"Really, friend, I can't let you. You—may need them."
"Not till I shrink, when they'll be out of style."
"But really I—I have so many collars."
"I don't know who I rather would have have them.
They're only turning yellow where they are.
But you're the doctor as the saying is.
I'll put the light out. Don't you wait for me:
I've just begun the night. You get some sleep.
I'll knock so-fashion and peep round the door
When I come back so you'll know who it is.
There's nothing I'm afraid of like scared people.
I don't want you should shoot me in the head.—
What am I doing carrying off this bottle?—
There now, you get some sleep."
He shut the door.
The Doctor slid a little down the pillow.
Helen Shepard at Jim's Coffeehouse & Diner, 2011 — photo by JC
suited street preacher
stupid street preacher
standing in the drizzle outside
the run-down co-op
star of cctv (piece to camera)
battle-zone front-line where
grasping hold of a leather bound
king james bible (£26.99 from amazon)
holding tight for all his worth and twisting
words (this is the word < > drow)
behind him graffiti reads ‘cunt’
which seems savagely blunt
but if the crown (with or without thorns) fits …
hand out god leaflets
be a sunbeam
in the grey grizzle
his congregation of kids from the estate
do bmx wheelies
as he delivers all his best bits
they only come to take the piss
maybe cast the first brick
telling him to fuck off back to sandal heaven
oblivious he preaches on with a
mad look of obsession
death ray lasers (1950’s sci-fi eyes)
as he watches
hell and fire
and naturally damnation of the eternal kind
should you accept it
to read this poem before it self destructs
in fifteen seconds)
his mission being spread the word
because jesus ain’t as popular
as the beatles and the beatles ain’t as popular
as oasis and oasis ain’t as popular
as lady gaga
for if it carries on like this
the meek can go fuck themselves (lube up meek)
the scum will inherit the earth
angelic choirs will sing (or sin) to drum&bass
and urban grime with killer rhymes
it’s at this point
that this poem begins to self destruct
but if god was gangsta
all those fallen women jesus saved
for a rainy day
would be getting their kits off
donating the tips they earned with their tits
to saving this verse
then we would know
what the preacher did next
and the world wouldn’t be stuck up
the arses of the meek
please make a small donation
to help build an ode
for the crippled children of drow
a small weekly amount
just fill in your bank account details
GIVE US YER FUCKING MONEY NOW
When I'm Among a Blaze of Lights
by Siegfried Sassoon
[from The Old Huntsman and Other Poems, 1918]
When I’m among a blaze of lights,
With tawdry music and cigars
And women dawdling through delights,
And officers in cocktail bars,
Sometimes I think of garden nights
And elm trees nodding at the stars.
I dream of a small firelit room
With yellow candles burning straight,
And glowing pictures in the gloom,
And kindly books that hold me late.
Of things like these I choose to think
When I can never be alone:
Then someone says ‘Another drink?’
And turns my living heart to stone.
readers are reminded that this poem
contains cliché dialogue
a hint of cartoon violence and a plot line
of no real significance
that some readers may find mildly irritating
THE STORY SO FAR
i’m the perfect usual candidate
to be a tv police suspect
i’ve always been aware of that
i’ve that sort of face
the sort of face with one caterpillar eyebrow
a hairy creature that sits on my brow
laying in wait
THE CANYON RIDDLE
during a murder investigation
where a body was found in a canyon
although no one was there
to hear the scream
(except the murderer
according to the tv detectives
was me and only me
so help me god)
nine out of ten tv police detectives
will always point the finger at
the first person on the scene
wearing a unibrow
then cut to the next scene
in the pub
celebrating with a whiskey chaser
and cop drama laughter
SORRY OFFICERS, I’VE NOT COMMITTED A CRIME
not this time
they had their prime suspect
but they had no motive
bring him in let’s lean on him a bit
said the super
we’ll use some electricity
push him down a few stairs (so to speak)
strap some dynamite
between his legs
he might just want to spill the beans
tell us all
BREAK FOR A COMMERCIAL
have a smile that’s glowing and bright
brush your teeth with new radioactive white
for that beaming confidence
made from the finest
the chief super’s eyes
were like tape recorder reels
his mind a mass of tangled
he went into rewind and said
on the day in question
you first tried to kill
mr roadrunner esq by dropping
an anvil on his head
sly crafty wily beast that you are
you had a back-up plan
the 100 ton weight did the trick
and now mr roadrunner esq
beep! beeps! no more
what the …
you think i’m a cartoon
well you have been sketchy
about your whereabouts
i’ve been nowhere near the canyon
i went to a rock concert
with my mates
barney and fred
got home late i was starving
the only thing i murdered
was a bowl of cornflakes
i don’t like the look of this one
said p c plod
could be we’ve got ourselves
a serial killer
TUNE IN NEXT WEEK
END ON A CLIFF-HANGER
CUE THEME MUSIC
inspector gadget as chief super
deputy dawg as pc plod
wile e coyote as wile e coyote
THAT’S ALL FOLKS
‘TILL NEXT WEEK
by Siegfried Sassoon
[from The Old Huntsman and Other Poems, 1918]
She triumphs, in the vivid green
Where sun and quivering foliage meet;
And in each soldier’s heart serene;
When death stood near them they have seen
The radiant forests where her feet
Move on a breeze of silver sheen.
And they are fortunate, who fight
For gleaming landscapes swept and shafted
And crowned by cloud pavilions white;
Hearing such harmonies as might
Only from Heaven be downward wafted—
Voices of victory and delight.