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Six Poems by R. S. Gwynn

Scenes from the Playroom

Now Lucy with her family of dolls

Disfigures Mother with an emery board,

While Charles, with match and rubbing alcohol,

Readies the struggling cat, for Chuck is bored.

The young ones pour more ink into the water

Through which the latest goldfish gamely swims,

Laughing, pointing at naked, neutered Father.

The toy chest is a Buchenwald of limbs.


Mother is so lovely; Father, so late.

The cook is off, yet dinner must go on.

With onions as her only cause for tears

She hacks the red meat from the slippery bone,

Setting the table, where the children wait,

Her grinning babies, clean behind the ears.

Published in No Word of Farewell and Dogwatch.

God’s Secretary

Her email in-box always overflows.

Her out-box doesn’t get much use at all.

She puts on hold the umpteen-billionth call

As music oozes forth to placate those

Who wait, then disconnect. Outside, wind blows,

Scything green leaves. She sees a sparrow fall,

Fluttering to a claw-catch on a wall.

Will He be in today? God only knows.


She’s never seen His face — He’s so aloof —

And long resigned He’ll neither know nor love her,

She can still wish there were some call, some proof

That He requires a greater service of her.

Fingers of rain now drum upon the roof,

Coming from somewhere, somewhere far above her.

Published in No Word of Farewell and Dogwatch.

Here the Sleepers

Here the darling dear ones, here the sleepers

Gather at the tables in their chairs,

Wakened and impelled here by their keepers,

            Singly or in pairs.


Here the cards are laid or here the dinner —

Kernels for the bingo, kernels canned —

No one shouts but here and there a winner

            Lifts a livered hand.


Silence is the regulum they keep here;

Here among the muted maze of halls

Many sleep or soon will fall asleep here,

            Pushed against the walls.


There’s a smell that cannot quite be named here,

Hanging like a soilure of the air.

Sons and daughters are unjustly blamed here —

            Yes, it is unfair.


Televisions glimmer in the rooms — how

Fortune-filled the weal that they display!

Secret doors may open onto tombs now

            Or another day.


Safely stowed where not a soul may cheat them

Of the rights obtaining from their birth,

Here with gentlest measures let us treat them.

            Once, they ruled the earth.

Published in No Word of Farewell and Dogwatch.


                        The North Atlantic

                        March, 1944


The “happy time” is long past, and the great

Convoy steams eastward at nine knots to fill

Bellies of bombers and of boys whose fate

Will be to seek out other boys to kill.

Or be killed.  Twenty-six, my father stands

The dogwatch, and he smokes and looks to sea,

Having this evening folded winning hands

And held out for the right card patiently,

Raking a future in with bills and chips.

A flash, a muffled crack, and not much more,

And where, a moment since, one of our ships

Has been, more depths of darkness than before,

And, far behind, a home, a son, a wife,

And, waiting with them to be lived, a life.

Published in Hudson Review, No Word of Farewell, and Dogwatch.

R. S. Gwynn

The Villain of the Piece

He was one for all the ages (though he got that way by stages —

            As a baby he was docile, sweet and mild).

It is true he teethed on tables and he liked to chew off labels

            (You could see the chips and colors when he smiled).

Still, his mother seemed to love him (while Dad hovered stern above him

            With pronouncements that the lad would turn out wild).


He was not without some pity when he found a starving kitty

            And his tortures, to his mind, were games of tease.

He would love to catch a spider to explore what was inside her

            But he always knew to answer “pretty please.”

He once set the dog on fire. The bad boy had irked his ire

            And besides the treatment cured her of her fleas.


At his school he was a loner with a stiff persistent boner,

            Which he treated with a secret cache of mags.

On the day that Mother found them scattered on the rug around him

            He was much ashamed and stuffed them into bags

That he pedaled off to Goodwill at a speed that surely could kill

            (Though he substituted Kitty and some rags).


From the partners whom he cheated and the minions he mistreated

            There arose a ghostly chorus of dismay.

So he pilfered all their riches?  They were silly sons of bitches,

            And he never let his conscience spoil his day

As he twirled his diamond stickpin and made haste to poke his prick in

            Any innocent who blindly strolled his way.


You’re familiar with the story, how he triumphed in inglory

            As a menace to all maidens in distress,

How he waxed his black mustaches and he sneered in tones of ashes

            And in brief insured his lessees did with less.

Moral? No one reads the rights on one who clearly sets his sights on

            One of many, many measures of success.

Published in No Word of Farewell and Dogwatch.

Looney Tunes

                            For John Whitworth


It begins with the division of a solitary cell,

Carcinogenetic fission leading to a passing-bell,

Lurking far beneath your vision like a pebble in a well —

                        Then it grows.

Soon enough there comes a scalpel that is keen to save your life,

Crooning, “All things will be well, pal, if you just survive the knife,

But to climb the tallest Alp’ll be much easier. Call your wife.”

            Then it grows, grows, grows.  Then it grows.


Say you can’t remember Monday night when Tuesday rolls around.

Does it mean they’ll find you one day blind and frothing on the ground?

Is it ominous that Sunday sermons make your temples pound?

                        (How it shows!)

You may take the pledge, abstaining, thinking you can lick it all.

But it’s hard when, ascertaining how diversions may enthrall,

You’re still standing there and draining one well past the final call:

            How it shows, shows, shows.  (How it shows!)

You may lose a set of car keys and mislay a name or face.

Does your mind demand bright marquees where each star must have its place?

It’s like diving in the dark. It’s less a river than a race.

                        And it flows

Like the coming days of drivel, like the dreaded days of drool

When the very best you’ll give’ll prove you’re just an antique fool,

And your thoughts will be so trivial as to lead to ridicule —

            And it flows, flows, flows.  And it flows.


Do you want to be a burden? Can you stand to be a drag?

Make your mind up, say the word and do not let the moment lag.

When you go to get your guerdon let them see your battle flag!

                        So it goes.

There’ll be many there who’ll miss you and a few to lend a hand,

There’ll be baskets full of tissue, lots of awful music, and

Lissome maidens who won’t kiss you as you seek the promised land.

            So it goes, goes, goes.  So it goes.

Published in Best American Poetry, No Word of Farewell, and Dogwatch.

Sam and Leon.jpg

Sam and Leon Stokesbury, poet, 1945–2018

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