Poets' Poem


O do not love Carlotta,

My strong narrative poet,

She with her blond hair and stiletto heels,

Her flashy triplets and slant rhyme,

Her fondness for Browning and Bordeaux,

Tapas bars and beat poets,

All transient, a brief spark,

Then relegated to darkness

and the B&N remainder bin.


O do not be seduced

By Carlotta's use of the canto form,

For her verses do not sing,

They waddle and quack like a drunken duck,

Much as Carlotta herself does

When reading her epic, The Wreck of the Old Fitzgerald (86 Proof).

O do not answer Carlotta's Siren call

Of ample bosom and tired tropes

For that way lies death by rhyming couplets

And drowning in a sea of forgettable poetry,

Thrown on the rocky shore

of a thousand survey classes and

Repetition, not of immortal verse, but of

Will this be on the test?


O do not chase Carlotta,

My strong narrative poet,

Because she is cosseted and rich.

She is as free with her body

As she is with her verse,

Her assonance showing in every line she writes,

Her mind as blank as her verse,

Odd little rhymes like a feather tickling your ear,

Once fun, then an eternity of annoyance.


No, my strong narrative poet,

Love me instead.

With me a life

Of sonnets, sestinas and villanelles,

Of hummus and cheddar and sensible shoes.

We will speak no similes

And bicycle through life,

Our love warm and comforting,

Not a conflagration that consumes all.

We will live on love and words,

Read our poetry aloud,

To keep us warm

On a long winter's eve.

The Last Scheduled Poet


You are the last scheduled poet of the evening.

The poets fortunate enough to read early

(and to whom you had to listen politely,

even though you are a much better poet),

vacated quickly for good seats

at the bar of The Trendy New Bistro Jorge

((or that is its name--the Trendy New Bistro Jorge).

You hate them.

Your parents and siblings and friends and poets waiting for the open mike

sit patiently

waiting to see if the time you spent at

The Far Rockaway Summer Institute for Poetry and the Arts

was worth the time and expense.

(You liked the arts, the poetry

not so much.

What you really liked was Mike the potter

with the firm, sure, gentle hands that caressed the clay as it spun around and around on the wheel....)


You have to read.

You walk behind the lectern,

You shuffle your papers,

Just like you practiced, just like

All the other poets shuffle their papers.

You clear your throat.

You read your title.

You read your poem.

You walk from behind the lectern.

Your mother claps for you.

Your father stares vaguely at any place you do not occupy.

It is just like home.

Your brother flirts with a blonde open mike poet wearing stiletto heels.

You hope the earlier poets,

The lucky poets

Who are not as good poets as you,

Saved a seat for you at the bar of The Trendy New Bistro Jorge

(For that is its name).

Should I Do Prose?


Because one does prose,

you know.

You do prose before it does you,

Driving you into uniform lines,

suitable for crop reports,

annual reports, book reports.

Or perhaps you prefer stories,

Short stories, scary stories,

funny stories, true stories,

Stephen King.

Perhaps you are a fan of

alienation and angst.

Textbooks are for you.

Or perhaps you have no fresh ideas.

Write scripts for movies and TV.

Whatever your metier

(But if you know the meaning of metier,

you are not fit to write prose)

You can write prose. After all,

we all grew up speaking prose.

How hard can it be?

Back to Top

Cat and Bird


I glance up

From my reading

Of Peterson's Guide

Just in time

To see the cat

Peer through the window

As if picking out

A finch or wren

Chattering, chirping and squawking

To stake a claim

On a prime branch,

A raucous avian cacophony

Over my left shoulder,

Surely disturbing his meditation.

The cat loses interest,

Having protected his place

And kept birds away.

He drops his head

Onto his paws

And sighs.

Can't say

I disagree.

Cat poem


I have to write a cat poem.

The cat insists,

Sitting on my lap

Butt pushed into

My stomach,

Tail flicking at my chest,

My elbows forced

Into my ribs

To hold the notebook

At an awkward angle

To capture this special moment

And write this poem.

The tail has stopped flicking

And is now curled around the cat,

A sign she will soon be asleep.

I am told this is a cute pose.

My wife says it looks like

Chessie, the cat that used to adorn

Chesapeake & Ohio boxcars.

To me it is dead weight,

As I try to shift so I can write

More comfortably.

The cat is not concerned

With creature comforts

Other than her own,

And makes no effort to help.

When I am released,

I will ensure the endless river

Of cat food still flows,

The litter box cleaned,

Toys still spread out on the floor

Where they can be ignored,

All for a reward

Of a warm spot on my lap

When the cat jumps off

To look through the screen door

At a squirrel

Crossing the front yard.

It is a fair trade.

Two Cats


One cat

knows how to leap.

It calculates the effort‚ and grace‚ it needs

to reach the mark, and when complete

sits proudly atop the goal,

preening in triumph.

Unless it is a cautious cat.

Who leaps only to the edge

and scans the surface

to ensure the path is clear.

Then it claws and climbs to the goal.

It is too busy exploring to preen.

Sometimes it slides and scrabbles

down the side of the cabinet,

carried by its own weight,

looking foolish and out of control.

It walks away,

perhaps defeated but not discouraged.

It will try again.

It will succeed.

Curiosity will never kill this cat.

It will shed no life, only the cost of a bit of pride.

Cats have pride to spare.

Back to Top

This is Not a Poem about War


I once had a teacher

Who said, "Do not paint sunflowers.

Van Gogh painted the perfect sunflower.

Why waste your time?

The world does not need

More sunflowers."

True, too, about poems about war.

There are already

many great poems about war,

about the dead and dying,

about raw emotion,

about tragedy,

about waste,

about loss,

about victory,

about triumph,

about reflection.

This is not another poem about war.

This is not another poem about war,

even though the conditions are right.

Many battles were fought

under equally brilliant blue skies

on a clear September afternoon,

when streams turned red

with the blood of young men

who never understood why they had to die

when their cause was so noble.

This is not another poem about war,

wars past or present,

wars between nations or people,

wars between friends or foes,

wars halfway around the world or right next door

or the wars that rage within us.

This is not another poem about war.

I am not brave, I am not courageous,

I am not noble, I have no cause.

I am not angry, nor am I righteous.

I have no emotions, no words

to spill on the making of war,

on things I do not know.

Wars are always with us.

There will always be a chance

to write a poem about war.

I do not take those chances.

I will not write that poem.

I leave the sunflowers to the gardeners,

the wars to those who know war,

and the poems of war to those

who need to spill ink

where too much has been spilled before.

On the Street


Today offers a respite for

The walkers and joggers.

Sunny and cool,

Following days of heat and rain,

Reestablishing street rhythms and textures.

On foot or bicycle,

The first wave surges by


Moving purposefully for duty, not joy.

Impatient owners tug on leashes

As dogs try to linger

At the message tree across the street

Anxious to finish their task.

Seniors, alone or with friends,

Maintain a steady pace, each day

A mirror of yesterday—and tomorrow.

Young mothers jog or walk, carrying or pushing their chattering children,

Making noises for the joy of it,

And the sake of making noise.

A grandfather and grandson in matching ball caps amble past,

Letting the floppy eared puppy set the pace

As it sniffs each weed in the lawn.

Movers attach a ramp to the back of a truck, and unload furniture

For the new tenant two doors down.

A focused young woman with dog in tow,

Away from the early wave, away from her kind,

Strides into view.

The dog rushes to the tree and

Sniffs around it.

The girl turns, ready to tug at the leash,

to continue on the path.

But then

She begins to dance—

Steps to the side, back again,

Her shoulders and hips moving in time

With music only she hears.

The dog finishes its inspection and takes the lead.

They continue on,

But not before they leave

The day and a memory


From pretty to beautiful.



Sultry skin

Tawny tendrils

Electric eyes

Crackling with ardor

Sending sparks across the room

Brushing the skin

Setting fire to every man

Where she looks

Imagination where magic did not used to be.

Those foolish enough to look back

Are ensnared

The timed and the wise,

Looking away, escape,

Seemingly safe until drawn

Into her orbit

By liquid lips,

Or perpetual motion of

Hair, hips or fingertips

She is a type, the temptress,

Never to be called perky

Or cheerful or steady

No matter how much she may wish it,

Always a spark

Seeking kindling,

A power of chaos,

Ruining plans

And cultivated lives,

Destroying dreams

Of morality,

A cog in an eternal struggle,

Always with us,

A Salome, a Delilah,

A Bathsheba, a Lilith,

A witch, a succubus,

A woman with power

A power that powers fears

And men desire


TomatoPlanet!! is a random collection of writing, cartoons, and things that strike my fancy. © 2003-2020, John McCarthy

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