How MacDougal Topped the Score

Bowler = pitcher, tries to knock small sticks (bails) off bigger sticks (stumps) behind the batter; the stumps and bails are a wicket
The batter’s job is to protect the wicket, and if he hits the ball, to run back and forth between the two teams’ wickets in a path called the crease, with the scorer keeping track of how many times he runs back and forth.
slip-rail: a board slid between two fence-posts used as a gate

A peaceful spot is Piper’s Flat. The folk that live around
They keep themselves by keeping sheep and digging up the ground;
But the climate is erratic, and the consequences are
The struggle with the elements is everlasting war.
We’d plough, we’d sow, we’d harrow and then we’d pray for rain;
And then we’d all get flooded out and have to start again.
But the folk are now rejoicing as they’ve never done before,
For we’ve played Molongo cricket, and MacDougal topped the score!

Molongo had a head on it, and challenged us to play
A single-innings match for lunch – the losing team to pay.
We weren’t great guns at cricket, but we couldn’t well say, “No!”
So we settled in to practise, and we let the reaping go.
We scoured the Flat for miles around to gather up our men,
But when the list was tallied we could only number ten.
Then up spoke big Tim Brady: he was always slow to speak,
And he said – “What price MacDougal, who lives down at Cooper’s Creek?”

So we sent for old MacDougal, and he stated in reply
That he’d never played at cricket, but he’d half a mind to try.
He couldn’t come to practise – he was getting in his hay,
But he guessed he’d show the beggars from Molongo how to play.
Now, MacDougal was a Scotsman, a canny one at that,
So he started in to practise with a piling for a bat.
He got Mrs Mac. to bowl him, but she couldn’t run at all,
So he trained is sheep-dog, Pincher, how to scout and fetch the ball.

Now, Pincher was no puppy; he was old, and worn, and grey;
But he understood MacDougal, and – accustomed to obey –
When MacDougal cried out “Fetch it!” he would fetch it in a trice,
But, till the word was “Drop it!” he would grip it like a vice.
And each succeeding night they played until the light grew dim:
Sometimes MacDougal struck the ball – and sometimes the ball struck him!
And when he struck, the ball would plough a furrow in the ground,
But when he missed the impetus would turn him three times round.

At last the fateful day arrived – the day that was to see
Molongo bite the dust, or Piper’s Flat knocked up a tree!
Molongo’s captain won the toss, and sent his men to bat,
And they gave some leather-hunting to the men from Piper’s Flat.
When the ball sped where MacDougal stood, firm planted in his track,
He shut his eyes, and turned him round, and stopped it – with his back!
The highest score was twenty-two, the total sixty-six,
When Brady sent a yorker down that scattered Johnson’s sticks.

Then Piper’s Flat went in to bat, for glory and renown,
But, like the grass before the scythe, our wickets tumbled down.
“Nine wickets down for seventeen, with fifty more to win!”
Our captain heaved a heavy sigh, and sent MacDougal in.
“Ten pounds to one you’ll lose it!” cried a barracker from town;
But MacDougal said “I’ll tak’ it mon!” and planked the money down.
Then he girded up his moleskins in a self-reliant style,
Threw off his hat and boots, and faced the bowler with a smile.

He held the bat the wrong way at, and Johnson with a grin
Stepped lightly to the bowling crease, and sent a “wobbler” in;
MacDougal gently spooned it back to Johnson waiting there,
And then he yelled out “Fetch it!” and started running like a hare.
Molongo shouted “Victory! He’s out as sure as eggs,”
When Pinched darted through the crowd, and ran through Johnson’s legs.
He seized the ball like lightning; then he ran behind a log,
An MacDougal kept on running, while Molongo chased the dog!

They chased him up, they chased him down, they chased him round, and then
They chased him through the slip-rail as the scorer shouted “Ten!”
MacDougal puffed; Molongo swore; excitement was intense;
As the scorer marked down twenty, Pincher cleared a barbed-wire fence.
“Drive at him!” yelled Molongo. “Brain the mongrel with a bat!”
“Run it out! Good old MacDougal!” yelled the men of Piper’s Flat.
MacDougal kept on running, and Pincher doubled back,
The scorer counted “Forty” as they raced across the track.

MacDougal’s legs were giving out, Molongo’s breath was gone –
But still Molongo chased the dog – MacDougal struggled on.
When the scorer shouted “Fifty” they knew the chase could cease;
And MacDougal gasped out “Drop it!” as he dropped within his crease.
Then Pincher dropped the ball, and as instinctively he knew
Discretion was the better plan, he disappeared from view;
And as Molongo’s beaten men exhausted lay around
We raised MacDougal shoulder high, and bore him from the ground.

We bore him to M’Ginniss’s, where lunch was ready laid,
And filled him up with whisky-punch, for which Molongo paid.
We drank his health in bumpers, and we cheered him three times three,
And when Molongo got its breath, Molongo joined the spree.
And the critics say they never saw a cricket match like that,
When MacDougal broke the record in the game at Piper’s Flat;
And the folks were jubilating as they never did before;
For we played Molongo cricket – and MacDougal topped the score!

Thomas E. Spencer (1845 – 1911)

the measure

there is much discussion of late
about about other people’s fitness
who should decide
how things should be done
about, for instance, who should be allowed to marry
or allowed into, or out of, this or that country
or to rule this or that country
and, nearer to my heart, how math should be taught
don’t get me started
I’m not kidding
unless you want to spend the next hour on the natural beauty of algebra, trigonometry, and geometry, of conic sections and set theory and prime factorizations, on why new math as sacrificial lamb is the ignorant event of every decade,
don’t get me started

but I digress
where was I?
oh yes, discussions of other people’s fitness

there is a discussion of fitness missing here, though I admit it interests me not much more than those issues of alleged political import

is anyone discussing the fitness of those discussers to discuss?

I do not feel accurate spelling is vital to intelligent discourse
nor perfect grammar
these things change with time
and level of formality
and culture

this, though, I do consider vital to intelligent discourse:
the capacity for abstract thought should rise from our heads like peacock feathers, enwreathing and enrobing us with glorious colorful shimmering light

and yet
half a century of being wrong has taught me to have another discussion
another factor far too often missing from intelligent discourse
and exponentially of more value than intelligence
it conquers misspelling and bad grammar
leaps ignorance in a single bound
and yes, it is faster than a speeding bullet and stronger than a locomotive
though, sometimes, it makes us loco in our motives
but applied correctly
meaning slathered liberally hither and yon, in every conversation
every discussion
all intelligent discourse
it smooths and softens, raises and refines
it quashes doubt and embellishes hope
it is cyclical, which is easier to do than to say
and it is infinite
and it is

a reading on reading

have you heard the sad fact
that after school most people never read another book?
this is confusing to me
are they too busy? too tired? did they forget how?
it isn’t a lack of great books
I read a new one every year, another weighty tome filled with deathless prose that makes me feel and makes me see things differently, changes my perspective, changes me
and who’s too busy for that?

maybe they don’t want to change
and I get it
because I didn’t either, until I did
it’s inertia, that thing Newton described, that a person without direction will remain directionless, a resister of change will resist until resistance is not futile but painful
because they say we only change when the pain of change is less than the pain of staying the same
and that’s sad, too, if you only change to change the pain
and I know pain can make you tired but never be too tired to move away from pain and what if a book will change you without pain, did you consider that?

but I don’t think they know about the change thing, so it must be that they’ve forgotten how
forgotten how to slip between the covers of a gentleman in Moscow, how to go back to 11.22.63, where to hunt for Red October or ditch the big sleep and be gone with the wind
or they’ve mislaid the memory of saying goodnight moon with a hungry caterpillar and a purple crayon where those wild things weave a web and cats wear hats and hop on who knows who
or maybe they never knew about how the pigeon found that hot dog and why he shouldn’t drive the bus, why Anne must be spelled with an e, how the wind sounds in the willows or how to find where the sidewalk ends

but if a little engine could, even after a terrible horrible no good very bad day
maybe we can teach them again
and they’ll remember that reading doesn’t hurt, it heals
and after the initial inertia instead of resistance we’ll have more readers
and the readers’ kids will be readers
like yours
and like mine
like you
and me
and wouldn’t that be splendid?


Mommy, remember that one time, when we went to the circus?
Remember how I didn’t like their cotton candy but I’m pretty sure I still like cotton candy
Just not theirs
And remember how the fire eater wasn’t eating the fire that day, he was spitting it
And I laughed because spitting is funny
Okay, not really
(Yes, really)
And when he was done we all clapped and I went closer to see if maybe he did eat some fire but he was all done and when I turned around you and Daddy were lost
And I didn’t get scared.
Not much.
At first.
But you were lost for a long time and I started getting just a little bit scared. Not scared enough to cry. Just a little bit.
And then I found Daddy and you were with him and he picked me up and everything was okay
Except I sort of wanted to go home
And Daddy said sure, we can go home if you want, but if you think you might like to see the elephant in the big tent . . . and I thought if Daddy would hang onto me so he didn’t get lost again that would be okay.
And the elephant was fun.

Dude. Remember how lost you were on that hike?
I had to find a ranger to get us out of there.
You were so hungry we ate all the stew he had in his pot so he made more and I could hardly finish it.
He said, been lost long?
and you said three days
and I said liar it’s been a few hours, like right after sunrise
and he said sunrise was eight hours ago
and I said got any more of that stew?
He said he’d take us back to the campground in his jeep and we were there before it got dark and before he left he said here, take my card, this was sort of fun and if you ever want to see the best trails and not let your buddy get lost you guys give me a call and we’ll make a day of it.
I found the card this morning and wondered if you wanted to go hiking. With a professional guide I’ll bet even you can’t get lost.

Remember that time you felt all alone, and nothing was going the way you’d hoped, the way you’d expected?
Remember the panic, realizing you were so small?
And helpless?
Remember that time you felt lost, like you’d never find your way back, like the dark was coming and there was no hope of finding a light?
Remember how your Father picked you up and kept you safe?
Remember how He showed you where it was light and led the way there?
Do you forget, sometimes?
I know I do.
Help me remember.
And I’ll help you remember.
And someday, that’s all we’ll remember.
Remember that.

Dry Heat

at least it’s a dry heat

crematoriums, or would it be crematoria?
they use dry heat

so does the oven in the kitchen
unless you’re using bain marie
which is French for boiled with wet air
a common cause of insanity and death in east Texas

fire is as dry as heat gets
but we don’t want first responders to say at least it’s a dry fire
at least it’s a dry fire

that frying pan you left on the stove top after you rinsed it
when you remembered it and took it off the burner and you forgot how long it had been on so you didn’t use a potholder
that’s a dry heat

in Seattle
or San Franciso
or Milwaukee
they don’t say, when it rains, “at least it’s a cool wet”
it doesn’t help
thank you
thank you very much for reminding me that instead of being cold and wet, I could be hot and wet
because knowing things could be worse always makes the pain go away
worse things happen at sea
possibly to children starving in China
I don’t know
but I still won’t eat liver
so don’t tell me they’re hungry
it doesn’t help

temperatures should have 2 digits
I’m flexible
the first digit can be anywhere from 2 to 7
and the second digit can be anything you like
any number at all
I’m flexible

but when the temperature has 3 digits
no matter what they are
I know it’s a dry heat
I’ve used an oven
and a frying pan
and I’ve been to Seattle
and San Francisco
and even Milwaukee
not China
not yet
and nobody says “at least it’s a cool wet”
nobody says that
and there’s a reason for it
it doesn’t make sense
even to those hungry Chinese children

Butter Comma Peanut

Who decided peanut butter should come first?
What reasoning led to this order?
It is not alphabetical
Unless it was decided by a librarian, butter comma peanut ampersand jelly
Librarians, beautiful minds all, are not the natural arbiters of sandwich naming conventions

It is not historical, the origins of both lost in the mists of time
Though let us explore that concept
Once upon a time, neither existed, no butter comma peanut, no jelly
I would pause for a moment of silence here, sad as the thought of a pre-PBJ world is, but you might think I was finished and applaud so let us press on

At some point in antiquity someone dug up, roasted, salted, and crushed the cotyledons of Arachis hypogaea
And it was good
Someone, was it someone else or the same someone, mashed berries containing a sufficient quantity of pectin and, perhaps they forgot them on the counter, and it jelled into, well, you know
And it was good, too

But which happened first?

Fine, I said origins, mists of time, et cetera
But fruit is easy to find
Peanuts, not so much
Fruit is obvious, over time becoming sweeter, and mushier, with no help from Homo Sapiens
Peanuts, not so much
What with the digging (why?) and the roasting (why?) and salting, which I get, but crushing, again why?
Jelly is obvious, likely, spontaneous, inevitable
Peanut butter, not so much

And yet
If someone were to offer you a jelly and peanut butter sandwich
Or, in fact, a jelly and butter comma peanut sandwich
Or even a sandwich comma jelly ampersand butter comma peanut
Would you trust them?
Would your taste buds tingle?
Or would that be the hairs at the back of your neck?
Because whatever the origins
Or not so much
Even a child knows
Peanut butter comes first
(except, dear librarians, in the dictionary)

Nothing to Wear

what, exactly, do you mean by “nothing to wear”?
because you may have forgotten, but we share a closet
and I just tried to hang up a shirt

do you mean nothing you like?
because, if I recall correctly and correct me if I’m wrong
didn’t you buy all that stuff?
and didn’t you like it when you bought it?

or do you mean nothing appropriate for the occasion, which I can certainly understand
up to a point
but let’s remember it’s karaoke at the neighbors, not Cleopatra’s barge down the Nile
Marc Antony, that cummerbund is too to excruciating, well done my good man
and I get keeping up with the Joneses
even if their name is really wait don’t tell me I see it on the mailbox every time we pull in Mortense I think the missing letter is an N Mortensen

or do you mean nothing that fits?

there are whole colonies where they don’t worry if they have nothing to wear because that’s what they wear all the time
but that is not us
or here
or now
because we are, like Cleo and Marc, civilized

so then, what, exactly do you mean?
you’d think I’d know by now, but I’m still learning
it’s a steep curve
and speaking of curves . . .

The Engineer’s Funeral

when we’re told to look to the ant
it is because they are industrious
not because they are smart
consider: if a shoe the size of a Lincoln Continental smooshed a guy down the street, would you rush down so you could be next?

even their industriousness is shaded
and I mean no disrespect, because they do indeed get things done
you can, when you never sleep
your whole life
at all
not to mention your 99,999 brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and cousins once twice thrice removed
because that is a lot of sleepless doing of stuff
but if two of you grab the same twig
and then head in opposite directions
because, you know, the “no leader” thing
you might be observed in a certain laboratory playing tug of war for two weeks
and that twig could have sprouted roots for all the progress you’ve made

there is a chap who finds empty nests
of the ant kind
and fills them with aluminum
of the molten kind
and then
dig dig dig
flip brush wash
and mount
you have a monument in aluminum to the engineering prowess of a tiny chap and his extended family who still don’t have the sense to avoid their third cousin’s funeral