Salt Shakers and atrocious poetry I have known
| I heard them coming before they reached the crest of the hill. I was nine years old again, reclining in bed on a sunny afternoon, looking out the window, at the road that meandered up the slope. It was a dirt road, packed hard from the passing of wagons. It must have been around 1895 and I think I was in England, a place where poets would describe such scenes.
When I was nine and sick in bed,
The road outside before me led,
I never was one to write poetry, but in my mind I expected Stevenson or Housman to grab a pen and start setting my vision to paper. Then I realized neither of them knew Willie the Penguin.
He was leading the march as they came over the top of the hill. Along side was Mrs. Willie and following just behind in lockstep were Mr. and Mrs. Planter Peanut. Their feet stirred up dust from the road, so that it was difficult to make out the next rank, but I could see the predecessors of Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima, four Black servants dressed to be recognizable to the poets of that time. The procession began to wind down the hill toward my house. I ran to the window to get a better view. I could now see Jack and Jackie in their Camelot glory.
I threw open the sash. They were singing,
"Shall we gather at the river,
Where bright angel feet have trod,
With its crystal tides forever
Flowing by the throne of God."
People always sing in my reveries. I began to sing with them, all of them: the fish, the creatures of the forest, the Amish couple and even the pots and pans. Mr. Peanut looked up and was tipping his top hat at me when the phone jarred me awake with its ring.
"Hello, talk to me."
"Is this Death & Taxes?"
"Yes, it is, what do you want?"
My finger was poised to hit the off button.
"This is Mike Emerick of the Better Business Bureau."
I knew I should have answered Mary Lou's call.
"You have a fine company with no complaints against it. We'd like you to join."
Another telemarketing person shilling for money! "Well, I get all my business from recommendations."
"And that is just why you should join. No one will be afraid to give out your name."
I looked out the window; it was sunny and hot. The only parade going by was the man from down the road walking his overweight Labrador. I grabbed the phone again, dialed and heard an automated voice telling me to press the extension of the person I wanted.
"This is Pam, how can I help you?"
"You and your damn salt-shakers. I was just dreaming about them. They were marching on my house."
"With torches? Were they after the monster?"
"No they were singing that hymn they sing in 'Darling Clementine.' And I was a little boy again, maybe eight or nine, resting in bed, looking out the window."
I heard her suppressing a laugh. She went on as I almost knew she would, "You're funny. You really are, but I do thank you so much for helping me unwrap them and get my china cabinet filled. You must have been bored stiff."
“I wasn’t bored at all. Doing things with you is fun.”
“Thank you, David. My neighbors are very impressed with what I’ve done to my house, but guess what?”
“I found another bin full of wrapped salt-shakers. We can sit at the table and look at them next time you come. I think these may be some of the best ones.”
There was a second of silence. “I can hear you mumbling, David. ‘What am I getting into with this crazy woman?’ Well, this time I promise to feed you!”
“You fed me last time. Anyway, you started joking and I did not tell you the best part about the marching salt-shakers. You know the one you have as your centerpiece?”
I heard her giggle again. “You mean the naked woman with the big boobies that are the shakers?”
“Yes, that one, your kids’ favorite when they were young.”
“Well, what about it? I have to get back to work sometime.”
“Sorry. To make it short, since she is reclining and can’t march, they had her mounted on a float, like in a religious procession where they carry the Virgin Mary. There they were, carrying this naked woman and singing this hymn. The nine year old me did not understand it; he wanted to be like your kids and touch her, but the adult in me thought it was humorous.”
“You are so funny, David. I can see it, the Procession of Saint Booby.” She started to break up laughing before controlling herself long enough to say, “I’m glad you called, even if telling me your dream is the only reason. I’ve had a hell of a day here. My phone won’t stop ringing.”
“I shouldn’t be bothering you.”
“What makes you think you’re bothering me? You are the first sane voice I’ve heard today.”
“Thanks, Love. Hey, but I’m looking out my window, and I can see my despicable weed patch that needs mowing so bad, but I don't really want to get out there and do it. I can see the heat coming out of the ground in waves. By some chance, were any of those salt-shakers gardeners?”
“Nope, don’t think so. Be careful if you go outside; it’s hot. Why don’t you go back to your dream? Let me go now, I’ve to get some work done. I’ll talk to you later, Captain Mustache.”
I replied with a chuckle. Soon the phone was in its cradle and my head back on the pillow. The air from the fan, combined with the machine’s drone, made me drowsy. This time the road was macadam and outside my house in Upstate New York. To the left it led over a hill, but I could not see the crest from my bedroom because of the trees. Nonetheless I could hear them coming.
It was not the tramp of feet but the rumble of diesel engines. Maybe it would be a legion of power mowers coming to cut my lawn. The dog barked. The United Parcel truck roared past, racing a box truck from Batesville Casket Company. I heard myself say, “Damn, I don’t want a casket, I need a lawnmower.” I could hear a third vehicle ascending the other side of the hill. It hit the top and picked up speed. When I saw it I burst out laughing.
I woke and picked up the phone again, pressing the ‘Redial’ button.
“This is Pam, how can I help you?”
“Mustache here, forgive me, but I am putting my latest dream into awful Edwardian poetry.
“When I was one and twenty, I heard an old man say,
‘The County Outhouse van went flying by, and speeded on its way,
To rent to someone needy, a soft and cushy seat,
To sit upon and contemplate in this awful heat.
I could not tell you if it had little holes on top,
To sprinkle salt or pepper until someone said to stop,
I knew it wasn’t part of Pamela’s collection,
But I’ll tell her this in this call with all my affection.
When you were six and fifty, you read an ad to me,
That we could rent an outhouse, from this funny company,
I laughed with you, gave a wink and filed the fact away,
‘Til it appeared in a dream, this brutal steamy day.’
Valatie, June 27, 2003