Of Cabbages and Kings


From days before I knew or cared
How life could bite; which fangs it bared;
You showed me how each day you dared
To face the awful things.
You read me verses from a book
Whose name I didn’t know but took
To have a strange enchanting hook
That catches pigs with wings.

And boiling seas you told me of
While reading with a touch of love
A tale absurd and far above
What I could understand.
No matter, as the days sped by
I learned by ear and not the eye
What made some laugh and others cry:
Some rhythmic words well planned.

So soon I first began to speak
Then later learned to talk a streak
As you dealt with things hard and bleak
Through summers, falls, and springs.
And winters, too, they came and went;
The seasons passed, my youth I spent,
But learning never made a dent
In songs the lobster sings.

About the panther and the owl:
The last ate dish, the first ate fowl,
Or so you read, without a scowl,
And I absorbed the story.
Though incomplete, my memory
Retains some clues, a history
Of Humpty Dumpty’s mastery,
And what he meant by “glory.”

The verses spoke of what we shared,
The ties that lasted, unimpaired,
Through arguments and anger aired:
Those sorrows that life brings.
And later on through still more school
We spoke of both the sage and fool
Who bear outrageous fortune’s rule,
Its arrows and its slings.

Now sixteen years beyond my ken
You’ve passed, but I recall that when
You’d pick a topic, Arks to Zen,
We’d share some thoughts about it.
We sat up drinking coffee late
Discussing gods, or fickle fate,
And how the bent could change to straight,
With not a cause to doubt it.

So when the government announced
Its latest war, then on me pounced,
And I my country’s faith renounced
You said, to my advantage:
“I hold my grudges, yes, it’s true,
As women will, but unlike you,
I limit mine to decades few
Or less, if I can manage.”

Too soon, one day, your health declined
Your mind, once focused and aligned,
Unravelled quickly, checks you'd signed
Lay unmailed on the table.
The doctors knew no thing for sure
Except that no one had a cure
For that which all life must endure:
Its own end in the fable.

The Hospice lady, she’d inspect
Your wrinkled body, worn and wrecked
By cares and woes and loves unchecked
By age so unforgiving.
And then she came that awful day
To verify you’d gone away
When no breath passed your lips turned grey,
And no pulse signaled living.

Oh, please come back, I think at times,
While counting meters, forming rhymes.
Forgive me for those thoughtless crimes
That living lonely brings.
No news have I that one should flout,
And few achievements I can tout;
I just miss when we talked about
The cabbages and kings.

Michael Murry, "The Misfortune Teller," Copyright © 2018