Story Poem

The Voyages of Caractacus Gibbon

By Rhys Hughes

Caractacus in Rome: A Welsh king in 1st century AD who resisted the Roman invasion. Courtesy: Creative Commons

First Voyage

He took a ship,
a sailing ship,
and he sailed away
across the bay
but then he turned around
with a frown and groan
and came right back
to his home town
and postponed his
trip for another day
because it was raining.
Oh, brave Caractacus Gibbon!

Second Voyage

He took a ship,
another ship,
and he cast away
the mooring ropes
and all his hopes
of having fun
were at a high
as he toured the sun
kissed lands on
the far ocean’s side
and his smile was wide
as he allowed the tide
to pull him into a harbour
where damsels stood
in a welcoming pose
with very few clothes
and he told them stories
about the glories of
sailing the deep blue sea
on a vessel of wood
and they giggled
as if tickled and wiggled
hips and pouted lips
and he was a happy man.
Oh, plucky Caractacus Gibbon!

Third Voyage

He took a ship,
a gift from the king,
tied up in a ribbon instead
of string, and he
sailed it far by following a star
to the edge of the world
where a pool that whirled
span him around
and down with a dreadful sound
and he ended up
spilling a cup of rum
over his tum and then his bum
as the ship capsized
and his subsequent sighs
were deeper than any abyss.
Oh, sopping Caractacus Gibbon!

First Drunken Interlude

I’m a jolly sailor
but I go to a very good tailor
and so you can see
when you look at me
my coat with a hood
fits perfectly and so
do my shirts, my trousers too,
but just to you I must
confess that I look a mess
because I wear them back to front.
Is that understood?

Fourth Voyage

He took a ship,
a groaning hulk,
and though he sulked
and made a fuss
like a fish on a hook,
he sailed it through
the foaming murk
of the stormy passage
where it’s not at all obvious
If he’ll emerge alive
in time for his tea
at a quarter past five
but he did, yes he did.
Oh, thirsty Caractacus Gibbon!

Fifth Voyage

He took a boat,
a rowing boat, 
and he rowed it
right into the mouth
of a thesaurus
and because the planks
of his hull were porous /
hollow / full of holes
he wallowed / rolled
until he was swallowed /
consumed by the waves
but he remained
bold / courageous / brave
as he went down
in a race to the bottom
without a frown
on his visage / face.
Oh, valiant Caractacus Gibbon!

Second Drunken Interlude

You are a figurehead
most alluring, and if I said
we ought to wed
I wonder how
you would respond?
And yes, I know
you are made of wood
and fastened to the bows
of this ship with pegs
But I don’t care,
you have great legs.
Let’s get varnished together!

Sixth Voyage

He took a canoe
all painted blue
and he paddled while addled
with a potent brew
and somewhere out there
upon the sea an eel jumped
up and bit his knee
but for only for a moment.
Well, we are quite aware
that when an eel
bites our knee in such a way
that eel’s a Moray.
Only when it bites our knee
for rather longer can we say
with confidence that
the eel’s a Conger,
and this one didn’t do so.
And now he wishes
He was resting on a couch,
ouch ouch ouch!
Oh, sore Caractacus Gibbon!

Seventh Voyage

He took a raft,
which is extremely daft,
and he let it drift
in a random direction
and for many days
without a purpose
he sat and talked to dolphins
with great affection
but never to creatures similar
in shape and size
who were a lot less friendly
and a little less wise.
Yes, he sat and talked
for many long days
without a porpoise.
Oh, lonely Caractacus Gibbon!

Third Drunken Interlude

Come with me
and be my fantasy girl
under the pearly grey
of the stormy sea
and we’ll drink tea
laced with rum
and have such fun
in courteous Atlantis
dunking biscuits
provided gratis
by the inhabitants
beneath the sea.
Come my love,
we ought to risk it.

Eighth Voyage

He took a ship,
a paddle steamer,
and splashed his way
to the port of Lima
to buy bananas
from tropical farmers.
What a dreamer!
But he didn’t know
he had a stowaway,
a cunning schemer
hiding in the hold.
And then one night
on the journey back
when the stars were bright
and the wind was light
the uninvited passenger
came up on deck
and climbed the mast
fast to the very top.
Heck, it was a monkey!
And the hold was full
of empty banana skins.
Oh, fruitless Caractacus Gibbon!

Ninth Voyage

He took a yacht,
how about that?
carved in one piece
from an iceberg,
And he sailed away
with an open mouth
directly south
to the hottest place
on the face of the earth
but he kept his cool
for as a general rule
he rarely panicked
unless his mechanic
who was a parrot
shouted a warning
that the ice was melting
which he soon did
just before flying away
unlike the captain
who was forced to stay
and end up in the drink.
Oh, steamy Caractacus Gibbon!

Last Voyage

He took a ship,
a sailing ship,
and he wrapped it up
in a very big sack
and addressed it to
or maybe you don’t
but that’s not my fault,
and with a stamp
he mailed it thither
like a gigantic arrow
in an enormous quiver
because it’s easier
to let the post office
do the work while
he stayed behind
with an enormous smirk.
Oh, efficient Caractacus Gibbon!
Story Poem

Hawkbill Knife

By Jared Carter

Hawkbill Knife

We had driven all morning on the back roads,
my father and I, into those dense green hills,
all that way just to fix a leak on the roof 
of the old lodge hall – the patched-up building
where the artist kept a studio during the war,
where his widow still came to stay each summer
till Labour Day, sleeping on a cot in the back room,
heating cans of soup on a single hotplate,
selling a pastel now and then to a passerby.

It would be my grandmother's annual visit
to see her only sister-in-law, the two of them
entirely unalike – one from a small town,
the other from the city – but cordial, since
both had known the same man, both lived with him
for a few years, one early in life, one late.
She would be with us in the cab of the pickup,
dozing in the heat, leaning forward, catching
herself, peering out at the unfamiliar hills.

The old building – two stories, square-fronted,
white clapboard with an elaborate cornice –
faced east across a broad lawn always dusky
in the shade of great towering, arching elms.
Along the stones of the foundation, on steps
leading to the front door, in that rare cool
of high summer, a brindled tomcat belonging
to one of the neighbours would be stretched out, 
too drowsy to slink away when we pulled up.

A cast-iron pump stood anchored in a square
of limestone in the yard. We leaned to wash
our hands and faces, then took the tin cup
and drank. Aunt Carolyn would be talking
to Effie, then to my father, telling him
about the leak, how the man tending the yard
was not to be trusted. I worked the handle
and watched water cascading over the stone,
glistening and disappearing in the grass.

The two of them set out tea in a room filled
with unframed paintings and relics of Paris.
My father brought the bucket of pitch; I lugged
the roll of tarpaper. Upstairs, we followed
the hall to the roof ladder. I went first,
feeling ahead in the gloom, the thick heat,
reaching to push against the rough boards
until the hatch gave way. Fresh air swirled
all around me as I struggled into the light.

We were there, in the stillness, high above
everything else in town, looking out and down
through a pale scrim of leaves – at the roof
of the Baptist Church, the library on the corner,
the barbershop in the red-brick building,
the cars parked along the courthouse square.
I gazed out at the hills surrounding the town
while my father took a jackknife and probed
to find the roof's bad places. He scraped
at beads of tar, and whistled at the damage.

He sat back on his heels. Then he called to me,
fished around for a dollar bill, and explained
he wanted me to go to the hardware store
on the main street, and tell the old man there
I needed to buy “a hawkbill knife.” Years later
I would learn it was simply a roofer's knife
with a short curved blade, but then I had only
the strange name he had given me, and the dollar
clutched in my hand as I climbed down the ladder.

Since then, too, I have seen that kind of knife
sharpened and resharpened again and again
by roofers, by those who work high in the air
with hot pitch, with the steamy black smell
of tar rising all around them, the ropes caked
and stiff, everything sticky to the touch –
I have seen such knives filed to the nub,
handles wound with tape, hawkbills worn flat,
seen them thrown away, useless, in the street.

And could I have looked out far enough over
those quiet houses, beyond those green hills,
I might have seen how everything in that town
would be worn away too, would pour glistening
over the smooth ledge of time – the elm trees
burnished by the wind, the huge dim interior
of that building, the two old ladies talking,
the cat on the doorstep – all that would dwindle
and fade, as though falling down a deep chasm.

Part of me did know: had glimpsed, in drawings
thumbtacked to the walls of the meeting room
on the second floor, scenes of a vanished world.
Lacking the money for canvas, for oil paints,
how many times had he gone out to sketch
young girls at their sewing machines, old men
trundling carts, sidewalks crowded with menders,
fixers, buyers hurrying along and yet caught,
saved for an instant, by his smooth-flowing hand?

What held them up could yet hold me. August,
nineteen forty-eight: I was nine years old.
My father had given me a dollar to spend
and waited for me to return. I came out 
onto the walk, under the canopy of trees,
sunlight dappling the grass, cicadas pulsing
all around me.  At the pump I filled the cup
to overflowing, drank its coldness, then walked
on toward the square, to buy a hawkbill knife.

(First published in Sandscript)

Jared Carter’s most recent collection, The Land Itself, is from Monongahela Books in West Virginia. His Darkened Rooms of Summer: New and Selected Poems, with an introduction by Ted Kooser, was published by the University of Nebraska Press in 2014. A recipient of several literary awards and fellowships, Carter is from the state of Indiana in the U.S.



Story Poem

The Tickle Imp

By Rhys Hughes

 The Tickle Imp
 I once explored a cave
 with a homemade
 flaming flambeau
 that sputtered and guttered
 while big bats fluttered
 and the waves of the sea
 lapped steadily
 on the shingle of the beach.
    I tingled
 as the shadows
 danced upon the walls
 and stalactites out of reach
 dangled like tusks
 in the interior dusk
 of that subterranean world.
 What was I seeking
 in that place?
 Why did I delve so deep?
 Was it simply a pleasure
 to look for treasure
 at the back of a gloomy maze,
 an iron chest full of gems
 hidden by a pirate bold
 one night in the olden days?
 The answer of course is yes!
 And there at last
 among scattered bones
 and the fossilised echoes
 of ancient groans
 I found what I was wishing for,
 a fantastic casket
 festooned with padlocks
 cunningly concealed behind sharp rocks.
 And whatever it held
 within its depths
 was mine to take and keep
 but first of course
 I had to break
 each rusty antique lock
 and disturb the sleep
 of any unkind ghost
 who might resent playing the part
 of my unwitting host
 in that bleak and slimy darkness.
 A hammer was my key!
 I knocked
    the locks off
 one by one with blows
 of savage glee
 and when that was done
 I had some fun
 throwing open the lid excitedly
 and feeling deep within.
 What did I feel,
 what did I see?
 Rubies, doubloons
 gleaming like moons,
 polished silver cutlery?
 Emeralds, sapphires,
 diamonds divine,
 opals smouldering with internal fires
 in colours that never fade?
 Or at the very least
 strings of pearls
 as long as the girls
 they were meant to adorn
 that would trail on the ground
 with a clicking sound
 louder than lawnmower blades?
 To my acute dismay
 on that momentous day
 there was nothing of that kind
 but just a strange little creature
 with disordered features
 and bulging eyes,
 a chin in the shape of a sickle
 and breath like ripe
   lime pickle
 who jumped out in surprise.
 He leapt onto my outstretched arm
 and clung there while I winced
 and though his claws
 spurted no gore
 the harm that was done
 left me rather sore
 and I roared in pain
 as I tried in vain
 to shake off the devilish thing
 but he refused to budge
 and when I paused
 he opened his jaws,
 undulated his tongue,
 and though he didn’t say much
 he spoke to me thus
 and it was quite enough:
 “Oh, tickle me under the chin,
   the chin,
 please tickle me
 under the chin.
 It might seem quite fickle
 or even a sin
 to make this request,
 to ask such a thing,
 but I must confess
 that to ease my distress
 there’s nothing so fine
    as a tickle.
 So please tickle me 
 under the chin,
    the chin.
 Tickle me under the chin.” 
 The flaming flambeau
 was propped in a corner
 and I snatched it up
 to scorch his nose.
 Then he relaxed his grip
 and I was mighty quick
 to run away
 without delay
 and never deviating
 left or right
 I lurched into
 a stalagmite. Ouch!
 Yes, I stumbled and tumbled
 and rolled on the ground
     all the way
 to the mouth of the cave.
 I guessed the demon
 was pursuing me
 but I never expected
 him to reach the sea
 before I did, and how
 it happened I never learned
 but there he was
 to my great concern
 prancing in the waves
    that washed
 the mingled shingle and sand 
 in front of the cave
 and while he surfed to shore
 he clasped his hands
 and made this request
 in the style of a demand:
 “Oh, tickle me under the chin,
   the chin,
 please tickle me
 under the chin.
 No doctor, nurse or
 could ever do half as much
 for me as a tickle
 under the chin.
 Why this should be
 I really can’t say
 but it’s all that I need
 to feel perfectly free
 and filled with strange glee
 to a tremendous degree
 like an emphatically happy
 ecstatic chappie!
 So please tickle me
 under the chin,
    the chin.
 Tickle me under the chin.”
 Shrieking I fled
 over jagged rocks
 and scuffed my shins
 almost down to the bone
 on pitted stones
 and the pincers of crabs
 snapped and snipped
 as they sidled up
 to the rude intruder
 who waded through
 their tidal pools.
 What a fool I had been
 to nurture that dream
 of wealth so easily acquired.
     All in vain!
 Rich and admired
 I never would be
 but dearly my life I hoped
    to retain
 and so I kept on running,
 bawling in pain,
 my leg still lame,
 as I tried to escape my fate.
 But my life would never
 be the same again.
 The dawn was breaking
 and my limbs were aching
 when I finally reached my home.
 I kept glancing
 nervously behind just in case
 I was being followed
 by that impish face
 but the coast was clear,
 the imp was nowhere near.
 I felt a surge of relief
 as I opened my door
 and passed in before
 I was fully aware of the possibility
 that he had again preceded me,
 which in fact was really the case.
 And on the mantelpiece
 in the living room,
 dangling his legs,
 there he was,
 waiting for me,
 and what did he say?
 “Oh, tickle me under the chin,
   the chin,
 please tickle me
 under the chin.
 Alone for so long
 it can’t be wrong
 for my chin to crave a tickle.
 But if you refuse
 you stand to lose
 everything you hold so dear,
 your life and mind,
 I’m not unkind
 but that’s the truth,
 the facts are ruthless
 and uncouth.
    So tickle me
 under the chin,
    the chin.
 Tickle me under the chin.”
 I grabbed my wallet
 from the table
 and stuffed it in my pocket
 then out I dashed
 as fast as I was able,
 threw open the shed door
 to pull out my bicycle
 and it seemed that an icicle
 of fear was stabbing
 me in the rear
 as I mounted the machine
 and pedalled
 harder than ever before
 like a madman in a dream.
 Uphill all the way
 my journey took me
 to the mountains north of town
 and when at last
 I lay the bicycle down
 on the ground
 I was at the base of a peak
 so lofty and steep
 no one would ever think to seek
 a fugitive up there.
 Such an obscure sanctuary
 would surely suit me very nicely.
 I scaled the face
 of that glowering crag
 by my fingertips
 with painful slowness,
 compressed lips
 and no grace at all,
 but I finally managed
 after many long hours
 to conquer the
 forbidding tower of gloom.
 There was room
 at the top to accommodate
 one person only
 and the view
 would surely enable me to see
 far in all directions.
 If the imp was coming
 this way I would know
 and if he was really doing so
 I could deal him
 a crushing blow
 by rolling boulders on his head
 as he tried to follow
 me to the top.
 With bursting lungs
 and thudding heart
 I hauled myself to the summit
 of that granite block
 but to my shock
 the imp was already there
 with his charmless grin
 and his wispy hair
 and once again he had his say:
 “Oh, tickle me under the chin,
    the chin,
 please tickle me
 under the chin.
 Ages ago I came to your world
 from a distant planet
 and asked to be tickled
 but nobody could be bothered
 with the simple request
 of an alien guest
 and now on this ledge
 I have solemnly pledged
 that if you decline
 I’ll give you no rest
 until the end of time.
 So tickle me
 under the chin,
    the chin.
 Tickle me under the chin.”
 My nightmare continued
 and when I look back
    to review
 the subsequent hunt
 of man by imp around the land
 I shudder and shiver,
 tremble and quiver,
 gasp and grunt,
 and my mind goes limp.
 Oh horrid times!
 I even caught a plane
 to distant Spain
 in the other hemisphere
 but after safely landing
 in Andalusia
 and disembarking
 with the flight engineer
 this course of action
 ultimately helped me not at all
 for at the point
 of luggage retrieval
 instead of my suitcase
 on the conveyor belt
 there trundled that being of evil
 who leapt into my arms
 insisting on a tickle.
 I grew old prematurely
 then finally sickened
    and died
 but this blessed escape
 was just an excuse
 for one more jape
 in the mischievous career
 of the incorrigible imp
 who managed to appear
 even now, yes!
 I was buried in a coffin
 and as I reclined
 to enjoy my time of rest
 for all eternity
 I heard a knocking on the lid
 and it opened
 with a creak and into my
 poor sarcophagus
 without making undue fuss
 creeped the dreadful thing
 with his tickle hungry chin
 and he shut the lid
   behind him,
 snuggled up close
 and hissed in my ear
 in the style of a ghoul
 from a cruel and ancient year:
 “Oh, tickle me under the chin,
    the chin,
 please tickle me
 under the chin.
 There’s little room
 for a man entombed
 to comply with my request
 especially in a time of such distress,
 but as my grandma always said
 when I was an egg:
 what individuals won’t do alive
 they might do dead.
 Even your residual awareness
 ought to understand
 it’s best to help me with my quest
 for I can be the kind of pest
 no one can withstand.
 So please tickle me
 under the chin,
    the chin.
 Tickle me under the chin.” 

Rhys Hughes has lived in many countries. He graduated as an engineer but currently works as a tutor of mathematics. Since his first book was published in 1995 he has had fifty other books published and his work has been translated into ten languages.