Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?
To cross or not to cross—that is the question!
Whether ‘tis nobler in the coop to suffer
The pecks and scratches of aggressive chickens
Or set foot upon a dusty roadway
And so, with your toes spread, cross it.
O chicken, my chicken
The fearful path is wide
But still you walked across the road
To reach the other side.
Because I could not cross the road
A chicken crossed for me
And pecked the doorbell that would ring
Apartment number three.
Iambic pentameter revolutionized English poetry. But what if, instead of importing an Italian verse form, Shakespeare had instead looked to the next island to the west?
Occasionally, the Poetry Crisis Line counselors need retraining. Below is the transcript of a meeting with counselors from the Main Desk, the Deus ex Machina department, and the Unrequited Love Desk.
SUPERVISOR: Do you know why I called this meeting?
UNREQUITED LOVE: Screening errors?
MAIN: Mixed metaphors?
SUPERVISOR: Do you remember this caller?
[plays back recording of HAMLET call]
HAMLET [recorded]: To be or not to be…
MAIN: Oh yeah. I transferred him to the Deus Ex Machina Desk.
DEUS EX MACHINA: And I sent him to Unrequited Love.
UNREQUITED: And he wadered off in the middle of the call. How is he?
MAIN: Oh no.
UNREQUITED: Did he kill himself?
SUP [nods]: And his girlfriend.
UNREQ: Oh no.
SUP: And her brother.
MAIN: That’s terrible.
SUP: And their father.
SUP: And his mother.
MAIN: Are you sure? All of these people?
SUP: And his uncle and stepfather.
MAIN: His uncle and his stepfather. On top of all the rest?
SUP: No, his uncle and stepfather. One person.
UNREQ: That’s kind of creepy.
SUP: Apparently he was the target. The rest were collateral damage.
DEUS: Dude must have lousy aim.
SUP: So when you had this caller on the phone, did he seem depressed.
MAIN: Oh yeah.
SUP: Did he talk about death?
UNREQ: Oh yeah
DEUS: Whatever he said, it always came back to death.
SUP: And you didnn’t think to call me?
UNREQ? Not really.
MAIN: Why would we?
SUP: Because he was depressed, and talking about death.
MAIN: This is the Poetry Crisis Line, you know.
UNREQ: Everyone’s depressed.
DEUS: And death obsessed.
UNREQ: And lonely.
SUP: [long sigh] OK, we’re going to do some training to recognize when a caller is in danger. But if something like this happens again, please get a supervisor on right away. Or…at least somewhere along the line.
by David Sklar
Originally published in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency
If meeting three strange ladies in the swamp
Seems ample cause for murthering the king
To take his crown, turn to page 86.
If this seems kind of sketchy, turn to 12.
If thou slay’st Claudius while he is praying—
A villain kills your father, and, for that,
You, his sole son, do this same villain send
To heaven, turn the page to 93.
If thou postpon’st the act until such time
As he is drunk asleep, or in his rage,
Or in th’incestuous pleasure of his bed,
So that his soul may be as damned and black
As hell, whereto it goes, turn to page 5.
If cowards die a thousand times, but thou
Prefer’st to die but once, turn to page 9.
If dying does not bother thee, so long
As thou surviv’st it, turn to 42.
If, rather than stand prisoner in Rome,
Thou press the venom’d asp against thy breast
Then shalt thou turn the page to 17.
If thou prefer’st to hug a fluffy cat
Then turn instead to page 108.
If, after being shipwrack’d thou proceed’st
To take thy brother’s name, and don his clothes,
And swagger like a man, turn to page 4.
If trousers please thee not, turn to 16.
If, having found fair Juliet in her tomb,
Thou dost set up thy everlasting rest,
And take th’apothecary’s lethal draught
To shake the yoke of inauspicious stars
From thy world-wearied flesh, turn to page 9.
If thou prefer’st to wait ten minutes, turn
To page 117 instead.
Find part 1 here
and part 2 here
COUNSELOR #3: Poetry Crisis Line, Unrequited Love Division. Do you want Boy-Girl, Boy-Boy, Girl-Girl, May-December, Rich-Poor, Families Each Alike in Dignity…
CALLER: That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
COUNSELOR #3: Ex is seeing a freeloader. Got it. Transferring you now.
COUNSELOR #4: Poetry Crisis Line, Unrequited Love Division. Moocher Desk. How may I help you?
CALLER: When he himself might his quietus make / With a bare bodkin?
COUNSELOR #4: Isn’t that how most people make it? Unless they’re in a hurry.
CALLER: who would fardels bear,
COUNSELOR #4 [frantically paging through dictionary]: Uh….that’s a good question. Who would fardels bear?
CALLER: To grunt and sweat under—
COUNSELOR #4: Hang on–were you watching them do it?
CALLER: a weary life,
COUNSELOR #4: Now wait. Whatever you’re feeling now, it’s not worth dying–
CALLER: But that the dread of something after death,
COUNSELOR #4: What, like a bad epitaph?
CALLER: The undiscover’d country
COUNSELOR #4: A bad Star Trek movie?
CALLER: from whose bourn
COUNSELOR #4: I haven’t seen the Bourne movies yet, but–
CALLER: No traveller returns,
COUNSELOR#4: Wait, don’t give away the ending.
CALLER: puzzles the will
COUNSELOR #4: So it’s one of those movies where he has to solve a puzzle before he can inherit? Wait, why are we talking about movies?
CALLER: And makes us rather bear those ills we have / Than fly to others that we know not of?
COUNSELOR #4: So if you frame it in movies, you don’t have to face your issues directly?
CALLER: Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
COUNSELOR #4: You’re right. Everyone does it sometimes.
CALLER: And thus the native hue of resolution / Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
COUNSELOR #4: But then if everyone does, it, maybe it isn’t so cowardly as you say.
CALLER: And enterprises of great pith and moment / With this regard their currents turn awry,
COUNSELOR #4: Well, it’s better to face things obliquely than not at all.
CALLER: And lose the name of action.
COUNSELOR #4: I understand. You don’t want to call it “action” if you’re not facing it directly. But even Perseus used a mirror when he slew Medusa.
CALLER: –Soft you now!
COUNSELOR #4: What? Did you just shush me?
CALLER: The fair Ophelia! [CALLER sets down phone and wanders off]
COUNSELOR #4: Hello?
CALLER: Nymph, in thy orisons / Be all my sins remember’d.
COUNSELOR #4: Hello? Are you still there?
[find part 1 here]
COUNSELOR: Poetry Crisis Line. This is the Deus ex Machina Desk. What can I do for you?
CALLER: To die:
COUNSELOR: That’s a rather tall order, sir, don’t you think?
CALLER: to sleep;
COUNSELOR: That sounds a bit more reasonable. But I’m on duty now, and I can’t just pop off for a nap whenever–
CALLER: No more;
COUNSELOR: Well, no. Once my shift is over, I can sleep whenever I want.
CALLER: and by a sleep to say we end / The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks / That flesh is heir to,
COUNSELOR: I see.
CALLER: ’tis a consummation / Devoutly to be wish’d.
COUNSELOR: And that’s what the Deus ex Machina Desk is for.
CALLER: To die,
COUNSELOR: That again. No, you can’t just ask our counselors to–
CALLER: to sleep;
COUNSELOR: No, that either. We have a schedule.
CALLER: To sleep:
COUNSELOR: No, sir, not a sleep schedule, a work schedule. We can sleep whenever we want, when we’re off duty.
CALLER: perchance to dream:
CALLER: ay, there’s the rub;
COUNSELOR: The rub? What kind of dreams are you talking about, exactly?
CALLER: For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
COUNSELOR: Again with the death talk. What’s with that?
CALLER: When we have shuffled off–
COUNSELOR: To Buffalo?
CALLER: –this mortal coil,
COUNSELOR: Look, the whole point of the Deus ex Machina Desk is to save your sorry ass when there’s no hope. But if you’ve fixated on death, then we have an office for that as well. This is the Poetry Crisis Line, after all.
CALLER: Must give us pause.
COUNSELOR: Paws? Like in reincarnation?
CALLER:: there’s the respect
COUNSELOR: It’s not about respect, it’s just—there’s no guarantee that you’ll come back as something with paws. You could have hooves, or fins, or tentacles, or
CALLER: That makes calamity of so long life;
COUNSELOR: Exactly! You could be a tortoise.
CALLER: For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
COUNSELOR: I suppose a tortoise shell would be good if you’re being whipped.
CALLER: The oppressor’s wrong,
COUNSELOR: They usually are.
CALLER: the proud man’s contumely,
COUNSELOR: Riiiight. What’s a contumely?
CALLER: The pangs of despised love,
COUNSELOR: Oh, we have a whole suite of offices for that.
CALLER: the law’s delay,
COUNSELOR: Which office do you want? You keep changing your mind.
CALLER: The insolence of office
COUNSELOR: Right, the Insolence Office. I’ll patch you–
CALLER: and the spurns
COUNSELOR: Why didn’t you say so? Transferring you to Unrequited Love.
COUNSELOR: Poetry Crisis Line, how may I help you?
CALLER: To be or not to be, that is the question…
COUNSELOR: Would you like me to transfer you to Existential Crises?
CALLER: …whether tis nobler in the mind to bear..
COUNSELOR: …OK, nobility of thought. That sounds like a poetry emergency.
CALLER: …the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune…
COUNSELOR: You have an outrageous fortune? May I transfer you to our fundraising department? Our endowment is funded by the estates of top-grossing poets, which gives us a monthly operating budget of about $37.
CALLER: …or to take arms against a sea of troubles…
COUNSELOR: Got it. Mixed metaphor department. Let me just
CALLER:…and so, by opposing, end them.
COUNSELOR: Right. Transferring you to the deus ex machina desk.