If All Poems Were Limericks: “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

A man shot a bird on a boat,
Then helplessly drifted afloat
Until he learned mercy,
But he’d earned this curse–he
Must keep on repeating, by rote:

“A man shot a bird on a boat,

Hamlet calls the Poetry Crisis Line–part 2

[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,


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:

COUNSELOR: Probably.

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.

Gilgamesh calls the Poetry Crisis Line

COUNSELOR: Poetry Crisis Line, what is your emergency?

CALLER: The one with one son: have you seen him?

COUNSELOR: I don’t know. How would I recognize him?

CALLER: I have seen him.

COUNSELOR: Okay, what does he look like?

CALLER: He lies under the wall, weeping bitterly.

COUNSELOR: Since the election, that could be anyone.

CALLER: The one with two sons: have you seen him?

COUNSELOR: Is this a different guy, or did the first one have another kid?

CALLER: I have.

COUNSELOR: Great. What does he look like?

CALLER: He lives in a brick house and eats bread.

COUNSELOR: That’s not a lot to go on.

CALLER: The one with three sons: have you seen him?

COUNSELOR: How should I know?

CALLER: He drinks from a waterskin filled from the deepest wells.

COUNSELOR: Everyone carries a water bottle these days.

CALLER: The one with four sons, have you seen him?

COUNSELOR: Have you?

CALLER: I have.

COUNSELOR: Let me guess. He lives in a third-story walk-up and eats cold pizza?

CALLER: His heart rejoices.

COUNSELOR: Good to appreciate the simple things.

CALLER: The one with five sons,

COUNSELOR: That’s a lot of kids.

CALLER: Have you seen him?

COUNSELOR: He lives in a rent-controlled brownstone and drinks lots of coffee?

CALLER: I have.

COUNSELOR: Who hasn’t?

CALLER: Like a good writer,

COUNSELOR: Yeah, writers drink lots of coffee.

CALLER: scribe to a king

COUNSELOR: Wait, were you actually talking about his handwriting?

CALLER: His hand is firm; he brings justice to the palace.

COUNSELOR: That must be some serious penmanship.

CALLER: The man with six sons

COUNSELOR: Do these boys have a mother? Because she must be seriously tired.

CALLER: Have you seen him?

COUNSELOR: Why, does he get around?

CALLER: I have.

COUNSELOR: Good for you. Use protection.

COUNSELOR: Condoms, dental dams, you know.

CALLER: the man

COUNSELOR: Oh, right. He lives on the Upper West Side and shops at Whole Foods?

CALLER: who guides the plow,

COUNSELOR: A farmer who shops at Whole Foods?

CALLER: Pulled by four oxen

COUNSELOR: They must wreak havoc in the vegetable aisle.

CALLER: The one with seven sons,

COUNSELOR: He lives in a penthouse and has a reality show? I mean, seriously, seven sons?

CALLER: have you seen him?

COUNSELOR: What channel is he on?

CALLER: Like a man close to the gods, he

COUNSELOR: Must pull in some serious ratings.

CALLER: sits upon a throne and listens to music.

COUNSELOR: What, like Simon Cowell? Never mind. Let me get this straight–you want me on the lookout for a man on horseback drinking water, a man in a brick house eating bread, a man in a minaret eating onions, a man in a glass house throwing stones, a wolf in a straw house eating pork, a hipster in Soho eating sushi, a guy in a pink house camping with melons, a man at a farm stand smashing pumpkins, a man at Whole Foods eating half a sandwich, a werewolf drinking a piña colada at Trader Joe’s, and something about a vessel with a pestle. Was there anyone else?

CALLER: The man who fell from a rooftop

COUNSELOR: Oh good grief

CALLER: Have you seen him?

COUNSELOR: He lives in a house with a leaky, unpatched roof?

CALLER: I have.

COUNSELOR: I have too. Had to take the landlord to court to get it fixed. You wouldn’t believe what a pain that was.

CALLER: His broken bones do not mend in the places below.

COUNSELOR: Okay, maybe you would believe.

CALLER: The one who died a sudden death: have you seen him?

COUNSELOR: You mean walking around?

CALLER: I have.

COUNSELOR: Was he in Penn Station? I’ve seen a few people in the terminal who look like…

CALLER: He sleeps at night on a couch and drinks pure water.

COUNSELOR: That’s good to know.

CALLER: The one who was slain in battle: have you seen him?

COUNSELOR: I’ve been to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Does that count?

CALLER: I have.

COUNSELOR: Of course you have.

CALLER: His father raises his head and his wife tends the corpse.

COUNSELOR: That sounds more like the Pieta of the Unknown Soldier.

CALLER: The one whose body was thrown into the wasteland:

COUNSELOR: Malory’s Wasteland, or Eliot’s?

CALLER: have you seen him?

COUNSELOR: I once saw a bog mummy in the Museum of Natural History.

CALLER: I have.

COUNSELOR: Is there anyone you haven’t seen?

CALLER: His spirit does not rest in the underworld.

COUNSELOR: He looked awfully serene behind glass.

CALLER: The one whose spirit has no one left alive to love him: have you seen him?

COUNSELOR: No, but I bet you have.

CALLER:         I have.

COUNSELOR: Nailed it.

CALLER: The left-overs of the pot, the scraps of bread thrown into the gutter / he eats.

COUNSELOR: Does he observe the five-second rule?

Maya Angelou calls the Poetry Crisis Line

STAFFER: Poetry Crisis Line, how may I help you?

CALLER: You may write me down in history

STAFFER: I’m sorry, ma’am, that’s not a service we offer. Have you tried the Library of Congress?

CALLER: With your bitter, twisted lies,

STAFFER: No, I said the Library of Congress.

CALLER: You may tread me in the very dirt

STAFFER: That’s also not a service we offer. You might try a dominatrix? Or a literary critic?

CALLER: But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

STAFFER: Like dust? Have you considered rising like bread? Bread rises.

CALLER: Does my sassiness upset you?

STAFFER: Not at all. But cakes rise. Maybe you could rise like cake?

CALLER: Why are you beset with gloom?

STAFFER: I’m not. But parfaits–no, parfaits don’t rise. But balloons do. Why not rise like a baloon?

CALLER: ‘Cause I walk

STAFFER: That’s true–balloons don’t walk. Are you going uphill? Upstairs? If you’re walking, how do you rise?

CALLER: like I’ve got oil wells / Pumping in my living room.

STAFFER: That must be tough on your carpets.

CALLER: Just like moons and like suns,

STAFFER: Yes, the sun also rises. And it can fade your carpet.

CALLER: With the certainty of tides,

STAFFER: There’s flood damage? You might consider replacing the carpet altogether.

CALLER: Just like hopes springing high,

STAFFER: Well, I’m glad to hear you’re still hopeful. But–

CALLER: Still I’ll rise.

STAFFER: I’m glad to hear it. But is the carpet worth keeping?

CALLER: Did you want to see me broken?

STAFFER: Not at all. I just–

CALLER: Bowed head and lowered eyes?

STAFFER: No, it’s just, a carpet isn’t that hard to replace. Do you have homeowner’s insurance?

CALLER: Shoulders falling down like teardrops.

STAFFER: I’ll take that as a no.

CALLER: Weakened by my soulful cries.

STAFFER: I don’t think your tears will weaken the carpet fibers much.

CALLER: Does my haughtiness offend you?

STAFFER: Not at all. I’m just trying to–

CALLER: Don’t you take it awful hard

STAFFER: Why do you keep trying to make this about me?

CALLER: ‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines / Diggin’ in my own back yard.

STAFFER: How does your gold mine make it my problem? Sometimes prospecting just doesn’t pan out.

CALLER: You may shoot me with your words,

STAFFER: I’m not trying to hurt you.

CALLER: You may cut me with your eyes,

STAFFER: [fixes hair] Are you calling on Skype? Because I’m not getting any video feed on this end.

CALLER: You may kill me with your hatefulness,

STAFFER: Look, lady, if the carpet’s that precious then keep it; I’m just trying to help.

CALLER: But still, like air, I’ll rise.

STAFFER: See, that’s much better. Like air.

CALLER: Does my sexiness upset you?

STAFFER: Not at all. Though I’m not supposed to respond to it. [flirtatious laugh] I’ve gotten in trouble for that in the past.

CALLER: Does it come as a surprise / That I dance like I’ve got diamonds / At the meeting of my thighs?

STAFFER: That does surprise me. And it sounds uncomfortable. Have you tried wearing them on the soles of your shoes?

CALLER: Out of the huts

STAFFER: Is that hut with one T, like a tiny house, or with two T’s like Jabba?

CALLER: of history’s shame

STAFFER: Was he in the prequels? I thought he was just in Return of the Jedi.

CALLER: I rise

STAFFER: Good idea. Best not to dwell on those movies. I hear Rogue One is good.

CALLER: Up from a past that’s rooted in pain

STAFFER: It’s supposed to be dark.

CALLER: I rise

STAFFER: That’s OK, if you want to get up and leave. You don’t have to like every movie.

CALLER: I’m a black ocean,

STAFFER: Was that in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise?

CALLER: leaping and wide,

STAFFER: Uh, Pirates of Penzance?

CALLER: Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

STAFFER: I mentioned I’m not allowed to flirt back, right?

CALLER: Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

STAFFER: It’s not that, it’s just the policy here. Callers are often vulnerable and we’re not supposed to take advantage.

CALLER: I rise

STAFFER: I get that, I’m just not allowed to–

CALLER: Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear

STAFFER: Wonderful! Get out and face the day!

CALLER: I rise

STAFFER: Yes, get out of bed first.

CALLER: Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

STAFFER: I’m not allowed to accept gifts.

CALLER: I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

STAFFER: I certainly can’t accept that.

CALLER: I rise

STAFFER: Like a bird?

CALLER: I rise

STAFFER: Like a plane?

CALLER: I rise.

STAFFER: Like…I don’t know, a helicopter or something?

The Queen of Cheese Presents: The Show Tune of J. Alfred Prufrock

I have wandered half-

Empty streets before

Like a patient etherized beneath a sheet before.

Women come and go;


They discuss, but I just need to pee.


Do I dare disturb

The whole universe

With decisions and revisions that I might reverse?

Spend the afternoons

Counting coffee spoons

Then decide that I’d like to take tea?


And should I comb my hair forward?

And do I dare eat a peach?

I should have been ragged pincers

That scut across the silt beyond this beach.


I have doffed my socks

On this beach before,

I have wondered if I dare to eat a peach before,

Heard the mermaids sing

Each to each before—

But I don’t think that they’ll sing to me.

Billy Collins calls the Poetry Crisis Line

COUNSEOLOR: Poetry Crisis Line, what is your emergency?
CALLER: The dead are always looking down on us,
COUNSEOLOR: That sounds comforting.
CALLER: they say.
COUNSEOLOR: Wait–they talk to you? Continuously, or–
CALLER: while we are putting on our shoes
COUNSEOLOR: That sounds oddly specific.
CALLER: or making a sandwich,
COUNSEOLOR: Do they ask for specific toppings, or is that just a convenient time to chat?
CALLER: they are looking down through the glass bottom boats of heaven.
COUNSEOLOR: So we’re all just some cosmic shipwreck tour?
CALLER: as they row themselves slowly through eternity.
COUNSEOLOR: In that case, I’m glad you packed them a sandwich.

Emily Dickinson calls the Poetry Crisis Line

COUNSELOR: Poetry Crisis Line, what is your emergency?
CALLER: Because I could not stop for Death – 
COUNSELOR: Are your brakes failing? Are you in the vehicle now?
CALLER: He kindly stopped for me – 
COUNSELOR: That's a relief. Is your car still moving?
CALLER: The Carriage held but just Ourselves – 
COUNSELOR: There's someone in the car with you?
CALLER: And Immortality.
COUNSELOR: Is that like OnStar? Can the rescue workers use it to pinpoint your location?
CALLER: We slowly drove –
COUNSELOR: Good, so you're slowing down. Is there a hill or embankment near you?
CALLER: He knew no haste
COUNSELOR: That's good. Best not to panic in this situation.
CALLER: And I had put away My labor 
COUNSELOR: What? You're having a baby?
CALLER: and my leisure too,
COUNSELOR: That's good. Relax. Try to breathe.
CALLER: For His Civility – 
COUNSELOR: Yes, it can be good to have a calm person in the--
CALLER: We passed the School
CALLER: where Children strove At Recess – 
CALLER: in the Ring – 
COUNSELOR: What, like the horror movie?
CALLER: We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain – 
COUNSELOR: Much better
CALLER: We passed the Setting Sun – 
COUNSELOR: Um, where are you calling from? Over here, it's midafternoon.
CALLER: Or rather – He passed us – 
COUNSELOR: That's good to know. The sun travels at 720,000 kilometers per hour. I can't imagine how much that ticket would cost you.
CALLER: The Dews 
COUNSELOR: Yes, in a situation like this it's not unusual to think about the things you want to do, or need to do, or wish you could have done. But you'll have time to do those things later; right now I need you to stay in the moment, to keep yourself safe.
CALLER: drew quivering 
COUNSELOR: That's a normal physiological reaction. Just let it be and focus on getting yourself to safety. 
CALLER: and chill – 
COUNSELOR: Also a normal reaction.
CALLER: For only Gossamer, my Gown – 
COUNSELOR: Or it could be cold in the vehicle. Are the windows open?
CALLER: My Tippet – 
COUNSELOR: Oh no! Is anybody hurt?
CALLER: only Tulle – 
COUNSELOR: Don't worry about that, ma'am. I need you to focus on exiting the vehicle. You won't have any tool in the car that will be much use to you after you tip it.

Ogden Nash calls the Poetry Crisis Line

COUNSELOR     Poetry Crisis Line. What is your emergency?

CALLER:      When called by a panther

COUNSELOR:      Really? You sound kind of articulate for a big cat.

CALLER:      Don’t anther.

COUNSELOR:      A little late for that, sir, don’t you think?

CALLER:     …

COUNSELOR:      I see you’re taking your own advice.

CALLER:     …

COUNSELOR:      What if I’m called by a puma?

CALLER:      Stay across the rooma?

COUNSELOR:      By a bear?

CALLER:      Pretend you’re not there.

COUNSELOR:      An eagle?

CALLER:      Try to sound regal.

COUNSELOR:      An elephant?

CALLER:      Misplace your celliphant.

COUNSELOR:      A snail?

CALLER:      Let it go to voicemail.

COUNSELOR:      A tyger tyger burning bright?

CALLER:      Lock the doors, turn off the lights.

COUNSELOR:      A lion?

CALLER:      Please stop tryin’.

COUNSELOR:      A purple cow?

CALLER:      Please stop now.

COUNSELOR:      What about a duck-billed platypus?

CALLER:     …

COUNSELOR:      Hello? Are you still there sir?

CALLER:     …

COUNSELOR:      Hello?


William Blake calls the Poetry Crisis Line

COUNSELOR     Poetry Crisis Line. What is your emergency?

CALLER:      Tyger!

COUNSELOR:      I’m sorry, did you say–

CALLER:      Tyger!

COUNSELOR:      Yes, I suppose you did. Are you sure? Do you have the lights on?

CALLER:      Burning bright.

COUNSELOR:      And where are you?

CALLER:      In the forest of the night.

COUNSELOR:      Is that near Hell’s Kitchen?

CALLER:      What

COUNSELOR:      Never mind. How do you feel at the moment?

CALLER:      Immortal

COUNSELOR:      That’s good. They can smell fear. I’m not sure if that’s synesthesia or a mixed metaphor, but they can. Is there something you can give the animal to distract him?

CALLER:      Hand

COUNSELOR:      Maybe something you don’t need as much.

CALLER:      or eye

COUNSELOR:      I was thinking something that isn’t, you know, attached. Do you think maybe you could…uh…could–

CALLER:      Could frame thy fearsome symmetry

COUNSELOR:      Actually, I’m kind of lopsided. Makes it hard to shop for bras.

William Carlos Williams Calls the Poetry Crisis Line

COUNSELOR     Poetry Crisis Line. What is your emergency?

CALLER:      I have eaten / the plums / that were in / the icebox…

COUNSELOR:      This is the Poetry Crisis Line, sir. did you want Poison Control?

CALLER:      …and which / you were probably / saving / for breakfast.

COUNSELOR:      Did you mean to call the cafeteria? I can transfer you.

CALLER:      Forgive me.

COUNSELOR:     I’m not here to judge you, sir. What’s important is that you forgive yourself.

CALLER:      They were delicious…

COUNSELOR:      I’m glad to hear it.

CALLER:      …so sweet…

COUNSELOR:      And how this is a problem, sir?

CALLER:      …and so cold.

COUNSELOR:      I see. If the plums are too cold, you could try eating other types of fruit–if you feel you’re up for it. Do you dare to eat a peach?