Richard Wakefield


Bat Wing

While birds evolved to fly by means of feather,
the bat contrived to make a wing of leather.
You wonder if in ultra-sonic squeaks
(the monotone in which all bat-kind speaks)
an earth-bound creature once upon a time
was given an idea by that rhyme.
And did the earth-bound beast, inspired by fright,
take to the air, confusing flee and flight?
Well, after all, in Latin wood is lignus,
to Roman ears containing fire: ignus.
They thought the very language thus ordained
that fire, the second essence, is contained
in what dissolves in giving rise to it.
An early English-speaking Christian lit
in joyful recognition on a pun
that linked two holy lights in sun and son.
Mankind was made from soil, dirt, or clay—
a human out of humus, you might say.
It seems that God and man and bat and bird
obey the mystic link of world to word.

The Tragedy of the Shrinking Telomeres

It seems from every chromosome
a thread they call a telomere
counts time, just like a metronome,
and shrinks a little every year.

Your cheeks were as smooth as a baby’s bottom.
Now when a blotch or line appears
you needn’t wonder where you got ‘em:
just blame your shortened telomeres.

You used to stay out dancing late
to rapturous music of the spheres;
now you’re home in bed by eight,
all due to dinky telomeres.

Your spects are retro, rarely pro,
more aches and pains and fewer peers—
developments that clearly show
abbreviated telomeres.

Once up for romance daily, sleek
and suave as graceful gondoliers,
now it’s weekly, alas, and weak,
because of stubby telomeres.

As if she slashed through lukewarm Jell-O,
Atropos unsheathes her shears
and lops your telo-

Lord Langenshlaffen Plans His Day

Fernando? Yes, I’ve been awake
for hours. It’s that infernal bell
ding-donging madly since the break
of dawn across the square. It’s hell,
I tell you, how that church for peasants
presumes to meddle with my rest.
Come dab behind my ear with essence
of lavender, then get me dressed.
No breakfast. Just a cup of tea.
And later, some diversion, say,
a wench, like you procured for me
from near the market yesterday,
the blonde. No, better make it two.
(And shut the window! God, that din!)
Let’s see—for brunch, champagne will do.
For supper I’ll be dining in,
so have the cook prepare… prepare…
(That bell bongs on without a pause!)
a steak, perhaps, and not too rare,
some sauteed greens, a vichyssoise.
(That gonging! Like the crack of doom!)
Button my shoes. And furthermore,
send someone down to find out whom
that goddamn bell is tolling for.

Richard Wakefield is the author of two poetry collections: East of Early Winters, winner of the Richard Wilbur Award, and A Vertical Mile. His poem “Petrarch” won the Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award. For thirty-two years he has been Professor of Humanities at Tacoma Community College and for twenty-five years he was a literary critic for The Seattle Times.