My Word's

a weekly column by
Marylaine Block
vol. 2 #39, May 9, 1997


E-mail as it happens is not just a splendid way to keep in touch with far-flung friends without having to pay tribute to Ma Bell. It's so fast, and so easy, that it's a first rate medium for the spread of jokes, rumors, and weird tales of human stupidity (the "Darwin awards"). Not to mention games.

Craig, one of my e-mail buddies, is an inveterate gameplayer, along with his sister Christy. First they drew me into a succession of chicken jokes: the old question, "why did the chicken cross the road?" as answered by a variety of historical personages and celebrities. Craig came up with the following:
General Westmoreland--Because it saw light at the end of the tunnel until Congress denied the men and material it needed for a clearly successful if limited crossing action
Spiro Agnew--A chittering cabal of carping critics claimed the chicken ran across, but I was there and I saw nothing. I did nothing wrong. Nolo contendere.

And where, pray tell, he demanded, were my contributions. Well, gee, I'm not really all that good at parody. What could I say?
Dave Barry--well, there was an exploding toilet on this side, and a booger on the other. Which would YOU choose?

or maybe
George Bush--it was never all that good at, the, uh, vision thing, you know? Didn't see that armored personnel whatever. Deep doodoo.

Or how about Burma-Shave signs?
She looked for love
On the other side
'Cause the farmer loved her
Deep-fat fried
Buy Burma-Shave

No, parody just isn't what I do. What I do is quote rock music. Therefore:
Suzanne Vega---It was travel. Arrival. Years of an inch and a step.
Paul Simon---It was just one of 50 ways to leave her lover.
the Beatles---Because she's leaving home after living alone for so many years
Tom Waits---Because it had to risk something that matters.
Blue Oyster Cult---Because she didn't fear the reaper.
Jefferson Airplane---Because Alice is on drugs again. They've bent her little mind.

Thanks to one of the most under-appreciated miracles of modern technology, cut-and-paste, I copied Craig's and mine, and sent them off to my son, who, though he had just mastered crawling when Nixon was driven from office, came up with a devastatingly accurate Nixonian chicken:
The chicken did NOT cross the road. In fact, despite the constant questions and insinuations of the liberal media, the chicken did not EVER cross the road. This chicken is not, like so many Americans today, racing to "do its own thing." This chicken is--and I realize I am speaking about an old-fashioned virtue here, not held in great respect these days--proud of its own native coop, in which it works hard and pays its taxes and helps its neighbors like the silent majority of Americans...

Well, no sooner had all the chickens gotten to the other side of the road when Christy started a new game of quincains. This is a verse form comparable to haiku, based solely on syllable count: 5 lines, the first one of which contains 2 syllables, the second 4, the third 6, the fourth 8, and the last one rounding things off with 2 syllables again. Craig forwarded one of his:
Eww, gross!
The damned cat caught
a bird and dragged it in.
Blood and feathers smearing the couch
Proud cat.

And once again he dared me to produce my own. I dashed off the following:
like limericks
demand of us by form
rhyme and rhythm ending in a
And, since Craig is a man of many e-mail addresses, some of which persist in bouncing back my messages, also this:
To Craig,
a man of such
an infinite array
of ways to get his e-mail (some

I copied the correspondence and sent it off to my friend Mark in Colorado, who loves poetry but is profoundly resistant to rock music, with the further notation:
who want more than
fifty folks to hear their
words will set them to rock beats and
sing them

Since Mark had just broken his glasses, and was seeing the world in a Monet sort of way, barely able to focus on his computer, I also sent him this:
Poor Mark.
So blind, alas,
eyeless in Durango
needing spectacles to read his

I forwarded that back to Craig, who was moved to comment on Mark's impressionist's eye view of the world, as follows:
who saw the world
in bright little speckles
was the very first to name his
dog Spot

While I am inclined to doubt this is when and by whom dogs first got saddled with that name, I thought this was a splendid effort--which Craig then forwarded on to Christy, along with my efforts. She replied
Two more
from Marylaine.
Such talent with quincains
(as lucrative a field as Li-

(Christy knows. She works in a library, too.)

I forwarded all of this on to my friends in my own library, pointing out that, since the form was invented by a woman named Crapsey, perhaps quincains should instead be called, in her honor, "crapseys." My demure colleague took gentle exception to the notion:
is not the kind
of name to grace a poem
unless you want to gamble; roll!
Snake eyes!

is lovelier
Isn't it sad that she
was not named in the spirit of
a muse?

Armed with all this material, half of which I didn't even have to go to the trouble of thinking up, I wrote this column, copied it and e-mailed it to my son, who had this to say:
received and read.
Enjoyable, but really,
Master's degrees for such nonsense?

Well, this game seems to have run its course for now--unless of course all of you have contributions to make to the cause? In which case, by all means, let's hear them. If not, well, there will always be another game crossing the information highway. And more fools like me to get suckered into playing them. On to the next!

p.s. Craig has already sent me his next challenge: How do mathematicians (computer programmers, bankers, lawyers, etc.) hunt an elephant? And I have already told him how librarians would go about it.

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NOTE: My thinking is always a work in progress. You could mentally insert all my columns in between these two sentences: "This is something I've been thinking about," and "Does this make any sense to you?" I welcome your thoughts. Please send your comments about these columns to: marylaine at Since I've written a lot of these, some of them many years ago, help me out by telling me which column you're referring to.

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