Never poke a Gila monster.
Even though he's slow,
pokin' at the bloke'll make him mad,
not make him go.
He’ll take a bite 'n hold on tight
'n casually chew.
He'll slowly grind his poison jaws
and this is what you’ll do:
you’ll quickly wish you hadn’t poked a slowpoke,
now, won't you?
He'll dangle from an ankle or he'll hang off of a toe
cuz a Gila will not kill ya, but he will not let ya go.
Festooned with this reminder of your rudeness,
you will scream
and wish you’d poked him only in a horrifying dream.
So if you see a Gila, let him go his own slow way.
Who am I to tell ya? Why, I'm
Ol’ Nine-Finger Jay.
About this poem: I live in the Sonoran Desert, one of the only places in the world where Gila monsters can be found. But they don't WANT to be found. These Halloween-themed lizards are nocturnal, which keeps them out of the hot sun. In over ten years, I've only come across ONE in the wild. And no, I didn't touch it!
Everything about Gilas is adapted to a hot, dry environment, from their burrow-dwelling lifestyle to their big bladders that help retain water to their fat-storing tails that provide energy when food is scarce. They eat small mammals, birds, other lizards, and eggs, and their many sharp teeth angle backwards so once they get ahold of something, letting go isn't really an option. Oh, and they conserve energy by moving veeerrrrryyyyy sssllllloooowwwllllyyyyy. I started thinking about what might happen if someone poked one to make it go faster, and this poem came along.
For more info on these slow-moving monsters, go to Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Gila monster page.
About this poem: I wrote this poem as part of my original Galapagos collection. When I changed the book to focus on endemic species (plants, animals, fish, insects, and birds found only in one place on Earth), I had to remove this poem, because happily, blue-footed boobies can be found along the Sea of Cortez in Mexico and on the west coast of South America as well as in the Galapagos Islands.
Here, I'm kind of poking fun of boobies, who attract forever partners with their bright blue feet, but also enjoy showing them off to whoever's passing by. Super blue feet come from eating nutritious fish and signal good health. Bobo means "fool" in Spanish. Maybe their slow-mo dance moves look silly to humans, but they sure work well for the birds!
Yellow armadillos snoozing,
naptime at the zoo.
These guys are usually playing
but today there's something new:
a double-decker armadillo,
one stacked on the other!
I wonder how they choose
just who's to snooze atop its brother.
Do they chat about it nicely?
Do they argue? Flip a dime?
Have a gentlemen's agreement?
Is it different every time?
In the middle of the night,
Does Mamadillo make them swap?
I think whoever stays awake
The longest gets the top!
About this poem: We visit the Wildlife World Zoo and Aquarium often because it's just down the road, and we've named many of the animals. These little yellow armadillos we call Malcolm and Griffin, after my sons. They're usually digging in the sand or chasing each other playfully (I think playfully...). Not today. "Armadillo" is an easy rhyme with "pillow," but there were no pillows in sight today--just an armadillo bunk bed! (I stretched the truth for the poem--their mom does not share their den--it's just the two of them on their frolicsome own.)
Uncle Bobby says I hatched
from an egg with polka dots.
He says my brother hatched from one
with pink and purple spots.
He says our mother sat on us
for forty-seven weeks
before we pecked our way to freedom
with our pointy orange beaks.
Uncle Bobby says the webs
between our toes dissolved
and then our stubby wings fell out
before our spindly arms evolved.
I think I don’t believe him.
But (just between you and me)?
There’s something strange perched somewhere
up there in our family tree.
About this poem: When my boys were about three and four, the oldest asked if he'd come from an egg. I said yes, and continued with what I thought was a brilliantly simple yet accurate response. My listeners glazed over, then dismissed it as nonsense. So the next time he asked, I said, yes, they'd hatched from eggs alright—Malcolm's had a purple shell and Griffin’s was green. That was much more satisfying for all parties. There is a time and a place for lying, and it is in the home when you have small children.
Writing this poem, I thought about how everyone feels like their family is a little bit (or a lot bit) strange and crazy. In real life, Uncle Bobby is a family friend. His knees do not bend backwards. At least not that I'm aware of.
About this poem: When my niece and nephew were toddlers, my sister, Susanna, thought it would be hilarious if she told them that our parents have tails that no one ever saw because they kept them inside their pants. As my sister and her family lived right down the road, her kids saw a lot of their grandparents. But never enough of them to know if it was true.
Much to my disappointment, Susanna controlled her impulse and never actually told Chloe and Myles that Mom and Dad have tails. But when I had my own children, I wasn't so mature. They only believed me for a little while, but still, IT HAS NEVER BEEN VERIFIED EITHER WAY.
PS: Prehensile is one of my favorite words. Appendages that can curl are prehensile, like an opossum's tail or a monkey's toes. I wish I had a prehensile tail I could write with.
Terklington Fluffious Foresterhof,
My grizzled old hamster, is out of his mind.
He’s convinced that he lives in a kingdom he rules
full of fools. He’s half deaf and all blind.
Terklington Fluffious Foresterhof
sleeps all day and he parties all night.
His gold wheel emits a high, terrible squeal
That he pays me to fix with a bite.
I scoop up his poop and I freshen his bedding
and offer fat seeds he receives with delight.
Terklington Fluffious thinks that he’s king!
I’m glad that he’s not right.
ABOUT THIS POEM: This poem was my entry for Round 2 in the 2019 MadnessPoetry tournament. I lost. But I lost by a very small margin to a very good poet, RJ Clarken. I admit, I didn't take full advantage of the prompt word, "grizzled," but once King Terklington got into my head, there was no budging him. I like the internal rhymes in this verse, and the fact that the hamster's "master" really thinks that he's the one in charge. I also just enjoy hamsters, even when they're cranky.
As you're dashing for the rainbow's end
to claim that pot o' gold,
if the world holds up a STOP sign
will you do as you are told?
Well some folks would. And they're the ones
whom no one'd ever scold.
They'd stop and wait for a sign to GO
cuz they're doin' as they're told.
They'd never find the rainbow's end,
just stand until they're old
and watch their dreams evaporate,
doin' as they're told.
So when a STOP sign looms ahead,
sure, do as you are told:
stop. Look both ways. Then GO!
Go find that pot o' gold.
ABOUT THIS POEM: I was out running one morning and turned a corner to see this amazing rainbow. It ended right there in the field across the street, just beyond two signs telling me to STOP! I thought about how boring and primitive the world would be if everyone chasing a rainbow stopped when they were told to. Of course, it's always a good idea to stop at a stop sign, but it's important to never, ever forget to start going again!
Ms. Betsy's oldest surviving poem is one she wrote in the third grade. "Down in the Sewer" didn't make her popular, but it made a small group of loyal fans very cheerful. Some of the latest poems she's written, "Poems of Galapagos," appeared in Cricket Magazine's July/August 2020 issue. She hopes they'll reach a wider audience than her first poem did, and make more people cheerful...and possibly provoke some thoughts, as well.