Issue # 40
February 2, 2001
My Goofy Poem and How I Wrote It
By Rich Wilhelm

This is an untitled, rather goofy poem I wrote sometime in 1994. Following the poem is a brief explanation of it, for those of you who are into that kind of thing.

When the chips are down
and the stakes are high
and you're after THE BIG ONE

When you dress like a million
but bowl like two cents

When the world is a MONSTER
and you're just a clam

When you're down and troubled
and you need a helping hand

When the night gets so dark
that all you can do is scream
"There's got to be a morning after!"

When the truth is found to be lies
and all the joy within you dies

When your inner child whispers,
"Do you know where you're going to?"

When you can't get the theme from Soap,
the '70s soap opera parody,
out of your head

When these things happen,
perhaps you should pray that a giant '50s-era
MARTHA RAYE of your imagination
will kick through the cellophane
that covers and clings to your soul

And it'll pour out into your life
(your soul, that is)
and not necessarily make you a better person with more stamina
or give you the confidence to be a better salesman

But at least a person who can
stop
take a moment
breathe deep
and say
"Look, there's a little bit of my soul."

At this point, I was going to explain exactly how this poem came to exist. However, I must now follow the example of James Brown.

On one of The Godfather of Soul's classic recordings (I don't remember specifically which one) he winds the song down by saying, "I'm gone. Engineer, fade me out, 'cause I'm gone. Bye Bye" or something very close to that. Brown often closed records like that, but in this specific song, he literally meant it--The Hardest Working Man in Show Business was physically walking out of the studio door to go to a dentist appointment.

And, so I am walking out the door now with Donna and Jimmy to spend the night at Grandmom Fisher's. But as soon as I get back, I will explain the poem...

2/4/01

It's Sunday afternoon now and I have a few minutes to explain the origins of this poem before we have to get ready to drive down to Pap Pap and Grandma Wilhelm's. I'm not going to tell you what it "means" though. I think it's up to each individual reader to decide what any particular poem means to them and, besides, I think sometimes we get too caught up in "meaning" anyway.

This poem grew from several different sources. There are obviously lines from various pop songs strewn throughout the first 2/3 of the poem. I'll let you try to figure out all of the songs quoted.

The opening of the poem ("When the chips are down...")is an actual quote from a spoken word album I own called Secrets That Make Star Salesmen Tick!. This is a 1959 record by "America's ace sales trainer," Jack Lacy. He opens the album with a cringe-worthy story, which would be considered "politically incorrect" by today's standards, then goes on to offer the kind of "advice" that probably made his audience feel very wonderful, and ready to sell, sell, sell, at the time, although it isn't much more than a string of happy-talk "motivational" cliches.

However, Jack Lacy did inspire me when writing this poem. In fact, not only is the beginning derived from Secrets That Make Star Salesmen Tick!, the mysterious "Martha Raye" line is also. On the second side of the record, Lacy tells the story of a down and out realtor who makes a big comeback by having the charismatic entertainer Martha Raye make a splashy appearance at one of his new home openings by kicking through the cellopane that was keeping the new home under wraps. Somehow, in my poem, Martha Raye became a giant. I'm not sure how that happened.

The line about dressing like a million but bowling like two cents is also lifted from a spoken word album in my collection, Billy Golembiewski's Hear How To Be A Better Bowler. This was part of Carlton Records' "Hear How" series in the early '60s. Billy G. is a Hall of Fame bowler (how do I know this? I've been to the International Bowling Hall of Fame and Museum in St. Louis, of course) and he offers a practically Zen-like album-length rumination on the sport and art of bowling. The line in my poem comes from Billy's conversation on the proper bowling attire.

The conclusion of the poem, where I write about being able to recognize your soul, was inspired by a relatively serious source, Thomas Moore's 1992 book Care of the Soul. This book, which I had very recently read when I wrote the poem, is best explained by its subtitle, "A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life." I was going through something of a peronsal/spiritual crisis when I read the book and it proved to be enormously helpful to me. The interesting thing about Care of the Soul is that I always felt like I intellectually understood the book, but it has only been in the past few years that I have truly begun to emotionally understand the importance of embracing the sacred in the everyday. Care of the Soul isn't necessarily a book I'd recommend to everybody, but reading it did have a very positive influence on my life.

Anyway, the idea of the soul "pouring" into one's life is an idea Moore spoke of extensively in Care of the Soul, and it brings my goofy little poem to a surprisingly serious conclusion, at least for me.

(Please feel free to email to others who may be interested or to print a hard copy for them but remember: The Dichotomy of the Dog is copyright 2001 by Rich Wilhelm. If you plan on making a bazillion dollars from this piece of writing, please let me know so I can sue you or something.)

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