Scrabble-ism

One night I was hangin’ with Len,
Eating and watching t.v.
All the pizza rolls gone, I then
Suggested Monopoly.

“That game is all luck!” he then said,
Voice revealing some anger.
“Scrabble,” Len suggested instead,
To which “yes” was my answer.

Scrabble is, no doubt, a great game
For me, an English major;
Since devising words is its aim,
I have an advantage, sure.

So, face down, we spread out the pile
Of letters, highest goes first.
To my joy, I chose the best tile,
But Len replied, “First is worst.”

“What can you mean?” I responded,
“The rules are written right there.”
Len shook his head, said we needed
To make the playing field fair.

“After all, my friend, you agree
Our levels just aren’t the same.
How competitive will it be,
If we don’t balance this game?”

“Oh, okay,” I had to relent,
Knowing I did have an edge.
But I had no clue my assent
Would steer our game off a ledge.

My next clue was when he chose ten
Tiles rather than the seven
I’d picked. Len proclaimed, once again,
The virtues of his action.

I uttered a modest complaint,
Yet allowed the change to stand.
His chance for victory seemed faint,
Even with this helping hand.

The first word Len composed was “race,”
Which got him a decent score;
A big smile then formed on my face—
My “faculty” would earn more!

With double points for F and C,
I led twenty-two to six,
But Len stopped my pen and boldly
Said, “That score we’ll have to fix.”

“Extra points you don’t need to get;
Your life has been rich in words.
Fifteen is the number you’ll net,
Since we use fairer standards.”

We played like this for quite a while.
He spelled “class” to my “merit”;
I set down “effort” for his “style,”
Earning more partial credit!

With my next move, all tiles were drawn;
I was narrowly ahead,
Still, despite how this game had gone.
With Len’s last tiles, he spelled “red”—

Not enough for him to prevail—
But then claimed a triple bonus
As a “word-deficient male.”
Yes, all for Scrabble justice!

Len, in his excitement, shouted,
And he danced about the floor;
Pointing at me, he then boasted,
As one wealthy, not less poor.

Thus went my night hangin’ with Len,
A man who was made happy
Impoverishing other men,
Not gaining vocabulary!

 

Life in China (Curtal Sonnet)

Dying is a way of life in China.
From the point the first landowners were slain,
To the most-recent religious purges,
Millions have died for the State’s agenda.
Competing thoughts corrupt the worker brain,
Sap its strength, they claim, so neither crosses
In houses nor meditations in parks—
No desire, save the Party—can remain.
Here, rebels die, heaped with Christian corpses
And Falun Gong. If one thing honors Marx,
Death does.

 

Leftovers

An old man sits at the edge of a path,
Mouth set, eyes narrowed in concentration.
Before him, a laminated paper
Rests on the cobblestones. He’s a tradesman,
And his product is his own granddaughter.
Here, marriage is like math,
A careful calculating of numbers—
Age and height and income; with these details
The old man hopes to summon worthy males.
He adds his stock to the trail of papers.

Lin Qi’s parents grow more worried each day;
She is still single, though school was finished
Years ago. They just don’t know what to do.
But Qi feels empowered, not diminished,
Since men are ample and females so few.
She likes it this way;
She knows she is a hot commodity.
Women can be choosy, wait for the best—
They don’t have to cluck like hens in a nest.
Oh, why won’t Qi’s parents let her live free?

Chen Rong never minded being single.
He had his studies, then he had his work,
An important, well-paying profession.
Marriage anxiety once made him smirk,
But now he feels like an ungrateful son.
Bachelorhood is betrayal,
A well-groomed peach tree branch, bereft of fruit.
Yet no matter how strongly Chen Rong tries,
He can never seem to procure a bride—
There are just too many men in pursuit.

Li Nui’s friends tell her she should be joyous.
After all, she lives in a new China,
A place where women are independent,
Free to support themselves, without stigma.
But her parents don’t echo this judgment.
She’ll end up loveless,
They predict, a sheng nu, a wasted womb,
Unless she finds a husband right away.
Li Nui fears that fate—elderly and gray,
Counting the seconds in a silent room.

Wang Xing walks away from the barbershop,
Leaving the luminous pink lights behind.
His hair is untrimmed, having had it cut
Last week; he just needed to clear his mind,
Lessen his loneliness for a minute,
Make the sadness stop.
His steps cause sidewalk puddles to shiver
As he heads home. Or will he stop elsewhere?
A game of dice, perhaps? There’s time to spare—
Money too—when no love is leftover.

Zhang Fan was kidnapped when she was thirteen,
Raised to be a wife for an oldest son.
She escaped, but had nowhere else to go,
So she survived as a parlor siren,
Luring men through a neon-framed window.
Now it is all routine,
But Zhang Fan had monstrous trouble at first.
A young woman alone and free of guile
Couldn’t do the things she did with a smile
Without deadening her heart to the worst.

An old man sits at the edge of a desk,
Eyes focused on the government reports
In his hands. The Party plan is working!
The glut of men is a problem of sorts,
True, but look how the nation is thriving—
These charts are picturesque!
Poverty has dropped exponentially
Since nineteen-eighty, by greater than half!
No, not spread evenly, based on the graph,
Yet the policy’s fruits are plain to see!

Han Changchang walks down the cobblestone street,
Where lines of men and women sell their wares,
Children and grandchildren, wives for husbands.
She sees a young girl approaching and stares,
Recalling a child lost in those seconds,
The blood on her sheet…
Now things have changed, the Party’s publicized.
Might things have been different, her daughter born,
Rather than from her womb brutally torn,
If humans had never been merchandised?

 

One Life: The Ballad of Nathan Hale

I

From a branch hung the martyred man,
Whose weight sagged down like fruit;
His final words would be a seed
That formed our Nation’s root.

Such a sight might be strange today,
For our home’s now a land
Where we rise when we should kneel
And kneel when we should stand.

Yet just a little while ago—
Two-hundred two-score years—
A young teacher laid down his life,
Inspiring his peers.

We are the growth from that man’s tree,
But few now know his tale.
Oh, we’ll rot if we don’t revive
Stories like Nathan Hale!

So listen what a single soul
Through love and faith once did,
And let’s restore the legacy
The unbelievers hid.

 II

When Hale’s new nation went to war,
This young man joined the fight;
Though innocent of combat ways,
He knew the cause was right:

They strove for rights not made by men,
Nor leased by government—
A country built on Nature’s law,
Not whim of fickle tyrant.

And when his leader needed eyes,
Hale volunteered his own,
For even if the view was bleak,
The dark the cause outshone.

He passed behind the British lines
At great risk to his being—
Execution without a trial
Would come if he were seen!

Still, he gathered information
Like he was told to do,
Hiding all this intelligence
In the bottom of his shoe.

But before Hale could rendezvous
With friends who’d take him back,
The brave patriot was captured
With these notes of attack.

The redcoats rushed Hale to command
To face their crafty chief,
And here the fatal sheets were found
During the dire debrief.

All lost! That night would be Hale’s last—
Come morning he would die!
One last chance to prepare his soul
For judgment in the sky.

So he asked them for a Bible
To read in the torchlight,
But the soldiers there refused him
Simply to sate their spite.

Again they showed their callousness—
More than most humans can—
When they refused the prisoner
Time with a clergyman.

Hale had to search his memory
For scripture to assuage
The unsettling in his spirit
While waiting in that cage.

Thankfully, restless eyes drew closed
And blessed sleep stole in.
Yes, one romp more in dreams before
The death walk would begin.

 III

Clank! The iron door banged open!
Hale sat up with a start.
It was morning; the time had come
For flesh and soul to part.

Grim soldiers marched Hale down the road,
Toward a tall, tangled tree,
Looming monstrously in a park
They called Artillery.

As the spot of death grew closer,
The young spy noticed there
A ladder propped against the trunk,
A rope dropped from the air.

The pace of his young heart increased;
Each step his noose grew near.
Yet, for those invaders, he would
Never betray his fear.

So, Hale stilled his inner trembling
And set his courage fast,
And when he had the chance to speak,
His words were a contrast

To the dread feelings in his heart.
Sensing the witnesses
Hung on each syllable he said,
He did what a hero does:

He gazed stately at the viewers,
Both traitorous and true,
And uttered words so meaningful
They’ve passed to me and you.

“I only regret,” Hale began,
As poised as he could be,
“That I have but one life to give
In service to my country.”

The spectators stood statue-like,
Though many wept inside,
As the condemned climbed the ladder,
Received the noose, then died.

There Hale hung from a crooked limb,
A warning to them all
That those who turned against the king
Would face a mortal fall.

Yet his last words kept resounding,
Like drumbeat or gunshot,
And his body made it louder,
Draped from a martyr’s knot.

Thus, the teacher taught his nation
What faith and courage meant;
His deed became a battle cry
Wherever soldiers went.

IV

Today his feat is forgotten,
A footnote in the past,
Or regarded with derision
By hip iconoclast.

And the symbol of such service,
Which likewise would inspire,
Has lost its power to unite us
With a shared desire.

But a nation won’t long survive—
It surely will not shine—
Without a collective vision—
Its destined for decline.

No. We don’t have to walk that path;
Let’s tread another trail.
The first step, we learn our heroes,
Like the martyr Nathan Hale.

 

Ron L. Hodges is an English teacher and poet who lives in Orange County, California. His works have appeared in The Road Not Taken, Ancient Paths, Calvary Cross, and The Society of Classical Poets Journal 2015 and 2016. He won the Society’s prestigious Annual Poetry Competition in 2016.

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3 Responses

  1. Dona Fox

    The Ballad of Nathan Hale is moving and amazing. We read it many times at our house. Thank you.

    Reply
  2. Profile photo of Jillian
    Jillian

    I enjoyed Scrabble-ism! As a player of the word game I, too, am less interested in games of chance like Monopoly. This poem is a fun read!

    Also, Leftovers is an interesting portrait of a society many in the U.S. know little about. I found it very thought-provoking.

    Reply
  3. Wendy Bourke

    A diverse compilation of pieces – all wonderfully rendered. You are very talented!

    Reply

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