Putting Settings in Their Place

For dilettantes the world’s bereft
When table settings aren’t precise.
For if the forks aren’t on the left
They’ll give their host some stern advice:

“The fork goes here, for love of life,
“The salad fork goes right next to it.
“And on the right the spoon and knife.”
They’ll tell us all just how to do it.

“The dinner plate goes here,” they’ll say,
“The salad plate goes over there.
“And wine goes on the right, okay?
“While tea pots can go anywhere.”

“The napkin’s folded with the forks,
“Our etiquette is next to none!”
Like faux-sophisticated dorks
They’ll claim that’s how it must be done.

But frankly, I don’t give a damn
As long as forks are within reach.
For “practical,” is what I am,
And “common sense” is what I preach.

Just serve me food that I can chow
With chopsticks, forks, or fingers, too,
Just get it in my mouth, somehow,
So all I’ve got to do is chew.

The table setting? I don’t care
What Downton Abbey butlers do.
Of etiquette I’m unaware.
With chunks of bread I’ll eat my stew.



The Belling of the Cat

Surprise! I found the mice had belled our cat,
Which was, of course, an awful thing to do.
The cat, humiliated (there is that)—
But, worse by far, the bell was mine—and new;

A bell I bought to hang around the neck
Of Ferdinand, our misanthropic bull,
To keep potential trespassers in check
From goring by a sharp-horned animal.

The bull, I think, would take the bell in stride,
But our poor cat, when belled, sank to the floor
And couldn’t move at all but only sighed
And licked her nose; just that and nothing more.

Just how the mice picked up the bell and hung
It on the cat remains a mystery,
Akin to Stonehenge when I stood among
The stones and pondered how they came to be.

I’ve long since freed the cat and placed the bell
Around the neck of Ferdinand. My guess
Is, if the cat could damn the mice to hell
Or somewhere worse she’d eagerly say, “Yes.”

They say discretion is the greater part
Of valor and my cat has since been prone
To listen to her head and not her heart,
While leaving all those wily mice alone.

Old Ferdinand appears to like his bell.
But what the mice do next is hard to tell.



Yard Sale

Garden gnomes in front of homes
Are cute but would you buy
A house with one on its front lawn?
I would and here is why:

Decent price, a house that’s nice;
To buy it, I’d cry, “Bingo!”
I’d keep the place but then replace
Each gnome with a flamingo.



James A. Tweedie is a retired pastor living in Long Beach, Washington. He has written and published six novels, one collection of short stories, and three collections of poetry including Mostly Sonnets, all with Dunecrest Press. His poems have been published nationally and internationally in The Lyric, Poetry Salzburg (Austria) Review, California Quarterly, Asses of Parnassus, Lighten Up Online, Better than Starbucks, Dwell Time, Light, Deronda Review, The Road Not Taken, Fevers of the Mind, Sparks of Calliope, Dancing Poetry, WestWard Quarterly, Society of Classical Poets, and The Chained Muse. He was honored with being chosen as the winner of the 2021 SCP International Poetry Competition.

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19 Responses

  1. Paul Freeman

    Ha, ha, ha!

    Not sure whether ‘Putting Settings in Their Place’ is metaphorical, but I was reminded of a scene (the initial part mainly) from ‘Ripping Yarns’ (the ‘Roger of the Raj’ episode).


    ‘The Belling of the Cat’ was fun and educative. Many’s the Medieval short story I’ve incorporated into my short stories and narrative poems.

    Oh, and ‘Yard Sale’! When my kids were small, I wrote several of these nursery rhyme style poems, usually on topics such as brushing their teeth and eating their greens.

    Thanks for the fun reads, James.

  2. Norma Pain

    I thoroughly enjoyed all three of these poems James, especially “Putting Settings in their Place”. Very funny and I agree with your sentiments, it’s all such stuffy stuff! And “The Belling of the Cat” is very funny and clever. Thank you for the big smile on my face this morning.

  3. James A. Tweedie

    To add to the fun, I placed two “Easter eggs” in the photo. Can anyone find them?

  4. Joseph S. Salemi

    I believe placing the forks on the left was the traditional U.K. practice, probably influenced by the fact that many Brits keep the fork in the left hand when eating, so as to hold the knife in the right while bearing down to slice meat. Brits also tend to pile up a small amount of food on the back of the tines of the fork, using the knife to push the food into place there. But this is all from my observations of forty years ago in England — perhaps practices have changed since then.

    • James A. Tweedie

      As usual you are probably correct Re the placement of the forks. Until relatively recently “well-bred” “proper” Brits would eat pizza, hamburgers and probably Cornish Pasties with a knife and fork. From my more recent visits I have found this “class” distinction to be fading away with fingers being more or less acceptable, at least in less formal settings. I’d be interested to hear from any British/Irish/Canadian/Aussies on this matter.

  5. jd

    I loved all three as well. So good to read something that lightens the heart and all three do that.
    Thank you.

  6. James A. Tweedie

    For those of you who may not be familiar with the term, an “Easter egg” is a hidden visual joke often seen in movies and tv shows. So, that means there are two hidden visual jokes in the above picture. Can anyone find them?

  7. jd

    There’s something on the base of the wine glass
    and on the plate it seems there are 4 Garlic bulbs.
    Also the napkin seems to have a graphic (maybe a dog?) but it’s too faint to make out. Knife is facing out instead of in. If it’s any
    of these you will have to explain the humor to me.
    Maybe the garlic as I don’t think it would taste too good that way.

  8. Paul Freeman

    As for Easter eggs, I’m seeing that both your breath and your pee would smell after this delightful raw salad.

    • James A. Tweedie


      You took a lot of guesses but got the two “eggs” in the picture. The point of the knife should be facing away from the plate and raw garlic, as you might imagine, does not make a four-star Michelin entree!

      I’m glad these poems generated a few smiles.

  9. Roy Eugene Peterson

    My mother taught me etiquette and how to set a table. Thankfully I do not criticize how others set the table and do not feel “bereft” in such situations. Oh, those nasty sneaky mice! Good laugh on this one. Your yard sale poem reminded me of my father who had a hobby of making things for front lawns like a running roadrunner with legs that moved in the wind! All three delightful!

  10. James A. Tweedie


    Sometimes poetry conveys a new thought or emotion and sometimes it conjures up old ones. Seems as if these worked a bit of both with you! I couldn’t ask for more. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

  11. Margaret Coats

    James, the wrongly placed knife in the photo is a table setting error, not an Easter egg, as are tarnished forks in desperate need of silver polish. The garlic bulbs are a more serious menu gaucherie, as is the red wine for a salad course. Please eat your stew from a bread bowl, which saves on tableware. Excellent fare often to be found at Scottish festivals! It is quite heavy, leaving room for nothing but a dram of whiskey. Preach as you like, my own preference is for a beautifully set table, more elaborate for the importance of the occasion, and with delightful transformations during the course of evening conversation. Let conviviality continue!

    • James A. Tweedie

      Lol. Thank you, Margaret, for adding your own rapier wit to this seriously amusing conversation. And, I might add, this is a mixed plate and not a salad course. The veggies have been steamed and the wine was expressly chosen to complement the garlic. 😉

  12. Sally Cook

    My grandfather was a hotelkeeper, and my mother swears he ate both peas and pie with a knife !


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