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The Little Knight

The kitchen door slams open wide;
The boy flies through to play outside.
His house becomes his castle’s walls;
The distant car horns, clarion calls.
A stick becomes a mighty sword;
The bushes, an invading horde.
He charges with his battle cry,
Defending home, sword brandished high.

He fights assailants one by one;
Beneath the houses sinks the sun.
The sky near dark, marauders downed,
And bush leaves all around the ground,
The vanquished men laid by the tree
Go back to being shrubbery.
He drops his stick, runs in the door;
The castle is his house once more.

Play trains him up for when he’s grown,
Defending family of his own.

.

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The Decaying House

an alexandroid 

They’re gone from home without a trace;
__Where did they go?
And why the family left the place,
__I’ll never know.

Their 1950s furniture
__Is tossed about.
The walls are worn away; I’m sure
__The floor gives out.

That rotting house in hills somewhere
__A truth displays:
Without the family living there,
__The house decays.

.

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Star-Filled, Full-Moon Night

Star-filled, full-moon night
Frogs and crickets make music
For one little girl

First published in Asahi Haikuist Network

.

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Normal

A man pontificated with great show:
“It doesn’t matter if a man likes men
Or women, or all genders.  Once again:
It’s all about what makes your motor go.”

I said, “I’m glad, because I wish to wed
A woman who will love and fear the Lord,
And we’ll raise many children in accord
With everything the Catholic Church has said.”

He stared at me, then said, all stiff and formal:
“A dream like that, young man, just isn’t normal!”

.

.

Joshua C. Frank works in the field of statistics and lives near Austin, Texas. His poetry has also been published in the Asahi Haikuist Network.


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26 Responses

  1. Roy Eugene Peterson

    These poems are great family lessons for life. “The Little Knight” conveys the importance of playtime in youth. “Normal” is not only normal, it is right, good, and the way our lives were intended, not only by God, but nature!

    Reply
    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, Roy. “The Little Knight” is based on my own childhood, and “Normal” is based on a true story. I agree with you about both.

      Reply
  2. Joseph S. Salemi

    All are good work, but I especially like “Normal,” which touches on a fact that too many people ignore: calls for “freedom” and “inclusion” and “diversity” are always accompanied by vicious hostility to traditional choices. Left-liberals NEVER admit this publicly.

    Reply
    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, Joe. “Normal” was based on someone criticizing my life goals in exactly the way I described.

      I agree; this vicious hostility toward traditional choices has happened with every bit of progress that liberalism has made, which I think shows their true colors. I challenge any liberal to come up with an example that doesn’t fit this pattern. They’re not about inclusion, they’re about destroying tradition. That’s why I had to write “Normal.”

      Reply
  3. Norma Pain

    Such delightful poetry that I enjoyed very much. Thank you Joshua.

    Reply
  4. Paul Freeman

    I’m especially enamoured of ‘The Little Knight’ (our castle was an old, hollowed-out, hard as iron oak tree). I did feel though, that the final couplet was a bit superfluous.

    Thanks for the reads, Joshua.

    Reply
    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, Paul. “The Little Knight” was based on my own childhood. As Roy and Brian point out, that couplet was an important part of the poem, as it shows the importance of play even long after the child has grown.

      Reply
      • Joshua C. Frank

        For anyone reading who thinks something like the final couplet may be a problem, “The Little Knight,” in addition to having been accepted here, has been accepted for reprinting by Verse Virtual and Westward Quarterly.

  5. Brian A Yapko

    I very much enjoyed each of these poems, Joshua, which are not only well-written but which speak from the heart. The first and last poems are the standouts for me. The Little Knight is a wonderful description of a child’s playing in a fantasy but with a clear eye towards the skills these hone for adulthood. I wrote a poem here two years ago which could almost be a companion piece to this one called “A Very Gentle, Perfect Knight.” Similar themes, similar outlook.

    Your “Normal,” though short, has a lot of depth to it. As both you and Dr. Salemi observe, it really is a phenomenon that what should be considered a baseline of normality is actually treated as invalid. Once again, instead of insisting on a bigger table which they might join, too many leftists want to simply smash the table to bits. Some people out there think the best key to a closed door is an axe.

    Reply
  6. Cynthia Erlandson

    I love the first two, especially (though I agree with Paul that the last couplet is superfluous). It’s a great description of the way children used to play, as opposed to playing on their little screens as they do now. “The vanquished men laid by the tree / Go back to being shrubbery.” really made me smile. The description in “The Decaying House” is good, too, though of course it’s a sad scene.

    Reply
    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, Cynthia. I like those two lines as well.

      “The Decaying House” was based on a house I saw once while on a bike ride in California long ago.

      As for the closing couplet, please see my response to Paul’s comment.

      Reply
  7. Margaret Coats

    A most satisfying set of poems in varied forms, all used quite well. “The Little Knight” is a charming picture of boyhood play. You’re getting some criticism of the final couplet because telling “the moral of the story” is extremely unfashionable–so much so that anything of the kind gets left out of anthologies and condemned at poetry workshops, even if the poet in charge might be sympathetic to your intent. It’s “show rather than tell” these days. But we should remember this now-canceled technique was formerly more common, and may be due for a revival. There is really nothing before your final couplet that fully makes the point you want to make. Would a poetry teacher tell you simply to leave this as a cute childhood piece with no direct point, or would he have you write another full stanza (at least) showing the grown-up boy defending his family with some kind of stick corresponding to a play sword? I’ll go for the succinct and well-worded moral here. And congratulations on the single word “Normal” as a title. This is an excellent example of a title that announces and emphasizes the discourse spoken in the story.

    Reply
    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, Margaret, for your compliments on my poems.

      My reasons for leaving the couplet in are exactly the reasons you describe. I’ve added this kind of moral at the end of a lot of my poems, but this is the first time anyone’s had a problem with it. Possibly because I dare to say that a boy growing up to be manly is normal, natural, and healthy rather than “toxic masculinity,” a phrase modern culture believes to be redundant. (Hence my poem “Normal.”) I would expect people to be more critical of my more shocking poems (such as “A Woman’s Right” or “The No-Life Algorithm”) than of “The Little Knight.”

      To answer your question, I think the poetry teacher would have me change the boy to a masculine girl, make him realize the “error” of not being more like a girl, or show the supposed “awful consequences” of his insistence on masculinity—in short, the rule would be, don’t show a little boy playing unless it teaches feminism. He’d also insist that I use free verse, and bad free verse at that.

      Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Margaret and Joshua, both of you clearly describe the situation that exists today in English-speaking countries when it comes to teaching poetry to young persons, and in critiquing the poetry of one’s contemporaries.

      Margaret’s mention of the “show-don’t-tell” mantra is on target. This idea certainly is useful for some poems, but not for ALL poems! There are vast heaps of English poetry from the past that tell the reader plenty, and in great specificity. What’s really at work in the pushing of this mantra is the assumption that all poetry written today must be in the lyric or meditative mode, with no overt explication or commentary. Such an approach is why so much crap today is just personal exhalations and small-scale epiphanies.

      Joshua’s point about the silent yardstick of left-liberalism being used to measure the worth of any poem, and to make sure that it passes the ideological customs-check of politically correct purity, is absolutely valid. The final couplet of “The Little Knight” immediately disqualifies it from acceptance by po-biz gatekeepers today.

      Reply
  8. Monika Cooper

    A little knight I know once said to me: “You know why I want to get married when I grow up? Because I want to hand my sharp sword on to someone.” Boys from an early age already look ahead to fatherhood and think about the future in profound terms. It gives me a deeper appreciation for the sacrifice that is priestly celibacy and also for the miracle of spiritual fatherhood that has natural fatherhood for its foundation (which in turn derives from the Fatherhood of God).

    And the haiku is wonderful. The little girl too is in her Father’s world.

    Reply
    • Joshua C. Frank

      Wow, I love the story about your little knight! That’s material for a poem right there. He reminds me of myself at that age—I wanted to grow up to have 20 or 30 children someday. (I still want a big family, hence the poem “Normal.”)

      It’s interesting what you say about the spiritual fatherhood of priests. It’s true. Without priests, I wouldn’t be here at the SCP site at all. A priest helped me become serious about my faith, priests have helped me when things were difficult, and a priest got me into the classics and reading poetry in the first place.

      It also makes me think of how people have said that they see my pro-family poetry encouraging others to add to the population—thus more than making up for the fact that I didn’t achieve the dream of such an enormous family. (My poem “Poetic Influence” is about the beginnings of this.) I say this not to boast (if anything, it encourages me to take it more seriously), but to encourage other poets reading this to take up the same cause.

      I’m also glad you like the haiku. The little girl is a relative of mine.

      Reply
  9. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Josh, every one of these well crafted poems is a sparkling gem and a poetic kick in the teeth for those who have turned the word “normal” into anything but. ‘Normal’ is an hilarious triumph!

    As ever, I admire the way you use form, and it’s great to see an alexandroid used to excellent effect – “Without the family living there, /The house decays” is a beautiful message, one that reminds me of a sad time in my life… a time when I learned a house is merely bricks and mortar… the loving souls within make it a home.

    I will admit to thoroughly enjoying your forthright messages to the point where I gained much from the closing couplet of ‘A Little Knight’… it instantly reminded me of tiger cubs at play… play being an integral part of adult survival… the little knight is doing just what little knights are born to do… it’s instinctual.

    And then, you turn your multi-talented hand to a haiku… an exquisite haiku that sings to my heart. Josh, your poems are golden beams of sunshine in an increasingly dismal world. Well done and thank you!

    Reply
    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, Susan. It makes me happy to hear that you like these poems, and my poems in general, so much.

      It was reading your poems more than anything that taught me about using form effectively and made me fall in love with fixed forms such as the French forms.

      It seems to be mainly my usual fans who enjoy the closing couplet of “The Little Knight.” That’s interesting to hear about tiger cubs using play in a similar way.

      Reply
  10. Christopher Lindsay

    I love the last two lines of “The Little Knight”.

    Reply
    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, Christopher. Those turned out to be the one controversial part of it, probably because I cast masculinity in a boy in a positive light.

      Reply

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