May 21, 2001

Song For the Squeeze Box

by Theodore Roethke

MONDAY, 21 MAY 2001
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Poem: "Songs For the Squeeze-Box," by Theodore Roethke, from Collected Poems (Anchor).

Songs For The Squeeze-Box

It wasn't Ernest; it wasn't Scott—
The boys I knew when I went to pot;
They didn't boast, they didn't snivel,
But stepped right up and swung at the Devil;
And after exchanging a punch or two,
They all sat down like me and you
—And began to drink up the money.

It wasn't the Colony; it wasn't the Stork;
It wasn't the joints in New York, New York;
But me and a girl friend learned a lot
In Ecorse, Toledo, and Wynadotte
—About getting rid of our money.

It was jump-in-the-hedge; it was wait-in-the-hall;
It was "Would you believe it—fawther's tall!"
(It turned out she hadn't a father at all)
—But how she could burn up the money!

A place I surely did like to go
Was the underbelly of Cicero;
And East St. Louis and Monongahela
Had the red-hot spots where you feel a
—Lot like losing some money.

Oh, the Synco Septet played for us then,
And even the boys turned out to be men
As we sat there drinking that bathtub gin
—And loosened up with our money.

It was Samoots Matuna and Bugs Moran;
It was Fade me another and Stick out your can;
It was Place and Show and Also Ran
—For you never won with that money.

Oh, it wasn't a crime, it wasn't a sin,
And nobody slipped me a Mickey Finn,
For whenever I could, I dealt them all in
—On that chunk of Grandpa's money.

It was Dead Man's Corner, it was Kelly's Stable;
It was Stand on your feet as long as you're able,
But many a man rolled under the table
—When he tried to drink up the money.

To some it may seem a sad thing to relate,
The dough I spent on Chippewa Kate,
For she finally left town on the Bay City freight
—When she thought I'd run out of money.

The doctors, the lawyers, the cops are all paid—
So I've got to get me a rich ugly old maid
Who isn't unwilling, who isn't afraid
—To help me eat up her money.

It's the birthday of actor and comic writer Al Franken, born in New York City (1951) and raised in Minneapolis. He was a writer and performer for many years on Saturday Night Live, on which he played the character Stuart Smalley, a therapist with a talk show on a public access cable station.

It's the birthday of poet Robert Creeley, born in Arlington, Massachusetts (1926).

It's the birthday of Harold Robbins, born in New York City (1916). He's the author of The Carpet-baggers (1961), and other best-selling books.

It's the birthday of ethnologist Frances Densmore, born in Red Wing, Minnesota (1867). She devoted 60 years of her life to traveling from village to village recording the songs of Sioux Indians.

It's the birthday of the first English poet to make his living from writing: Alexander Pope, born in London (1688). He was known as the chief poet of his day by the time he was 30 for having composed the verse masterpiece The Rape of the Lock (1714). Later he issued translations of Homer's Illiad (1720) and Odyssey (1726), which sold so well they supported him for the rest of his life.

It's the birthday of Dante Alighieri, born in Florence (1265) to a wealthy banker. The first time he saw his lifelong love, Beatrice Portinari, they were both nine years old; they met only one other time, nine years later. Beatrice married another man, and Dante married another woman, but Dante's feelings for Beatrice, who died when he was 25, only intensified. His unrequited passion is recounted in La Vita Nuova, or The New Life (1293). He was a political exile from Florence when he wrote his masterpiece, The Divine Comedy (1310-14). Shortly after completing the third section, Paradiso, Dante died of Malaria at the age of 55.

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