Saturday, September 5, 2015

An Ode I'm Itching to Tell.

I am at a complete loss for a subject to write about this week, at least any that would make me smile…other than my grandchildren (or Barbara) of course. The world this week is in a state of perpetual “it sucks.” Not a bit of unqualified uplifting news (even for Tom Brady fans).

Life this week is committed to defying the basic parameters of civilized behavior.  Intolerance, indifference, violence, and selfishness seem the watchwords of our times. There is no place to turn for peace of soul.  Even the bucolic woods surrounding my farm have turned on me with their venomous poison ivy.

Scratch, scratch.

In such a mood where can one turn except to writing poetry. No, not my own—that would require far too much talent—but in parodying others. It relaxes me. I hope it has a similar affect upon you…though not so much as to put you to sleep.

So, with apologies to Edgar Allen Poe and any Raven fans out there, here goes:

Once upon a midday early, while I wandered, quick and surly,
Over many a quaint and curious meadow of neglected chore—
While I prodded, briskly clipping, suddenly there came an itching,
As if from some gentle scraping, scraping from elbow to fore.
“‘Tis some hairy vine,” I muttered, “scraping me elbow to fore—
 Only this and nothing more.”

Ah, distinctly I remember it was on the first September;
And each separate shining three-leaf wrought its oil upon me more.
Eagerly I wished the tractor;—I’d foolishly forgot to factor
Would shield my skin from oh such sorrow—sorrow for the itch and more—
From the red and recurring blisters even angels itch and more—
Shameless scratching evermore.

And the silken, sad, uncertain bandage of each purple keratin
Chilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
“‘Tis some shining three-leaf entreating access from my elbow to fore—
Some new shining three-leaf entreating access from my elbow to fore;—
This it is and nothing more.”

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Ivy,” said I, “or if Oak, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was clipping, and so gently you came scraping,
And so faintly you came scraping, scraping my elbow to fore,
That I scarce was sure I felt you”—here I opened wide the door;—
For Urushiol and more.

Deep into that toxin peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no scratcher ever dared to dream before;
But the blister was unbroken, though the swelling reached Hoboken,
And the only word heard spoken was the whispered “itch and more.”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the words, “and more!”—
Should you scratch there will be more.

Back onto the elbow turning, all my arm upon me burning,
Soon again I heard a scraping somewhat louder than before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—
’Tis the vine and nothing more!”

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
Out there stood a hairy vine of the poisoned sort before;
Not the least obeisance made it; not a minute moved or stayed it;
But, with mien of Trump-like hair, seemed to search beyond my fore—
Searching for a rhyme of Pallas just below my itching fore—
Searched, and that, and nothing more.

Was this hairy vine beguiling my sad fancy into smiling?
So at the grave and stern decorum of the ivy I swore,
“Leaflets three, let it be craven,” for on that I’m a maven,
Ghastly grim and ancient ivy that has me itching every night and more—
Tell me if thy worldly cure is what Methylprednisolone’s for.”
Quoth the three-leaf, “Itch no more.”

I think I’ll stop now at a half parody (please feel free to hyphenate “half” into an appropriate adjective of your choice).

Not because I’m afraid of what all you Poe folks out there might want to do to me, but because it’s time to reach for the Calamine lotion and call it a night.

Next week I’ll be at Bloody Scotland. A land where everything is perfect all the time.  I know that’s true because Caro lives there. Can’t wait.

Scratch, scratch.



  1. How could you have concentrated well enough to write that spot on parody while suffering from the horrors of poison ivy? I am in awe.

    1. Thank you, Donis, you made me least it looked like a blush. The secret is motivation. If my fingers are on the keyboard they're not tearing at my forearm. :)

  2. Did you not notice that you'd been in contact with it (before the itching started)? A good scrub with soap and COLD water within a few hours of exposure usually avoids the itch, pain and blisters for me (with poison oak, never having even SEEN poison ivy in THESE parts). But I also use a product called TECNU (which is actually made right here in Albany OR), which also does wonders for removing the oil (even used at the first sign of itching it's very effective at minimizing the rash and itch). Too late for this time, I know, and I do sympathize with you... yes, even with YOU, Jeff. :-)

    And thanks for the poem, great fun!

    1. Why thank you, doctor! Yes, TECNU and I are old is the cold water. I'd beaten back a few episodes earlier in the month with their help, but a passing pulling of a Virginia Creeper vine (in which the dastardly hairy vine had hidden itself) caught me unawares until the itch began.

      The real problem is I haven't been here in Poison Ivy season for Ten Years. I think it's the gods' not so subtle way of telling me I belong in the Aegean this time of year. :)

  3. By the way, I hear a rumor that you may be touring on the west coast this fall. Portland? True? A dastardly lie?

    1. Hmm, now who could have told you that! Yes, Tim Hallinan and I are doing a West Coast ramble to celebrate the release of our new books on October 6th (Tim's new Poke, "The Hot Countries," and my Kaldis "Devil of Delphi."

      We're in Orange CA (Book Carnival) 10/24 @ 2PM, San Diego (Mysterious Galaxy) 10/26 @ 2PM, Portland (Annie Bloom's) 11/2 @ 7PM, and Seattle (Seattle Mystery ) 11/3 @ 3 PM.

      Martin Limon will be with us in CA, but he's not going north. I think he's afraid of you.

    2. Great! Maybe I'll finally get to bow and grovel at the feet of the Great Man (assuming you don't get a hang nail or something that prevents you from travelling...) I look forward to face time in Portland. Are you planing, training, driving, or walking up the west coast?

    3. I assume you're addressing that to Tim. :)

      Yes, hangnail aside, I suspect I'll be flying in a day or so before. But that mode of transportation has not yet been fixed. And, yes, I look forward to the same life-changing experience.

    4. You know what happens when you ass-u-me, right... Besides, I already kissed his boots once this year (an opportunity you missed, and yes, you can place a sizable sum on the fact that I won't let you forget it).

      H'okay. When the time comes, if you feel lonely for company during lunch or dinner, you have but to jerk my you-know-what... We're only about an hour away.

  4. Great parody, but I don't like the reason for it. Hope you stop itching very quickly. It's clear that the Aegean is clearly calling you.

    1. Lil, I guess you could say poison ivy is inland New Jersey's version of jellyfish. :)

  5. Oh walk through a field of high thistles in a kilt, then you will know pain.....
    Seriously though, does that stuff go through gloves...? ( the plant, not your poetry!!)

    1. Having seen an old 700-pound black bear wandering through my pasture (sans kilt) I can imagine the experience.

      Yes, it goes right through cloth gloves, especially when they're moist, like from sweat. You need leather or the vinyl hazmat type if you're (nuts enough) to go right at it. And the oil (the real culprit) can remain on your tools and clothes for years.

      Fun, huh?

  6. Ugh, poison ivy! Benadryl in all forms, including cream helps with the itch.

    I always knew New Jersey was dangerous. Decades ago, I went to the wilds of that state to visit a friend who'd rented a cottage in the woods for the summer.

    We swam in a stagnant pond (!) and walked through the woods. Unbeknownst to me, I trod upon a poisonous plant.

    The next day I awoke with giant hives and a fever. ER gave me steroids and Benadryl. Sick for 10 days with the darn thing.

    Never did figure out which poison plant did me in. But beware of New Jersey's flora.

    1. Thanks for the advice, Kathy. At least I recognize the100-year old snapping turtles and 500-pound bears from a distance.

  7. Love the poem, Jeff. Call it homage rather than parody :)

    Cold water is also the best thing if you've been exposed to CS gas. NEVER use warm water, as this opens your pores and lets the stuff penetrate deeper into your skin.

    Don't ask how I know this ...

    1. You're so right about the cold water. That heat thing complicated my case because I rode with my forearm hanging out the truck window pressed against the hot sheet metal. You motorcyclists wouldn't know that joy. :) And yes, I dare not ask such questions of you...until we're before an audience at Bouchercon, O International Guest of Honor.

  8. Good to know this about the heat. Gosh, now I'm never going outside of the Big Apple ever again.