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Short poem

Phyllis Gotlieb (1926-)

Ordinary, Moving

              1is the name of the game
              2laughing, talking where the ball bounces
              3in the forgotten schoolyard
              4one hand, the other hand; one foot, the other foot
              5you know the one
              6(Saturday Afternoon Kid
              7blackball-cracker, scotchmint-muncher
              8handkerchief-chewer extraordinary)
              9clap front, clap back
            10ballthwack on the boardfence
            11front and back, back and front
            12arms of old beeches reaching over drop their
            13sawtooth leaves in your hair
            14  (as I was sitting beneath a tree
            15  a birdie sent his love to me
            16  and as I wiped it from my eye
            17  I thought: thank goodness cows can't fly)
            18tweedle, twydle
            19curtsey, salute
            20and roundabout
            21until you're out

            22the shadows turn, the light is long
            23and while you're out you sing this song

            24     this year, next year, sometime, never
            25     en roule-en ma boule roule-en
            26     we'll be friends for ever and ever

            27              Pimperroquet, le roi des papillons
            28                se faisant la barbe, il
            29                  se coupa le menton
            30                    une, une, c'est la lune
            31                    deux, deux, c'est le jeu
            32seven, eight     trois, trois -- c'est à toi!
            33nine, a-laura
            34ten a-laura      echod, shtaim
            35Secord                 hamelech bashomayim
            36                                echod, shtaim, sholosh, ar-ba ...

            37     whereja get the cold, sir?
            38     up at the North Pole, sir;
            39     what were ya doin there, sir?
            40     catchin Polar bears, sir;
            41     how many didja catch, sir?
            42     one, sir; two, sir
            43                  Salome was a dancer
            44                  she did the hootchykootch
            45                  she shook her shimmy shoulder
            46                  and showed a bit too much

            47     my boyfriend's name is Fatty
            48     he comes from Cincinnati

            49     my boyfriend's name is Jello
            50     he comes from Monticello

            51          ini ini maini mo
            52          que cheleque palesto
            53          que jingale lestingo
            54          ini ini maini mo

            55     and this is the way you played
            56     begin:

            57ordinary throw the ball against the fence, catch it
            58moving same thing, don't move your feet laughing
            59mustn't show your teeth talking
            60shut, your, mouth
            61                          one hand that's how you
            62catch it the other hand
            63one foot pick it up, you dope the other foot
            65clap front, clap back
            66                             front&back, back&front
            67tweedle with your hands like twiddling your thumbs
            68only overhand
            69twydle underhand curtsey, salute
            70and roundabout
            71                         catch it and
            72start from moving

            73over the whole thing without
            74stirring from the spot slap
            75your leg for one foot wave your
            76arms for roundabout on through laughing ononon

            77TILL YOU GET TO BIG MOVING !!!

            78particle, atom, molecule, world
            79solar system, galaxy, supergalaxy, cosmos

            80but start with small, the ball on the wall
            81that's how it went, and begin again:

            82  my boyfriend's name is Tonto
            83  he comes from New Toronto
            84  with twenty-four toes
            85  and a pickle on his nose
            86  and this is the way my story goes:

            87               *
            88              we
            89            started
            90          something
            91          like a slug
            92        and grew without
            93      a thought or wish to
            94     something like a fish a
            95    frog a bird a pig a golly-
            96    wog and ultimately red and
            97     born a blueblack head or
            98      peppercorn or bald or
            99        blind or idiot or
          100          multiheaded
          101            ,poly-
          102             glot
          103               *

          104             I = I
          105            I? = ?I
          106            ?W?H?Y?
          107            ?I = I?

          108            I = not
          109          ALL/eye/see
          110           = (s/ m)uch
          111            = notme

          112(rockabye baby the cradle is hard
          113yer pa got it outa the junkman's backyard)

          114the thing that I thought was the moon
          115turned out to be Mother's face
          116or Sister's or Brother's or Dad's or the cat's
          117-- there's notme all over the place

          118(but I want the world's food in my belly
          119I want all the things I can see
          120I want all the toys in the world in my arms
          121and I want all the arms around ME)

          122  black skin, drum belly
          123  little stick leg
          124  Papa paint the sores on
          125  hold your hands and beg


          127What shall we name the baby?
          128William? or James? or John?
          129Matthew? or Mark? or maybe
          130even Napoleon?

          131  sticks and stones can break my bones
          132  but names'll never hurt me
          133  and when I'm dead and in my grave
          134  you'll be sorry for what you called me

          135whatcher name?
          136Dickery Dame
          137ask me agin
          138and I'll tell ya the same ...

          139... the secret power, the personal key
          140the three golden hairs in the forehead of the Giant
          141the stone in the yoke in the egg in the duck
          142in the rabbit in the basket in the chest beneath the Oak

          143in the Oak of the Golden Bough
          144in the magical Mistletoe:

          145'In the whole of the East Indian Archipelago
          146the etiquette is the same
          147no-one utters his own name...'

          148  Sha-ame, sha-ame!
          149  everybody knows yer na-ame!

          150Whatcher name?
          151Mary Jane
          152wheredya live?              comment t'appelle tu?
          153down'a lane                   je m'appelle comme mon pere
          154whatcher number?         et ton pere?
          155cucumber                      mon pere s'appelle comme moi

          156it's Dinger Bell and Dusty Miller, Moishe Tochas
          157   and Lumber Bonce
          158it's mwele and Elkeh Pipick, Scaevola, Pepito and
          159   Tanglefoot ...

          160what do they call'y'?
          161Patchy Dolly
          162where were y' born?
          163in the cow's horn


          165where were ya born? I didn't hear ya
          166roundabout and begin again
          167well I'll tell ya

          168  my father was born in England
          169  my mother was born in France
          170  but I was born in diapers
          171  because I had no pants

          172(cross my heart and hope to die
          173if I ever tell a lie )

          174where were you born my pretty lass?

          175born in the still-house bin
          176ifn Pappy hadn picked me outa the mash
          177they'd'a called me Stone Blind Gin

          178where do you come from, Cotton-Eye Joe?
          179way down south where the taters grow

          180where do you come from, Vinegar Bill?
          181where the Gila sleeps in the sagebrush hill

          182where do you come from, Popoli
          183in your laplap jockstrap sewn with bead?
          184I'm growing up in New Guin-ea
          185under the eye of Margaret Mead

          186laughing, talking, one hand, the other hand
          187one foot, the other foot
          188that's where the shoe is


          191how's your old man earn his nicker?
          192potter? piper? peapod-picker?
          193packer? knacker? sailor? stoker?
          194bumbailiff? or bailbond-broker?
          195doctor? proctor? thane? or thief?
          196dustman? postman? on relief?

          197  my old man's a dustman
          198  he wears a dustman's hat --

          199aah, knock it off, Noddy
          200we already been there

          201my old man's a navvy
          202a navvy by his trade
          203he wheels a great big barrow
          204he swings a pick and spade

          205my old man's a navvy
          206he get's a navvy's pay
          207it doesn't fill a rotten tooth
          208or scare the wolf away

          209I'm growin up to earn my keep
          210as quickly as I can
          211an I guess I'll be a navvy
          212just like my old man

          213  my father works in the A & P
          214  my mother clerks in the baker-y
          215  my sister dances in the hula show
          216  and they do it for me, me, me

          217my old man's a psychiatrist
          218he has a psychiatrist's couch
          219he doesn't stick any needles in
          220but his patients still cry ouch!

          221he thinks I'm slightly paranoid
          222or maybe rather manic
          223I tell him I'll turn out all right
          224if only he won't panic

          225if you got anxiety
          226my dad will worry for you
          227at 25 bucks an hour
          228it's what psychiatrists do


          230Why? -- Z
          231butter your bread
          232if you don't like it
          233go to bed

          234Why? Why? Why?
          235¿Cuándo? Pourquoi? Far vus?

          236why does a chicken cross the road?
          237no hablo español

          238waarom steekt een kip de weg over?
          239pourquoi non?

          240¿ cuándo la gallina cruza la carretera?
          241vais ich?

          242perchè Garibaldi alla battaglia di Calatafimi
          243  portava le bretelle tricolori?
          244to hold his pants up, stupid


          246how and when and where and why
          247stars and sun and moon and sky

          248canals and craters, dunghills, dunes
          249tell me what's beyond the moons?

          250beyond the moons the sands are deep
          251they spread through all the purple skies
          252in them are Giants who never sleep
          253but watch the world with burning eyes

          254they're just like us, with sharper claws
          255huger pincers, fiercer jaws
          256and if they catch you -- goodbye head!
          257goodbye little crystal bed!

          258so wrap your feelers round your feet
          259fold your thorax nice and neat
          260the sun is high, the hour is late
          261now it's time to estivate

          262  I lay me in my quartzy pool
          263  I pray the gods to keep it cool
          264  to keep off demons far and near
          265  and wake me when the winter's here
          266  to dance with joy on all my legs
          267  and live to lay a thousand eggs


          269  Mother Mother I am sick
          270  call for the doctor quick quick quick!!!
          271  Doctor Doctor shall I die?

          272  Yes my child and so shall I ...

          273Do you ever think when the hearse goes by
          274that one of these days you're going to die?
          275a-whoo, a-whoo ...

          276the dark the hairy scary dark's where
          277the nightblooming neuroses grow:

          278Mummy the THING'S under my bed again!

          279they wrap you up in a big white shirt
          280and cover you over with tons of dirt
          281a-whoo ...

          282under my bed, my childhood bed
          283only the dustflocks blew
          284in the midnight caverns of my head
          285the goblins spawned and grew

          286they stuff you into a long long box
          287and cover you over with mountains of rocks
          288a-whoo ...

          289but my children's fears are wider, wilder
          290fiercer, freer
          291in their delirious feverdreams
          292angry shadows chatter from the bookshelves
          293and Caesar's legions fight all Gaul from the staircase
          295           imperial ibises rise
          296stark and threatening from the reeds of the rug

          297and the worms crawl out and the worms crawl in
          298and the ones that crawl in are lean and thin
          299and the ones that crawl out are fat and stout
          300a-whoo, a-whoo ...

          301deposition by J.E.G., acquaintance of writer:

          302  The storm was raging and the wind was howling outside the
          303  castle. Inside the castle the lights flickered of. There was a
          304  blood-curling shriek. A Black figure stalked up the corridor.
          305  Bloodstained was his hands. I ran down the corridor and fell.
          306  Quickly I got up. I ran down the corridor only to find a girl
          307  jabbed in the back. As I ran farther I fell in a pit. It was a don-
          308  jon! I felt myself being chained to the wall. I struggled to
          309  free myself only to get whipped in the leg. The lights went on,
          310  I found the Black thing ready to cut my throat! I prepared to
          311  die. IM DEAD! IM DEAD! I screamed.

          312your eyes fall in and your hair falls out
          313and your brains come tumb-a-ling down your snout
          314a-whoo ...

          315  Hap-py Birthday!
          316  Hap-py Birthday!
          317  children are crying
          318  people are dying
          319  Happy Birthday ...

          320here you're in
          321there you're out
          322that's how the world goes


          325rise, Sally, rise
          326open your eyes
          327the earth turns east, the sun turns west
          328turn to the one you love the best

          329  Red Rover, Red Rover, let Billy come over
          330  I wish, I wish your wish may come true
          331  the sun is up high at the top of the sky
          332  you can't cross my river unless you wear blue

          333bushel of wheat, bushel of barley
          334all not hid, holler Charley!
          335bushel of wheat, bushel of rye
          336all not hid, holler I!
          337bushel of wheat, bushel of clover
          338all not hid can't hide over

          339look out, World! here I come!

          340we sing from near, we sing from far
          341you brought us here, and here we are

          342we sing from far, we sing from near
          343nobody told us why we're here

          344we sing by night, we sing by day
          345nobody told us what to say

          346in love begot, in lust begot
          347nobody asked us what we thought:


          349my warriors have pitched their tents
          350where Tigris meets Euphrates
          351I suck the stubborn teats of goats
          352and feed upon the date-trees

          353I hunker down upon my heels
          354(they call me chieftain's daughter)
          355and I crack my lice between my nails
          356and flick them in the water

          357  we have to sing, we sing a song
          358  it's all of Time and twice as long


          360  Black sheep, black sheep, have you any wool?

          361  Yes, Master Coxe, my fleece is fat and full

          362  Shearer, shearer, clip him to the fell
          363  and take the wool to little John who lives by the well

          364I sit and pick at wool
          365I pick at wool all day
          366I have no time to go to school
          367I have no time to play

          368the shepherds tend the flocks
          369the shearers clip their backs
          370and sell the wool to Thomas Coxe
          371who stuffs it into sacks

          372and when the bags are full
          373they bring them in to me
          374for every day I pick the wool
          375he pays my penny fee

          376my hands are cracked and sore
          377I pray to go to heaven
          378and hope perhaps he'll pay me more
          379next year when I am seven

          380  I sing my song the whole day long
          381  from morning light to even


          383I am a little chimney sweep
          384a poor benighted chap
          385I knock about the dark all day
          386and no-one cares a rap

          387the soot grinds down into my groins
          388each time my brush goes whap!
          389I'll die from cancer of the nuts
          390if I don't get the clap

          391  we sing our song, our song is long
          392  it's large as life and twice as strong

          393if you should see a chimney sweep
          394your luck will turn to bad
          395so always keep your eyes away
          396from a chimney-sweeping lad

          397but if by chance they light on one
          398don't let it go at that
          399-- just hold your collar till you see
          400a horse, a dog, a cat ...


          402  here upon the altar
          403  lies the bleeding victim
          404  we slew him without falter
          405  -- that was why we picked him

          406  O mighty Rongo, here's your fish
          407  wrapped up in tidy parcels
          408  was ever god served up a dish
          409  of such prodigious morsels?

          410all the gods are bad ones
          411and some are worse than others
          412the god who gave me his name
          413had demons for his brothers

          414he chose the altar for me
          415the axe to split my head
          416the leaves to wrap my ears and nose
          417for the prize when I was dead

          418the missionary came then
          419and he took me in his arm
          420he swore his God would strike them dead
          421if they did me any harm

          422my father broke his spear in two
          423the prayer-king stove his drum
          424and as a joyful Christian child
          425I sing of Kingdom Come!


          427  one day he gave me peaches
          428  one day he gave me pears
          429  one day he gave me fifty cents
          430  to kiss him on the stairs

          431the missionary ladies
          432have taught me to sew and cook
          433to plant flowers in pots
          434and embroider French knots
          435and write in a bluelined book

          436they have taught me to read the Bible
          437and to frown and turn my back
          438on Corporal McGlash
          439when he twirls his moustache
          440and calls me the Rose of Ladakh

          441but my mother will come and fetch me
          442to my home on the mountain side
          443and I'll turn back my face
          444to the ways of my race
          445in Shamlegh when I am a bride

          446and turquoise and silver will bind up my hair
          447instead of a flowery hat
          448my three husbands will plough
          449while the fourth milks the cow
          450-- but I won't tell the pastor that.

          451  I gave him back his peaches
          452  I gave him back his pears
          453  I only kept the fifty cents
          454  and kicked him down the stairs


          456Mammy, Mammy, tell me true
          457when shall we be free?

          458Hush, chile, eat you chickenfoot stew
          459don't say dem things to me
          460  ole Uncle Jack he wanta git free
          461  foun his way north by de bark on de tree
          462  cross dat river floatin in a tub
          463  paterollers gibm a mighty close rub

          464Mammy, Mammy, all de years
          465Massa laid us low

          466Hush, chile, hush chile, all you tears
          467won' make him let us go
          468  old Aunt Dinah jes like me
          469  wuk so hard she wanta git free
          470  but Aunt Dinah gittin kinda ole
          471  she feared of Canada cause it so cole

          472Mammy, wanta board dat Freedom Train
          473feel de sun shine on my haid

          474hush, chile! don't talk out so plain
          475or you mighty close to dead!
          476  ole Uncle Billy, mighty fine man
          477  tote de news to Massa, fast as he can
          478  tell Uncle Billy you want free fer a fac
          479  nex day de hide skun offn you back

          480and still we dance and still we sing
          481Juba dancers in a ring!

          482Juba dis an Juba dat
          483Juba skin dat Yaller Cat

          484Juba jump and Juba sing
          485Juba cut dat Pigeon's Wing!

          486Gadder roun, chillun, thank de Lawd
          487old Abe done set us free
          488Massa in de cole cole groun, praise Gawd
          489in de Year of Jubilee!

          490  Missus an Massa, walkin down street
          491  hans in dere pockets, nothin to eat
          492  Missus git home, wash up de dishes!
          493  patch up y'ole man's raggedy britches!

          494  Massa run home, git out de hoe
          495  clear de weeds outa y'own corn row
          496  de Kingdom Come, de slaves gone free
          497  ain no slaves in de Year Jubilee!

          498two four six eight
          499we don't want to integrate

          500  ('I dunno what they complainin about what with
          501  Bull Connor givin em free street
          502  baths an dog shows ever day')

          503put down you heel
          504put down you toe
          505  ever time you turn aroun
          506  you stomp Jim Crow!

          507git off you knees
          508hold up you head
          509  ever time you turn aroun
          510  Jim Crow dead!


          512  get a piece of pork and
          513  stick it on a fork and
          514  shove it in the mouth of a Jewboy, Jew ...

          515a skinny kid, a Yidl kid, I run the streets of Kiev
          516the sh'gutzim kick my shins, the cold winds blow me like a leaf
          517a skinny kid, a Yidl kid, with swinging black earlocks
          518for furtrimmed ladies and their gents my father fixes clocks
          519he cheats them just a little bit to make up for the tax
          520I call them Pan and Panya and I spit behind their backs
          521a dirty sheeny ragged Yid I spit behind their backs

          522  Jewboy, Jew
          523  Jewboy, Jew

          524I am Belsen number 7829
          525I know not blue sky nor to see the sun shine
          526blind, I hear others die. I am called swine.

          527  and still we sing and still we sing
          528  and through the wires our voices ring

          529does no-one hear? does no-one come?
          530Lord of the World, my mouth is dumb


          532  Bach Jones a bag of bones
          533  a belly full of fat
          534  and when he dies he shuts his eyes
          535  now what do you think of that?

          536at Aberfan where I began
          537I never grew to be a man
          538the slag ran down toward the town
          539I cried and I was still
          540God lost my name and no-one came
          541I died beneath the hill

          542still in their dreams our voices sing
          543through stone and slime the echoes ring

          544  Rhys Owen was a holy man
          545  he went to church on Sunday
          546  to pray to God to give him strength
          547  to whip the boys on Monday!


          549the light swings west, the shadows follow
          550the ball is hollow
          551on the wall

          552curtsey, salute and roundabout
          553we go by turns but never out

          554we turn the world away from night
          555we raise the sun, we bring the light

          556if we don't act the way we should
          557too bad for you. We're here for good.

          558and begin again


1] Cf. "Tennis at Midnight," Noman's Land: Stories by Gwendolyn MacEwan (Toronto: The Coach House Press, 1985):

The past was a place of games played with deadly earnest, the terrible arena of childhood. He was very young and he smelled of melting running shoes and schoolyard dust and warm apples and peanut butter sandwiches. The girls at noon bounced hard rubber balls under their knees or flung them rhythmically at the school wall, chanting in girl language: ordinary, moving, left foot, right foot, curtsies, salutsies, turnsies. The boys watched them, fascinated and bewildered and afraid. Apples, peaches, pears and plums! the girls screamed as they flung themselves in great suicidal leaps into the whirling maw of their skipping ropes. Tell me when your birthday comes! And dancing in the frenzied centre they called out the names of the months of the year - this year, any year: 'JANuary, FEBruary...' until the schoolyard was a whirling circling planet of tastes and smells and colours and sounds erupting into chaos like the first dream of his life in which the sky broke up into a jigsaw of faces and figures and mythical animals and then it all fell down.

32] "Pimperroquet, the king of butterflies makes a beard, he cuts his chin, one, one, it's the moon, two, two, it's the game, three, three, it's your turn!"

35] laura Secord: a Canadian heroine of the the war of 1812. She warned Canadian forces of the coming of the Americans.

51] A version of the nonsense rhymes, perhaps "eenie, meenie, minie, mo, catch ... by the toe, catch him ... let him go"

82] Tonto: the Lone Ranger's native sidekick.

83] a town on the western shores of Toronto's outshirts, on Lake Ontario.

112] rockabye baby: cf. the nursery rhyme

Rockabye baby, on the tree-top,
When the wind blows,
The cradle will rock,
And down will come baby,
Cradle and all.

132] a common children's rhyme

136] Cf. the Mother Goose rhyme, "Dickery dickery dock."

152] "What's your name? I'm named after my father. And your father? My father's named after me."

172] Common children's verses.

176] ifn: if an ("an" is redundant, an old form of "if").

179] taters: potatoes.

181] Gila: gila monster, a common lizard.

185] Margaret Mead: a famous anthropologist (1901-78) whose book, Growing Up in New Guinea, documented the lives of children in Manus Island.

197] dustman: garbage collector.

201] navvy: laborer.

206] get's: gets us.

213] A & P: the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, a chain of supermarkets.

237] "I don't speak Spanish" (Spanish).

238] The previous question ... in German.

239] "Why not?" (French).

261] to go into a deep sleep during the summer (like hibernating, but not in winter).

262] quartzy: like quartz.

293] Gaul: approximately the region in Roman times now called France.

329] Red Rover: a school-recess game. Children divided into two teams, facing one another, each team's members holding hands. Then one of the teams chose what it thought was the weakest, smallest child on the other side, and called out "Red Rover, Red Rover, let [name] come over!" That child had to run to break through the other team as it held hands. If the child broke through, she or he got to take one member of that team, back to his team. If the child failed, she or he stayed with the other team.

360] The Mother Goose song, "Bah, Bah, Black Sheep."

389] nuts: testicles.

390] clap: venereal disease.

406] Rongo: "sound," the Polynesian god of crops, the creator.

434] French knots: little knotted stitches representing small things, like the centres of flowers, and rather difficult to master.

440] Ladakh: mountainous region in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, characterized by wild roses.

445] Shamlegh: a place in Rudyard Kipling's Kim.

458] chile: child.

463] paterollers: slang for "patrolers," whites who enforced the slave codes against African American slaves. gibm: give him.

465] Massa: master.

468] jes: just.

469] wuk: work. wanta git: want to get.

471] cole: cold.

472] Freedom Train: the underground railway, an anti-slaving network that enabled African American escaped slaves to leave the southern states for New England and Canada.

477] tote de: told the.

478] fer a fac: for a fact.

479] de hide skun offn you back: they flay the skin off your back.

481] juba: dance where southern African Americans clapped their hands, slapped their legs, and stamped their feet on the floor as they shouted "juba." Gadder roun, chillun: Gather round, children.

487] Abe: Abraham Lincoln (1809-65), 16th president of the United States, who led the Union against the South in the American civil war to free the slaves.

497] Jubilee: Biblical term for the year in which slaves are freed (Leviticus 5:54).

499] integrate: remove political, legal, and social barriors to the identical treatment of whites and blacks.

501] Bull Connor: Theophilus Eugene Connor (1897-1973), Commissioner of Public Safety in Birmingham, Alabama, ordered the police to use dogs and fire hoses against civil rights demonstrators in 1963.

506] In the 1830s Daddy Rice, a white minstrel-show singer, blackened his face and danced in imitation of a black person, termed "Jim Crow."

515] Yidl: Joseph Green's Yiddish film, Yidl mitn Fidl (1936), about the adventures of Arie and his daughter, who disguises herself as a girl named Yidl. Kiev: a city in the Ukraine.

521] sheeny: insulting name for a jew.

524] Belsen: a Nazi death camp sixty kilometres north of Hannover.

536] Aberfan, a mining town in Wales that suffered a great disaster on Oct. 21, 1966 when 144 people, 116 of them children, died when a tip of coal waste collapsed on the village.

Online text copyright © 2004, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Copyright The Works: Collected Poems of Phyllis Gotlieb Calliope Press 1978
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Phyllis Gotlieb, Red Blood Black Ink White Paper (Toronto: Exile Editions, 2002): 63-83. PS 8513 .O77R33 Robarts Library
First publication date: 1969
Publication date note: Ordinary, Moving (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1969).
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: 2003
Recent editing: 1:2003/1/5*1:2003/1/11

Rhyme: irregularly rhyming

Other poems by Phyllis Gotlieb