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Introduction to Jim Chaffee's Studies in Mathematical Pornography by Maurice Stoker
Introduction to Jim Chaffee's Studies in Mathematical Pornography by Tom Bradley
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: American Dream Title Page by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 1 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 2 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 3 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 4 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 5 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 6 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 7 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 8 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 9 by Jim Chaffee
01-01-2015
Modern Tragedy, or Parodies of Ourselves by Robert Castle
01-11-2014
Totally Enchanté, Dahling by Thor Garcia
01-04-2014
Hastini by Rudy Ravindra
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 5 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
01-01-2014
Unexpected Pastures by Kim Farleigh
10-01-2013
Nonviolence by Jim Courter
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 4 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
07-01-2013
The Poet Laureate of Greenville by Al Po
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part VI by Thor Garcia
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 3 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
04-01-2013
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part V by Thor Garcia
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part IV by Thor Garcia
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 2 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
01-01-2013
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part I by Thor Garcia
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part II by Thor Garcia
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part III by Thor Garcia
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 1 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
10-01-2012
DADDY KNOWS WORST: Clown Cowers as Father Flounders! by Thor Garcia
RESURRECTON: Excerpt from Breakfast at Midnight by Louis Armand
Review of The Volcker Virus (Donald Strauss) by Kane X Faucher: Excerpt from the forthcoming Infinite Grey by Kane X Faucher
01-07-2012
Little Red Light by Suvi Mahonen and Luke Waldrip
TEXECUTION: Klown Konfab as Killer Kroaked! by Thor Garcia
Miranda's Poop by Jimmy Grist
Paul Fabulan by Kane X Faucher: Excerpt from the forthcoming Infinite Grey by Kane X Faucher
01-04-2012
Operation Scumbag by Thor Garcia
Take-Out Dick by Holly Day
Patience by Ward Webb
The Moon Hides Behind a Cloud by Barrie Darke
The Golden Limo of Slipback City by Ken Valenti
01-01-2012
Chapter from The Infinite Atrocity by Kane X. Faucher
Support the Troops By Giving Them Posthumous Boners by Tom Bradley
01-10-2011
When Good Pistols Do Bad Things by Kurt Mueller
Corporate Strategies by Bruce Douglas Reeves
The Dead Sea by Kim Farleigh
The Perfect Knot by Ernest Alanki
Girlish by Bob Bartholomew
01-07-2011
The Little Ganges by Joshua Willey
The Invisible World: René Magritte by Nick Bertelson
Honk for Jesus by Mitchell Waldman
01-04-2011
Red's Dead by Eli Richardson
The Memphis Showdown by Gabriel Ricard
Someday Man by John Grochalski
01-01-2011
I Was a Teenage Rent-a-Frankenstein by Tom Bradley
Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Fred Bubbers
10-01-2010
Believe in These Men by Adam Greenfield
The Magnus Effect by Robert Edward Sullivan
Performance Piece by Jim Chaffee
07-01-2010
Injustice for All by D. E. Fredd
The Polysyllogistic Curse by Gary J. Shipley
How It's Done by Anjoli Roy
Ghost Dance by Connor Caddigan
Two in a Van by Pavlo Kravchenko
04-01-2010
Uncreated Creatures by Connor Caddigan
Invisible by Anjoli Roy
One of Us by Sonia Ramos Rossi
Storyteller by Alan McCormick
01-01-2010
Idolatry by Robert Smith
P H I L E M A T O P H I L I A by Traci Chee
They Do! by Al Po
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The Poet Laureate of Greenville

By Al Po

The poet is like this monarch of the clouds riding the storm above the marksman's range; exiled on the ground, hooted and jeered, he cannot walk because of his great wings.
—Charles Baudelaire

I

On her first day back on the job after a sabbatical semester at a radical feminist writer's colony, re-energized and refocused for her battle for ideological cleansing within the English Department at Prairie State University and, more largely, for her war on the Christian empire, Tara Snider picked up her mail from the department secretary, whom she had instructed to hold it in her absence, marched to her office and commenced sorting. Near the top of the pile was a plain sheet of paper, folded once. When she opened it a news clipping fell out. She read these typed lines on the sheet:

There once was a feminist radical,
Who sharpened her claws on sabbatical.
She went back to work
With a sneer and a smirk,
And her fell, fiendish cackle
Raised her enemies' hackles.
They had hoped she'd return less fanatical.

Tara Snider scowled. The scowl deepened when she read the news clipping. Only a few days old, it reported that George Shepherd, the Poet Laureate of Greenville, had been selected to read a dedicatory poem at the grand opening of the new Walmart Supercenter on the east side of town.

As she had made no secret of her disdain for Walmart and her contempt for George Shepherd, dismissing him as a maudlin, myopic poetaster and his title as laughable, Tara Snider took this too for a taunt. She read the clipping again then tore it and the limerick into pieces. She flared her nostrils and drew her brows together, angry but not surprised at this anonymous, petty harassment and sniping of the kind she had grown used to from the politically incorrect remnant in the department. She stood and looked out her office window, as if at a coming storm.

With a heavy frame and standing over six feet in her canvas pumps (not alligator or leather because she was a long-time member of PETA), her short, white-blond hair rising in glistening spikes, Tara Snider was an alpha female in an English department without an alpha male.

Seven years previous she had brought her MFA and a resume that included published poetry in some prestigious literary journals to PSU's English Department to interview for a creative writing position. The reaction to her among members of the search committee and in the department as a whole was sharply but unevenly divided. The majority were taken in by her intellect, creative energy, serious accomplishments as a poet, even what they saw as charm. But a few, most of them males among the older generation, came away wary, claiming to see through her front to an ambitious, careerist manipulator. One even thought he detected a sociopathic will to power. A few with milder reservations went along with the majority, noting that the other candidates for the position paled in comparison and, anyway, finding it wearisome to go against the tide.

When she showed up in the fall after getting the job, her hair had gone from Meg Ryan to Billy Idol. That by itself wasn't necessarily cause for reassessment. But by about her fifth year, having secured tenure, she had discarded any pretense to a charming façade and embarked on an industrial-strength program to advance her radical-feminist agenda, within the department and on campus. Even those who shared her ideology and found her to be a handy point person for its advancement blanched at the extent to which she used her position to engage in overt social engineering. The old-guard males in the department took to referring to her behind her back as dominatrix, harpy (for the eldritch cackle she used as much to mark territory as to express amusement), Her Malevolent Majesty the Queen of Darkness, and feminazi, although this last was technically inaccurate since, with regard to ideology, strategy, and tactics, she was more of a Leninist-Bolshevik.

Some learned the hard way that to cross her for any reason was to step into a whirlwind of relentless, fierce fanaticism that manifested in everything from a withering, evil-eyed look—one guy referred to her "smeer campaigns," after the combination smirk and sneer that she used to numb and paralyze her enemies—to fits and tantrums, even a proclivity for litigiousness, and all this with the weight of the university's politically correct culture to back her up. She aggressively targeted white Christian males, not only with that "smeer," but also with clandestine character assassination, hoping to make their life in the department intolerable. And for some it worked. Within three years of her arrival she had driven two of them into early retirement. When a third tried approaching her with kindness and civility, she hit him with a harassment charge; he got off with a mandated apology and a semester's worth of sensitivity training but remained hunkered down ever since. And anyone frustrated or aggrieved enough to take her on in a physical confrontation had better know that, with her size and her black belt in tae kwon do, she could probably kick your ass six ways from Sunday.

After a while, no one openly challenged her because no one in a position of authority to do so had the will, and no one with the will had any authority behind it. That her enemies had been reduced to sniping behind her back and acts of petty, anonymous mailbox harassment was only proof of the extent to which she had emasculated them.

And for all this, Tara Snider was frustrated. After over seven years, with a remnant of sniveling Christians among her colleagues, her campaign of ideological cleansing was still incomplete. And, unable to land a position at some more enlightened place like Berkeley or Harvard or the Writers' Workshop at Iowa, she was galled to be surrounded by them in Greenville, stuck as it was out in the middle of corn and soybean fields in a nondescript backwater of the American Midwest. And now this—this so-called Poet Laureate of Greenville, this inane, chattering magpie, about to besmirch the art of poetry in public by using it to christen a new Walmart Supercenter, the presence of which would be an affront to her political, social, and esthetic sensibilities. This she could not stand by and allow to happen. But what to do about it? In the next few days, Tara Snider pondered that question. By the time she marched into her senior seminar in poetry a week before the ribbon-cutting ceremony, she thought she might have the answer.

Because she had a way of drawing students into her sphere of influence—females to lap up her message of grievance and empowerment; males who, no matter what they believed in their hearts, saw adherence to her politically correct line as indispensable to their success in her classes—she had a core of devoted acolytes over some of whom she wielded a Svengali-like influence. She felt confident that she need only express her will, and, somehow, it would be carried out.

Tara Snider looked down the seminar table, fixing her eyes on the eyes of each student by turn, many of whom she had taught in lower-level classes before her sabbatical semester, told them of the Poet Laureate's role at Walmart's grand opening, reminded them of why they were to find this man and this event objectionable, and asked, as if rhetorically yet sure that some among them would take her in earnest: "Who will stand up and rescue the name of poetry from this nattering fool?"

II

In part from Christian charity, in part from a naturally sunny temperament, George Shepherd had a big (yellow-dentured) smile and a good word for everyone. Ten years a widower, seven years retired from a career in sales—at various times used cars, insurance, real estate—he was in all circumstances a man of rosy optimism and an ardent community booster.

Upon retirement, after casting about to find fresh endeavors with which to embark upon this exciting new phase of his life, he signed up for a creative writing course at the Greenville branch of the local community college. As he had never attended college, this was also in a sense the realization of a lifelong dream. By the end of the semester, George Shepherd was convinced that he had found his voice (an expression he learned in class) and a vehicle through which he could express more lyrically, in occasional verse, some of the things he'd been saying for so many years about the virtues of Greenville and how wonderful life was and how best to live it.

He began by sending poems as letters to the editor of the Greenville Daily Journal. Some were published and some weren't. (Even the Daily Journal, scorned by the cognescenti on campus, who referred to it as the Daily Urinal, had its standards.) For some of those that weren't he bought ad space in the classifieds section and ran them there—poems in praise of Greenville, of the value of education and hard work, of blue skies and green grass, of America and patriotism.

After a while he began to accept commissions for bereavement and commemorative verse for the dearly departed. And every year when the college students returned to town late in the summer, the Daily Journal, which had grown more receptive to his work, reprinted his "Ode to Young People," which included these lines:

Ten-thousand young people come to our town.
Ten-thousand young people pursuing the gown.
Ah, young people! Ah, youth!
So refreshing to those of us long in the tooth.
Every year it seems they get younger.
So eagerly for knowledge and truth do they hunger.

Deaf to the criticism from academics, especially the chic post-modernists in PSU's English Department, who dismissed his work as maudlin and laughable at best, after a few years of "versifyin'," as George Shepherd called his new vocation, he self-published a collection of poems. And the Greenville city council, as part of its pursuit of an official Arts Community designation from the state, saw fit to confer on him the title of Poet Laureate of Greenville, making official the status he had already attained in the eyes of many of his townsfolk.

It was around that time that Walmart announced its desire to place a supercenter on the east side of town. The mayor, the city administrator, the city council and the Chamber of Commerce, equating quality of life with growth and expansion, all expressed unqualified support for the project. Others cried foul. Merchants, downtown and elsewhere, objected that Walmart would drive them out of business. Liberals at the university weighed in with a variety of threats and objections. They cited what they believed was Walmart's exploitation of its workers, its anti-unionism, and charged it with selling clothes and other products made by children in Third World sweatshops. Radical feminists on campus, with Tara Snider in the vanguard, denounced Walmart's refusal to sell morning-after contraception at its pharmacies.

But the city council had the last say. On the night it voted in favor of the project, the mayor, presiding, tried placating the merchants by arguing that Walmart's coming was indicative of growth that would benefit all; the other objections he dismissed as the anti-progressivism of soreheads. The Greenville Daily Journal, which had editorialized in favor of the coming of the Walmart Supercenter, granted space to a new poem by George Shepherd, "More Than a Store," in which he extolled its potential as a unifying force in the community. It ran to a full column on both sides of the fold on page three of section B, but its essence is summed up in these lines:

Shoppers will come from hill and dale
To find every last thing in the store on sale.
Young and old will save lots of money.
Pretty Sally will go home and say, "Look what I got, honey!"
From tools to clothes to stuff for the auto.
"Always the low price"—that's our motto.
Mom will come shoppin' with sweet Jenny and little Bryan,
One a-skippin', the other cryin'.
But you can bet your booties they'll all go home happy,
And show their new stuff to their loving pappy.
It's more than a store, it's a community center where all can meet.
With something for everyone—now ain't that sweet!

A couple of weeks before the store was completed and stocked and ready for business, someone, perhaps for a laugh, showed the poem to Marty Goodman, Walmart's project overseer. Perhaps as a joke, he remarked off-handedly that it would go over well at the ribbon cutting. Word of that remark somehow traveled to George Shepherd, and he took it for an invitation and told everyone he knew that he would be "versifyin'" at the grand opening. The Greenville Daily Journal heard of his acceptance of the invitation and ran it as news. If Marty Goodman had meant his remark as a joke, it was now too late; any withdrawal of the "invitation" would have been awkward and embarrassing. It seemed that the ceremonies would be graced by a live reading of "More Than a Store" by its author, the Poet Laureate of Greenville.

III

The big day arrived fittingly sunny. The setup for the opening ceremonies was in front of the doors of the main entrance: a wireless, handheld microphone and some speakers; red, white, and blue strands of ribbon for cutting, strung between two portable stanchions. The high school band, in full uniform, had been enlisted to play the "Star-Spangled Banner." In attendance besides the Poet Laureate were local dignitaries and community leaders, the district's state representative, the president of the Chamber of Commerce, Marty Goodman and his staff, and a large, impatient crowd of eager bargain hunters jostling for position.

Marty Goodman spoke first, expressing the Walmart corporation's official excitement at coming to Greenville. He shared statistics relating to the growth of Walmart and the benefits it brings to the communities in which it does business. As he spoke, a beat-up van pulled into the neighboring lot in front of the abandonded big-box store to the east and commenced emptying its contents—ten or a dozen male and female college students, in the grunge or goth attire of their tribe, some with multiple piercings and wild, multi-colored hair. Marty Goodman then passed the microphone to the mayor, who uttered stock bromides on the virtues of progress, growth, and the American way. The mayor introduced the city administrator, whose presentation was indistinguishable from the mayor's except for his distracted attempts to keep his combover in place in the breeze.

Marty Goodman took the microphone again—was that a wry grin on his face?—to announce what he called "the moment we've all been waiting for, some verses from the Poet Laureate of Greenville."

As George Shepherd stepped forward, there came from the adjoining lot a cacophony of hoots, jeers, derisive laughter and shouts: "The real poets are over here." "Poet Laureate, my arse!" At first surprised and shaken, the Laureate thrust his chin in defiance and, as if he felt the annoyance might go away if he ignored it, declaimed as best he could in his quavery old voice, "More Than a Store," then launched into rhymed couplets:

Let us all here now be witness
To a milestone moment in our fair town's progress.

A female heckler with steel rings in her left nostril and lower lip and a high purple Mohawk stepped onto the grass boundary between the lots and shouted, "Go back to the old folks home, Christian capitalist scum!"

Still the Laureate persisted:

A ribbon will be cut, some words will be said.
The doors will open after this poem is read.

But the heckling grew louder and more persistent—and profane—until it was impossible to ignore, and the crowd of waiting shoppers began to stir with embarrassment and impatience. Marty Goodman, seeing that the media people had turned their cameras on the hecklers, leaned toward the microphone, thanked the Poet Laureate and announced that the opening ceremonies were concluded. George Shepherd, however, was reluctant to relinquish his place in the retail-literary spotlight.

Shoppers will come from hill and dale.
To find every last thing in the store on sale.

Someone in the crowd shouted, "That's us, pal, if you ever get out of the way." Marty Goodman tugged at his arm, but the Laureate declaimed all the louder:

Young and old will save lots of money.
Pretty Sally will go home and say…

"Thanks very much, Mr. Shepherd," Marty Goodman said. "It's time to…"

From tools to clothes to stuff for the auto.
"Always the low price." That's our…

Sensing that the crowd was ready to riot, Marty Goodman cued an aide to unlock and open the doors to the store and unceremoniously cut the ribbons himself with an oversized pair of scissors, setting off a stampede of shoppers that nearly knocked the Poet Laureate and the other dignitaries off their feet.

Rumpled, flustered and indignant, but seeing that the game was up, the Laureate tried to put the best face on things. Claiming to have important matters to attend to elsewhere, he went to his car, head held high, brushing himself off, as if he had been soiled by the whole experience, and drove away.

That night at home, the Poet Laureate couldn't sleep. At the kitchen table, where he did most of his writing, he tried rendering the day's events into verse, but found himself drained of energy and enthusiasm and unequal to the task.

Indeed, for the next few weeks George Shepherd was unable to versify on any subject, and fretted that the muse might have abandoned him for good. Not until the beginning of the next school year, when once again the newspaper dusted off "Ode to Young People" did any of his work appear in public print. And even then, as he read it, it seemed poisoned with irony.

Finding upkeep of his house increasingly difficult, with reluctance George Shepherd moved into Sunset Manor, an assisted-living complex.

IV

It may be imagined that the Poet Laureate's story ends here, but that's far from the case, for he found that the life and circumstances at Sunset Manor reawakened his muse.

For one thing, the place was pervaded with a culture of backbiting, gossip, and rivalry, especially among the women for available men, even at their advanced aged, and George Shepherd made his talents at versifying available, for a fee, to his fellow residents eager to inveigh in couplets against their enemies. They placed poems in mailboxes and posted them in the elevators and on the community room bulletin board until management found and removed them. And when a resident went to the final resting place, the Poet Laureate—for he still held that title—penned commemorative verses for the Sunset Manor newsletter, gratis and anonymously, although their author was a poorly kept secret.

In the meantime, privately, George Shepherd worked on a long poem on life at Sunset Manor, a vehicle for some large, philosophical observations on the human condition that had recently taken root, especially since that fateful day in the Walmart parking lot. It took him about seven years to finish, but finish he did, and sold it for a hefty advance to a book publisher specializing in senior themes, and earned handsome royalties on it until his death a few years later, at the age of 92.

Along with his obituary, the Greenville Daily Journal saw fit to run part of an epitaphic poem that he had composed and left to be found—only part because it comprised more than 1,000 couplets, covering his entire life, and included these lines near the end:

And now as I come to my final rest,
I can say with all honesty I did my best.
Not that it's always been appreciated,
But perhaps the laurel is sweetest that comes belated.

The Greenville city council never saw fit to appoint a new Poet Laureate.

Tara Snider, meanwhile, still at Prairie State because still unable to find work at some institution more worthy of her gifts and talents, still waging her wars on the Christian Empire and for ideological purity in the English Department, found copies of the Poet Laureate's epitaph and obituary left anonymously in her mailbox. Upon reading in the obituary that he had donated $10,000 in royalties and other earnings from his poetry to the Salvation Army, and although no one was around to be chilled into submission, she curled her mouth into a sneer.

© Al Po 2013