Nursery rhymes, pandemic edition

Or, Mother Goose for the Covid era.

Twinkle twinkle little star,
How I wonder how you are.
Up above the world so high,
Socially distanced in the sky.
Twinkle twinkle little star,
Text and tell me how you are.

[Illustration of star wearing mask]

Little Miss Muffet,
Sat on a tuffet,
Waiting for curds and whey.
But the Instacart driver,
Came unmasked to find her,
And frightened Miss Muffet away.

The wheel on your tablet
Goes round and round,
Round and round,
Round and round.
The wheel on your tablet
Goes round and round—
Too bad, I need the wifi.

[illustration of computer with spinning loading wheel]

This little piggy went to Walmart.
This little piggy stayed home.
This little piggy bought toilet paper.
This little piggy had none.
This little piggy went wee wee wee all the way home.

Humpty Dumpty sat on the Wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men,
Were out of personal protective gear so 
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

Feel free to share your own in the comments.

“… a torch whose flame is the imprisoned lightning”

In 1903 Emma Lazarus famously wrote “The New Colossus,” a poem the Statue of Liberty that concludes

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

In 2019–specifically, earlier this week—Ken Cuccinelli infamously edited that poem to say

Give me your tired and your poor
who can stand on their own two feet
and who will not become a public charge

In addition to being offensive, ignorant of history, and—coming from the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services—outright dangerous, Cuccinelli’s words are, well, terrible poetry.

Which got me wondering: What would happen if other classic poems were revised from a similar perspective?

Possibly something like this.


This Is Just To Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

if you really
wanted them
you should have come here legally

(Original: “This is Just to Say,” by William Carlos Williams)


And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, don’t despair,
We can raise taxes on the poor until
This monument stands forever in the
Sand, beside the casino and housing
Development that also bear my name.’

(Original: “Ozymandias,” by Percy Bysshe Shelley)


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer,
But it isn’t my fault that freeloading falcon
Didn’t work harder and buy health insurance that 
covered better hearing aids.

(Original: “The Second Coming,” by W B Yeats)


I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood and I—
I fracked and mined and dug a pipeline beneath the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

(Original: “The Road Not Taken,” by Robert Frost)


It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
‘By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?

The Bridegroom’s doors are opened wide,
And I am next of kin—’
‘First show me your papers, ‘ the Mariner said,
‘Then maybe I’ll let you in.’

(Original: “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge)


And of course, music is poetry too.

This land is my land this land is my land
This land is my land this land is my land
This land is my land this land is my land
This land was made for me just me

(Original: “This Land is Your Land,” by Woody Guthrie)


Have any other updates to suggest? Share them in comments.

Split Borders (a found poem)

Split Borders

Parents are property,
Children an immediate danger.
Mean, this humanitarian crisis.
The democratic republic
Separating parents from children—
Families fractured by policy.

Unconstitutional,
Cruel,
Unlawful,
A violation
Of due process and
Equal protection.
Vexing.

The administration appeared
Unprepared for the fallout
“The child has rights,” a spokesman conceded.
“This is a complex situation.”

Amid the chaos,
The president continued to rail against
Those fleeing danger and persecution,
Asylum claims,
Our land,
Judges,
Laws.

An unmistakable message:
“You can’t come in.
“Don’t come at all.”

Respond, lawmakers.
Shift focus,
Keep families together,
Lean into that vote,
Cross that bridge.

Take action.


Poem found in “Federal Judge in California Halts Splitting of Migrant Families at Border,” The New York Times, June 26, 2018.

Unprecedented (a found poem)

Unprecedented

A choreographed
Freewheeling wager.
Flattery,
Cajolery,
And a slickly produced video.

A bulletproof confrontation.

Diplomatic language,
Recycled statements,
Verifiable missiles.

Sleep well tonight!

A showdown with diplomacy:
Three hours of meetings
Plus a lunch of prawns and crispy pork.

Provocative vague details,
A thumping soundtrack
Of benevolent peacemakers:
An inspirational view.

Aides fidgeted.
Reality TV?
Science fiction?
A buddy movie.

At ease with each other,
They walked on a balcony,
Smiled occasionally,
Heaped praise.

Human-rights abuses?
Hardly a priority.
It is a rough situation over there.

It’s rough in a lot of places.


Poem found in “The Trump-Kim Summit Was Unprecedented, but the Statement Was Vague,” The New York Times, June 12, 2018

Surprise Performance (a found poem)

Surprise Performance

Melody
Drama
Teacher
Students
Classroom
Stone

A massacred education
A defining moment

The goodness and tragedy
Will never be erased

Tears
Light
Life
Hurt
Rage
Sorrow
Art

Every day
In every class
Students shine
Get up
Take action
Through passionate honesty


Poem found in “Parkland Students Give Surprise Tonys Performance After Teacher Gets Award,” The New York Times, June 10, 2018.

War Crimes Honored: A found poem

War Crimes Honored

The camp,
Holding 32,000 Union soldiers—
The fifth largest city in the Confederacy—
Was dire.

The prisoners,
Never issued clothing,
Wore their uniforms until the pieces fell off,
Lived in holes they dug in the ground.
One reportedly used a pocket knife
To amputate his own gangrenous feet.
The death toll reached 13,000.

The man who presided over their deaths,
Captain Henry Wirz,
Was put on trial for war crimes.

Stories began flooding the Northern newspapers:
Photographs of survivors starved into living skeletons,
Like nothing the world had seen before,
And would not see again
Until the end of World War II.

Wirz was found guilty of
Cruelty,
Shooting,
Beating,
Turning dogs loose on prisoners,
Such nameless blasphemy and ribald jest,
As to exhibit him rather as a demon than a man.

So why erect a monument to a demon?

To recast him as a martyr.
To rescue his name from the stigma attached to it

By embittered prejudice.


Poem found in “Weekend Read: Executed for committing war crimes—then honored with a Confederate monument,” Southern Poverty Law Center, June 8, 2018

Newly Minted: A found poem

Newly Minted

It was simple, pure, and sweeping,
It was haute couture,
It was everything people had hoped.

It was not Cinderella,
Not fantasy or old-fashioned fairy tales.
Independence
While respecting tradition
And keeping her covered up.

It celebrated strength in the substance of its silk.
It had an edge of Hollywood, a Hepburn feel.

Wintersweet,
Held in place by a flexible band
And rigid creativity—
Such smart symbolism.

Yellow and new grass green,
Optimism, happiness, and a new dawn,
Let them shine.

Poem found in “Meghan Markle’s Wedding Dress Was Made for a Person, Not a Princess,” The New York Times, May 19, 2018.