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Sample Poems by Michael Skau

Children's Hour

My companions growing up were the Highwayman,
the Village Blacksmith, and Dangerous Dan McGrew.
I read their poems over until I knew
the stories and rhythms, the way the works began
and ended. I welcomed Little Orphant Annie
to my house to stay, and I rode with Paul Revere
through midnight dark to make this land secure,
alerted by "One if by land and two if by sea."
I ran through the town with Wee Willie Winkie
and sailed the sea with Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.
From Abou Ben Adhem I learned that God
loves those who practice human charity.
Both Gunga Din and Hiawatha taught
me respect for those we call minority.
With the Woodman I gained a sense of ecology,
and an Arab's farewell showed me love can't be bought
and sold. I wouldn't want to pretend to you
I was saintly, moved by values and pieties
as a boy. I yearned for excitement, the luxuries
of sentiment and romance, to see me through
the boredom of childhood, the universal curse
that spurred my imagination to let me ride
with Lochinvar in a poem critics deride
as children's lit, not poetry but verse.
Maybe, maybe not, but such works always
moved my adolescent soul and heart, thrilled
my nerves; on a midnight dark and dreary, they chilled
me and raised the hairs on the nape of my neck in ways
I cherished, though I dared not hope to imitate
the graceful form and meter, the stirring beauty
of themes that let me pretend I too could be
unconquered master over my poetic fate.


I first wrote poems to try to get laid.
I imagined my sensitivity
would make me seem more attractive
to girls. It didn't work, but then
my early poems were paltry efforts,
full of yearning and self-pity,
scarcely worthy of attention, much
less the affection I lusted for,
so I vowed to improve. While love and loss
still dominated, I learned to hide
behind a stoic calm and careless
objectivity. The sterner
my poems became, the more the women
came around-but the less it mattered
to me, growing to love only
the poetry, caressing the words,
peculiar rhythms, slender lines,
wanton images, limber shapes,
a familiar voice I learned that I
could live with until I'm laid to rest.


Art's an expression
of feeling I can only
indulge without
embarrassment by calling
it poetry-and
sometimes more besides.


Once when I was twelve, home from school with the flu,
I hallucinated a scene I still recall:
chased through my room by a monstrous ape, I screamed
and thrashed in my bed. My mother tried to wake me,
but could not break me free of the dream until,
exhausted, I felt my fever finally
break. Our family doctor offered nothing
to explain this episode. For years after,
at unexpected moments, I'd suddenly
hear Furies screeching through my head: I knew
they were words, but couldn't tell what the voices were saying.
I've written poems for over fifty years,
trying to capture those sounds, to make them march
in rank, blank verse or rhyme, explain themselves,
to give some sense of order to what disturbs
my mind still at this late date. Whether angels
or demons, they haunt my consciousness, shred my peace,
like banshees in my brain that refuse to light,
but fly in scattered directions. I write to tame
those babbling words, shrill and wild as ever.