Poetry

This entry is part 22 of 25 in the series Cruising With the Mothers

“I signed up, but I’m not sure if I made the cut,” I said.

“Well, let’s take a look. Your name?”

“Mr. ‘X’,” I said.

“Cabin?”

“220”

The woman rifled through several pages, and then re-examined the top page of her list. “Oh, yes—here you are. Go right on in,” she said loudly. “He’s about to start.” I left about 200 hopefuls waiting in line and made for the entrance.

The theater was packed, but I spotted a small gap in the mass of people— near the center of the room on the aisle. When I got there I was surprised to find two seats lying in a heap, broken to bits by what must have been a considerable force. This left me no choice but to take a seat in that special place reserved for bad boys and girls—the front row. It did feel a bit like school as I waited with 250 classmates for the teacher to arrive. Not quite the intimate “workshop” I had envisioned.

Garrison Keillor ambled up the stairs to the stage and parked himself atop a stool in a position that looked quite uncomfortable. My back ached just thinking about it. Keillor stayed put for nearly two hours, alternating between an entertaining monologue about writing (or some random topic, improbably tied to writing at the last second) and interacting with members of the audience who asked questions or offered anecdotes of their own. The whole thing was, in typical Keillor fashion, sidesplittingly funny.

A major theme of this session was poetry, something I’ve yet to acquire much of a taste for, but which is obviously one of Keillor’s passions. He introduced the crowd to the form known as the villanelle. “What’s that?” you might be asking right now. Memorize this definition: A 19-line poem of fixed form consisting of five tercets and a final quatrain on two rhymes, with the first and third lines of the first tercet repeated alternately as a refrain closing the succeeding stanzas and joined as the final couplet of the quatrain.

Here is the example written by Keillor in the minutes prior to the workshop:

Monday morning on a course northeast

Our ship sails toward Charlottetown

Its trombone blowing in the ocean mist

The fog is heavy, but we’re not distressed

We rise, drink coffee, and observe the dawn

Monday morning on a course northeast

Out of the sweet and secret past

We’re sailing on to a shore unknown

Our horns blowing in the ocean mist

The cheeks we’ve touched, the lips we’re kissed

We see them now with the fog around

Monday morning on a course northeast

But we’re underway and we’re moving fast

And we tremble at the mournful sound

Of horns blowing in the ocean mist

Thank God for comrades, a lifelong list

Here on the aft deck gathered round

Monday morning on a course northeast

Of horns blowing in the ocean mist

GK was clearly not proud of his hastily composed poem, so he promised to rework it for the next session. For homework, everyone in the room was assigned to write their own villanelle. I decided right then and there that I wouldn’t be doing my homework, so I’d have to get to the next workshop session early enough to get a seat in the back row where I could hide.

It was nearly 5:00 when class was dismissed, and I found the rest of the gang relaxing in our cabin.

“Did you get in?” asked Kris.

“Just barely,” I answered.

“How was it?”

“Very interesting,” I said. “Kind of a semi-private one-man show. I had no idea he was so into poetry.”

“Well, this should have been a clue,” said Kris, picking up the thick book of poems included in the goodie bag from the APHC people. “Was it funny or serious?”

“Both,” I said. “He was his usual self, making you laugh and think at the same time. What did you guys do?”

“We went to high tea,” said Kris.

“In the dining room,” said Pat, demonstrating a habit she and Kris share—finishing each other’s sentences.

Kris continued. “We sat with…”

“…two nice gentlemen. One was a…”

“..lawyer, and the other was a…”

“doctor…and they were both from…”

“…Washington,” said Kris

“Washington?” said Pat. “I’m sure they were from Baltimore.”

“Baltimore—Yes, you’re right. Not…”

“Washington,” said Pat.

We sat around and yakked for a while, and I heard more about tea time. I couldn’t help but get the feeling that I should have become a doctor or a lawyer, possibly both.

Gordon Bok

Tonight’s show featured Gordon Bok, a balladeer and 12-string guitar master from Maine. We missed the opening comments by Garrison Keillor, but were treated to a fine program by an accomplished performer. It was quite a departure from the usual glitz of cruise shows, and to my considerable relief, featured not a single song from Les Miserables or Phantom of the Opera.


At dinner, we mixed things up a bit. I sat next to one of the Marys, but wasn’t able to coax much in the way of conversation from her. Meanwhile, my mother was carrying on with Jim and Darcy. They had obviously found some common ground, and I overheard mention of Gershwin—a topic on which my mother is a certified expert.

Pat had a long and animated conversation with the sommelier. She seemed to be trying to convey something more complex than the man was accustomed to dealing with, but I resisted the temptation to butt in. Shy gave a great performance this evening. As I’ve come to realize in the time since the cruise, Shy is legendary among shipboard waiters. He has earned the distinction.

(L to R) Radio Actors Fred Newman (Sound FX), Sue Scott, Tim Russell

After dinner, we went to the Wajang for a session of the Radio Actor’s Workshop. APHC listeners are familiar with the Guy Noir, Private Eye skits. For the rest of you, Guy Noir is a private detective played by Mr. Keillor. He bumbles through improbable adventures every week in a continuing spoof of old time radio mysteries. The workshop had the regular cast (minus Keillor) coax volunteer audience members through a complete Guy Noir script, right down to the sound effects. The result was yet more hilarity. A hallmark of nearly every Guy Noir script is a sexy siren in tight clothing, revealed, as it must be on radio, exclusively through words:

“She was tall and long-legged and her blonde hair hung down sort of like what Beethoven had in mind when he wrote the Moonlight sonata. She wore a knit sweater and jeans so tight it looked as if she’d been poured into them and forgot to say ‘When.’ When she moved, she seemed to undulate under her clothes in ways that took a man’s mind off the state of the economy.”

After the skit, Sue Scott, Tim Russell and Fred Newman took requests and held an open Q&A session. We gained a good bit of insight into the inner workings of APHC—facts like:

  • GK (Mr. Keillor) isn’t slowing down with age—quite the opposite.
  • GK frequently changes the script during the actual performance.
  • When the show is traveling, GK always throws in some bits about the local culture. The material for these bits is researched by the show’s truck driver, Russ Ringsak. As I’ve discovered, Russ is a character who writes an entertaining journal of his experiences on the road.
  • GK is always on the lookout for material. Things that he sees and hears in routine life may end up in a show within a matter of hours.


After the show, we coaxed my mother into going to the casino. Pat did not require coaxing, and went willingly. After losing two dollars, my mother called it quits.

“That’s it for me, Chester,” she said. “I’m just not cut out for this sort of thing.”

“Well, you never know until you try,” I said.

“I suppose so, but I could have guessed,” my mother said. “I’m exhausted. Good night.”

Mom departed, but the rest of us remained. Kris and I still had the better part of $20 to donate to the cruise line, and Pat was focused on her slot machine. Kris sat at a machine next to her mother, and gave instruction. I just watched for a while, quietly amused at their technique. Whenever the machine acknowledged their hard work with a reward of a few quarters, they would hit the cash out button and laboriously retrieve the coins from the tray and then reinsert them one at a time.

“You don’t have to do that, you know,” I said, trying to be helpful. “The machine will just keep track of your winnings and you can play off the credits.” I should know better than to be helpful.

“We’ll play the way we want to play,” said Kris. “We like to do it that way.”

I decided to give them some space, and sought out a machine at the far side of the room. There was certainly no competition—we were the only patrons in the entire place. I fed the machine for a while, mesmerized by the sounds and lights.

We would be passing into another time zone tonight, and the ship’s daily reminded us to set clocks forward by one hour at 2:00 a.m. I dearly hoped not to be up at that hour, so I set my watch forward at midnight. By then, my $10 had multiplied itself several times over, so I cashed out and filled a bucket with quarters.

When I rejoined the ladies, Kris was broke. Pat was up by about $5, but her arm was too tired to continue. She excused herself and headed for bed. Kris and I left the casino and walked a loop on the promenade deck. The fog was still with us.

“I think this patch of fog is just following us, like the cloud of dirt around Pigpen in the Charlie Brown comics,” said Kris. “Everywhere else, it’s clear, but our little ship sails along in its little shroud.”

I tried to picture it—a thousand foot diameter cloud of fog gliding off the coast, bellowing every thirty seconds.

“You may be right,” I said. “The weather report said it was supposed to be nice all week, except for Bar Harbor.”

“At least it’s not freezing,” said Kris.

“I think it’s kind of neat,” I said. “Twilight zonish.”

Kris settled in with a book while I went to the library to make my nightly post to the APHC forum. I was surprised to find her still awake when I returned almost an hour later. I prepared for bed and crawled in. My watch said 2:20.

“Hey – it’s almost 2:30. Better get some sleep,” I said. I was surprised that it was so late but relieved that my witching hour had passed without incident.

“I’m not really tired,” said Kris. “But you must be exhausted.”

“I think I’m beyond that,” I said. I turned off the light on my side of the bed, and Kris followed suit when she finished her chapter. As I lay there I felt a slight burning sensation in my nose, but I tried to ignore it.

“Are you too tired to snuggle?” Kris whispered in the darkness.

I started to roll over but I stopped midway and held still, trying to make sense of a sudden flood of sensations.

“What?” asked Kris.

I never thought I’d utter the line in my lifetime, but there was no way to avoid it. It sounded funny, but I wasn’t kidding.

“Not tonight, dear. I have a headache.”

It was 2:30 a.m.—1:30 in the next time zone to the west. Exactly 24 hours since the last one.

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