Once upon a time, a few days before Halloween, my friend ME called and said, “There are thirteen men under my house. They’re leveling it. For the second time in five years.” Then she invited David and me to go with her and her husband to see the Edgar Allan Poe exhibit at the Harry Ransom Center, on the University of Texas campus. The next day, I presented ME, via email, the following verse. This is its annual appearance on Telling the Truth. Mr. Poe might be horrified, but since ME is my Muse, the result was bound to be quirky.
To G and ME,
in celebration of their tenth trimester of home improvement,
with gratitude and affection
Forgive me for making mirth of melancholy
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a rapping,
As of someone gently tapping, tapping at my chamber floor.
“‘Tis some armadillo,” said I, “tapping at my chamber floor,
Only this, and nothing more.”
Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the dry September,
And my house was sinking southward, lower than my bowling score,
Pier and beam and blocks of concrete, quiet as Deuteron’my’s cat feet,
Drooping like an unstarched bedsheet toward the planet’s molten core.
“That poor armadillo,” thought I, “choosing my house to explore.
He’ll squash like an accordion door.”
“Tuck,” I cried, “and Abby, come here! If my sanity you hold dear,
Go and get that armadillo, on him all your rancor pour.
While he’s bumping and a-thumping, give his rear a royal whumping,
Send him hence with head a-lumping, for this noise do I abhor.
Dasypus novemcinctus is not a beast I can ignore,
Clumping ‘neath my chamber floor.”
While they stood there prancing, fretting, I imparted one last petting,
Loosed their leashes and cried “Havoc!” then let slip the dogs of war.
As they flew out, charged with venom, I pulled close my robe of denim.
“They will find him at a minimum,” I said, “and surely more,
Give him such a mighty whacking he’ll renounce forevermore
Lumbering ‘neath my chamber floor.”
But to my surprise and wonder, dogs came flying back like thunder.
“That’s no armadillo milling underneath your chamber floor.
Just a man with rule and level, seems engaged in mindless revel,
Crawling ’round. The wretched devil is someone we’ve seen before,
Measuring once and measuring twice and measuring thrice. We said, ‘Senor,
Get thee out or thee’s done for.’”
“Zounds!” I shouted, turning scarlet. “What is this, some vill’nous varlet
Who has come to torment me with mem’ries of my tilting floor?”
Fixing myself at my station by my floundering foundation,
Held I up a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore.
“Out, you cad!” I said, “or else prepare to sleep beneath my floor,
Nameless there forever more.”
Ere my words had ceased resounding, with their echo still surrounding,
Crawled he out, saluted, and spoke words that chilled my very core.
“I been down there with my level, and those piers got quite a bevel.
It’s a case of major evolution: totter, tilt galore.
Gotta fix it right away, ma’am, ‘less you want your chamber floor
At a slant forevermore.”
At his words there came a pounding and a dozen men came bounding
From his pickup, and they dropped and disappeared beneath my floor.
And they carried beam and hammer and observed no rules of grammar,
And the air was filled with clamor and a clanging I deplore.
“Take thy beam and take thy level and thy failing Apgar score
And begone forevermore.”
But they would not heed my prayer, and their braying filled the air,
And it filled me with despair, this brouhaha that I deplore.
“Fiend!” I said. “If you had breeding, you would listen to my pleading,
For I feel my mind seceding from its sane and sober core,
And my house shall fall like Usher.” Said the leader of the corps,
“Lady, you got no rapport.”
“How long,” shrieked I then in horror, “like an ominous elm borer,
Like a squirrely acorn storer will you lurk beneath my floor?
Prophesy!” I cried, undaunted by the chutzpah that he flaunted,
And the expertise he vaunted. “Tell me, tell me, how much more?”
But he strutted and he swaggered like a man who knows the score.
Quoth the maven, “Evermore.”
He went off to join his legion in my house’s nether region
While my dogs looked on in sorrow at that dubious guarantor.
Then withdrawing from this vassal with his temperament so facile
I went back into my castle and I locked my chamber door.
“On the morrow, they’ll not leave me, but will lodge beneath my floor
Winter, spring, forevermore.
So the hammering and the clamoring and the yapping, yawping yammering
And the shrieking, squawking stammering still are sounding ‘neath my floor.
And I sit here sullen, slumping in my chair and dream the thumping
And the armadillo’s bumping is a sound I could adore.
For those soles of boots from out the crawlspace ‘neath my chamber floor
Shall be lifted—Nevermore!