Monday, March 14, 2011

Uh-oh. A Cockroach

Where I work we have a stink bug problem. If we have a week where we don’t see two or three of them trundling along the walk outside or from underneath the cubicle walls inside, we consider ourselves lucky. And it’s not necessarily the stink that’s worrisome, it’s the radioactivity they bring.

Because of this, I feel Don Marquis’ pain. As the creator of Archy and Mehitabel, a paste-eating cockroach and Cleopatra reincarnated as a cat, he lamented “It would be one on me if I should be remembered longest for creating a cockroach character.”

So this is one more on you, Mr. Marquis.

And thanks.

Here’s Archy’s first bit of vers libre poetry, as found on the typewriter:

expression is the need of my soul
i was once a vers libre bard
but i died and my soul went into the body of a cockroach
it has given me a new outlook upon life
i see things from the under side now
thank you for the apple peelings in the wastepaper basket
but your paste is getting so stale i cant eat it
there is a cat here called mehitabel i wish you would have
removed she nearly ate me the other night why dont she
catch rats that is what she is supposed to be fore
there is a rat here she should get without delay

most of these rats here are just rats
but this rat is like me he has a human soul in him
he used to be a poet himself
night after night i have written poetry for you
on your typewriter
and this big brute of a rat who used to be a poet
comes out of his hole when it is done
and reads it and sniffs at it
he is jealous of my poetry
he used to make fun of it when we were both human
he was a punk poet himself
and after he has read it he sneers
and then he eats it

i wish you would have mehitabel kill that rat
or get a cat that is onto her job
and i will write you a series of poems showing how things look
to a cockroach
that rats name is freddy
the next time freddy dies i hope he wont be a rat
but something smaller i hope i will be a rat
in the next transmigration and freddy a cockroach
i will teach him to sneer at my poetry then

dont you ever eat any sandwiches in your office
i haven't had a crumb of bread for i dont know how long
or a piece of ham or anything but apple parings
and paste and leave a piece of paper in your machine
every night you can call me archy

More, of course, is available here.

And oh, isn’t that the truth, the fierce competition and jealousy between poets. But as a rat poet, what exquisite relish to be able to eat one’s opponents’ words after having sneered at them.

Interestingly, Marquis’ work transcended the page, ending up as a musical, “Shinbone Alley,” starring Eddie Bracken as archy and Eartha Kitt as mehitabel and featuring the song “Toujours Gai,” based on a poem archy transcribes for the catty cat.

And further as a terribly-produced 1970s cartoon of the same name starring Bracken and Carol Channing at her bone-rattlingest.

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