Planet of Poets
© copyright Lincoln Jeffries 2014
A new story (almost) every day! Scroll to the bottom to see the newest stories.
For our new folks, just begin at the beginning...
What if there was a Planet of Poets? What would it be like?
Would it be a planet of grassy hills, dotted with trees and coffee houses?
Would anything get done?
Would everyone be lying in the grass, on soft plaid blankets, writing in little notebooks?
Or sitting in coffee houses, with wine and cheese and espresso, booing and applauding?
Who would build the bridges and roads and skyscrapers?
Would the major industries be manufacturing berets, bongos, black turtleneck sweaters, and sandals?
Let's find out. Welcome to the Planet of Poets!
Now, please meet our Poet Hero, Pepe.
What makes him a Poet Hero, a Hero among Poets? What's different about him from Other Poets?
So, you may ask, don't Other Poets sneeze?
But with Pepe, it's a SNEEZE! Philosophical. Joyful. Tragic. Tender. Questioning. Probing. Elusive. Revealing.
His sneezing has meaning.
With Other Poets, a sneeze means a cold. Or a bug up their nose.
Pepe's sneeze makes knees weak. Like Franz Liszt or Elvis.
His sneeze is like a sonnet. Or a pizza with everything on it.
Pepe the Poet, whose sneeze is Heroic.
Pepe and Frida Collaborate
"Azul!" Pepe sings. "Aaazuuuullll!"
Frida frowns. She paints. Azul drips from the canvas on to the floor, becomes a blue river, a torrent rushing to the sea, and then becomes the sea itself.
Pepe has a small box, of plain rough wood. It's filled with millions of words. They glitter like diamonds, like stars in the night sky, like sunshine through raindrops.
The box is not locked. Anyone can open it and take a word anytime they want to. Or two words, or however many they need.
The box has millions of words in a million languages. There are words there can can solve any problem, feed every mouth, banish all loneliness, heal any illness.
If someone wanted to...
Pepe and Frida are hanging out together at the coffee house, splitting an order of onion rings. Pepe is serene. Frida is grouchy, but the onion rings help.
Pepe tell Frida, "You're an angel." Frida looks at him and says, "You're an idiot." But she smiles anyway. She thinks, "Maybe I'll let him hold my hand for a while."
She really is an angel, you know.
On the Planet of Poets people and angels coexist. It's often impossible to tell who is who, which is which. Some people are angelic. Some angels are surly. Especially early, before coffee. And angels have to pay for their coffee, just like everyone else, except on Angel Appreciation Day, or when they get 10 punches on their coffee card.
If you were ever stuck for an idea and suddenly felt a whack on the side of your head, it was probably an angel.
Angels on the Planet of Poets aren't Guardian Angels, or anything of the sort. They have no special earthy tasks or heavenly assignments. But they can be good friends. They come in handy when you need a rainbow or a yellow butterfly or a red rose or a kitten in a hurry, or snowflakes, or freshly baked double chocolate chip cookies.
They also make great models - artists love them. They can hold a pose forever and never get tired, and they always looks fresh and nice.
Angels weigh hardly anything, so on a really windy day they have a tendency to get blown all together in a big, billowy pile, usually behind the big fountain in the Plaza - red robes, blue robes, orange and pink robes, and even the occasional old-fashioned white robe, all in a tangle, like fresh laundry in a basket.
Angels go to heaven only for orientation and training and then they return to the Planet of Poets. The rest is up to them.
Frida is an angel, and Pepe loves her. He'd do anything for her and she knows this. He rubs her feet when they hurt, he brings her extra pillows, he buys goodies for her from the French bakery on the Plaza, and he tells her wonderful stories.
Frida is painting a mural that tells the story of her life, her pain, her loves. She's only halfway done but the mural already wraps nearly around the world. She uses one brush only, her pot of paint is never empty, and all colors flow from it.
Pepe has a very good friend named Ngo. Ngo is very tall, the tallest person on the Planet of Poets. He has very striking red hair, and a handsome red beard.
Ngo is a Master Poet, and the Most Modest. He has the curiosity and enthusiasm of a young boy. He's a very kind person, and he truly, deeply believes in kindness. He's always thinking, thinking and writing. "Incremental Improvement" is his motto.
Today Pepe and Ngo are walking over to see Frida's mural, the new part she just recently completed. This is a favorite pastime of theirs. They like to look at her mural and see if they can spot small portraits of themselves among the painted watermelons, skulls, parrots, coyotes, hibiscus flowers, and Frida's large, extended family and many friends and admirers.
Pepe and Ngo are not the only ones who do this - it's the favorite pastime of many. They can come here and see again the faces of loved ones: parents, husbands, old friends, beloved dog. And there are often comical portrayals of family and friends, Frida's lighthearted attempt to keep them all from taking themselves too seriously. This is the case with a lot of poets. They can also see themselves young again, with a long stretch of unpainted mural ahead.
Pepe's Favorite Words
Each day Pepe likes to spend some time thinking about a word he especially likes. Today he is thinking about carabiner.
"That's a great word," Pepe thinks. "I like it a lot. It's fun to say."
Yesterday the word was drupelet. Druuuuuuue-plet.
"Drupelet and carabiner," Pepe thinks. "If I ever have kids I'd like to name them Drupelet and Carabiner."
"Carabiner for a boy, Drupelet for a girl."
Pepe then tried to imagine two angel children with sweet, lovely faces like Frida's.
Cara and Dru.
The next day Ngo and Pepe are again visiting Frida's mural. They're both peering very closely at portraits of two small children playing with a lively fawn.
"Who are they?" Pepe asks Frida.
"It's funny," Frida replies. "I had the strangest dream."
"I dreamt of two laughing children playing with a fawn in the forest. A boy and a girl, brother and sister. Their names were Cara and Dru. When they saw me they ran to take my hands. They called me Mama Frida. We had a picnic together, a lunch I had brought along in a basket."
"We ate and laughed and fell asleep in the sun. When I awoke I was alone again. I ran as fast as I could, back to my paints, to paint my children."
Chalk Drawings on the Sidewalks...
It was a dark day for Pepe. A very dark day indeed.
He decided to stop by one of his old favorite coffee houses that afternoon, the one he frequented as a student. It's the favorite hangout of students attending Poets University.
Pepe hadn't been there for a long, long time. He remembered fondly his time spent there: the lively discussions, the exchange of new ideas, the loud music, the hot coffee and hotter arguments, and the thousands of lines of fresh, new, exciting poetry created and recited.
"We were the best and the brightest," Pepe thought to himself. "We had so much to say!"
Pepe eagerly walked through the door. His first impression was that he was in the wrong place. The coffee house was oddly silent. Although it was crowded as usual with tables, each table surrounded with many chairs, only one person sat alone at each table. And the tables, instead of being cluttered with coffee cups and glasses and pizza slices and stacks of books and piles of coffee-stained papers, had only one solitary cup of coffee sitting on top, cold from neglect.
Each person had in the palm of their hand a small, glowing screen. They stared at their screens intently, silently, heads bowed, making no eye contact, thumbs and fingers frantically poking and stroking the screens.
Pepe asked the barista, "What are they doing?" The barista answered, "They're networking."
Pepe wasn't so sure about this. He didn't see any nets, and most certainly no one was working, besides the barista.
"What happen to the music, the excitement, the noise? Where are the arguments, the boos, the applause?
"This is terrible!"
"What will be next, no more chalk drawings on the sidewalks?"
Pepe decided to go on a quiet, solitary picnic by the lake. He brought along fresh, warm bread from the French bakery, some cheese, a bottle of wine, a soft blanket, and a big stack of his favorite poetry books, a dozen at least. Half he had written himself.
Pepe settled down on the blanket. He was enjoying himself hugely. Finally, the glass of wine and the warm sun took their toll, and Pepe fell asleep.
When he awoke later that afternoon, still stretched out on his back on the blanket, he caught sight of his feet, toes pointing toward the sky. His feet were covered with scribbles and swirls of paint: red, blue, yellow, and black. He thought he could make out words.
Pepe bent over to inspect his feet more closely. He was looking for that subversive message that was always written on the bottom of his right foot, or on one of his big toes. Last time it was: "Poetry stinks. So do your feet."
"Uh oh," Pepe thought. "It's happened again."
This is a favorite prank of Frida's.
Operation: "Take Back the Coffee House!"
"So, do something about it!" yelled Frida,
"What do you mean?" Pepe asked her.
"I'm tired of hearing you complain," Frida replied, although she was very fond of complaining herself and was extremely accomplished at this. "If you want your old University coffee house the way it was back when you were a student, then do something about it."
"Like what?" Pepe asked meekly.
Frida was exasperated. "Do you want me to draw you a picture?" she asked sarcastically.
"Yes, please!" Pepe replied. Frida grabbed some paper and a pen from the table and sketched quickly. She handed the paper to Pepe.
"Very funny," said Pepe. The person in Frida's sketch with the little mustache and wearing a beret was unmistakably Pepe. It was Pepe falling off a tricycle.
"I'm not sure this helps!" Pepe exclaimed. "What does it mean?"
"It means this!" Frida rolled up the paper and whacked Pepe on the head with it. "It means get their attention! Show them something exciting, something fun and new and magical, something that makes them look up and see the world around them again."
"If they can focus their eyes further than ten inches away from their noses," she said under her breath.
So Pepe and Frida made a plan...
That evening Pepe and Frida walk over to the University coffee house. Pepe has in his hands a small box, of plain rough wood. It's filled with millions of words. They glitter like diamonds, like stars in the night sky, like sunshine through raindrops.
The box is not locked.
Pepe puts the box on a table. He and Frida wait. They watch.
After a while Pepe whispers to Frida, "Nothing's happening." But then Frida points and says, "See!"
A young man at the table looks up from the small glowing screen in his hand. He has striking red hair and a handsome red beard. He reaches for the box...
"Line the pans first with parchment paper..."
Pepe and Frida are in the kitchen.
Not many know this, but Frida is an excellent cook.
"Sift together the flour, and the sugar, and the cocoa powder..."
Today Frida is teaching Pepe how to bake a cake. Usually she doesn't have much patience, but she's ok with Pepe.
"Now add the oil, the eggs, the buttermilk, and some of this woooonderful vanilla..."
Pepe drops an egg, and Frida doesn't even mind. But then again, Pepe dropped it on his foot, and he's wearing sandals. Messy.
"Bake for 40 minutes, and then let them cool. And next, the frosting!"
And before them was a beautiful chocolate cake, five layers tall.
"That's divine," says Pepe.
"I know," replies Frida.
The evening had finally arrived! Everyone was filled with anticipation.
In the middle of the plaza, under the stars, was a stage.
The stage was lit with one hundred candles and many soft colored lights.
One hundred chairs were lined up in neat rows before it.
Three soft, round mediation pillows lay in a row in the middle of the stage, beneath the flickering lights.
The chairs filled up quickly with people eager to see and hear the Three Transcendental Poets. What will they teach us tonight?
Pepe and Frida and Ngo were sitting in the back row, waiting and watching eagerly. Ngo, as usual, sat ready with his little notebook and pen.
Children played around the stage among the flowers while everyone waited. One little girl clambered up onto the stage. She wore a bright orange and blue dress and had short brown braids and bare brown feet. She plopped down on one of the pillows and started playing with her toys, singing quietly to herself, oblivious to the two hundred eyes watching her.
There was much discussion about who the Three Masters could possibly be. Professors from the University? The Old Poet on the Mountain, who wrote one thousand epic poems with just nine words each? Beautiful Lucy Haiku? Sir Paul McCartney?
Frida and Georgia Collaborate
Georgia is painting.
She's painting a flower. Bold, brave, beautiful, elegant, fiery. On a canvas six feet tall.
Frida is her model.
While she paints, Georgia tells Frida about her new hats.
Georgia loves hats.
Frida loves hats, too.
The paintbrush is set aside.
Georgia and Frida are trying on hats, admiring each other, smiling and laughing.
Georgia's small house sits by itself on the edge of the canyon. It's very spare and neat. Her paints and easel and canvases are in one corner. Her bed is in another corner, covered with a snowy white sheet and one feather pillow on top. There's a mason jar filled with wildflowers on the small, smooth table.
Against one wall stands a small armoire. It's filled with dozens of beautiful, beautiful hats. Hats with feathers, hats with ribbons, hats with jewels. Red hats, purple hats, black hats with veils. Knitted hats, soft and warm.
Hats simple and plain. Hats dazzling and daring.
How does she fit all her fine hats in there? Well, that's the mystery. This is a special armoire - it's bigger inside than outside. It takes up only a little space in the room, but there's a lot of room inside.
Pepe built this armoire for Georgia for her birthday many years ago. Pepe, our Poet Hero, is also a pretty darn good cabinetmaker. He's good with words and good with wood. And an expert at inside-out physics.
Beautiful Lucy Haiku
onion is jammin' tonight
Everyone wonders about
Beautiful Lucy Haiku.
Few have seen her.
And everyone wants to meet her.
Many have thought they caught a glimpse of her,
In the Market, perhaps, buying oranges,
Or in the Plaza, trying on scarves.
Everyone agrees that she is a beautiful woman,
With long black hair tied with ribbons
And wearing bright, flowery dresses.
She loves to laugh.
The few that have met her keep her secret.
When a new baby is born on the Planet of Poets
He or she receives a haiku.
From Beautiful Lucy.
It's written in gold ink on plain white paper.
Kind of like a business card.
The haiku has three lines.
They are different for each person.
The lines contain the baby's:
Name Calling Transformation...
At different times in each person's life
They receive new haikus.
Three simple lines.
They are different for each person.
Yearning Truth Compassion...
Despair Vision Understanding...
Darkness Stillness Radiance...
And other stuff.
When a person's life is over, long or short,
They wake up again with a new haiku in their hand,
Written in silver ink
On plain white paper.
Kind of like a business card.
Frida's Haiku Day
Everyone on the Planet of Poets has a Haiku Day. Usually several. They typically come as a complete surprise, and they can happen anytime.
Haiku Days are celebrated, just like birthdays and anniversaries and holidays. Very often there's a big party. And sometimes just a quiet, solitary retreat. It just depends.
Today is Frida's Haiku Day. She was still in bed when she opened her eyes and saw the small white card on the nightstand.
"Oh crap," she said.
She closed her eyes again and tried to go back to sleep, wriggling deeper into her big feather bed and pulling the sheets over her head.
It wasn't working. She sat up and reached for the card. Written in gold letters, it said:
Frida sleeps past noon
Paints by numbers bad at math
Coffee cold in cup
Frida leaped out of bed, ran to the front door, flung it open and yelled:
"THAT'S SO LAME, LUCY!!!"
Lucy knows that Frida doesn't need any help from her.
Pepe and Frida are having breakfast together this morning. They're sitting at a table outside the French Bakery on the Plaza, the best bakery on the Planet of Poets. On the table before them, piled high on plates and in baskets, is their lovely breakfast:
Tarte au Citron
Pomme Tatin au Sirop d’Érable
Choux Pistache aux Fruits Rouges
Macaron Fleur d’Oranger
Baba au Rhum
Éclair au Chocolat
Macaron Fraise Coeur Pistache.
And coffee, of course. And a slim volume of verse.
"Pure poetry!" Pepe sighs, taking a bite of his Pomme Tatin.
Frida woke up hours early for this, taking extra special care getting dressed. Her shining dark hair is pulled back in a chignon. She's wearing a beautiful off-the-shoulder bright pink silk dress, with a full skirt and tulle petticoat, and a large pink silk flower on one shoulder. Around her neck is a sky blue glass bead necklace, and she has many silver bracelets around her wrists and a ring on each finger.
Pepe has never seen her more beautiful.
They're eating and watching the world go by: people walking their dogs, couples holding hands, children playing...
It's wonderful news! Pepe has just been invited to become a working member of the venerable Institute of Puns! The invitation was on a little white card, written in gold letters.
At the Institute, members create, regulate, and carefully distribute puns. It's sort of like a pun Research and Development lab, with strict control over quality and quantity. Especially quantity. Not too many puns are allowed to be released at any one time. They're distributed sparingly, lovingly, and only after they've been carefully polished and refined.
Or unrefined, as the case may be. Less is more, more or less.
The Institute is located in a large, Gothic-style building on a small island, complete with pointed arches, flying buttresses, spires and pinnacles, and beautiful stained glass windows. And, of course, gargoyles. Each and every gargoyle was modeled after former and current members of the Institute. They are a hoot.
Pepe is delighted with the invitation, and greatly honored. He can't wait for his gargoyle.
practice makes perfect
finished your vegetables
gargoyle on roof
Pepe and Ngo are standing in front of Frida's mural. They're staring, wide-eyed, and are slowly backing away. Easier to take it all in.
Ngo is mesmerized. Pepe is terrified. It's too real!
Frida has painted a huge, trompe l'oeil dragon. An enormous clawed hand seems to reach out of the wall, ready and willing to quickly make sushi out of them. The dragon, green and scaly, fanged and fiery, is staring back at them with glowing yellow eyes, as cold and curious as a cat. Pepe is certain the eyes are following him around.
Ngo loves it. He had a pet dragon very much like this one when he was a boy. Smaller, though.
The dragon in the mural, winged and forty feet of coils and tentacles, is sea green one moment, iridescent peacock blue the next, then golden and blazing like a sunrise, then crimson red and deep violet like a sunset.
Pepe realizes now how beautiful it is. He's feeling much better. He and Ngo turn and walk together to the nearby tavern for some dinner. It's getting late. Lots to talk about.
The dragon silently stretches its magnificent wings and sails silently into the clear night sky, singing softly to itself a little piece of a Mozart aria. Finished with sunset, it's time to start on the aurora australis, and then sunrise once again.
The dragon likes Mozart for auroras, Beethoven for sunrises, and Monteverdi for sunsets.
A Perfect Temper
Pepe has a new camera. He LOVES it.
"Megapixel," Pepe says out loud. "I love that word!"
And Pepe loves to take photographs of Frida.
And Frida loves to have her photograph taken. She gazes directly at the camera, unsmiling, but Pepe can always see the smile behind the gaze, around her eyes.
And so she sits for him today, dressed in a simple white eyelet dress, sunlight sparkling off her necklaces.
One of the very many things Pepe loves about Frida is her temper. "She gets so beautifully, unashamedly angry," he thinks to himself. "She does not suffer fools gladly. Getting angry is a great gift."
And Frida rarely smiles. Her smiles have meaning and are a great gift.
The Stars in the Sky
Just like Frida, Beautiful Lucy Haiku is an artist, too. A Painter. She paints dots. Lots and lots of dots.
She's devoted to dots. There's nothing she can't say with dots, no story she can't tell.
She starts with a canvas on which she has carefully laid a background color of her choice: pink or yellow, or turquoise blue, or maybe purple. And then she carefully paints her dots: big and small, rounds and ovals, amoeba shapes, black or yellow or red or orange....
They scintillate, they laugh and dance, they shimmer and quiver, they spin like lights reflecting off a disco ball.
And when the canvas is finally full, more dots flow onto the table, fall to the floor, creep up the chairs and across the walls and ceilings.
Avalanches, waterfalls, cascades of dots! Explosions of dots, like new stars being born. Oceans of dots, glowing yellow in the deepest blue, mirroring the stars in the night sky.
But NOT chicken pox! Lucy claims no responsibility for this. But she does take credit for leopards, spotted frogs of many varieties, birds' eggs, and ladybugs.
Lucy also plays the guitar. She owns a beautiful red guitar, handmade especially for her by her father. Many of the finest guitars on the Planet of Poets were made by Lucy's father. Pepe has one, too.
And so she sits in the sun and plays her guitar, her long black hair falling over her shoulders.
Lucy and Pepe are sitting side-by-side, playing their guitars together. They're playing a lively Scarlatti sonata originally written for the harpsichord. That's a lot of notes! They need two guitars to play this. It's a challenge, and they're having fun.
Pepe and Lucy are dedicating this to their good friend Nelson. They are looking forward to seeing him again very soon.
Then Lucy starts to play and sing Little Wing, and Pepe starts to cry.
Pie in the Sky
Frida has always wanted to fly in a hot air balloon! She loves the idea of floating high in the sky, so close to the clouds she could reach out and touch them. She wonders if they'll feel soft, like cotton balls, or maybe whipped cream? And if they're like whipped cream, she thinks, maybe she could make a pie out of them. A chocolate cream cloud pie, lighter-than-air.
At that same moment Pepe just happens to be strolling across the cobblestone plaza. Suddenly, without warning, a pie seemingly falls out of the sky and lands upside-down at his feet. What a mess! Surprised and puzzled, Pepe first looks up at the sky, then down at his feet. He bends over to inspect the pie.
"Hmmmmm," he says. "Chocolate cream?"
The next day Pepe is telling Frida all about it. It's a chilly day, and he and Frida are in the coffee house drinking hot cocoa.
As Pepe tells his amazing story, Frida can no longer keep a straight face and bursts out laughing. She walks over to the counter and orders two big slices of pie for Pepe and herself, with big dollops of fluffy white cloud on top.
There's a very remarkable animal on the Planet of Poets called the silveroo. It's kind of like a kangaroo, but it has lovely, soft silver fur. The silveroo is gentle and cuddly - it doesn't kick or box. But everyone gets a kick out of seeing one!
Silveroos are very intelligent and independent - they are never pets! Their natural habitat is the library. And they're very fond of root beer, rutabagas, Baby Ruths, and Rousseau.
Silveroos have one very important duty - they take care of vowels. They watch over them devotedly and lovingly.
And that's the long and the short of it.
Pepe has a little red fish named Johnny. He's a happy, pretty little fish, with long, graceful fins and a flowing tail.
Johnny lives in a little glass bowl on Pepe's desk, close to the window. Pepe placed the bowl there so Johnny can look outside.
Pepe and Johnny are best friends. When Pepe comes home in the evening, Johnny is always happy to see him. They love each other very much.
Johnny is a special fish. He loves to sing. And he loves to sing opera. He knows most of the operas ever written, from Dafne to Nixon in China. He knows them all by heart, every part, every word, every note.
It's a marvel and a delight to hear the beautiful singing coming out of his little bowl all day. Walk by Pepe's window, listen very carefully, and you'll hear it, too.
At the Market
Frida and Lucy are going to the Market today! Frida needs to buy a present, and maybe a necklace or two for herself, if she sees something she likes. (She almost always does!) Lucy wants a basket of fresh oranges.
They brought along some things to trade. Frida is carrying a freshly baked apple pie, plump with sweet apples and fragrant with cinnamon and nutmeg and cloves. Lucy has one of her new songs, written on beautiful white paper in silver ink, and tied with silk ribbons.
The Market is crowded and noisy and very fun. It's filled with so many wonderful things to look at and admire and smell and taste. They're trying on hats and scarves and shawls and jewelry, admiring themselves and each other, laughing and chatting. Frida buys a beautiful silk shawl, iridescent orange and purple and red, and sparkling with gold thread. And Lucy has her basket of fresh juicy oranges.
When they leave late in the afternoon, walking together arm in arm back to their homes, Lucy is radiant in her beautiful new shawl, and Frida is eating a delicious orange, sweet juice running down her chin.
A Starfish on the Beach
When Pepe was a young boy, his father took him to see the ocean. There little Pepe found a starfish on the beach.
He picked it up and held it in the palm of his hand. And suddenly he knew this meant something! It had to! All he would ever do, every word he would ever write, depended on this.
He placed the starfish gently back on the wet sand.
As he and his father walked back across the beach, hand in hand, a shooting star suddenly blazed across the evening sky and then quickly disappeared. They toasted marshmallows, and laughed and told stories, and watched the water sparkle under the moon.
To this day, Pepe remembers blue, beautiful blue, deep, deep beautiful blue.
I'm Against Them!
Pepe is sitting at his customary table at the café, enjoying the morning with a book and a hot cup of coffee. He glances up for just a moment and sees Manuel walking across the room towards him. It's too late to run out the back door!
Manuel is an old classmate of Pepe's from Poets University. He does everything by the book. Manuel greets Pepe cheerfully and loudly, and invites himself to sit down.
"I've just finished reading your new book of poetry!" exclaims Manuel. "They are fine poems!"
Pepe thanks him modestly, and Manuel continues. "But, if you don't mind me making just a few little suggestions, I think you need a comma here, and one here, too, and another on this line, here." He points to the little book, making jabbing motions with his finger.
"SEE, HOW, JUST, A, FEW, COMMAS, MAKE, EVERYTHING, SO, MUCH, MORE, CLEAR?"
Pepe gazes as Manuel serenely and replies, "I'm against them."
Just then Frida walks in. She sees Manuel sitting with Pepe at the little table in the corner. "He better not be bothering Pepe," she thinks, "or I'll kick the commas right out of him!"
Manuel looks up and sees Frida blazing a trail over to Pepe's table. He give Pepe a hurried farewell and makes a hasty retreat out the door.
Manuel of Style lives to see another day!
There's a Marx Brothers movie festival at the Theater on the Plaza this week! Pepe and Frida and Ngo are all going together. They go every year and have the best time. Ngo is a huge fan of the Marx Brothers and never misses a festival.
Tonight they're going to see Horse Feathers. This is one of their favorites. On the way over to the theater they sang several choruses of Whatever It Is, I'm Against It! and laughed about Manuel and his commas.
One memorable year Harpo was actually in the audience! This was the closest the Planet of Poets ever came to a riot - so many people wanted his autograph. Ngo had his picture taken with him! And Frida didn't even mind buttered popcorn in her hair. Or not much.
Frida and Ngo stroll into the coffee house and see their friend Pepe sitting at his table in the corner. He's laboring over a piece of pink paper.
"What is he doing?" Frida whispers to Ngo. "Darned if I know!" he whispers back.
Pepe has always wanted to try origami! He doesn't really know why, he just likes the idea of it. So today he bought himself some little squares of brightly colored paper and a book. The book is called:
Really Super Easy Origami for Beginners!
My Chihuahua Can Do This!
A descriptive title, Pepe thinks, but not a very poetic one!
Pepe feels hopeful.
As Frida and Ngo approach quietly, they suddenly hear Pepe exclaim...
On the table is a pink paper fish, complete with fins and a tail. It can fit in the palm of your hand. There is admiration all around.
In the Mountains
Every year on the Planet of Poets, at dawn on the first morning of winter, there's a mass ascension of hot air balloons over the mountains. It's a long hike to get there, but it's worth it.
There's no publicity, no signs, no noisy crowds, no overbooked hotels, no long lines, no concession stands, no traffic, no cameras, and no balloons that look like giant beer cans.
It's quiet. It's magical. The cold air is so fresh and clean that you feel reborn with every breath.
Each balloon is the shape of a flower, a snowflake, or a raindrop; a mushroom, a leaf, or a tree frog; an acorn, a pineapple, or a pine cone; a butterfly, a ladybug, or a dragonfly.
Pilots and passengers in the gondolas wave from above as they drift away over the mountains, balloons glowing brightly.
Pepe and Frida traveled together, wrapped in warm clothes and anticipation. The sun is just starting to rise, the spreading warmth and golden light a gift.
Later that morning, Pepe and Frida are having breakfast at the Inn on the Mountain, enjoying fluffy green chile omelets and cups of hot coffee. The Inn is as crowded and noisy as the mountains are empty and silent.
Pepe is sitting at his table inside the coffee house. He's looking out the window.
Outside is the Sidewalk General.
She's a mockingbird. She's sleek, fit, shiny, and alert. She's on a mission. It's just that no one else knows what it is.
She runs back and forth on the sidewalk in front of the coffee house, flapping her wings. Start, stop, flap, turnaround, start, stop, flap...
She doesn't bother anyone, except for that one famous time when she and Frida tangled up. Everyone talked about it for weeks, and the coffee house did the most business ever! Not to mention the hundreds of new poems commemorating the event.
Pepe waves at her through the window.
All summer she runs back and forth on the sidewalk. In winter, she sits sulking in the bushes in back, snatching red berries and gobbling them up. In winter she's the Berry Bandit. And she has a small, sparkly necklace, too, hidden in the bushes.
The Story of Two Moons
Frida has just finished painting into her mural the Story of Two Moons.
Long ago, the Planet of Poets had two moons in the sky. One was slightly smaller than the other, and they always appeared in the sky together. They mirrored each other's phases: new moon, waxing crescent, half moon, full moon, half moon, waning crescent, new moon...
When they were both full they lit up the night sky and were glorious to behold.
One evening it seemed as if the smaller of the two moons was just a little fainter than the other. It was hard to be sure. And then the next night, fainter still. What was happening? What did this mean? And in less than a month, the small moon vanished entirely, leaving the remaining moon to drift across the night sky alone.
But, strangely enough, when you looked at the reflection of the night sky in the sea, you could still see both moons! And this is still true today.
Fish swim through them, jellyfish tickle them, seaweed adorns them, and dolphins toss them back and forth with their noses, laughing. Starfish swirl and glimmer around the moons so the sea looks like another beautiful endless sky.
One day a little starfish, giddy from dancing in the twin moonlight, was caught by a wave and washed up on shore. There, in the wet sand, a little boy found it, picked it up carefully, and held it in his hand...
Out of Town
Frida is lonely. And she's surprised, and a little angry with herself about this.
Pepe is spending a week on the little island doing some work at the Institute of Puns. She won't be able to see him or talk to him for a whole week! And today is just the first day.
No coffee together, no funny stories, no stacks of poetry books on the table getting in her way, and none of those ridiculous little origami animals he always gives her.
So Frida is now lonely and grouchy, just thinking about this.
So she paints. A galloping zebra with orange stripes, its wild mane flying in the wind.
It just feels right.
Making a Movie
William, a student at Poets University, is making a movie. He's walking all over town with his HD professional camcorder.
He's full of great ideas!
His film should be about, of course, their Best Poets, or maybe Greatest Artists, or maybe their Most Mysterious Legends. Or maybe just Everyday Life?
The Sidewalk General runs back and forth on the sidewalk, hopping up and down and flapping her wings, as if to say: Me! Me! Me!
William sits and watches her for a while. Then he gets up and walks over to Frida's mural and gazes at it for a long, long time. He's in no hurry while he thinks about what he would like to do.
Then he starts his camcorder. He can hear music far, far off in the distance.
And then, suddenly, there's a deep rumble, then a roar, as everything in the mural starts to fly out and is sucked into his camcorder: dragons, zebras, watermelons, parrots, whole families....
"Whoa!" says William. He tries frantically to turn off his camcorder, but it's not working. Everything is happening so fast!
In just a few minutes, everything in Frida's mural has been sucked into William's camcorder, leaving miles and miles of blank white wall.
William is devastated. Frida will be so mad! He doesn't know what to do. So, he sits down in front of the white wall, the wall that Frida has been painting for years and years and years...
He sits, and the sun sets, and it gets darker and darker. William falls asleep. He awakes at dawn, just in time to see the sun's first warm rays striking the wall, filling it again with color and miracles, fruits and flowers, children and old friends, oceans and moons and dragons and everything that was there the day before.
Frida is smart. She remembers to back up her work each day.
It's morning! Johnny, seeing that Pepe is awake, flips and splashes and starts singing softly.
Pepe jumps out of bed. "This is going to be a great day!" he says aloud. He peers out the window to admire the morning, and sees William walking by carrying his camcorder. Pepe quickly ducks down until William is out of sight.
Pepe likes William - he's a nice boy! But he'd really like to NOT be in William's New Ground-Breaking Documentary Film on the Creative Process, Part One. Sounds scary, Pepe thinks. He doesn't have a process! He just writes and lives life. It flows naturally. He doesn't like the idea of making everything a process. Let's not take all the fun out of it!
Pepe is back from his week at the Institute of Puns, where he spent the better part of two days convincing a fellow member that knock knock jokes, no matter how funny, actually do not really qualify as puns. Oy.
So now, he's off to meet Frida for breakfast! After a week apart, they have a lot to talk about over hot coffee and a basket of fresh croissants. He wants to know if the rumor is true about William, the camcorder, and Frida's mural...
He's been much too busy lately to make Frida any nice origami animals. He hopes she won't be too disappointed!
Pepe is wondering why he doesn't see roadrunners anymore? Or, at least where he lives. He used to see them all the time in his neighborhood, and even in town. They were his playmates when he was a boy, and he loves seeing them still. Where did they go? Certainly there are a few more houses here now, and the streets are a little busier...
At least they still have fireflies! He's heard about places where they've all but disappeared. He can't even imagine this! They decorate and illuminate his yard every summer evening, as plentiful and playful as when he was a boy.
And they still have their monarchs (the butterfly kind), plentiful, flourishing, happy, and sure of their paths. He's heard of places where their numbers, too, are greatly diminished, and they are unsure of their way.
Perhaps, if I asked her, Pepe thought, Frida could paint a few roadrunners in her mural, and maybe this will help bring them back?
Return of the Roadrunners
No one ever tells Frida what to paint! Never!
So when Pepe asks her to paint some roadrunners in her mural, she just stares at him. And then he gives her a little origami animal, something that looks vaguely like a bird. A roadrunner, she guesses. So now all she can do is cover her face with her hands and sigh.
"...and maybe a mother roadrunner, and a father, and a little nest with eggs..."
Frida is not so sure that this will bring the roadrunners back. It's not like her paintings are magic or anything!
And she already has a roadrunner or two in her mural, painted long ago.
But... maybe there are some art lover roadrunners out there, wherever they're hiding, and they'll come out to admire their new portraits, and Pepe will see them and be happy.
So, Frida paints a desert sunrise, purple and red and gold, with mountains in the distance, and the silhouettes of three racing roadrunners, in single file, as if they are returning from a long journey.
Pepe feels hopeful, and thanks Frida very much.
And the next morning, Pepe is delighted when he spots a roadrunner in his front yard, racing after a little lizard. Johnny sings a song of jubilation. The lizard darts under a rock.
And then Pepe sees another roadrunner, later that day, by the fountain in the Plaza.
Were they ever really gone?
More Things Gone Missing
It's a t-rribl- crisis! The Silv-roos, the Guardians of Vow-ls, hav- just discov-r-d that the l-tt-r "e"... is missing!
Th-y don't hav- any id-a what happ-n-d, or wh-r- it could possibly b-. And th-y f--l just t-rribl-!
Oops! Never mind! It seems to be back now.
N-w, what has happened t- the letter o?
Well, vowels e and o were gone for only a few minutes, e for ten minutes and o for less than five. But that was enough time to wreak havoc on thousands of poems-in-progress on this very busy and diligent Planet of Poets. E and o are used a lot. That's a lot of spaces to fill in.
The Silveroos have issued a formal statement:
We are currently investigating this issue and apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.
Frida is painting again this afternoon. Missing vowels don't affect her! In fact, she was completely unaware of the crisis.
And Pepe, fortunately, had been taking a walk at the time, admiring the swirls of red and brown and yellow leaves in the wind. He loves the fall.
He's remembering a cold, gray, wet fall day years ago, when he was a boy. He was walking through the piney woods near the edge of town. He heard, faintly, the sound of a violin being played, sad, eerie, and beautiful. There were several little houses in the woods, lights glowing warmly through their windows, but he was never able to find out where the music was coming from. It was getting dark, and he felt a little afraid, so he ran through the wet brown leaves back home. There he wrote is first truly transcendental poem, The Violin.
Now, even as a young boy, Pepe had been writing for years, just like most children on the Planet of Poets. But The Violin was special. It took you to that place in your heart you thought you had lost, and brought you back home again.
In the Garden
Frida is walking into town today. It's a beautiful breezy afternoon. She always passes through The Gardens on her way - she loves to walk among the cherry blossoms, tulips, bougainvillea, and roses. It's also a haven for hummingbirds, wild parrots, parakeets, love birds, and doves. She enjoys seeing them and brings pocketfuls of seed for them to eat.
Today, for the first time, she notices a painting on one of the white stucco walls surrounding the garden. It's a painting of a little blue dog with round yellow eyes. It seems to be peeking out at her from behind the red roses.
"What in the world!" she exclaims. She hears laughter, quickly turns around, and sees George. He's holding a little white card, sort of like a business card. A little dog is sitting by his side.
"Hello, George," she says warmly, holding out her hands. "Welcome home."
A Morning Of Messes
Pepe is up early. It's still dark. He has some great new ideas and can't wait to start writing! But first, he thinks, a big cup of coffee! I'll take it into my study and watch the sunrise.
Johnny is humming a little bit of Mozart's Concerto for Flute and Harp.
Pepe's in his tiny kitchen. He fills up the kettle with water, and as he puts it on the stove he accidentally knocks over the open bag of coffee. Grounds spill everywhere - all over the counter, the floor, and his feet! What a mess.
Pepe grabs a sponge, but it takes at least two dozen wet, brown swipes and lots of water before all is clean again.
Except his feet! Pepe leaves a trail of brown footprints all the way to the bathtub. He sighs, steps into the bathtub and runs water over his feet.
Feet now clean, Pepe backtracks to the kitchen, cleaning up footprints all the way.
Coffee is made! Finally. Pepe fills his cup, sloshing just a little on the table, and takes his first big sip. Mmmmm. Then he glances down at his fresh, white shirt, and sees that it's not so fresh or white anymore - there are coffee stains all down the front!
"For crying out loud!" Pepe exclaims. Johnny switches to singing John Dowland's In Darkness Let Me Dwell. "Very funny!" Pepe says to him. He changes, putting on an old, soft, dark brown shirt. A good, safe color. He puts his white shirt in the sink to soak. Then he grabs his notebooks and pens and... off to the coffee house! He should have done this all along.
The Frog in the Lotus
One morning Pepe notices a tiny bright green frog sitting on the table where he folds and displays his origami. Actually, the frog is sitting in his origami, inside many intricate layers of delicate, symmetrical pink folds. He looks very comfortable.
The frog is completely motionless, except for his eyes, as he watches Pepe walk around the room. Pepe bends over and peers at the frog.
"I saw this little water lily," said the frog. "It only seemed natural to sit here."
"Well, actually, it's a lotus flower," corrected Pepe.
"So sorry," replied the frog. "A common mistake. They're both aquatic but belong to entirely different plant families."
"Still, very comfortable."
A Prescription for Bagpipes
Folks on the Planet of Poets are usually a pretty healthy bunch. If someone is feeling a little tired, a little run down, a little out-of-sorts, then it's more than likely that their doctor will write a prescription for bagpipe music.
For a mild case of the blahs, usually one piper will do. And, yes, he does make house calls!
For moderate to severe cases, three pipers, in full dress, almost always does the trick.
There was one stubborn case of note when an entire bagpipe marching band, with drummers, was needed, a full parade that marched up and down the street while the patient watched from an open window. Rumor has it that he was faking and just wanted a parade. But a good time was had by all.
There's an artist on the Planet of Poets who paints with water. Not watercolors, just water.
He likes rainwater the best. He collects spring showers, summer storms, autumn fog, and melted winter snow. Downpours and drizzle, pools and puddles. A jar for each. Then, brush in hand, he paints, sometimes on special paper he makes himself, sometimes on canvas, sometimes on rocks and leaves.
His studio is a huge old brown barn, with windows all across one wall and skylights in the roof. Completed canvases lean in stacks against the walls.
No one really knows what he sees when he paints. Only he knows.
No one knows his name. He won't say, or doesn't know.
He has a little yellow canary named Matilda.
Wonders and Beauty of the World
Antonio, a friend of Pepe's, writes the most beautiful poems. His stanzas are mathematical equations. They're a thing of beauty to behold.
Pepe is quite skilled at reading them.
Advanced mathematics of every topic is enthusiastically taught and studied at Poets University. Little can surpass it as a language for revealing the wonders and beauty of the world.
Matilda and Johnny Collaborate
Matilda is visiting Johnny this morning. They're good friends. She's perched on the edge of Johnny's bowl next to the window. They've been singing duets all morning and it's time for a little break.
Johnny blows a little bubble, which floats to the top of his bowl. Kind of fun! So he blows another, and this gently floats up beside the first. Matilda watches and chirps happily.
Johnny blows a dozen little bubbles and admires how they sparkle in the bright morning sunlight. So he blows one more, the biggest yet, and is delighted when it slowly floats up out of the water and rises into the air.
"This is my big chance!" he thinks, and he jumps up out of his bowl, as high as he possibly can, and lands right inside the bubble! He's always wanted to fly, just like his friend Matilda! So, propelled by the gentle breeze from the open window, Johnny floats high above the room, while Matilda sings and soars and pirouettes around him. Then she carefully guides the bubble back to the bowl. The bubble pops, and Johnny plops back into the water.
Just then Pepe walks back in, a bag of croissants in one arm and a stack of books in the other.
"Hi Matilda! Hi Johnny!" he calls out cheerfully. "Beautiful morning! What's new?"
Pepe has written poems of nearly every type and style:
Epic, Elegy, Ode...
Narrative, Dramatic, Satirical...
Haiku, Sijo, Rondeau...
Verse, Prose, Sonnet...
and the occasional Limerick.
But he's most famous for his very popular Pizza Sonnets.
Margherita, Capricciosa, Diavola, Marinara.
They are, of course, love sonnets.
The Pizza Place
Pepe, Ngo, and Frida are having dinner together at The Pizza Place on the Plaza. The second you walk in you notice it smells just like... heaven! Frida knows - she's been there.
Inside the lights are low, there's a jazz trio playing on a small stage in the corner, and the tables are filled with happy, chatting customers.
People always ask Pepe if The Pizza Place was the inspiration for his famous Pizza Sonnets, but he always says, "No, I just like their pizza!"
The Pizza Sonnets aren't about pizza. They're about Frida.
This is where Pepe first met Frida, many, many years ago. She was sitting alone at a table, with a little white card in her hand, sort of like a business card. She was reading the menu. Pepe saw her and fell instantly in love.
He walked over to her table and introduced himself, and she invited him to sit down. They split a pizza. Pepe ate one slice, and Frida ate the rest - she was hungry! She eats pizza with the same energy and concentration she devotes to her painting, or for getting mad.
No More Necklaces of Thorns
Sometimes Frida paints for days at a time without stopping.
She paints and paints and paints...
The sun rises, the sun sets, the sun rises...
Sometimes she paints for so long she forgets to look up at the stars. Pepe has to remind her. Without a word, he'll gently take her hand and point up at the night sky.
Seeing the stars brings her back to earth.
Seeing the night sky fills her with light.
The wind in her face is cool water for her to drink.
The sun rises...
There's an old abandoned mill at the edge of town, close to the lake. One long, crumbling white wall faces west. In late afternoons, one hour before sunset, you can see the Shadow Painters working there.
You can't see the Painters themselves, only their shadows against the wall turned golden by the setting sun - silhouettes of people high up on ladders, holding brushes and carrying pots of paint, intent on their work. And it's quiet, so quiet...
As the sun fades, they fade. The wall is wiped clean by the night, and they start once again late the next day.
Pepe never runs out of ideas! He never has a "dry spell" when he can't think of anything to write. All he has to do is think about Frida, and he could write ten thousand sonnets...
...about her beauty, and her fiery temper, and her amazing laugh, and the sadness that still lingers deep inside her, and her deeper kindness.
And about how she hates to lose! To his knowledge, Frida has lost only once, to a small mockingbird.
And nobody holds a grudge like Frida! Whenever and wherever their paths cross, Frida narrows her eyes and strides defiantly past, and the Sidewalk General stands her ground and stares back with bright black beady eyes.
Pepe hopes there is never a rematch.
Much to Think About
Pepe's friend Ngo has a Guard Toad. It just showed up one morning a few weeks ago. It's sitting on the front porch, facing the door. Ngo has to step over it when he leaves the house each morning, and then again when he comes home.
The Guard Toad is perfectly motionless, except for its watchful eyes. While toads in general are pretty common, true Guard Toads are pretty rare. And they choose you - you can't beg, borrow, or hire one for love or money.
Ngo is puzzled. Why did the Guard Toad choose him? He's unsure why he needs guarding, or what the Toad would actually do if it perceived a threat of some sort. And threats are pretty rare on the Planet of Poets, and are usually limited to misguided attempts by some to learn to play the trombone.
And Ngo is now worried about inadvertently stepping on the squat, brown creature in a rush to go to a meeting or conference or seminar or lecture. Or symposium.
He wonders how long the Toad will stay.
Is this permanent?
Much to think about. Some research is needed.
Today is a Snow Day! Pepe woke up this morning, looked out the window, and gazed upon a knee-deep blanket of fluffy white snow. Beautiful! The snow clouds have already cleared, and the morning sunlight makes the snow sparkle.
Pepe had planned to walk over to the Coffee House this morning and write, but now he plans to stay home... and write!
It almost feels like a holiday! Johnny is singing Henry Purcell's The Fairy-Queen. Pepe hears some children laughing and playing outside in the snow. So, cup of coffee now in hand, he walks back over to the window and looks out.
"That's Isabel, and Tomas, and Rosemary, I think. They're so bundled up it's hard to tell. It looks like they're building a snowman! And that's... Frida?"
Yes, it's Frida, with no gloves or mittens on, but a ring on each finger. She's outside with the neighborhood kids, helping them build a snowman. Actually, she's dressing it, and it's a snow woman, adorned now in a large, wide-brimmed straw hat covered in silk flowers, a bright red knit scarf, and a long purple cape with yellow plaid lining.
The Best Dressed Snow Woman on the Planet!
Lost Things Day
Something interesting always happens on the Planet of Poets right after the First Snow melts: everyone finds something they lost.
It could be in the grass in the park, or the playground, or in front of the Library, or in front yards or back yards. Melting snow reveals lost keys, bracelets and rings, Grandma's locket, toys, sunglasses, gloves and mittens and hats and umbrellas. Whatever was lost, no matter how or where it was lost, it is found again by its owner, and looking brand new! Even books return fresh and clean and untouched by the elements.
Hey, what's that in the grass?!!!
Frida and Pepe and Ngo are sitting together at the Coffee House. They're having a good time listening to the people around them talk about what they found on Lost Things Day.
"Sense of humor!"
Pepe and Ngo and Frida look at each other.
"What did you find?" Ngo asks Pepe.
"I found the book I lost, Really Super Easy Origami for Beginners!" Pepe replies happily.
Frida rolls her eyes.
Pepe continues. "Yes, one day I just couldn't find it! I guess I must have dropped it on my way home, or left it behind somewhere."
Ngo, ever observant, notices that Frida is avoiding looking at them, and instead seems to be extremely interested in another conversation far across the room. Ngo ponders that Lost Things Day also includes Things Swiped and Hidden Under the Mattress....
While his origami how-to book was missing, Pepe attempted some interesting creations of his own design. And Pepe has boundless creativity and vision! This produced a series of tiny, asymmetric, and unidentifiable creatures of his imagination. He's very proud of them, in almost a fatherly sort of way. He placed them all in a row on the windowsill near Johnny's bowl.
Johnny has been studying the paper menagerie for several weeks. He's decided to name them:
They've been waiting!
"Sounds and sweet airs that give delight but hurt not..."
It's time for a play.
Frida's friend, Alex, carves small, fanciful animals out of wood. He paints and decorates them in bright, beautiful colors and dazzling, intricate patterns. He's a master artisan, and his carved animals are in great demand. Frida bought or bartered for at least two dozen of them over the years. She just loves them, and she proudly displays them on shelves against the bright blue walls of her home:
Owls, anteaters, and eagles,
armadillos, elephants, and deer,
roosters, panthers, and foxes,
turtles, lizards, and dragons,
dogs and cats,
skunks and otters.
Lately, however, Pepe has placed among them about a dozen of his origami animals, little presents for Frida. It only seemed natural to him that his paper animals, and Alex's carved and painted animals, should reside side-by side.
Frida looks at them with mixed love and exasperation.
Alex has a little pet horned toad named Gabriel. Gabriel lives in Alex's studio. He marches about like a mini-triceratops and watches Alex work, or suns himself in the windowsill, eyes closed in bliss. Gabe has been the inspiration and model for many of Alex's carvings. Whenever Alex takes a little break, he'll walk over and gently stroke Gabe's back with his forefinger and talk to him.
Gabe is an old, old horned toad, as old as the hills. He's so very tired now. He loves Alex very much, and they've been together for many, many years. But he knows it's now time for him to go.
This morning Alex turns from his carving and walks over to the windowsill to visit with his little amigo, but this time Gabe's eyes remain shut. Alex strokes Gabe's back with his finger one last time, then gently lifts him up, places him in a little carved box, and walks out into the garden.
The Angel Gabriel (yes, holding his horn) and Alex's little amigo Angel Gabriel (the little horned toad) are sitting side-by-side on the low stone wall, in the sun, in the garden.
Angel Gabriel is playing A Foggy Day in London Town on his horn, and little Angel Gabe's eyes are closed in bliss.
Taking it Slow
There's a man on the Planet of Poets named ɹǝɥdoʇsᴉɹɥƆ. He likes to write his poems backwards, letters in reverse. He can write them the regular way, but he likes doing it this way. But if it's hard for you to read them, hold the pages of one of his books to a mirror.
If you ever have one of those days when you feel like things are moving too fast, read one or two of s,ɹǝɥdoʇsᴉɹɥƆ poems. This always helps!
Letters from Friends
On the Planet of Poets, folks still write letters! Imagine that. And when Pepe was a boy, he just loved getting letters, and he still does - letters from friends, letters from colleagues, even letters from Aunt Lupe! He remembers how he used to wait by the window when he was a boy and watch for the mailman. (The mailman, by the way, is also quite a fine poet himself. His poem about being chased by an iguana while delivering the mail is a big favorite of almost everyone.)
Pepe is thinking back about one of his old favorite letters from his friend Inez, written when she was a young girl. She wrote that she didn't like chocolate syrup on apple pie, even though she liked chocolate syrup on almost everything!
And she still does.
Pepe and Ngo have gotten together to watch an old classic cult film they enjoyed as students. They're having a great time! They're just coming up to their favorite part of the movie where the unsuspecting couple is walking down the secluded path at night, and a giant tarantula, ten feet tall, jumps out of the bushes! The couple, as expected, recoils in horror. But then the tarantula starts to tap dance while singing Sweet Georgia Brown. It's actually an easy-going kind of giant tarantula, just trying to break into the business.
Professor or Porcupine
Poetry Slams, Poetry Jams, Poetry Marathons, and...
The Poetry Olympics!
These are the organized sports on the Planet of Poets. Although folks do like to walk, and hike, and take frequent excursions to the mountains, woods, and beach. Regular exercise is important.
Teams for all the various regions are represented in the Poetry Olympics: Sonnets, Odes, Haiku, and Limericks, to name just a few.
Winners, of course, receive honor and glory!
And anyone can participate: old or young, mailman or chef, professor or porcupine. A fun time is had by all.
The big Street Art Celebration is today! It's a much anticipated annual event on the Planet of Poets. This year they decided to do Angelou Boulevard, all the way to the Plaza!
Artists from far and wide show up early in the morning with their paints and brushes and spray cans to claim their section of street. And then... they're off!
By noon the street is a river and riot of color that goes on for miles and miles: fauvismmodernismcubismsurrealismdadaexpressionismminimalismpop
Beautiful Lucy Haiku was walking through the woods when she came across a litter of seven small dragon kittens: fuzzy, pink and orange, with tiny little wings and a striped tail. They were sleeping in a nest that was almost completely hidden by ferns.
"They are the cutest things!" Lucy exclaimed. She bent over and carefully picked one up and cradled it in her hands. Still asleep, it hiccuped a little wisp of blue smoke. Lucy placed it back in the nest beside its six little brothers and sisters.
When dragon kittens are very young they are covered in soft pink and orange fur. When they are older, they lose their pastel fuzz, revealing beautiful iridescent scales that change color with the changing light and their capricious moods.
Then suddenly, swooping down from the sky, the mother returned! She landed beside Lucy and folded her enormous wings.
"Hi Lucy!" she said. Her voice was soft and melodic."Hi Berengaria!" Lucy replied. "Beautiful babies!"
Berengaria wrapped herself around the nest and purred contentedly.
Today Pepe and Frida are having a nice lunch together at a little outdoor café on the Plaza. They're enjoying the good food, the pleasant spring weather, and watching all the people riding bicycles or strolling by.
Suddenly a girl zips by on a shiny red motor scooter, her long hair and flowery silk scarf flying in the wind.
This catches Frida's attention. Pepe has seen that look in her eyes before!
"Did you see that little red scooter?" Frida asks Pepe. "Where can I get one of those?"
Finished with their meal, Pepe and Frida walk over to the Market, Frida in the lead and impatiently tugging Pepe along by the hand. There they find dozens of scooters lined up in neat rows, shining brightly in the sun. Some have colorful ribbons dangling from the handlebars, and some have baskets or ornately tooled leather saddlebags.
Frida speaks earnestly with the dealer, and in a few minutes she's sitting on a red scooter, with ribbons on the handlebars, and a basket, of course! And Pepe is now sitting behind her, as ordered. And... she's off! And laughing with joy.
The rest Pepe will never forget!
Fun Makes You Young!
Pepe hasn't seen Frida very much for the past week!
And when he does, it's only a quick flash of red, a beep!beep! of a horn, and a happy wave as she zips by on her new scooter.
Pepe politely declined additional invitations to ride with her. And although at first he saw many of Frida's friends riding along behind her, wide-eyed and panicky, or eyes tightly shut and holding their breath, more often than not she's riding by herself now, and still having the most fun. The only person to ride with her more than once is Lucy, who is beautifully serene under almost any circumstance.
When Pepe does catch a glimpse of Frida riding by, he notices that she is still wearing her long full skirts and lace petticoats and brightly colored scarves and flowers in her hair. "She's like a one-woman parade," thinks Pepe. "She's a joy to see!"
As Frida flies by again, Pepe thinks how much she looks like a 15 year old girl. Fun makes you young!
Pepe isn't the only one who has been watching Frida fly around town on her new motor scooter - the Sidewalk General has been watching, too!
She was on patrol, as usual, on her customary stretch of sidewalk in front of the Coffee House when she first saw Frida fly by: a flash of red and a full ruffled skirt and lace petticoats and sparkly necklaces and many, many shining silver bracelets. And a ring on each finger.
At the end of the block Frida quickly turned around and raced past the Coffee House again, much too fast for the Sidewalk General to even think about trying to catch up with her! And then again, and again! Frida made a dozen passes in front of the Sidewalk General, at least, beeping her horn merrily each time. The Sidewalk General could only watch, feet planted wide apart on the sidewalk, her shiny black eyes following Frida up and down the road.
Everyone inside the Coffee House watched the whole thing from the windows. Wonderful! Amazing! Extraordinary! Within minutes pens raced across paper as the first batch of poems commemorating the event were written...
The Orange Tree
Beautiful Lucy Haiku is tending her rose bushes. She loves roses! She has a beautiful rose garden at her little house, and she lovingly cares for them each day. She's rewarded with lovely fragrant blooms: yellow, pink, red, lavender, peach, orange, and white.
Last spring Pepe gave Lucy a gift of a little orange tree. She was delighted! Pepe helped her plant it in a sunny spot in her garden, where she hopes it will be happy and flourish.
When she's finished tending her roses for the day, she sits for a while on a little garden bench and spends some time in quiet happiness.
The Most Perfect Gift
Frida is working on her mural today.
She's painting the Tree of Life.
It's a beautiful tree, with green leafy branches reaching wide across the sky. The tree is filled with colorful parrots, cockatoos, and birds of paradise, and its roots reach deep into the earth, seeking crystal water from pure underground springs. And sweet ripe juicy oranges, warmed by the golden sun, hang by the dozens from its many branches.
Children play beneath the tree while a little dog, white with brown spots, chases its tail. And there's Beautiful Lucy Haiku as a young girl, standing on tiptoe, reaching high above her head for an orange.
The little orange tree is SO happy in its new home in Lucy's sunny garden, surrounded by beautiful roses! It also loves when Lucy sits down beside it on her little garden bench. It can sense her gentle, happy presence.
It's not lonely anymore. It feels itself slowly starting to blossom...
Pepe thinks it would be very nice to have a dog! He's been thinking about it for quite a while. While he's sitting outside at the café on the Plaza, drinking coffee with Frida, he often sees people pass by walking their dogs, and the dogs walking their people! It looks like everyone is having so much fun!
"Johnny," he asks, "don't you think it would be fun to have a puppy?"
Johnny blows a bubble. Pepe doesn't know if this means yes, no, or maybe.
On the Planet of Poets there really are no "pets". (Although they are sometimes called that!) But actually dogs and cats, hamsters and canaries, turtles and fish are full members of a family and choose you, not the other way around. You have to be ready, and they know if you are or not.
And so the next morning Pepe opens his front door and sees a little purple dachshund puppy sitting on his front step, looking up at him and wagging his tail. His name is Elvis. It was love at first sight for both of them!
And now Pepe and Elvis are walking into town together, for coffee and croissants and a new water bowl and doggie treats.
And after a long, exciting day full of adventure, Elvis is curled up in his new doggie bed, beside the orange sock monkey that Pepe bought for him. He loves his sock monkey!
No More Time for Origami!
Johnny and Elvis are getting along famously. Elvis likes to stand up on his hind legs and put his nose right up against Johnny's bowl. And Johnny sees two happy brown eyes peering at him, magnified through the lens of his glass bowl. Elvis is mesmerized by Johnny's graceful underwater ballet and will watch him by the hour. But usually he sits at Pepe's side and watches him write. Not much excitement there! And so he falls asleep, content just to be near Pepe.
The BIG excitement is when he sees Frida! She is already very fond of Elvis and always has a pocketful of treats for him. Once she even let him ride with her on her little red motor scooter, tucked inside the wicker basket in front. Oh, the marvelous wind! And the wonderful scents in the air rushing by so fast!
It was the most fun he ever had!
Elvis' First Festival
Pepe, Frida, Ngo, and, of course, Elvis are going to the Chocolate Festival today. It's held every year in the spring, and as you can expect, it's very popular! Folks come from far and wide to compete... and to eat!
Pastry chefs, chocolate artists, cooks, moms and dads and kids come from every corner of the Planet of Poets to enter their chocolate creations. The categories are:
candies, cookies, brownies, truffles, pastries, souffles, and "surprise us"!
Pepe's childhood friend, Inez, competes every year. She is devoted to chocolate and became a most accomplished pastry chef. Pepe always looks forward to seeing her. She always has a smile, a happy laugh, a good joke or a story to tell, and something divine and chocolaty to eat! She and Frida are also good friends, and right now they're hugging and laughing and sharing recipes.
This is Elvis' first Festival, and he's delighted by the crowd and the excitement and all the good things to smell. He and Pepe stroll from booth to booth, sampling chocolate treats from simple chocolate chip cookies to rich and exotic truffles.
Ngo is enjoying watching a small group of children, all brothers and sisters, he surmises, with chocolaty faces and fingers, laughing, singing, and dancing. Ngo smiles and laughs too, chocolate cupcake in hand.
It's the day to indulge! And not just with chocolate, but with sunshine, fresh air, family, friends, and fun.
And wait! They're about to announce the winners! Ooh, can I taste that?
Everything is Fresh and New
Pepe sees everything differently since Elvis came into his life. For Elvis, everything is fresh and new, all experiences are exciting, and he's learning all the time. He's curious about everything! So now Pepe is seeing things in a fresh, new way again.
Pepe likes to take Elvis to new places: the library, the park, Lucy's garden, Frida's house. Elvis even went along with Pepe to the Institute of Puns, where he roamed all over the island and investigated every nook and cranny. The gargoyles adorning the old cathedral-like building alarmed him at first! He barked, but the gargoyles remained motionless and at a distance, so Elvis trotted away content, wagging his tail.
Elvis thinks everything is wonderful! Butterflies, bees, even his first bath! He tried to jump out of the water to catch some floating soap bubbles, and Pepe got as wet as Elvis. They had so much fun.
Elvis' shiny, soft purple fur is not unusual on the Planet of Poets. Dogs come in every color of the rainbow, and even a few colors that aren't, but should be, like bright lime green with pink polka dots. Cats, too, can be red, yellow, orange, or blue. And red setters are really red, but there are also blue setters and purple setters.
And, of course, pink poodles!
Legend has it that ages ago all dogs and cats (and hamsters and rabbits) were mostly shades of brown, white, black, or gray, with occasionally a little rusty red or orange thrown in.
But one evening there was the most incredible, spectacular, dazzling aurora ever seen on the Planet of Poets. Auroras, like sunrises and sunsets, are created by the ancient dragon Berengaria, who uses her fiery breath to infuse the sky with brilliant color. The entire night sky glowed and flashed and danced with color, lasting until dawn.
The next morning the first purple pup was born. Soon after there were more, of every color imaginable, happy and healthy and looking like bunch of bouncing jelly beans.
Awesome! Berengaria was very please.
Elvis and the Toad
Pepe and Elvis are visiting Ngo today! The Guard Toad is sitting on the front step, as usual, and Pepe carefully steps over him before going inside.
Elvis, however, remains outside. He's curious about the Toad! The Guard Toad remains motionless, regarding Elvis. Elvis sits motionless, regarding the Toad. He smells freshly brewed coffee and hears Pepe and Ngo talking inside.
Pepe visits frequently and the Guard Toad is accustomed to seeing him. But this is the first time he's seen Elvis! He studies the purple pup carefully. He perceives no threat.
Elvis studies the squat brown Toad carefully. Sniffing the air, he perceives no threat, but still remains at a cautious distance. It doesn't seem likely to him that the Toad might like to play, or chase a ball around the yard, or roll around in the grass, or explore the shrubbery.
Much to think about.
The Vending Machine
There it was! The Vending Machine. It just suddenly appeared yesterday morning in the Plaza.
A curious crowd of people gathered around to inspect it. What in the world? What is it? No one had ever seen anything like it before.
Inside the Vending Machine were all the nice things you could buy, attractively displayed behind polished glass. It seems that you put in a coin, press a button, and your desired item drops into a tray at the bottom, where you retrieve it.
There were delicious chocolates wrapped in gold paper, and little frosted cakes so soft and fresh it was like there was a tiny bakery inside! And books, of course - small volumes of poems from their most beloved poets - lovely little gifts! And an assortment of small toys: yo-yos, tops, and dolls. And little packages of doggie treats!
It was almost like magic!
Courtesy of Angel Vending Company, LLC.
And, funny, when you put in a coin, you always get two back in change!
When Pepe wakes up this morning, the first thing he notices is a little white card, sort of like a business card, lying on the floor beside Elvis' bed. Something is written on it, in gold letters. Elvis is still fast asleep, snoring little quick doggie snores.
And in his study, leaning against Johnny's bowl on his desk, is another little white card. "Well, I'll be!" exclaims Pepe. "Elvis and Johnny are having a Haiku Day, and on the same day!" Pepe never realized before that dogs could also have a Haiku Day.
Elvis wakes up when he hears Pepe making coffee in the kitchen. He sees the little white card on the floor and wonders what it is. Is it something he can eat? Or chew on? Wagging his tail, he pushes the card around the floor with his nose.
Pepe picks the card up off the floor. "Happy Haiku Day, Elvis! Would you like me to read it to you?"
Johnny, who learned to read years ago, has already read his Haiku. It's going to be a great day!
"Well, boys! " Pepe says to Johnny and Elvis, "This calls for a celebration!"
Suddenly there's a knock on the door. When Pepe opens it, there's Lucy with her guitar! And Frida with a cake and pocketfuls of treats. And Matilda flies in, perches on Johnny's bowl, and starts singing. And all of their neighbors from up and down the street are there. And there's music and dancing - in the house, in the yard, and in the street! Lucy plays her guitar and sings a special song she wrote just for Elvis and Johnny. Johnny flips and splashes, enjoying the music and the fun, and Elvis runs round and round the yard, playing with all his friends.
The Guard Toad Joins the Party
Even though Pepe's house is pretty far away from Ngos' house, the Guard Toad can hear the big Haiku Day party. He can hear music and singing and laughing! Everyone sounds like they're having so much fun. He wishes he could be there, too. Not much fun, right now, sitting here staring at Ngo's front door all by himself. Ngo is at the party, too. It seems like he's been sitting on this step for a million years.
Pepe and Ngo and Frida are sitting on Pepe's front porch, telling stories and laughing and enjoying the music and eating big slices of Frida's divine chocolate cake. Suddenly, Pepe stops and points at his front step. "Well, I'll be!" exclaims Ngo softly. No one knows what to say or do next, so Frida slices another piece of cake, puts in on a plate, and sets it on the step next to the Toad.
Welcome to the party!
Not very much is known about Guard Toads. So, one little-known fact is that they can be two places at the same time, or sometimes even three! They don't do this very often, because it takes a lot of energy. And they believe in conservation of energy (it's a law, you know) as well as conservation of other things.
But because of their extreme dedication to duty, they rarely leave their appointed posts. So, being able to be two places at the same time allows them to have a little fun.
The Guard Toad is extremely pleased with the piece of chocolate cake that Frida gave him. The gooey, sweet icing is attracting a few flies!
Caught by the Wind
There are many wonderful things about the Planet of Poets, way too many to list! But one small, wonderful thing is... NO LEAF BLOWERS!
That's right! No obnoxious roar, no stinky gasoline fumes, no dust or dirt or who-knows-what blowing around in great gray clouds in the air, getting in your eyes, in your nose, and in your hair!
Leaves are not the enemy on the Planet of Poets! No one can even imagine such a thing. Leaves fall where they may and it's okay. But if you want to rake them into a big pile and jump in, that's okay, too! (The last time Frida did that she lost a shoe. You can only imagine how that went!)
A falling leaf is a beautiful thing, one solitary leaf or one thousand, caught by the wind and swirling and dancing in the air.
This morning Elvis is sitting in the chair in Pepe's study and looking out the window. He's listening to the leaves fall.
Funny, though - it's Spring, not Fall!
But on the Planet of Poets there's an unusual kind of tree, a very special kind of tree, that blooms in the winter and loses is leaves in the spring. The ground beneath it becomes a glorious carpet of shimmering red and gold.
In Winter, it always blooms after the First Snow: delicate pink cascades of blossoms with the most heavenly fragrance.
But that's not all! Each leaf that falls produces a soft musical tone, very similar to a celesta. A light breeze can produce a simple melody of leaves, while a good, strong gust can often create marvelously complex counterpoint.
The blossoms, too, make soft, bell-like tones as they open, and then again as they drift to the ground.
It's called the komuhumuhu tree. It's been an inspiration for thousands of poems and paintings and songs. And new parents often name their baby girls Komuhumuhu, the fifth most popular name after Hermione, Persephone, Penelope, and Hildegard.
Pepe is very lucky to have a komuhumuhu tree in his yard!
Years ago, when this part of town was more woods than houses, Pepe discovered the tree during one of his morning walks. It was barely more than a twig growing in the rich, grassy soil, but Pepe knew immediately what it was. That's when he decided to build his little house here.
And now, years later, there are lots of houses! And a paved street and wide sidewalks. But still lots of trees.
And the sapling now has grown from a twig, with just a few blossoms, into a glorious tree, giving Pepe, and the world, cool shade, beauty, and music.
Pepe, Ngo, and, of course, Elvis are walking over to see Frida's mural today. Pepe knows that she's been painting a lot this past month, and they always like to see what's new.
As they approach the mural they see Frida's little red scooter parked in front, but Frida is nowhere in sight! She must be taking a break, Pepe guesses, and walked away for a moment for a stretch and a snack.
Pepe and Ngo admire the newest section of mural, and Elvis runs off to chase a bright orange butterfly that playfully stays just out of his reach. After a minute Elvis is back again, this time chasing a blue butterfly with yellow stripes. Pepe remarks on how beautiful it is - he doesn't remember ever seeing one like that before!
Frida has just finished painting a strange and beautiful forest, dark and bright, familiar and mysterious. It's filled with huge tropical flowers and spectacular birds-of-paradise. What Pepe and Ngo find truly amazing is the detail with which Frida has painted the hundreds, maybe thousands of leaves! They are every color imaginable and actually seem to flutter in the breeze.
They look more closely. The leaves are actually... butterflies! Each one is painted meticulously and looks absolutely real: Monarchs and Painted Ladies, Woodland Skippers and Emerald Swallowtails, Peacock Pansies and Isabella's Longwings, Banded Purplewings and hundreds of others just as amazing, beautiful, and exotic.
While Pepe and Ngo are busy admiring the painting, their noses just mere inches from the wall, Frida returns and quietly walks to her scooter. Then... beep!beep!
Frida honks the horn, and suddenly thousands of butterflies fly out of the mural and into the air, so the sky looks like it's filled with rainbow confetti for the biggest celebration you could ever imagine! Elvis jumps up and down and barks with joy. Pepe and Ngo have never seen anything like it, and Frida laughs when she sees how delighted and enchanted they are.
Simple or Fancy?
And Frida is still in her big feather bed, gazing up at the white lace canopy. Dappled sunlight is shining through the white lace curtains as they move in the gentle morning breeze.
What would I like to do today? Frida muses. She has four big feather pillows on her bed, and silky soft white sheets, and a fluffy white comforter, light as a cloud.
Coffee with Pepe first, of course.
What should I wear? Do I feel simple or fancy today?
Fancy, I think.
No, simple: my white eyelet lace dress and sandals, and a shawl, the sky blue one with the pink embroidered flowers...
No, fancy: my red dress with the tiered ruffles...
No, simple! A white silk tunic and pajama pants and the blue and gold kimono, the one with dragons on it, and gold slippers...
No, fancy! My black silk and organza tea-length dress...
Just then Matilda, our little yellow canary friend, flies in through the open bedroom window and lands gracefully on top of Frida's dresser mirror. She starts to sing.
That settles it! Frida is now out of bed and she's wearing a yellow chiffon dress, sunny, light, and bright, and a ring on each finger, many silver bracelets, and yellow silk ribbons in her shining dark hair.
Simple and fancy and just perfect.
Come Visit Me...
Fernando is a great poet.
He also can't walk.
In his old life, Fernando couldn't walk. When he became an angel and came to live on the Planet of Poets, he decided that he didn't want to walk, just as before. He said it is very much a part of who he is.
But he can still get around just fine! When he wants to go into town he rides a little scooter, just like Frida's. His is blue.
And he gets around his house just fine, too, floating from place to place with just a gentle push of his hands.
In his home he is weightless.
It's a special house. It takes some visitors a little bit of time to get used to it, because just as they walk inside they immediately begin to float! So Fernando has made sure that there are plenty of things for them to grab hold of when they walk in the door until they get used to things. All furniture is anchored firmly to the ground. But most folks get the hang of it quickly and have great fun.
Fernando always says: If you're feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders, come visit me.
You May Never Know...
So what could there possibly be
On the Planet of Poets
That could ever make people feel unhappy?
There is no crime.
The worst crime is making a bad cup of coffee!
Streets are safe.
The air and water are clean.
Trees and flowers grow everywhere!
Folks rarely get sick. Maybe a sniffle.
Not everyone agrees on everything all the time,
Or likes everyone,
But they get along.
And it's quiet.
And full of music.
Folks have fun.
There's always something to do.
But some folks on the Planet of Poets,
Angels who live there,
May have had lives before filled with pain
Evens as Angels, they may still carry a little bit of that
In their hearts.
They still remember Before.
And, for most, it makes the peace they feel now
Even more dear.
They can be good friends.
You may not even know they're an Angel.
The Most Natural Thing in the World
Frida's in her kitchen. She's just finished making rice pudding, creamy and delicious and fragrant with cinnamon and nutmeg. She sets the bowl on the big wooden table to cool.
Outside her kitchen window, on a twig at the end of a tree branch, is a tiny silhouette. It's a hummingbird.
Frida has a feeling it's been watching her. She can't be sure. Just a feeling. It's been there all week. Sometimes it disappears for a little while, but it always comes back.
Frida turns around and returns to her cooking. She refuses to look over her shoulder. Outside the window the sun is setting. The hummingbird is a tiny dark shadow against the gold and crimson sunset.
Frida pulls the curtains shut.
The hummingbird watches Frida's silhouette behind the curtains as she rolls out dough for an apple pie.
Later that night an owl flies into the tree and sits on the branch near the hummingbird. "What are you doing?" it asks.
"Watching," replies the hummingbird.
"What are you watching? It's dark. The moon won't rise for hours tonight."
The hummingbird remains silent. The windows of Frida's house are dark now. She's gone to sleep. The owl watches the hummingbird watch the house. Hours later the moon starts to rise.
The next morning Frida is up and dressed and ready to go out. She walks out the back door and looks up. And yes! There's the hummingbird! It turns it's head to look at her. Wrapped in a fringed turquoise blue shawl, she decides to sit down in the chair beneath the tree. Let's see, she thinks. She takes a small book out of her bag, opens it, and starts to read.
Moments later, the little bird flies out of the tree, its wings a blur, and lands on Frida's head. It's a tiny iridescent jewel in her shining, dark hair. She closes her book and carefully puts it back in her bag.
A short while later, Pepe looks up and sees Frida as she walks into the Coffee House. It's now nearly noon. He says nothing about the little hummingbird in her hair as she orders brioche and coffee.
It seems like the most natural thing in the world.
If you're Frida.
Frida has a hummingbird feeder hanging in the tree behind her house now, filled with sweet, sugary nectar.
Penguin or Pelican
Beautiful Lucy Haiku is taking her morning walk in the woods. It's cool, and quiet, and new, fresh, spring green leaves are starting to come out on the trees. Lovely.
Lucy spies a small bird nest in a tree, in a branch low enough for her to take a peek. Inside the nest are three small speckled blue eggs. The mama bird is nowhere in sight.
On her walk the following morning Lucy looks in the nest again. She's curious to see if the eggs have hatched yet! But, strangely enough, today there are four pink eggs in the nest. Lucy wonders if this is the same nest she found yesterday. She's very sure it is.
So, the next morning, more curious than ever, Lucy visits the nest again. Now there are two large white eggs!
And then six tiny violet eggs the next.
"How strange, and how wonderful!" exclaims Lucy. She has no doubt now that there will be different eggs for every day of the year, or maybe for each day of every year.
Lucy has discovered an Inventory Nest. For every kind of bird that has ever existed, the Inventory Nest accounts for them all: penguin or pelican, chickadee or barn owl.
Lucy has a little table in her house, in the corner of her living room next to a window. There's a mirror hanging above it, in a tin frame decorated with painted hummingbirds.
A vase of red roses from her garden sits the table, and a candle in a red glass votive.
And a jewelry box made out of popsicle sticks and decorated with seashells that her little sister made for her long ago, and her favorite picture of her mother and father.
And a tiny painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe in a silver frame, and a white china kitten with a pink nose.
There's been some talk lately at the Coffee House about some plans to build an amusement park in town.
An amusement park? What in the world is that? There's been much speculation about what it could possibly be. Very few folks on the Planet of Poets have difficulty keeping amused.
They already have parks with gardens and fountains, parks with swings and swimming pools, parks where you can walk your dog or play frisbee, and parks with ponds where you can feed the ducks or play chess.
What else could there be?
Petroglyphs have been discovered in a cave in the mountains! They may be the oldest prehistoric cave paintings yet found.
And what's more, they may have also discovered the world's oldest poem! It's painted on the cave wall, faint, but still readable. Experts are busy deciphering it now.
More later on this developing story...
Pepe is meeting Frida at her house this morning, and then they're going out for coffee. He's careful not to get there too early! He knocks on the door, and after a few minutes Frida opens it. Pepe feels a moment of panic. Something must be terribly wrong!
Frida is still in her silk pajamas and kimono, and her long hair is loose around her shoulders. But she still has a ring on each finger! That's a good sign, Pepe thinks to himself. He's never seen Frida, ever, without her hair braided and piled high on top of her head, or pulled back in a soft chignon. And he's never seen her in pajamas!
"Are you okay? Is something the matter? Are you feeling unwell?" Pepe asks anxiously. He steps inside and Frida closes the door.
Frida is very well. Indeed, she's never felt better! She hands Pepe a piece of letter paper. There's writing on both sides.
"I've written a poem!" says Frida. It's for you. I've never written one before. I just woke up this morning and the words were suddenly there and I had to start writing and it took me all morning."
Pepe see a half-eaten piece of toast on the table, and a cold cup of coffee, untouched. He looks down at the piece of paper in his hands, his eyes too full of tears to read.
The Planet of Poets has poets, of course, on land, but there are also poets in the sea! In the wide, deep ocean, near a small cluster of rocky islands, live the mermaids, and mermen, too, of the Planet of Poets.
Their poetry is unique and very distinctive to them, and very, very beautiful. You can hear the ebb and flow of tides in each verse, and the sparkle of the sun and moon on the water, and terrifying power, and the deepest, bluest silence.
The Land Folk and the Water Folk often meet to catch up on news, exchange ideas, and share their poetry. That's why we have so many fine volumes of poetry from the Water Folk, carefully and lovingly transcribed by the Land Folk.
And the Water Folk, who have no use for paper and pen, listen to each new poem recited by the Land Folk and commit them instantly to memory. Later, they carve them onto tablets of jade in their shimmering libraries on the ocean floor.
At least the poems they really like. They're pretty choosy!
And yes, Pepe's much-loved Pizza Sonnets are engraved on an entire towering jade wall in the library beneath the deep blue ocean.
The mermaids and mermen often wonder about the Frida in Pepe's sonnets. They would very much like to meet her someday! She is a legend and an ongoing subject of curiosity, admiration, and animated conversation.
Frida's not feeling very much like a legend today! She was awakened early (too early!) by a morning thunderstorm. The wind had blown the bedroom windows open and she got completely soaked before she could close and latch them again.
But it's nothing that a long, hot bubble bath can't cure! And soothed by lavender-scented suds and dressed in one of her favorite outfits, Frida is now happily off to the Coffee House. The cool, rain-washed air smells wonderful.
Frida notices something strange as she approaches the Coffee House. The windows appear dark! And the front door is... locked? And in one window is a small sign: CLOSED.
"What in the world!" exclaims Frida. The Coffee House is never closed! She's never known a time when it was, ever! All the coffee houses are open all the time, every day. To many they are a second home.
Frida walks from window to window and tries to peer in. Too dark! Then she walks 'round the back and tries the other door. It's locked, too.
Frida is completely at a loss, a very unaccustomed feeling for her.
Suddenly the back door opens, and Beautiful Lucy Haiku steps out into the radiant morning.
"Lucy!" Frida runs over to her friend. "What's wrong?" Suddenly she feels very afraid.
"It's Aida", replies Lucy.
"Is she okay?" Frida asks.
"Yes, she's doing fine. And so are the twins!"
Aida started working at the Coffee House several years ago, and then several months ago happily discovered that she was expecting! And this morning, unexpectedly, while carrying a basket of croissants over to a table while the storm raged outside, Aida went into labor. Pepe ran to get her husband, and the doc was there in a flash.
The Coffee House reopened that evening. There was a big party to welcome little Sofia and Isabel!
White Sandy Beach
Frida has a secret.
No, not a deep, dark secret! Just a secret. And something that she doesn't want anyone to know... yet.
She bought a ukulele.
She saw it in Oscar's shop when she was at the Market last week. She admired the warm, satiny mahogany wood and the sparkling abalone inlay. It was so pretty! And when she picked it up it felt like a toy in her hands. Oscar tuned it up quickly and played a little song for her.
One hour later Frida was at home with the ukulele cradled in her arms. She was slowly strumming her first few chords. She wants to surprise Pepe and play a song for him: White Sandy Beach. She loves that song! It makes her feel peaceful and happy.
Frida has forgotten all about it, but Pepe is supposed to meet her at her home this afternoon! As he walks up to her front door he hears the soft sound of strummed chords coming from inside the house, played a little awkwardly at first, and then with more confidence after just a few minutes. Instead of knocking, he just sits on the steps, Elvis at his side, and listens with delight.
Pepe has Spring Fever! Usually he's content to spend the day writing, but today he wants to...
Fly a kite!
It doesn't matter that he doesn't have one, he can make one! He's sure that this is where his origami skills will come in handy.
So, with some bamboo sticks and string and sheets of bright-colored paper, Pepe folds and unfolds and folds again... and voila!
And it's a warm, sunny, breezy day - just perfect! Pepe and Elvis head out to the park, Pepe's new kite in hand. And when they arrive, to their delight they see dozens of kites in the sky! All shapes, all colors, all types: box kites, bowed kites, chapi-chapi, kites the shape of octopi and parrots and swallows and turtles and koi and butterflies and sailboats and pinwheels.
Pepe runs, Elvis close behind, and lets his kite catch the breeze. The fiery red paper dragon sails into the blue sky.
Pepe's dragon kite looks down and admires the beautiful green park far below, his golden eyes flashing. He loves sailing in the fresh strong breeze, beneath the golden sun, so high in the sky, so happy, so free! He can just make out the tiny figures of Pepe and Elvis far below, so he decides to show off, just a little bit, and twirls and swirls and loops through the air.
Pepe is delighted, and Elvis barks and jumps with joy.
A Wonderful Thing
It's evening, and Pepe is sitting at his favorite table in the Coffee House, watching a fragrant ribbon of steam rise from his fresh, hot cup of coffee. He's thinking about all the things that silently fly, float, and sail in the sky.
It seems like everyone loves things that fly: kites and balloons, birds and butterflies, clouds and gliders, even dry autumn leaves that catch the wind. And, of course, Angels, even though more often than not they choose not to wear their wings, except for festive occasions.
Even a child's red balloon tied to a string, thinks Pepe, is a wonderful thing.
Pepe lost his beautiful red dragon kite this afternoon in a strong gust of wind. He and Elvis watched it sail away in the brilliant blue sky until it disappeared from view.
But the dragon kite kept on sailing, happy and free, golden eyes flashing. He admired the beautiful green and blue world below, and the deep blue starry universe above. Berengaria is keeping a watchful eye on him, to make sure he stays safe.
All in Good Time
Pepe's at the Coffee House this morning, sitting by the window. He looks outside for a moment and catches a glimpse of Frida walking by.... carrying a surfboard?
Yes indeed! Frida is walking down the sidewalk carrying a surfboard longer than she is tall.
What in the world?
As far as Pepe knows, Frida has never gone surfing before, and the nearest ocean surf is many miles away. And she's not wearing a swimsuit! Her long, full skirts sway as she walks.
Pepe leans toward the window to watch Frida walk down the sidewalk. The surfboard looks pretty heavy, but Frida is carrying it under her arm as if it were as light as a feather. She strides forward with determination, as if she's on a mission.
Pepe resists the impulse to run after her. She will let him know, all in good time.
There's a stick bug sticking to Pepe's front door. A leafless twig, but not lifeless. Elvis thinks this is the most wonderful thing he's ever seen! Amazing!
He looks very sticky, thinks Elvis.
The stick bug is perfectly still. He's been here for three days now.
He's stickin' around.
Elvis is asleep. He's curled up in his doggie bed with his orange sock monkey.
He's dreaming about all the wonderful things he would like to do, things all puppies would like to do. But Elvis is not your average puppy. He's Puppy Extraordinaire.
He would like to fly.
And hike to the top of the tallest mountain.
And swim across the ocean with the dolphins.
And meet a real dragon.
And play Bach on the violin.
And play with children in the park on a lovely spring day.
And watch pink cherry blossoms fall from the trees and make a soft pink carpet on the grass.
And chase a comet.
And sing to the stars.
And write a poem, and everyone will read it, and understand.
And then he'll write one hundred more poems!
And he'd like to paint a picture with all his favorite colors: blue, blue, purple, and blue, a distant horizon, in deep evening twilight, silent, peaceful, and still.
White like the Clouds
Lily has been telling Frida her many wonderful stories about Hawaii, and about how much she loved to surf when she was a girl. Her family's house was right on the beach, and she used to go surfing every single day. She loved the water! Her mother used to say she never saw Lily dry.
Lily had a very special surfboard made for her by her grandfather. It was blue, blue like the sky, and it had a pattern of racing wild horses across the top, white like the clouds.
She hasn't surfed now for many, many years. Her surfboard was lost long ago in a great wave that flung her to the shore. Then she came to live on the Planet of Poets.
Lily loves to sing. She sings songs about Hawaii, and sunshine, and white sand and blue water. Everyone loves to hear her sing.
The next day Frida is busy with her mural. She's painting a beautiful white sandy beach, and a great wave, and a sky blue surfboard with a pattern of racing wild horses across the top, white like the clouds. The surfboard is resting on the white sand.
Lily has a new song today. She calls simply: I'm a Young Girl Again. Because somehow, miraculously, Frida found Lily's old surfboard and brought it back to her. She doesn't have the faintest idea how or where Frida could have found it! She thought she would never see it again. She ran her hand over the smooth blue curves, and across the pattern of racing wild horses across the top, white like the clouds. She feels like a young girl again.
Are There Other Planets Out There?
Pepe is sitting at his desk in his little study, gazing out the window. Elvis is at his side, watching a pill bug slowly motor across the floor.
Pepe is wondering if there are other planets besides the Planet of Poets.
Are there other Planets out there? Like the Planet of Gardeners? Or the Planet of Carpenters? Or maybe the Planet of Scientists and Engineers?
The Planet of Poets has poets of many types: writers and artists, musicians and mathematicians, chefs and singers. Poets can use paper and pen, but they can also use many other things.
Pepe closes his eyes for a moment. He's imagining how wonderful the Planet of French Bakeries would be...
Breakfast in Bed
On the Planet of Poets there is no Mother's Day, Father's Day, Valentine's Day, or Administrative Assistant's Day. And birthdays are optional!
No "special" days are set aside to celebrate or commemorate grandmothers, or love, or world leaders. (Past or present!)
And no greeting cards or overpriced look-alike bouquets. No marketing companies setting expectations for everyone. No hallowed days made hollow.
But they do have Haiku Days, and these can be celebrated (or not!) with a big party, or breakfast in bed, or a quiet walk in the woods.
Everyone is appreciated. Everyone has a unique contribution to make. Every day on the Planet of Poets is a day to celebrate, meditate, appreciate, remember, love, and enjoy.
The Heavenly Smell of Hot Buttered Popcorn
Elvis, Pepe's purple puppy, is so excited! Pepe just told him that there's an Elvis Presley movie marathon at the Theater on the Plaza! Pepe, Frida, and Ngo are all going together, and Elvis is coming along, too! He can't wait to see the famous singing, guitar-playing movie star who has the same name as his!
Elvis thought the theater was magnificent - capacious, ornate, and old-fashioned, with heavy red velvet curtains on either side of the large movie screen. And the heavenly smell of hot buttered popcorn! Pepe and Ngo took their seats, with Frida in-between, and Elvis sat on Pepe's lap. Frida sneaked treats out of her pockets for Elvis.
So much singing! So much dancing! And exotic places, places Elvis has never even imagined. And lots and lots of love songs.
And after the movies they all sang You Ain't Nothin' but a Hound Dog all the way home. Elvis thinks it's the best song ever!
No One Can Do Them Better
Elvis is listening to Johnny sing. Johnny is a special fish. He loves to sing. And he loves to sing opera. He knows most of the operas ever written, from Dafne to Nixon in China. He knows them all by heart, every part, every word, every note.
But Elvis wonders why he's never heard Johnny sing even one Elvis Presley song? Like Hound Dog? Surely Johnny knows all these wonderful songs. So he decides to ask him...
...and Johnny tells him: No one can do them better than "The King"!
When Ngo was a little boy he liked to read about almost everything: philosophy, science, religion, history, mathematics, medicine, and all the science fiction books he could get his hands on! Space travel! Time travel! Worm holes! Wonderful!
Ngo also had a secret stash of comic books hidden in his closet, way in the back corner. Superhero comic books! He loved them. Good versus evil! Super powers! Capes and masks! Marvelous! He liked to read them in bed at night after he finished his homework. He usually kept two or three of his favorite comic books hidden underneath his pillows.
Munching on a handful of jellybeans from the bowl on the little table beside his bed, young Ngo carefully and thoughtfully considered the hierarchy of superheroes. Who was the strongest? The bravest? The smartest? Who had the coolest super powers? Who was good to his or her mother?
And considering also his bowl of jellybeans, he started to imagine a new superhero, The Incredible Jellybean Man! Not the most powerful superhero, to be sure, nor the strongest or the fastest, but possessing a special power of sweetness, assuaging crisis after crisis with handfuls of jellybeans placed in the palms of villains and wayward heroes and innocent bystanders alike.
Clear, Cold, Icy-Blue Sky
On the Planet of Poets,
In the far snow-covered north
Where it is always twilight,
There's a narrow ice-covered canal
That stretches on and on,
Straight into infinity.
There's an ice-skater on the ice canal
Dressed in black
Who skates and skates and skates,
On and on and on
Past the barren snow-covered plains,
Past the snow-covered mountains,
Past the ancient snow-laden fir trees,
To a place where the earth becomes a mirror of the clear, cold, icy-blue sky.
And the skater skates and skates and skates.
Peace. Tranquility. Respite. Silence.
Frida Loves Hyacinths
She thinks they smell... heavenly. She loves them even more than gardenias!
Whenever she smells hyacinths, she's reminded of when she was a little girl. She doesn't know why - they didn't grow where she lived as a child. Perhaps, long ago, she had an aunt who wore perfume that smelled like hyacinths, or maybe a nurse, or a lady in one of the fine shops, or the mother of one of her friends.
Frida never saw or smelled a hyacinth until she came to live on the Planet of Poets. Each spring they pop up in clusters in her yard: pink, purple, and white. When she moved into her house and saw them for the very first time, beside the crocuses and tulips, she was delighted! She placed vases full of hyacinths blooms in every room of her house.
She looks forward to them every spring.
Pen in Hand
Elvis is in Pepe's study, curled up in his doggie bed, but he's not asleep. It's morning, and he's watching Pepe write. Outside the sun is shining and the birds are chirping. Johnny is circling around slowing and gracefully in his bowl on Pepe's desk, singing softly.
Pepe often writes for hours and hours. And Elvis happily watches him for hours and hours. He never gets tired of watching Pepe. He doesn't know what Pepe is writing, although sometimes Pepe will read aloud to Elvis something new he has written.
So Pepe writes quietly at his desk, occasionally stopping to gaze out the window, or getting up to pour another cup of coffee or take Elvis for a walk.
He writes and writes and writes, pen in hand, on a notebook from the big stack of notebooks on the shelf.
Elvis doesn't know what Pepe is writing today, but he knows it's wonderful.
The movie Robin Hood is playing at the Theater on the Plaza tonight! Pepe and Elvis are going together. Pepe asked Frida, but she's busy painting, and Ngo is presenting a scholarly paper at the University tonight.
Pepe has seen Robin Hood at least a dozen times over the years, but he's still looking forward to seeing it again. And this is Elvis's very first Robin Hood. And such color! Such excitement! Romance! Sword fights! Legs of mutton! There's something for everyone.
But when Robin gets captured by the Sheriff of Nottingham's men, Elvis suddenly lets out a long, loud, mournful howl of despair that rises straight to the theater's high ceiling and echos from wall to wall. Pepe is horrified! But everyone in the theater bursts into laughter and then applauds as Robin Hood escapes once again.
Elvis is very pleased he could help.
Watching the Rain
When Beautiful Lucy Haiku was a very young girl, her mother gave her a lovely little book with the most wonderful illustrations. It was the fairy tale Thumbelina. The story was wonderful, but it was the beautiful, colorful illustrations that Lucy liked best.
She wondered what it was like to be so small that violets and buttercups towered over her, their blossoms the size of dinner plates! And to sleep in a little bed made from half a walnut shell, with a pink rose petal for a coverlet.
Years and years later, Lucy still has this little book, worn and faded from many readings and the passage of time. The dust cover has long been lost. The pages are a little yellowed and crinkly, but the illustrations are as colorful and beautiful as ever: flowers and field mice and butterflies and birds. Lucy's name is written in pen just inside the cover - large, shaky letters in a little girl's handwriting.
It's a rainy day, and Lucy is at home sitting by the window, watching the rain.
If Only I Had Hands!
Pepe is sitting at his desk, writing, drinking coffee, and enjoying his second (maybe third?) buttery croissant. Johnny is watching him. He's soooooo hungry! Pepe must have forgotten about feeding him this morning. Johnny looks longingly at the little container of fish food on Pepe's desk, right next to his bowl, so close yet so far! If only he had hands!
But if he had hands, Johnny thinks, then he would make beautiful gingerbread pancakes, and lovely banana waffles, and buttered cinnamon raisin toast, and hot oatmeal with fresh, sweet blueberries and cream, and a fluffy cheese omelet!
Just then, Pepe open the little container and generously sprinkles fish food into Johnny's bowl. Johnny races to the top, pancakes and waffles and omelets forgotten! Fish food is soooooooo delicious! Johnny starts to sing Exsultate, jubilate.
Later that morning, Pepe hears Johnny singing Bein' Green. "Hmmmm," thinks Pepe. "You never know what to expect around here!"
A Beautiful Dance
Pepe is sitting at his favorite table at the Coffee House this morning, enjoying a cup of coffee and listening to two teenage girls happily talking to each other at the next table. Their table is littered with empty glasses with straws, crumbs, plates, little notebooks, and lots of unidentifiable girl stuff, at least to Pepe.
"When's your birthday?" asks one girl. "Mine is July 9th."
"Mine is July 10th!" exclaims the other.
Then delighted squealing from both.
It's like a perfectly choreographed dance, thinks Pepe.
Rafael is a Pie Rat.
No, not a Pirate.
A Pie Rat.
And a rather small rat, too,
Considering all the pie he eats.
He loves pie!
Cherry, apple, gooseberry,
Mince, quince, lemon meringue,
Tortes and tarts and flan.
His nineteen brothers and sisters
Don't share his love of pie.
They're more Panini kind of rats.
Pie Rat is One-of-a-Kind.
The Pie Rat is also the name of Maria's restaurant,
Where she bakes and serves
Her wonderful, delicious, homemade pies,
À la mode, if you wish, with hot coffee.
Rafael is her pet.
You can see him every day at The Pie Rat.
Ask him what the Special is for today!
Making it Real
Pepe is sitting at his desk.
If I write, he thinks, I can make it real.
Frida is standing before her mural.
If I paint, I can make it real, she thinks.
Elvis is sitting on Pepe's front porch watching the clouds.
They drift lazily across the bright blue sky: turtle clouds, coyote clouds, dragon clouds, clouds like dolphins and frogs and elephants and giraffes and lions and....
Elvis and the Guard Toad have become very good friends. They don't even have to talk - the Toad never even lets out a peep, or a croak. They sit side-by-side on Ngo's front porch, facing the door. The Guard Toad is teaching Elvis how to be a Guardian. Elvis is a good student, but it's hard!
The Guard Toad enjoys Elvis's company. He usually only sees Ngo for a moment as he steps out each morning, giving the Toad a nod and a polite "good morning", and then again when he returns in the evening, arms full of books and a bag of groceries and carefully stepping over the Toad to walk back inside.
Just like Ngo, Elvis is not sure what the Guard Toad is guarding, and from what menace, visible or invisible. But he's sure it's a very important job.
So Elvis and the Toad sit side-by-side, facing the door, the Toad perfectly motionless, Elvis almost so.
And the lesson continues....
Time for a Snack
Elvis doesn't realize it yet, but the Guard Toad is teaching him to open up all his senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, intuition, knowing, being, understanding.
Elvis is learning to let the universe flow through him, to be alert and aware effortlessly, to be dedicated to each moment, and then letting that moment go.
And right now, Elvis is thinking about a snack.
Elvis: Sorry! I can't help it!
Toad: No worries.
For Goodness Sake
One of Pepe's favorite places is the Coffee House in town. He often takes Elvis with him. Elvis also observes Pepe's daily ritual of preparing and savoring his morning cup of coffee. Or two. Or three.
So, it only makes sense that Elvis is quite curious about coffee. Everyone seems to drink it, and everyone at the Coffee House seems to be happy and having such a good time.
Elvis thinks that he would very much like to try this coffee. It must be wonderful!
And today Elvis has his chance! There's a knock on the front door, and Pepe runs from his study to answer it. His cup of coffee, still almost full, sits abandoned on his desk. Elvis looks up at the cup. He hears Pepe and Ngo talking and laughing. Then he jumps into Pepe's chair, a mighty leap for a dachshund puppy, stands up on his hind legs and places his front paws on the desk. He sniffs the cup, then noisily laps up a mouthful of coffee with his tongue.
For goodness sake! Coffee is the worst thing he has ever tasted in his whole life, times infinity! He sputters and jumps to the floor and runs as fast as he can to his water bowl in the kitchen. Pepe and Ngo watch him race by. They both wonder aloud why Elvis is running so fast, especially since the ice cream van is nowhere in sight!
Pepe and Ngo follow Elvis into the kitchen, and Pepe starts a fresh pot of coffee. His cup in the study has gone cold, so he pours it into the sink. Elvis watches him mournfully.
Much to think about.
Good... and Even Better
The day after the big coffee disappointment, Elvis takes some time to make a list of things that people like that he likes, too, and some things he doesn't like:
1. Ice cream - good.
2. Pizza - super good!
3. Coffee - terrible.
4. Apple pie - good.
5. Toast - good.
6. Chili - not so good. Tummy ache.
7. Spaghetti - neutral.
8. Popcorn - very good!
And it now occurs to Elvis that there are probably some things that he likes to eat that maybe Pepe wouldn't like. As a matter of fact, Pepe politely turned down that beautiful baguette he brought home last month, carrying it like a big soggy stick in his mouth. It evidently had fallen from someone's bicycle basket and rolled into a puddle on the side of the street. Elvis was so pleased when he found it. A present for Pepe! Elvis gnawed on the dry end a little bit and it tasted pretty. When he got home Pepe thanked him profusely and gave him an affectionate pat on the head, but said he was already full from a big breakfast. But the birds might enjoy it! And so it was ceremoniously placed in the back yard beneath the tree.
Much to think about.
Best Dressed Puppy
It's a beautiful cool morning, and Elvis is all dressed up! Today he's sporting a stylish purple and yellow plaid doggie coat that Frida made for him. And now Elvis and Pepe and Frida are walking over to the Plaza to show off Elvis and his new coat.
Elvis is so pleased.
Frida is so pleased!
Pepe is happy seeing both of them so happy.
And at the Plaza, Elvis is drawing admirers from all around and has received many compliments and pats on the head.
It's the Cloak of Un-invisibility.
Slow Motion Man
Sam is the Slow Motion Man. He lives inside a special little bubble of time, and time for him moves slowly, slowly, slow....
While everyone else flies by on their bicycles or scooters, Sam pedals by oh-so-slowly, the lengthening shadows outpacing him, a smile slowly blooming on his face as he sees friends passing by.
And inside the Coffee House, Sam sips his coffee oh-so-slowly, one cup lasting for hours, his cinnamon roll shrinking almost imperceptibly, a spiral galaxy spinning in reverse, slowly getting smaller and smaller. And then gone.
Sam writes the most beautiful poetry. It's worth taking your time to read it.
Toad Times Two
When Ngo walked out his front door this morning, there were two Guard Toads sitting on his porch, both facing the door.
For goodness sake, though Ngo. The Toads sat side-by-side, but they were not identical. The new Toad was slightly larger and a little worse for wear.
"Should I be alarmed?" Ngo asked them. He thought that if one Guard Toad provided a reassuring watchful eye, then two Toads may indicate some trouble ahead, of the very real and dangerous kind.
What could his mean?
Ngo stood up and looked around. By all appearances it was another ordinary beautiful morning.
Much to think about.
Toad Times Two, Part Two
Today Pepe is considering the word stroopwafel. "Strooooopwafel." Pepe says aloud. "I like that word."
And they taste pretty good, too, crunchy and sweet and delicious with coffee. Elvis likes them, too. He could eat a hundred of them.
They make stroopwafels at the Coffee House. Pepe bought a package of them today to take home, and a package also to give to Ngo as a surprise.
But it was Pepe who was surprised! When he arrived at Ngo's house he saw two Guard Toads sitting on the porch. The Toads studied Pepe closely.
Stroopwafel! croaked one Toad.
Stroopwafel! echoed the other Toad.
Ngo and Pepe looked at each other. "For goodness sake!" exclaimed Ngo.
Stroopwafels. Toads love 'em.
It's a Space-Time Thing
The next day the second Guard Toad was gone. Not one stroopwafel was left on the porch. Not even one crumb.
How did the Toads know that Pepe would be bringing a package of fresh, crispy-sweet stroopwafels?
Ngo surmises it's a space-time thing. He is now busily working on a Fundamental Theorem, with Toad in the denominator.
We may never really know for sure.
Tell Us What You Think
It's early in the morning - still dark, in fact. Pepe is still in bed but he's wide, wide awake. He just had the most terrible dream!
He dreamed that he lived in a dreadful place called The Planet of Surveys!
We would like to invite you to participate in a short survey.
Surveys were everywhere! No matter what you did, or where, you were asked to fill out a survey.
Your responses will help us to better serve you.
At the park, on the beach, at the library or coffee shop or bakery...
On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being "Poor" and 10 being "Outstanding"...
Or getting a haircut or buying cucumbers...
On a scale of 1 to 6, 1 being "Never" and 6 being "Always"...
Everyone did little else but complete surveys all day. And almost everyone hated them! Even the surveys that promised a chance to win money, or a baby bunny.
Customer Satisfaction Survey: a Poem
Tell us what you think.
No, tell us what you really think.
Your opinion is important to us!
When Maria was young, she lived in a very big, very busy city. The streets were crowded almost all the time with speeding buses, vans and trucks, taxis and scooters and bicycles.
Maria and her little sister road their bicycles to school each day, five miles there and five miles back. The traffic roared past them and around them. It was dusty, noisy, and very scary! There were accidents all the time. The streets were empty and quiet only on holidays and Sunday mornings.
How Maria wished for a secret road! Just for her and her sister. A peaceful, quiet, beautiful road, wide and smooth, with shady trees on both sides, and flowers! And water fountains every mile, with cool, fresh water, and maybe a little cart on the side of the road that sells ice cream! No one would know about it but them, and no one else could find it.
That would be so nice. So nice...
Business as Usual
Maria has a little thrift shop in town, on a shady, quiet side street. The shelves and racks are tidy and organized and filled with all sorts of good and useful things. If you need a gift, or a shiny cooking pot, or a stylish dress, you can find them for a bargain at Maria's.
And Maria has a Guard Toad, too, just like Ngo. Maria's Guard Toad sits on a shelf where he has a good view of the front door and the entire shop. There's a green teapot on his left side, and a white china kitten with a pink bow and outstretched paw on his right side. The Toad sits so motionless that people have often mistaken him for a knickknack! They admire how interesting and lifelike he looks. But he lets out a loud CROAK in warning if they try to pick him up. The look of surprise and astonishment on their faces is priceless!
By now, though, most folks in town know about Maria's Toad. And for Out-of-Towners, Maria placed a sign below the shelf:
Please Do Not Handle the Toad!
Maria's place is now a destination for tourists who want to have their picture taken in front of the sign, and the Toad.
The Toad doesn't seem to mind.
Maria's shop does good business!
There Are Places, the Toad is Told
Maria's Guard Toad likes it among the Previously-Owned-Gently-Used things on the shelves, especially at night, after Maria closes the shop and it's dark and quiet. The Toad listens to the stories they tell.
There are places, the Toad is told, where so much is wasted.
Nothing is wasted on the Planet of Poets, never ever! Not a loaf of bread, or a drop of water, or an empty bottle, a broken toaster, a scrap of paper, a story, a memory, a smile, a kindness, or a friendship.
The toad likes sitting beside the squat green teapot. It reminds him of his mother.
Pepe and Frida are having coffee together this morning, and flaky, delicious croissants. They're sitting at one of the little tables outside the French Bakery on the Plaza. It's another ordinary, beautiful morning. Then suddenly... a huge green and red dragon appears, almost thirty feet long!
No! It's made of balloons! Hundreds of small green balloons, and red ones, too, intertwined and coiled and twisted to create a magnificent, light-as-air Chinese dragon.
Glorious! Beautiful! It's being transported across the Plaza by a dozen young girls and boys, holding it high above their heads. They're laughing and singing and having the best time. They're followed by musicians merrily playing bamboo flutes and small drums.
The children twirl and swirl the dragon around the Plaza, and then turn down the street to the park. The musicians follow close behind.
As the music trails away, Pepe and Frida stand up and waltz together around the tables in the sunshine.
Thinking About the Dance They Danced
The next morning Pepe sits at his desk in his little study and gazes out the window. He's thinking about the dance he danced with Frida.
She was as light as a feather in his arms.
Pepe is a very good dancer, and he thought Frida was just amazing! A small crowd of delighted passersby had gathered around to watch them. But Pepe didn't even notice them - there was nothing else, no one else, but Frida in his arms. The musicians were long gone, but Pepe still heard music.
And so, Pepe begins to write. And write and write and write... all through the day and into the night, while the stars danced around the sky.
Today Pepe is considering the word Swashbuckler.
"Swashbuckler." Pepe says aloud. "I like that word. I wonder where it comes from?"
So Pepe walks over to the Library and looks it up. "Hmmm... 16th century... pirates... swordsmen... adventurers... swaggering ruffians!"
Pepe has never met a real swashbuckler, but he's seen plenty of them in the movies! He thinks it would be fun to meet one. And even more fun to be one! Such excitement! So much adventure! And great big hats with ostrich plumes!
But Pepe was also up all night writing, and now he's feeling sleepy. The big upholstered armchair in the Library is so comfortable, and it's so quiet and peaceful.
Pepe falls asleep, the dictionary still in his lap.
Pepe loves libraries! And there are libraries all over the Planet of Poets. You'll always find one nearby.
There something there for everyone: books of all kinds, and music, puppet shows, story time and poetry hour, lectures, movies, maps and historical records, and of course, a coffee shop!
Anyone can borrow anything at anytime, for as long as they need it. They don't even need a library card. And believe it or not, nothing goes missing! Everything is returned when the borrower is done with it.
The libraries are works of art, too, beautiful and beautifully designed, comfortable, and accommodating to all. And they're open all the time, every day.
Pepe is still asleep. Elvis is at home and wondering why it's taking him so long to come back! So he slips out the doggie door and trots over to the Library. The Librarian looks up and smiles as Elvis walks in. He finds Pepe asleep in the chair and lies down at his feet.
And speaking of happy, after Pepe finally woke up (Elvis jumped into his lap and licked his face), he and Elvis went for a nice walk in the park. On the way Pepe stopped at the fruit stand and bought a banana for a snack.
Pepe sat down on a park bench to eat his banana. Elvis saw one of his doggie friends and ran over to play with him. What a beautiful day! The birds were singing and children were playing and riding their bicycles.
A little squirrel saw Pepe and shyly approached him. He sat up on his hind legs, whiskers trembling. He looked up at Pepe. Pepe looked down at the squirrel. Then he broke off a generous piece of banana and placed it gently on the ground.
The squirrel was frightened at first and ran off to hide behind a tree. But after a few seconds he slowly crept back and sniffed the piece of banana. He picked it up in his paws and started to nibble. This is the best thing ever!
Pepe was so pleased! For him, it would be like if chocolate cake suddenly fell from the sky!
And then suddenly he saw Frida! She was carrying a picnic basket with a lovely surprise lunch: fresh bread, three kinds of cheese, potato salad, pickles, and yes...
Lovely Frida. And a lovely surprise.
How did she know that Pepe was at the park? Well, she's an angel.
Polka Dot Dress
And during their delicious picnic lunch, Pepe admires how pretty Frida looks today in her polka dot dress.
Black polka dots.
Pepe also wonders if
A polka dot
From just a regular old dot.
He looked it up at the Library.
A Birthday Present for Johnny
On the way home from their picnic lunch in the park, Pepe and Frida and Elvis stop by Maria's Thrift Shop. Pepe wants to buy a present!
Maria pets Elvis while they all chat together for a little bit. Then suddenly Pepe spies a small, brightly colored painting for sale. It's a painting of a mermaid.
It's perfect! Pepe buys it and carries it home under his arm, Elvis trotting happily by his side. When they get home Pepe hangs the painting in his study, then stands back to admire it.
It has everything!
A pirate ship flying the Jolly Roger,
And a pirate holding a sword in the air,
And a beautiful mermaid with emerald eyes and shimmering green tail and long golden hair,
And an amazing assortment of fantastic sea creatures in the azure blue water,
And a little orange goldfish.
Happy Birthday Johnny!
Pepe and Frida went to see an old Godzilla movie at the Theater on the Plaza last night. They had a great time! Frida laughed through the whole thing, and for the life of him, Pepe couldn't understand why. Later on, at the Coffee House, Frida explained.
"When I was ten years old I had a school teacher named Señora Grim. Yes, this is true! Grim was her name, and she certainly was. She was like... Godzilla with a beehive hairdo and high heels!"
During the movie, as the giant monster slowly stomped and smashed its way through Tokyo, Frida couldn't get the image of Señora Grim out of her mind!
"Yes," continued Frida, "one day the Señora gave the entire class a writing assignment. When we were finished we all stood in a long line before her desk and she looked at our notebooks, one-by-one. And one-by-one she angrily drew an X across the pages!"
Can you not follow directions? she yelled. Have you learned nothing at all!
The next student who hands me a bad assignment will be punished!
"Well, of course, the next student was me! And she found my assignment bad as well. And I was the best student in the school! The very best! Yes, I got into trouble sometimes, just little practical jokes, little pranks. And I sometimes played hooky... well, a lot, but only for the best reasons!"
"So! The Señora grabbed my arm and dragged me to see the Headmistress. Lazy, stupid girl Señora Grim said to me! I was going to get a talking to!"
"But after the Señora left, the Headmistress just laughed and gave me tea and cakes. She knew my family well - she always brought presents at birthdays! So we ate little cakes and drank tea and told stories, and then she let me go home early to paint!"
"Frida, did you...?" Pepe started to ask.
"...do a bad assignment on purpose?" finished Frida for him. She had that little twinkle in her eye.
"Well, maybe. Maybe we all did!"
At night, on the Planet of Poets,
You can still see the stars.
All of them.
The night sky is deep, dark, clear, and beautiful.
The stars are as luminous as they are infinite.
Their brilliance is only briefly dimmed
By the glorious full moon.
No big city lights to compete with them.
No gaudy flashing neon signs.
No enormous sports stadiums blazing like a thousand suns.
Breakfast is When the Sun Comes Up
Pepe doesn't own a watch, or a clock. Not even a little alarm clock. The Coffee House is open all the time, every day, so it doesn't make any difference what time it is! And you know when the French Bakery is open, from the wonderful smell!
Breakfast is when the sun comes up. Dinner is when it sets. Or whenever you're hungry.
And Pepe has no deadlines to meet or publishers to please. He will often write all day, or all night, if it suits him.
But is he ever late for a movie or a date? Never!
There's a big clock tower on the Plaza, quite old and beautiful. And it actually works just fine and keeps very good time. The bells chime merrily on the hour. That's good enough for most folks.
If you really want a clock of your own, you can probably find a nice grandfather clock at Maria's shop.
The world would run just perfectly without the tower clock, but the bells sound pretty. And they do extra duty at weddings, holidays, and celebrations. Bells have tolled over many lands throughout all the ages, maybe one of the few things left that runs through and connects all these centuries. Folks from hundreds of years ago listened to these bells, just like you and me.
Pepe loves to sing little Nonsense Songs. He makes them up all the time and sings them whenever he's walking with Elvis or doing his chores.
He’s a Noodle
He never writes them down, and he usually doesn't even remember most of them the next day - he just makes up another one!
He plays the drums.
He drives a car.
He’s a Noodle.
They don't mean anything - at least Pepe hopes they don't! That's part of the fun.
He’s good at math.
He studies hard!
He’s a Noodle.
He thinks that making up Nonsense Songs actually helps him write better poetry.
He eats paella,
But not linguini.
He’s a Noodle.
Pepe makes up songs just like little children do so naturally. But for grown-ups it takes practice! But it gets easier the more you do it.
He jams all night
With Pat Matheny.
He’s a Noodle.
A few of his Nonsense Songs caused Frida to give him one of her sideways glances, but he just continued singing happily.
If you don’t know what to do,
Build a robot,
Use your Noodle!
Aida and Inocencio
Before Aida came to live on the Planet of Poets, she took care of a sick friend who had no one to look after him. His name was Inocencio, but she affectionately called him Puppy or Puppy Love. She took care of him for a very, very long time.
Inocencio was a handsome and talented guitar player. But because of his illness it became difficult for him to play. For a while he would at least hold his guitar in his arms, but one day he could no longer even do this.
Aida used to have dreams where she and Inocencio would be walking together, either alone in the desert or in the city among the crowds. She dreamed that she let go of his hand for just a second, and then turned around and he was lost. She would look and look for him, search and search, desperately trying to find him again. And she would be so frightened. He needed her!
Now Aida and Inocencio live on the Planet of Poets. Inocencio is strong and handsome and plays his guitar and sings. He doesn't need Aida anymore.
Aida no longer dreams about losing him.
Today Aida and Inocencio are having a picnic lunch together in the park. They're sitting on a bench, quietly holding hands.
Bright Blue, Like the Sky
Beautiful Lucy Haiku has a magic umbrella.
It's bright blue, like the sky.
When it's sunny, it provides shade and protection from the hot sun.
When it's rainy, it keeps her dry.
This morning Pepe is busy writing at his desk. Time for a break! He stands up, stretches, and takes a moment to look out the window. Hmmmm. It appears to be raining... violets?
Much to think about. Lucy, no doubt.
Pretty, though. Smells nice.
Twist Twist Twist!
Pepe and Frida and Elvis are at the Plaza this morning, sitting at a little table at the outdoor café. The Plaza is filled with people walking their dogs, shopping, eating, and enjoying the day. There are many food vendors selling delicious things to eat. Musicians fill the air with music as people fill their tummies.
Epifanio is standing on his usual corner, and, as usual, he's surrounded by children. He makes wonderful balloon animals, and he's very popular! Elvis trots over to watch him. He's fascinated!
Epifanio blows up a long, thin, bright green balloon. Then twist twist twist - it's a little dragon! With wings and a tail! And then twist twist twist - an orange pony! And then a purple giraffe, and then a funny blue poodle. The children are delighted! Two dozen hands reach out for more.
Epifanio spies Elvis and gently places the blue poodle balloon on the ground beside him. Elvis looks at it closely. He sniffs it. It doesn't bark! He carefully picks it up in his mouth and trots back to Pepe and Frida.
And then... POP! Elvis jumps, blinks, and then looks around. The poodle is gone! Vanished into thin air! More puzzled than alarmed, Elvis curls up at Pepe's feet.
Much to think about.
Watch out! Frida is mad!
Last week she saw a beautiful, hand-knit red sweater at the Market, with a matching knit cap and a long, fringed scarf. And just her size!
But then she thought to herself: I think I'll knit my own sweater, and a cap and scarf to match! I'll teach myself to knit. How hard can it be? I'm good at everything I try.
So Frida bought skeins and skeins of beautiful soft angora yarn, bright crimson! And knitting needles, of course. She stuffed them all in her wicker shopping basket and headed on home.
She was ready to go! First, she rolled the yarn into balls. Then, knitting needles in hand, she made her first loop, just like she remembered the old women doing when she was a girl.
But hours later, what a tangled mess! A bird's nest! A disaster!
And a whole week after that, she had nothing that even resembled a sweater or a hat.
The scarf, though, fared better. It was, well.... long! Long enough for a giraffe to wear. And it looked like two dogs had been playing tug o' war with it. Or maybe three dogs.
Frida couldn't understand it! What was wrong? How could this be? She is good at everything. It must be the yarn. The yarn is bad. She bought bad yarn!
For goodness sake!
There was only one thing left she could do. She baked a cake. A beautiful chocolate cake.
And it was perfect.
A Present for Pepe
Well, Frida was able to return two unused skeins of yarn out of the very many that she bought. The knitted knotted tangled mess of sweater she decided to use to re-stuff an old pillow on the sofa.
And the scarf... she gave to Pepe!
Pepe was sitting at his favorite table when Frida walked into the Coffee House carrying a large box with a big red bow. She set the box on the table before Pepe.
"For you!" she exclaimed.
Pepe is pleased with the unexpected surprise. He unties the ribbon, opens the box, and pulls out the scarf. And more scarf, and more scarf, and more! Now everyone is watching, and a few folks start to laugh.
Pepe is unsure if this is one of Frida's famous practical jokes or not. So he plays it safe, and solemnly and sincerely says:
"Thank you. It's beautiful."
Elvis is curiously studying the scarf, which now covers the entire table and is flowing over onto Pepe's lap. What is this? Can I play with it? Is it alive?
"Try it on!" commands Frida. Pepe looks at Frida. Frida looks at Pepe. So Pepe winds the scarf round and round until only his eyes are visible. Frida bursts into laughter.
"Mmm mmmm mmm!" Pepe says. ("I love it!")
It Was All Elvis' Idea!
Pepe and Elvis are back at home now. Pepe sets the box with his new red scarf on the sofa.
And early next morning, Pepe is awake and on his way to the kitchen. Time for coffee! And then maybe a nice walk to the French Bakery for a basket of croissants. As Pepe passes by the sofa, he notices that the box has fallen on the floor. The lid has come off as well.
The box is empty!
What happened to the red scarf? Well, thinks Pepe, the mystery will have to wait until after my coffee!
But when Pepe walks into the kitchen, he sees Elvis fast asleep on an enormous fluffy soft mound of red scarf. And he's snoring soft quick little doggie snores, as contented as can be. Pretty darn cute!
Pepe then spies two orange striped legs sticking out from beneath the pile of scarf - Elvis' sock monkey!
Pepe's not too sure what to tell Frida later. Would she believe him if he told her it was all Elvis' idea? He'd better bring her some extra croissants. And a pear tart!
Today Pepe got a letter in the mail:
My name is Josh and I'm a student at Poets University. You are my favorite poet! I have all your volumes of poetry and they are wonderful. I've read all your poems and sonnets I know many by heart.
But no one reads my poems! No one! No even my mom! I feel discouraged and unhappy because I believe my poetry is special and I want to share it with the world. But no one is interested! There is already so much great poetry, and so many great poets.
I'm beneath notice.
I'm including one of my poems in hope that you will read it. I hope you like it.
Pepe reads the poem.
I like your poem.
I like the title: "Problem Exists between Keyboard and Chair".
I think you answered a lot of your own questions in your poem, and then you asked even more! That's good.
I like to read my poems out loud to my dog, Elvis. He's a good listener. Do you have a dog?
I like to remember this:
There are no great poets.
There are no great poems.
Only when they are read can poems grow great in our hearts.
Send me another one of your poems.
I can't believe you read my poem and you like it! This is so cool. I told my mom, so THEN she reads my poem, and she said she liked it but didn't understand one word of it. Well, that's Mom. She understands a lot more than she lets on. That's her secret weapon.
I don't have a dog, a have a little black and white miniature goat. Her name is Mimi. She stays in the yard (mostly) and she has a little shed I built for her. We call it "Mimi's Palace".
So, I read my poem to Mimi, and a few other of my poems, too. Hard to tell, but I think she likes them.
Here is another one of my poems for you. I call it "Fractaldelphia".
Well, I've never heard of fractals before! I went to the Library, and wouldn't you know, there are books and books about them. And lots of math and beautiful pictures, too! I always liked this combination. Algorithmic art, I think they call it.
Thank you - I learned something new today!
I think this is a good poem.
P.S. Tell me more about Mimi.
Mimi is really smart. Sometimes I think I should take her with me to classes at University, because she would probably get a lot more out of them than me.
And Mimi LOVES peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. When I make one for myself, I make one for her, too.
Mimi has been part of the family for almost three years now. She just had her first Haiku Day, only last week.
P.S. I'm thinking about using a pen name. I think my real name is really boring. Maybe that's why no one wants to read my poetry. Do you like the name "Rockmetteller"?
I like "Josh" just fine.
Ok. Mom hates it, too. And Dad is still laughing! It's been two days. He said he was a young poet just like me when he changed his name to "Shakespeare". That was a long, long time ago, like a zillion years. But that's a whole other story.
Pepe reads Josh's last letter.
Wait... what? Your dad is... WHO?
A Midsummer Night to Remember
So tonight Pepe is having dinner over at Josh's house, with Bill, Josh, and Josh's mother, Hildegaard. And they're having a great time! Lots of good stories, lots of laughter, and lots of good food! Hildegaard is a great cook, and it just happens that Josh is almost as good as his mother! They made this fine dinner together.
A night to remember! Pepe thinks as he happily accepts another helping of risotto.
Elvis came along, too, and he and Mimi are out playing together in the back yard. Right now Elvis is watching Mimi dig a hole. He didn't know that goats could dig holes, too, but Mimi seems to be doing a pretty neat job of it. Elvis is impressed, and he's no slouch himself when it comes to digging holes.
Bill and Pepe talked late into the night. Josh stayed awake as long as he could, but finally fell asleep in the big, overstuffed chair.
There are no zoos
On the Planet of Poets!
You can see
Amazing and wonderful animals
Of All Kinds
It just depends where you live.
You do have to be very careful of
Lions and tigers.
They'll sneak into your house at night
And eat all your cookies.
This is the truth.
It happened to me.
Josh is busy at University. It's the start of the new semester.
And Elvis and Mimi have become fast friends! Today Elvis is taking Mimi over to Ngo's house to meet the Guard Toad.
They step up onto Ngo's front porch. The Guard Toad silently regards Mimi. Mimi silently regards the Toad. Elvis sits quietly and regards them both regarding each other.
Ngo looks out the window. "For goodness sake!" he exclaims softly.
A beautiful golden orange butterfly floats by and lands on Mimi's left ear.
It is now complete.
Pepe and Ngo are sitting together at the Coffee House.
"It was extraordinary!" Ngo exclaims."There was this amazing, mysterious energy emanating from my front porch! I could even feel it from inside my house."
Pepe is fascinated. "What in the world do you think it was?" he asks. "I don't know!" replies Ngo, "And it only lasted for a minute or two, until the ice cream van came down my street. Then the butterfly flew off Mimi's ear and Elvis and and Mimi flew off after the van!"
And the Toad regarded them both as they raced after the ice cream van. The van disappeared down the street, bells chiming merrily.
He hopes they bring back some for him. Vanilla.
Ngo stepped out his front door this morning, prepared to step over the Guard Toad. As Usual. But when he stepped outside he saw that the Toad was gone!
Ngo looked all around the porch, and behind the bushes, and in the back yard. He was puzzled. Where is the Toad? Even a peek in the mailbox revealed No Toad.
Should he be worried? Or should he feel relieved? Perhaps The Threat, or whatever it was that the Toad perceived, was gone. And so he left.
The next day, still no Toad. Nor all the following week.
Ngo was surprised how much he missed him.
It was harder than he thought it would be.
To the Letter
Pepe is at the Coffee House this morning, and an old friend is telling him about a place he used to live, far, far away, where letters of the alphabet were rationed and used very, very carefully. There were only so many to go around, and families were given an allotment of just so many letters.
But sometimes new parents were extravagant when they had their first child, and gave them extravagant names with many letters. So, by the time they had their fourth or fifth child, they had very few letters left.
Pepe's friend has four older brothers. His name is Xq.
Peace and Love
There was another Planet, very far away, where everyone fought all the time. There was always war, and shocking violence, and people lived in fear and pain and terrible sadness. Nothing the emperor did to try to stop the violence worked. War raged on for years and years. So finally he made two new laws:
Everyone had to learn to dance.
Everyone had to learn to play the flute.
Everyone. No exceptions.
And it worked.
A Morning Walk in the Woods
Beautiful Lucy Haiku is taking her morning walk through the woods. Yesterday the leaves were crunchy beneath her feet, but last night it rained, and today the ground is soft and moist and silent. Cool, clear drops of water still cling to the trees and fall on her as she passes by, almost like a second rain.
Suddenly a ray of golden sunshine streams through the dense leaves, and illuminates the droplets clinging to a magnificent spider web suspended between two trees. Lucy thinks she's never seen anything so pretty!
And then, just a short distance ahead, Lucy sees Ngo's Guard Toad sitting alone on a large rock. The morning breeze shakes the leaves and water droplets rain down on the Toad. He seems to be enjoying it hugely.
Lucy walks over to talk to him.
"He misses you", she said simply.
There's another Planet
Very far away
With vast oceans and sweeping continents.
And on an island
In the Far North
Is a circle of towering stones,
Hewn by unknown hands in an unknown age,
Some missing. No one knows where.
There is nothing else
On the entire Planet
But this circle of stones.
The only visitors are the sunrise,
Seabirds flying overhead,
And small lizards basking in the sun.
The grass turns green.
The grass turns brown.
The sun slowly rises and sets.
The shadows go round and round.
Sandy and Sandy are Twins
They were born on different days,
In different years.
One is short
And the other is tall.
And one has light skin and short red hair,
And one has dark skin and long black hair.
And one has blue eyes,
And the other has brown.
And they're twins.
They're identical in every way
Sandy plays the violin, and Sandy plays the flute.
They make the most beautiful music together.
And if you play tennis, they will surely
Ngo's Guard Toad was born on Stonehenge Planet, which, interestingly enough, is at the exact Center of the Universe. And there he sat for many, many years on a fallen stone, watching the sun rise and set, and the shadows grow long and disappearing into the night. He had a lot to think about, and plenty of time to think - a thousand years was the same as a day to him.
When he was ready to leave, he appeared on Ngo's front step, exactly where he needed to be.
And Beautiful Lucy Haiku knew the exact second the Guard Toad arrived! She always knows when someone new comes to the Planet of Poets.
Elvis and Mimi are trying to cheer up Ngo by sitting on his front porch, exactly where the Guard Toad used to sit.
Pepe and Frida are trying to cheer up Ngo by taking him to a movie. They're showing Ninotchka tonight.
But Ngo doesn't need cheering up exactly. He's not sad. He just feels a little lost.
Lucy is still in the woods, sitting on the rock beside the Guard Toad. It's getting late and it will be dark soon. She stands up. The Toad looks up at her. Then she gently picks him up and cradles him in her arms as she walks back into town.
Being carried is new to the Toad. He likes it. He usually gets around the old-fashioned inter-dimensional teleporting way, although sometimes he hops.
The next morning dawns cool and fresh. Ngo wakes up extra early and makes himself a cup of coffee. Cup in hand, he opens up his front door and steps outside.
And... he sees the Guard Toad sitting on his front porch, facing the door, motionless as usual except for his eyes. Ngo stands motionless as well, for a minute, maybe two. Then he slowly sits down on the porch chair.
The Toad hops once, twice, three times, and sits at Ngo's feet.
The morning is so quiet. The only sound is a cricket chirping in the distance.
Ngo has been trying to work on a paper for the Planet of Poets Journal for many weeks, but he's been stuck. Suddenly ideas begin to flow again, and he steps back inside to start writing. He looks back over his shoulder. The Toad is still there.
I will never leave you, My Friend.
The Return of the Toad
That evening Pepe and Frida and Ngo meet at the Coffee House. And the big news is... The Return of the Toad!
"Marvelous!" exclaims Pepe. "Wonderful!"
Pepe and Frida are delighted for their friend.
"Where did he go?" wonders Pepe. "A Toad convention? A secret assignment?"
"Holiday?" guesses Frida.
Yes, a maybe a holiday. Just a little vacation.
It's late. Ngo has been writing nearly all night. He takes a moment to get up and stretch and look out the window.
The Guard Toad is still there. It's dark, but Ngo can see him in the silvery moonlight.
It's morning. Ngo gets up and the first thing he does is look out the window. The Toad is still there.
And after breakfast. The Toad is still there.
Kind of Catchy
Frida is shocked! Shocked, I tell you!
Pepe's silly new nonsense song,
The Big Blue Noodle,
Has become a sensation!
Unexpectedly. Amazingly effortlessly.
Everyone seems to be singing it,
Dancing to it,
And playing it on bongos and flutes and saxophones.
Even a tuba or two.
It started when some kids overheard Pepe singing it in the park while he was walking with Frida.
They liked it! It was fun to sing.
And then it spread like wildfire!
Even the POPS (Planet of Poets Symphony) Orchestra performed an arrangement of it in the Plaza one evening. Four movements!
Frida just shakes her head. For goodness sake!
But at home, while washing dishes, she doesn't even realize that she's humming it.
It's kind of catchy.
Hopefully Not the Start of Something
Pepe noticed something new in front of the Coffee House this morning. It was the outline of a big rectangle, painted with bright yellow paint, on the street right in front of the door. It was a tidy job, but not very artistic, so he didn't think Frida would have done this.
Is this a new work or art? Is it... modern?
So, once inside, he asked the barista, Esmeralda.
"It's a parking space," she replied.
"A parking space? What in the world is that? I've never seen one before!"
Pepe looks out the window again, and now he sees Frida's little red motor scooter parked neatly in the middle of the "parking space". There's a watermelon in the basket in front of the handlebars. Frida greets Pepe merrily as she walks in the door.
Pepe is still wondering about the parking space. He has a funny feeling about it. Hopefully it's not the start of something...
All is Well
Well, just as soon as the new parking space arrived, disagreements arrived over whose "space" it was! It seems that the next morning Manuel's rickety, rusty old bicycle was parked in the space. He rarely ever even rode his bicycle anymore, so it was certain he put it there to get Frida's goat.
And it surely worked! The Planet of Poets is usually the most peaceful of places, but not that morning!
There was debate over who could park there, and when, and for how long? Who would be in charge of monitoring the space? Should there be more spaces? Two or three or ten?
And it almost came to blows! But reason prevailed. It was the ice cream van, bells chiming merrily as it came up the road. Yayoi parked it slowly and carefully across the parking space, and Manuel had to hurry to move his bike out of the way. And then suddenly, seemingly from out of nowhere, a dozen children surrounded the van, noisy and happy, reaching for their treats. Pepe bought an ice cream cone for himself, and a double for Frida.
And there the ice cream van sat, for an entire month.
All is well on the Planet of Poets.
Two Scoops Strawberry, Please!
But was it really that simple? Well, let's see...
Frida came back the next day and asked Yayoi to move her ice cream van. Yayoi politely declined.
"Oh, I think I'll stay right here for now, Frida!" she said.
And then the next day Frida asked again. But this time she brought Yayoi a freshly baked apple pie, still warm. Yayoi was delighted with the pie! It would taste so delicious with vanilla ice cream, and she had lots! She thanked Frida for the pie and then told her...
"I think I'll stay right here."
And the day after that, Frida walked up to the ice cream van again. But this time Yayoi's not inside! Frida looked all around and then quickly jumped into the driver's seat. She was ready to push the starter button when all of a sudden the van's cheery musical chimes started to ring! Frida looked around frantically trying to find a way to turn them off. But within a minute the van was surrounded by dozens of children, all asking her for ice cream at the same time.
Well, what else could she do? She started scooping.
And when Yayoi showed up an hour later, Frida was handing a triple scoop ice cream cone to the last little boy.
"Thanks, Frida!" Yayoi said. "You're the best!" And then she handed Frida an ice cream cone.
Yes, it was just that simple.
A month later, the ice cream van rolled away and the parking space was just a memory.
Out of a Job
Before Yayoi came to live on the Planet of Poets, she was a doctor. She took care of very sick people, and sometimes they died.
She was a very good doctor and she cared very much about her patients. Her patients loved her! But sometimes her help just wasn't enough. Sometimes there was nothing anyone could do.
And one day, not even for herself.
When Yayoi was a doctor she wished that everyone in the world would suddenly, by magic or miracle, be healthy. Healthy, stong, fit and happy. In a blink of an eye, a snap of the fingers. Everyone.
Yayoi dreamed about how wonderful it would be!
Pen Gliding over Napkin
A lot of artists live on the Planet of Poets. And most of them visit their neighborhood coffee house, café, or pizza place regularly, religiously, or at least occasionally. And Pepe has noticed how much everyone seems to enjoy...
Drawing on napkins!
And not just artists! It's a people thing, Pepe guesses. He likes to doodle on paper napkins, too. It helps him think. And it just feels good.
Why do people do this? There's plenty of paper and notepads and notebooks and sketchbooks all around, everywhere, all the time. But there's just something about how a ball point pen feels as it glides over the textured surface of the napkin. It's very satisying.
Napkin art is often proudly displayed on the walls of coffee houses, and some of the best can be found at the very popular POP Napkin Art Gallery, often ornamented with coffee stains, or lipstick smudges, or chocolate fingerprints.
When Yayoi arrived on the Planet of Poets, little white haiku card in hand, there was nothing she wanted more than to have her own ice cream van and drive it all around the neighborhoods and parks. And she often gives away as much ice cream as she sells! She loves her new job, and everyone loves her.
She has very fond memories of the ice cream van that used to frequent her neighborhood when she was a little girl, although her parents strictly limited how much ice cream she could have. Her mother was a doctor, and her father was a dentist.
Vanilla almond toffee toasted coconut bar, anyone? Mmmmmm...
Two, please! Well, I have two hands, don't I?
A Great Day
Lots of writers live on the Planet of Poets. They love to write and they write a lot! They write enthusiastically about everything and anything, in notebooks or notepads or scraps of paper, or even on the palm of their hand and up their arm, if they accidentally left their notebook at home and suddenly got an inspiration.
But one thing you won't find writing on is...
No writing, slogan, or message, no sports team or favorite museum or 10K run, no advertisement or event or opinion can be found on a t-shirt, or any article of clothing, as a matter of fact.
Nope. This is the truth.
Even everyone's favorite annual event, The Planet of Poets International Cha-Cha Contest sells no t-shirts commemorating the festivities. Not even last year, when Johnny won first prize in the Little Red Fish, Age 13 and Under category.
Now, that was a great day!
A Swingin' Fish
Now, you must be thinking that the Little Red Fish, Age 13 and Under category was especially made for Johnny, just so he could win.
No, not at all!
There were 77 contestants in this category last year! 77 little red fish, some barely more than little baby fish, cha-cha-ing their hearts out.
It was magnificent! And Johnny was the best, voted Number One by an independent panel of judges, who definitely knew a swingin' fish when they saw one.
Expect the Unexpected
When Yayoi was a doctor she always wore a clean white coat. It was expected. It was professional. It was reassuring.
Now Yayoi could wear the traditional white ice cream vendor's jacket, but she doesn't. She can wear anything she wants! No more white coats for her!
So you never know what Yayoi will be that day:
A Harajuku girl,
Or Alice in Wonderland,
Or Wonder Woman,
Or Annie Oakley,
Or Glinda the Good,
Or a prom queen, a movie star, or a big pink bunny.
Lots of people like to have their picture taken standing next to her in front of her van, ice cream cone in hand.
Beryllium Boron Carbon
When Yayoi was a young girl she made a little natural history museum in a corner of the basement of her family's big house. She loved science! She placed things there that she found on her walks in the woods and on the beach: pine cones, acorns, bean pods, feathers and bird nests, shells and shark teeth. She also carefully and methodically copied the Periodic Table of Elements from the encyclopedia on notebook paper, a page for each element. She tacked them in order on the wall. She loved studying the Periodic Table. It was fascinating! It was the key to understanding all the secrets of the Universe. Well, most of them.
Even to this day she can recite the elements by heart: hydrogen, helium, lithium, beryllium, boron, carbon...
She also had a pet hamster in her museum that she kept hidden from her parents, but they eventually found out and made her return it. Her father didn't speak to her for a week.
Lighter than Air
Before Yayoi came to live on the Planet of Poets, when she was just a little girl, her mother took her to the market with her one morning. Outside, next to the bins of apples and oranges, was a man filling up red and blue and purple and orange balloons with helium and giving them away. Children stood in line with their mommies.
Yayou wanted a balloon, too! But when she asked her mother, her mother replied, "What do you want a balloon for?"
Yayoi didn't know what to say, so she stayed silent.
Years later, Yayoi knew exactly what she should have said:
"Well, Mother, I'm a little girl! I'm eight years old. Little kids like balloons. They're pretty. They're fun. They come in lots of bright colors. They're lighter than air, they're full of helium, they float, and that's cool!"
Pepe is on his way to the Coffee House this afternoon, and he sees Yayoi's ice cream van parked on the side of the road. And today there's a big bunch of bright colorful balloons tied to the side of her van, two dozen at least. She's giving them away to the children who are gathered 'round for ice cream. Everyone is having so much fun, Yayoi most of all!
Birds of the World
Now, don't get me wrong! Yayoi loved her mother very much, and her mother loved her. She was very proud of her intelligent, thoughtful, funny, talented daughter. She bought Yayoi a lot of books. And they had lots of fun together, although her mother was very busy with her doctor practice almost all the time.
Yayoi's dad bought her books, too. On her 10th birthday he took her to the neighborhood bookstore and told her that she could pick out any book she wanted! Yayoi wanted a nature book about birds, and there were many wonderful books to choose from. She looked at Birds of North America, Birds of South America, Birds of Mexico, Birds of Japan, and then she finally found it!
Birds of the World! It was the biggest book they had. It was amazing. Yayoi opened it up and admired page after page of beautiful illustrations and photographs. It was a very expensive book, but Yayoi didn't realize that. Her dad tried to convince her that Birds of North America was a nicer book, but her mind was made up. Her dad gave in and bought her the book, and she hugged him and thanked him for the wonderful gift.
Yayoi spent many happy hours with her book. She carefully and patiently copied illustrations of her favorite birds in water color and colored pencil, and she placed her paintings and drawings on the walls of her museum next to the bird nests and pinecones.
Over the years she became a skilled illustrator, and when she became a medical student her anatomical drawings were greatly admired.
When Yayoi was a young girl she carved an elephant out of a bar of snowy white soap. It was perfect! It was amazing! It looked like an ivory carving done by hands far older and more experienced than hers.
Yayoi showed her elephant carving to her friend Kathy. Kathy asked if she could have it! Yayoi was so pleased that her friend liked it so much. She handed her little soap elephant to Kathy, but she was taken aback when Kathy picked up the small carving knife on the table and started carving away. The elephant soon became a little frog.
Yayoi didn't know what to say. So, as was customary for her, she said nothing.
The next day Yayoi carved another little elephant out of a new bar of soap. If the first one was perfect, then this one was, well, perfecter! But later that day she couldn't find her elephant. It wasn't on the nightstand where she left it. She found it in the bathroom sink, much diminished - her little brother used it to wash his hands.
So Yayoi tried a third time! She picked up another bar of soap and started to carve a new elephant. But this time it just didn't seem like there was an elephant inside waiting to come out. As Yayoi carved, it became more and more like a little owl with outstretched wings.
Much to think about.
It's the Planet of Neon Lights. At night it dazzles like Las Vegas and Tokyoand Times Square, times ten thousand.
Even snails carry bright little neon shells on their backs, in glowing pink and purple and red and green. The fish glow brightly beneath the seas.
And when the sun rises in the morning and the first rays touch the ground, all becomes ordinary again. In an extraordinary way.
And the Winner Is...
Frida is judging the Planet of Poets Pumpkin Decorating Contest again this year! She's been a judge several times before, but this was the hardest year ever to choose the winner.
There were a hundred pumpkins, at least, and several acorn squash.
And one zucchini. For goodness sake.
Interestingly enough, the pumpkins are not carved, but embellished. Frida really loved the pumpkin with the big purple bow tie and the hot pink high-top sneakers, but after much thought she awarded first prize to the zucchini in the shimmering white tea-length layered organza gown with silver sequins and matching parasol.
Talk of the Town
After the contest the gown was the talk of the town! Dozens of white organza gowns were ordered, and it was not unusual to see three or four women wearing identical gowns at the same party! It was fun to take photographs of them all together, smiling and laughing.
And the three backup singers for a very popular R&B group all ordered matching white organza gowns and wore them at their latest performance. The shimmering dresses looked divine with the hot pink high top sneakers. They were a big hit!
Happy, Not Happy
Isabel and Tomas just had a big fight!
"Girls!" Tomas thought angrily to himself. "Who needs them?"
He could have gone to get a Happy Meal to make himself feel better,
But they hadn't been invented.
Frida is sitting on a bench in the park. Yayoi's ice cream van is parked across the street, not far away.
Today Yayoi is dressed up Harajuku style. She has bright pink streaks in her hair and blue tights and red and purple striped knee socks and a short red skirt and a flowery red silk kimono over everything. And layers and layers of scarves. She knows how to make it work.
Yayoi is in her van, scooping ice cream and handing delicious ice cream cones to her eager customers.
Frida is pretending to sketch in a little notebook, apparently indifferent, but she's actually studying Yayoi very, very carefully. Harajuku style? Frida is fascinated. She's seen Yayoi in Classical Lolita and Goth Loli and Pink Loli and astonishing Cosplay outfits. (And blue hair!)
Yayoi sees Frida on the bench and waves. Frida pretends not to notice. Yayoi hands over the last double chocolate ice cream cone to a tall man carrying a saxophone and he walks happily away. Then she steps out of the van and walks over to Frida and sits down beside her. They say nothing for a long time.
Finally Frida says: "Your outfit is amazing."
"Thanks Frida." Yayoi replies.
"Where can I get one like yours?" continues Frida.
"It's not you, Frida." says Yayoi.
Frida sighs and says: "You're right".
They're quiet again for a moment. Then Yayoi asks: "Do you want to come over to my place and we can try on things?"
Frida is looking far off into the distance, but her lips slowly form a smile.
Yayoi gets two pieces of bubble gum out of her panda purse and hands one to Frida. And then they're off, arm in arm, over to Yayoi's house.
Frida asks Pepe.
Pepe say no.
Frida asks Pepe.
Pepe say no.
Frida asks Pepe once again.
"No, Frida, I do NOT want you to dye my hair blue. It's not me!"
Frida sighs and says: "You're right".
Yayoi is a real wiz at sewing.
She can take ordinary clothes that she bought at Maria's thrift shop and transform them from blah to beautiful, from drab to dramatic, from everyday to WOW!
And she has so much fun!
And by popular demand Yayoi now has a collection! A line of her amazing clothes that you can buy at Maria's.
Maria is a smart girl.
Music to Her Ears
Before Sophie came to live on the Planet of Poets she took care of an old friend who was very sick. She took care of him for a long, long time.
As time went by it was harder and harder for him to walk, and to talk, or even eat and drink. Sophie had a very difficult time making sure that he drank enough water or juice. She would hand him a glass, or a cup, and he would hold it to his mouth, but he wouldn't drink a drop. Or he would leave the glass of water untouched on the table, or walk slowly into the kitchen and pour it out into the sink.
"I wish I could just water him like a plant!" Sophie laughed to herself. But she worried and worried. So she gave him water-filled foods: big juicy grapes and sweet apple slices, because he would eat these.
She explained, cajoled, and pleaded, and then would sadly shake her head and look away in defeat. But then... sometimes... she would hear a beautiful thing:
Music to her ears.
Convinced of its Sweetness
There was a story in a book written many years ago about a little boy and his cherry lollypop. After taking it out of his mouth he accidentally dropped it on the ground. Tragedy! His mother reached into her purse and took out a new lollypop, but when she handed it to him, he refused it. Convinced of the sweetness of the first lollypop, he would have no other. He was inconsolable.
Anna loves music. She lives and breathes music! She plays the violin, and the harpsichord, and flute. She's given many fine performances over the years, and she loves to go to concerts as well.
And there was one particular performance she heard, a very special performance of the Goldberg Variations played on harpsichord by Gustav Leonhardt. After that, convinced of its sweetness, she would hear no other.
She was inconsolable.
Lighting a Candle
Frida received a candle as a gift. Not the usual kind of candle made of wax with a wick and a flame, but something new: a "flameless" candle.
It's a chubby white plastic cylinder, and it has a little battery inside. If you flick a little switch on the bottom of the candle, it lights up and even flickers, almost like a real candle.
Almost. But not quite.
Frida didn't find it quite convincing. But still there was something unusually comforting about the little flickering light. At night she flicked the little switch and the candle flickered warmly on the nightstand beside her bed. She kept it on all night, even while she slept, and turned it off when she got out of bed in the morning.
And this candle lasted a long time! It flickered brightly night after night. But after several nights Frida noticed that maybe it wasn't quite as bright. And the next night it was a little fainter, and the night after, fainter still. It flickered dimly, quietly. And Frida knew that it would soon die.
And she was strangely sad. There was something about the soft, faint flicker that was so, so sad.
Ben remembers the first time he heard Glassworks by the composer Philip Glass. He had never heard anything like it before. And it reminded him, in a way, of Bach's Goldberg Variations. Especially the Opening and Closing.
And the Closing - there was something about it that was so strangely sad. So wonderfully, beautifully sad.
It was like