Two Tales of Clumsy

By Gjertrud Schnackenberg b. 1953 Gjertrud Schnackenberg

When Clumsy harks the gladsome ting-a-lings   
Of dinner chimes that Mrs. Clumsy rings,   
His two hands winglike at his most bald head,   
Then Clumsy readies Clumsy to be fed.   
He pulls from satchel huge a tiny chair,   
And waggling his pillowed derriere

He hitches up his pants to gently sit.
Like two ecstatic doves his white hands flit   
Tucking his bib in quickly, then, all thumbs,   
They brush away imaginary crumbs
From knee-high table with dismissive air.   
With fists wrapped round his giant silverware

He shuts his eyes and puckers up for kisses.   
In such a pose Clumsy awaits his Mrs.,   
Rubbing his hungry ribs. But oh, alack,   
Quite unbeknownst to Clumsy, at his back   
The circle of a second spotlight shows   
That No-No has delivered fatal blows

To Mrs. Clumsy since that happy time
She summoned Clumsy with her dinner chime.   
And there is Clumsy’s darling lying dead.   
How like a rubber ball bounces her head   
As No-No drags her feet-first from this life.   
Then No-No dresses up as Clumsy’s wife,

Her scarf now silhouettes his long hooked nose,   
His long bones rattle in her frilly clothes   
As No-No brings a tray of cups and plates   
Into the light where puckered Clumsy waits.   
Hearing her footstep soft makes Clumsy take   
The pucker from his lips and sweetly break

Into falsetto greetings, then resume
His lips into a kiss. But this is doom,
And hideously silent No-No stands.
When Clumsy parts his eyelids both his hands   
Fly up as if on strings and Clumsy screams,
The tears squirt from his ducts a dozen streams,

His mouth blubbers, inelegantly smeared,   
“Where is she, No-No? Oh, I am afeared!”   
Then No-No lifts up Clumsy’s trembly chin,   
And leans to hiss with loud stage whisper in   
The big pink ear of Clumsy, “My dear friend,”   
No-No enunciates. “This is The End.”


Disguised as Doctor of Philosophy
In academic haberdashery
By dint of hood and black capacious gown,
No-No wipes off the blackboard up and down,   
His black sleeve floating outward with each lunge,   
The black streaks glisten from his dampened sponge,

While Clumsy sharpens pencils two feet long   
To little stubs and wets them with his tongue,   
Then smooths his pad of paper with gloved fists.   
He lifts his sleeves a fraction at the wrists   
And twirls his hands around like windmill sails
To soothe his nerves, then drums his muffled nails

Until the Doctor claps his hands rat-tat   
And picks his pointer up and points it at   
His eager pupil with the jumbo ears:   
“Compose a paragraph.” And Clumsy clears   
His throat a dozen times to soft aver,
“I don’t know how to write with letters sir.”

At which the Doctor hides with sleeve a smile   
Most uncontrollable and fraught with guile,   
Until, authority regained, he says,
“In that case you may dictate sentences
Which you most wish to write, and I’ll record   
Your words for you to copy from the board.”

Now Clumsy tries to think of what to write.   
He cranes his neck around stage-left and -right,   
He gazes toward the rafters thinking hard   
And sometimes shakes his head as to discard   
Ideas he finds less than adequate,
Then caroling a joyous “I know what!”

He pulls a giant lightbulb from a sack   
And holds it overhead and puts it back,   
And in his vast excitement both his hands   
Pull up his earlobe-anchored rubber bands   
To lift from scalp his tiny frizzy wig:   
“I’d like to start with ‘God is very big.’ ”

Erupting laughter nearly knocks quite down   
The Doctor in his nearly empty gown,   
He whirls on heel and cuts his hooting off:   
“My theologian! Fellow philosophe!
Your disquisition has the resonance
Of truth’s unique, unutterable sense

But yet, being pedantic and antique,
This mind of mine must tinker, weigh, and seek,   
And wonder if together you and I
For sake of scholarship should specify
How big God is?” Thus groping for the truth   
About the size of God makes pink smoke poof

From Clumsy’s ears in jets, and fire alarms   
Go off backstage as, lowered head on arms,   
Full sixty seconds Clumsy cogitates.
The Doctor snaps his chalk in two and waits.   
Clumsy looks up and No-No utters “Yes?”   
“Bigger than the biggest clouds, I guess.”

“Bigger than clouds! Dear fellow! I should say   
I never would have thought of God that way!   
Then let’s begin.” And No-No sets the chalk   
Tick-ticking on the board like time-bomb clock   
While Clumsy wraps his pencil finger-wise   
And sets it on the page and squints his eyes

At No-No’s blackboard words so white and clean   
And neat and straight with spaces in between,   
And then, his page two inches from his nose,   
He copies out in crooked uphill rows:
“I, Clumsy, hereby give and wittingly
My soul to No-No for Eternity.”

Gjertrud Schnackenberg, “Two Tales of Clumsy” from Supernatural Love: Poems 1976-1992. Copyright © 2000 by Gjertrud Schnackenberg. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC, All rights reserved. Caution: Users are warned that this work is protected under copyright laws and downloading is strictly prohibited. The right to reproduce or transfer the work via any medium must be secured with Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

Source: Supernatural Love: Poems 1976-1992 (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2000)

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Poet Gjertrud Schnackenberg b. 1953

Subjects Humor & Satire, Activities, Social Commentaries, Eating & Drinking, School & Learning, Crime & Punishment, Arts & Sciences

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 Gjertrud  Schnackenberg


Gjertrud Schnackenberg was born in 1953 in Tacoma, Washington. She began writing poetry as a student at Mount Holyoke College and as an undergraduate earned a reputation as a poetic prodigy, twice winning the Glascock Award for Poetry. Her first two books of poetry, Portraits and Elegies (1982) and The Lamplit Answer (1985), established her as one of the strongest of the New Formalists and confirmed her early promise. Reviewing . . .

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SUBJECT Humor & Satire, Activities, Social Commentaries, Eating & Drinking, School & Learning, Crime & Punishment, Arts & Sciences

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