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Thursday, December 29, 2011


by Ed Shacklee

In a land without hope, in an exclusive club
Where they cast gilded buckets of pearls before swine,
A judge was enjoying a warm shoulder rub
From a fat, happy banker who’d come there to dine,

While the banker was having his ample back patted
By a newly bought hand puppet up for election.
The banker, named Bags, remarked as they chatted,
“Let’s start with the snails — there’s a lively selection;

“And they're lovely to look at by candlelight
From these elegant candles by candlestick makers.
They were sliced up by butchers till ever so slight
And baked in their shells to perfection by bakers.”

“Oh, no!  Not the snails!” cried the judge.  “Not again,
Though I simply adore them in garlic and cream;
For last night during dinner I ate nine or ten,
And afterwards dreamed the most terrible dream.”

“A terrible dream!” gasped the banker, all ears.
“I, too, dreamed a terrible dream — it was awful.
Were the snails or my conscience the cause?  It appears
That one or the other one wasn’t quite lawful.”

“Rest easy,” the judge said, “the law is your friend:
As history shows, it’s no crime to have money;
Nor a crime to be poor — so, at least, we pretend.
Thinking back, I believe that those snails tasted funny.

“In my dream,” said the judge, “every cell in my jail
Wasn’t filled to the rafters with blacks and Hispanics,
But with Fortune’s Five Hundred, whose faces were pale,
In the pokey for creating financial panics.

“This once, the Five Hundred, it seems, had been caught
Red-handed while pilfering candy from babies
And pensions from grannies: I’d have freed the whole lot,
But the rabble reacted as if they had rabies.

“The law would have deemed it a small peccadillo,
But by voting the crowd took the law in their hands,
And threatened to string them all up in a willow
If they didn’t give back all their wages and lands.

“As I rode on that mare through the wildest of nights
I passed little people round circles of drums,
So many the cops couldn't trample their rights —
And none heard my cry of 'Imprison the bums!'”

“How strange,” said the banker, “I dreamed the same dream,
Where I lost every cent for perverting the laws,
And the meek got the earth: I awoke with a scream.
A good thing a surfeit of snails was the cause.”

“What else could it be but a surfeit of snails?"
Sniffed the judge: “For their wealth shows the rich are deserving.
To throw them in jails turns things head over tails,
That unbearable, terrible dream was unnerving.”

So the judge and the banker ate hummingbird tongues
With a blubber purée from the last pod of whales,
Plus arty choked hearts served on miner's black lungs;
But they never, no, never again ordered snails.

Ed Shacklee is a public defender who represents young people in the District of Columbia.  His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in 14 by 14, The Flea, Light Quarterly and The Raintown Review.