A heron came to rent the pond;
I suspected his motive;
Stately and calm, each plume like a frond,
Posing the question, he posed, unemotive.
The current tenants — being koi
Renting the current — not to be coy —
In circumstances might decease
Were I to sign, O Bird, this lease
Without a commensal “desist and cease.”
The next one who called made a cryptic remark:
“I come from haunts of coot and hern”;
He phoned from the shore, but arrived after dark,
Proving to be, not a heron, but hearn —
(Lafcadio Hearn) Samébito, the Sharkman;
Banished to land for [inaudible] penance,
He longed to rejoin the Dragon Kings below;
The palace in the offing, Ryu-gu-jo,
Had risen to the prodigal with clemency,
And he had leaped
But what I needed to know
Was why he had left his oceanic tenancy.
Gills may well enhance a bubbling eloquence;
He burbled and flowed with overtones of splash,
Some bits of froth, and just a hint of flash
From emerald eyes and lips of amarillo tints;
“All sublet,” he asserted, “Nothing was rash”;
With tears that turned to rubies, he’d pay cash.
I was almost convinced, for certainly a reference
From any Dragon King would warrant deference;
What warned that he was playing me for a fool?
The occupancy clause: Who’d share the pool?
Q: Just you?
A: Us, two.
Q: Same species?
A: No, not mated.
Q: Hybrid, you mean?
A: Chimerical, unrelated.
And then I saw her, waiting for him, that floozy,
Dripping with jewels and seaweed of her trade,
The tavern mermaid, whose brazen flips displayed
Unmitigated gall in the jacuzzi.
NOTES for Students of English
Might decease – Not a typographical error for “decrease,” but the verb “to decease” which is usually legal jargon, and is almost always used in modern colloquial English in the past tense as a noun, “the deceased” — a euphemistic synonym for “the dead person.”
O Bird – “O” as a vocative is used in religious and poetic contexts, and has a loftier, more formal tone than “Oh.”
Commensal – Relating to those who habitually eat together; a biological relationship in which one organism obtains food from another without damaging or benefiting it.
Desist and cease – The usual legal phrase is “cease and desist.”
“I come from haunts of coot and hern” – The opening line of a poem “The Brook” by Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892); the first stanza is:
I come from haunts of coot and hern,
I make a sudden sally,
And sparkle out among the fern,
To bicker down a valley.
Hearn – A 17th century spelling of “heron.”
Lafcadio Hearn – (1850-1904) An outstanding interpreter of Japanese culture and literature to the West; his versions of Japanese folk tales are considered classics.
Samébito – (Pronounced sa-may-bee-toe) “Sharkman” from the Japanese samé “shark” and hito “person; one of the major characters in Hearn’s tale, “The Gratitude of the Samébito.” He is described as having the shape of a man, a hide as black as ink, eyes as green as emeralds, and a beard like a dragon’s. The Sharkman is an officer of the court of the Eight Great Dragon Kings, serving in their Palace under the sea. When he is exiled to land for a minor offense, he is taken in by a kind stranger who offers him his backyard pond for a residence. It so happens that the Sharkman’s blood-red tears turn into rubies when they fall, and this enables him to repay his human benefactor. To gather a sufficient quantity for a gift, the Sharkman deliberately becomes drunk and weepy while sitting on a bridge, gazing out to sea. The Palace of the Dragon Kings rises to the surface in an offshore vision, announcing a general amnesty, and the Sharkman leaps joyfully off the bridge to return to his former home.
Ryu-gu-jo – (Pronounced ryuu-goo-joe, “goo” as in “gooey”) In Japanese literally “dragon court castle,” the Palace of the Dragon Kings under the sea is a frequent setting for Japanese fairy tales. (Ryu-gu without the “jo” is also used to denote the Dragon Kings’ underwater palace.)
English-speaking fans of classic Japanese movies might recall the word jo “castle” in the title of Akira Kurosawa’s screen version of Macbeth, “The Castle of the Spider’s Web,” Kumono-su-jo, literally “spider’s web castle.” (The movie is also widely known as “Throne of Blood.”)
Amarillo – (Pronounced a-ma-RILL-o) Yellow.
“Q: Same species? A: No, not mated.” – In general, members of one biological species cannot breed with members of another species.
Chimerical – From chimera, an imaginary creature made up of incongruous parts; in Greek mythology, the Chimera had a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a serpent’s tail; in biology, a chimera is an individual consisting of diverse genetic material such as a grafted tree; the alternative spelling, chimaera, refers to a member of a family of marine elasmobranch fishes, Chimaeridae, that includes the ghost shark.
Tavern mermaid – From the Mermaid Tavern, a famous meeting place for writers and poets in 17th-century London. The tavern is celebrated in poems by Ben Jonson (“Inviting a Friend to Supper”), Francis Beaumont (“Mr. Francis Beaumont’s Letter to Ben Jonson”), John Keats (“Lines on the Mermaid Tavern”), Robert Browning (“At the Mermaid”), Alfred Noyes (“Tales of the Mermaid Tavern”), and Osip Mandelshtam (“Madrigal”).