Category Archives: kids

Horatio T. Dogg… Canto 14

Reichenbach Falls

Bobby and his book were perched in the rocking chair on the porch with Horatio curled up on the rug by his feet.  The reading lamp was on, but otherwise the porch was mostly dark.  Dad and Grandpa had finished closing the porch-window shutters over an hour earlier.  Thunder rumbled eerily somewhere out in the dark of the early evening.

“It sure is spooky out there,” said Shane from his seat in the darkness around the porch sofa.

“It’s just a summer thunderstorm,” said Bobby, turning a page.

“Whatcha readin’?”

“Sherlock Holmes.”

 “Oh?  What’s the story called?”

“The Final Problem.”

“Is that a good one?”

“No.  Sherlock fights Professor Moriarty at a waterfall in Switzerland called Reichenbach Falls.  They both go over the edge and fall to their deaths.”

“Sherlock dies?”  Shane sounded genuinely alarmed.

“Yeah.  But he’s not real.  And he comes back to life.  The Hound of the Baskervilles happens after this story.”

“Oh.”  Shane sounded relieved.

Then the place was briefly white with light from outside, and the thunderstrike that followed almost instantly meant that lightning had hit something nearby.  ProbaHbly the lightning rod on the barn’s cupola.

But Bobby and Shane both jumped as the electricity went out, leaving them in inky blackness.  A few seconds later, the lights were on again.

“What was that!?” Shane practically screeched.

“From the ozone smell in the air, I surmise that lightning struck nearby.  Close enough to cause a brief power outage via electromagnetic pulse.”  Horatio looked calm and unconcerned as he said it.

“Horatio says that the lightning struck the barn and caused the electricity to go out for a moment.”


“I don’t wish to alarm anyone, but I smell rats out and about,” said Horatio.

“Professor Rattiarty?” asked Bobby.

“What?” said Shane.

“Yes, but not alone.  He has the corpse of a poisoned rat with him.  Possibly Darktail Ralph.  He probably wants to tempt me to poison myself.”

“You won’t eat the dead rat, will you?”

“No!  Yuck!  I don’t want to eat any dead rats!” remarked Shane loudly and with disgust.

“I concur with your brother.  I will not be eating any rats tonight either.  Rattiarty is himself filled with rat poison.”

“What?  Rattiarty is poisoned but not dead?”

“What… what?” gasped Shane.  “Are you talking to Horatio again?”

“Rats often ingest poison slowly enough that, instead of slaying them, they become immune to it.”

“What are we gonna do if the rats are now immune to poison?”

“They are?  Bobby?  What is Horatio telling you?”

“What are you telling me, Horatio?”

“Professor Rattiarty is out there now in the storm.  He’s out of evil minions and wants to challenge me to a final battle.”

“Horatio says Professor Rattiarty wants a final showdown now.”

“The evil rat is out there in the storm?”

“He is.”

“Bobby, if you open the porch door for me, I must answer the rat’s challenge.”

“Now?  In the storm?”

“Yes.  If not now, then never.  My aged body is soon to give out, and I would not let that evil rat continue to threaten the Niland family that I have loved for so long, and who loves me in return.”

Bobby put Sherlock Holmes aside and rose from the rocking chair.

“Bobby, why are you crying?  What did the dog say?”

“Not now, Shane.”

Bobby moved to the porch door.  He opened the screen door inward and the storm door outward against the wind and the driving rain.

“Bobby!  What are you doing?”

Horatio leaped up and bolted out of door as a lightning strike illuminated everything with a burning blue-white light.

Bobby thought he saw the rat scampering across the farmyard as the light faded to blackness.

Shane, terrified, jumped out into the downpour.

“Horatio!  Come back, doggie!”

Bobby, too, went out in the rain.  Straining his eyes to try to find Horatio and the rat he was chasing.  He could see nothing.  A car out on the gravel country road had its brights on as it barrelled along towards Highway 69 going much faster than it should in the rain.

“Horatio!  Come back, it’s not safe!” Shane screamed, crying as he shouted it.

Grandpa Butch was suddenly directly behind Bobby.

“What’s going on?  Why are you boys out in the storm?”

“It’s Horatio and the rat.”

“Shane!  Come back to the house!”

“Grandpa, Horatio is out here in the rain somewhere!  Bobby let him out the front door!”

A car horn blared.  Brakes screeched.  Bobby thought he heard a sickening thump out there on the gravel road.  And the car skidded to a stop in the dark and the rain.

“Oh, god, no!  Shane!” 

Grandpa ran toward the car.  Bobby followed right behind.  As they drew near the stopped car, they heard Shane crying as if he were heartbroken.

“Shane!  Are you all right?”

“Grandpa, it’s Horatio.”

“Butch, I am sorry,” said Mr. Beetle Jones, out of the car and kneeling by the lump of soaked fur on the gravel road, illuminated by the headlights.

Bobby’s stomach quivered, leading to an uncontrolled string of chest-constricting sobs.

  “Ah, Horatio.  You have been a good and faithful friend,” said Butch Niland wearily as he kneeled down and petted the badly damaged body.

“Is he…?  Is he dead?”

“I’m sorry, boys.  He was an old dog.  It is a blessing that it was over quickly.  It means his life won’t end in prolonged suffering.”

“Bobby, how could you?” cried Shane.  “It’s your fault!  You and your dumb old imagination.  You shoulda never let him out of that door.” Bobby could take no more.  He lit out for the house as fast as he could run.  The lightning and thunder lent drama and illuminated his path.

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Horatio T. Dogg… Canto 13

Rat Poison

Bobby had always been amazed at the calm, easy-going way that Grandpa Butch handled a crisis.  He had examined Horatio himself when he had first learned of the eating of a part of Whitewhiskers Billy’s poisoned corpse.

He had then called the vet in Belle City.  They put a couple of soft but old blankets in the back of the red pickup and then driven Horatio to see his doggy-doctor while Bobby and Shane rode in the back to keep Horatio calm and safe.

The doctor had checked him over carefully, determining that the dog probably had not eaten enough of the poisoned rat to get any of the poison in his own system.  So, they gave Horatio some precautionary anti-coagulant injections, induced some vomiting, forced a bit of activated charcoal into him, and then, knowing Horatio would be better tended back home at the Niland farm than he ever would be in the Belle City animal hospital, sent him home.

“So, they’re sure that Horatio’s not gonna die?”  Shane asked on the ride back home.

“Pretty sure, yeah.  It’ll be our job to make sure he doesn’t eat any more poisoned rats.  And we have to tell Grandpa if he vomits again, or shows any more symptoms.”

“Yeah, that makin’ the dog vomit thing was sure icky.”

“But it got rid of any poison still in his stomach, Shane.”

Bobby put one hand on Shane’s shoulder as he continued to stroke the fur on Horatio’s neck with the other hand.  Shane had both hands deeply buried in Horatio’s brown-and-white fur coat.

“So, did Professor Rattiarty win this round?” Shane asked.

“No, he didn’t,” said Horatio confidently.  “He meant to kill me with this poison-eating ploy.  And we made him fail.”

“Horatio said he didn’t because Horatio is still alive.”

“Oh, that’s good.”


Rattiarty glared at Darktail Ralph.

“Don’t look at me.  It isn’t my fault the damned dog didn’t eat enough of Billy to do the job!”

“Well, we just have to try again.”

“Not that way.  There has to be some other plan.  Something that works better.”

“This plan will work if you eat more of the poison.  Saturate your system with toxins to make the dosage more lethal!”

“But there are only two of us left!  Why should I be the one to sacrifice myself?  Why don’t you let Horatio eat you?  You have a lot more poison in you than I have in me.”

“It may come to that if you fail too.”

Ralph snarled at the Professor.  “I won’t even try.  You can’t make me do it!”

“We shall see about that.”

Rattiarty made the first lunge, going for Ralph’s throat.

Ralph was a veteran rat-warrior, however, and still very quick to dodge.  He had the advantage of youth over Rattiarty, as the Professor was quite old for a rat.

As Rattiarty’s attempt at grabbing Ralph with teeth in his throat, the old rat’s superior strategy came into play.  The lunge having missed, the Professor snagged the right nostril of Ralph’s nose with one claw.  He ripped the skin all the way up to the Darktail’s right eye. 

Blood half-blinded Ralph.

Rattiarty built on that advantage to swing his thin body up onto Darktail Ralph’s back. Stabbing rat teeth descended on Ralph’s neck, gouging into his spinal cord and effectively paralysing him.  In mere moments more, the head was off, and Rattiarty was alone, but ready to drag the poison-filled body to some place where Horatio T. Dogg would see it and eat it.

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Horatio T. Dogg… Canto 12

About a Dog and His Boys

“I love you, Horatio.  You are my only true friend in the world.” Said Bobby while giving the old collie a tight hug around the neck.

“I may only be your brother, but I like to think I’m your friend too,” said Shane, sitting on the opposite side of Horatio.

“Well, yeah… but you’re the stinky little brother.  That’s not the same as the kind of friend that a dog can be.”

“That is very true, a dog is faithful one hundred percent,” said Horatio.  “But don’t forget.  Shane is my boy too.  All the members of your family are thoroughly and equally loved by your faithful dog and rat-detective.”

“Well, of course, that is true too,” said Bobby.

“What is?  Are you talking to yourself again?” asked Shane.

“No.  Answering Horatio.”

“Oh.  Right.  The talking dog.”

Bobby punched Shane on the shoulder behind Horatio’s back.

“Really, I find the dog to be the perfect person to tell all my troubles to too,” Shane continued. “But Horatio is not our only friend.  There are others too.”

“You don’t see what it’s like in school.  They pick on me constantly.  That’s where the whole Bedwetter Bob nickname came from.”

“But Mike Murphy doesn’t call you that, does he?”

“Well, no… not frequently anyway.”

“And Blueberry Bates… she’s like your girlfriend almost.”

“No.  She’s Mike’s girlfriend.”

“But you like her a lot, too… right?”

“Well, I…”

“And you saw her naked when you were both swans and you had to take the feathers off when you got back home.”

“No, I didn’t see her naked.  Never did.  Never would.”

“What?  You had your clothes on under the swan feathers?”

“No, but… Well, we both sorta passed out when we got back home from that winter flight.”

“And you woke up with your clothes on?”

“Um… yeah.”

“Who put the clothes on your naked bodies?”

“No one did.  Um, Blueberry says that probably it was maybe only our dream-selves, or maybe our astral bodies that turned into swans.  And when we woke up, we were both back in our normal bodies.”

Shane grinned like he didn’t believe a word of it.  Of course, there were a lot of things about the whole fairy-spell thing that didn’t ring completely true.  Sometimes, when you tell yourself stories a lot, you may have convinced yourself that a good story was true even though, deep inside, you knew it wasn’t completely true.

“Why would it matter to you if I’ve seen Blueberry naked anyway?”

“Well, you know… she has… um… boy parts.  I wonder what they look like.”

“You should never wonder about something like that.  It’s her private business.  And if I ever had the chance to look… well, I wouldn’t, okay?”

“Did you ever have the chance?”

“I don’t think so.  But that doesn’t matter.  She and Mike are my good friends.  And he loves her.  I can’t argue with that.”

“Even if you loved her too?”

“Even if… Wait!  Now you’re invading my privacy!”

“Okay!  Sorry… sorry.”

They didn’t talk for a few minutes.  Bobby just glared at Shane.  When Bobby looked away, he still didn’t say anything more.

“My, that was certainly tense,” said Horatio, blowing smoke rings from his imaginary pipe.

“I guess I do love her too… as a friend,” Bobby whispered.

“Of course, you do,” Shane answered softly.

“Look, I see a rat!” barked Horatio.

“Where?” asked Bobby.

“There!” said Shane, pointing.

It was apparently Whitewhiskers Billy.  He was sorta stumbling through the yard like he was drunk or something.

“Rabies?“ asked Shane.

“Poison,” assured Bobby.

Horatio, in his eagerness to get the intruder, pushed hard through the screen door, and would have broken it if it didn’t luckily open outward instead of inward.

As speedy as Horatio had ever been for as long as they had known the old dog, he now closed on the fleeing rat and swatted it onto its back.   Then he grabbed it by the throat, and he shook the life out of it

“Bobby, Grandpa poisoned the rats.”

“Yeah, so?”

“So, if he eats it, won’t he get poisoned too?”

In a flash, Bobby was out of the screen porch and out to where Horatio was dismembering Whitewhiskers Billy.  The rat died with a snort.  Bobby pulled  Horatio off of most of what was left of the dead rat.

There was blood on Horatio’s muzzle. He swallowed something. Bobby dreaded to think of what it might have been.

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Horatio T. Dogg… Canto 11

The Evil that is the Rat Lair

It is located in the deepest, darkest place in the very heart of the barn.  Underneath the pig-chow storage bin.  Down where it smells like wet grain, festering and percolating with evil.

Professor Rattiarty, Whitewhiskers Billy, and Darktail Ralph were the only remaining rats in the gang.  The cat was banished for now.  And it was all right according to the ways of evil rats.  You see, those three truly vile rodents had founded the gang, built the lair out of an old packing crate located under all the sacks of food and supplements.  They had also all three participated in chewing out the tunnels through the wooden walls and sacks of feed.

“How do you know they built the place, Bobby?  That’s not something that Horatio’s nose can tell by smell.”  Shane squinted in mock suspicion.

“I just know it… okay?  Horatio and me figured it all out a long time ago.  Now, listen!”

Professor Rattiarty called the meeting to order with a snarl as the three were in a circle around the pan of strange green food that Darktail Ralph had discovered on the other side of a wall.

“It has the old grandfather’s smell on it.  It is something he must’ve left in the barn,” said Ralph.

“Is it food?  Can we eat it?  Maybe it’s his lunch and he left it here for later,” said Billy.

“No, no. It is obviously poison,” said the Professor.

“How do you know?  It smells like food,” said Ralph.

“Do you not smell something slightly off about it?  It has a faint hint of strange potions they use around their wheeled things.  It has the look and odor of things that proved to be poison before when the old man plotted against us.”

“Oh!  In that case, we must not eat of it.  Leave it where we discovered it.  Maybe the old man will eat it himself.”  Billy’s eyes sparkled as he knew he had to be right.

“The old man is not so dumb that he would ingest his own poison.  He is much too careful for that.  We just don’t eat it!” declared Ralph.

“Gentlerats, don’t misunderstand me… as you do so at your own peril… but we WILL partake of this poisonous food.”

“But why, Professor?”  complained Billy.

“Because that is how we will defeat this trap.  We ingest barely enough of it to make ourselves slightly sick.  We will, in this way, make ourselves resistant to the poison over time.  In fact, we made ourselves immune back in the old days.”

“But what if we get too much poison, by accident, say…?”  Billy complained with hesitation.

“Then you will die a horrible, painful death,” sneered Ralph.

“But if you do make the mistake, dear William of the White Whiskers, you must drag yourself out of the barn where Horatio T. Dogg will smell you, pounce on you, and eat you.”

Ralph and the Professor both laughed.  Billy was confused.

“Why do I let the dog eat me?”

“Because you will be full of poison in that case, and it will kill the dog,” sneered Ralph./

“Kill Horatio with the old man’s own poison!” crooned the Professor, his voice dripping with menace.

“Let’s dig in,” said Ralph.

“But slowly… carefully…” suggested the Professor.  “You don’t want it to kill you if you can help it.”

“Very true,” said Ralph while crunching up the poison gingerly in his mouth.

“Ummm, this actually tastes good!” said Billy.

“Don’t eat it so fast you fool,” said the Professor.

“Wow!” said Shane to Bobby.  “You tell that story like it was a cartoon show on TV.”

“Thanks, but it’s just the way Horatio told it to me,” said Bobby with a grin.

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I Really Kinda Like That Kid

As a retired school teacher who retired for health reasons, I have a limit to how much I can teach. As I substitute, mostly for teachers who planned on being out for in-service training or special educational meetings, I can usually only do two jobs a week. That limits the number of kids you have contact with, especially the more gifted and talented sorts of kids. But that doesn’t really matter much. As a regular classroom teacher I always focused more on making connections with kids, especially the challenging ones. My two jobs this week consisted of sixth grade Science all day on Tuesday, and seventh grade AVID classes on Thursday.

Sixth graders are the rabid squirrel monkeys of the middle-school monkey-house. They are the ones who jump around the most, scream at each other the most, and swing from the light fixtures the most. And if you think of it as being only metaphorically true, you don’t really know much about sixth graders and modern education.

But the coach I was subbing for is very good at discipline. He gave them an article on the organ systems of the human body and told them to to use the annotation marks on his close-reading poster. Now, you and I both know that coaches don’t really walk sixth graders through note-taking and reading-comprehension drills regularly. There’s a reason coaches are more likely to teach Science, History, or even Math before taking on English or Language Arts teaching assignments.

So, I did a quick-teach using the two-page article on how to circle key words, underline main idea sentences, and how to do a SWBS (Somebody-Wanted-But-So Charts) analysis to summarize the article. They, of course, did not do that before in science class, or even in English that they could remember. I basically simplified his fifty-minute busy-work assignment into a simple twenty-minute reading assignment that would take the slow readers longer. So, I had to occupy the smart, quick, and evil kids with something else while I helped the stragglers finish. I drew a cartoon rabbit, a cartoon duck, and a Disney-esque Goofy on the white board, challenging them to copy it.

I got to work one-on-one with several slow readers. Xavier, a hyper, mouthy kid who had dyslexia was tickled pink to learn he could pick out and put together key words and main ideas. He was unable to write the summary, but he annotated correctly, possibly for the first time ever. And that was a break-through for him. I subbed with him in other classes where he was one of the awfullest chandelier swingers, so that connection made a huge difference for him for at least fifty minutes of his school life. Malik the Mouth who never does anything but insult the others, and gives somebody else’s name to the sub when he gets in trouble, actually kept his bargain with me from the last time he was baby-sat by me. He stayed in his seat and kept working all period. The only time I had to make him give me his name was at the end of class so I could leave a good-job note for the coach after class ended. I actually like those sorts of kids who other subs routinely blow up at and send out of class. Xavier and Malik (possibly not their actual names) are both a hoot to teach. And they help add to my list of funny classroom anecdotes when they lose control and get in trouble with me. I always try to turn those into teachable moments.

But when the coach came in at the end of his smartest class, saw everybody was done, and saw cartoons on his board, he got mad at them. I had to take the blame for them and explain why they were not simply blowing the assignment off and playing around. Coaches don’t usually understand that classroom learning can be fun.

Thursday I was subbing for AVID classes again. These are special classes where at-risk kids are put in college-prep courses and treated like gifted kids. The program is misused as a warehouse for failing discipline-problem kids by this school district. But the Field Middle School has their act together for this program. The kids were working with college-level education students as tutors, and had to fill out self-examination forms that evaluated how they were doing in working with their tutors.

These are well-trained, smart, and seriously funny kids. Xochitl (an Aztec name pronounced ZOACHIE for a Hispanic girl that I have suprisingly encountered more than once in Texas) was a giftred complainer and procrastinator who was too lazy to lift a pencil, yet did the actual work in a few short minutes when she finally got around to it. She had time to tell the kids at her table, one of the tutors, and me about a time when she knocked the head off of a cucaracha (a cockroach who speaks Spanish) and tried to wait for an entire day for it to finally die so she could pick it up and flush it. The thing is, a cockroach only needs its head to eat with and see with. It is perfectly fine otherwise until it starves to death or gets eaten by a rat. So, when she went to pick it up with salad tongs, it was still alive and wiggly. She pantomimed how she threw the thing across the kitchen in surprise, and when it landed in the sink, she nailed it with the garbage disposal. This girl is a gifted story-teller. She had us all laughing. And her school grades were all A’s and B’s.

I admit it. I love kids like that. They are the best things about teaching. And whether they are Aaargh! Sixth Graders! or Uggh! Seventh graders! (the chimpanzees of the middle-school monkey-house) I actually love them. (But PLEASE don’t tell them that!)

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A Memorable Day at School

**Please note** This is a fiction story. It absolutely did not happen in real life. So, no real-life school administrators should be fired over it. And the author is a RETIRED school teacher, so it is not necessary to hire a hit man to protect future students from evil ideas like the ones presented in this story.

Rudy was miserable as he sat in the counselor’s office staring at the note from his teacher. Miss Nactarine. the sympathetic young counselor, sat behind her desk praying silently that the poor boy would be able to overcome his extreme shyness for long enough to explain what the problem really was.

“Well, um… you see, Miss…. I, uh…”

And then, once again, he simply stopped talking. She waited for several minutes.

“Rudy, just take a deep breath and let it all come out. You were sent here for sleeping in class. Tell me why that happened.”

“Okay, Miss. I been having bad dreams.”

“Oh? They’ve been keeping you from sleeping at night? What are the bad dreams about?”

“Um, well… In my dreams, I keep forgetting to put my clothes on before coming to school. I end up having to give a speech in Miss Burkett’s class standing naked in front of everybody. And the girls were laughing.”

“Oh, I see. Hmm. And what do you suppose is causing these dreams?”

He didn’t hesitate even for a moment. “P.E. Class!”

“Why P.E. Class?”

“Well, because… when it’s over, sixth graders have to take a shower. You have to get naked and go into the shower room where everybody can see.”

“But there are only other boys in there.” She knew as soon as she said it why that didn’t matter to Rudy. Even as she said it, she could see this shrinking-violet child trying to disappear in his chair.

“What do you think we should do about this problem?” She was thinking swim-suit for showers or something.

“Can we cancel P.E. Class?”

“Honey, that’s State-mandated curriculum. You can’t pass to the seventh grade without taking that class.”

“Can we cancel showers?”

“Young men in the sixth grade begin to have body odor. You know how that smell would affect learning?”

Rudy was dissolving in front of her.

“You are a vary brave young man. The best way to overcome this problem is to simply make up your mind not to let it affect you. The next time you have to take a shower, just face your fears head on. Take your clothes off and act like you want everybody to see you naked. Once you have endured the worst that can happen, you won’t have that bad dream anymore. You will know that you can do anything by being brave enough to try.”

Miraculously, Rudy seemed to brighten up, as if he had finally come to terms with the problem.

“Thanks, Miss. That helps a lot.”

As she dismissed him back to class, she couldn’t help but congratulate herself on saying the right thing at the right time.

The next morning, as students who walked to school from the neighborhood gathered in front of the school, Rudy showed up striding purposefully towards the front door wearing only a hat.

Most of the girls squealed in response, and then broke out into laughing conversations.

One of the most popular seventh-grade cheerleaders said loudly enough for everyone to hear, “I think he looks really cute like that! I wish all the boys were brave enough to come to school like that.”

“We would if all the girls did too!” hollored some invisible boy from somewhere in the back of the crowd.

Principal Eirohnee quickly brought both naked Rudy and Counselor Nacterine into her office.

Rudy was very comfortably nude as he stood in front of the principal’s desk and explained.

“It really cured my problem,” Rudy said. “From the time I made up my mind to do this I have felt nothing but confidence. If I can come to school naked, I can do anything!”

“Intend to go to all your classes today naked, do you?” asked the Principal.

“Yes, if you let me. If you don’t, it was still worth it.”

Full of pride for her part in Rudy’s transformation, the Counselor said, “I think we should allow it.”

“Well, isn’t that precious. Why don’t we just change the dress code for the day and have everybody go to school today naked?”

“I’d be willing to try that,” Miss Nacterine said.

**Author’s note** You could argue that the Counselor was fired for not understanding what sarcasm was, but, more likely, it was because of how the majority of the students showed up the following day.

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Found Poetry

by Sergio Aragonés

Found poetry begins with three found things

Picked up at random

Like three pictures from my internet gallery

Plagiarized from somebody’s fandom

oil painting by Maxfield Parrish

And then you have to sit and have a thought

About how it fits together

To make a stupid poem you’ve wrought

That’s not about the weather

Movie image by Woody Allen featuring Woody Allen

You must pretend the very best you can

There’s sense in what you’ve found

And it fits together as if you had a plan

That was always quite profound.


Writing a found poem

Okay, this is the essay part. That first part is a terrible poem written by me to illustrate how to make your own found poem. Of course, you should know that I was not a natural-born poet. I am among the lower percentages of America’s worst-possible poets. Right there somewhere between the poetry books of Farley Bumbletongue and the Collected Musings of Hans Poopferbrains of Snarkytown, Wisconsin.

But I take great pride in my abilities as a terrible poet. You see, what I mainly was, truly was, was an English teacher of middle school and high school kids. And found poems were an activity in the classroom intended to teach writing skills, creativity, and an appreciation of what a poem actually is.

I needed a large usable picture file cut out of Christmas catalogs, Walmart advertisements, newspapers, magazines (“What are those?” is the most common comment you would get out of today’s classrooms,) grocery-store bargain flyers, outdated calendars, and any other non-pornographic picture sources available.

I would hand out three random images pulled out of the picture file without looking at them to each student (or small groups of students) and then require them to create a poem of at least twelve lines with an optional rhyme scheme and rhythm.

I would have to remind them not to eat the pictures, even if they were pictures of food. And with middle school students I would have to have extra pictures for the next class to replace the ones they ate anyway.

I would tell them there was a time-limit, specified to be much shorter than the actual time I planned to give them, and then let them create horrible poetry. Near Vogon quality in its horribleness.

When all of this was done, we would have a good long laugh by sharing the pictures and poems, and find out who the truly wacky and perverted poets were.

Now, don’t go telling parents that we teachers are wasting their children’s precious learning time this way, but it is not I lesson I created. Simply a lesson I used at least once every year.

But the real question on my mind is, “Given three random pictures, what kind of poem would you write?” Feel free to share.


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Horatio T. Dogg… Canto 10

Front Porch Deductions

The next day, of course, was Sunday.  And after Sunday School and Church, Bobby knew exactly where to find Horatio.  It was a screen porch with room enough for two rocking chairs, a futon couch/bed foldout, an old easy chair, and a small table for iced tea, lemonade, and the checkerboard.  But there was also a spot on the homemade rug in front of Grandpa’s rocking chair where the sunbeams converged and made a warming zone that was absolutely perfect for warming arthritic dog joints and soothing old-dog complaints that needed to be soothed to allow half-day-long naps.

“So, Horatio, here you are!”

The elderly collie yawned.  “Yes, Bobby.  Here I are.”

“Silly old dog!  You’re supposed to say Here I am.”

“Yes, I know that.  You must remember, every time you hear me speaking like this, the voice is actually coming out of your own imagination.”

“Sure, and I guess I must’ve made you say it wrong on purpose for some evil reason.”

“Not an evil reason.  A familiar one.  Grandpa Butch makes that kind of joke by mirroring the things you say as if they were incorrect on purpose.  It’s the way his sense of humor works, and you are really smart enough to know that, though you often pretend that you aren’t.  Your mind filled in the blanks in a way that sounds right to you, even when there’s joking involved because that’s the world you’re used to.”

Of course, Bobby knew one hundred percent that he was writing the entire discussion in his head because he wanted Horatio to talk like he knew Sherlock Holmes probably would.

Bobby sat on the porch floorboards in his short pants and buried his right hand in the silky fur of Horatio’s neck.

“Why do dogs make such good friends?” Bobby said more to himself than to Horatio.

“Because dogs love their chosen humans.  And a dog knows how to listen to people much better than any cat or parrot, or goldfish.  Dogs may not know the words you are using all of the time. But they know your smell.  And they know how to read what you are thinking and feeling because the see it in your face.  No stupid cat can do that.”

“But cats are better at catching mice and rats,” said Shane, while stepping out on the porch with a piece of Mom’s cherry pie on a small plate that he handed to Bobby.

“Thanks, Shane.”

“You’re welcome.  I had mine in the kitchen, and Mom asked me to bring yours out here.”

“It’s good,” Bobby said with the first bite in his mouth.  “But, hey, wait.  How did you know what Horatio said about cats?”

“And how did you get the information so wrong, too?” added Horatio.

“It wasn’t Horatio talking.  It was you.”


“See, my dear Robert, I told you my words all come out of your imagination.  And sometimes your mouth,” said Horatio.

“Did you hear Horatio say that last thing?”


“That thing he said about where the words come from?”

“I didn’t hear the dog say anything,” said Shane.

“I told you, dear boy, it’s only in your head.

“Well, of course, it is.”

“Is what?” asked Shane.

“You shouldn’t be holding two conversations in your head as the same time.  You are confusing your brother Shane,” said Horatio.

“Yes, see.  Only I can hear the dog talking.”

“You’re weird,” said Shane, grinning at Bobby as he left him to enjoy his pie with Horatio as company.

Then, something in the yard caught Bobby’s attention.  Out between the porch and the barn, on the gravel drive, a large rat was slinking along doing rat business as if he didn’t care who or what saw him.

“Who is that, Horatio?”

“That, dearest Robert, is Whitewhiskers Billy.  He’s an evil, egg-sucking rat.”

“So, that’s Whitewhiskers Billy, is it?”

“Why would that rat be Whitewhiskers Billy?” asked Grandpa as Bobby realized that Grandpa Butch had suddenly appeared at the doorway between the porch and the house.

“Did you hear Horatio call him that?” asked Bobby.

“No, I heard you say it,” said Grandpa.

“Oh.  So, why is he called Whitewhiskers Billy?

“Because his whiskers smell white.  He eats chicken droppings.  It makes them sort of bleached white,” said Horatio.

“Because his whiskers smell white,” said Bobby.

“Smell white?  Horatio tell you that?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Well, I think we should put some rat poison out, maybe in the barn and under the hen house..” said Grandpa.  “That will give old Whitewhiskers Bill something to think about.”

“Will that kill him?” Bobby asked.

“It should.  But we will have to be careful that the dog and the stupid turkens don’t get into it.  We would hate to lose any of them by being less than careful.”

Bobby nodded wide-eyed.  He certainly didn’t want Horatio to get poisoned.  Of course, if it got a turken or two, he wouldn’t be too upset.

“I need to check the flyer I got from the hardware store in Clarion.  I think I remember a sale on a good poison to put in the barn.”  Grandpa left the porch again too.

As Bobby continued to sit in the warm, yellow sunshine with Horatio, he began noticing his bare white legs, how girlish they looked in the sunlight.

“Can you tell if Blueberry is a girl or a boy by smell?”

“She definitely smells girlish.  No boy smell.  No boy pee.  Lots of girly flower smells.”

“I have always believed she is a girl.”

“Yes, and you kinda like her too.  It’s a shame she already has a boyfriend.”


“You know I can tell how you feel about her by the scent of romance whenever you’re around her.  And I know that whatever gender-irregularities she may have, you are convinced that she must be a girl.  Remember, I will always know what you are thinking because…”

“Because you are the world’s greatest dog-detective with your all-knowing sniffer.”

“See there?  You are a lot smarter than you let people think you are.  And you are a great imaginer too.”

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Horatio T Dogg… Canto 9

At the Drive-In

The A&W drive-in in Belle City was the place to go after a game, especially if you lost and needed consoling.  The A&W, known for its root beer in frosty mugs, had once had car-hops on roller skates, and delivered the food to your car on trays they hung on your window.  But too many trays got spilled, definitely too many spilled into the window of the car directly on the customers, and a few unfortunate falls, and a couple of broken legs, had eventually transformed the place into a sit-down fast-food restaurant on the model of McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King.

When Grandpa Butch invited the whole family to go there, he specifically extended the invitation to Mike and Blueberry as well.  Not the usual thing.  And it required two cars to get everybody there.  But Grandpa was paying, and so it was up to him.  Dad and Mom and Bobby and Shane went in the Niland minivan while Grandpa drove Mike and Blueberry in his red Toyota pickup.

They were fortunate to find a booth with room for four and a smaller table with chairs next to it, so that it was kinda like they were seated all together in a fairly crowded Saturday evening gathering place.

“Now, Mike, we don’t want you to hold back on ordering what you and your pretty girlfriend need to eat,” said Grandpa Butch.  “We know the legends about the appetites of the Murphy boys, and we have actually watched Danny eat before.  That was an amazing spectacle at the Wright County fair when he must’ve had at least ten chili dogs in a row.  And we have enough money to cover anything your amazing Murphy appetite can inhale.”

Grandpa was joking and exaggerating like he always did.  And Mike and Blue both knew it.  But the ten-chili-dog thing was actually true, which made the comment all the funnier.

“Why did you want to bring Blue and me here, anyway?” Mike asked/

“Well, we really wanted to thank the two of you for the way you stood up for Bobby after the game.  It takes a special kind of friend to defend someone from bullies that way,” said Dad with a smile.

“Oh, he woulda done it no matter what, Mr. Niland,” said Blueberry.  “Bobby is my good friend.  And Mike does everything he can to please me. And he looks after all the Pirates the same way.”

“Yes, we know he does.  He’s practically the leader of the Pirates,” said Mom, also smiling.

“Oh, no!  Tim Kellogg is the leader of the Pirates.  I am more like his Sir Lancelot, doing all the sword-fighting and stuff,” said Mike, sounding a little upset.

“Yes, we know about the Pirates’ fearless leader,” said Dad. “He’s like a sort of Genghis Kahn or Attila the Hun sort of leader.  In my day, when Brent Clarke was the leader of the Pirates, we thought of him as being a sort of King Arthur.  A ruler, but not one that ever cut anybody’s head off.”

“Oh, Tim is like King Arthur more than Shmengis Kone or Atlas the Hunter,” said Blueberry.  “He’s Mike’s best friend.”

“Grandpa Butch laughed.  “Yes, I’m sure you truly believe that, dear.  And Tim probably thinks it too.”

“But, Blueberry, honey, he wasn’t very nice to you over your little gender problem, was he?”  Bobby’s mom was putting it delicately.  Everybody in Norwall knew that Blueberry had been born a boy with boy parts, but was a girl in her mind from the very start.  And they all knew it because Tim found out and spread the girl’s personal information everywhere.

“Tim knows I’m a girl now, though…”  Blueberry frowned at the table in front of her. “The doctors x-rayed and scanned me, and they found my ovaries on the inside.  My problem was just like a birth defect on the outside.

Bobby didn’t like his parents bringing this thing up when Blueberry and Mike were his guests.  Blue was definitely a girl.  And it wasn’t right to bring up the old scandal thing.  Bobby and Mike didn’t want to hear about it all over again.  And it was embarrassing to Blue, Bobby thought.

“She’s definitely all girl,” said Mike, apparently willing to talk about it more.  “Mom knew it even before the doctor revealed the whole x-ray thing.”

“Yes, and if your mother, Mary Murphy herself, believes it’s so, then it most certainly is,” said Grandpa Butch.  “Even I am afraid to ever argue with her about God’s truth about anything.”

Everyone laughed, and then the topic was apparently forgotten.  And that made Bobby even more happy.

“Bobby was telling Mike and me about Horatio T. Dogg’s war with the barn rats,” said Blueberry as Grandpa started a list of what everyone wanted to order.  Mike had him put down three chili-dogs, two for him and one for Blue.  Mike was not in Danny Murphy’s hot-dog-eating league by any means.

“That’s what his grandpa was telling us too,” said Dad.  “Apparently Horatio can talk now, and solve rat-crimes like a dog version of Sherlock Holmes.”

“Well, of course he can,” said Blue.  “If Bobby said it, it has to be true.”

“Did you ever hear Horatio talk with your own two ears?” asked Shane, looking somewhat sly.

Grandpa wrote down burgers for himself, Dad, Mom, and Shane.

“But I want a chili-dog like Mike and Blue,” said Bobby.

“Sure thing.  And root beer for everybody?”

Everyone nodded, and Grandpa took the order to the counter.

“We all know Horatio is a very smart dog.  And it can almost seem like he’s smart enough to talk,” said Dad.

“But he does talk!  It’s just that only I can hear him.”

“Bobby, you actually thought that you and Blueberry had turned the music teacher into a swan!” said Mike.

“Yes, and we both turned ourselves into young swans and went flying to Belle City to find her and remove the curse,” said Blueberry earnestly.

“No, Blue, you and Brainiac Bobby just got carried away with imaginary stuff during Miss Morgan’s lessons for that Hobbit novel we were reading in her class.  It was all idiot-imagining,” said Mike, distaste for the subject plainly showing on his face.

“You saw the fairies too, didn’t you?  And the magic spells?”  Bobby was trying hard to make Mike remember what he clearly saw when everybody else saw it.

“I saw the drawings Blue made about it.  I heard the stories.  And I did the lessons.  But Tim was lying about there being little people everywhere.  And you two did not fly to Belle City in winter wearing only feathers!  You both made that up and fixed your imaginations on it too much.”

“Mike has a point,” said Mom.  “You know you get carried away with imagination.”

Bobby, looked at the table downhearted.  He almost felt like crying.  That moment of flight through the crisp, cold winter air was so bracing.  And flying above the snow-covered farms had seemed so real.   How could he ever accept that it was not a real thing?

“Sometimes, imagination is a good thing.  It can solve problems that you couldn’t figure out any other way.  And besides, daydreaming and a creative imagination are a sign of intelligence,” said Dad as Grandpa sat the food down on the table in front of him.

“I always thought of imagination like this, it’s the sum of things I can use my mind to take control of,” said Grandpa Butch.  “I mean, the things I most need to happen, the conclusions and solutions I need to come to… well, I use the bowl of electrified noodles in my old head to stir up an answer I create for myself.  The things I need to happen, I make happen with my imagination.  Now, the things that fail, the things I don’t control… well, that’s the universe using its facts and reality to make happen what it needs to happen.  I can’t control that.  Except maybe later I can use my imagination again to rewrite what really happened so I have memories of it that I can live with.”

“Yeah, that’s the way to look it.  Imagination is a good thing if you never use it for evil,” said Dad.

Well, everybody seemed to accept that as the end of the discussion.  Mike wrinkled his nose up like he didn’t understand, or maybe wanted to argue more.  But the food was there.  And Bobby was almost certain that the chili dogs were what kept Mike from saying anything more.  After all, you can’t eat and talk at the same time.

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Horatio T. Dogg… Canto 8

But the Game Wasn’t Over

Mike and Blueberry sat next to the hero of the bottom of the first, happier than Bobby had seen them in a long time.  And what was even better, he knew he was himself the reason.  The Pirates led three to nothing.  But Tim got out on the next fly ball, popping it to Delwyn of all people.  And, wouldn’t you know it, this time Delwyn didn’t drop it.

It was, like all 4-H softball games, a five-inning game.  And being the home team, the Pirates only had to hold on to the lead until the top of the fifth inning was over.  And Mike was on his usual game.  That fastball, even though it was underhanded and using a ball that floated through the air like a watermelon, burned holes through the Lincoln township bats and Tim Kellogg’s catcher’s mitt for good measure.  Three more strike-outs in each of the second, and third innings.

But Clarion’s blond Apollo wasn’t going to stay shook up for a whole game either.  And he could also windmill in a scorching-hot fastball.  He matched Mike strikeout after strikeout.

In the fourth inning, both teams got a couple of runners on base.  But the Leaders scored two runs when Watson hit a double with runners on base.  And the Pirate’s fourth had two men on base, one of whom was a girl, but Bobby struck out instead of driving them in, and Tim made the last out again after him.

So, it all came down to the final inning, and the Pirates with only a one-run lead.

Bobby, of course, spoke directly to the Big Guy in the Sky.  “Don’t let them hit it to me.  Whatever you do, don’t make that ball come to me.”

The first batter up was Leroy Watson.  And wouldn’t you know it, the gol darn Apollo hit a ball to deep left field that Billy Martin could only get to on the bounce.  Billy’s arm was good enough to wing it into the home plate to hold Watson to a triple.  Still, the tying run was on third base.

Mike on the mound had to really bear down and throw hard strikes for the rest of the inning.  The next two Leaders struck out.  But you could see the strain on Mike’s face.  In fact, you could see it all the way from deep right field.
“Please, don’t let that ball come to me.  Hit it to Billy.  He’s good at catching fly balls.  He’ll win the game for us.”

But it didn’t get hit out to any field.  In fact, the bats didn’t get near the ball for two more batters.  Mike pitched eight consecutive balls outside the strike zone.

“It’s okay, Mike.  Let your fielders help you.  Your arm is getting tired of throwing it so hard,” Coach Kellogg said in a wise old voice that made Bobby’s heart drop down from the middle of his chest, down into his behind, and eventually down his right leg and all the way out through the bottom of his right shoe.

And Bobby knew where it was coming.  Delwyn Marmoody was up to bat.  And Bobby’s heart was tunnelling down into the grass somewhere beneath him.

“Be on your toes, fielders!” cried Tim from his position at catcher.

“You can do this, Bobby!” cried Blueberry from the bench.

Why did she have to yell that?  She put the curse on him!  He wished he could turn into a swan once again and fly away.

Two strikes and two balls later, Delwyn swung.  The bat went, “TUNK!”  And the ball was flying through the air… Directly at Bobby in right field.

“Gotta get under it”

“You can do it, Bobby!”

“Shut up, Blue!”

And then it settled into Bobby’s open glove.

And he was about to lift it high in the air in triumph…

When it rolled out again and hit the ground, somewhere on top of Bobby’s buried heart.

“AW, NO!!!” cried the Norwall crowd in unison.

The runners were going with the crack of the bat, so two of them had already crossed the plate when Billy came scrambling into right field, got the ball and cannoned it to home plate to keep them only one run behind.  The runner trying for a third score was out at the plate.


There was a shallow hope in the bottom of the fifth inning.  Two runs would win the game.  One run would tie it and give them an extra inning.

But Johnny Miller struck out. 

And when Dilsey Murphy got up, she hit a double to right field.  And there was a glimmer of hope with one out.

Then Mike got up.  Mike was the most dangerous hitter the Pirates had.  Watson intentionally walked him.

“It’s gonna be hero time again for you, Bobby,” Blueberry whispered in his ear.

Frosty Anderson got up to the plate with his meanest game-face sneering away at the Clarion Apollo.  He banged the heavy bat Mike had used on the plate to show how much business he actually meant.

“Hit it out, Frosty!” hollered Tim Kellogg.  “Or you-know-who is up next!”

Bobby did know who.  And there went his heart again, headed for the depths of the dirt in the dugout.

The pitch swished in at just about the perfect spot for Frosty to hit it, and he swung with all the might of Hercules.  He topped the ball to the third baseman who stepped on the bag and zipped to first for the double play.

Frosty Anderson came barrelling over to the Pirate bench with so much anger that fire was blazing up out of his ears and lighting his blond hair on fire.

“You know who really lost us the game, don’t you?” he screamed directly at Bobby.  Suddenly he was directly in front of Bobby, pushing him with two hands.  Bobby went backwards over the bench and landed on his back in the sand.

Mike grabbed Frosty from behind, whirled him around, and presented him with a cocked right fist, ready to knock the angry boy’s block off just like in the Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots commercials.

“You need to blame somebody, hero?  Who hit into the double play at the end?  Bobby’s on our team.  And he’s the one who drove in three runs to put us ahead.”

“Okay, okay… Sorry, Bobby.  But he did drop the game-ending out.”

“Whatta you think, Bobby?  Should I hit him?”

“No, please don’t.  He’s a Pirate too.”

“Good boy, Bob.  That’s the way we hold a team together,” said Coach Kellogg as he picked Bobby up off the ground and set him back on his own feet again.

The whole group said that it wasn’t Bobby’s fault that they lost, mostly because Coach Kellogg asked them to, but not all of them meant it.

“We almost won,” said Blueberry.

“No, we didn’t,” Bobby said quietly so only Blue could hear, “But thanks for thinking so.  You have a good heart.”

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