My preferred forms include the clerihew (four lines) and the “Mad Gardener’s Song” stanza (six lines)—so I’m not sure how I wrote this 93-line poem. I know where I wrote it: in an Ann Arbor café called Mighty Good. And I know when I wrote it: in the summer of 2011, over a series of Sunday afternoons. But as to how and why: who knows. Maybe because I deeply love rhyme and, more and more, feel that it works in the same way that metaphor works: requiring, as Aristotle wrote, “an intuitive perception of the similarity in dissimilars.” Or because I want the world, or at least the poetry world, to be louder. Or because I really would trade Ronald Reagan for Donald Fagen.
When I finished the poem, I happily shared it with a few friends—but I didn’t imagine that it would find a home in a print journal (due to its length and weirdness). So I want to thank Kevin Craft and everyone at Poetry Northwest for making space—twice, now!—for this curiosity. And of course I’m thrilled that Sherman Alexie selected it for BAP 2015. That’s an honor I wouldn’t trade for, well, don’t get me started…
Trades I Would Make
Ronald Reagan for Donald Fagen.
Tijuana for Madonna.
This vale of tears for ten good years.
This schmuck I picked up in Indonesia for a bucket of anesthesia.
An icicle for a bicycle.
My neighbor’s hollyhock trellis for Dock Ellis.
Jim (or Jimmy-o, if he’ll permit) DeMint for a bit of lint.
A pay-as-you-go princess (read: overpriced hotté) for an iced latte.
A booster seat for some rooster meat.
A year in jail for some kale.
A turtle (either box or leatherhead) for a feather bed.
Gehrig, Unitas, Chamberlain (a bunch of dead jocks) for lunch with Redd Foxx.
A cat named Frisky for a vat of whiskey.
The color red for a feller named Jed.
A crate of elastic for a second-rate spastic.
A “C’mon, Cody, that’s not very PC” shellacking for (and why not?) the Academy of American Poets’ backing.
The Jackie Gleason Diet for a little peace and quiet.
Someone who dislikes (unlike us) V for a Ficus Tree.
An acceptable level of risk for a bowl of lobster bisque.
Former Seattle Seahawk and current KIRO newscaster Steve Raible for a tucked-away-in-the-corner-and-
absolutely-not-double-booked New Year’s Eve table.
Target (the store) for a degree in folklore.
The Business Section of the New York Times for a few more rhymes.
My imprisoned twin (and please, treat him nice) for Jim Rice.
A toy train (toot, toot) for a zoot suit.
A surfer-turned-robber’s botched bank job (“gnarly”) for Bob Marley.
These “Good God, I’m suddenly feeling cold and sick” shivers for “Mick the Quick” Rivers.
The voices in my head for Joyce’s “The Dead.”
A damaged and circling Space Shuttle that NASA won’t let dock for a pet rock.
My EVIL THOUGHTS (evil; did I stammer?) for a hammer.
A ticket to Loserdom for some booze or gum.
A ticket to Nowhere for a stern warning: Don’t Go There.
Electronica rap for a quick, uh, nap.
A punch in the ear for a buncha beer.
My girlfriend’s personality-test result (“Freako Chick,” which quite shocked her) for Ferdie Pacheco, the
quick-stitch Fight Doctor.
A rotten grin for a cotton gin.
An irresponsible payout for a possible way out.
A hanging slider for a spider.
President William “Who Wants to Fight?” Howard Taft for a Million Points of Light-powered raft.
Any two items of choice apparel (coats, stockings, pants) for Joyce Carol Oates’ mocking glance.
One of those hard-to-believe jobs (gaffer? third mate?) for a buffalo-herd gate.
Today’s sorrows for tomorrow’s.
Overheard speech by Shakespeare when he was drunk and distracted (minor quotes) for you-can’t-say-that-
about-Zeppelin redacted liner notes.
Some bullshit homeroom teacher no one wants for a home-run hitter who also bunts.
“Hey, choose me” pandering for some woozy meandering.
Holly round the house for a Muhammad Ali roundhouse.
This nearly spent pen for some I-have-no-idea-where-the-time-went Zen.
The porn version of The Little Engine That Could for the possibility of making good.
A “Death, where is thy sting?” tattoo for, I don’t know, something taboo.
A table at any of the nearby Benihanas for ten iguanas.
A too-sweet dessert—say, a snickerdoodle—for a too-precious craft-piece—say, a wicker poodle.
A Roman brick ruin for a romantic shoo-in.
Someone mistaking me for Lance Armstrong (“Hi, Lance!”) for silence.
A Fujitsu waterproof shower phone (or a dour crone) for an hour alone.
Some honest-to-God (God? You bet) belief for some debt relief.
The freakish good luck of Arthur Conan Doyle for, fuck, anyone loyal.
Fred Astaire for bus fare.
My two-timin’ great-uncle for Simon & Garfunkel.
A bought-in-the-Market-Square mini-drum for the bare minimum.
My favorite Yeti for Dave Righetti.
A thoughtless—uh-oh!—clown for a throwdown.
Any kind of already-banned quota for Manny Mota.
My iPhone, my Swiffer, my fogless mirror, anything that is, I swear to you, shoddy, for a “Whatever, it was hot
when I brought it to you” toddy.
John Travolta, Gabe Kaplan, or Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs (really, any Welcome Back, Kotter entertainer) for a
Bangladeshi otter trainer.
An almond steamer for a lemur.
Some long-suppressed gossip about former Baltimore Mayor Kurt (which is how he still likes to be addressed)
Schmoke for your best joke.
A major-sized mystery caper for a plagiarized History paper.
The ghost of Truman for some roasted cumin.
Anything from a church (the altar, a splash of Holy Water, the wood pews) for some good news.
Anything reckoned dear for a second beer.
The dropping of charges (reckless endangerment, indecent exposure) for closure.
A “Dear Twit” letter for something a bit better.
The less-than-distinguished GOP field for a DiCaprio biopic: Leo, Revealed.
The blessèd (I do reckon) dead for your second-best bed.
A drawer of dimes for some more rhymes.
A veiled promise of matrimony from Mr. Met (“I do, but not yet”) for a true tête-à-tête.
The righteous man’s path (Thank Christ!) for the aftermath of a bank heist.
Bounty, the quicker picker-upper, for some no-count count’s Brie-with-liquor-kicker supper.
A cup of roux for a schtup or two.
A battle-tested cry (“Let us in!”) for the rest of my medicine.
A brand-new wok for Lou Brock.
An ain’t-I-wild, flapper-style milieu for a childnapper who aims to steal you.
A complicated fate (healthy, books well reviewed, but penniless, and stuck on a street corner, forced to beg,
alone) for a megaphone.
A game of catch for an aimless letch.
The bark of a seal for anything real.
Faye Dunaway for a foreign—“How you say?”—runaway.
A staggering (“Just one last swig”) Billy Joel for a big chili bowl.
A “Baby baby what’s the matter?” kiss for that or this.
My ex-girlfriend (a pill-popper, a lout, a jaw-clencher) for a kill-or-be-killed proper outlaw adventure.
These constant cries of “Why, God?” for a colossal-sized tripod.
Anyone from the rougher parts of Paris for anyone dumb enough to spare us.
Some this-is-so-good-you-must’ve-made-it-in-culinary-school chocolate for a multi-tool player who’ll walk
A tipsy poodle for some dipsy-doodle.
Any ridiculous status (executive! platinum! wined and dined! preferred!) for a kind word.
The straight and narrow for a great sombrero.
Cody Walker is the author of Shuffle and Breakdown (Waywiser, 2008) and the co-editor of Alive at the Center: Contemporary Poems from the Pacific Northwest (Ooligan, 2013). His poems have appeared in The Yale Review, Parnassus, Slate, Poetry Northwest, and Salon; his essays have appeared online in The New Yorker and The Kenyon Review. His second poetry collection, The Self-Styled No-Child, will be published by Waywiser in 2016. He lives with his family in Ann Arbor and teaches at the University of Michigan.