One of the themes in my remarks at my dad’s memorial was his love of poetry. He always told us, “poetry was meant to be read aloud.”

Last week I traveled to Bloomington, Indiana and had breakfast at a restaurant called Runcible Spoon. The reference felt like a wink from dad: Edward Lear’s “The Owl and the Pussy-Cat.”

From the first verse:

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
         In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
         Wrapped up in a five-pound note.

And the poem ends:

They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
         Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
         They danced by the light of the moon,
                  The moon,
                  The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

Dad wanted us to viscerally experience the delight in word play.

In school, we learned that Lear (1812-1888) is known for “literary nonsense.” Literary nonsense, an oxymoron? Lear made up words, like runcible. Runcible is pretty darn convincing, and brilliant, as a word.

Lewis Carroll (1832-1898) was also a master of nonsense:

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
         Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
         And the mome raths outgrabe.

Dad loved that one, too, and recited it from memory. He had many Ogden Nash (1902-1971) verses close at hand. I remember him reciting “The Lama.” Fun, funny, and vocabulary-building. Likewise for “A Flea and a Fly in a Flue.”

I don’t remember him reciting this one, but I bet he did:

Lather As You Go

Beneath this slab
John Brown is stowed.
He watched the ads
And not the road.

The economy of words is thrilling.

My father loved literary nonsense because it was just his kind of rebellion: marching to the beat of his own drummer, being driven by a smarter way to do things, and having fun in the process.

From my remarks on dad: “He doesn’t feel gone to me because there is so much about me that reflects him.”

Plus, I see him everywhere. In the Bloomington Runcible Spoon, there was a stained glass of an elegant bird. My dad started carving these leggy, lean birds when he was a leggy, lean teenager. Photos below: stained glass in Indiana, a visitor to Gillman Street this winter, and dad’s carvings spanning 40 years. (The wall hanging was not his doing — it was an excellent anniversary gift from my sister.)

With apologies to poets everywhere:

The skinny birds he carved

Were just stately and not starved

For Daddy.

7 Comment

  1. SJG says: Reply

    Lovely reflections on your father, Laura! I also find my dad’s words to me echoing in my brain at random times. Good job on trying out some verse. Our fathers might have had this in mind in their final years (to be read aloud):

    We are not now that strength which in old days
    Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
    One equal temper of heroic hearts,
    Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
    To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

    1. laurakornish says: Reply

      Ah, yes, yes, he would like this. Dad lamented his physical deterioration: “not now that strength.” And anyone who knew MCB can see him endorsing “and not to yield.”

      We will read it aloud next time we are together, SJG. I hope that is soon. xoxo

  2. Jenny the genie says: Reply

    Love this, such beautiful reflections on your dad. It’s so interesting how the relationship continues, it just changes in form, but not depth. I feel my dads presence every day, he also shows up in birds, but flocks of them
    Flying in swirling patterns. He also always finds me Good parking spots in the city. ♥️ btw, I signed up for your blog as ‘jenny the genie,’ so whenever I get an alert of a new post,
    It is addressed to me that way.

    1. laurakornish says: Reply

      Well, you ARE Jenny the Genie. Always will be.

      When I see a flock, I will wave to your dad. And when you see a heron, wave to mine.

      Yes, the relationship continues. A few weeks ago, I was helping mom troubleshoot something on dad’s computer. He had used Wite-Out to indicate the “important” buttons and slots on the machine. Most of these indicators were of obvious importance, but one was not. Mom said, “and he’s not here, so we can’t ask him.” It doesn’t feel that way to me. We just work through it logically, step by step, just as he would. Plus, he’s much less argumentative now!

  3. Christina Galante says: Reply

    My favorite part in this piece about your dad is how you describe him as:
    – “being driven by a smarter way to do things, and having fun in the process”
    And my most favorite:
    – From my remarks on dad: “He doesn’t feel gone to me because there is so much about me that reflects him”
    Thank you for sharing him with us ❤️

  4. Alien says: Reply

    Laura and friends, thanks so much for sharing those lovely poems and reflections on your dad. The “Runcible Spoon” poem is one ( in it’s entirety ) that my husband and I often recited to our children, especially when our eyes got too tired to read and they’d chorus “one more!”. Eventually they asked us what kind of spoon it was, and we said it was the proper British term for Spork. My dad also made up tons of silly words and implausible facts that he would rattle off like gospel with his thick Brooklyn accent when we asked questions in the car. It took us some time to catch on that we were had. I sure miss Seymour!

  5. Bonnie says: Reply

    Ah, just read Owl & Pussycat last week to my boyfriend! “Runcible” is the best of the best. My 93 y o father is a great devotee of Lear as well.

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