Author: Stephen Bunch

Pogo, the Fabulist, and Albert walked into a bar.
The possum ordered a pinot noir,
Aesop some ouzo, and Albert a gin and Gatorade fizz.

“I don’t serve talking animals,” said the barkeep.
“They can stay, but they can’t drink.
I only serve high rollers here, not”—
glancing at the reptile—
“rollers of big cigars.”
He poured Aesop’s ouzo.

“You underestimate these two so,” Aesop protested.
“They aren’t just ‘talking animals’—
this possum’s the most quoted, most read
animal in the annals of newspaper lore.
Go ahead, Pogo, tell him.”

The marsupial looked up at the bartender,
paused and through clinched teeth whispered,
“We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Albert exhaled his cigar smoke dramatically.
Aesop winked and went on:

“Now, let’s talk about the ecology, bud.
Back when wetlands still were called swamps,
these ‘talking animals’”—
he made quotation marks in the air with his fingers—
“were the first spokescritters.
And how about politics? These guys took on
the Jack Acid Society when John Birch
was just a sapling.
If you can’t give ’em a drink,
at least give ’em some respect.
And anyway, you served me.
If it weren’t for me these guys
wouldn’t exist. I’m the one who started
all those talking animal stories.”

The ’tender leaned across the bar,
appraised the trio from head to foot,
then took back Aesop’s ouzo and pointed
first to the floor, then to the sign by the door:
“No socks, no shoes, no service.”

As they filed out mumbling, “If Kelly were alive…,”
a barefoot beagle went up to the bar
and barked for a root beer.
“Sure thing,” the barkeep replied.
“For you, it’s on the house.
How’s the insurance business these days?
Want some peanuts with that?
Here’s a new jar, fresh from Tennessee.”

1

Lord of small disappointments,
you stand beside an empty mailbox,
an egg with broken yolk
in the skillet that tips
from your drooping left hand.
In the upraised palm
of your right hand rests
a crumpled lottery ticket.
Behind you the grass
needs cutting.

2

Lord of forgiveness, lord
of the open door, your welcome
mat is out, the wine
uncorked. You wink
at us and nod toward
the tethered fatted calf
readied for slaughter.

3

Lord of forgetfulness, clothed
in a robe with a dozen empty pockets,
on the ground around you
a shopping list, a ring
of keys, a birthday card,
an old photo of a young
man. Your face
is blurred and your fist
grips tight a bouquet,
forget-me-nots for no one
in memoriam.

4

Lord of no fortune, your silver
sunglasses hide snake eyes
but mirror the aces and eights
that bloom in one hand
and the credit cards fanned
in the other. In the background
is a harbor, on the horizon a ship
so small who can tell
if it’s coming in
or setting sail. Our Lady
stands beside you, flips
a coin, and smiles.

5

Lord of sorrows, hands
outstretched, empty, wounded
eyes, the weeping
shake of shoulders in off-
the-rack sackcloth.
You will not protect us
from ourselves,
and you will not prevent us
from praying. You open
your arms as if saying
“I have nothing, I have
nothing here for you.”