🎼🎤 🎶 play
This offering is just a little treat for Halloween. It is the first of what I call my expanded sonnets, sonnet squared or sonnet sets. Each is composed of 14 Shakespearean sonnets (196 lines of poetry), and ends with the last two sonnets having the same, but transposed rhyme scheme, so as to mirror the rhyming form of the sonnet with its final rhymed couplet.
I did not know — nor did I have a care
as to — the last tenant of the building.
I (simply) didn’t make it my affair,
but, then, rumors aren’t sought as some willed thing.
The neighbors volunteered their altered bits
about the man, “the doctor who lived here,
who was a little crazy,” “… prone to fits
o’ silence, ‘s if he’d struck the heart of fear.”
“He seldom said any more than ‘Hello.’”
“He rapt himself deeply into Science.”
“He wasn’t a very happy fellow.”
“He spent his time building some appliance.”
It filtered in, but I looked at the price:
The rent’s right; without him, it might be twice.
The day I met my neighbor, Sue Andre,
I knew that everything would be all right —
a twenty-seven year old divorcee,
and, for the sorest eyes, a lovely sight.
We hit it off together right away.
I asked her to some wine; she brought a meal.
I hadn’t unpacked my kitchen that day;
she helped ‘cause she knew, “how moving days feel.”
Such a sweetheart! We laughed and talked till late.
Still, the good but wizened doctor haunted
the conversation. She’d worked for him … fate!
So I resolved to listen, undaunted.
I confess the tale she told amazed me,
but I tried not to show that it fazed me.
“His name was Dr. Menscher, and he was
a new-renaissance sort of scientist
and studied all the sciences, because
specialists didn’t seem traditionist (sic).
He didn’t trust them — no-one, in fact, but,
well, I like to think that he trusted me.
Hey, I didn’t mean that now, tut-tut-tut.
After all, you know, he was sixty-three.
“Anyway, I worked as his assistant
a couple of months before he went crazy.
He’d sit in silence then or, worse, rant.
Before that he was sweet and fatherly.
It started with his pre-occupation
with the building’s cockroach population.
“I watched it happen to him,” she went on,
“He wasted all his knowledge on those bugs,
but he came up with a good invention:
a robot hunter-vacuum for rugs.
He caught more roaches though … kept them in jars,
giving them chemicals, cutting them up
or prodding them with electrified bars;
he’d take notes, label them and sum up.
His record’s genius; his conclusions… well…
every page I typed, I’ve saved a carbon.
You can read it yourself: it’s about Hell.
Of course it’s all scientific jargon.
I won’t pretend I understand it all,
but I transcribed each scrap of notes he’d scrawl.
“Though he took some pride in his work, he
just slaved without joy or satisfaction.
He was seeking concretes, the dumb turkey.
To him, happiness was an abstraction.
So he built a Hell, of concretes, of course,
concrete with starving cockroaches to death,
or growing them tenth the size of a horse.
Once, he made one with a burnt-wood-smell breath.
You see he could alter their DNA.
He used university position
to gain access to labs and used his sway
to get funding and special permission
to do pretty much whatever he pleased.
He even had the A.M.A. appeased.”
So, naturally, my interest grew.
I gladly agreed to read through his notes,
glean what I could and tell her what I knew.
Unnoticed, my eyes gleamed romantic gloats.
Thus my interest was indirect at first;
I felt Susan was far more attractive,
but I’d already been hooked — that’s the worst.
My imagination was made active.
When she’d left that evening, as I’ve said, late,
she was replaced by a swarm of questions.
Decided, to sleep, I had to uncrate
the encyclopedia’s suggestions
for images of cockroaches in dreams
loomed over by mad doctors, plotting schemes.
When I’d researched enough material
for great nightmares, I fell asleep
in my chair. I woke to cold cereal
with coffee, stiff neck, sore back and “the creeps”
that linger till you’re sure your dream’s not real —
that sense that doesn’t really disappear.
You forget why you’re feeling like you feel,
but the whole day, there skulks that lurking fear.
I was to meet Sue for a brunch at ten,
so I jumped into the shower to wake up,
and I hadn’t realized it till then,
but, at once, it gave me quite a shake-up.
In fact, I very nearly had a fit,
to find (from head to toe) that I was bit.
They weren’t much swollen — didn’t itch at all —
but dozens of insect bites covered me,
more accurately from scalp to ankle.
(I’d left my shoes on overnight, you see,
but something had gotten into my clothes).
My first thought was roaches, during the night.
I’d seen none though, so, what it was … God knows —
not small to judge by the size of its bite.
None of the bites seemed to be infected.
Still shocked, but anxious, I dressed for my date.
My feelings for Sue weren’t affected,
and, first time, I didn’t want to be late.
I preferred to make a good impression
than chase unknowns: I’d make that confession.
If I’d thought about it, I’d have been sick,
but I didn’t think — about anything.
I functioned on habit, let nothing stick,
focused on making it through the morning,
and, even then, I hardly made good time.
I felt so sluggish and in need of sleep.
I stared at the bed sheets, wanting to climb
under, forgot I had a date to keep,
or nearly so, but then remembered Sue —
the sparkle in her eyes, her bright, clear laugh —
and then, of course, I did all I could do
to hurry at double-time-and-a-half.
Although my dream’s forecast of doom forbore,
I ignored it as I arrived next-door.
My morning began when her door opened.
She stood there smiling (invitingly, too),
and asked me in … then … to meet her boyfriend.
Saw them together and instantly knew
that their relationship hadn’t the room
for triangles — part-time nor eternal.
My hopes died before they could even bloom.
We ate; she gave me the doctor’s journal.
Since there really wasn’t a thing I could do,
I wasn’t sad, but resigned and placid.
I maundered home to address myself to
Though I prob’ly knew it then, now I’m sure:
a science journal’s not a heartache cure.
I flipped through, looking for the pictures first,
and found the diagrams of the machine —
the strange appliance I’d heard and conversed
about — and, as machines go, it looked mean.
It had both legs and wheels for fast turning,
but the six-inch vacuum was the trick;
it was built to be motion discerning,
self-activating and extremely quick.
Though the text was careless and confusing
(philosophy and diary mixed in),
it was clearer on second perusing,
and soon I was totally transfixed in
the project and could forget or discount
my own woes, reading the doctor’s account.
Transmogrifying to fear and loathing,
this blissful involvement did not last, though.
I began to itch under my clothing,
when I’d read how he’d made his roaches grow.
He devised, through knowledge of DNA,
a whole new means for their replication —
a sort of viral cockroach, you might say.
Why he did defied my speculation.
As for the bites, I now had my answer:
They were from cockroaches — specially bred
to transfer their DNA as cancer
that would reproduce till host cells were dead.
The doctor’s words best described the issue:
“Cockroaches ‘hatched’ from infarcted tissue.”
He went on with an explanation:
“Developed clones left the tissue [then dead],
demonstrating eggless incubation!
They left their gene coding, infection spread.
Entire animal became consumed
and fell within a month from the disease,
and only bones were left to be entombed,
uneaten by this new cockroach species.
I have thought of a name. I’ve decided
to dub it Blatteria bacillus.
I’ll put that in my paper, provided
I stay alive long enough to publish.
My vacuum should catch them all on sight,
but I think some roaches escaped last night.”
There follows several cures attempted —
none up to the doctor’s expectation —
for the cancer remains undetected
by the body’s defense, and radiation
and the various chemotherapies
proved ineffective, it can be assumed,
though his journal becomes less clear on these.
His humor’d changed — sure, he knew he was doomed.
He’d grown tumors too. The thought is Hellish —
no one in whom he might have confided,
for who could hear and not want to kill us?
Yes, “us.” I’ve got them, too, and decided…
not human, we’ve become infective blight.
I must burn the place and myself tonight!
(ACCOUNT FOUND AMONG THE BUILDINGS ASHES)