This semester, I have been teaching “Folkloric Transformations” at Signum University. In the first half of the class, we talked about vampires and I offered my “open class” on the anatomy of the vampire myth. In the second half of the class, we are studying how people transform folk tales and fairy tales and bring them into the modern world. We’ve focussed on Big Bad Wolf stories and the Little Red Riding Hood retellings, but many of the authors we have used have retold the household tales in a number of intriguing ways.
One of those is Roald Dahl, whose Rovolting Rhymes and Dirty Beastly use his own peculiar–often twisted–humour to see the old story in a new and shocking light. Dahl’s rhymes are fun, mildly inappropriate, and inversive Seussian poems. I loved them so much I challenged our students to do the same.
And, of course, I tried one out myself–though I wrote under duress. I can’t seem to escape 2020, and this poem was written just as the election was in high chaos and COVID numbers were spiking, threatening another lockdown in one form or another. I think my Revolting Rhyme from 2016, “Bluebeard the Hipster Serial Groove Killer,” is far better. But here is my plague poem for all to hear.
The Ant and the Grasshopper: A Revolting Rhyme
This is a tale of two good friends
Who were neighbours in their way,
Of shaking hand and sharing news,
In their white suburban play
Of raised-box gardens and flowerbeds,
Garages, mowers, backyard decks,
Power tools and hedge-row trimmers,
And gardening pants with checks.
But fence-long friends will come to find
As close as they may be,
There are times that test the manly bonds
Of tools and toys and trees.
To the East was Robert Carpenter,
Ant-like in his work.
He scurried hard and built all day,
Nary a task did he shirk.
And to the West was IT Sam
Who spent his days in codes.
Grasshopper-like he leapt at chances,
But wouldn’t carry heavy loads
It was Bob who changed over the years,
As his worries grew in pain.
System fails and end-times threats
Drove him near insane.
It began with seeds that he collected—
Labelled in airtight bags—
Then cans of food and metal dishes,
Then guns with extra mags.
Bob built a bunker in his backyard,
He made the walls real thick.
He stockpiled tonnes of medicine,
For the times when he got sick.
Bob filled it up with his favourite things:
Maps and books and pens.
Then he settled in to wait for the day
When the world would finally end.
There was Y2K and 9-11,
And the hunt for Bin Ladin.
But these were busts for prepper Bob.
2012? Th’apocalypse was thin.
Arab springs and Islamic State,
West Asia on the run.
But in the cozy world of ant-like Bob,
There were no threats – not one!
Then the White House had a change one day
From ass to elephant.
Bob’s ears perked up as the streets filled in
To say hello to Trump.
But even then, there was no hope:
The protests went away.
In all the stateside machinations,
The End-Times had no sway.
And then, the spring of 2020,
Though for you it’s all a blur.
A crisis hit, the world was rocked,
And Bob’s heart began to stir.
The plague was here! hurrah at last!
Bob’s mind was filled with bliss.
And he headed to his hiding place,
With food and place to … urinate.
But as Bob was about to lock
The Bunker’s secret door,
He saw his friend the grasshopper
Pacing his livingroom floor.
Sam had not prepped as Bob had done;
He was without a trace
Of necessities while luxuries filled
His man-caved bachelor place.
Same then looked up and smiled at Bob
Who was fond’ling a gun.
But Sam thought of Bob’s worrisome ways
And waved his friend along.
To spend a plague with Nutter Bob
Was hardly worth the while.
Sam’s comfy couch and networked house
Was his tech-bunker’s style.
Robert shrugged and turned his back away
On his once close-knit friend,
Pondering how they drifted far
And how this world would end.
Bob was safe in his Bunker sound
Tuning in while eating spam.
But as the cities shut their doors
Where did this put old Sam?
Sam ate his Wheaties and drank his beer
But then found the cupboards bare.
The banks were closed, the shores were shut,
And cabs refused their fares.
Lockdown came and closed the world;
Sam’s spirits began to fall.
He spent his days on statistic sites
Staring at scary red balls.
With the food all gone and the beer all drank,
Sam began to worry.
So he sent a note to Amazon
To get food in a hurry.
“It worked!” Sam cried when the doorbell rang
He gave the driver a touchless tip.
He had his fill and ate some more
Then he ordered a second trip.
And then Sam thought of COVID loss,
The sorrow and the pain:
“In this mess and evil time,
How could I stand to gain?”
So stocks he bought in Amazon,
Then turned to Shopify.
Big banks, Fastly, Zoom’s the choice
To make his wallet fly.
And then the world began to change;
The streets were not on fire.
We put on masks and took six feet,
And stepped into the mire
Of an apocalypse that wasn’t—
And yet still very is
The haunt of death and the cry of pain,
For old folks and for kids.
So Bob one day opened his door
To breathe the air and see,
If he survived the end-times war
That they promised on TV.
Instead he saw IT Sam
Leaning on his windowpane,
Waving at his bunker friend
And drinking fine champagne.
Sam’s house was now a palace
With servants and a pool.
The grasshopper turned out lucky,
While the ant looked like a fool.
Now the moral comes to this old tale,
Though different from the first:
You can prep and save up all you want,
But techies are the worst!