Cheshire Cat’s Message: An Original Poem

The following is a sample of my work during NaNoWriMo 2017 on a novel begun during Camp NaNoWriMo, July 2016. I originally shared the poem along with (1) my list of excuses for not having written much in fall 2017, (2) explanation and promotion of NaNoWriMo, (3) commentary on my novel-writing process, and (4) an excerpt, a scene from the same novel. These parts together comprise the post “Noveling in November.”

So here it is, from early November 2017, a fanciful rhyme belying, until the final stanza, the general unease of all in Looking-Glass Land under the White King’s regime.

To the Ray Harvesters from Cheshire Cat’s Pub

Let me sell you some sunshine
from the broad eastern plain
so you won’t have to reach so high up that tree
to catch the sun’s rays, blocked by dense
branches and lofty foliage from harvesting.

They have plenty of sun back east
where drought is too long creating
mirages in a soon-to-be-desert
and the drunkards stumble to the tavern’s threshold
only to find invisible smiling cats.

The sun is not useful there
where they block it with blinds
of thick wool and old wood planks
in the one building where infamy lives,
but barely, while liquor flows and cats nap.

The ground there is golden
with burnt grass and bright dirt, mocking
the yellow of sun beams wished
for growing green things, which you have
in abundance in your abundant shade.

Could we make a trade, perhaps,
a bargain of sorts? Rain for sun,
damp for dry, and a stoop of rum
or a sprig of thyme, for good measure
and good faith, or if you’d prefer,
some visions ground from your own toadstools?

It won’t be long now before you’ll
pale in the dearth of light on your western earth
and we’ll shrivel in the hot white searing
of sod and sand and roof on this edge of things.
We must take care of each other, or what are we?

© copyright C. L. Tangenberg

Somehow, I rattled that one off in about 25 minutes after drafting a scene that takes place at the Cheshire Cat’s pub, a place I invented. It probably helped that I came fresh from studying poetry and contemplating the craft of verse writing as part of my responses to a friend’s questionnaire for profiling me as an artist on her blog, in two parts: here and here. Thanks again, HL Gibson!

It also helps to be writing regularly, I must remember. The more often one practices. . . .

Letter to Elyse

Dearly Departed Madam Puppy Dog,

Well, we did it. We got a puppy. We brought home your successor, and he’s recalling your spirit. He has also borrowed your collar, your leash, your crate, which you hated but he loves, and many other doggy things we kept for whenever this day would come.

Daddy said we had lots of Nature’s Miracle stain remover left, but he was remembering all the bulk stock we had while we still had you, messy lady. We later donated the rest. We still have the odor remover, but who wants to remove new puppy smell, really?

And your toys. All, except the ones we buried with you and the few we donated, are now his.

We think more about you, talk more about you again, now that a canine cousin has arrived. Comparisons are inevitable as inter-species learning returns and evolves. Every day is a new adventure with the resonance of all those new days with you, our first dog, when we didn’t really know what we were doing except in theory. You then blew all our theories out of the water. I suspect Ethan will throw us some curve balls, too.

Did I not mention, he has a similarly human-sounding name that starts with an “E.” Like yours did you, his seems to suit him. There’s some kind of enhanced dignity in it. And yet, it’s almost more fitting as a puppy’s name than yours would have been, since we got you as an adult. The name “Ethan” sounds fundamentally boyish and playful to my ear, reminiscent of other names with an “en” ending sound, like “Munchkin,” “Pumpkin,” “Button,” “and so on. Not to say your name was bad; we loved it and you all the same. It was just so very serious, my darling, as was most of your life with us.

I hope you have found rest and freedom from the pain you suffered for too long, even in our care over the course of three years. Beyond that, I have transferred all my hopes to Ethan now. I hope you don’t mind. He needs us as you did. He is shy, impressionable, and skittish, abandoned like you were but less dominant and nervous, perhaps. Whereas you were co-alpha in your foster family pack, Ethan was definitely a follower among his foster pack members, not quite fully so with us yet.

At the moment, he seems to prefer neighborhood dogs, kids, and passing cars to his would-be human parents. But in this, he’s helping us to come out of our shell as much as we are helping to socialize him. After so carefully protecting your heart from the risk of injury and illness from other dogs, it is good to look forward to letting our dog be a dog.

Ethan is our first puppy, so all the puppy behaviors will take some getting used to for us. With his ongoing adjustment and shyness, we still have to get to know his true personality, too. But he’s still a dog. He sleeps and eats and pees and poops and looks and listens and walks and barks like a dog, just like you did.

In a way, we’re falling in love with you all over again, with all dogs, by bringing just one into our home that’s been too quiet since you had to leave us. He sees, smells, and treads the ground with that eager puppy step, clomping heavily on the kitchen floor in feet he must grow into. The sights, sounds, smells, and textures of another beautiful dog refresh our lives and reaffirm the rightness of our time with you.

So, anyway, wish us luck with this Ethan character. Despite his calmness at times for a puppy, I’m sure he’ll become a handful in his own way soon. You were in yours.

After a year and a half without you, we are finally ready again to take the good with the bad, to learn and to love. I’m hopeful our capacity for these things will only grow the longer we have this dog. And we’ll be sure to teach him discipline, as I’m sure you would if you were here.

Your bones remain beneath the ground by the service berry tree we planted to commemorate you. Both serve to remind us of what we have learned, loved, lost, and gained anew. Your white and brown hair and scent still live in the corners of our house, and, after only three days, Red Ethan is already just fine with all your hand-me-downs.

Farewell, and hugs and kisses, my sweet Elyse. We will always miss you and love you.

We are . . . Yours Truly Forever.

Blogging 101: Dream Reader, The Irony in My Life

Dear God of Irony,

You’re very funny. Very funny indeed. And, oh, so present in my life.

Normally, I don’t believe in the finger of God stirring the pot of our everyday existence, directly influencing or causing anything we do. Perhaps there is room for believing that you exist, however, as one of many minions of the more passive supreme being you work for. Among your peers might be Fate, Synchronicity, Serendipity, Symbolism, or Metaphor, to this literary thinker. Your partner in crime would seem to be Fate.

As Fate and Irony, you profit from the fact that I fell on my back down the stairs of my house with my 38-pound dog in my arms, a carrying routine we do to try to spare her back pain. I sustained injury while the dog was completely unharmed. Well done.


You’re especially funny to me because at least I didn’t break anything, just popped out a couple of ribs the chiropractor readjusted. If I had broken my back, well . . . you would still be active as who you are, just not as funny, at least not to me, for the death or paralysis, assuming life ends at death and I want more life, which I do. (My spirit might otherwise find my death amusing, for all I know.)

I can laugh at myself now that my sides don’t hurt as much and give you a mental wink or tip of the cap for your performance. I can take your work as a sign and interpret that sign in whatever way I choose, to your added glory–or not.

I recognize you, though, because of my education. I learned about you in school. Because of that, I can also use you for creating this post, which you helped to delay, just as you have used me–I’m sure you had your reasons, or at least your fun.

But I can’t embarrass you, can I? Not as you have defined my embarrassment. And I certainly cannot cause you actual pain, for you are not a physical being. I could try to shame you for your meanness, for being a party to causing my pain, for making me seem like the fool, which, of course, I am.

Still, I just can’t help but love you despite–and for–your joke at my expense. Without you, my life would be just a touch less meaningful and certainly less interesting.

You’ve got me where you want me, there’s no escape, and you can re-emerge at any time to put your stamp on my next foible. Without being able to prevent this, all I ask is that you and your buddy Fate deal gently with me. I can take the humiliation. I’ll get over it and maybe eventually laugh again. But let me heal fully, please, if you have any say in the matter, and let not my death (whenever it happens) become a mere symbol, a portrait of your splendid presence.

Splendid though it may be, in its way, it could still spell permanent shame and embarrassment to me, through the destruction of others’ faith in my intelligence during life. I’d rather not go anywhere near the Darwin award list.

I’ll try not to look for you, though I suspect I’ll have trouble refraining, for I know you operate on your own terms and need no encouragement. I’ll leave you to your work. Just have a little mercy on me, and I will continue to sing your praises for fulfilling your purpose so aptly. Deal?

Thanks for being you.

Sincerely yours,


P.S. Elyse (the dog) sends you a tail wag of approval, too.