Head’s Up poetry column: Maxims for Diverse Occasions

A Poetry Column By Philip Appleman

Bedeviled by malaise and moral cancers,

Everyone is hot for easy answers:

What this country needs, before cremation,

Is two cents’ worth of Instant Meditation.

So, little rhymes, go spread your moral jargon:

Wisdom’s rare, but preaching is a bargain.


Education is whatever you cannot forget:

Answers are easy, questions are always a threat.

Ignorance hurts, in surgeons and taxi drivers.

When truths drop dead, paradox whips the survivors.


Creeds are easier to learn than unlearn:

Fanatics end with sainthood or with sunburn.

Theology’s the sport of the upper classes.

Masses are the opiate of the masses.


Art is what’s left if you burn away the fact:

A poem, like prayer, is an unnatural act.

Brick is forever, marble is frightfully fickle.

Without symbolism, two dimes would buy a nickel.


Style is what keeps bread from being cake:

Hamburger is the very quintessence of steak.

Strong views, like strong eggs, need a pinch of salt.

Mold is an accident, Roquefort is somebody’s fault.


Civilizations depend on garbage men:

Progress can turn a lake into a fen.

To own a tree is shameless imprudence.

Good fences always make good arguments.

Platitudes come easy, silence hard.

Advice is always simple to discard.

So go, little rhymes, but don’t be in a hurry:

When chaos whispers, men say, “What, me worry?”

Most prefer hot cures to cool prevention.

Wisdom shrugs when no one pays attention.

From Karma, Dharma, Pudding & Pie

© Philip Appleman.

Philip Appleman is a Dis­tinguished Pro­fessor Emeri­tus at In­dia­na Uni­ver­si­ty. He is editor of the Norton Critical Edition of Darwin. He and his playwright wife, Marjorie Appleman, are both “After-Life” Members of FFRF. Phil’s books: ffrf.org/shop.