This is the week for excuses and barely enough time to offer them, so today I’m going to share one of my ready-made favorites, in fine Irish style.
Some of you might recognize this as a song, and I would normally forestall any arguments about lyrics not being poetry by pointing out that anyone who claims poetry shouldn’t be sung is a pretentious snob; that there are many cultural traditions pairing poems with music; that poem have rhythms and rhythms are music, therefore poetry contains music; and Leonard Cohen.
But I don’t have time, so I’ll just say that I read this years before I heard it performed and it’s brilliant and funny, and just the metaphor for my week*:
The Excuse, or Why Paddy’s not at Work Today
Dear Sir, I write this note to tell you of my plight,
And at the time of writing, I am not a pretty sight.
My body is all black and blue, my face a deathly gray.
And I write this note to say why Paddy’s not at work today.
While working on the fourteenth floor, some bricks I had to clear.
And to throw them down from such a height seemed not a good idea.
The foreman wasn’t very pleased, he being an awful sod
He said I’d have to take them down the ladder in me hod.
Now, clearing all those bricks by hand, it was so very slow
So I hoisted up a barrel and secured the rope below.
But in my haste to do the job, I was too blind to see
That a barrel full of building bricks is heavier than me.
So when I untied the knot, the barrel fell like lead
And clinging tightly to the rope, I started up instead—
I shot off like a rocket ’til to my dismay I found
That halfway up, I met the bloody barrel coming down.
Well, the barrel broke me shoulder as to the ground it sped,
And when I reached the top, I banged the pulley with me head.
I clung on tight, though numb with shock from this almighty blow
And the barrel spilled out half its bricks. fourteen floors below.
Now, when those building bricks fell from the barrel to the floor,
I then outweighed the barrel and so started down once more,
Still clinging tightly to the rope as I sped towards the ground
And I landed on the broken bricks that were scattered all around.
I lay there groaning on the ground and thought I’d passed the worst,
When the barrel hit the pulley wheel, and then the bottom burst.
A shower of bricks rained down on me, I knew I had no hope:
As I lay there moaning on the ground . . . I let go of the bloody rope.
The barrel then being heavier, it started down once more
And landed right across me as I lay upon the floor.
It broke three ribs and my left arm, and I can only say,
That I hope you’ll understand why Paddy’s not at work today.
Honestly, though, it’s even better out loud,** so here’s one of my favorite versions, not only because I love Sean Cannon, but because there’s something about hearing an Irishman explain this song to a German audience that just tickles me:
*And also a fairly good explanation of the laws of Newton and also Murphy, who was, after all an Irishman.
**Most slam poetry does. Get it? Slam? Poetry? See, he slammed the—oh, never mind.