J. Humbert Riddle’s Birthday Ode, Part III

J. Humbert Riddle’s Birthday Ode,
Delivered on Vacation
In the Isles, 2010

Editor’s Preface:
A new, extended version of
Perhaps Riddle’s most famous
Poem, written during a time
Of supposed sanity, and ease.

III. The Tap, Tap, Tap

In that city of passion
And poets, I mixed broken
Pigments for a shadow that
Clung to the walls, clung…
Painting and painting. Him

Dangling and hovering, him
In one hand a chisel while I
In the dark of Sixtus stare
At the impure light
Of candles at
Bare bodies born by quick,
Imperfect strokes.

An eye, quivering. The
Tap, tap, tap
Of paint dribbling
The floor. Also,

With Atahualpa once,
I and dirty and played
A game of chess one
Stormy, silent night.

Breaking over quiet,
Distant peaks. The
Pound, pound of rain
Working on patchwork pavements
Nearby. While I

Stole his queen while the fire
Snapped nearby. I
Slipping pieces to my
Ripped pocket. The

Tap, tap of rain
Outside. Tap like

When walking
Down back alleys in
That tattered town of London.
Seeing a man –
Up against a wall,
Leaning with a broken sign swinging –

A stranger first I thought,
A man out on the sun,
And rain. Yet,

When the light hit right I saw
A beloved, immortal face
Whistling such a sweet tune,
Whistling such a sweet tune through
Puddles oozing up
Cracked, uncovered feet.
“Dah-ta,” “Dah-ta,”
Floating like magic
Through the air.
Symphonies we cannot hear.
Tapping and tapping feet in tune.

Until, on a cold day at Whitehall I
Eyed an executioner
Masked, thinking of
A dull blade, a
Late night fire in forgotten
Forests. Then,
That Stuart of Two Shirts strutting
Out from chipped, sanctified crowns and
Sighing, sighing…

As the crowd gasps,
As the crowd gasps.

Posted as Part of Poets United Sunday Poetry Pantry

12 thoughts on “J. Humbert Riddle’s Birthday Ode, Part III

  1. Björn Rudberg (brudberg) December 13, 2015 / 8:06 pm

    The ominous feeling of those London streets and the familiar executioner made me think of Jack the Ripper… I feel fog clinging to my coat… Captivating journey into that near sanity.


  2. Sherry Blue Sky December 13, 2015 / 8:18 pm

    What a fantastic epic you are creating. I love the repeated words and lines, which lend intensity to the unfolding of the tale. Wonderful work!


  3. Mary December 13, 2015 / 9:24 pm

    You have created a ‘climate’ of suspense in this episode. And the ending…with the gasping crowd….makes me want to know what will happen next.

    Just a simple suggestion: Have you ever thought of writing either an introduction or a kind of summary for readers? It is kind of hard to understand the background, etc. if one reads only one of the segments. Your call, of course….but I know it would help me.


    • The Literary Doc December 14, 2015 / 2:20 am


      That is a good idea! I’ll think about doing this for the next piece.


  4. Snakypoet (Rosemary Nissen-Wade) December 14, 2015 / 12:11 am

    Wonderful! For myself I don’t feel a need to understand any more background than you have given – the mystery, and the fragmented nature of the pieces, all part of the charm for me.


  5. thotpurge December 14, 2015 / 1:43 am

    Wonderfully written.. but I now really want to read the first two parts…!!


  6. Sumana Roy December 14, 2015 / 7:04 am

    city of passion, forgotten forests and that beloved immortal face are so haunting…love this atmospheric piece….


  7. dsnake1 December 14, 2015 / 12:06 pm

    i believe, almost certain, j. humbert riddle is a time traveler. He knows who jack the ripper was.
    had to read parts I and II too. epic!


  8. Jae Rose December 14, 2015 / 1:29 pm

    Such an atmospheric and expansive story in this clever piece..that tap tap will stay in my head for some time…superbly executed – if you will pardon the pun!


  9. Wendy Bourke December 15, 2015 / 12:40 am

    The eerie cascade of images and sounds are wonderfully rendered to great effect. Awesome writing! A haunting piece.


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