Had he craved the full of a wholesome world
or the foal of a fulsome girl for breakfast,

all of it pumped with a simple syrup

that treacly trudged round a stuttering
paddle wheel—

The moon like a hairline fracture
squirmed through the woolen caul
of young Phineas Barnum,
curled in his ear, still small as a toddling ormer,
rubbing its blistering ends to a spark—
He rose from a blithering vision,

one too free and frenzied to pen in his pencraft.
So he summoned Joe,
on loan to those cringing, whinging gods of Burroughs,
and duly inquired if Bucket had had but a hole
in his honeycombed schedule,
chores borne thicker than all of Bridgeport.

He toured the factory, boused his fist, exclaimed,
“How a sucker’s born every flickering minute
  amidst these whimsically whirring contraptions!”

swallowed the con and ravished the traptions.

Hunched in the breath of the burbling buttergin,
here’s what Joe had caught of their plans
for the whistle-stopped promenade slated for Amsterdam:

“—and as the empurpled Hyrcanian wildcats
  wrestle Patina Smithee and Maggie the Beard,
  and the palanquin plied by a litter of mandarin
  ducklings ducks through a fiery column
  some smoldering pyre of pennies incenses
  green as the flesh of Prince Randian’s nettling efts;
  Gerd Bessler, astride a bipedal porcupine
  playing the pipes of pan, performing
  the Madison, juggling crackling vats
  of acid, pinning its tasseled quills
  through a yodeling Bessler’s brazenly naked knees
  and more tender appendages free
  as a scurvied Napoleon sprawled on a hem of the Elba,
  bronzed as a dying star; young Bessler enters,
  pushing the platform, braying
  the rube deserves this and
  the rube deserves that and
  the rube should be duly disturbed by something.
“And then he unpins from enameled elbows

  buttons, Joe. The most beautiful buttons!
  Buttons that sing in a silvered helvetica,
                   ‘Bucket or Bupkis!’
Buttons for everyone! All of them bumpkins
riddled with buttons for Bucket.
                                        ‘Bucket or Bupkis—say,
like a hymn of the seraphim!’”

Joe set Charlie up on his puckering knee,
some pearl-pale pillar you’d pit ‘twixt splintering driftwood,
spit-stiffened ticker tape, shreds of Chaplin’s cane
dispersed across Keaton’s face like a gibbering glair,
and the slyly uncoiling teeth of a crumbling hoodoo
hunched like a cub of the Nothing—

He wheezed through a slurry of strident scree,

“Should you enter a hall
  where everyone’s hollering cheese,
  then what do you Whisper, Charlie—?

   Say Swiss or something. Edam or Brie
   or a walloping Gorgonzola!
“Shibboleths, Charlie!”

He slapped his hand with the clack of cracking porcelain over
a shrunken head.

  “It’s the shibboleths
    pinned to your sash of calfskin,
    candy-coated a peppermint plaid
    with shibboleths, Charlie!
    Rich as a shipwright!”

Charlie then wondered why his Grandpa Joe would
think that a shipwright’s rich—perhaps its relation to
carpentry, maybe a spiritual richness,
manna from heaven.

  “A shibboleth, that’s an old password,
   isn’t it?”

  “No,” mewled Grandpa Joe.
  “No, no. No, no, no, no, no, no!
    It’s like the cheese thing, Charlie.
    Think of the cheese! See,
    shibboleths keep the libra straight.
    The shibboleths argue
    you’re part of something!
    Something bigger than you, now, Charlie,
    bigger than all of the law’s contempt. See,
    shibboleths saved my life once.
    Hand to God! like a bible against my breast.
    I swear it, Charlie, swear on your Grandpa George.
    It’s all in the shibboleths—”

His eyes malingered with hungering fervor;
glints, once twinkling beacons bobbed
upon coarse and tumultuous muslin seas,
now seemed like shriveling lightning
scarred amidst cataracts grey as departed pigeons,

grey as the scowl of Grandpa George

who’d thought it was something to think about something—

The prattling talk then tarried to rancorous ramblings
thin as the Kraken’s rum.
                                             Joe pined for the stars
                    sang of the brittle scars and pig stars
groaning in the night,
                                        then fell astray,
half-dead, half-buried on Wonka’s abandoned desk
on peppermint dais.
                                      Ants ran rings among
reds and whites, and Charlie
cribbed at the gib of a shibboleth.

  like calling the colors that cling along locks of a frazzling steel wool
  yellow and green, or red and blue, or but black and white reduced
  from a buttery chrome or an ormer’s ear or an aura of moonglow
  bruising a luridly star-vexed vesper—
                                                                         shibboleths, what a thing!
  like a Maltese cross or a merit badge muddling
  soothing greens we’ve foraged from nourishing forests
  wattle-and-daubed to a louring felt.”


He dreamt that night of the shibboleths
red and black as basking leeches,
felt all the shibboleths sewn among swollen moles,
drawn swaddling bone, usurping flesh,
supplanting sinew, veins run rigid with shibboleths;

stitches of “I ain’t no pineapple-dandy-do”, or
“No rebus was ever resolved in a vacuum”,
“Suffer, don’t stutter”, and “Damn the man who
deserts his just desserts”, or “aggratology”,
“Folly’s the friend of the victor”, “Choose
or lose”, or “Bucket or Bupkis!”—

callused distractions itching at irksome
factions’ fans, like mold in a chortling HVAC.


Barnum’d rung him after the war
and explained the “exceptionally elegant metric!”

 “You see, thought’s like a fizzy-lifting drink,
   it raises us up in exceptional ecstasy—!
   And from that ecstatic parallax, seeing
   the full of things, the frozen forks,
   the fjord-like halls and hurdles framing
   strange, albeit exceedingly nuanced
   narratives steering the huddling hulls
   of the sugar-footed consumer, maybe say
   citizen should we exploit the jargon; one
   could, bellied on frank and ecstatic thoughts,
   survey the bigger picture.
                                                   One could,
   although it truly unruly, clearly conceive of a
   different picture, cherry pick, trade out
   a pinch of privilege here for a dollop
   of poverty there, dream up a new world more darling, dear,
   deranged, and maybe too damnably motherly—”

He clicked his tongue for a time to a
pensive static, radical sparks of a frazzling circuitry
spluttering gruff as a blown-out wheelwell scuds across
streets of gold.

 “And such dreams might make the common man
  drift cleanly into decapitation, maybe
  coaxed through a lofty window,
  smote along bullet-sown tracks of a subway,
  maybe fall prey to an aneurysm, a
  stroke unfurled from ineffable powder,
  dead as the tippling lisp of a dormouse
  cracked with the crazing crown of a demitasse.

“What do you do when you’re due to be chewn
  to ribbons, Charlie, ripped to a tickling mess of confetti—?
“Why, we burp now, don’t we?

“That’s what a shibboleth really is.
  We burp these noisomely well-worn words
  to keep from getting too lofty, meeting
guillotine, being stoned or stretched across
  crosses red as the X of a game show.

“And if we can just get everyone burping, my!
  now isn’t that something?
  Isn’t that something, Bucket-me-boy!

  Everyone stitched in a seamless stink—

“Ecumenical eructation, Charlie! See
  the syncretic stir of sickening gases
  swarmed to inviolate, roiling, woeful wholeness,
  sweet as a chess pie?

“Bees seduced by a flurry of pheromones,
  too confused by slavering sleuths of stench
  to do much other than pitch their cells
  and muddle the jism of orchids
  strictly into a golden honey.

“My, my, what a world we may have minded.”


Though Willy lived on in his liver,
chewing the fat, sweetening bilious spirits,
buffing that gruff and intransigent timbre
shriller than crinkling foil; Joe’d
succumbed to an embolism,
just at the moment Charlie’d chosen
his shibboleth, chosen more rather than
cheese, a yogurt
                              grown by the ebonied sands
of Iceland.

“Yogurt fills up a Bucket better!”

Brava, brava, brava, Charlie. 

And that’s what won him his epithet,
“Charlie Bucket, the cheese-hating savior of Reykjavik.”