To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme

for Michael

Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a warm, tidy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.

After breakfast, Aunt Moss took off her apron and made her hair tidy.

“Are you going somewhere, Moss?” Aunt Lillibet asked her.

“I’m going to a poetry reading at my friend Shelley’s place,” Aunt Moss said. “Malcolm has written some poems, and he’s going to read them for us.”

“A poetry reading?” Aunt Lillibet was horrified. She clutched her hat and said to Benson’s mother, “Don’t let her go, please!”

“But Aunt Moss loves poetry,” Benson’s mother said.

Benson said, “What’s poetry?”

“It’s what a poet writes,” Aunt Moss answered, her eyes glazing over. “Sometimes it’s romantic and sometimes it’s sweet, and sometimes it’s funny and much more upbeat.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “You just can’t stop it! You’re doing it now!”

“Calm down, Lillibet. Stop making a row,” Aunt Moss said.

Benson didn’t know what they were talking about. He asked, “How do you get to be a poet? Can anyone do it?”

Aunt Moss said, “You start to rhyme and before you know it, if you take your time, you become a poet.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Stop it this minute! Stop it, right now!”

“I can’t, Lillibet, I just don’t know how,” Aunt Moss said. “Words and rhymes come into my head, any time of the day, even when I’m in bed.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “You’ll be sorry, you know. If you go, you’ll regret it!”

“Sometimes, Lillibet, you simply don’t get it,” Aunt Moss said. “Poetry’s one of my favourite things. Whenever I hear it, it makes my heart sing!”

Aunt Lillibet said, “But remember what happened the last time you went!”

“That’s something I don’t think we’ll ever forget,” Benson’s mother said, smiling.

Benson said, “What happened?”

Aunt Lillibet said, “She wouldn’t stop rhyming, for weeks and weeks!”

“But rhyming is how every good poet speaks!” Aunt Moss said.

Benson sighed. “I wish I could do it, but I don’t know how to get the words to rhyme.”

“Don’t worry, Benson, it all comes with time,” Aunt Moss said. “Don’t say you don’t know, just give it a go.” She picked up a plum out of the fruit bowl. “Like this: I’m a plum, that’s what I am. Make me into yummy jam.”

Benson said, “It sounds easy when you do it, but I don’t think it is.” He picked up an orange. “Here I’ve got an orange orange. It’s good for marmalade or orange. Juice.”

Aunt Moss clapped. “That’s very good, Benson! Would you like to come? A poetry reading can be lots of fun.”

Aunt Lillibet groaned. “Don’t take Benson, or he’ll catch it too.”

“It’s not like the measles, or catching the flu!” Aunt Moss said. “Poetry’s lovely, whatever you say, in the bath or the kitchen, it’s always okay. Now give me my hat, we should get on our way. Goodbye, Lillibet, have a wonderful day!”

She put her hat on, and she and Benson went off together.

When they came home later on, Aunt Moss didn’t look excited any more.

“How was Malcolm’s poetry reading?” Benson’s mother asked.

Benson sat down with a thump, and said, “Boring and stupid.”

“Not as much fun as I thought. He writes haiku now,” Aunt Moss said.

“Haiku?” Benson’s mother said. “That kind of poetry that doesn’t rhyme?”

Aunt Moss said sadly, “There aren’t any rhymes, there are only lines of words. Where’s the fun in that?”

Benson said, “We sat and listened, and Malcolm read weird things like, ‘Gum trees hate Mondays.'”

Aunt Moss said, “We came home early. It’s no fun without the rhymes. Lillibet was right.”

Benson’s mother said, “Poor Lillibet went to bed with a hot water bottle and a cup of camomile tea after you left. She said she couldn’t stop her brain from rhyming.”

A big smile spread across Aunt Moss’s face. She said, “I know what she means. Sometimes the rhymes go round and round until your head begins to pound.”

“You know, that’s what I’ve always found, unless you really like the sound,” Benson’s mother said, smiling back.

Benson said, “Should we go and see if she feels better, or if there’s anything we can get her?”

Aunt Moss exclaimed happily, “Benson, you’ve got it! You’re doing it too!”

“I have to admit, it’s all thanks to you,” Benson said modestly.

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