Sonnet No 5: Regulations

One thing about visiting New York is the interesting conversations you have with very brief acquaintances. Today’s exercise in rhyme started out from one of them, and got distracted by the BIG signs in places that serve alcohol advising, among other things, that pregnant women should not drink alcohol, and ubiquitous illustrated instructions in the Heimlich manoeuvre. (After I’d done the first draft I realised that a wall poster in a Pain Quotidien showing how to eat a tartine was possibly meant as a parody of the mandatory Heimlich poster: I’m not alone in seeing a gleam of absurdity, even while recognising that lives may be saved by the posters.)

Sonnet No 5: Regulations
When young he drove a horse and carriage
in Central Park. They were good times,
long before the current barrage
of regulation. Now it’s a crime
to take a horse out into traffic.
Though he don’t claim they were seraphic
no one would have done that then
– the horse would suffer! They were men
who didn’t need to the law to tell ’em
right from wrong. Now everywhere
signs say Must Not, Should, No, Beware.
From Bowling Green to outer Pelham
each cafe, subway, park and lawn
will soon instruct us how to yawn.

6 responses to “Sonnet No 5: Regulations

  1. A guide we had with a group to the lower third of Central Park early last month explained the mad gentrification of the westside meant that the horse stables in that quarter were themselves much under threat – that horse-and-carriage rides in Central Park are themselves an endangered feature as a consequence.

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  2. Worth reading just for ‘seraphic’, Jonathan!

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  3. But not on cigarette packets, which in very fine print on the side suggest that your health might be improved without smoking – no death warnings, just a “here is a bit of fatherly advice, but I don’t expect you to take it” sort of warning.

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    • Yes, Penny. On the side of an empty Xxxxx pack I found, the small warning said (punctuation as in original), ‘SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Quitting Smoking Now Greatly Reduces Serious Risks to Your Health.’ That ‘Now’ is almost as curious as the Republicans’ having kept the US from actually having a Surgeon General for some time. For the record, here’s the notice that seems to be mandatory in places where alcohol is served, also retaining original punctuation:
      ‘GOVERNMENT WARNING
      ACCORDING TO THE SURGEON GENERAL, WOMEN SHOULD NOT DRINK ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES DURING PREGNANCY BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF BIRTH DEFECTS.’
      Am I alone in wondering if that first phrase suggests a sceptical response? ‘Yeah, according to the Surgeon General! But what would he or she know, if he or she even existed?’

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