Poems (usually bad) written for a specific occasion, such as a birth[day], a wedding, a retirement party or a funeral.


The Parrot

(Apologies to Edgar Allan Poe.)
For my own retirement party, 03 Nov 2012.


Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, bleak and bleary,
Over many a faint and phoney answer to a midterm question,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, capping off my indigestion.
“‘Tis some student,” then I muttered, “capping off my indigestion —
Seeking answers to the question.”

Ah, distinctly I remember, it was in a wet November,
And my dying mental ember wrote some words upon a page.
Dreading then tomorrow’s lecture, vainly I had sought to hector
From my writing some wise vector that would make me seem the sage —
Make at least a feeble gesture thus to earn an honest wage,
Negating the effects of age.

And the silly sad mistaken midterm answers did awaken
Dark despair and desperation I had never felt before;
So that now, to stop the sinking of my heart, I stood there thinking,
“‘Tis some offer to go drinking there outside my office door —
Some sad colleague tired of thinking, knocking on my office door;
This it is, and nothing more.”

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my office door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you.” — here I opened wide the door.
Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness staring, long I stood there scowling, swearing,
Wond’ring who decided unused lighting was a mortal sin;
But the darkness was unbroken, and the hallway gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Again?
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Again!
To my sustainable chagrin.

Back into my office turning, indigestion fiercer burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than the last.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice:
Let me see, then, what thereat is, putting this annoyance past —
Let my stomach still a moment while I put this in the past;
Then I’ll take antacids, fast!”

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a scruffy parrot from a pirate film grotesque;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a moment stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my cluttered desk —
Perched upon a Feynman poster just above my cluttered desk —
Perched, and sat there, statuesque.

Then this raunchy bird beguiling my sad scowling into smiling
By the colourful profiling of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy orange plumes I stare at, thou,” I said, “art sure no carrot,
Smelly, bold and silly parrot wandering from the Carib shore —
Tell me what thy pirate name is on the Caribbean shore!”
Quoth the Parrot, “Nevermore.”

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning — little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blest with seeing bird on Hennings’ thirdmost floor —
Bird or beast upon the poster here on Hennings’ thirdmost floor,
With such name as “Nevermore.”

But the parrot, sitting lonely on the poster there, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered — not a feather then he fluttered —
Till I scarcely more than muttered, “Fantasies have flown before —
On the morrow he will leave me, as my wits have flown before.”
Then the bird said, “Nevermore.”

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore —
Till the dirges of his hope that melancholy burden bore
Of ‘Never — nevermore’.”

But the Parrot still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled an office chair in front of Feynman, ‘cross the floor;
Then upon the cushion sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this raucous bird of yore —
What this rainbow-colored, fat, ridiculous, clownish bird of yore
Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose gaudy plumage gave impressions of burlesque;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On neglected printouts pining there upon my cluttered desk,
A pitiful pile of ancient data damning me from on my desk,
Demanding writeup, Kafkaesque!

Then methought the air grew colder as I gazed upon the folder
Full of formulae and figures that confused me to the core.
“Wretch,” I cried, “what colleague sent thee thus to mock me and torment me?
Theory, please let me invent thee — grant me insight, I implore!
When will I analyze this data, know the purpose it was for?”
Quoth the Parrot, “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil! — prophet still, if bird or devil! —
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, here where wiser minds are wanted —
Where intelligence is flaunted — tell me truly, I implore —
What the hell’s a Luttinger liquid? Tell me — tell me, I implore!”
Quoth the Parrot, “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil — prophet still, if bird or devil!
By the ghost of Feynman — by the intellect of Phil and Bill —
Tell this fading fake if ever, even if I lecture never
And my service duties sever, with a valiant act of will,
If I can understand my data, write it up and publish still.”
Quoth the Parrot, “Never will.”

“Be that word our sign in parting, bird or fiend,” I shrieked, upstarting —
“Get thee back into the tempest and the soggy, soaking shore!
Leave no orange plume as token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my lethargy unbroken! — quit my poster, out my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form out from my door!”
Quoth the Parrot, “Nevermore.”

And the Parrot, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the phallic Feynman poster just above my desk and more;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the neon o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted . . . nevermore!


Well, that sad ending kind of sucks. How about this alternate ending:

And the Parrot, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the phallic Feynman poster overlooking my workstation;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is scheming
My demise; but he is dreaming! I ignore his accusation,
Focusing on fishing, track and fiction now in combination
On my permanent vacation!

Dr. KAON’s Koan

A poem written by Jess H. Brewer on the occasion of
Erich W. Vogt’s retirement party, 31 March 1994.


Born on the prairies in TRIUMF tradition,
the second of six Vogt family additions,
Erich soon showed that he loved competition,
conceived an interest in nuclear fission
and set out to overcome all opposition.

Erich took leave of his fair Manitoba
for Princeton, where he’s now a Department prober.
Perhaps his dignity still must recover
from a party to celebrate school being over,
the only time he’s been seen not sober.

Through Birmingham he continued his story
to Chalk River National Laboratory,
where Erich pursued the implacable quarry
of knowledge, while stocking his inventory
of children and accolades solemn and hoary.

Vice President Erich, we were shown,
had a will of iron, not a heart of stone.
He treated the UBC tribe like his own,
but that student reporter should have known
his position on sensitive issues was “prone.”

Despite this penchant for un-P.C. quips,
he was offered the TRIUMF Directorship.
As Erich accepted, he made one more slip:
“This is only for five years – read my lips!”
(Not counting, of course, the time spent on trips.)

In fact, Erich stayed for “two terms and a while”
as the KAON proposal passed trial after trial.
Through political intrigues like Penrose tiles,
we learned to love Erich’s management style:
“Come in with a worry, go out with a smile!”

And thus with his vision we all were infected,
and all to KAON became connected.
Oh what a relief, to be briefly protected
from “realist’s” sad, morose and dejected
predictions that KAON would soon be rejected.

They were right, I guess – KAON finally fell,
but defeat is no shame in a battle fought well.
It was wise of the bureaucrats not to tell
Erich Vogt they wouldn’t build KAON ’till Hell
froze over; we’d freeze it!
(And there they could dwell.)

Tomorrow we start with a brand new boss:
Alan Astbury is his name.
He’ll have to rewrite the rules of the game
to build new victories out of our loss.

If Alan intends to avoid any anguish,
he’ll remember our birthdays, every one,
the names of our spouses, daughters and sons,
and cheerful greetings in every language.

But one thing I’m sure he will freely confess:
he must learn to lean out of his office and yell,
VOGT!!!” with the requisite decibels
or pay for conventional public address.



She merges, slowly blinking Buddha,
into a less wise world. God bless
the revelation in her eyes
and open them again for her
if ever magic hides.


Written on the occasion of our daughter’s birth at Seibo Byoin Hospital in Tokyo, 15:16 local time, Japan, May 4, 1983.

The Computerization of John B.

(Apologies to Robert Service)

A poem written on the occasion of John B. Warren’s retirement party.

John Warren was a great physicist, a good friend and a nice man. The world is less for his passing. This poem was written for his official retirement from UBC around 1980, a few years after his retirement as the first Director of TRIUMF due to a heart attack. He retired reluctantly, devoting much attention to the production of apples on his farm in the Okanagon but returning to TRIUMF periodically to remind us of what we were supposed to be doing, until his death years later. I miss his advice.


There are strange things seen at a big machine
by the men who moil for muons.
The various factions have interactions
that would make quarks spit out gluons.
The Meson Hall lights have seen queer sights,
but the queerest they ever did see
was that night by the beam of M13
when I computerized John B.

Now, John was raised in the ancient days
when computers were only a dream.
The numbers he’d pack on an envelope’s back
were astonishing! . . . so it now seems.
When microprocessors became our oppressors
and FORTRAN IV-plus was invented,
he thought of the lot as a mechanist plot
to drive J.B. Warren demented.

One midnight our team was taking beam
and fitting the data on line.
The computer was busy! The noise made us dizzy
as it hummed and beeped and whined.
If we opened our door then the Meson Hall roar
assaulted our sanity.
It wasn’t much fun, but the only one
who didn’t compute was John B.

Later that night as we stood packed tight
’round a rack of defunct nucleonics,
the oscilloscope screen cast a glow of green
on the tangle of wires and ‘lectronics.
He turned to me and, “Jess,” said he,
“I’ll retire next year, I guess,
and if I do, I wonder if you
might consider the following request:

“When I move to my farm, it would do you no harm,
and is even dictated by prudence,
that you should enhance the effects of your grants
by looking after my students.
It’s not my displacement, it’s the thought of replacement
by a computer that ruins my day.
So I want you to swear that, foul or fair,
you’ll maintain my PHA.”

Now, a colleague’s neurosis is fine in small doses,
but this was a wholesale batch.
So I promised that night to preserve pulse height
off-line techniques, with one catch:
I made John swear this burden to bear:
that he’d program the PDP
to pick and to happily polish each apple
that grows on the trees of J.B.



J. Reginald Richardson’s Dream


J. Reginald Richardson: he
was born on the Prairie and raised by the Sea;
but it was down South in the Land of the Free
that he learned the fine art of knob-twiddlery.

At Berkeley and later at UCLA,
devices with dials would all do as he’d say.
The technique that he used is known to this day
as the J. Reginald Richardson Way.

They say that all hell on wheels knew the fame
of J. Reginald Richardson’s name.
His skill would put Mario Andretti to shame.
When he’d passed, no highway was ever the same.

He laboured with Alvarez after school
on a monstrous Linac to generate fuel.
They tell me that Luis is nobody’s fool;
was this the exception that proves the rule?

Now, every great twiddler needs a rest,
and Canada’s version of far Southwest
suits J. Reginald Richardson best,
so he made himself Galliano’s guest.

He set out one day on that sea-circled mound:
after walking and thinking for some time, he found
he was back where he started. He shouted, “Zounds!
An accelerator ought to be round!”

“Furthermore, clearly it seems only right
that problems with pushing the speed of light
should not interfere with the time of flight —
an isochronous path is a classic delight!

“The problem is, protons are hard to extract…
But only when they are injected intact!
If a couple of negative charges were packed
on the outside, this case could be easily cracked.”

Inspired, he sat down and drew up a design:
extraction consisted of changing the sign;
isochronous magnets would work just fine,
since at stripping the energy would be defined.

By this time the notion was well on its way
into history still being written today.
But first Reg had a few dues to pay,
so he carried it back to UCLA.

Now, ‘way down South in the U.S. of A.,
things are done in a different way:
only once; always big; always, some say,
to guarantee citizens taxes to pay.

Lord Bethe declared that no sane man would dream
of a polarized negative hydrogen beam,
and Clinton P. Anderson’s eye did gleam.
Oh, together they made a formidable team.

So our hero went down to defeat and dismay.
But never did Reginald Richardson say
he was finished; a new Task Force saved the day,
returning the concept to where it would stay.

They re-thought that “minimum energy” stuff:
persuading electrons never to slough
at close to a GeV is tough!
Maybe one pi at a time was enough.

Erich and Reginald collaborated.
The concept was carefully masticated.
Then Erich, Ed, John, and others persuaded
far Ottowa that Meson Physics was fated.

Support from the three Universities won
the funding from Eastern Establishment dons,
so TRIUMF rushed in where no Angeles had gone:
an isochronous H cyclotron.

There followed a few years of struggle and sweat
into which Reg cleverly didn’t get.
When it looked like the challenge was going to be met,
he added five years of his life to the bet.

Soon after arriving, he plainly could see
that some major components were NFG.
But the Destructive Testing Task Force would see
to getting a brand new Transformer for free.

And Heaven forbid, had an angry mob
made Magnet Shimming a Union job,
J. Reginald Richardson sobs
to think of how far he would be from his knobs.

A tale I am told, though I’d rather not quote,
that when Socialist notions were rocking the boat
J. Reginald Richardson smote
the gavel, and cried, “There will be no vote!”

(I imagine then Erich awoke with a grin
from a dream which he’d been Henry Kissinger in
and sat up and spoke through the noise and the din,
“This sounds like the good part; I think I’ll join in!”)

When TRIUMF was only beginning to get
the first beam, Experiments got their feet wet
and J. Reginald Richardson met
his greatest annoyance and obstacle yet.

When our plans were beset with “a few minor flaws”
and came to a sudden impasse just because
of attempting to violate physical laws,
why, we blamed it all on the Beam and the Boss.

And when budgets came out, there was always a fuss
In a disgruntled chorus we’d mutter and cuss
that J. Reginald Richardson was
a spendthrift with other guys, stingy with us.

But the truth should be known (if you haven’t all guessed),
that some would have been less incensed and obsessed
had J. Reginald Richardson blessed
mesons a bit more, and nucleons less.

So right from the start he was under the gun,
but he stuck to the task through frustration and fun,
and now it’s all over, the struggle is done,
and J. Reginald Richardson . . .



Yes, it’s all over now… or so it would seem;
yet I hear of a Galliano scheme:
a Task Force for Remote Control of the Beam
of J. Reginald Richardson’s Dream.


Written for the occasion of Reg Richardson’s retirement as the second Director of TRIUMF, 25 June 1976.  There are of course a lot of “in jokes”.