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rufus, the lady, and the tiger


poets Jim Lang, Smith, Lady – foto by Wendy Shaffer

Lady and I attend a monthly poetry workshop called Rufus organized by our poet friend Wendy Shaffer, one of the best poets I know and the woman who gave us our loaner cat.

Yesterday I discovered that one poet or another didn’t understand portions of my poem The Lady, Or The Tiger – though they all liked the poem anyway.

So here’s a 637 word explanation of my 42 word poem.

The Lady, or the Tiger?

Door 1?
Big bats flying, black scorpion crawling.

Door 2?
Blood pollen on the silent keys.

Door 3?
Candy worship in the Temple of the Prom Queen.

The price of right.
Is One the end of Zero?

– Steven B. Smith, 6.28.2009

According to Wikipedia,

The Lady or the Tiger? is a famous short story written by Frank R. Stockton in 1882.

“Plot summary:

“The semi-barbaric King of an ancient land utilized an unusual form of administering justice for offenders in his kingdom. The offender would be placed in an arena where his only way out would be to go through one of two doors. Behind one door was a beautiful woman hand-picked by the king and behind the other was a fierce tiger. The offender was then asked to pick one of the doors, without knowing what was behind it. If he picked the door with the woman behind it, then he was declared innocent but was also required to marry the woman, regardless of previous marital status. If he picked the door with the tiger behind it, though, then he was deemed guilty and the tiger would rip him to pieces.

“One day the king found that his daughter, the princess, had taken a lover far beneath her station. The king could not allow this and so he threw the offender in prison and set a date for his trial in the arena. On the day of his trial the suitor looked to the princess for some indication of which door to pick. The princess did, in fact, know which door concealed the woman and which one the tiger, but was faced with a conundrum – if she indicated the door with the tiger, then the man she loved would be killed on the spot; however, if she indicated the door with the lady, her lover would be forced to marry another woman, a woman that the princess deeply hated and believed her lover has flirted with. Finally she did indicate a door, which the suitor then opened.

“At this point the question is posed to the reader, “Did the tiger come out of that door, or did the lady?” The question is not answered, and is left as a thought experiment regarding human nature.

“From its publication and surprise ending, “The Lady, or the Tiger?” has come into the English language as an expression, meaning an unsolvable problem.”

I went from this to the TV game show Let’s Make A Deal where contestants can keep what they’ve won, or trade it for what’s hidden behind one of three closed doors – one of which is worth way more than they’ve won.

My three door lines:

Door 1 – refers to the gigantic fruit bats and my first live scorpion I saw as we walked through a cemetery the night of The Day Of The Dead in Oaxaca Mexico last year.

Door 2 – I can’t exactly remember what prompted this, but it does contain echoes of Bob Dylan’s album Blood On The Tracks.

Door 3 – I stole the entire line from a review in The New Yorker by Ben Brantley of the Broadway play “Legally Blonde.”

Of course I misremembered the TV game show, so instead of Let’s Make A Deal, I referred to it as The Price Is Right in the penultimate line.

My last line is a Zen reworking of James Cagney’s famous last line in the 1931 film Little Caesar when he’s cornered by the cops and cries out, “Mother of mercy! Is this the end of Rico?”

I was asked why I went from a two door short story to a three door TV game show and had to say I didn’t know, but both were all about choice.

So here we have an 1882 short story, a 1931 movie, a TV show I last saw in 1963, a Bob Dylan album from 1975, a play review from 2007, and The Day Of The Dead in 2008 all in a poem I wrote in 2009.

This is typical of the way I write.


poets Keisha Davenport, Steve Goldberg Russ Vidrick, Charlotte Mann – foto by Wendy Shaffer

3 Responses to “rufus, the lady, and the tiger”

  1. Jack McGuane says:

    Good explanation.

  2. salinger says:

    Yeah –

    But what’s the explanation for those shorts Goldberg is wearing?

  3. YNA MAE says:

    WHAT DOES THE SUITOR AR THE SALVAGE OPENED THE DOOR WHERE THE LADY IS THERE OR THE TIGER…

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