Thursday, September 24, 2015

Harry the poet -- yes, he was that, too

How long do you save old letters and poems from others? (Or emails in today's world.) When I started this blog in May 2015, several of Harry's friends told me they would look for the poem he'd written in their honor, "if I can find it," they said. One of these friends was referring to a 61-year-old poem (shown below, to Alice). 

Sure enough, I found a copy of their poems in Harry's files. He saved them all -- poems he'd crafted for countless family and friends on a variety of occasions (birthdays, anniversaries, retirements, fundraisers), for submission to publications, and for folks in his workplace, where he was dubbed the "Pentagon Poet Laureate."

I discovered in Harry's keepsakes that he wrote poems as far back as 1945, so it’s likely he rhymed even before then. Below are six of the earlier poems; I’ll post others in the coming weeks -- but be forewarned, he saved hundreds.

This first one was in a pile of yellowed, delicate news clippings, in a folder with Army memorabilia.

September 1945 
USO Newsletter – G.I. Journal

Harry, winter 1945
Written by Pvt. Harry Zubkoff

When I was a civilian,
And it seems so long ago
I always used to wonder
Where the soldiers used to go.

And then I used to wonder
If the folks who didn’t know
Were doing all they could
To help some G.I. Joe.

The average civilian
Original newsletter, fragile and torn
Is the same as I was then.
He really doesn’t understand
But he wonders now and then.

But there are some civilians,
A special kind I guess,
For whom I call on God above
To cherish and to bless.

They didn’t stand and wonder
The way some others do,
If a soldier had a place to go
Or anything to do.

Harry and Jeanette, November 1945
No, they arranged a place,
Where all G.I.s could go;
They arranged a darn good place
And called it USO.

So, I no longer wonder
The way I used to do,
If soldiers have a place to go
Or anything to do.

For whenever we’re in town
And have no place to go,
We know we’re always welcome
At the SA-USO.

And of one thing I’m certain,
This I surely know,
There’s a special kind of Heaven
For the FOLKS of USO!

December 19, 1949 (Details unknown)
A Toast to All 
Oh, I'm working on a message,
That is full of hope and cheer,
But I can't get in the spirit,
Not without a glass of beer.

Mr. Noble says make merry,
For the Yuletide Season's here.
Harry with Jeanette and Earl, 1949
But as sure as my name's Harry,
How can I, without my beer!

I suppose I ought to wish him joy,
But how can I revere,
Anyone who won't allow a boy
To have a glass of beer!

Oh, I wish I had a nickel now,
for everybody here,
Who will celebrate this Friday,
But without a glass of beer!

Now if Mr. Noble's bosses
Are the kind of men I think,
First winter in Greenbelt, MD
They will celebrate this Friday too,
But not without a drink.

They will bring enough fine liquor
For a battleship to sink,
Then they'll lock their office doors and,
They will have themselves a drink.

They will make the rounds like gypsies,
And at everyone they'll wink,
Then they'll ship into their offices
And have another drink!

They will hang around the mistletoe
Like Romeos, they think,
Then with every kiss they manage,
They will need another drink.

They will put away enough, you know,
To fill a pair of floats,
I don't wish them any harm,
But may it stick inside their throats!

For while they're behind their office doors,
All dishing out good cheer,
We'll be celebrating Christmas dry,
Without one glass of "Beer"!!!!


Lament of Harry Z. (Undated, though likely the 1950s, long before I noticed that my father was a proponent of equal rights for women.)

The zaniest girls you'd ever see
Harry (far left) at an office celebration, 1950s
have organized to comfort me.
They fetch my coffee, milk or tea,
They smile so very prettily.

And when I'm blue, or seemingly,
They cheer me up so beamingly.
And when we're busy, flappily,
They follow orders snappily.

And when I think, so fleetingly,
They treat me so entreatingly,
And when I'm gazing ceilingly,
They hold my hand so feelingly.

And when I'm scared, so fearingly,
They soothe me, so endearingly,
And then, of course, occasionally,
They also do some work for me!


December 1954
Alice C. (Brown) Price

In each one's life there comes a time
To bid his friends farewell,
To leave a job, a place, a gang,
And tell them it's been swell.
It's not Alice, but here's Harry with associate, circa 1954

So now the time has come for you,
To say your sad good-byes,
And we won't look if one or two
Small tears get in your eyes.

We know you'd rather not depart
This citadel of strife,
And yet, you're eager now to start
A wonderful new life.

And if you miss us now and then,
Remember this - and smile,
We'll remember you, my dear,
At least a little while! ! ! !

So pass once more, your office door,
And walk on down the hall,
For always and forevermore,
We love you, one and all! ! ! ! !

Harry and Alice stayed in touch for life. 


Vintage photo of the pool in Greenbelt, MD
An article in memory of Harry, in the June 5, 2014 Greenbelt (MD) News Review, displayed the next poem. According to the article, “… vandalism by local youth was a recurring problem in Greenbelt’s early days and Zubkoff was particularly provoked by random acts of destruction. In addition to editorials bemoaning these occurrences, he expressed his ire and wit in columns,” such as this one in 1950.


This is to advise a guy
In no uncertain terms,
Harry with Jeanette and Earl at the pool, 1950
That I will catch him, by and by,
And feed him to the worms.
For pranks are pranks, and jokes are jokes,
And boys are always boys,
But you will agree, won't you folks
That clotheslines aren’t toys?
Yet every time we look around
(It’s happened once or twice)
We find our clothesline on the ground,
I ask you, Is that nice?
I am sure that everyone in town
Will wish me all the best,
The day that I catch up with,
And eliminate this pest.
This I say and this I mean
And you can mark it down,
That someday I will catch the guy,
Who cuts my clothesline down!

 Does anyone know if they caught the bandit?


This poem (actually two on the page, titled I and II) was one of many saved on thin carbon copy paper (who remembers that?)! Harry’s penciled note on the bottom of the paper says: Sat. Eve. Post 9/2/55


Harry and Jeanette in new Jewish Community 
Center in Greenbelt, 1955 (Photo by Mike Ratzkin)
I cannot see why it should be,
I cannot understand it,
Your constant use of clamjamfry,
Must be because you planned it.
How frequently, increasingly,
I find upon these pages,
Incessantly, distressingly,
No “wisdom of the ages.”


A pseudo-dialectologist
Appears with regularity,
A semi-semasiologist
Who deals in slangularity.
And magazinistic essayists
Who dabble allegorically,
Discursive dissertationists
Who write commontatorially.
While readers and semanticists,
Reject them categorically!


Harry's talent for poetry rubbed off on some of us. Yes, I'd written many to him, as well as to others. So, too, his granddaughter, who says it was easier to write poems to eulogize her grandparents than to write the ordinary way. And, his grandson, who penned lyrics for his movie musical score, and so on. I think you'll agree when you've seen more, however, that Harry's poems are in a league of their own -- and some might blow your mind.

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