The Pump Organ


Albert G. Keene, carpenter, had planned
to move his young family south that very day,
to sunny California, a more prosperous land,
and a lot warmer. He transferred a vast array
of their household belongings from the dock
to the Alameda, within a circle traced in chalk
by the captain, as the boundary of their estate.
The family pump organ was the only freight
left on the wharf. The cautious captain feared
the approaching fire and tarred timber
of the dock like the long fuse of a bomb for
his ship. A window of mere moments appeared,
so Keene began pulling the organ up the plank—
the captain had signaled. The organ fell. Sank.


  1. Leave the darned thing and push off. We’re getting out of here.

  2. Jonathan Potter says

    Glad you picked this one up! I’d eyed it, but found it too dauntedly complicated a scenario. You pulled it off nicely.

  3. Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

    I really like the way you ‘punctuate’ the last line with a standalone word; it reminds me of what you did with this one, which has stuck with me.

    That said, I couldn’t help but see if I might impose some Russian orthodoxy on your meter without compromising your meaning too badly. I’m pretty pleased with the experiment, though I do regret losing the punchy punctuation of ‘Sank.’ But see what you think:

    A carpenter called Keene had planned to
    Move wife and children south that day,
    To California’s golden land — to
    Find wealth, and warmth, and skies less gray.
    The captain of the Alameda,
    In chalk, upon the deck, had made a
    Circle that bounded Keene’s estate:
    A tottering pile of household freight —
    With one omission: on the wharf, an
    Heirloom (they’d hoped, when it was bought)
    Pump-organ. Now, the crackling-hot
    Flames race up-quay. Keene sees his orphan,
    Runs out, pulls in… too late! Thus drowned,
    Keene’s organ finds its deepest Sound.

    • Quin Finnegan says

      Thanks, Angelico. Yeah, that’s a whole heap of awesomeness … I usually don’t like ending lines with articles and such, but I very much like compound rhymes such as Alameda / made a. The last line is just fantastic (although I’m still pretty proud of mine). And the issues with meter, yes. I get caught up in telling the story, allow for a few variations, and then end up with just about nothing but variations. Does it help if I explain it as a way of capturing the rough-and-tumble life of a pioneer town?

      • Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

        Glad you didn’t take my tinkering amiss, Quin. I agree, ending lines with articles (and prepositions) is weaksauce (see here, especially Gioia’s 11th and 12th points), but I enjoy form so much that the sacrifices made to preserve technical ‘correctness’ have a special charm for me — as do sacrifices of technical correctness, such as you’ve made, for some greater good.

        Since I particularly like your last line, I’m extra glad you like mine. (Incidentally, I also tried to make musical/organ puns on ‘quay’ and ‘stop’, but it was late, I was tired, and we can’t all be JOB.)

        You keep a-scribbling stanzas, brother. I’ll get to sketching the next illustration.

  4. Let it be so: both will be included.

Speak Your Mind