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Untangling Spaghetti: Selected Poems

Untangling Spaghetti: Selected Poems

by Steven Herrick

Are toenails a good source of vitamin C? What are ten things you will never hear your parents say? How do you untangle spaghetti? This collection of humorous, touching, and thought-provoking poems celebrates the everyday lives of children through topics such as food, animals, school, friends, and sports.


Are toenails a good source of vitamin C? What are ten things you will never hear your parents say? How do you untangle spaghetti? This collection of humorous, touching, and thought-provoking poems celebrates the everyday lives of children through topics such as food, animals, school, friends, and sports.

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University of Queensland Press
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Untangling Spaghetti

Selected Poems

By Steven Herrick

University of Queensland Press

Copyright © 2009 Steven Herrick
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7022-5151-1


house rules

    digital clock

    It's my first digital clock.
    I'm learning to tell the time
    (although I don't tell it anything).
    At night I read in bed until
    then I close my eyes
    and think of the clock on my desk
    I know it's slowly going

    but I don't open my eyes to check
    because I'm supposed to go to sleep at

    In the morning I wake at 6:00
    although sometimes I wake at
    then I quickly close my eyes
    and pretend I'm asleep.
    I don't want to upset the clock.
    Sometimes I open one eye, just a little to check
    No. Not time yet
    until finally the clock turns

    I scramble out of bed
    race upstairs to Mum and Dad
    and jump on them as they sleep.
    They wake, groaning.
    Dad says, 'What's the time?'

    I run back downstairs
    look at my brand-new digital clock
    and yell,

    Mum and Dad don't need a clock.

    They've got me!


    Every morning
    at breakfast
    my dad drinks his coffee
    leans back in his chair
    smacks his lips
    and says,
    'aaahhh. I needed that to wake me up.'
    And every morning Mum says
    'why don't you use an alarm clock
    like everybody else.'
    And every morning Dad says
    'because I can't drink an alarm clock!'


    talks too loud
    can't hear a thing
    talks to the birds
    each named after a grandchild
    'that Simon's a worry, never eats a thing'
    she says. not sure if she's talking about
    a bird or a grandson.
    buys pet plastic crocodiles
    hundreds of them
    sets them free all over the house
    eats biscuits for dinner
    banana on toast for breakfast
    yells 'I'm 82. I'll eat what I want.'
    the grandkids love her
    write her letters she can't read
    she writes back 'the birds are doing well'.
    when they visit she tells them to
    beware of the crocodiles
    and to eat as many biscuits as they like
    'that Simon's a worry' she says
    as the birds eat, the crocodiles smile
    and the children sing.

    reasons we can't get a dog

    We don't have a fence.
    You wouldn't want him wandering off
    onto the road, would you?
    We have nowhere for him to sleep.
    No, he couldn't sleep on your brother's bed.
    All the snoring would keep him awake.
    We have nothing to feed him.
    Yes, you could give him your vegetables,
    but I don't think your mum would approve.
    Besides, dogs scratch, bite, whimper,
    howl at the moon.
    Yes, I know your brother does too,
    but we can't take him to the pound, can we?
    And do you want the dog chasing poor Mrs Sims
    and her cat down the road.
    Yes, it would be funny. But not for Mrs Sims.
    And don't say you have no one to play with.
    What about me?
    No, I won't fetch your ball, roll over or play dead!
    So, no. We can't get a dog.

    house rules

    When my dad heard my brother call me
    'A dork!'
    he said,
    'Jack, we don't say that word in this house.'
    So Jack walked quickly out the back door
    stood in the yard
    and yelled at me,
    'You dork!'
    in his best older brother voice!

    the plants

    the plants in our house have died.
    not enough sun
    not enough water
    not enough fertiliser
    not enough love and care.

    too much thick gravy
    too much cold coffee
    too much stale beer
    too many hanging toys.

    the plants in our house have died
    but what a life they had!

    my three-year-old cousin visits the zoo

    Look Mum a pekalin, a pekalin.
    And 'dere 'dere
    a lion with a beard
    Simba Simba
    here Simba.
    And 'dose pink birds
    big pink birds
    with one leg
    who stole other leg Mum?
    And a big bear Dad
    he not Humfrey
    he not look happy like Humfrey.
    And 'dose monkey
    scratchin' bottom
    funny Dad funny monkey
    scratch bottom all day.
    I like Zoo Dad.
    My favrite is horse
    with road crossing painted on them.
    And my other favrite
    is when elefant done toilet,
    everyone laughed Dad.
    I like Zoo Dad.
    We come tomorra too?

    smoke alarm

    during the night
    our smoke alarm went off
    and off and off and off and off
    and off and off and off and off
    and off and off and off and off
    and off and off and off and off
    and off and off and off and off

    until Dad hit it with his shoe

    the ten commandments[or ten things
    your parents will never say]

    Let's forget dinner tonight, we'll eat ice-cream instead.
    Goodnight children, I'm off to bed. Stay up as late as you want.
    No homework tonight. I'm putting all homework in the fireplace
    Children, don't be so quiet. Start yelling, turn the TV up, start
    arguing. NOW!
    Yes, of course you can have 21 of your friends come over to stay
    on Saturday night. We've got heaps of room.
    No, don't listen to the dentist. Lollies and biscuits are good for
    your teeth.
    Yes, that SuperdoopaComputerGame is too expensive but let's
    buy it anyway and we'll put it in your room.
    What's that? You broke the kitchen window? Good boy.
    Can someone go to the shop for a paper? Here's $100, keep
    the change.
    Yes, I know it's Monday, but why don't we stay home from
    school anyway?


    I love my dad.
    He says silly things
    and does even sillier things
    like ...
    he calls my brother and me
    'Peter' and 'George'
    when our names are Jack and Joe.
    He says,
    'Come on Peter and George, let's play cricket.'
    We say,
    'That's not our names!'
    He looks confused for a bit, then says,
    'Come on Alfred and William, let's play cricket.'
    We say,
    'Dad, that's not our names!'
    'Oh ...' he says,
    'Come on Sarah and Emily, let's play cricket.'
    We say,
    'Dad, we're boys, not girls!'
    'Of course you are,' he says,
    'How silly of me. Come on Mark and Nathan,
    let's play cricket.'

    We go and play cricket.

    names (again!)

    My dad loves names.
    He calls my brother Jack
    'Jackie', 'Jacko', 'Jacket',
    or 'Slack Jack'.
    My name's Joe.
    He calls me
    'Slow Joe', 'Joe Blow', 'No Go Joe',
    or 'Say it ain't so Joe'.
    He calls Mum
    'Darling', 'Sweetelbow', 'Pumpkin',
    or 'My life, my love, my lasagne'.

    I like his names.
    So do Mum and Jack.
    When we sit down to eat dinner
    I call him 'Baldy two shoes'.
    Jack calls him 'Big ears bullfrog'.
    Mum calls him 'The man with two stomachs'.
    Dad smiles and calls himself
    'The wrinkled one in the corner'.

    sarah's first words

    Sarah's mum told her
    the first words she ever spoke
    were 'ball' and 'moon'.
    She'd point to a ball
    And say 'moon, moon'.
    She'd point to
    her brother's head
    and say 'ball, ball'.


    Our dad never talks about his dad.

    Grandpop died long ago.

    We ask Dad about him
    as we sit on a towel on the beach,
    building sandcastles.
    Dad shovels sand into huge castle walls
    and fills the moat with sea water.
    He carefully shapes each turret,
    builds a bridge over the moat
    as we talk about our work
    and how Mum will be impressed.

    My brother goes for a swim.
    Dad goes with him.
    I work on the sandcastle.
    I know when I want to go for a swim
    Dad will come with me,
    in case the waves are too big,
    or the undertow too strong.
    I can see Dad and my brother out there now,
    playing in the waves.
    When they come back
    I've finished the sandcastle.

    'It's brilliant,' says Dad.

    I go for a swim.
    Dad comes with me.

    Our dad never talks about his dad.
    I think that's sad.

    mum and dad are in love!

    Our house is strange.
    My brother and I have a bedroom
    with four walls and a door
    like any house
    my mum and dad don't.
    They climb a ladder to their loft
    with only three walls
    and a view over the lounge room
    where the other wall should be!
    In the morning when my brother and I play
    in the lounge
    we hear Mum and Dad in bed.
    They start kissing
    smooch smooch snuggle snuggle
    they go on and on, it's disgusting!
    Sometimes they whisper things,
    soppy stuff like 'I love you'
    then they start kissing again
    smooch smooch snuggle snuggle.
    It gets so bad
    my brother and I start pretending we're them.
    We don't really kiss though
    we just make the sounds
    smooch smooch snuggle snuggle smooch smooch,
    My brother closes his eyes and kisses the air
    whispering, 'I love you, I love you'
    until I can't stand it any more and
    I start giggling which gets my brother giggling
    both of us rolling around laughing, smooching,
    giggling, snuggling, smooching, giggling
    until we look up
    and see Mum and Dad
    looking down at us from the loft
    and Dad asks,
    'What do you boys think you're doing?'

    the snake

    My dad says
    to keep away from the woodpile
    at the bottom of our garden.
    Two years ago
    my Aunt Pat saw a snake there
    and every day since
    my dad says
    to keep away from the woodpile.
    So why, every morning,
    before he has breakfast
    does he walk down to the woodpile
    never bring back any wood?

    my backwards dad

    My dad
    washes the car when it rains
    mows the lawn when it snows
    trims the hedge in a thunderstorm
    sleeps during the day
    goes to work on the weekends
    stays inside when it's sunny
    and eats dinner with his fingers.
    My backwards dad
    says hello when he drops me at school
    and goodbye when he picks me up
    calls me 'his favourite daughter'
    when my name is Michael!
    My backwards dad
    feeds the dog cat food
    and the cat birdseed
    dresses as Santa at Easter
    and says 'I love this song'
    as he turns the radio off.
    My backwards dad
    is the best mother a boy could have!

    after school

    After school
    my brother gets home
    goes straight to the kitchen
    and makes himself a
    GIANT sandwich.

    One piece of bread
    two slices of salami
    a few thick slices of cheese
    Dad's home-grown ripe tomato
    crunchy lettuce
    thin slices of cucumber
    some runny beetroot
    grated carrot
    raw onion (yuk!)
    one more slice of cheese
    some chopped olives
    a thick smudge of butter across
    the final piece of bread.

    He places this monster
    on a dinner plate,
    pours a tall glass of milk
    sprinkled with Milo,
    sits on the veranda
    and eats his GIANT sandwich
    smacking his lips
    and smiling.

    Two hours later
    when we start dinner
    my brother says,
    'I'm not hungry.'
    Mum and Dad wonder why
    but I know
    it's because of the


    hiding in his stomach.
    My brother, the giant killer!

    my dad

    My dad's a fireman!
    So is mine!
    My dad drives a sportscar.
    So does mine!
    My dad plays football for Australia.
    Mine does too!
    My dad has a beard down to his chest.
    So does mine, and he has an earring too!
    My dad has an earring and a nose-ring and a navel-ring!
    So does mine. And my dad has a key-ring!
    All dads have key-rings! My dad owns a Harley!
    My dad owns two.
    My dad fought in the war.
    My dad won the war!
    My dad has lots of medals.
    So does mine. And trophies!
    Yeah. My dad has medals, trophies, and he lost his leg, blown up
    by a bomb.
    So did mine. Now he has a wooden leg.
    Yeah, that's what I meant, only my dad has two wooden legs.
    Well my dad has three!
    Actually, my dad lives in another state, so I only see him at
    Mine lives away too. I never see him.
    Hey, we should be friends. Let's forget about our stupid dads.

    Great idea!

    happy birthday 1

    My dad loves me.
    My dad loves me.
    I know because
    he rang me for my birthday
    late last night
    when I was in bed
    and he told Mum
    to tell me
    that he loves me.

    happy birthday 2

    My mum loves me.
    My mum loves me.
    I know because
    I wasn't asleep last night
    and the phone didn't ring,
    not once,
    so Mum just said Dad rang me
    to make me feel better
    she loves me.

    my grandma talks to birds

    My grandma talks to birds.
    She has a budgie
    called Billy.
    'Who's a pretty boy then, Billy?
    Who's a pretty boy?'
    When Grandma visits
    she even talks to our budgie,
    'Eat your seed, Sam.
    Don't you look thin.
    Eat your seed Sam.'
    When we sit in the backyard
    Grandma doesn't stop talking.
    A pigeon lands on the clothes line.
    'Hello pigeon, I'll get you some seed.'
    A rosella perches on our wattle tree.
    'What a beautiful girl you are, Rosie,
    what lovely colours.'
    A kookaburra sits on the power pole.
    'Laugh, little fellow. Go on, laugh
    your head off.'
    Our grandma can't help herself.
    Yesterday we went on a picnic
    to the Botanic Gardens
    where they have a big cage
    full of galahs and cockatoos.
    Grandma keeps talking:
    'What a pretty boy.
    What a pretty boy.
    Polly want a cracker?
    Polly want a cracker?'
    Grandma stretches her hand,
    holding a biscuit, into the cage,
    and Polly
    takes a big bite,
    and bites Grandma's finger!
    'X!#X!!! Polly.'
    Grandma doesn't talk to birds.
    Grandma swears!

    the answer is no

    My dad is always saying
    'the answer is no'
    before I can even ask the question.
    Like last night
    when Mum's homemade ice-cream beckoned
    for a second helping.
    I looked at Mum
    and Dad said
    'the answer is no'
    before I said a word.
    And later
    when it was time for bed
    and my favourite television show came on
    I looked at Mum
    and Dad said
    'the answer is no.'
    And this morning
    when I tried to act sick
    and miss school.
    I groaned as Mum walked in
    and Dad said
    'the answer is no.'
    It made me mad
    so mad.
    I put on my school clothes
    without saying a word.
    I packed my schoolbag
    I kissed my mum
    and reached to take my soccer ball to school
    (which I'm never allowed to take)
    and Dad looked up.
    He was about to say the usual thing
    but as I picked up the ball
    I said, quick as a flash,
    'do you love me, Dad?'

    'the answer is ... yes'
    So me and the soccer ball
    headed to school
    with Dad at the breakfast table
    still scratching his head.

    wake up

    I wake every morning at 6 o'clock,
    my brother is still asleep.
    I climb onto his bed,
    I say in a soft voice,
    'Jack, are you awake yet?'

    He rolls over, still asleep.
    I lean over him
    and tickle behind his ear
    tickle, ever so lightly.
    He grunts
    moves away
    but stays asleep.
    I tickle under his chin
    ever so lightly
    under his chin.
    He scratches his chin
    rolls on his back
    and stays asleep.
    Now I tickle on his nose
    just lightly
    on his nose
    like a fly or a moth,
    my brother hates flies and moths.
    I tickle him again
    on his nose
    his ear
    his chin.
    Still asleep, he starts smacking his face
    after the fly.
    He smacks his ear, his nose, his chin
    so hard
    too hard
    until he wakes and says,
    'Did I kill it
    did I kill it?'

    What can I say but 'yes'.

    One day I'll tell my brother
    he should stop punching himself awake.

    One day I will.
    I promise.


Excerpted from Untangling Spaghetti by Steven Herrick. Copyright © 2009 Steven Herrick. Excerpted by permission of University of Queensland Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Steven Herrick is one of Australia's most popular and widely heard children’s authors. Many of his fourteen books for children and young adults have been on the CBCA Children's Book of the Year Awards shortlist, including Love, Ghosts and Nose Hair, A Place like This, The Simple Gift, and Tom Jones Saves the World. For the past twenty-five years, he has been a full-time writer and regularly performs his work in schools throughout the world.

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