“And what’s the topic this week?” An innocent enough little question. A perfectly legitimate question. There was just one small problem with that innocent, legitimate little question.
I didn’t have a clue what to answer.
That wasn’t because I didn’t know what the answer was. I knew the topic. The topic was, as you see above, “Seven maids.” I just didn’t know how to explain it.
“Seven maids?” She looked bewildered.
Sure, seven maids with seven mops. You know from the poem “The Walrus and the Carpenter” from “Alice in Wonderland,” written by Lewis Carroll.
“OK, but what’s that got to do with anything on Earth? ‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’ is a children’s nonsense poem. You can’t get anything out of that.”
Pierre Burton did.
“He did? What did Pierre Burton do?”
He wrote a book called “Why the Sea Is Boiling Hot” about the church in the world. The title is from that poem.
“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
“Of shoes — and ships — and ceiling wax —
“Of cabbages — and Kings —
“And why the sea is boiling hot —
“And whether pigs have wings.”
“And just where do the seven maids come from?”
The same poem.
“If seven maids with seven mops
“Swept it for half a year,
“Do you suppose,” the walrus said,
“That they could get it clear?”
“I doubt it”, said the Carpenter,
And shed a bitter tear.
“I still don’t get it,” she persisted. “It makes no sense.”
If you knew your “Alice in Wonderland” at all, you would know that the Walrus and the Carpenter were discussing the amount of sand on the beach and how they could get rid of it.
The Walrus and the Carpenter
were walking close at hand.
they wept like anything to see
such quantities of sand.
If it were only cleared away
they said, it would be grand.
So, I am doing with “seven maids with seven mops” what Burton did with “why the sea is boiling hot.” I’m using it as the title of a poem which is based structurally on the original. I am even continuing the religious theme by using the symbolism and language of the Book of Revelation.
“It sounds wondrously convoluted to me,” she said. “Read me a bit of what you’ve written.”
Okay, here’s a bit of it. …
And I, Ed, saw a new heaven from which descended seven maids all in flowing scarlet robes with scarlet caps and holding in front of them seven crosses on which they did make the sign of the Dark Ages.
And they filed into the Holy See, praising God, and chanting with loud, red bird-like voices in lively schoolboy Latin that echoed off Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling and rang throughout the enlightened halls of Christendom:
The Earth is filled with kids, they sang,
Including blest Brazil,
And we will save them all, they sang
By outlawing the pill
And African condoms, too, must go,
For God knows AIDS can kill.
And I, Ed, heard the sound of soft, whispering breezes in French accents that embraced the Earth and the very heavens with the scent, of Chanel No. 5, and I saw emerging from the portals of the Pearly Gates themselves, a softly-stepping group of seven maids dressed in white aprons that came fully one-quarter of the way down their thighs and were fringed with frilly French lace, and cute little white caps perched on their cute little heads, and they were reciting in soft singsong voices full of promise and laden with sensuous overtones:
And we were sent to you, they sang,
To keep your houses clean
Or anything you’d like, they sang,
Of which you’ve heard or seen.
We’re good at all things French, they said,
And most things in between.
And I, Ed, heard the sound of endless bickering and fighting, so that the heavens and the Earth were filled with lies and hypocrisies and the sound of criminal proceedings. The air was heavy with greed, and bulging pockets were heavy with coin. The voices were hard and gravelly, although some were falsetto.
And I, Ed looked up to see from whence came such disagreeable sounds. But the noise wasn’t coming from above. Instead it rose from the depths and carried with it the stench of brimstone and self-loathing.
Their sex was well hidden because they were dressed in look-alike business suits and ties:
We’re in the Senate seats, they cried.
We just need cash for bail.
Were honest, working folk, they cried,
our values will prevail.
Continue to have faith in us,
Just keep us out of jail.
And I, Ed, heard a wondrous sweet singing, light as Irish Spring and as intoxicating as Irish coffee. And I looked up, wayyy up, and emerging from the light of heaven were seven beauteous maidens, clothed in simple peasant dress with long skirts reaching almost to the ground.
And I, Ed, son of Alex, saw that they were holding brooms of hardened grasses, and I was afraid because surely, I thought, this is the last straw.
But then I heard them singing with a pure shamrock lilt:
For we are taught to work, they sang,
With pure and virgin voice,
To fill your house with song, they sang,
And never to entice.
But some of us will marry you
Because we are your choice.
“Is that it? I don’t get the last one.” She was obviously still confused.
The last one is the Irish girls sent over by their families because of the potato famine to work with wealthy families as “servant girls.” Many of them married into those families. I’m supposed to be a direct descendent.
“And you are also supposed to be John of Patmos?”
Well, I. …
“It will never work,” she said. “Too convoluted.”
Ed Smith is an author
who lives in Springdale.
His email address is