augury doggerel

Monday, December 31, 2001

Mrs Blood

Where I went to elementary school in a small white town in America, parents were given the option of letting their children attend church school once a week. Children who went to church school walked down pleasant sidewalks under leafy maples to a white-steepled church, sat in rows of little wooden chairs, listened to a woman tell stories, and walked back through the leaves again to school. Children who did not would be forced to stay alone in the classroom and study multiplication tables. Such was the Separation of Church and New York State. We were atheists in our home, and I could have used the extra math work, but my parents saw how it was and let me go to church school with the rest.

The woman who told the stories was Mrs Blood, a tiny, wizened woman who, I would honestly guess, must have been born during the presidency of Grover Cleveland, maybe earlier. Mrs Blood illustrated her stories with figures cut from felt that she moved around a felt-covered board on an easel at the front of the room. Here was a felt David throwing a felt rock at a felt Goliath; there was a felt Fallation or something. And we were given little booklets in which to paste paper illustrations of Bible verses we had won for our feats of memorization. I don't recall ever memorizing a verse, and I'm sure I never got a sticker unless it was for sitting quietly, something for which I'm still famous, but you couldn't be kicked out of church school.

Now our own kid gets stories of Pan Jezus Chrystus at school, and it looks as if she has fallen for them. When she pulls out her Christian homework, I make myself scarce, or at least I try not to let anything insincere slip into my smiling at her childish reverent look and sound. I'll let her have Santa, too.

But Mrs Blood, who is by now a tiny hoard of bones and shoes and buttons, will never get me. Not only did I never learn a Bible verse, but I also never picked up all of my multiplication tables. The walks were fine, though.

Teats, Keats

I'm up to my teats in Keats.

Sunday, December 30, 2001

Kid, Ducks, Whoville

Yesterday the kid ran things. She and the woman went to work (the building, not the activity) with me so the kid could play with noisy online things and print pictures for coloring while I either darkly pondered things or gamboled about goofily, depending on whether she was busy with the computer or busy with me.

When she tired of the marvels of high bandwidth network access, we hopped the bus to ducktown and fed a load of bread crumbs to about a hundred ducks and one swan while all of us, feathered and featherless, stood in the sleet and quacked (the swan was mute). By the way, that line about water and a duck's back doesn't quite hold for sleet: some ducks were sleety.

When the bread ran out, we said goodbye to them and walked under an abandoned railway bridge -- they stopped building that line when the Nazis came to town -- and into the woods, where we threw snowballs at each other as we walked home through the trees. I had the kid convinced that a public garden in a snowy hollow below us was Whoville. It must be genetic: her mother believed in Saint Nick until she was 11, when her parents thought it best to break the news to her.

Friday, December 28, 2001


The day before Christmas, at the main bus stop down near the train station, we bought a tree from a couple of guys who probably cut down a truckload of someone else's trees the night before. We took the first tree we looked at, a cranky old sailor, one-sided, prickly, bent, swaying on one wooden leg. We paid ten zloty (about two and a half American bucks?) and jumped on the next bus with it. We weren't the only people on the bus with a Christmas tree. You just prop it up like a drunk friend and bet the inspectors aren't working on Christmas Eve.

At home, we got our gnarly new friend to stand up straight long enough to jam his stump into the holder, but there was only one place for a tree and it was a piano's length from the electrical outlets, and we had no extension cord, so we strung lights across the piano and then up and around the branches.

The party's over but he's still there, leaning on the piano and lit up.

Thursday, December 27, 2001

Dog, Man, Children, Heron

There is no work at work today. The sun has come out. An old man and an old German shepherd, both of them hunching through the snow, have brought two children no more than four and five years old out to play in the snow behind our building. The children fall about each other and are entirely white with clinging snow. The man and the dog stand side by side at the edge of the field and watch.

At least one long-legged heron in a heron suit has outlasted the late blast -- or was unable to outfly it -- and has returned to trudge the snow in search of any poor beast that might fail to out-tunnel its long, terrifying bill.


It looks as if the sun may rise today. I see an orange burning cloud over the trees. All else is ambient light, snow, sky.

On the bus and between times, I'm reading a Keats biography (Gitting) and his letters.

Tuesday, December 25, 2001


Yesterday, we fed the ducks, brown and green and blue heads, absurd lips quacking, absurd feet slapping.

Now another duck, whose death was none of my doing, awaits us, beheaded and plucked and stuffed, immolated to the holiday, at the woman's mother's home.

The pub opens at four.

Sunday, December 23, 2001


Other than to gather food, I go to the stores just four or five times a year, mainly to take care of birthdays and Christmas. Yesterday, it was for a birthday and Christmas come together. I bought music, sheet and recorded.

After leaving one store, I noticed that the old flower shop next door has been deflowered. It is now something called Pink Shop and has nothing in the windows but posters of naked women.

Around the corner, unconnected with the Pink Shop except in spirit, two young women stood in kitschy Santa suits of the sort you might expect to see only in a Playboy cartoon: black stilettos sunk in the crust of snow on the sidewalk, sheer black stockings stretching up forever legs, short red skirts, tight bodices, Santa hats, nothing else. They were handing out candies courtesy of the restaurant there.

Just ten paces down the walk were two children, maybe eight and ten years old and apparently Romanian. They knelt in the snow � kneeling is the only begging position in this country -- and held out a cup for change. When no one was walking by, they fed bits of bread to a pigeon that disregarded custom and stood on orange feet.

Saturday, December 22, 2001


Soft snow floated down as I got ready to go out this morning, but the moment I closed the door behind me, the trickster god who watches me and laughs heaved cartloads of hard white ice balls down. I was alone on the street, hooting at the impudence, as the snow around me pocked like a frozen moon. When I got to the corner no more than a minute later, it stopped.

I walked across the street to the bus stop. The air was clear. A truck full of Christmas trees went one way and a truck full of coal went the other. Two girls about ten years old slid down the steep slope to the sidewalk to say hello to a nun on her way to work. A boy carrying a large pair of paper angel's wings and a candle lantern walked by. There was no sign that hail had fallen at the bus stop. The people there were not, as I was, picking and shaking balls of ice from their pockets, hats, shoulders, bags, and packs. The snow on the slope, except for where the girls had glided down to greet Sister something-or-other, was smooth. The trickster aims well.

Friday, December 21, 2001

Snow, Wind, Buzzard

It is miserable weather for a buzzard. The first one of the day has just flown in, blown in, blown away again. The snow makes the wind visible. Hard currents to fly in.

Snow, Singing

I needn't have hurried out to the bus stop this morning. The snow is blowing and the streets are slippery and everything is spinning and slow and lost. After a few minutes of standing in the cold -- there is no shelter at our bus stop, just a sign that says "bus" and a tree with no leaves -- I began singing softly to keep warm. Some of the people nearest me at the stop moved a little further away, but the people nearest me in the world moved a little closer. And you have no idea how warming is the absurdity of singing "Happy Talk" to yourself at a Polish bus stop in winter.

On the bus, defrosting, I read of Gawain in a warm bed when the beautiful lady of the castle crept in to tempt him.

Thursday, December 20, 2001

Violin, Fish, Guitar

We just had the company Christmas party, a staid bit of eating and well-wishing to the accompaniment of carols on a guitar and violin. The food, as is the tradition here, was mainly a variety of fish dishes. The pickled eel was delicious and the coelacanth was fresh.

Snow, Buzzard

The snow came down handsomely last night. And just a little late for her watch -- maybe she wasn't eager to leap into space this white morning -- one of the buzzards has covered the route between the trees and the fields.

Wednesday, December 19, 2001

Brown Buzzard, Green Man, Green Horse

One buzzard in the rain snow rain snow rain.

I'm back from Arden and off to Camelot, where a green man on a green horse has just ridden into Arthur's banqueting hall in the middle of Christmas festivities.

Tuesday, December 18, 2001

Herons, Buzzards, Toad

I would write of the leg-dangling herons hanging about my skies and of the pair of buzzards diving through branches and skimming lawns, but Larkin's toad is heavy today.

Monday, December 17, 2001

Buzzard, Heron

As if coming in on the same bus for an eight o'clock shift, a heron just swept in from the left and made a wide high circle as a buzzard coasted in low across the grass from the right. The buzzard took a supervisory position on the corner of an outbuilding; the heron immediately climbed down into a ditch and began stepping methodically down the line.

Who works the night shift?

Cat, Planet

The cat sat in the empty bath this morning and watched closely as I brushed my teeth. Then she watched me tie my boots. I think she's up to something.

Clouds are rolling thick over the city this morning, but one planet managed to shine through, almost straight above, while I waited for the bus.

Sunday, December 16, 2001


Today, on a rare sunny morning, a heron stalks wee beasties in their tunnels under snow. The tyrannosaur tiptoes through trees.

Hamlet died on the bus this morning. This afternoon, I take the 110 to Arden.

Saturday, December 15, 2001


As I walked across the grass this morning at about 8:30, I was disappointed to see nothing moving. Two minutes later, when I walked into my room and looked out the window at the same lawn, I found two herons hopping face to face on the grass. Like a child coming upon two people grappling, I had no way of knowing whether they were fighting or mating or playing. They were just hopping, face to face, one long yellow bill to another. Before I had time to do anything but gawp in wonder, they flew off together.

Now the snow is blowing in.

Thursday, December 13, 2001

Sun, Heron

For the first time in more than a week, the sun is up and out in a clear blue sky. And the heron is standing out in the sun on the grass.

Sunrise, Trees, Buzzard, Magpies

The sun is coming up, pushing the trees up out of the black background like a pop-up book forest, and suddenly the birds are about; a buzzard swoops in low, and two magpies race for a tree.

Wednesday, December 12, 2001

Kids, Ducks, Buzzard

Eight short kids playing 24 short piano pieces, a half hour of parents clapping and taking pictures. All of the kids were good.

Her idiot grandfather (with whom I did not sit) was the show's requisite imbecile with a ringing cell phone, only he outdid the type: it got three calls and it rang each time because he hadn't the sense to turn off the ringer. In another universe, where angry glares are laser beams, he was disintegrated twenty times. (Not that all of the other relatives set a great example; morons who talk during performances are far too common now.)

Afterwards, the kid and I walked down to feed the ducks. It was dark and a bit drizzly, but if you refuse to do something here because of darkness and drizzle, you won't do it until the next summer. She had a good time tossing bread to ducks who probably couldn't believe their luck in getting such a late snack.

Today a hungry buzzard is busily working the fields. Tonight will be cold.

Tuesday, December 11, 2001

Kid, Piano, Fear, Moles

Today, the kid has a little piano recital or test or performance or whatever they call it -- she'll be one of I think eight kids who will take turns playing in front of people for the first time. She wet the bed twice this week. Poor thing.

Mama can't be there, but I'm leaving work early for it. I think I'll take her for a walk if the weather's not too bad, just to relax.

I've just noticed that mole hills are appearing out on the edge of our lawn at work. Some furry little sapper must be working furiously at night.

Monday, December 10, 2001

Ducks, Cock

The man who fed the ducks was back with dog and bread, same time, same bus, same stop. I didn't get out with him yesterday but he was heading down the slope as the bus drove off.

Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long:
And then, they say, no spirit dares stir abroad;
The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallow'd and so gracious is the time.

Well, they would say that, wouldn't they? But I'm a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner.

Sunday, December 09, 2001


The heron was there all bloody day behind the outbuilding. Just now it flew out and landed on the open lawn, where it stood for two or three minutes and then flew up, circling in the falling snow, and went off across the fields.

And the buzzard was successful; it flew off not long ago trailing a long bit of something in one claw.

Ducks, Cats, Heron

Last night on the way home, I had just finished "A Christmas Carol" -- it takes a long time to get through something in these short bursts of dark bus time -- and I was teary. I was sitting behind a man, about sixty, carrying a little lap dog and a bag. We all got off at the same stop -- the man, then his dog, then me -- but the man and dog headed down a very steep grass slope between the pavement and a holding pond for runoff from the hills around there. The pond is new, concrete, part of big construction works on that corner, and I didn't like any of it until I watched the pond slowly fill up with ducks. There were at least fifty ducks and even a swan there last night. The man threw bread over the wire fence to the ducks while his dog stood frustrated just ten feet from a hundred flat feet slapping about the grass and mud. It's a good thing I didn't walk down the slope and kiss the man and his dog and the ducks or something. Instead, I smiled to myself and to everyone else, and made people nervous.

This morning, three cats popped their heads up simultaneously from two garbage bins as I walked by. It's too cold to be a cat living out of bins, and someone has recently knocked down the dilapidated shed they used to live in.

Half an hour ago, a (the?) heron landed in the long grass outside my window, but it has either disappeared like a magician or settled behind an outbuilding, because I haven't seen it take off. And one of the buzzards has been hunting nearby.

"Hamlet" is bus reading now, for the umpteenth time.

Saturday, December 08, 2001

Fog, Frost, Deer

No artificer of any false Christmas scene ever dared frost the world like the world is frosted this morning outside my window.

I have been out. The fog is cold. Birds find their way through the air -- I heard their conversation and their wings -- but I saw nothing above. Everything green in summer -- grass, bushes, and trees -- has grown a half inch fur of light frost. The evergreen needle is needled again. The birch copse is a renewed white. Plain stalks of dried brown weed have become thick white pipe cleaners for old Jack Frost, who is now at home and smoking after this morning's mischief. And just now, just there, two deer, one doe and then another close behind, and both looking, moving, looking, hopping one after the other through the high frosted grass and then away, white tailed, out along the edge of the fields.

Friday, December 07, 2001

Legal, Buzzards, Magpies, Frost

It's damned hard for a foreigner to complete the annual paperwork to get permission to live and work in this country. They give you 60 days each year to do what takes up to 100 days to drive through the inefficient bureaucracy here. And if you're late, that's your problem, not theirs. That's all I'll say here on that matter.

The two buzzards were circling high over the building when I returned from the visa office. A beautiful hoar frost was on the woods. One tree was full of squabbling magpies.

Thursday, December 06, 2001

Mikolaj, Doll, Bird Expert, Fog, Hearse, Bus

A strange old man crept into the kid's bedroom last night while we were all sleeping and left her a carrier for her dreadful little Baby Born doll. Dolls generally give me the creeps, but this doll especially bothers me. We played with it this morning and listened to the Nutcracker while she slowly got ready for school.

Bird expert Jerzy Dyczkowski tells me that a heron is not out of place here in the winter.

Another foggy morning. Two hearses drove past as I waited for the bus. As I stood and thought how it would be for a Polonez hearse to come for me, Ikarus took me instead.

Wednesday, December 05, 2001


Our buzzard has a friend. Two flew in together today, swooping side by side over the field and then off. Do they huddle together in the trees at night? It's cold now.


I read "A Christmas Carol" every year. It's my bus book now.

The curtains of his bed were drawn aside; and Scrooge, starting up into a half-recumbent attitude, found himself face to face with the unearthly visitor who drew them: as close to it as I am now to you, and I am standing in the spirit at your elbow.

Tuesday, December 04, 2001


The sun just came out. That's right, the sun is gay. Who knew?

No. But a hole just opened in the gray ceiling over this part of the world and sunlight poured down upon us for almost ten seconds. Children ran screaming. Mothers made the sign of the cross. Draft animals bolted. Fathers bolted drafts.

And then the hole closed.

Monday, December 03, 2001

Bach, Whitman, Stevens, Buzzard

The woman banged out a pretty good piano arrangement of BWV 1052 at home last night. I'm pleased to listen and pleased that she enjoys it so much. The neighbors may have other opinions.

I couldn't sleep, so I got up at two this morning, made a cup of tea, took notes on the things that kept me awake, and read Whitman. "I Sing the Body Electric" and "Twenty-eight young men bathe by the shore" and "There is something in staying close to men and women." On the morning bus to work, though, smoking up through the trees to this outpost of empire, I found a seat under one of the better lights and read Wallace Stevens, a good winter poet.

And the buzzard has been back today, swooping low over green and white.

Sunday, December 02, 2001

Trees, Darkness, Cold, Death

I'm looking out at the woods across the tracks. It gets dark early this time of year, never really gets light, and the trees are fading into the sky. One cold morning two or three years ago, I watched two men carry a third out of those woods on a stretcher. The third was no longer living and so, I suppose, no longer a man. I don't know how he died alone in those woods, but if he did it himself, it wouldn't be much of a surprise.

Saturday, December 01, 2001

Heron, Buzzard, Rooks

The heron glided by an hour or so ago. The buzzard came in just now to perch on a football goal, think for a minute, hoist her tail, eject on to the snow, and fly off again. Now she's in a tree on the edge of the fields, looking out over the stubble.

This morning, a couple of degrees below zero, I watched eight or ten rooks standing in a circle around a frozen puddle with their big party beaks tied on. One rook shouldered into the circle, out on to the ice, and skated across the puddle.

Was reading William Carlos Williams last night. No ideas but in things.