augury doggerel

Tuesday, January 29, 2002


Last night at the pub, where I like to sit and read and write alone, a friendly guy attached himself to me. The sort who needs to talk. The sort who cannot be alone with his thoughts.

I know about the argument with his wife the previous night, and that he needed to buy a rose for her last night before he went home. I know he teaches swimming, and to prove it he showed me the contents of his gym bag -- towel, trunks, etc. I know that he swims every day but Sunday. I know he loves teaching kids. I know that he is 43 and that he finished trade school in 1979. I have it on good authority that his brother, who once had an audience with the pope, during which the pope told his brother to return to his country because his country needed him, nonetheless continued to play the flute in an orchestra in Boston and then in Philadelphia and now in San Francisco. He asked and forgot my (for him) exotic name so many times that I wrote it in large block letters on a scrap of paper to which he referred at least ten times. When an acquaintance of mine came in, I passed my attachment off to him, but the acquaintance managed to steer him back to me. When I left, the guy was attached to some unknown person at a corner table.

I couldn't sleep last night. The wind is blowing warm weather in from the Low Countries. The walls and windows strained. The wind rattled one latch open and banged a window in on its hinges at four, which is when I got up and began to read. I spoke to the cat, but only briefly, and she knows nothing of my brother.

Sunday, January 27, 2002


Read some of Jan Kochanowski's Treny (Laments? Threnodies?) last night, but back to Dante on the bus.

Saturday, January 26, 2002


Where we live, between old and older, the flat asphalt veers off to the left and leaves our street in boot-wobbling cobblestones that are sinking unevenly, collecting mud and puddles and thirsty birds.

Our building is fifteen boxes of people in a larger concrete box built to communist specifications now somewhere in central archives. We get our heat through underground pipes, steam from an invisible plant. In winter, you could trace a dry strip a meter wide across sidewalks and grass to the source, and you could leave your windows open all winter and pay the same heating bill as anyone else; they charge by the size of your apartment and the number of people officially living there.

Across the street is a row of red brick buildings from before the war, or before the wars; I am no architect; they could be a hundred years old. They are lower, more organic, outbuildinged, and even decorated: the top rows were laid in simple diagonal patterns. They make their own heat in their own fireplaces, which they have to stuff with coal from cold basements. When they light a fire on icy mornings, sharp black smoke shoots from their chimneys into the air over us. When we get a winter fog and the smoke of coal together, I think of the beginning of "A Christmas Carol."

The space between those buildings and ours is just the width of the thin cobblestone road and the sidewalks (mud on their side, concrete on ours). The few trees growing on our street fill with rooks. You can see them fill their chests and lean into the sound when they stand on branches and rraww.

Down the cobbles, two buildings away, is an old house with a back lawn leading down to the millstream that still runs through the city. Until this winter, the people in that house sold Christmas trees. This year they had just one tree, an evergreen growing beside the house. It's still strung with lights. Maybe someone is ill or has died. I don't know what they burn late at night. Garbage, maybe. Something else? The smell is furtive and unpleasant.

Two or three minute�s walk away is a wide, rolling cemetery packed shoulder to shoulder with stone graves. Near it is the psychiatric hospital. Both keep their backs to the woods.

Friday, January 25, 2002


I wished. It came. But will it stay?

In the News

Newspapers have leaders or editorials or whatever they call them where you live, but not poetry. Every newspaper should have a poetry page. A place for dodgy doggerel. Like this:
The little bugs are eating up your bum
And farting farts you'll fart and fart once more
A million swollen lives to kingdom come
That prize your bung hole open like a door.

Religious folk must hate the witches
Slinging miracles about,
Books approved by ancient bitches
Introduce a painful doubt.

To go to sleep,
Atune your mind to this:
The whisper of a star
In the abyss.

The obituaries are especially fun to write (if not, perhaps, to read):
Professor Hanbury Brown
Taught us to listen to stars,
Avoided the girls and the bars;
Give him a sensible crown.

Kenneth Armitage
Scraped a stone
Into living;
Now he's bone.

Robert Nozick snacked on money,
Died of stomach cancer;
At his funeral, there should be
A monkey and a dancer.

Thursday, January 24, 2002

Buzzard, Mud

One of the buzzards glided over yesterday. Otherwise, everything bigger and smarter than a magpie has flown. It is that vile semi-season of thawing mud and bergs of dirty snow on seas of greenish sponge. I miss the crisp days.

On the bus: finished Antony and Cleopatra, now reading Inferno, descending one canto per bus ride into hell.

Monday, January 21, 2002


In the dairy of Anne Frank, a dozen hidden cows await the farmer. Uddering.

Friday, January 18, 2002


Even on normal days, it's still night when I get up in the mornings, but yesterday I couldn't sleep and got up at three. I stuck my nose into Plutarch for an hour or so -- Cleopatra and her thousand flatteries -- and then had my morning shower with the light out, crouching in the dark. In our little water heater on the wall over the bath, a blue and orange flame shows the silhouette of the thermostat's metal tongue.

And my head popped open. In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree, My mistress eyes are nothing like the sun, Shall I compare thee to a summer's day, When my loves swears that she is made of truth, What potions have I drunk of Siren tears, Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, To one who has been long in city pent, Earth has not anything to show more fair, My heart leaps up when I behold a rainbow in the sky, Much have I traveled in the realms of gold, I met a traveler from an antique land, When I consider how my light is spent. All came out, one after the other, whole, as if someone had dropped a fistful of coins into the juke box at Palgrave's Golden Treasury and Tavern.

The woman got up to see who I was talking to. No one. Sleep. I'll go to work.

Wednesday, January 16, 2002


More Adless? Less Addy? Something strange is going on around here. The ads have just disappeared (or I have only just now realized it) from my poetry log.

Tuesday, January 15, 2002

Hairless, Adless

The kid had great fun shaving my head last night. This morning, pulling on my woolen cap before work, I thought of what it must be like to pull nylons on to stubbly legs.

Thus begins my hair cycle. For about a month, everything from the neck up again gets as fuzzy as it wants to get. Then I am shorn.

I wish it would wax and wane with the moon, but this is as close as I can get.

And this mystery: the ad that squatted like a billboard on the horizon of this web log has vanished. Either Blogger's database (deadbeats vs. paying customers) has been corrupted, or some soul has paid to release this thing from commercial bondage. If it was the latter and you're that someone, thank you.

Monday, January 14, 2002


We have our best walks when I pretend I have no idea where we are, feign confusion, and let the kid lead. Sometimes I don't have to pretend.

Yesterday, we slid past our many foul-weather friends in duckland, then took a new path into the woods. We came to a collapsed bridge along the old, never-finished rail line. The sides arch up to space; rubble lies beneath. The first turn we took led to a high metal gate. Eventually, so did the second.

We were at the bastions of the local vegetable gardens (allotments). Where now? Down, she said, and we slid on ice down to where the fence met the narrow channel that once turned mill wheels nearby. This time I had to go first, stepping carefully around the end of the fence, hanging over the water, and slipping into the gardens. Then we went slowly, delicately, one at a time over a homemade plank bridge that looked as risky as anything she'd seen in cartoons.

After that, she led us along a thin, icy path on a dike between the channel and a deep, muddy ditch with (I don't know why) sharp sticks (the remains of a fence?) jutting up from the bottom. Slip slip slip along the middle. We made it to the mill pond, which is now mostly drained while men rework it for flood control; a man drowned at the end of our street during last summer's flood. A couple dozen ducks worked the remaining water and mud. We went round the rim of the pond until we ended back at the mill stream, now unbridged and narrowed. When I said we'll have to jump, she ran ahead and found a spot she could leap.

We landed, after scrambling over some big steam pipes, in a place we hadn't seen before. Built up but quiet. No traffic. People walking in twos and threes. A cafeteria. A sign.

The psychiatric hospital. We walked quietly but quickly for the nearest exit, ducked under a barrier, and realized that we were just a very short walk from home. The kid was elated and told me (and herself) two or three times about how she had found the way and saved us.

I didn't tell mama all the details.

Saturday, January 12, 2002

Crotchless, Sheep, Buzzard

Messing about our cell in the hive, boots off, socks floppy, pants unbuttoned and bagging down, feeding the cat, making tea, dodging a browning evergreen, making tea again, feeding the cat again, feeding the kid a line, chasing the cat, chasing the kid, chastening the cat about the kid about the cat; somewhere in there, I squatted to pick up something or someone -- I think it was the kid, who was balking at bathing -- and split the crotch in my old work pants.

These things have been repaired before and probably should be binned, but I have just three pair; binning one would force me to shop. To loathe all creation.

And so I sheepishly -- woolly, vacant, chubby -- asked Bo Peep if she might lend her skilled fingers to the task. I think she will, but I feel a little rotten for asking. She could leave me hanging in the wind. Maybe I could learn to sew?


On the bus: "Julius Caesar"

And a beautiful buzzard has just flown over.

Thursday, January 10, 2002


Last night I watched the ducks slide on dark water, but I knew they worked like ballet dancers under the surface. When they went up tails all, they held tightly to lungbursts of air while they searched the muck for a little bit of food. And when they laughed that marvelous duck laugh -- aa aa aa aa aa aa -- I grinned back. I know they don't mean "That's the funniest lump of muck I've ever sunk a bill into" or "This, my dear, is surely the best time a beast has ever spent standing on ice in the dark." I'm sure they aren't laughing at all -- what would a duck joke be? But I am certain every one of them has a duck-sized bit of will and thought and feeling.

Wednesday, January 09, 2002


As if performing to my specifications (see previous post), he just said "I don't know how these guys with big heads can talk for hours about European culture..." and suddenly we were listening to "Come On, Babe" by Barry Manilow.


Mornings, for an hour or two, I enjoy the radio alone and guiltlessly. I get here early and tune to a station that does not play the latest anything. Audio performers succeeding on the popularity of their breasts or dances or animations do not figure in its repertoire. People who have long been dust are popular on this frequency because there just haven�t been many sources of great music born this morning and put under contract over lunch.

My officemate is proudly, guilelessly Philistine. Lowbrow. He listens with the herd. When they hand out the televised Grammy awards, he will care.

But we share one sound space and need one sound source to distract us from the noise of about nine fingers hitting keys (neither of us is a typist), four lungs and two throats sighing, one cheek (not mine!) sneaking farts while two nostrils find a way of their own to snap closed, one mouth murmuring to an unseen female on the phone.

So we start on my station but, in the afternoon, we wait until a space of transmitted talk interrupts the music. The talk, always on cultural topics, especially bothers him. Then we have a comfortable excuse to change the station to what he likes without commenting on what I like.

And for the rest of the day, it's baby. Babe. Until the morning light.

Monday, January 07, 2002


My mind is foggy. Outside, it's foggy. It's a pathetic fallacy. No, really.

Sunday, January 06, 2002

Sound, Sleep

Last night I fell asleep in front of the stereo with John Cage's sonatas and interludes for prepared piano set to repeat endlessly. This morning, to clear my head of piano pixies, I ate burnt toast and listened to Charles Ives's violin sonatas. But when I climbed into the shower, Elgar returned.

And now, on the radio, they're playing an hour of Gershwin.

Saturday, January 05, 2002


No train ever goes past on the track I can see through my window.

But just a little while ago, a green and yellow engine pushing a single blue car with a yellow plow mounted on its nose moved past from left to right at about 5 or 10 mph. In the trainspotting spirit, and because it was moving so slowly, I committed the engine's number -- PKP ST 44-895 -- to memory.

I saw no snow displaced by the plow; there is not that much snow on the tracks. I did see three men, probably a driver, a plow operator, and a crossing guard, all getting paid to drive a train out from the city along this lonely stretch of track among fields and trees on a sunny winter Saturday. One of them was blowing a horn like a boy would blow a train horn if you let him. Maybe it was a boy. And they let him.

They stopped for about 10 minutes at the grade road crossing just up the track, blew a louder horn than before, and then moved very slowly and carefully across the road.

A half hour later, reversing the trip, they blew the whistle, crossed the road very slowly and carefully, and stopped just on this side of the road before coming back from right to left along the track. They had no choice. This is, after all, a dead-end line.


I sing in the shower. The last few mornings, I've been humming and ooing bits of Elgar's cello concerto. It's wintry and forlorn like morning now. But more often, I sing songs seeped in from years ago, bits of lonely old ballads that come with the warm water.

Beneath me, and I don't mean anything sociological in that, but directly beneath me when I'm in the shower, are the women who tend the buildings in the area from their little basement headquarters under our apartment. I have only peeked into their burrow, but I know they're in there very early sipping coffee and warming hands and feet before going back out to shovel walks or scatter sand or locate leaks in some dripping dark. I hear their door open and close. I see them come and go. They wear big coats and hats and boots.

And I am just over them every morning, naked, pink, scalded, wet, soapy, a tuneful moose calling through the pipes that spin all my sleep away.

Friday, January 04, 2002

Snow, Swans

The snow has frozen and melted and frozen again, been pushed along with wind, and now has a crust I can almost walk on. It must make hunting hard on feet and beaks. The herons and buzzards have left for places more congenial to watching and listening for desperate scrambling through snow.

But there are six swans a swimming among dozens of hungry ducks.

Wednesday, January 02, 2002

Planet X, Snow

It will be my father's birthday soon. Where he lives now, it has snowed eight feet since Christmas. Houses have all but vanished. It's the sort of snow people can stand in short doses every hundred years or so.

Three quarters of a century ago he was born in Calcutta, where January is warm and dry. He was a boy in the Punjab, in Rawalpindi, where his father served in the British colonial army and where, incidentally, a treaty had just been signed granting Afghanistan independence.

The army life around him would have smelled more of leather and horses than motors and steel. A movie soundtrack was a piano score. Sore throats killed. Crocodiles swam in the water. A ninth planet around our sun, Planet X, was mere speculation by the man who saw canals on Mars.

And there was no atomic bomb.

Now India and Pakistan, standing puffed chest to puffed chest, are threatening to ignite hell on the earth's surface. Calcutta and Rawalpindi would go in any first exchange, but that would be only the start.

And winter could come.