augury doggerel

Thursday, February 28, 2002


A beautiful deer just bounced across the field, across the tracks, and into the woods. I can't work anymore. I'll get outside, escape conditional air, go home early.


So, a poodle walks into a bar. Conversation stops. One-hummanah, two-hummanah, three-hummanah, breathe.* And now the two teevees are not so interesting to man.

Then three close-cropped burly guys in identical black turtlenecks and cheap black leatherette jackets come in together, stand at the bar, and become a study in looking as dangerous as you can look while dressed in black Grranimals and drinking small beers.

The three guys in black were not stunned by the stunner. Were they grounded by the rubber soles of their boots? They didn't even look at her more than once, a hard trick. I, for comparison, now have to look away from things to see them.

They drank their small beers and left. She drank a small beer and left. It was small beer night.

Maybe they were triplets who do bareback stunts in a traveling show. And she hangs by her teeth from a rope. Maybe.

* hummanah? huh-mah-nah? hum-a-nah?

Tuesday, February 26, 2002


The latest thing, this mouse they've plunked on my desk.

It has no ball. It releases a magic red light from its belly and, I don't know, probably counts the nanoseconds until the magic red light returns to the womb, then does some quick math to figure out how far the light must have wandered. And it's translucent. It glows red.

It vibrates. With the throttle open wide, it hums and thumps over every line and button on my screen. A clickable bit is a clunk; a drag is a buzz.

But I need a mouse that howls at my howlers and hrms at doubtful phrases. Like that one.

Monday, February 25, 2002

Migratory Headache

The spring I feared is gone � a big sky of snow crashed down and spun cars off the roads. Under trees, you're afraid to breathe, but birds grip and sing.

At the bus stop this morning, all was bright and late and out of joint.

The rickety house-grown-on-a-house where the pretty girl with dark skin lived had been condemned for months but still full of people and cats. Now it's happened � they're gone and the windows and doors are open to the snow. I suppose they will amputate when the weather clears.

An old car gave up on a young man going to work. The driver sat behind the wheel at the side of the road and calmly ate his lunch. Two rooks stood in the tree over him and yelled.

A woman coming across the icy parking lot fell and could not get up. People from the kiosk nearby put her in a folding chair, propped her legs on a packing crate, threw a blanket over her legs, and stood by her for 20 minutes while they waited for the ambulance. She looked as if she were watching television or reading a book in the middle of a snowy lot.

Sunday, February 24, 2002

Checklist Zero

If I were captured in an old spy movie, I would not pass the "Who won the World Series?" test.

I may be forced (I heard whispering in another language) to go to a movie soon. If this happens, it will be my first time inside a cinema since about this time last year [check]. I haven't seen any of the television shows, either [check]. I haven't read any of the books [check] or heard any of the songs [check]. I haven't seen any Olympics events [check]. I cannot work a telephone if it isn't the sort you take off a hook and dial.

This is how I stay in deep cover.

Now listen carefully. No, don't look this way. Listen. I will say this only once. The ducks were hungry this morning. Now the ducks have been fed. The swan was not hungry today. Perhaps tomorrow.

Saturday, February 23, 2002


My thoughts are always a stack of cheap metaphors written on the backs of beer mats and stuck together with sticky cherry vodka, similes heaped like a house of playing cards with naked ladies, the sort you buy at a truck stop and never use. These things give me private pleasure. They're old bar tricks I do to amuse myself. But l must do them alone, and lately I cannot be solitary.

Have I grown a friendly face? Do I look like a psychiatrist? Is it the beard? I cannot sit in public without ghosts appearing from the cloakroom clutching wounds, complaining that their lives are not my own, while I drink beer poured from the same damned taps.

Tuesday, February 19, 2002


I just saw my first heron since the hard snows drove them off.

Bicycle, Saddle

In a dream � yes, a dream, but wait � in a dream last night, I had to pass through a restaurant and get to the other side of the bar. Well, first I had to leave my pack with the hat check, though, with this being a dream, it was probably the shoes-and-pants check. I couldn�t get through to the other side of the bar because the part of the bar that flips up was covered with stuff � eyeglasses, pens, that sort of thing. But one of the two waitresses just laughed and flipped it up, scattering the stuff into the trash. She said, �Aw, just flip the bicycle over the saddle.� That was how she told her friend and me to flip up that hinged part of the bar for which I don�t know the real name. But in the dream, that was the real name. Then the church bells rang and I woke up, figuring it was time to work, but after lying there in the dark for ages, I checked the time and realized it was just four o�clock, so the church bells must have been in the dream unless the nuns were drunk or the village was on fire.

So, what do you call the part of a bar that flips up so people can walk through?

Monday, February 18, 2002

Swan, Heat

A single white swan just flew over1, the weather is warming2, the sun's coming up3, and our radiators are hot and hissing4.

All too perfect, I say. I make wishes on small disasters.

1 Surely the symbol of death in someone's mythology.
2 Here. But cooling somewhere else. Someone is getting colder.
3 And going out.
4 They will explode.

Sunday, February 17, 2002

Central Heating

As I wrote not long ago, we get our heat through wasteful underground pipes from a distant steam-generating plant. Every fall, central planners turn on the heat according to a formula that takes into account how cold it has been on consecutive nights. Then they blast steam out to us until sometime in spring, when a similar formula tells them that it is warm enough for the people to do without heat.

Many people also get their hot tap water from the central plant, though of course they need hot water year round. That's a problem, because these plants need to be shut down and renovated each year. For a couple of weeks, sometimes a month, depending on how long it takes to complete annual scheduled maintenance, they do without hot water. But you are warned when such maintenance is coming, and you can get by. When I lived in a place like that, I used to boil a kettle and wash myself from a bucket each morning. Where I live now, we make our own hot water year round with a little gas heater* mounted over the bathtub.

It's not so simple when you unexpectedly have no heat in winter. There is trouble between the steam-generating plant and our part of town. The big white radiators under our windows have been cold and quiet since Valentine's Day. Meanwhile, temperatures drop below freezing at night and don't rise much above it during the day.

The heat hasn't failed in grandma's part of town, so we have shipped the kid away for the duration. That leaves the woman, the cat, and me. We could buy a space heater, but they're too expensive for what we continue to hope will be brief discomfort, and space heaters aren't much good for heating more than one room.

The woman and the cat have found their own solution: because I am the largest source of heat in the place and will lie still for ages if I have a book, I am quite in demand as a sort of hot water bottle that makes tea, keeps bowls full, and scratches backs. I cannot hold still for ten minutes without becoming someone's furniture. I am being slept upon.

* They call one these little water heaters a Junkers for the same reason people call a vacuum cleaner a Hoover and a disposable handkerchief a Kleenex. Junkers, a German conglomerate, also made the dive bombers that screamed down on this country in the autumn of 1939.

Thursday, February 14, 2002

Snow, Cold

The snow stayed. A lovely white layer. I'm dreaming of a white V-day. But.

The heat no longer flows from the central heating plant across town. Cold cold cold. Almost freezing outside, and n-n-not warm inside.

So we drove to Los Angeles again.

Wednesday, February 13, 2002

Snow, Sun, Timbuktu

Last night, the kid's game was to pack our things and drive to Los Angeles. I don't know how she heard of the place. Los Angeles is a concrete Timbuktu, a cement Samarkand, and, from here, it would be harder to drive to. But we packed the creepy plastic baby and the cheap guitar and a book of poems, got some spare house keys, put the baby in the trunk, started up the couch, and bounced to Los Angeles, where we danced a sort of martial-arts ballroom-dancing bum-shaking sock-sliding dance to the same frantic song four times straight before driving home and practicing piano.

The wind was strong just now, snow blasted in, but the damned sun is back and the snow is gone. Too much spring already creeping through the grass.

Monday, February 11, 2002


I like the way they pronounce 'Sting' on the radio in this country.

Chalk, Weather

The trick of forecasting and televising the weather has changed a bit since I was first planted in front of a television. A happy man named Percy Saltzman would chalk tomorrow's wind and rain on a blackboard map and, when he finished, toss his chalk in the air. A big change came when Percy moved behind a map painted on glass. Looking out through a world in reverse, he wrote in grease pencil the Fahrenheit temperatures backwards for us on the other side of the glass. It must have made for some bar trick after work.

Supposedly, folk can now divine the weather more than a week in advance with good accuracy, but I now know the forecast never mattered, not to me. I am no sailor or farmer. I get a little wet or a little cold or a little warm. I am happily surprised by big changes in the weather; I enjoy when the rain or snow catches me out somewhere. And if Percy is still on this side of the glass, I hope he has time to think more about yesterday's weather than tomorrow's.

On the bus: Chaucer. At home: Andrew Marvell. At the pub: this.

Sunday, February 10, 2002


For the first time today, the sun has come out, and there's even a big rainbow over the trees.

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or urk

Wednesday, February 06, 2002


If you're going to sand your frisk hole
Be shorn to where there's foulers in your hair.

Some nights, I can think. Some nights, I can't. But this time, at least, I had an excuse.

Monday, February 04, 2002

Pink, Black, Green

A Hallmark card from some lame god (not Hephaistos) this morning: a half moon on a pink sky.

Rooks have taken the playing field outside my window. Twenty of them are strolling, wings behind their backs, looking down thoughtfully, sinking their horny toes in the grass with each step.

Sunday, February 03, 2002

Ful savourly

Maybe I am a little boy laughing at dirty jokes, but the Miller's Tale always makes me laugh aloud. This time, I was straining my eyes on a dark bus and surrounded by a lot of people with stone faces.

Derk was the nyght as pich, or as the cole,
And at the wyndow out she putte hir hole,
And absolon, hym fil no bet ne wers,
But with his mouth he kiste hir naked ers
Ful savourly, er he were war of this.
Abak he stirte, and thoughte it was amys,
For wel he wiste a womman hath no berd.
He felte a thyng al rough and long yherd,
And seyde, fy! allas! what have I do?
Tehee! quod she, and clapte the wyndow to,
And absolon gooth forth a sory pas.

Friday, February 01, 2002

Buzzard, Magpies

One buzzard* floats, circles, rises over the trees across the field. Magpies race past my window in black and white patrol cars.

Last night, finished Inferno and, because I don't own the other two parts, started The Canterbury Tales.

* Buteo buteo is a kind of beautiful hawk. It is not what many of you folk in North America are probably thinking. Compare definitions one and two here.