augury doggerel

Saturday, March 30, 2002

Saturday, Woods

The LORD hath chastened me sore: but he hath not given me over unto death.

No, not yet, he hasn't, but I wish the bastard would get it over with. We saw more woodpeckers. Watched one woodpecker tapping and then cocking his head to listen to another woodpecker over the ridge, then tapping again. There were woodpeckers over every rise. Woodpeckers rode by on bicycles, woodpeckers pecked and erected monuments to woodpeckerdom, and woodpeckers told us to stop staring. We saw squirrels. Sure, we saw squirrels. Boing boing boing from branch to branch, with us pursuing on the ground. A gang of squirrels leapt from the trees, knocked the kid down, and carried her away. She returned in a squirrel-skin suit, chewing a raw squirrel leg.

Hills. Hills. We climbed them. We ran down. I chased her. She chased me. I'm dead. I bore you. Enough. My taskmaster has been given over to her mother. I go to turn wine into water.


After that he appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country.

But that would require another sort of transmutation.

Friday, March 29, 2002

Sleepy, Grumpy, Dopey

That damned infested bird squeezing, squeezing, squeezing sharp air through its neck. Then some of the loons down the street who hear voices in their little heads start banging metal together to wake up the other loons. And then a burst of radiation on the horizon. Some fucking way to start the day.

Thursday, March 28, 2002


Last night, in my cups, I remembered the most embarrassing part of my secret teenage past: I used to perform in amateur productions of musicals.

I was a Jet in West Side Story, a Buddhist monk in The King and I, and something or other I can't remember in Finnian's Rainbow, all minuscule roles designed mainly to help build a chorus on the stage -- I could sing. Each part was an inglorious failure. I was history's only Siamese Buddhist monk with long red hair painted black and glued down. I was the only 1950s New York gang member with long red hair painted black and glued down. Luckily, awkward teenagers with long red hair didn't have to have it painted black and glued down in musical-land mythical Ireland. Just the glue.

I am amazed now to think on it. I am no performer, nor was meant to be. Yet there I was in thick make-up and bad costumes, willingly standing on the stage and blurting my few lines. And singing. Dancing, even.

Not now, pal. You couldn't make me walk across a dark stage in an empty auditorium at midnight now. I tremble when I have to "make a presentation" or do any of the other foolish things that require an adult to address, with a straight face, more than three other adults.

This morning on the way to work, up the winding road through the woods, misty, I saw a deer at the edge of the trees. She looked, realized she was being watched, and vanished.

Reading: still nibbling at Bleak House. And damn Dickens to hell for embarrassing me on the bus. I should not care that Esther is sick.

Wednesday, March 27, 2002


Alone downtown is still downtown. Even nothing downtown is you there and them not there, instead of you not there and them downtown. You're a silly bugger elsewhere, but downtown you're there, unsillybuggered up and downtown.

Balls. Let's go home.

Tuesday, March 26, 2002


Our old Mother Cat* one rainy night brought me a succession of twelve wet mice. She announced each of them by repeating a word peculiar for a cat, a two-syllabled meow, the second syllable rising.

She laid the mice in a row on the mat like sausages on a counter. After each delivery, she waited for thanks and a scratch from me, then went out into the dark to hunt again.

At about three or four that morning, I dropped my book and fell asleep. When I awoke, the mice were gone. She must have had an incredible feast, maybe had friends over. Nothing was left except a dozen unchewably toothy mouse snouts.

* More damned cat pictures.

Monday, March 25, 2002


He's still standing in the freezer and the snow is still on the ground.

Sunday, March 24, 2002

Bird, Taxi

We tried to save a pointless swallow that was delivered at night to our balcony, breastbone cat-cracked, dark, small eyes watching out through the scare. I watched the kid while the woman put the bird in my black woolen cap and went off in a taxi.

I stroked her back, our hungry murderer purring content in my lap, and pulled the covers over the girl. I felt the pounce in her legs, our beast curled, and hoped to hold it all in one, and hoped she would come home.

Saturday, March 23, 2002


This country was a member of the Warsaw Pact. (It wouldn't have been the Warsaw Pact without us.)

Now this country has agreed to modernize India's old Soviet T-72 tanks. I suppose it was an easy contract to win: we have much experience minding Soviet tanks.

In a separate deal, we will also supply India with 80 machines built to crawl battlefields and scavenge usable mechanical bits from tanks that have had the life blown out of them.

Friday, March 22, 2002


A heron just flew over.

What should my third wish be?


It worked (see yesterday), so when I got off the bus this morning, I built a snow homunculus and took him into work. He stands in a freezer no one uses, in the dark hum, guarding winter.

And now, if the clouds can keep back the sun, we'll have a lovely white day.

Thursday, March 21, 2002


Snow! Just a flurry for a few minutes, but snow this first spring morning.

God of winter, hear my plea: if you visit us today, I will build a tripartite monument to homo hibernalis.*

With a carrot.

* I haven't studied Latin almost since people were still speaking it, so if that's entirely wrong, I'm not surprised a bit.


A bag of components for make-believe.

Someone is missing, probably him. A boat to somewhere no one knows. An unknown captain leads us into danger. When she is good, she is mother. When she is bad, she is also mother. The bottom is frightening and dark. Animals talk in return. Animals love in return. You could join the animals. An island far away. You could wear wings and glide down. You could make a balloon to carry you up. You are as big as they are small. Someone beautiful chose you, will always choose you. Good adults need children. Good children can stand alone. Badness is injustice. You are just. Hold your breath. You will not drown. You can solve the puzzle for us. In your pocket is the piece. Even the lost ones will return.

Wednesday, March 20, 2002


What makes us laugh? One night, a woman who was sitting in this now empty chair next to me and speaking in a second tongue killed a friend and me when she told us how she loved "corn on the knob." We couldn't explain it to justify our tears and red faces and convulsions, and her bewildered face made it worse. I can't explain it now to you or me. You laugh when you're ready or when you aren't. When it's good, you are laughed. It's so like grief that you only know for certain the difference when the thing refuses to give you up and begins to worry you loose from your bones. If our petty gush of flesh is a little death, a good laugh is reason gladly martyred to our beast.

Tuesday, March 19, 2002


The highway interchange, a green desert, a no man's land between opposing lanes, has been taken back. Moles have undermined and erupted. The smooth pavement of grass has been recaptured in brave nighttime raids. The place is now covered with dozens of mounds.

Monday, March 18, 2002


We went to the ballet Sunday night.

I don�t dress up. I wore the same boots and trousers I wore into the woods on Saturday. I go to sit in the dark and watch and listen, not to be watched or listened to. I did brush most of the mud off my boots, though.

This was Don Quixote, an 1869 Russian ballet by a Frenchman and an Austrian transplanted to Moscow. A proper ballet ballet. The women were ninety percent leg, wore elaborate lampshades around their skinny waists, and hopped about on their toes like the Lost City Lemur Women. The men were tighted and superbuttocked. The orchestra was competent and the music was pleasant. The audience was a bit too clappy � they clapped too often, clapped after every damned turn at one point, but the clap is a common disease now. No one near me had trouble with coughing or farts, so I can hardly complain.

I won�t try to review the dancing. It was goodish, considering this was a backwater dance company with the funding of a school play. My friend, who was a bit of a dancer herself, is always nervous watching the performers here � she says they look a bit off-balance, out of control, ready to fall � but they usually don't seem that bad to my amateur eyes. I�m just happy to see anything. Going to the ballet here is like watching a cover band � you lower your expectations a little, forgive the wrong notes, and enjoy your night out.

Sunday, March 17, 2002

Woods, Birds, Mice

A clear, sunny Saturday out. The kid led, as usual, though I nudged her left or right with light reins to avoid traveling in circles, especially when circles in our woods include steep hills I don't want to climb three times.

Some of the slopes were scrambles, almost more vertical than horizontal, so that we had to hang on to bushes and trees and try hard not to slide away in the muck. On one slope I had to walk down like a ten-ton ogre on my heels to leave steps in the mud for her feet, but more often she sprang ahead, all legs -- eight years old, a spider, an octopus -- and left this olding man huffing slowly up through leaves. To catch my breath, I stopped to pick up the empty white shells of snails and saw the last frost still underneath.

A woodpecker knocked invisible. Dark birds with blue wings -- what are they? -- hopped in shadows and posed in trees. Then the woodpecker revealed, black and white and red, showing off in profile, tapping a dry branch while we tried not to speak. A chickadee clutched something white and pulled at it. Great fun at a fat tree (hollow?) debated over by two red squirrels and two black-and-white magpies, a battle of finders and hoarders. It looked as if the squirrels won the tree, but the magpies made amazingly tall red squirrel ears even redder with bird curses.

We followed the abandoned railway to where it ended, by chance near where mama works and was working then, a part of town easily recognized by the only mosque for miles. The kid talked me into visiting mama at work, though we were filthy. To her great luck, the love of her little life, the son of another employee there, was also visiting mama at work.

After an hour and a couple of warnings from the warners, however, I had to pack my half of the two squealing scramblers off to the woods again, leaving a sad boy eyeing me, the ogre again, and the girl telling me all down the walk how I had ended her world. On the old railway bed, she scratched this in the mud: a sad face (frown and tears) with a cartoon thought-bubble of a heart crossed out.

This sad state was mostly cured by the reverse trip through the trees and an ice cream demanded and us pretending we were cats. When mama came home, each lump of meat the kidcat ate was a big mouse, each French fry was a baby mouse, and the jelly was mouse jelly.

Saturday, March 16, 2002

Sting Again

I have no time to write anything, but tinned biscuits are better than nothing when suddenly you've got company.

And so, of course, I post cat pictures. Unfortunately, I have no camera or cat.* Here's one I borrowed from Stevie "Not Waving but Drowning" Smith.

The Singing Cat

It was a little captive cat
Upon a crowded train
His mistress takes him from his box
To ease his fretful pain.

She holds him tight upon her knee
The graceful animal
And all the people look at him
He is so beautiful.

But oh he pricks and oh he prods
And turns upon her knee
Then lifteth up his innocent voice
In plaintive melody.

He lifteth up his innocent voice
He lifteth up, he singeth
And to each human countenance
A smile of grace he bringeth.

He lifteth up his innocent paw
Upon her breast he clingeth
And everybody cries, Behold
The cat, the cat that singeth.

He lifteth up his innocent voice
He lifteth up, he singeth
And all the people warm themselves
In the love his beauty bringeth.

* That's a damned lie. I have a cat. But you wouldn't want pictures.

Friday, March 15, 2002


It eats my life.

Thursday, March 14, 2002

Something Else

Ask A Scientist�

"Question - I am interested in raising bats. Where do I start?

[Answer - ] I strongly suggest you do something else."


A telephoned alert from home: the woodpecker is back. Suet consumption is being monitored.

We take our little friends seriously.

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Wednesday, March 13, 2002


Ducks migrate for miles and know the tricks of the air as well as any bird, but they don't quite look built for the sky. A duck in flight is a penguin's circus cousin catapulted aloft.

There is no rest for a mallard in flight, no glide on the currents. The duck's short, sharp wings mill the air. Yet they fly a lovely straight low line over my home every morning and find the strength to quack something to someone -- "Here we go again" is what I'd guess.

Then they barefoot a back-arching skim on to a spirit-level pond. You can't see their chests heave, but they must, at least for a minute, after settling from a race over the rocks to soft, buoyant water. They must breathe and look around and take in the day.

Tuesday, March 12, 2002


The kid chose all my presents. She must think I'm someone's old aunt. Or a little girl, like her. I got a ceramic owl with a heart on it, a little white ducky thing to hang on the wall, a good tea mug, and a hand-drawn card with two raining clouds, a big rainbow, and a sun over a yellow snake with red spots and a mouth full of big teeth sneaking up on a magpie with a pink head that is preoccupied with one of Van Gogh's early attempts at a cypress.

* And one card from abroad. A good one.

Monday, March 11, 2002


This morning, just as the earth went down, was animal sounds. A dog barking, barking, barking out its border to the trees. A crow sparring with a seagull for screech space. Feet sanding wet walks another fraction down.

It's been done, and done accidentally. There are lists of who did it, and I�ll never be on one. Rupert Murdoch did it with no great write-up. Malcolm Campbell shot past the starting line this way. Carl Ruggles and Lawrence Welk noised in, opposed. Romeo wed Juliet and the Goths surrounded Rome.

And my mother had had enough of me, this bloody foreigner. So here I am, revolutions later and in the same place, riding the slow orrery clacking round the axle and wondering where I get off.

Sunday, March 10, 2002


Just two herons flying high overhead, side by side, almost wingtip to wingtip.

Saturday, March 09, 2002


This arch tongue of Christian church passion and village song is burned slick with shot alcohol and cheap cigarettes, cleft and healed and charged true with soft-eyed calves disemboweled and fish catch and eels, measured from autumn crouch among mushrooms to swollen white sausage whistling on winter stoves, pushed past children�s incisors to mock and to lick the last. Conductor of the soul's choir, guardian of the zero chasm we all must sound, it is a long tongue to butcher.

Friday, March 08, 2002


They practice for war in the sky and on the sea here this cold spring on the Baltic. Where I looked for the moon Wednesday, I saw something else, a jet that shocked me back to when I built plastic models. The metal delta that curled over our trees was an old Russian fighter jet, Fishbed or Fitter. And yesterday as I sipped my tea, a black Apache crept up over the tree line. When I was a kid, these would have been great toys to spin in my mind. Now they are the hawk�s black shadow over us on the ground.

So I read to see what they are up to. At least 25,000 people from a couple dozen countries practice to fight in and around here this week and next. In this part of the temporary Nato myth, I live in the capital of Woodland, which is making war on neighboring Treeland, while Limeland fights Blueland on another front.

One publication also mentioned a related training exercise. An escort agency in this country has been sending its personnel for English lessons. And just in time. Today, the flagship will bump into our harbor and release quantities of foreign seamen.

Thursday, March 07, 2002


Two nights ago, I sat in a baby chair so the kid could electric razor my skull down to a millimeter above skin. The next morning, a barenaked lady* fixed the spots the kid missed. I bristle.

Last night, coming home after dark, I saw a hedgehog in the little front garden of the old lady down the street. (I always smile and say hello to the old lady when I see her at her door, and she is always grumbling about something, maybe about the strange, smiling guy.) I went home to grab the kid, but by the time we got back to the garden the hedgehog was gone.

* If you're here for the barenaked ladies wielding razors, fellas, that was it. You can commence detumescence now.

On the bus, reading bloody Bleak House again.

Wednesday, March 06, 2002


The roads grow wider, two lanes to four, stop light to roundabout, painted line to guardrails, sidewalk to slopes of unwalkable grass.

The house on the corner where a boy used to play by himself in the front is a square marked in the grass. On the other side of the ring road, a fetal village, a cluster of five brick homes, is gone. Their old trees drop apples on vacant grass and the ghost of a stone road. The dog chained to a circle of mud is gone with the chain and the mud.

One of the cats that used to pop from a shed belonging to the condemned house at the end of our street met me last night on the cobbles. He must have missed the moving truck or been left with the old fridge and cracked windows. He came to my call and dolphined under my palm -- one of those guileless, friendly cats that must never catch mice -- but I can't take him home.

Tuesday, March 05, 2002


The kid cannot reliably wipe her bum yet. She still has to be reminded to wash her hands afterwards.

And she plays wonderful little pieces on the piano. When she was finished with Chopin last night, she improvised something for each being in this vague cluster: her mother, her grandmother, her grandfather (something with rain), their dog, our cat, me.

And ate french fries.

Monday, March 04, 2002


She crawls from bed and -- the horror. The crease of cheek sprung from bed too soon, the small spot of drool on the pillow, the despair of futon-mouth disease. While she steams clean the carcass, I make tea as instructed.

I chew toast and sit. I have not changed the cat box. Small squat debt.

Sunday, March 03, 2002


The woman on the hill, long white hair, looking through clouds, has seen eighty years today and won't see many more. I am following, as always, a week later, and half her life later, and still marching third.

I knock together the closest thing I can to love but it cannot be shipped home. This thing does not keep over the miles. And so we consume it fresh here and work our time.

Saturday, March 02, 2002


The stuff of mummies reviscerate in glass plates and smoking celluloid. While I watched this morning, the sun just over the earth hit a reflective window here in this building and focused a single beam on the shaded railway embankment. And from a last patch of snow in the beam, something moved, a small dark head up through the white.

Or I am seeing things. Which also would be good.