augury doggerel

Saturday, August 31, 2002


A day off work. Next to the cemetery of lost cemeteries, I walked around to the back of an empty-looking church � the Church of Corpus Christi � to see if there was anything holy left about the place. I woke a yappy dog that was lying in a doorway. Just inside, a shiny new coffin was lying on the floor, either just built or just about to be loaded. Parked outside was the hearse, a black SUV with the firm's name painted in big white letters on the side panels and the back window: Hades.

I went down into the tunnel under the bus station, walked under the river of cars and buses and trams, and emerged on the tourist side of town. Down in the main square, I read a book and sipped a flattish beer from a plastic cup at a shady outdoor cafe near the fountain. It was the middle of the day and the bells were ringing in the tower of the old town hall and in all the churches still open in town. Pigeon-frightening kids screamed by. Pretty girls with bare bellies hipped by. Nuns glided by. A group of German tourists marched by behind a woman holding up an umbrella. Everyone but the nuns (on duty, I suppose) took turns having pictures taken in front of the fountain, at the center of which is a statue of Neptune, this city's symbol, naked green bronze battling a sea serpent and pigeons.

Friday, August 30, 2002


No time or place to think or write. I left one home this morning and I'll go to another home tonight. I have the new keys, another set of carved codes, new handshakes for new doors, watchdog-jaw metal teeth to gnash with matching metal teeth. I'm bringing all my metaphors with me, just in case.

Tuesday, August 27, 2002


This afternoon on an empty dirt road through the woods � red squirrels leaping and spiders hanging still � I crouched by a rut from the wheels of a forester�s truck. It had filled with brown water and living things.

A small soft frog, king of the local predator pyramid, bellied up on to the mud, sat on a promontory ten times his height, and looked out on his lake. There was an almost invisible hover of insects over the water. They hatch, eat, mate, and die in and over this puddle.

Neither above nor below the water, two or three dozen water striders worked an old miracle. The light from above distorts in the concavities formed at the points on which the strider rests. When it pushes forward, a motion of three or four inches, concentric ripples spread from where it was, and then from where it comes to rest.

When I stood, something on the hill behind me started and scrambled through leaves. A deer, I think, waiting for a turn at the water, was watching. I ate half an apple and left her the rest.

Monday, August 26, 2002


Seen in flashes from the train, storks look suspicious. Two soft-eyed local cows standing in a field, sharing lunch and not noticing the two storks � long-beaked itinerants in snazzy white suits � slowly walking up behind them with their hands in their pockets. Four storks carefully maneuvering in the blind spot behind a farmer's tractor. Storks looking down people's chimneys, storks fiddling about on electrical pylons and telephone poles, storks just standing there looking a bit too casual. Storks are up to something.

Sunday, August 25, 2002

Dragonfly Love

A little before noon each day, when the sun has warmed the muddy watering hole in the pasture, pairs of dragonflies lay eggs. They have had acrobatic sex before they arrive, and now they need to leave their eggs in the warm mud. The one in front, the male, is bright red. He holds the duller female by the head in his anal appendages...

But you must know more.

He, the flashy red one, makes sperm down in the usual spot near the tip of his tail, but his penis and a sperm reservoir are located farther up the body, closer to his head than to the tip of his tail. When he's ready to mate, he swings his tail up to transfer a spermatophore (a big package of sperm and fixings) to the sperm reservoir.

When he meets a willing female, he uses his anal appendages (pincers at the tip of his tail) to grasp the female in flight behind her head. As they fly on, she curls her tail down and around and up to meet his penis. He scoops out any previous lover's sperm with a ticklish looking penile appendage, and then he releases his own sperm. They form a wheel, eggs meet sperm, and her belly fills with the first sparks of life.

After copulation she uncurls, stretches out, probably needs a smoke, but he keeps a grip on her head � he doesn't want her meeting any other males until she has deposited her eggs � and they fly off, eight wings beating together, in search of a good place to lay eggs. This is when I meet them in the mornings, down by the mud hole.

They fly in low, up to two dozen pairs at a time, always along the edge closest to the sun and always facing into the wind. They hover within three or four inches of the surface and then the laying begins. His head remains relatively motionless in the air, the pivot on which the rest of his body and all of hers swings down once every couple of seconds or so. With each swing, her tails slaps the surface and she releases eggs.

To try this at home, the man might strip naked and use his feet to grip the woman, also naked, by her neck so that they form a long chain of nakedness. Vertically, he would be standing on her shoulders. She would then curl up to copulate with him (while he continues to hold her head with his feet) and then uncurl into the original position.

Now comes the tricky part. He grasps a tree branch growing above a natural body of water and hangs there with her suspended by her neck from his feet. The two would then swing as one (like tandem gymnasts on a bar) while her abdomen slaps repeatedly into the mud.

It's an unusual dance to us, but dragonflies have made it work for three hundred million years. They are older than the dinosaurs, which copulated much like you do and laid eggs like domestic chickens brooding, and which nonetheless are gone.

This fine site has video of a pair laying their eggs. The species is different but the laying behavior is similar.

Saturday, August 24, 2002


Two small butterflies, one a pale blue, the other a delicate green, each with a black and orange pattern. Flying alone or chasing each other over the grass and thistle and clover, they would have been pretty little diptychs opening and closing. But I had accidentally booted them into the air from a soft bed of clover petals, where they had been locked tail to tail, facing opposite directions, and presumably fucking their little lepidopterous brains out. Whether by choice or compulsion, I do not know, but they remained conjoined as somehow they flew to the next clover and continued staring out into the male and female halves of the world. I watched.

Friday, August 23, 2002

Vacation Reading

Since Saturday, I have read 154 sonnets, 77 Dream Songs, Charlotte�s Web, the webs of dozens of anonymous spiders, Fabre's Life of the Spider, Johnson's Life of Milton, Walden, and much of a pasture.


No, really. Crickets.

Friday, August 16, 2002

119 + 73 + 130

Yikes. It is time to make myself scarce and leave this city's potions behind. I'm too old for this. By lucky chance, tomorrow my mistress and I are off to the country for five days (17, 18, 19, 20, 21), and then back to this city but moving to a new home, so I'll be in town (22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 1) but probably walking or sleeping or packing or unpacking more than typing until September (2), when vacation ends and summer ends and yellow leaves do hang.

Thursday, August 15, 2002


Today is the Feast of the Assumption, something I wouldn't know but you get the day off work. This year it's an especially big deal because the pope is coming home, probably for the last time, and pilgrims are on the move.

Because I was thinking about old cemeteries recently, I went out to the abandoned cemetery behind the church near here. It looks as if recently (maybe in connection with the Cemetery of Nonexistent Cemeteries) someone has cleaned it a bit, pulled back the bushes, and left some flowers and candles. The graves are like stone bathtubs open to the weather and filled with earth. Planters. And as I expected, it looks like a German cemetery.

I went on and found a soft clearing among the pines on the hill behind the church. This church almost wasn't. They built it not long ago, big and ugly, with a massive sloped roof rising up to the top of the bell tower, which is capped with a fat building-block cross. Then a welder's spark brought it down. It looks as if only the bell tower and the basement were left. But that is enough, it seems. They ring the bells, they meet in the basement under the wreckage of the roof, and they sing.

I lay down with my head on my pack and listened. The windows were open, so I could hear the priest say mass and ring his handbell, and hear the parishioners respond and sing. The bells in the tower were loud from there, just two notes, but winding together. Between rings, the bell wheels squeaked in their gudgeons like an old barn door.

I finished The Tempest while I lay out there, and the masque and the mass met accidentally in the woods � Juno and Mary, Prospero and Jesus, Iris and Ceres and Ariel � while an immense blue and green dragonfly roared about the clearing and a woodpecker worked one of the tall pines around me.


A tall strong blonde woman just frightened the sidewalk screaming obscenities, leaning straight ahead and straining into her screams, showing us every cord in her throat, threatening an unseen other woman named Ewelina. Everyone stopped and looked and was glad she kept moving. The invisible Ewelina had better be strong and fast or far away, because this raging woman looks as if she would tear a man in half just to get to her. And now she has disappeared, but still screaming, into the alley behind the Catholic bookstore and the supposedly Irish pub. If her quarry is back there, her quarry will die there.

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Cemetery of Nonexistent Cemeteries

This city is founded on displacement. After World War I, after Versailles, it was declared a 'Free City', neither German nor Polish, though Germany and Poland each kept the place in its secret national heart. It had a mixed population, mainly German and Polish, Christian and Jew. By the end of World War II, the city was a pile of smoking stone, and all Germans and Jews were fled or dead. The borders were moved westward on the map, and then on trains and carts and backs. German cities became Polish cities, Polish cities became Ukrainian cities. Danzig became Gdansk, and no one cared what happened to a few stones with German or Jewish names carved in them.

I have stumbled (literally, in one case) on two neglected cemeteries near my home. An overgrown cemetery is a fine thing, green and weathered and vined and useless, a folly built on folly. The stones shift with the roots of unplanned trees, deep-rooted apples and chestnuts, and with raspberries red and purple.

I have walked a dog and laughed after a bicycling kid over a large flat of public lawn that must hide a million bones and buttons and pins, and I have slumped on asphalt in summer waiting for a bus where other bones were curled and waiting just beneath.

In the spring this city opened a cemetery of cemeteries, the Cemetery of Nonexistent Cemeteries. The real cemeteries are heaps of forgotten and overgrown stone or have been flattened to make parks, public squares, a bus station, a prison. But now we have this place with a name Borges would have liked, wedged in up near the bus and train stations, themselves soon to be cemeteries. The cars whiz by.


Wagtails (Motacilla alba, Pliszka siwa, Bachstelze, Lavandera blanca, Bergeronnette grise, Ballerina bianca, Witte Kwikstaart) meet me at the edge of the lawn and lead me over the grass many mornings. Their tails are hinged at the base and flick up, flick up, when they land and look. They stop and check and flick and then they're twenty paces ahead in a tree or on a wall. When I work, one will land on the ledge and sidle suicidal and jump but never hit bottom. The next day, the same black eyes on the same sharp edge. Looking at me, through me, or back at itself?

Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Rocket Revisited

The Diplotaxis tenuifolia I happily munched (and even had the woman try) not long ago is in our little guidebook to plants. It is marked with a skull and crossbones.

Sleepy Creatures

Sunday morning was dry and clear. I went out too early for the blossoms to be open, but three or four bees were already at work. They had to force back the petals on the small yellow flowers and jam their heads into the narrowed openings. I watched one bee make a bad landing, slip off, fall backwards, bounce off a branch in the stem of the flower, and land on her back on the ground. She took a couple of seconds to recover, then flew up and went to work again.

This morning, I was out as early again in the same spot, but it rained all last night and there's still a light mist in the air. The bees are asleep. The little snails that roost in the flower stalks are out and about. This is their weather. One fat snail nearly two inches long came down the steep embankment. With long eyestalks up and scanning about independently, the snail went face first over a sharp rise (two inches, two minutes), pulling its shining Airstream behind it, and then the trailer suddenly (so to speak) slid all the way forward and smoofed the snail's face down into the wet grass.

Monday, August 12, 2002

For Tat

The ancient and mummified annual fair downtown was more shuffling toe to heel past tables full of goods as seen on TV or in the backs of magazines: easy-to-use glass cutters (as if you ever would) and mountain goat cheese (well, maybe not seen on your TV) and genuine African carvings (sold by one of the three or four black people living in this town) and army surplus (trash for boys who like to dress up in their bedrooms) and tables and tables and tables of socks and shirts and underwear (the sort you would expect by the boxful at a street fair) all soaking up the smoke of grilling sausages.

But behind each table (except for the places with boys playing army or token Africans selling African tokens), the prettiest girl the dealer knew who could also make change sits and smiles in the sun, tanning in something strung on her shoulders and stopping not far below. This cheese could be good, you think, stroking a goatish chin. But no. This cheese, in the mountain tradition, comes in chunks with thick brown skin carved or pressed into patterns. It looks well handled. It looks, in fact, like the genuine leather slippers being sold two tables down. Tanning in the sun.

Sunday, August 11, 2002


A white stork just rose and rose on this clear warm day, around and around on a steady updraft, never moving a wing, and then headed straight for the horizon and vanished. I'll go watch the butterflies and read.


This time last year, on her father's recommendation, the woman and I were on the Baltic coast in a village of about a thousand permanent residents. I don't think her father saw it when the tourists � close to a million of them each summer, and most of them younger than 21 � came through. He couldn't have known. Or he hates me. Nothing is less peaceful, less pulse-slowing, less relaxing, than ownerless teenagers in very large numbers and very small bathing suits. Every business in town was designed to please the sort who cruises the street in an upended stadium-sized speaker column on wheels, or who envies those who do. We found rare hours of quiet in the woods or at night after the bars and discos had closed and most of the lights had gone out. The sky over the beach on a clear summer night between the hours of two and four is all you'd ever need of forever. But stay away, or be deaf or seventeen.

This year we'll spend a few days inland, at a place that specializes in horse riding and (I hope) quiet and flowers and birds and trees. I'm a bit nervous about their other line of work, which is the breeding of German shepherds, but as long as they turn out to be dog breeders and not a eugenics laboratory turning out sheepherders named Gustav and Gretel, things should be fine. Just in case, though, I might dust off my lederhosen.

Friday, August 09, 2002


I woke up late this morning. The sun was on the rockets and the bees were working the blossoms. The pollen baskets hanging from each bee's back legs were stuffed swollen yellow. (They must walk like cowgirls when they get home.) And while I watched them ever so closely, trying to see just how they grip the blossom when they land and how they fill their shopping bags, my bus came and went and left me standing there like an ass at the stop.

Mounsieur Cobweb, good mounsieur, get you your
weapons in your hand, and kill me a red-hipped
humble-bee on the top of a thistle; and, good
mounsieur, bring me the honey-bag. Do not fret
yourself too much in the action, mounsieur; and,
good mounsieur, have a care the honey-bag break not;
I would be loath to have you overflown with a
honey-bag, signior. [...]

Thursday, August 08, 2002


I've been watching the bees and the snails enjoying a ropey weed with yellow flowers that grows at the bus stop. The bee is bigger than the blossom and weighs it down when it lands like an ape springing from branch to branch. The smaller snails find sleeping places in the upper branches. A few larger snails attach themselves to the lower stalk.

But I never noticed the leaves until yesterday. They grow near the ground and are jagged like turkey toes or dinosaur prints. I looked it up: Diplotaxis tenuifolia. And today when no one was looking, I grabbed a leaf and ate it. Spicy hot. Sylvetta, wild arugula, wild rocket (or even roquette or rauke), the stuff, it seems, the snootier folk are eating in their rocket salads these days. And here I was looking at the flowers.

Wednesday, August 07, 2002

bble bble bble

A dozen dabblers on the pond, all bottoms up at once. They tilt face down for five or six seconds, then pivot back up for a quick breath, and then go down again, rolling on the bubble of their great quacking lungs. All you see is a dozen tails turned up saucily and a pair of flat orange feet pedaling along, but the bill quibbles with the green underneath.

"Ducks' Ditty"

All along the backwater,
Through the rushes tall,
Ducks are a-dabbling,
Up tails all!

Ducks' tails, drakes' tails,
Yellow feet a-quiver,
Yellow bills all out of sight
Busy in the river!

Slushy green undergrowth
Where the roach swim--
Here we keep our larder,
Cool and full and dim.

Everyone for what he likes!
WE like to be
Heads down, tails up,
Dabbling free!

High in the blue above
Swifts whirl and call--
WE are down a-dabbling
Up tails all!

Tuesday, August 06, 2002

Monday Evening

Now it is blue outside, but none of that blue must be sadness blue nonsense. It's orange or yellow inside under the lights here and backdrop blue night on the street, film blue slipped down to make you focus on the colors in here, the red drunk at the table, the white pocketed shirt and black trousers of the barman shaking a nervous leg to music you can't hear, the horrible blink of the electronic gambling machine no one ever plays, and outside tunnel blue for the tram. And something's not right. Even the music, the sad kazoo of recorded saxophone sex instructions, one two three four, seems a tedious setup. I talk about blue but there might not be blue for all you know. It feels like a fix, doesn't it? But there it is, just now, even without us.

Monday, August 05, 2002


I miss a library. I miss the two-room library where I grew up and the large libraries I've spent my days in since. Where I am now and how I am now, there is no library and I am nearly illiterate, here in Wrzeszcz, disemvoweled.

Sunday, August 04, 2002


On the pond, ducks under water but for tails ignore the magpies gathered at the gate and the swooping pigeons and the red and white bus cracking open at the road. I watch butterfly races over the grass, brimstone after brimstone, all males competing, all yellow wing.

Some butterfly and brimstone entomology here and here, symbology here, and etymology here and here. At least two of these links repeat the fairly common but (to me, anyway) doubtful story that the word "butterfly" comes from the color of this particular yellow fellow.

Saturday, August 03, 2002


Vets are not squeamish. The first time I took the cat to a vet here, the waiting room was empty. I thought the place might be closed, so I opened a door and saw three people standing around a metal table, to which was tied a white tomcat. They were chatting as one cut off the cat's balls. "Oh. Sorry." A little later, one of them came out and talked to me about my cat, then went back in. Through the door, I saw the other two already eating their sandwiches at the same metal table.

This morning we stuffed our cat into an old parachute bag and took her to a different vet, one just five minutes walk away but the first time we'd tried it. The vet, it turned out, was an attractive young woman. She arrived just after us, a minute late for opening, swinging an alluring bag of potatoes in one hand. Just a couple of minutes later, the woman and I were holding the cat while the vet went to work. She squeezed the pus from our hissing puss's swollen ear and shot it full of something painful. Because I'm a bit squeamish about these things, I looked away. I looked, in fact, down the vet's shirt. Then I remembered the white tomcat.

Friday, August 02, 2002

Hit and Run

I'm the sort who says hello to an animal, not because I think it understands the word as word, but because the greeting comes as easily as smiling to a baby, and because it does as little harm and maybe as much good. A dog changes its attitude to a friendly good morning, and I change mine to the tail and eyes and gait of beast approaching beast unafraid. A certain latchkey cat of the neighborhood looks me in the eye and waits for a word and a scratch every day. When I'm safely in the field, I might (you never know) even greet the grasshoppers or say hello to a snail out for a constitutional. I might (if you followed me) be caught admiring a fine web and complimenting the builder standing in the wings. It wouldn't be as if I expected a tip of the tentacle or wag of the feeler in return. But wouldn't that be marvelous.

Two or three mornings ago, coming through the long grass, I felt and heard the crack of snail under my sole. I looked too late and saw the slow recoil of wreckage. It takes a snail that size � it took that snail � summers and winters to build that perfect curl, and I split it like a nut. I returned to the scene the next day, but the body was gone. Some bird or cat, or a swarm of smaller things, had hidden the evidence.

So, good morning, red and white terrier from two doors down who runs as if he's proud of his fur. Good morning, cat on the gas meter waiting to get in every day. Good morning, funnel spider tending your trampoline trap. And good morning, Helix aspersa a.k.a. Cornu aspersum, perfect architect, patient builder, slow slider, looker around corners, raider of gardens, trail painter, day sleeper, midnight hermaphrodite, lover of green and dew.

Thursday, August 01, 2002

Walks into a bar

My palm itches like some old wives' tale come true, something about luck or money. I rub my head, still rough from a shave, and crack my neck, but the hand still itches.

And I smell other men in this place. You almost never smell women until you're too close to say no, but other men can go unwashed in old clothes for days and not suspect or care that they smell like a smear of skunk on the highway. I can't snort them out or smoke them out.

A girl four feet tall goes up and asks the barman for an iced tea for her mother. The barman is six feet sweating and a half of keg-rustler, but not one of the stinking ones. He leans to her just enough to make proper eye contact, and he smiles cordially, not sweetly or condescendingly, and takes her order. And for just two seconds, I have that burst of something that the cheap movies and ads try to filch from you but you keep to yourself.