augury doggerel

Saturday, September 28, 2002

Christmas Spirits

I was reading P. G. Wodehouse (Jeeves rescuing Bertie from another unwise match) and E. B. White (geese and the sadness of summer) while it was still dark this morning, keeping warm by the glow of their souls. But when it starts to get really cold and dark, usually in November, I go back to certain winter books. I read other books in winter � this isn't a monomania � but I read certain books every winter.

In the Inferno, Satan, despite the poem's title, ends in ice. I like to walk down with Dante and Virgil, and I never come up. Near the bottom, Bertran de Born, troubadour, holds his severed head out like a talking jack-o'-lantern and reminds me of another winter's tale, and of the Green Knight's Christmas cracker for King Arthur. And then five hundred years ahead, with Dickens standing in the spirit at my elbow and three spooks dangling Scrooge over the pit until Scrooge scrambles back to life.

But I've started Dante early this year � I'm in Cocytus today, a fine autumn day with children playing on the grass outside � and I'm ready for Gawain at least a month ahead of schedule. This is clear evidence that the Earth's magnetic core is shifting.

Friday, September 27, 2002


This morning, dark and cloudy but for one bright planet, geese flew over.

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

First Frost

We ran the heater for the first time in our new home. It's a strange machine. Gas and water and electricity somehow mix under its shell, in its pipes and tubes and dials and valves, with no explosions or local lightning. It stretches and sighs when I try to fall asleep. Stay awake. Keep me company.

The kid screamed at midnight with the terrors, something we thought was gone.

All is clear this morning. Mother and child sleep (snore!), the cat has found a warm spot where the pipes run under the tiles, the grass is white, and the window ledge is smoking in the sun.

Tuesday, September 24, 2002

Flamingo, Salmon, Tangerine

When I left for work this morning, dark and clear, I found fallen chestnuts by moonlight and memory. Now the moon is fading away, the earth is tilting into the sun, and two doves, as if daring me to squeeze in one more worn image, have just flown from the woods. I will update if angels appear.

Monday, September 23, 2002


The sort of man clich� would call a mountain, but who is less mons than manatee (no doubt complete with whirling propeller scars along his hairy back) negotiates something with a vinyl-coated skulker in the corner near the toilet. And I am observed � just now � with pen raised and eyes on them. So call this my last entry. The smothering armpit awaits; that, or the stoat's little poking knife.

Sunday, September 22, 2002

Nausea, Mermaids

I've been reading Charles Darwin's Voyage of the Beagle and dipping into his correspondence. The poor bugger sailed for five years and was forever seasick. He was much happier on land, checking out the birds. Not that he was always Mr Cheerful in port:

"Callao is a filthy, ill-built, small seaport. The inhabitants, both here and at Lima, present every imaginable shade of mixture, between European, Negro, and Indian blood. They appear a depraved, drunken set of people. The atmosphere is loaded with foul smells, and that peculiar one, which may be perceived in almost every town within the tropics, was here very strong."

But in his private diary (quoted here), he noted that Callao had certain fascinating creatures to observe:

"Everything exceeded by ladies, like mermaids; could not keep eyes away from them."


The man connected to the other end of the bar is Boleslaus the Brave reincarnated and incarnadine. From king to plumber, the fall is long and the landing is hard.

Saturday, September 21, 2002


The kid is off with the woman on a school outing to the local ostrich (Struthio camelus) farm, which is here.* I'll just go about my business and hope they don't show the kid what happens to these eight-foot-tall birds with big eyes and long eyelashes and fluffy tails.

Ostrich farming is a growing concern in this country. Our nation's capital will even be the host this month of the World Ostrich Congress 2002.

On the menu at the congress: jellied ostrich, jellied ostrich stomach, ostrich pie, raw ostrich meat (tartare), roast ostrich meat, ostrich with plum and bacon, ostrich meat with asparagus shoots, smoked ostrich tenderloin, ostrich salami, ostrich liver salad, and Provencal ostrich-neck soup.

But I think I'll try the grilled ostrich steak with pepper sauce and salad. That's not got much ostrich in it.

* No, it's not. I checked with the woman later. There is an ostrich farm closer than that one. An unmapped farm. Maybe a pirate ostrich farm? Black-market ostrich husbandry practically in my own backyard?

Friday, September 20, 2002


Last night, I find the woman naked on the carpet, wrestling the cat. The cat doesn't bat an eye.

Later, we're putting the kid to bed. The kid smiles sweetly, playfully, and gives me the finger.

I dig ID out of my wallet, compare the address to the one on the door. Yes, I'm in the right place.

Thursday, September 19, 2002


The kid has rehearsed all week with her toys and her games and her chatter. The woman, too, is excited, though I haven't seen her run in circles and whinny. Today, they ride horses.

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

The sun comes down plop

It's Stevie Smith's 100th birthday Friday.

The Jungle Husband

Dearest Evelyn, I often think of you
Out with the guns in the jungle stew
Yesterday I hittapotamus
I put the measurements down for you but they got lost in the fuss
It's not a good thing to drink out here
You know, I've practically given it up dear.
Tomorrow I am going alone a long way
Into the jungle. It is all grey
But green on top
Only sometimes when a tree has fallen
The sun comes down plop, it is quite appalling.
You never want to go in a jungle pool
In the hot sun, it would be the act of a fool
Because it's always full of anacondas, Evelyn, not looking ill-fed
I'll say. So no more now, from your loving husband Wilfred.

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Postcard from Babylon

I saw the beautiful Ishtar Gate � yellow bulls and dragons on blue glazed tiles � and then, a short walk away, a remnant of the Berlin Wall, spray paint on concrete. I'm older than one and I can't imagine the age of the other. We know walls don't last forever and mean nothing, so we preserve them and try to explain them when they fall. We heap up on either side of them, before and after them. They last and we dwindle.

Monday, September 16, 2002

Telephoned Report

It is cold and raining again this morning. I wore my jacket today for the first time since spring. There are still a few snails in the long grass. They must be starting to wonder whether to hang about and enjoy the wet weather or to burrow down and hibernate. The sun is just coming up over the trees. A half-dozen black-and-white magpies are hopping across the grass on sharp claws.

But the cat has puked on the bed.

All things cat are my problem, perhaps even, although it remains unsaid, my fault. And so the telephoned cat-puke report to me at work, just to let me know that I've narrowly and unfairly escaped a puking of the cat.

Chickpoint Charlie

When I went through the Brandenburg Gate, it was scaffolded and shrouded and placarded and jackhammered, and I had to push through a countercurrent of girls parading their lovely selves through a temporary narrow passage of plywood. On the other side: a Starbucks.

Sunday, September 15, 2002


I was trapped for a week in a big expensive hotel in the center of Berlin and forced to play games with other adults. Conveniently, and no doubt psychosomatically, I was sick the whole time, so I was able to beg off all after-hours activities and hide in my room at night with Dante and, when I couldn't read, CNN and BBC and a naked woman riding an exercise bicycle. The two times I did go out to see the city, I went alone and spoke to no one. In a week in Germany, I heard maybe three German words.

Sunday, September 08, 2002


The kid and I in the woods today were horses, she a male named Rapidash, which might be a Pokemon character, and I a female (she insisted) named Kasztana, from the chestnuts I found on the path. I declared that I was a very old horse so I wouldn't have to run very much. Rapidash ran and ran. Rapidash ran all the way down a steep hill at Kasztana's instigation, fell at the bottom, and had to be soothed by bad Kasztana, who should have known better. But no one had to be put down.

Saturday, September 07, 2002


I�ll fly out of here on Monday 9/9 (nein! nein!) to Berlin and return on Friday the 13th, and probably have to sit through awkward things as a guy with an American passport among foreign businessers on the nth elven event. Bloody busy-ness. I expect to have my pockets and mind picked of all scharpauchenmachers, so I�ll be dull as limbo and wear clean pants, I shall refrain from picking up complimentary box-cutters packed by strangers before boarding, and, if anyone asks me about my very nice pack, I won�t declare that it is indeed da bomb.

Friday, September 06, 2002


We sunned this summer just a bicycle ride from the wartime bunkers of Herr His Nibs, the "Wolf's Lair" in which he was almost assassinated. But that's as much as I want to know about the place; we weren't interested in being another couple of paying tourists among squashed heaps of concrete. We had horses to ride and fields to walk.

On the way home from our vacation spot, we passed a Prussian castle. The sun was going down, making the castle's red bricks redder. There may be no such thing as a Prussian anymore, but their empty castle is a carefully preserved national treasure, even a World Heritage site.

And then we rode the last stretch to home, old and new, on a city bus past the local army base, which was reclaimed from our Soviet friends not so long ago.

Towers rise and fall.

Thursday, September 05, 2002

Shantih shantih shantih

A storm has just started. What is better than thunder and lightning?


Blue light on the edge but with no lightning, no groaning trams, no welded silhouettes, no snatching cameras. Each man and woman has risen from the sidewalk and evanished syllable by syllable. And blue light flashing.

Wednesday, September 04, 2002


Next week, all week, I'll be trapped in a foreign hotel with an infestation of business managers and forced to eat the corporate feast for twelve hours a day. Being in Berlin only to "live the [corporation name] Values" is not the sort of thing I ever thought would fall out from this mess of mine.

Tuesday, September 03, 2002


This morning, the air is suddenly cooler. I can see my breath. The sun is coming up behind the woods. In the small field between me and the sun, there are dozens of shining spirals in the high grass. The space between one spider's web and the next is no more than a grasshopper's leap.

Monday, September 02, 2002


We are not the neatest pair. We may, in fact, be the least neat pair. Life is better when you can put something down � a book, say, or an apple core � and know that it will still be there if you decide to return to it tomorrow. And who needs floors you could eat from when you generally eat from plates? I like floors you can walk on without feeling somehow destructive.

But humility and various neuroses and a certain voodoo instinct made me spend a day scrubbing the apartment we were leaving. There is no guarantee that the next tenants won't be witch doctors (dentists had an office across the hall), and witch doctors work their art with as little as a nail clipping or a snipped hair. I have shaved a Methuselah's beard of red fuzz over that little bathroom sink.

So I finally scrubbed away the spaghetti sauce spilled behind the oven and the coffee splashed on the kitchen wall. I swept and mopped in places that never needed to be that clean. I scrubbed things we had never scrubbed (or even used) while we lived there, scrubbed things that the previous tenants probably had never cleaned. I dashed entire buckets of water onto the bathroom floor and pushed the waves down the floor drain. I dismantled the oven and cleaned the parts.

And into the new place, leaving nothing behind and heaving everything into the future. This morning, the first day of school, cat and kid and woman and I made a fine mess.

Sunday, September 01, 2002


Speedway, which is Poland's most popular spectator sport, is on the pub's TV tonight and turned way up for the eight other customers and the barman. The TV is behind me but, because I am fairly certain that three or four motorcycles are going round and round in a circle, I don't need to look. (Three more men are led in from the sidewalk by the sound of motorcycles revving.) I understand the popularity of football here � any group of boys can find a ball and an open lot � but Speedway is a man on a motorcycle, and motorcycles are not cheap or common here. (Two more guys come in.) (Five more. I'm going to run out of space at the bar.) But some Poles have been good at it � even world champions � and the chance that "we" (including guys who have never even touched a motorcycle) might win is the sort of thing that excites guys at bars. And there are local teams and national racing leagues, so they can always root for the home team and sneer at the guys in other cities. Counting me, there are now 21, 22, maybe 23 men here. No women. It's wrestling night in a 1950s American bar. (A man does come in with his wife and daughter, but he parks the women under the TV, where they can't see the races and won't get in the way, and then sits by himself at the bar.) (Another guy comes in. He can have my seat.)