augury doggerel

Saturday, November 30, 2002


The Polish ski-jumper with a little mustache takes air and crushes snow. This drinking place says yesss in sportscaster American, international tongue of self-congratulation. He takes second to a Slovakian, but good enough. Pale silver.

Friday, November 29, 2002


I nurse a glass of plain beer that cost six. A kid steps up, drops a hundred into the game machine at the end of the bar, and loses it all in two minutes. He is smiling. I am not. But a short shot of expectation cost him sixteen times what I paid for a glass of erasion. And then there are the fade rates. I'd show you the math. But I won't.

Thursday, November 28, 2002

The Smoke of Battle

Next question?

QUESTION: I notice that the three gentlemen on our left have been smoking. I wonder what they are going to do for a cigarette when they get up there?

MR. BONNEY: The question is �- and the tobacco trust please close your ears �- it is noticed that three of our seven young men are smoking. What will they be doing when they get up in the capsule?

Perhaps, Randy, you might tackle that one.

DR. LOVELACE: I think they are mature men and we will leave it up to them in large part. Of course we have a few months for an indoctrination program.

QUESTION: Do all of them smoke?

MR. BONNEY: How many of you gentlemen smoke?

CAPTAIN SLAYTON: I will have to qualify myself.

(There was a showing of hands.)

MR. BONNEY: Three and a half.

I quit once for three and a half days.


An April 1959 NASA press conference introducing the seven military pilots picked to be the first American astronauts. The Mercury rockets were Redstone and Atlas ballistic missiles topped with a payload compartment suitable for carrying a monkey, chimpanzee, or human into space. Convair built the Atlas. Chrysler built the Redstone. The first American astronaut drove a Chrysler into space.


Walter T. Bonney, director of NASA's Office of Public Information.

Dr. W. Randolph "Randy" Lovelace II, chairman of NASA's Special Committee on Life Sciences and later director of NASA's Office of Space Medicine.

Air Force Captain Donald Kent "Deke" Slayton, one of the seven Mercury astronauts being interviewed here in an April 1959 press conference. After a heart examination four months later revealed an erratic heart rate, Slayton was grounded. He eventually flew in 1975 in the first joint US-Soviet space mission. Died of brain cancer, 1993.

Lieutenant Commander Alan Bartlett Shepard (Navy) � later drove golf balls and threw a javelin on the moon. Died of leukemia, 1998.

Captain Virgil Ivan "Gus" Grissom (Air Force) � flew Mercury and Gemini missions. His capsule, which was lost during recovery, was recently found at the bottom of the ocean. Died in the Apollo I fire, 1967.

Lieutenant John Herschel Glenn (Marine Corps) � only long-winded speaker at the press conference, now a retired US senator.

Lieutenant Malcolm Scott Carpenter (Navy) � flew the Aurora 7 like shit and was never again allowed into space. Turned to sea exploration, now writes books.

Lieutenant Commander Walter Marty "Wally" Schirra (Navy) � the only astronaut to have flown Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions. Now a retired businessman.

Captain Leroy Gordon Cooper (Air Force) � a Methodist who named his spacecraft Faith 7. Also a strong believer in UFOs, though he never saw them in space.

Not present

Sam, Miss Sam, Ham, Enos, and friends.

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Obiter Dictum

An evil headache incapacitates me, makes me snap at people and animals, so I drink tea alone and try to kill it with obituaries.

Max Reinhardt, Publisher of Shaw and Solzhenitsyn, Dies at 86 (As a publisher, Mr. Reinhardt's first author was Shaw, who allowed Mr. Reinhardt to reissue his romantic correspondence with the actress Ellen Terry, some of it passionate and wild.)

Parley Baer, Mayor on 'Andy Griffith', Dies at 88 (During the 1950's, in addition to his acting career, Mr. Baer trained and worked with lions and tigers.)

Cecil Dowdy Jr., Football Player, Is Dead at 57 (He is survived by his wife, Carol; two daughters, Kimberley Fulcher, of Tuscaloosa, and Cassidy Douthit, of Newberg, Ore.; three sisters, Mitzi Dowdy, of Huntsville, Ala.; Sharron Sparks and Pat White, both of Muscle Shoals, Ala.; and his parents, Cecil and Elvie Mae Dowdy, of Cherokee, Ala.)

Hadda Brooks, 86, Performer Known as Queen of the Boogie, Dies ("I try not to put anything new into my songs," she told an interviewer in 1989. "I go back 20 years to find me.")

John Rawls, Theorist on Justice, Is Dead at 82 (He loved family vacations to Maine and would go on long sailing trips in a leaky boat.)

Harriet Doerr, Writer of Searing, Sparse Prose, Is Dead at 92 (When she was 16, she met Albert Doerr, an engineering student at Stanford University who took her to a prize fight on their first date. She was horrified, not least because of the droplets of blood that had spattered on her dress.)

But not me. The headache has been worked off.

Tuesday, November 26, 2002


A beautiful dawn coming right now. Through glass. I haven't felt a direct ray of sunlight in weeks. I goldbrick and daydream.

Sunrise: 7:35 AM CET
Sunset: 3:30 PM CET

Monday, November 25, 2002


Last night, I wrote a big song, the big song, the sort of song they will sing for decades. The would have and should have and why and when and if came to me in seconds. Love was lost and I was leaving or coming home or she was leaving for somewhere forever or staying forever here. I etched it in weeping minors for quivering steel strings and an aching echoing ninth that would break a shivering heart like a sweet apple snaps in strong hands. I puffed it into the air and drifted it down into everyone's own secret valley. Then I took the last train and found myself humming along to the noise leaking from some kid's earphones and lost everything and it's never coming back.

Sunday, November 24, 2002


Another month and another crush of bus into car, the same dull mergence, the same displosion of headlights and chrome. By design, bus must crumple car at this intersection. A woman sitting across from me laughed and said, "Again?" We all got out and walked. We're used to this.

The woods the rest of the way were dark and fogged. Soft wet leaves on the path, dripping branches, small birds in the dark. A single swoop of something big, an owl, I thought, but it was gone. And one man tripping over roots.

Years later, at home, the woman kissed me long enough to make the kid smile. "Where have you been?"

Saturday, November 23, 2002

The Big Sleep vs All About Animals

After her rehearsal for a Christmas concert (she'll play a synthesizer), the kid and I went home. She said she wanted to play but I said I was tired. No, really, I'm too tired. I want to read. (Marlowe was holding off the Sternwood women again.) So I read and she read next to me, then she read to me, then I read to her, then she was attacked by an octopus and a crab. Ticklish business, this reading.

(As for this concert: her inventive left hand has revealed to me the similarity of Silent Night to Blow the Man Down. It comes out like a sad sailor whistling alone at Christmas.)

Friday, November 22, 2002


I took a look around downtown. There used to be a fountain next to the old mill. Not a pretty thing, but an oasis of impracticality in a sea of profit. The mill, which is hundreds of years old, was gutted by developers a few years ago and is now a shopping mall. Jeans. Bras. Shirts. Sweaters. Teenagers. A cash machine sticking out of the wall. But at least a silly fountain. Now the fountain is a sandy hole in the ground. Soon it will be something fit to stand next to a mall disguised as a mill.

Cricoland, the old amusement park, is still empty and the band shell is graffitied. Because some things just ain't funny no more.

And I notice the old town torture hall is now scaffolded and shrouded. They don't go in for torture here anymore, either. And the mall is just five minutes away.

Thursday, November 21, 2002


On the first bus out of town, the driver is often alone. He doesn't stop for the casual lingerer. I threatened to walk in front of the bus this morning, so he opened the doors, almost stopped, gave me just enough time to grab the railing on the steps and climb on. We rode, invisible driver and I, the rest of the way alone.

It was dark (it is still dark) and too early for stoplights. Past the city, he lit a cigarette and turned on the high beams. The trees became the sides of a deep gorge and we were at the bottom. It's a long curving hill up through the woods and he had to work the gears and rev the old engine. Over the top, the engine relaxed and we roared past the highway, through more trees, and then to an empty spot where he slowed down enough to let me off. The momentum of the bus carried me forward for the first few steps.

A bookkeeper over a bus depot somewhere might think about shutting down this run, but there's always someone who needs to get out too early. Today it was me. Tomorrow, maybe the bookkeeper.

Wednesday, November 20, 2002


What you missed at the pub: women's world weightlifting from Warsaw. Seven men pounding half-liters and watching a series of lovely (well, maybe not all, but perfectly fine) women weighing no more than 105 or 106 pounds (the 48-kilo class) heaving great weights over their heads and enjoying it. The winner, Wang Mingjuan, a teenager from Hunan Province, cleaned and jerked more than 250 pounds. (That's like 230 glasses of beer. If you don't count the glass. Or a large man, say, if he's late.) Then she smiled nicely, took a little bow, blew a kiss, and gave just the briefest, politest, friendliest pump of a fist.


The sun is still behind the curtain but he pushes fat bright lovely Venus higher and higher up out of the southeast. Where was this clear blue sky yesterday?

Tuesday, November 19, 2002


The night scientists�Asher and McNaught, Brown and Cooke, Lyytinen and Van Flandern and Jenniskens�offer several models of wish, all rational theories for catching buckets of stars. But clouds have fallen and roll over the fields and the full moon itself is invisible.

Monday, November 18, 2002


He's big. The half-inflated skin balloon about his skull is heavier, counting jowls on jowly jowls, than most ripe watermelons. His leather jacket could be a whole humped cattle skin, seamless. And the rest of the team. Around the table, maybe two tons. They have to push one another out of the way when they reach. Around the urinal, a lake. They must piss like racehorses, on all fours and munching unaware.

The fat cook, a mild sort of big, stands in the kitchen door and lifts his lower lip into an inadvertent frown. He likes this sprawl of haunches, though most of these guys haven't eaten. Maybe he was a butcher.

Saturday, November 16, 2002


My poor mother sometimes spent her good time reading science fiction to me, hoping to knock my brains out after a long day. It worked better on her�I would catch her nodding�but I was a sleepy boy and usually left her time for tea and Dickens and Henry James and George Eliot. One library book I almost remember was of ships sailing the dusty seas of the moon. Our only Latin. Soft spray of faraway.

Hevelius mapped the moon from this city, a place she and I never imagined I�d be, and brewed something here we never thought I�d drink. Now my head is nodding. Soft puff and ships on silent seas.

Friday, November 15, 2002


All but the cat are gone for the weekend and I am ready for it.

The farmer can work alone in the field or the woods all day, hoeing or chopping, and not feel lonesome, because he is employed; but when he comes home at night he cannot sit down in a room alone, at the mercy of his thoughts, but must be where he can "see the folks," and recreate, and as he thinks remunerate himself for his day's solitude; and hence he wonders how the student can sit alone in the house all night and most of the day without ennui and "the blues"; but he does not realize that the student, though in the house, is still at work in his field, and chopping in his woods, as the farmer in his, and in turn seeks the same recreation and society that the latter does, though it may be a more condensed form of it.
Walden, Chapter 5

Wednesday, November 13, 2002


Nosferatu walks into a bar (this one, actually) and gets a buddy merry with his newly shaven head and very pointed ears. He curls fingers around the brass rail. I can't see him in the mirror but that doesn't mean he isn't here. It could be just my point of view.

Then a made man bolts into the corner and growls into his self-own while we wait not to hear. He mentions stakeholders and I look at Nosferatu, but not a blink.

I go on consuming barflies.

Monday, November 11, 2002


We carried Jack to the top of the highest hill around here. I set him on the edge and asked, "Murder?" She laughed and gave him a hard kick to the back of the skull, and over he went, rolling down the hill, pinballing off trees. But Jack was dead and rotting before we took him out to the woods. We were just getting rid of his stinking, oozing head.

Then off to unexplored woods. We found holes in the ground, the sort boys might dig, but she knew they were the graves of witches (she reads about witches) and walked carefully past a ghost walking a wolf. One hole, she said, was the empty grave of Johann Sebastian Bach. (Too many piano lessons? Anyway, no decomposer jokes.) I started to hum the main theme of Die Kunst der Fuge but she made me stop, supposedly because ghosts don't allow it, but I get the feeling she doesn't like my singing. When we came to the real cemetery, we went in, and there near the gate were the graves of a man and woman named Bach, and then of a man named Wolf.

But the sun came through the trees, old women tended the graves of old men, and a red squirrel hopped down from the trees and went running and hopping over the stones. We followed, and the kid was just a tree trunk's breadth away�I could see them in profile, each alive to the other through two feet of tree�when the squirrel shot up and leaped from treetop to treetop and gone.

Sunday, November 10, 2002


The kid has closed the door and put on Appalachian Spring. When I go in, she is quietly stepping through her own choreography and I am told not to sing while I hang laundry on the clotheshorse. I don't know the story of this particular production, but I feel certain that it is informed by the sorrows of a young soul who has been forced to eat an entire bowl of her grandmother's barszcz. I go off to tend our old heater.

Friday, November 08, 2002


A chattering gray marmot with his hind parts balanced on a soft stool next to me tells me all about how he has just relocated here on a long-term business contract after a similar long-term business contract somewhere in Africa and his problems with his wife back in England who has just told him to fuck off long distance and with his deceptive African paid girlfriend whose father is not really dead and not really her father and with the several local whores he has already tried to talk into becoming his long-term paid girlfriend, two of whom slipped him a mickey and took him for a ride in a taxi. When he stops talking, I go.

Thursday, November 07, 2002


Four hours by train, one of six in a compartment, then sprung on cold Warsaw. Fifteen minutes to sign and swear to a reverse confession�I am not a crook, or nix on the visa�then wandering for hours on cold concrete until home again, four more hours, a different half-dozen, a day strangered together. And busy tired sick. I'm not here.

Monday, November 04, 2002


She just hopped across the field, whirled around at the sight or scent of a man walking�he never saw her�and then out across the road and in through the trees.


Squeaky-toy crows in each tree this crisp morning, trying to distract, but look down: on the neat football pitch, a row of fresh dark hills on frosty grass. A mole (Talpa europaea, "Spade-like forelimbs. Pink fleshy snout.") has been hunting worms. It looks as if our friend was burrowing for the goal posts�and a mole wears lovely pink gloves for the job�but a mole might play both sides. The real game is underground and won by degrees.

Saturday, November 02, 2002

Two Nights

Halloween doesn't exist here except as an excuse to be gaudy in a disco, but the kid, learner of English and the things done by its speakers, had carved and candled a pumpkin and now wanted to celebrate it. First the costumes. With her mother and grandfather as the audience, the kid and I dug through closets in the other room, then came out to show off our transformations: Eeyore tied to my head while I hid my face under a towel and she laughed. Eeyore tied to her head while she hid her face under a towel and I laughed. The kid as Tarzan with a scarf as loincloth, while I was Red Riding Hood maybe. The kid wrapped in a green towel and a string of Christmas lights, with me as the plugger in, but wearing a skirt and dancing a sort of cancan. Then off to her room. Jack burned on the window sill, I sipped tea and ate all the pistachios, and she wore toy antlers and danced and sang whatever words streamed through her head, something about the spirit of the mountains, the spirit of the feast day, and a conflict of good and bad ghosts.

Then Allhallows, All Saints' Day, the kid and I walked to the cemetery to see the candles at night. This was our real Halloween walk, the leaves and darkness and unusual crowds of people on the sidewalks at night. Business at the cemetery gate had grown: last year's hot dog truck was now four or five separate trucks serving whole chickens and grilled sausage, there were picnic tables, and someone was running a raffle. We went in and then up�the cemetery is a cleft in the wooded hills�up scary dark stone steps lit only by the candles on the graves, holding hands so we wouldn't lose each other. Jesus above a sea of candles. A clean, well-lighted grave for eight priests sleeping the last sleep together. A grave with no candle, just the size of a cradle, Alicja, 14 July 1973 � 15 July 1973. The kid told me: "So many people dead. But life is like that. For every one that dies, another one is born." We zoomed home alone along the sidewalk, singing a dozen variants of a silly song we had made up the day before.