augury doggerel

Thursday, May 30, 2002

Corpus Christi

A skinny girl in a white communion dress walked up the middle of the empty railroad track, into the wind. The dress pulled flapping around her bones. She raised her arms like wings and opened her mouth, glad to be out of church and away from aunts and grandparents.


I hesitate and read other things (A Midsummer Night's Dream, a book of essays), and I am forced to hunt for an apartment, but I have decidedly signed on again with Ahab. We are, however, still, still dawdling ashore. I am struck again by how profoundly gay the opening is. Gay carefree even as Ishmael explains each portent he trips over, and gay homosexual, boy meets savage. After sharing a bed with the large purple man-eater with the big harpoon, admiring every inch of his fabulous body, and kissing his pagan idol, Ishmael is absolutely in love with Queequeg. And so they marry.

"How it is I know not; but there is no place like a bed for confidential disclosures between friends. Man and wife, they say, there open the very bottom of their souls to each other; and some old couples often lie and chat over old times till nearly morning. Thus, then, in our hearts' honeymoon, lay I and Queequeg -- a cosy, loving pair."

I am of course reading something into this that the author did not intend. There were no homosexuals in 1851.

Wednesday, May 29, 2002

Animal Locomotion

The first adult nakedness I remember seeing, other than safely unreal painted images, were in my mother�s old art textbooks. There were some Eadweard Muybridge photographs, including a series in which a naked woman stooped to pick up something, maybe a jug of water. And printed on a page of light green paper, there were three black-and-white photographs, each cropped to show a single pair of presumably exemplary breasts for the artist to copy, and for the young boy to slip from the bookcase and study.

I cannot find the original images anywhere but in my head. Searching the web for "breasts" to find a particular three pair of anonymous breasts on light green paper is of course pointless. I did look for Muybridge, but I couldn't find that particular series. Places I looked:

Tuesday, May 28, 2002


This morning while making tea and coffee all wrong and throwing it away and starting again, I heard a magpie's chatter chatter chatter. When eventually I got coffee and sugar into one mug and a teabag into another and boiling water into both, I looked out the window and saw our cat and a magpie, both black and white, about five feet from each other on the edge of the communal sandbox. The magpie stood facing squarely at the cat and yelled. The cat stared across the road and tried to pretend the magpie wasn't there, but she was clearly taking it all in. Then the cat moved off, a few steps at a time, while the magpie edged after her and kept up the noise, the sort of noise a rotten little boy makes when he's pretending to fire a machine gun. I went out on the balcony to sip my tea and offer support. The cat climbed up, briefly rubbed against my legs, and then sat on the edge of the balcony and watched the king of the playground strut the wooden O of the sandbox.

Sunday, May 26, 2002


We went to the zoo, this kid and I, and saw everything on earth that would run or swim or fly if it could. In the emu pen, one small, nervous emu chick ran about the dirt under the large feathered lampshade of the only other emu in the pen, an adult. I thought that the adult was the father because the mother emu always leaves him to hatch and raise their young while she chases other males. The kid thought the adult was the mother because there are no single fathers in her world, and single mothers always stand by their fluffy miniatures. There was no one around to ask, so we left with our assumptions intact.

Saturday, May 25, 2002


The woman came home to find me in bed with Queen Elizabeth last night and told me to get up quickly because we had a friend outside. For ten minutes we stood in the dark on the step, she still dressed to teach English, I in my bare feet, while a small bat whirled through the space between our communist-era pile of concrete and the identical one next-door. By the time I was brought the head of the Earl of Essex, our friend must have visited silent death on a nightful of things that sting. By the time I finished my tea and rolled over to sleep, she may have been hanging herself up on her hooks for the night.

Friday, May 24, 2002


The sun comes down the street with the traffic in the morning, so I went out early this morning to read in the sunshine and let somes buses pass before my own smoking fate was scheduled to come. Thomas Campion ("Followe thy faire sunne, unhappy shadowe") made me want to lean on something, and the nearest something was a lamp post. Before I could put my shoulder to it, I saw a row of shiny black ants running up the post and a row of shiny black ants running down. The post is concrete wrapped around steel and wire. It goes up and up, to the top of the ant world, but there is nothing at the end for them. I puzzled for a minute, but then a bus came and snatched me away.

Thursday, May 23, 2002


The woman brought a basket of clothes pins in from the balcony yesterday and put it down on the sill. Like magic, dozens of tiny spider babies splashed over the edge. There are several larger spiders living in the bars of our balcony throughout the warm weather, and one of them had become a mother.

The woman did her best to scoop them all up, then took them back to the balcony, where we now have a nest of orange babies, each almost small enough to come back in through the window screen. They're toddling on eight legs each around the edge of a window box, jumping off and spinning first webs, looking back and wondering how they did it.

Wednesday, May 22, 2002


I sometimes hear Americans talking business on the news or on the telephone, but yesterday there were three in the flesh at work and I had to talk to them and listen to them. I took notes, but not notes on the subject of our discussion, which was our convoluted electronic backflippery. I have taken enough notes about that and need no more. Instead, I watched them tap various little boxes while I wrote down how they spoke � "I tasked them with it" and "That's a very good question" and "Actually..." and "Basically..." and "On a daily basis" � and I tried hard not to think I was watching a tedious business videotape, because then I would have laughed and shot snot out my nose and had to excuse myself for the rest of the day.

They're coming back today and I'm running low on cold medicine. What if I come out of it in mid-conference?

Tuesday, May 21, 2002


Over in the pond this morning, something is bubbling early from the bottom. Around it, in the long grass, the dew and sun reveal dozens of webs, each just the width of my hand, strung up like safety nets for practicing crickets.

And the dew has reminded me that I must stop ignoring the hole in my boot. I have a squeaky foot now. Step, scrinch, step, scrinch, down the hall, with my head rotating on my neck like a fancy towertop restaurant from the fistfuls of cold medicine I'm swallowing.

Monday, May 20, 2002


A white stork (Ciconia ciconia) just landed, long orange legs, long orange beak, pacing the deep grass, always looking down, trying the weeds with its beak, mousing, maybe snailing. I hope the ducklings are tucked out of sight.


This morning at 6:30 on the bus to work, I had just finished reading about Chinese Gordon and I was looking at a spot of long grass where I had seen a deer before and wishing a deer would be there again. And there was a deer. A small doe stood at the edge of the woods in the first sun � I suppose that's why she goes there � looking at a smoking, fire-engine red box full of faces groaning up the hill past her.

Sunday, May 19, 2002


I am not allowed to go to the zoo, supposedly for my own good, but I think they just want to keep me from coughing and sneezing on the kid and the elephants all day, so instead her grandparents are taking her.

I can't focus. I'm reading little bits of things. A book I found in the back of a dusty used book store, Social Life in the Insect World (Jean-Henri Fabre), is fine for browsing when things are green. Moby-Dick has surfaced on the book pile at home and I have followed Ishmael and Queequeg about land lately, but I'm not sure I want to set sail with them again. I'm reading short novels � The Loved One, The Ballad of the Sad Cafe � and have read too much by and about (green face powder?) Eliot lately. I need a few straight shots of Carver but I've loaned it to someone who reads slowly. Now what?

I think I'll write a story for children about a girl who goes to the zoo and makes friends with a monkey. The monkey will introduce her to the other animals, and she'll hide in their cages and act like them when her parents come looking for her from cage to cage. In the lion cage, she'll be a lion, roaring, maybe with a mane to play to the transsexual crowd. In the penguin pool, she'll be a penguin. And so on. Animal fun for the innocent set. In the end you'll see her monkey friend wearing her clothes, hat pulled low but tail sticking out, going home with her parents while she stays at the zoo to be one (and all) of the animals.

Saturday, May 18, 2002


Just cleaning junk from my pack today. A rotten cold has slipped me a Mickey. I just slouch while tea grows cold in front of me. I must preserve myself for a promised trip to the zoo tomorrow.

Friday, May 17, 2002

Iceman (2)

He cometh along.


The clouds are thick this morning, but when the sun came out for a few minutes, a pair of storks rose up over the woods, glided round and round, enjoyed the sun on their wings.


The woman now has a master's and a hangover.


To write a longing you could sell, stroke a progression of minor disasters and seventh sons, and sing certain words � never, always, lost, why, forever � that throw wide nets around schools of small shiny memory fish that swim off through the weave. They will always love you.

Thursday, May 16, 2002


I am building an iceman, ice cube by ice cube, in the unused freezer at work to replace Defrosty the Snowman.


Ten ducklings follow their mother outside the windows at work. She took them to one of the supposedly decorative little plastic-lined pools here to practice swimming. Their nest is somewhere else, somewhere in the fields, where local housecats part the long grass and crows as big as housecats drop from the air. The ducklings won't be able to fly for six weeks. There's nothing we can do but see how many outlive summer. Luckily for sleeping ducklings, they look like nothing, like dried weeds, tufts of exploded cattails, and their mother is the original decoy.

Wednesday, May 15, 2002


Planets gather or a comet blows by or a thousand stars fall in one night, depending on the summer. I watch from a dark garden or through the bars of our balcony or lie in a field and remember the trees I looked through or the bats in the last blue or how a building divided the horizontal into stars and no stars and stars again. I don't know the people in the next building. They must be sleeping. The woman calls me to bed, hoping I'll work everything from her muscles and make her liquid for a moment and will not leave.

Tuesday, May 14, 2002


The barman pulls at his crotch under the table and laughs at the low-cut woman he entertains with free drinks. The boss is not here, so the barman is not here until the last drop evaporates from my latest glass, then thunk glass full and back to the woman.

The only other paying customer, an old jockey of a man with a massive mustache, stops nursing his drink long enough to come up and ask me for a cigarette. I'm thinking about things and feeling unfriendly so I tell him no and I don't smile. Eventually he pulls his jacket tight and goes out the door.

The waitress sitting behind the bar briefly acts out the lyrics to herself � 'I've paid my dues,' long-nailed thumb to chest � and continues paying. She has her shape and her teeth yet. She can't be older than 20.

I'm hoping for more rain and how I can't reasonably go out in it, and maybe a tram will go by, metal, metal, go by.

Monday, May 13, 2002

No Man

Someone has defrosted the freezer at work. My snow man is gone and we're stuck with summer.

Sunday, May 12, 2002


She was sixteenth of eighteen kids stuck up on the stage for parents and grandparents to admire. On the stage, clap clap clap, bow or curtsy, play plah play, bow or curtsy, clap clap clap, off the stage, next. This gave me much time, too much time, to dwell on the nature of certain instruments in the hands of beginners. Frets make the difference. Frets and keys. Without one or the other, the beginner may as well be swinging a knife blindfolded at a wedding reception for all of the pain it causes family members. Remember this if your kid is ever looking for an instrument to pick up.

The accordion, for instance, when it is played by a boy small enough to make him look like a man carrying a refrigerator, is not very, very painful, not if the boy seems to be in on the joke and allowing you to smile quietly with him at the absurdity of anyone, let alone him, using one on an actual stage. An accordion has keys that make it fairly hard not to hit a note, even if it isn't the right note. The piano � our kid's instrument � also has keys, and like the accordion, it is rarely very, very painful. If it starts out in tune, there is no note hiding in a piano that is entirely wrong, not since Schoenberg, though theory has its limits. One little girl reminded me that the guitar, too, is hard to use to really evil effect if it is at least in tune.

But the cello. And, of course, the violin. Both are cruel in new hands, and both, not coincidentally, are fretless, making it far too easy to play something and everything between B and C when you distinctly need one or the other. A cello between the tiny thighs of a child is bad, but it hums in a lower, softer register than the violin does; a cello gone wrong will kick at your guts, but you will recover. The abused violin is serrated, a swarm of angry biting flies. It makes you think of giving up altogether the habit of listening to sound. Forty minutes into the recital, there was a violin duet played by two kids who may not have played violins before. They smiled to each other as if they knew how much they were hurting a roomful of adults who had to sit and pretend they liked it.

Near the end, our kid got her turn on the safe piano. I heard just one wrong note, unless she has been practicing wrong notes all along, and she finished happy and well. Flowers to her teacher, photos of all, and then home to dig her fingers into the sandbox and do pretend gymnastics on the pole out near the garbage where people beat their carpets.

Saturday, May 11, 2002

Moo, Gobble, Cluck, Woof, Caw, Tweet, Quack

Walking out early. Feeding hens. Imitating roosters. Irritating roosters. Watching vicious little hens chasing one another use the turkey as something to hide behind and duck under. Turkey barely noticing. Crouching down to -- Jesus! The turkey almost got my nose! The old woman gesturing with her walking stick, blinking small eyes into the sun, telling us everything there is to say about chickens and turkeys and their habits and feathers. The kid mesmerized; woman secretly a mesmerist? Sitting near an ant hill. Shaking off ants. Saying, "Oh, look at the" and then "never mind" as she unknowingly squashes a fat snail. Leaping and scrambling down soft cliffs into a sandpit. Waiting at the bottom while she does it again again again. Again. Watching a massive crow glide over the sandpit, rraw, rrwa, rraw. Discovering and petting a cow. Going back and petting the cow again, because there's time to pet a cow. Being too tired to walk. Flagging down a lucky bus just in time. Laughing on the bus. Checking for ducks as we go by, but the ducks are away for the weekend. Releasing her into the wild but watching from the balcony.

Thursday, May 09, 2002


They're firing guns this morning at the usually silent airport, not far from here. I suppose they're trying to frighten birds. Or put down a coup.

Wednesday, May 08, 2002


This morning the pond is bubbling from under sunned skin, breathing out through green. Frogs or fish, I cannot tell which, leap half through the shine. Each is almost gone before I hear it. If fish, it moves mouth first through swallowing undulate murk. If frog, it settles, curled in weeds, shaded under cattail trunks, bulbing eyes peeled back and coil unsprung. It is both from here, where I spin with the insects and try to breathe.

Tuesday, May 07, 2002

Losing It

There is not sex enough on the Internet. There are plenty of illustrated guides to inserting parts into parts, all of it DIY, but not enough knotty bits to go around. Well.

She lived in Love Canal with her frequently polluted father and her frequently polluted mother and her own pure eterni-tan in one of the cheapest homes in town, built directly over a massive chemical dump. She was good from giant hair down to smooth soles. Her smile was festive and her first name was Holly and her last name has never come back to me.

I drove a purple Dodge Dart with no room but for driving. We parked in a lot on the Niagara River in rain with thick drops a thousand fingers drumming on the roof. She had been here before and before, but not with me; I was the experimental rabbit volunteering my eyes and skin. We weren't far from the road and there were other cars parked close to us with similarly occupied occupants, but without light we were invisible.

The rain in an old, rusted car runs through the works, tries the locks, finds out loose wires, establishes alternative direct currents.

When the dome light lit over us, contorted front seat to back, an awful swollen orange light came over us and expanded to yellow. I thought that she had turned it on and she thought that I had turned it on and I tried the switch just a thousand times, but the switch was denying everything.

You can, if you need to � if you find yourself one of two naked occupants on display in a purple 1970s Dodge Dart with a throbbing interior light advertising the matter to various people looking on � you can with one hand remove the dome light, cover and housing, wires and bulb, bolts and welded supports, and all associated molecules in one smooth motion if you just forget your name and hers and pull.

I have since remembered my name.

Sunday, May 05, 2002

Snail Bliss

Walking across the field this morning, I could find only six snails, three couples still joined. It was a warm night.

Then a huge stork came down over toward the airport � using the runway? How many snail eggs can a stork carry?

Saturday, May 04, 2002

Snail Hell

The woman and I walked over to a place we hadn't seen, hills and then a recovering dump, a wide flat crunchy space of unsettled earth full of discarded things broken into sharp fragments grinding together when you step. The grass has taken and was long and wet in the morning and was full of snails sucking to thick blades. Thousands of snails, clusters of a dozen, snails under almost every stride. We stepped lightly and tried not to crack their shells. We found black places where the grass had been set afire and burned back to the surface. Here the shells lay exposed, many more than we had seen in the thick grass, still holding their color but baked dry. In some places we almost could not put a foot down without a crack, and the place is as wide as a lake.

The kid, still at her grandmother's and not yet told about our snails, has reportedly adopted a single orphan snail in a jar for the night.

Friday, May 03, 2002


The storks are back from South Africa. I just saw a dozen fly over.

Roosters, Turkey

The woman and I walked down the road between the boneyard and the nuthouse this morning and headed into the garden allotments. The front gate is a large metal contrivance with (my clumsy translation here) "Workers' Gardens Named in Honor of the Heroes of Monte Cassino" in big rusted letters over the top, but we were going in through the back.

We heard a rooster, then another and another. So many loud roosters, I thought kids were pulling our legs (or our collective leg?). Then we saw a man and his roosters. Unlike the weekend gardeners who own the other plots, this old guy was living in a tiny fenced home with a dirt yard. Roosters and hens stepped everywhere. Chickens were roosting in a Trabant up on blocks. At least five roosters tried to outcrow one another. A black dog chained near the back said nothing, kept out of it, wished chickens would vanish. An even older woman, probably the man's mother, came out to feed the chickens. And a huge turkey cruised through the chickens like an alien being gliding through confused men. He dragged his wings in the dust to impress with the hiss. His face was not the face you know from cartoons or even the photos of fairly photogenic turkeys distributed by the various turkey federations and food councils. Maybe he was an old turkey, or an old turkey's nightmare. He wore a blue and purple hanging mask, a drape of flesh swinging like a biblical punishment, a disembowelment, a flaying, from head almost to ground. And when he approached a female, all that exposed, baggy flesh � carbuncle, snood, wattle � turned a solid blood red.

Wednesday, May 01, 2002

Snail, Great Tits

Today, May Day, national holiday, red-and-white flags flapping from neighboring balconies, no work, kid at her grandmother�s, me up reading since three. Then we had breakfast in bed with a hermaphrodite and eyed a pair of buttery tits.

I went to the store for bread and came back with a large snail I found along the way. It (snails are hermaphroditic) was a Helix aspersa, the sort reputedly gobbled by the French. It was about 5.5 cm (2.25 in) long and 3.5 cm (1.4 in) wide. The woman and I and the snail ate breakfast in bed together. People had grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches with tea. The snail (on a glass plate so we could look underneath) had a slice of tomato, from which it chewed a cartoonlike chomp. We let it gnaw on our fingertips, too. I could feel the snail�s mouthparts (radula) working away on my skin, and, when I listened closely, I could hear it working its single giant foot on the moist plate. It watched with tiny black eyes on the tips of its upper tentacles. After breakfast, I put it back out with the remainder of the tomato.

Then I had tea and read near the window. Two Great Tits (Parus major) landed on the window box where we had put out a lump of old butter. One would fill its beak with butter, then hop over to the other. They would kiss, and the waiting one would get a beakful of butter.