augury doggerel

Thursday, October 31, 2002


The official clock has slipped a cog and the backdrops are falling away: darkness pushed back an hour but still coming on, woods retreating, clouds frosted away and the sky a flat blue ceiling. Here comes winter. Gather your herds and light your fires, and prepare for visitors.

Not only among the Celts but throughout Europe, Hallowe�en, the night which marks the transition from autumn to winter, seems to have been of old the time of year when the souls of the departed were supposed to revisit their old homes in order to warm themselves by the fire and to comfort themselves with the good cheer provided for them in the kitchen or the parlour by their affectionate kinsfolk. It was, perhaps, a natural thought that the approach of winter should drive the poor shivering hungry ghosts from the bare fields and the leafless woodlands to the shelter of the cottage with its familiar fireside. Did not the lowing kine then troop back from the summer pastures in the forests and on the hills to be fed and cared for in the stalls, while the bleak winds whistled among the swaying boughs and the snow-drifts deepened in the hollows? and could the good-man and the good-wife deny to the spirits of their dead the welcome which they gave to the cows?

Wednesday, October 30, 2002


Ezra Loomis Pound was born on this day in 1885, before your time, in Idaho, but abandoned the place for Philadelphia and London and Paris, Rapallo and Rome, Washington and Saint Elizabeth's Hospital (he was "criminally insane"), and back to Rapallo. His most famous poem is as short as a street address:

In A Station Of The Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

I like his "Hugh Selwyn Mauberley" and maybe you do, too. Here's a famous passage:


There died a myriad,
And of the best, among them,
For an old bitch gone in the teeth,
For a botched civilization,

Charm, smiling at the good mouth,
quick eyes gone under earth's lid,

For two gross of broken statues,
For a few thousand battered books.

Tuesday, October 29, 2002


On the bus in a traffic jam in the rain and dark, waiting to go home, sitting in the only seats that look back on to the rest of the passengers, like facing the wrong way at the movies. The only empty seat is next to me. No one else likes these seats, where you watch and are watched.

At the next stop, the old man with the little dog and the bag of breadcrumbs gets on and asks me if he and his dog won't get in the way. I ask him to please have a seat. He holds his dog on his lap. There is no conversation. He talks and his wet-eyed dog and I listen.

It's raining hard and traffic is almost stopped. The man talks about a flood a long time ago, about coming home to pots floating in the kitchen, cows gone, his grandmother telling him it had all happened in twenty minutes, everything become a river. He exudes the smell of turkey stuffing, of holiday feasts, and it's not the bread in the bag.

Pretty girls get on, sit and laugh for two or three stops, and get off again. They don't like the rain on their hair. Gum cracking is in style among schoolgirls now, and there are always a couple of them on the bus enjoying the attention their annoyance brings. A tall skinhead with a vaguely swasticular patch on his jacket gets on, doesn't punch a ticket, rides one stop, gets off.

The man tells me about what wasn't here before as we pass backwards through what is here now. These stores, this suburb, that one, all were fields and trees out past the city. I ask him about his dog. He says his dog is a stray he found on his walks. His dog is old too, and I catch myself wondering whether it would be worse for the man or his dog to die first.

When we get to the stop near the pond where the runoff from the hills collects ducks, I remind him that it's his stop. The two get off at the same place almost every day. We say goodbye, and he and his dog climb down the bus steps. It's still raining but the ducks are hungry.

Monday, October 28, 2002


The cat goes alone at night to places only cats know, but Sunday the kid and I took the cat out into the woods for our first walk together. The cat followed huge-furred and round-eyed, stepping through yellow leaves, sniffing mushrooms, toes soft along banks of thick moss. The kid and I scouted ahead and turned when we saw people walking dogs. Kid called to cat, cat to kid. The cat burred a distance behind.

We found a knocking tree, a woodpecker somewhere inside, and put our ears to it. A surprising nearby pocking, Ariel imprisoned. That's when we lost sight of the cat, who meanwhile was chased into the rough by a slobbering jaw-faced terrifier with a chain around its neck. After the dog was choked into obedience, we found the cat playing the fretful porpentine under a bush.

There is nothing here but moss and leaves and fur and the invisible knocking.

Sunday, October 27, 2002

Ars Moriendi

On this day in 1914�so long ago, at the start of the Great War�Dylan Thomas was expelled into cool Welsh air and started on his suckling. And on this same October day in 1932, Sylvia Plath, a Depression baby, let out her first gasp. He would have been a tottering eighty-eight had he somehow come this far, she an exact seventy. Happy bloody birthday. Here's a baby poem each from them.

Vision and Prayer [I]

Are you
Who is born
In the next room
So loud to my own
That I can hear the womb
Opening and the dark run
Over the ghost and the dropped son
Behind the wall thin as a wren's bone?
In the birth bloody room unknown
To the burn and turn of time
And the heart print of man
Bows no baptism
But dark alone
Blessing on
The wild


Clownlike, happiest on your hands,
Feet to the stars, and moon-skulled,
Gilled like a fish. A common-sense
Thumbs-down on the dodo's mode.
Wrapped up in yourself like a spool,
Trawling your dark, as owls do.
Mute as a turnip from the Fourth
Of July to All Fools' Day,
O high-riser, my little loaf.
Vague as fog and looked for like mail.
Farther off than Australia.
Bent-backed Atlas, our traveled prawn.
Snug as a bud and at home
Like a sprat in a pickle jug.
A creel of eels, all ripples.
Jumpy as a Mexican bean.
Right, like a well-done sum.
A clean slate, with your own face on.

Saturday, October 26, 2002


On the sidewalk before stoplights start turning red, three people in the public works wearing orange reflective vests push three prams stripped to the metal. Their fluffy beds, no longer of any use, have been discarded and replaced by brooms and shovels and dustbins. There is no budget for carts built to the job, and there are always babies growing up.

Nine hours later each day, after we all have lunched at work, a local farmer rides his bicycle away from our kitchen. He pulls a small trailer carrying a metal milk can topped with our orts. He fattens a pig, I think, on our drippings and bones.

Friday, October 25, 2002

Crispin Crispian

A man who bites nubile jugular by night and cobbles by day settles on his perch at my favorite restaurant, the one with good Friday feasts, fries and vinegar. I almost like his company this time of day, when he thinks on his descent and nibbles the soft bits of unschooled fingerlings. He talks matter-of-factly through courses of battered fry and leaves their small heads on his plate.

Thursday, October 24, 2002


On the bus I was part of The Ages of Man, an old play in three brief scenes. The boy in the seat ahead had peculiar cupped ears, pink smooth skin, a long graceful neck. Already he missed a bit of hair from his small crown. The man behind me, whom I never dared turn to face, talked continuously from when I sat down to when I escaped, whispering in my ear and talking to no one about nothing. His breath was decayed, a gas rising from rotten guts. And I sat in the middle, hunched over my reading but watching the trees and a boy's soft ears and listening to the voice of mumbling doom.

Wednesday, October 23, 2002


At the pub last night, it was just Boris Yeltsin and me. He had four tables and eight other bar stools to choose from, but he sat on the stool next to mine, shoulder to shoulder with me, and watched the same space on the same wall. He didn't speak, just drank, which is fine, but why next to me? So I spoke to him. But he muttered something about 'not tonight', left money on the counter, grabbed his coat, and disappeared. I would have asked him about 1991, but maybe he was afraid I'd mention the dancing incident.

Tuesday, October 22, 2002


In a corner of this pub, skinny girl stroking big strong man and drinking sweets, something expensive, which he tries to balance with cheap beer. He catches me watching her and makes the look of the bull at me for a second but it's nothing. She likes his attention straight up, without the trouble, and he likes getting credit for the gesture without actually having to get up and extrude my eyeballs with his thumbs. I write him down and watch her curl round about herself.

Monday, October 21, 2002


All cleaned up and out the door to work today, but: a loud, strong, high-pitched meow from somewhere nearby. It wasn't trapped in the basement. It wasn't in the grass. It wasn't in the trees. I got dirtier and dirtier. It was behind the box mounted on the outside wall, the one with the lightning bolt and skull painted on the door. Reach, reach, reach, hoping I don't find a wire first. And then a fistful of gray kitten.

We can't. The woman got together a cat survival package while the kitten sat behind my head and made me a character from a cartoon. And out again, kitten and box and food and meow into the garden. It's a warmish morning, no wind, no rain. We can't.

I'll check tonight.

Sunday, October 20, 2002


In the dark this morning, I went out to look at the cemetery and church at the end of Autumn Street, a little place I had never been, almost nothing on the map.

The church is a stack of nineteenth-century red brick built on a fifteenth-century foundation. I would have liked to see the inside, especially the basement, but I was out too early, there was already a dog barking, and I couldn't ask a priest before breakfast if he might let a foreigner sniff about his church's underthings.

I went instead to where no one bothers, in through the steel gate to walk the cemetery rows and think about names and ages and how each of them might have died. It was still mostly dark, especially under the trees, and candles still burned on the graves from visitors the night before. One grave near the front was fresh, a mound of gaudy cellophane-wrapped bouquets.

Then the first real snow of the season came down, blowing over the bare field, coming in through the trees and gravestones, making hot candles hiss. I went out and walked along the edge of the field up to the woods. I caught big flakes in my mouth.

As I went in to the trees, I met an old woman coming out. Just to talk to someone � just to talk to her � I stopped to ask whether this was the way to the Street of Astronauts. She didn't know but she smiled and seemed to like the idea. She certainly enjoyed the six laughing boys who then came around the corner wearing summer shorts and tee shirts and jogging in the falling snow. Another winter for her, too.

Saturday, October 19, 2002


Our old articulated Hungarian bus had smoked me most of the way to work Friday morning when a teenage boy out in his father's nice sedan pulled out too fast, too soon, and our bus crushed the nose of the shiny little car. While the boy stood and listened to the bus driver and the car and his imagined father steam together, we passengers abandoned our seats and started walking.

The usual road to work is a straight, thin strip of asphalt, but I had time to go through the woods. First comes a dirt road running diagonally through the trees, probably the old road to the vanished mills in the next valley. But for a farm at the end, it's just you and the trees there. The older trees along its edges are too wide for three of me to reach around. After the farm, the road comes out of the woods and becomes a sandy drive that runs past birches and pines and a clutch of new houses. I don't know if the roads had names before, but in the 1970s the city built an airport near there, and ambitious communist planners must have looked at the map and seen the future. On paper, the dirt road with the wide trees is the Street of Astronauts, which intersects the sandy Street of Radar, where the birds are thick in the trees.

Friday, October 18, 2002


Oh, hell. I get home and find boxes on the living room floor. The woman has shopped. I will spend a brick of a weekend mating part to pre-drilled part with bags of bits. You say eye-key-ah, we say ee-keh-ah, but the spell is the same. It's the same pile of bare soft wood, the same promise of dismay at unhinged doors and misslung drawers.

But here will go toy and toy and toy, the heaps of reheaped colors and shapes that the kid reassembles into talking horses and systems of levitation and little homes stuffed with little furniture.

Thursday, October 17, 2002


In August, I would purposefully take my tin cup and book and pencil out to the pasture hatless under nothing but air and the ticking sun and burn. I crawled on my knees in grass and unskinned. I hunted crickets and grasshoppers with my ears and spiders with my spine, and felt a real unshakeable damp chill when spider ate grasshopper. Birds talked to themselves as I talked to myself in a hollow of a pasture in August. I returned burned devil red for each grasshopper I watched eaten.

Now, not two months later, the world is wet and gray, the sun is gone, the stars are gone, the spiders and grasshoppers are gone, the birds are gone. We live within the slightest tilt of a planet.

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Local Hero

G�nter Grass was born in this city on this day in 1927. Happy Birthday, G�nter.

From The Tin Drum:

Then all three of them were gone and my grandmother ventured to spit another potato, which by this time was almost cold. She hastily blew the earth and ashes off the skin, popped the whole potato straight into her mouth. They must be from the brickworks, she thought if she thought anything, and she was still chewing with a circular motion when one of them jumped out of the lane, wild eyes over a black mustache, reached the fire in two jumps, stood before, behind, and beside the fire all at once, cursing, scared, not knowing which way to go, unable to turn back, for behind him Long and Thin were running down the lane. He hit his knees, the eyes in his head were like to pop out, and sweat poured from his forehead. Panting, his whole face a tremble, he ventured to crawl closer, towards the soles of my grandmother�s boots, peering up at her like a squat little animal. Heaving a great sigh, which made her stop chewing on her potato, my grandmother let her feet tilt over, stopped thinking about bricks and brickmakers, and lifted high her skirt, no, all four skirts, high enough so that Short and Wide, who was not from the brickworks, could crawl underneath. Gone was his black mustache; he didn�t look like an animal any more, he was neither from Ramku nor from Viereck, at any rate he had vanished with his fright, he had ceased to be wide or short but he took up room just the same, he forgot to pant or tremble and he had stopped hitting his knees; all was as still as on the first day of Creation or the last; a bit of wind hummed in the potato fire, the telegraph poles counted themselves in silence, the chimney of the brickworks stood at attention, and my grandmother smoothed down her uppermost skirt neatly and sensibly over the second one; she scarcely felt him under her fourth skirt, and her third skirt wasn�t even aware that there was anything new and unusual next to her skin. Yes, unusual it was, but the top was nicely smoothed out and the second and third layers didn�t know a thing; and so she scraped two or three potatoes out of the ashes, took four raw ones from the basket beneath her right elbow, pushed the raw spuds one after another into the hot ashes, covered them over with more ashes, and poked the fire till the smoke rose in clouds - what else could she have done?

My grandmother�s skirts had barely settled down; the sticky smudge of the potato fire, which had lost its direction with all the poking and thrashing about, had barely had time to adjust itself to the wind and resume its low yellow course across the field to southwestward, when Long and Thin popped out of the lane, hot in pursuit of Short and Wide, who by now had set up housekeeping beneath my grandmother�s skirts; they were indeed long and thin and they wore the uniform of the rural constabulary.

Tuesday, October 15, 2002


I'm having trouble constructing October this year. There should be candle orange in the trees and crackling but there's only the mist and the rain and our steam radiators. Or am I too soon?

Monday, October 14, 2002

Comings and Goings

Edward Estlin Cummings was born on this day in 1894. Many of his poems are posted here and here, probably illegally, but Mr Cummings died long ago and won't miss the royalties. This is one of his good poems:


i sing of Olaf glad and big
whose warmest heart recoiled at war:
a conscientious object-or

his wellbelov�d colonel(trig
westpointer most succinctly bred)
took erring Olaf soon in hand;
but--though an host of overjoyed
noncoms(first knocking on the head
him)do through icy waters roll
that helplessness which others stroke
with brushes recently employed
anent this muddy toiletbowl,
while kindred intellects evoke
allegiance per blunt instruments--
Olaf(being to all intents
a corpse and wanting any rag
upon what God unto him gave)
responds,without getting annoyed
"I will not kiss your fucking flag"

straightway the silver bird looked grave
(departing hurriedly to shave)

but--though all kinds of officers
(a yearning nation's blueeyed pride)
their passive prey did kick and curse
until for wear their clarion
voices and boots were much the worse,
and egged the firstclassprivates on
his rectum wickedly to tease
by means of skilfully applied
bayonets roasted hot with heat--
Olaf(upon what were once knees)
does almost ceaselessly repeat
"there is some shit I will not eat"

our president,being of which
assertions duly notified
threw the yellowsonofabitch
into a dungeon,where he died

Christ(of His mercy infinite)
i pray to see;and Olaf,too

preponderatingly because
unless statistics lie he was
more brave than me:more blond than you.

And on this day in 1965, Randall Jarrell was killed by a car while he was out walking along a North Carolina road at dusk. You can find some of Mr Jarrell's poems here and here. If you know any poems at all, you probably know "The Death Of The Ball Turret Gunner":

From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.


Outside the city last night, the rain drops in midair became intricate, branched, hexagonal.

And the radio station has died. I tried another station, but Leonard Bloody Cohen is on again, so no radio this morning. Cohen has a secret life in this country, where it is even possible to make a career of Cohen in translation.

Sunday, October 13, 2002


The kid is not interested in me today, which has me interested in her. She's on a chair and looking on high shelves, finding Christmas in October and her past father in the fall. She's talking to a horse I don't know.

Thursday, October 10, 2002


Now the sky is a baby's bedroom, but when I went out today, it was still dark and wet. Across the road from the army garrison here is a large gated house somehow attached to the army. As I passed there this morning, a soldier dressed in forest camouflage swept fallen leaves from the steps and the walk.

Tuesday, October 08, 2002


Sunday morning in our woods alone before the dark lifted, still night in the trees, before Christian clanging. Rainfall on my razed head. There was nothing to do there, which was why I was there. Invisible nuts dropped from the wet trees.

Sunday, October 06, 2002


On the other side of the world, flowers must bloom and babies must be born.


My escape plan at six Saturday morning was to rouse the girl and make off to the woods with her and the necessary juices and candy. We made it by seven, with mama left behind groggy but grateful.

We picked up horse chestnuts on the corner for the feel and look of them, and then gathered acorns and hazelnuts and beechnuts in the woods. Scatters of oak leaves on the ground were yellow and green.

Mushrooms had blown up through the earth � I broke a few open and we smelled them, but neither of us can be trusted to tell good from bad so we left them to the animals � and the moss was thick and slippery for light feet running on fallen trees and steep slopes. We met families picking mushrooms and barked at their dogs for the fun of taunting little couch dwellers used to ruling their carpets.

Out of the woods, we bought a loaf of bread at a corner grocery shack. While we waited, the boy who helps there put a box of sugary pastries outside because dozens of gathering bees had filled the shack. The bread was for the ducks across the street on a decorative pond in front of the Instytut Lacznosci (here's the pond). I broke bread into a thousand pieces and talked to a stuffed horse while she made fifty foul-weather friends.

When we ran out of bread we went home, where I slept � I forget whether it was Cyril Connolly on Basil Bunting or Edmund Wilson on his house that delivered the knockout punch � and woke to the kid running on all fours as Pikachu through all the rooms in the place.

The kid and the woman later cracked open the nuts with a garlic crusher and nibbled the good ones. The stuffed boar ate the acorns. I sipped tea and recited this chestnut to myself.

Saturday, October 05, 2002


I saw three flocks of geese yesterday. According to very helpful bird expert Jerzy Dyczkowski, I'm probably seeing the White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons) and the Bean Goose (Anser fabalis), perhaps (if I understand him) even in mixed flocks.

I've been making quite a study of their flocking habits. Geese arrange the sky about themselves according to the tricky interplay of several factors, including which geese just don't feel like flying this autumn, which geese are shy or sly or geezered, which geese have the shapeliest tail feathers, which geese goose, and which object to flying behind bean geese. And it always comes out a perfect vee.

Friday, October 04, 2002


Something strange is happening to the trees: their beautiful green leaves are fading, discoloring, even coming loose and blowing away. I thought it might be a local problem but I see it everywhere now. It hasn't quite reached the pines on the hills, but at this rate it can only be days before all the lovely trees are naked, and, with these recent cold winds, when they most need their wrappings.

The kid is oblivious to this sadness. She collects frightening heaps of leaves choked scarlet and laughs like there's no tomorrow.

Thursday, October 03, 2002


In the dark this morning, Jupiter, if it was Jupiter, had spilled out of the thin bowl of the moon, and Venus, if it was Venus and not Sirius, sat on the horizon and sparkled. Orion was Orion, and I can still count the beads: Betelguese, Belatrix, Rigel, Saiph, Alnitak, Alnilam, Mintaka. In the field, a vast fleet of spiders had abandoned their wet masts and rigging to the sea. And now I am in a pink mist.