augury doggerel

Thursday, July 31, 2003


The street where we live is quiet and verges on forest, but it's not void of industry.

On our corner is a needleworker whose light burns late and early, a basement computer shop with concrete lions crouched at the door going down, a wholesale dealer in cosmetics and other ladies' preparations, and a school packed with beautiful girls walking mornings. And we're not all poor. The people in the big house directly opposite drive a shiny black sedan through a gate that screeches open before them.

Our street is named for Stephen Bathory (Stefan Batory), King of Poland. Before he pulled up stakes and came north to take the Polish throne, Bathory was Prince of Transylvania. He fought against the Turks alongside his neighbor, Dracula, the Prince of Wallachia. Bathory's niece was Elizabeth Bathory, who bathed in the rejuvenating blood of virgins.

The street here is quiet, but our kid is especially sensitive to insect bites. We latch the windows and pull down the shutters at night.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003


A fine construction of balance and vanity strokes out and grrls on rollerblades. She wears no unsightly safety equipment, or how would we see her smooth knees bend, her wrists display long fingers, her hair undo all down our concrete hill? At the bottom she catches suspiciously deep breaths for that easy roll and half collapses round a lamp post. Her hip shifts out from under a whip spine and unsupportable breasts fill and fill a small pink tee. It might be a string of sighs.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003


A friend in the south of the country, where this rain has brought floods, says the undertakers downtown are submerged and coffins float in the street.


A hawk just took a pigeon out of the rain. They drove down to our roof, a bang over my head, and then a clutch of dangling wings away over the grass.

Monday, July 28, 2003


Just now, a gray heron (Ardea cinerea) flying hard through heavy rain thunder lightning.


Two round brothers driven in from the farm on a weekend morning. One walks the sidewalk and calls 'potatoes' up to our apartments. The other crawls a truck along the curb behind him. I mumble "bring out your dead" and amuse myself. The driver is smoking and watching for faces in windows. I shake my head when he looks at me. He listens to the truck radio: "Trams like comets, they have no rest... sun beating down, from building to building... sand in hair, and the sea... everything ends and begins here, Gdansk, Sopot, Gdynia." Nobody leans out to buy potatoes. Even granny has slipped her apron and gone to the sea.

Friday, July 25, 2003


The Dogs of Zeus met in a bus stop tonight. We each gave our sign � the twist of an umbrella, a slow sigh that smells of mint, a bus schedule read backwards, a circle wiped clockwise and counterclockwise on the glass, and, for me, bristles rubbed back to front, water popping.

The one new one, the one with rubber boots and a wooden umbrella, stood as if she'd never seen a million volts jump from nothing. We counted the seconds from the flash and multiplied to determine (you know the constant) exactly how long we would live. The man who made circles on the glass startled at the result and put away a handful of keys. I stroked my head again.


Storm. I cannot sit still inside my head.

Thursday, July 24, 2003


The bus to work is an old Ikarus 280, an articulated Hungarian joined in the middle with a sphincter of sagging black rubber. It just climbs the hill through the woods. In the middle, where the driver has ground the gears all the way down and the bus moves like a funicular, you are almost walking. There's a small road here leading off to the left through the tall dark trees, a sign to the sanctuary for expectant mothers.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003


They come in from the beach smelling of coconut, toasted, buttered on both sides. A boy laughs through a few seconds of a dance I can't describe. The music is only in his ears. A girl catches his belt loop and pulls him in.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003


A bird in the grass has knocked out its brains on our window's reflection, sky and sky, and lain out for what comes. Its eyes are gone and its feathers are tufting the weeds and its lungs have collapsed in a fish dinner of spines. The man in red will come with his bright yellow whirr and smoke afterwards.

Monday, July 21, 2003


Here on a leaf of rocket (fancy name for leaves that grow on the roadside and taste like nuts and pepper), a snail waits out the sun. It's a fat thing, at least an inch across and solid, and bows the stalk, pulls the hammock leaf half down to the grass. Inside, shell sealed, tentacles retracted, eyes slipped, it's wet and still.

Sunday, July 20, 2003


A well-muscled man stands at the front of the tram, his back to us all. A baby girl in his right arm looks over his shoulder. A bag of groceries hangs in the other hand. The girl watches air and smiles. Her father shifts from one leg to the other, flexes his arm to bring her closer, and kisses the top of her bobbling head.

Turn now and look at the women across the aisle. David Attenborough crawls between their ankles unnoticed. They are vibrating and will soon flower or burst. They will crouch in the aisle and release a low, mournful thrumming noise from their throats. They will beat the tram floor and wail and begin a circling dance of umbrellas and handbags.

But here's my stop.

Saturday, July 19, 2003


A perfect green shell found itself on a polished bar last night. It tested my paper, then walked a swath of news bleached white: a threatened fish, a principled judge, a corrupt government, farmers in a desert, a fight to shift or save a river. The beetle, a close reader, worked slowly to the end of the story, then turned and read it backwards, as they do at the better universities. It paused at the top and might have looked up at me, though eyes like that are always looking up and everywhere else. I paid and we left together.

Don Marquis, from "the coming of archy":

expression is the need of my soul
i was once a vers libre bard
but i died and my soul went into the body of a cockroach
it has given me a new outlook upon life
i see things from the under side now
thank you for the apple peelings in the wastepaper basket
but your paste is getting so stale i cant eat it
there is a cat here called mehitabel i wish you would have
removed she nearly ate me the other night why dont she
catch rats that is what she is supposed to be fore
there is a rat here she should get without delay

most of these rats here are just rats
but this rat is like me he has a human soul in him
he used to be a poet himself
night after night i have written poetry for you
on your typewriter
and this big brute of a rat who used to be a poet
comes out of his hole when it is done
and reads it and sniffs at it
he is jealous of my poetry
he used to make fun of it when we were both human
he was a punk poet himself
and after he has read it he sneers
and then he eats it

i wish you would have mehitabel kill that rat
or get a cat that is onto her job
and i will write you a series of poems showing how things look
to a cockroach
that rats name is freddy
the next time freddy dies i hope he wont be a rat
but something smaller i hope i will be a rat
in the next transmigration and freddy a cockroach
i will teach him to sneer at my poetry then

dont you ever eat any sandwiches in your office
i haven't had a crumb of bread for i dont know how long
or a piece of ham or anything but apple parings
and paste and leave a piece of paper in your machine
every night you can call me archy

Friday, July 18, 2003


This morning early, fast through the long grass, a girl hoists her skirt to her hips and runs on silly shoes. Bare stick legs through wet grass, past the moles and chamomile and poppies and thistles and snails. When she gets to the tracks, she plucks at the band of her pants, tucks and straightens herself, walks a little, stops again. Her heels settle gravel and she looks.

Frances Cornford, "To a Fat Lady Seen from the Train":

O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
Missing so much and so much?
O fat white woman whom nobody loves,
Why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
When the grass is soft as the breast of doves
And shivering-sweet to the touch?
O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
Missing so much and so much?

Thursday, July 17, 2003


It's been quiet. But the kid comes back soon. We've remodeled her room. The door is still unhinged.

Hilaire Belloc, "Rebecca, Who Slammed Doors For Fun And Perished Miserably"

A trick that everyone abhors
In little girls is slamming doors.
A wealthy banker's little daughter
Who lived in Palace Green, Bayswater
(By name Rebecca Offendort),
Was given to this furious sport.

She would deliberately go
And slam the door like billy-o!
To make her uncle Jacob start.
She was not really bad at heart,
But only rather rude and wild;
She was an aggravating child...

It happened that a marble bust
Of Abraham was standing just
Above the door this little lamb
Had carefully prepared to slam,
And down it came! It knocked her flat!
It laid her out! She looked like that.

Her funeral sermon (which was long
And followed by a sacred song)
Mentioned her virtues, it is true,
But dwelt upon her vices too,
And showed the dreadful end of one
Who goes and slams the door for fun.

The children who were brought to hear
The awful tale from far and near
Were much impressed, and inly swore
They never more would slam the door,
-- As often they had done before.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003


An otherwise skinny girl finds no seat on the bus. She leans her back into a rail and watches the floor. Her arms cross over round under two extra heads. Men, beery men, tired men, old men, men who look like her father might look, look and stiffen. She has thin blown glass blue eyes.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003


A wet morning and I'm walking down the middle of the abandoned railway, crouching every five feet to move a snail safely to the grass. I scold them in an "aren't you a naughty wee hermaphrodite?" sort of voice. Then I see a man to my right moving at the edge of the trees on the other side of the road, close enough to hear everything. But he carries on looking for empty bottles and cans. I'm the one talking to snails.

Monday, July 14, 2003


Where I work, past the city, a little man all in red fights the woods. He makes a face and pushes an emergency yellow machine in straight lines. He wears a mask and swings a gas-powered scythe. He squirts poison into the cracks. And when our plain of hybrid green is leveled for the moment, he squats on his engine and smokes.

Andrew Marvell, "The Mower Against Gardens":

Luxurious Man, to bring his Vice in use,
Did after him the World seduce:
And from the Fields the Flow'rs and Plants allure,
Where Nature was most plain and pure.
He first enclos'd within the Gardens square
A dead and standing pool of Air:
And a more luscious Earth for them did knead,
Which stupifi'd them while it fed.
The Pink grew then as double as his Mind;
The nutriment did change the kind.
With strange perfumes he did the Roses taint.
And Flow'rs themselves were taught to paint.
The Tulip, white, did for complexion seek;
And learn'd to interline its cheek:
Its Onion root they then so high did hold,
That one was for a Meadow sold.
Another World was search'd, though Oceans new,
To find the Marvel Of Peru.
And yet these Rarities might be allow'd,
To Man, that Sov'raign thing and proud;
Had he not dealt between the Bark and Tree,
Forbidden mixtures there to see.
No Plant now knew the Stock from which it came;
He grafts upon the Wild the Tame:
That the uncertain and adult'rate fruit
Might put the Palate in dispute.
His green Seraglio has its Eunuchs too;
Lest any Tyrant him out-doe.
And in the Cherry he does Nature vex,
To procreate without a Sex.
'Tis all enforc'd; the Fountain and the Grot;
While the sweet Fields do lye forgot:
Where willing Nature does to all dispence
A wild and fragrant Innocence:
And Fauns and Faryes do the Meadows till,
More by their presence then their skill.
Their Statues polish'd by some ancient hand,
May to adorn the Gardens stand:
But howso'ere the Figures do excel,
The Gods themselves with us do dwell.

Sunday, July 13, 2003


Afternoons like now, when there's sun in the red brick doorway across the street from here, I see a girl on the step. The sun gets into the bricks and along her throat. She keeps her eyes closed.

But here's a boy today, fine-furred on shins and thighs. It's also his sun. She opens her eyes, looks along and looks again and looks just away.

Saturday, July 12, 2003


Carnage along the disused railway this morning, cannibalism in the high grass. Snails enjoying the wet after a rain are rendered under vast grannies and skyscraping radiator repairmen. Their snail friends slide out from behind rocks and through the grass to feed on the smears. Then other mountains fall.

Friday, July 11, 2003


I crouched on the walk under an open window and tied and untied my shoe three times slowly to hear a woman at morning dishes sing.

Robert Herrick, "Upon Julia's Voice"

So smooth, so sweet, so silv'ry is thy voice,
As, could they hear, the Damn'd would make no noise,
But listen to thee, (walking in thy chamber)
Melting melodious words, to Lutes of Amber.

Thursday, July 10, 2003


This morning two birds the size and heft of dandelion puffs traded sounds like pebbles knocked together. It was a trick to make me look: I almost cracked open a breakfast snail for them. The snail transmitted an emergency signal directly to my nervous system and shifted my foot just to the left. At least, maybe.

One cloud is moving suspiciously faster than the others.

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Belt and Braces

If I heard this right, they had him burnt, then put him underground with a big stone on top, just to be sure. But I watched his face bearded and bargain-sized last night in the ceiling lamp flicked off and trying to sleep. Probably the extra expense kept him up. Would have done it himself, half a chance, off the books.

Tuesday, July 08, 2003


Blue is racy, spicy, salty, earthy, off-colo[u]r. A boob is a breast. It's about mating ritual, damn it. But I cannot be bothered to build the nest.

James Tate, "The Blue Booby":

The blue booby lives
on the bare rocks
of Galapagos
and fears nothing.
It is a simple life:
they live on fish,
and there are few predators.
Also, the males do not
make fools of themselves
chasing after the young
ladies. Rather,
they gather the blue
objects of the world
and construct from them

a nest � an occasional
Gaulois package,
a string of beads,
a piece of cloth from
a sailor's suit. This
replaces the need for
dazzling plumage;
in fact, in the past
fifty million years
the male has grown
considerably duller,
nor can he sing well.
The female, though,

asks little of him �
the blue satisfies her
completely, has
a magical effect
on her. When she returns
from a day of
gossip and shopping,
she sees he has found her
a new shred of blue foil:
for this she rewards him
with her dark body,
the stars turn slowly
in the blue foil beside them
like the eyes of a mild savior.

Monday, July 07, 2003


Clouds pouring over.

Seamus Heaney, from "Lightenings":

The annals say: when the monks of Clonmacnoise
Were all at prayers inside the oratory
A ship appeared above them in the air.

The anchor dragged along behind so deep
It hooked itself into the altar rails
And then, as the big hull rocked to a standstill,

A crewman shinned and grappled down the rope
And struggled to release it. But in vain.
'This man can't bear our life here and will drown,'

The abbot said, 'unless we help him.' So
They did, the free ship sailed, and the man climbed back
Out of the marvellous as he had known it.


I miss all the fun. A note from home says when they got to the cemetery, they found that the man hadn't remembered to dig a hole. Well, as the obituary says, contribute to the Alzheimer's Association. Poor embarrassed gravedigger. Must have been quite chopfallen.

Sunday, July 06, 2003


Another overcast day, more rain.

Fleur Adcock's "The Ex-queen among the Astronomers":

They serve revolving saucer eyes,
dishes of stars; they wait upon
huge lenses hung aloft to frame
the slow procession of the skies.

They calculate, adjust, record,
watch transits, measure distances.
They carry pocket telescopes
to spy through when they walk abroad.

Spectra possess their eyes; they face
upwards, alert for meteorites,
cherishing little glassy worlds:
receptacles for outer space.

But she, exile, expelled, ex-queen,
swishes among the men of science
waiting for cloudy skies, for nights
when constellations can't be seen.

She wears the rings he let her keep;
she walks as she was taught to walk
for his approval, years ago.
His bitter features taunt her sleep.

And so when these have laid aside
their telescopes, when lids are closed
between machine and sky, she seeks
terrestrial bodies to bestride.

She plucks this one or that among
the astronomers, and is become
his canopy, his occultation;
she sucks at earlobe, penis, tongue

mouthing the tubes of flesh; he hair
crackles, her eyes are comet-sparks.
She brings the distant briefly close
above his dreamy abstract stare.

Saturday, July 05, 2003


I think they're shoveling him under today, far away, where there may be thunderstorms.

Flip Larkin's "Aubade":

I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what's always really there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.

The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
- The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused - nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel
, not seeing
That this is what we fear � no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.

And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.

Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can't escape,
Yet can't accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.

J. M. Synge's "A Question"

I asked if I got sick and died, would you
With my black funeral go walking too,
If you'd stand close to hear them talk or pray
While I'm let down in the steep bank of clay.

And, No, you said, for if you saw a crew
Of living idiots, pressing round the new
Oak coffin � they alive, I dead beneath
That board, -- you'd rave and rend them with your teeth.

and from Cymbeline:

Fear no more the heat o' the sun,
Nor the furious winter's rages,
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta'en thy wages;
Golden lads and girl all must
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.

Fear no more the frown o' the great,
Thou art past the tyrant's stroke:
Care no more to clothe and eat;
To thee the reed is as the oak;
The sceptre, learning, physic, must
All follow this, and come to dust.

Fear no more the lightning flash,
Nor the all-dreaded thunder-stone;
Fear not slander, censure rash;
Thou has finished joy and moan:
All lovers young, all lovers must
Consign to thee, and come to dust.

No exorciser harm thee!
Nor no witchcraft charm thee!
Ghost unlaid forbear thee!
Nothing ill come near thee!
Quiet consummation have;
And renowned be thy grave!

Friday, July 04, 2003


Other people's poems for a while, keeping my fingers busy clicking.

Stevie Smith, "Scorpion":

'This night shall thy soul be required of thee'
My soul is never required of me
It always has to be somebody else of course
Will my soul be required of me tonight perhaps?

(I often wonder what it will be like
To have one's soul required of one
But all I can think of is the Out-Patients' Department -
'Are you Mrs Biggs, dear?'
No, I am Scorpion.)

I should like my soul to be required of me, so as
To waft over grass till it comes to the blue sea
I am very fond of grass, I always have been, but there must
Be no cow, person or house to be seen.

Sea and grass must be quite empty
Other souls can find somewhere else.

O Lord God please come
And require the soul of thy Scorpion

Scorpion so wishes to be gone.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003


It rained very hard today. My father died today. I'm sure this is what they call a pathetic fallacy, but I can't be bothered to look it up and I could never be bothered to parse and purse.

My little sister is buying a bit of grass for him and a stone on the hill. The rain will be good for the grass, and you can see another country from the hill.