augury doggerel

Sunday, March 30, 2003


The place is full and noisy, but one voice, an American's, cuts through. It's not the volume, or not just the volume, it's the shape of his sound, the tin plates and baling wire flung about the place.

But a wagtail is on the sill. Spring in black and white.

Thursday, March 27, 2003


Larkin in an interview with the Observer:

Poetry can creep up on you unawares. Wordsworth was nearly the price of me once. I was driving down the M1 on a Saturday morning: they had this poetry slot on the radio, 'Time for Verse': it was a lovely summer morning, and someone suddenly started reading the Immortality ode, and I couldn't see for tears. And when you're driving down the middle lane at seventy miles an hour ... I don't suppose I'd read that poem for twenty years, and it's amazing how effective it was when one was totally unprepared for it.

William Wordsworth began writing Intimations of Immortality at breakfast 201 years ago today.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Mare's Nest

And then there was the marvelous Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, literary patron, translator and poet, Sir Philip Sidney's sister, mother of the "incomparable pair of brethren." She married at fifteen and was widowed at forty, and spent her last twenty years living vigorously.

In her twenty years as a widow she attempted to put down insurrections in Cardiff, administered her properties, continued writing and translating, built herself a magnificent country house, carried on a flirtation with her handsome and learned young doctor Sir Matthew Lister, and took the waters for her health in the fashionable Continental town of Spa. She died in 1621, and after a magnificent torchlight procession, was buried in Salisbury Cathedral.

Ben Jonson wrote this epitaph:

Underneath this sable herse
Lies the subject of all verse,
SIDNEY's sister, PEMBROKE's mother ;
Death! ere thou hast slain another,
Learn'd and fair, and good as she,
Time shall throw a dart at thee.

But let's not kill her off just yet. In one of his brief lives, Aubrey wrote: "In her time, Wilton House was like a College, there were so many learned and ingeniose persons. She was the greatest Patronesse of witt and learning of any Lady in her time." He also gossiped (speaking of horses) that:

She was very salacious, and she had a Contrivance that in the Spring of the yeare, when the Stallions were to leape the Mares, they were to be brought before such a part of the house, where she had a vidette (a hole to peepe out at) to looke on them and please herselfe with their Sport; and then she would act the like sport herselfe with her stallions.

A life lived well.

Tuesday, March 25, 2003


Holy fuck, the countdown starts today. Only nine months left to buy into it.


At dusk here, the hilltop is burning. Spring ritual. The evening is cold and people coming out of work are drawn. They climb the hill and stand as near as they dare.

Sunday, March 23, 2003

Auk and Shaw

From Major Barbara:

Come, come, my daughter! dont make too much of your little tinpot tragedy. What do we do here when we spend years of work and thought and thousands of pounds of solid cash on a new gun or an aerial battleship that turns out just a hairsbreadth wrong after all? Scrap it. Scrap it without wasting another hour or another pound on it. Well, you have made for yourself something that you call a morality or a religion or what not. It doesnt fit the facts. Well, scrap it. Scrap it and get one that does fit. That is what is wrong with the world at present. It scraps its obsolete steam engines and dynamos; but it wont scrap its old prejudices and its old moralities and its old religions and its old political constitutions. Whats the result? In machinery it does very well; but in morals and religion and politics it is working at a loss that brings it nearer bankruptcy every year. Dont persist in that folly. If your old religion broke down yesterday, get a newer and a better one for tomorrow.

Oh, and the auk? The Great Auk, original of the penguin, evolved to swim farther and faster, shed its useless wings, gave up the air. Men clubbed it into extinction.

Saturday, March 22, 2003

Business End

BABYLON, March 21 (Rooters) � As sales representatives converge on Babylon 2003, the biggest trade show of the year, the Dow has skyrocketed 8.4 percent, its greatest weekly gain since the Falklands show of 1982.

Product demonstrations by Boeing, Raytheon, General Electric, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, and Lockheed Martin are attracting buyers worldwide.

Product placement is touted as the central theme of this year's show. Boeing, long a crusader for cross-border marketing, has seen orders for almost 19,000 JDAM conversion kits since September, and this week's show promises to bring in many more orders.

Iraqi markets were closed Friday.


Say you're a teacher. Say you come home and drop a bag full of books and student work on the floor. Say the cat-box attendant is too full of codeine to do his job quickly. Say the impatient cat squats on your bag and soaks every loose or bound sheet of paper in it.

That's when a cat needs a false beard and ludicrous accent.

Friday, March 21, 2003


A man came up the track and grabbed the unwilling dog. I have three cans of dog food in my pack. No dog.

Bwana is a parrot on my shoulder. He misses his wife in England; he can't live with her or in England. He misses his "girlfriend"; she wants more money, and up front. Bwana stays; Bwana must go.

It's spring. Sunny. Snow is falling.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

Black Dog

Still there and still here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2003


The old track laid out past this place is a token piece of railway. A real train carrying gravel went by once. But the track is a good footpath, smooth and raised like a fashion runway, and it connects a cluster of houses out here with the bus stop. All day, all year, men and women walk to and from work, mothers push carriages and herd toddlers, schoolchildren shoulder in twos and threes. Today, a little black dog waits on the track. It runs up to everyone, lowers its head almost to the ties, wags its tail too much. Some people stop to say hello. Everyone goes on without it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003


The gnome who watches the lawn outside has planted fifty stakes in the ground, each with an old plastic bottle on top. This, he thinks, will frighten the mole who mocks his trimming and tamping. The mole, meanwhile, claws into his dreams.

Sunday, March 16, 2003


At home I lie gasping and read the Arabian Nights, but I may as well read the day's news. We live in a world of humorous wonder and wondrous humor. If you need a sign, think of the tale of the miraculous fish and the two fishmongers.

But enough already about the talking fish. If you're out tonight and it's not too much trouble, would you light a small candle for me? I'd return the favor but you know I couldn't hold a candle to you.

Saturday, March 15, 2003


I think the story I just remembered is true, but I don't have anything to look it up in. Anyway, it made me laugh, so here it is.

Richard Corbet was the bishop of Oxford back in Shakespeare's day, maybe a little later. The bishop had a good singing voice and he knew it. When traveling, he might stop at an inn, get himself up like the professional singers of the day, and be the evening's entertainment. He also liked his wine and was known to take his friend and assistant (what do you call a bishop's assistant?) downstairs, locking the door behind them, and sample a good bit of the cellar. And the bishop wrote poems. If you knew anything about him before, it was probably that he wrote the verse that starts:

Farewell, rewards and fairies,
Good housewives now may say,
For now foul sluts in dairies
Do fare as well as they.
And though they sweep their hearths no less
Than maids were wont to do,
Yet who of late for cleanliness
Finds sixpence in her shoe?

Lament, lament, old abbeys,
The fairies lost command;
They did but change priests' babies,
But some have changed your land,
And all your children sprung from thence
Are now grown Puritans;
Who live as changelings ever since,
For love of your demains.

It's an elegy for the more fanciful and superstitious days before the too-earnest Puritans started sticking their cold noses into things. Puritanism was certainly the sort of thing that would annoy a pub-singing, cellar-guzzling, fairy-missing poet who also happened to be bishop. He was Cavalier with a capital C, but also in the lowercase, lighthearted sense of the word.

However, the bishop was proud. One day, the story goes, he decided not to walk in procession around the cathedral church as a more humble prelate would do. Corbet would ride. Dressed in the full bishop's getup�hood and cassock and so on�he slowly rode his mare and read from the prayer book, and probably thought he looked pretty good. But this was exactly when a nearby stallion sniffed the air, got a whiff of something heady, broke loose, and sprinted for the bishop's mare. Before anything could be done, the stallion had mounted the mare and pinned the bishop between the two of them for the duration.

In subsequent processions, the bishop walked.


The combinations of cat and I are not immense. Two beasts trapped in seven rooms. When we have reached the forty-ninth, she'll start talking back and then we'll figure a way out of this place.

Friday, March 14, 2003


I'm reading from the Arabian Nights, Burton's translation, Bennett Cerf's little Modern Library edition, one Andy Mahoney's used copy. Thanks, Andy, whoever you are, for taking no fluorescent marker to it and for leaving no triple-underlined schoolboy notes ("Man vs Society!") in the margins.

And so again each night, Shahrazad the wise and beautiful must tell her terrible king a story that will delay another day her beheading and the beheading of young women after her. After 1001 nights, she shows him the three boys she has born him � she has done more than speak through these nights � and she begs the king mercy for their sake. The king confesses he has long before pardoned her, and they live

in all pleasance and solace of life and its delights, for indeed Allah the Most High had changed their annoy into joy; and on this wise they continued till there took them the Destroyer of delights and Severer of societies, the Desolator of dwelling-places and Garnerer of graveyards, and they were translated to the ruth of Almighty Allah; their houses fell waste and their palaces lay in ruins and Kings inherited their riches.

But I skip ahead. Shahrazad is talking. She gives us other sons: Aladdin, Ali Baba, Sindbad.

Thursday, March 13, 2003


At home, no kid, for I am feared contagious and the kid is exiled to the land of grandmothering. And no woman, for she has shuffled off this snuffle and brisks about life, demonstrates cartwheels to wondering children, gallops horses until they're tired. I am home and the cat on the floor rolls over to keep up with the sun.

But this morning, I leave the apartment for five minutes to buy food and see another human. The girl behind the counter is there every day before work, and the clock on the wall is the keeper of bus time.

Me: "Good morning. That big piece of cheese, please. And a loaf of bread. And... pea soup."
Clock: "Sick, sick, sick, sick, sick."
Girl: "Bread? Soup? The gentleman does not want rolls today?"
Me: "No, thank you. I am staying home today. I am not feeling well."
Clock: "Sick, sick, sick, sick, sick."
Girl: "For the gentleman." [putting my things on the counter]
Me: "OK, maybe five roll. [sic] Rolls."
Clock: "Sick, sick, sick, sick, sick."
Me: "Thank you."
Girl: "The gentleman is not from around here."
Me: "No."

But I am coughing now and I forget to say where it is I am from. She will never ask again. I don't ask her for synonyms to cabin fever. She might know. The clock might fall off the wall.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003


I am trapped in an apartment with no thesaurus.
- stir crazy ('stir' was slang for prison)
- cabin fever (all winter in a tiny cabin in the giant woods...)

What else?


Out ill, banished, and watching how things must be when I'm at work. The sun, I see, stands right up overhead. Shop doors are swung open. Children run and scream. I hope nothing is wrong.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003


The first geese have just come back, there's a new nest of magpies in the tree, and I'm red-eyed and full of fever.

Monday, March 10, 2003


Tomorrow. Imagine that. I must have been much smaller then. I'll go have tea and think about it.


Is this a morning full of beautiful birds? A warm soft afternoon? I'm full of sympathomimetic agents, nonnarcotic antitussives, paracetamol, and steaming tea. Click send. Clicks end.

Sunday, March 09, 2003


Aling: not up to snuff and snuffling, but it�s snuffing really, so I�m out to lose my I.

Laing: two selves split to defend Charlie McCarthy but die for Timbuktu.

Algin: the ghost and jewel of goo, kelp�s marvel.

Liang: more than an ounce, less than catty.

Align: unlike my eyes, my stars.

Linga: hanging about Shiva.

A-ling: ding.

Saturday, March 08, 2003


Bwana won't stop deciding how to live out loud when he should be deciding how to die with grace. Baboons, tear him. Eat his blue pills and strut about the bush with red erections.

Some Larkin:

Vers de Soci�t�

My wife and I have asked a crowd of craps
To come and waste their time and ours: perhaps
You�d care to join us?
In a pig's arse, friend.
Day comes to an end.
The gas fire breathes, the trees are darkly swayed.
And so Dear Warlock-Williams: I�m afraid

Funny how hard it is to be alone.
I could spend half my evenings, if I wanted,
Holding a glass of washing sherry, canted
Over to catch the drivel of some bitch
Who�s read nothing but Which;
Just think of all the spare time that has flown

Straight into nothingness by being filled
With forks and faces, rather than repaid
Under a lamp, hearing the noise of wind,
And looking out to see the moon thinned
To an air-sharpened blade.
A life, and yet how sternly it's instilled

All solitude is selfish. No one now
Believes the hermit with his gown and dish
Talking to God (who�s gone too); the big wish
Is to have people nice to you, which means
Doing it back somehow.
Virtue is social. Are, then, these routines

Playing at goodness, like going to church?
Something that bores us, something we don�t do well
(Asking that ass about his fool research)
But try to feel, because, however crudely,
It shows us what should be?
Too subtle, that. Too decent, too. Oh hell,

Only the young can be alone freely.
The time is shorter now for company,
And sitting by a lamp more often brings
Not peace, but other things.
Beyond the light stand failure and remorse
Whispering Dear Warlock-Williams: Why, of course

Philip Larkin
19 May 1971

Friday, March 07, 2003


By a bend in the road, a small black plaque nailed to a scarred tree. It marks the spot where the blue-eyed hag plucked someone's beloved Tomek from a whirling car and imprisoned him in a pine.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

Nose-painting, sleep, and urine

I was recently rereading Burgess on Shakespeare while propped up at the bar.
It was a city of loud noises--hooves and raw coach wheels on the cobbles, the yells of traders, the brawling of apprentices, scuffles to keep the wall and not be thrown into the oozy kennel. Even normal conversation must have been loud since everybody was, by our standards, tipsy. Nobody drank water, and tea had not yet come in. Ale was the standard tipple, and it was strong. Ale for breakfast was a good means of starting the day in euphoria or truculence. Ale for dinner refocillated the wasted tissues of the morning. Ale for supper ensured a heavy snoring repose. The better sort drank wine, which promoted good fellowship and led to sword fights. It was not what we would call a sober city.

How much do you drink when all you drink is ale?


Only snow.

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Rome, New York

I used to watch B-52s smoking over our campus, pilots and bombardiers gone to work, doing it until they didn't feel it. They must have counted cows, traced the roads we drove, targeted the buildings we slept in, tracked the imagined drops on imagined enemies, plotted cruise missile trails through town. They might have watched my little car on the way to something simple, lunch and books, lectures on odds and ends.

Monday, March 03, 2003


She's 3 * 3 * 3 * 3 today, 030303. She's outrun herself, outlived her memory. I'm afraid to call home.

Sunday, March 02, 2003


"I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year."

So far, so good. The tree still stands in the corner. I plucked needles from the cat's fur this morning.

Saturday, March 01, 2003


As I walk in, the first man in the nation ski jumps on the corner TV and the addled cook calls me Michael. The American couple at a table say, "Oh, there he is," as if they've been hoping all week to see me. I shake hands with two locals at the bar and settle in to write with my back to the TV, but Bwana comes steaming out of the dark with tales of job-hunting and dread. The announcer screams, "Adam, we love you!" Adam, selling chocolate in the commercial that follows, is become Nancy Greene with a hairy lip.