augury doggerel

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Hen's Teeth

The kid and I walked through the woods on a visit to the old woman with the turkey and chickens. The woman and the big tom met us at the gate.

Her husband, she says, is on the land in the country with cows. She stays here in a board shack you would push over if you were rude enough to lean. Her hands are dirty and her mouth shows bare gums when she laughs, but she laughs. And she keeps beautiful chickens.

She showed us two fistfuls of eggs and matched each size and color to a different sort of chicken behind her. One egg was from a hen snatched last night. A fox, says the woman, comes in from the hills.

The turkey protects the front gate. He looks inside out from the neck up, a red and blue brain with eyes, a beak in ghastly drapery. A lonely dog is chained in the back. But a fox at night is soft pads in dust and grass.

Monday, April 28, 2003


I tried to count the storks yesterday. A flock of maybe twenty-five flew over very high. I tried to see every one. A flying stork is supposed to be lucky. Maybe a flock of storks is a flock of luck, and I could use some. Then a pale girl with a ponytail down to the backs of her knees walked by and I lost count of the storks. If they were storks.

Sunday, April 27, 2003


'I don't know that I think so very much of that little song, Rat,' observed the Mole cautiously. He was no poet himself and didn't care who knew it; and he had a candid nature.

'Nor don't the ducks neither,' replied the Rat cheerfully. 'They say, "Why can't fellows be allowed to do what they like when they like and as they like, instead of other fellows sitting on banks and watching them all the time and making remarks and poetry and things about them? What nonsense it all is!" That's what the ducks say.'

'So it is, so it is,' said the Mole, with great heartiness.

'No, it isn't!' cried the Rat indignantly.

'Well then, it isn't, it isn't,' replied the Mole soothingly.

I'm just finishing The Wind in the Willows. I'll go and read some dream songs, which were published, they say, on this day in 1964.

Up tails all!

Saturday, April 26, 2003


Tonight on the sidewalk, a father and son coming home, the boy carrying a shiny new pair of training wheels and grinning. On the next block, a man too drunk to ride pushes his bicycle and looks hard at it. A little man in my head runs these slide shows on the concave, points to A and B, and dares me to write captions.

Friday, April 25, 2003


Walter de la Mare � writer of poems and ghosts stories, accountant with the Anglo-American Oil Company � was born today in 1873. In 1955, the year before he died, the BBC recorded him describing a visit to Thomas Hardy.

And here is a poem you know.

'Is there anybody there?' said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
Of the forest's ferny floor:
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveller's head
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
'Is there anybody there?' he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller's call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
'Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head:-
'Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word,' he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone.

Thursday, April 24, 2003


Four boards are missing from a plank bridge in the woods. A cartoon prop. Fading whistle, boom. I'm supposed to fear the kid will fall through the gap and die, though I'm not supposed to even think die, because the word is a spell. Instead I watch her run back and forth over the bridge and jump the gap. It's the gap she loves just now.

While I watch the kid, her mother is away jumping horses, a trick the kid is not permitted.

I can't tell either about either. A secret for each today.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003


Saint Adalbert, a local god, died just over a thousand years ago on April 23 near this city.

Adalbert must have been quite a striver: he became bishop of Prague before he was 30. The people of the city disliked him so much that he had to run off to Rome more than once to avoid mob violence. Eventually he was forced to quit the city, and in 997 he went north to convert the pagan tribes of the Baltic coast to Christianity. Folk up here didn't like him either; they lopped off his head and threw him in the water.

Back in Bohemia, Duke Boleslaw the Brave knew how to play politics, and he knew that Adalbert had been the Holy Roman Emperor's teacher. Boleslaw went north, bravely paid the pagans a large pile of gold for Adalbert's remains (which presumably had washed ashore when news of a buyer became known), and buried the relics on friendlier ground. The Holy Roman Emperor in return made Boleslaw the first king of Poland, and Adalbert became the country's patron saint.

People up north meanwhile remained happily pagan � the next missionaries sent this way were soon known as the "Five Martyred Brothers" � until about 1260, when the Teutonic Knights, Christian storm troopers, came and exterminated most of the local residents.

Thus was the one true faith spread to our happy land.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Seaman I

The kid and I spent two and a half hours in the woods. She rode a stubborn invisible horse that had to be urged with a switch. When I wasn't distracting her, I'm sure she was the rider and the horse. I was a guy who can't remember ever believing he was something else.

One time in the grass a rug was my ship and two old car alternators were my engines and propellers. I remember building the ship, laying out the rug and alternators, knowing, I think, it was pretend. Whether I was never a sailor, or whether trying to remember that is like trying to remember before I was born, I can't make up my mind.

Monday, April 21, 2003


At three this morning, a bird like a distant hammer and anvil, a hard metal ringing. Pink. Pink. Pink. Or it's a distant hammer and anvil sounding like itself. Or a small hammer and anvil in the basement. Or giant metal legs walking the main street. At three this morning, I don't know it's a bird.

Sunday, April 20, 2003


At night, the kid up and wandering three times, looking for evidence of a bunny with deep pockets. In the morning, a plateful of new Easter grass and dirt accidentally upended, some of it into a bowl of fresh pierogi filling. The bigos at the bottom of the pot just a little burned. Blessed eggs broken and shared. Figuratively, one empty seat at the table; actually, we have only four chairs, counting the piano bench; there's never an empty chair. A morning hoisted.


This woman's front teeth � oversized, white, smooth � give her the look of a girl who has recently outgrown milk teeth. With her big eyes and little skirt, the trick is complete. Her companion gets her a drink. He's a slump of hairy arms and bright eggshell foreskull. He keeps her in a corner and watches her lip the straw. He pats a smooth bare thigh. She smiles up.


He had a later life. They called him Moon. In the war, he was with the sappers in Basra, Baghdad, and Kirkut. In Italy, he received a shrapnel wound to the head and met a woman named Hedda, half Austrian, half Italian, who taught him much. He married his cousin. The New York Public Library eventually took away his toys. He told a newspaper, "Ever since I was quite a small boy, I have hated being Christopher Robin..." On April 20, 1996, the old boy met the real bear.

Saturday, April 19, 2003


With her mother abed this Easter, the woman will make her first bigos. Our kitchen smells of mushrooms and conceals the ghastly remains of certain beasts.

Meanwhile at the hospital, one roommate has exited in spectacular fashion, with a rush of physicians, induced lightning, and a grand giving up of the ghost. Above another bed, the ghost of a single toe stubs against the flickering light.

Byron died of fever this day in 1824 and was buried deep in myth.

Friday, April 18, 2003


She borrowed a cup of her daughter's piss � I watched � to trade for the right to keep working toward a better pension. But now they know. They've cut off her toe as the first punishment. The rest of her is under consideration. Nine toes and no job. We may have to find room. She's blood.

A woman with cheap but clean clothes has just come in and downed a large beer in a minute without so much as leaning on the bar, then gone on.

The lone mannish woman with wine each night. She bursts with soft sighs, ha-shah. She watches. She asks "what?" to no one. If I were decent, I'd bring her under my shoddy tent to sigh with me.

We hang by our delicate skins.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003


Two hares just loped across our sunny grass. Original of the Easter bunny and symbol of the fertility goddess Eostre, the hare is precocial, crepuscular, nocturnal: leverets are born wide-eyed and furred, ready for life in the twilight and the dark. It's good to see them � they're fading � but not to see them scared up and out in the daylight. A hare in distress screams like a woman being murdered.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003


A good, simple day. Horses jumped. Storks flew.

And today, just now, the first butterfly.

Monday, April 14, 2003


Nothing but lungs and tongues, our magic talking offal, barrels of breath punched and expelled from goaheadhitme ribs in full sweaters. One pushes his round breast into my shoulder (too familiar) and asks for English lessons. He wants to know who I am. I couldn't say. Then relief as three girls come in and the masses shift.

Sunday, April 13, 2003


Girls, divers, on TV
in skin and slick.
Each of us (we're
men here) pretends
appreciation for
the way she slips
from point to point.
fuck the judges. She's
from toes up haunch
to oxter sifted spray.

A large man and a small woman come in to the pub. They hand a couple of bottles of Johnny Walker over to the barman, tape up a few "Special Offer" signs, and sit at the end of the bar. Two women come in, apparently sisters, and apparently acquaintances of the whisky people. They disappear into the back of the pub.

Good lord. The women reappear ten minutes later in little Johnny Walker costumes. A red beret. Shorts and sleeveless vest in one piece, tan and red, with the sides cut out to reveal the waist. Knee-high boots, tan and red.

They were good-looking women when they arrived in their street clothes. Tall, good posture, regular features. But you have to be eighteen and curvy to get away with clown suits like these. You have to look as if you might be as dumb as the suit. These women are closer to 30, probably mothers moonlighting, and they're too shrewd-looking for their getups. They're the red berets, the Johnny Walker flying squad.

Mind you, now there's only me reading poems here at the end of the bar and a middle-aged couple having coffee and cakes in the corner. To whom, one might ask, if one were the sort to say whom and one, could they possibly sell whisky?

I look up at the barman. I look at the bar owner. I look at the two whisky girls and the two whisky dealers. They're all looking back down at my end of the bar.

The berets come over, legs first. The red beret with artificially red frizzed hair stands behind my left shoulder and presses her right breast into my back as she explains the "Special Offer" of the night. For just a little more than I might pay for a beer, I can have a Johnny Walker. And, says the other beret, if I have three, I get a free T-shirt.

Fine, fine, I've had two beers, I was getting ready to leave, but I'll have a whisky if it will make everyone happy.

Poured gold, molten guilt.

A few guys walk by outside and slow down to watch the women in uniform, but no one dares comes in. A granny stops and looks, adjusts her groceries, and moves on.

Oh, I can't stick this song. I'm silently calling Grace Slick a name, but then I remember it's the DJ's fault, so I call him the same name. They built this city on communist government reconstruction funds and shipbuilding. Rock and roll probably wasn't even allowed here until about 1970. But DJs need to dream. I need to ignore the radio.

The berets come back. The beret with the dark hair presses her working breast into my scapula and explains that I need just two more for a shirt.

Right. Another whisky.

The coffee couple are replaced in the corner by three young women. They have drinks and speak in low voices to one another and laugh. They don't drink whisky. They have their own shorts and berets at home.

It's a good place,
women alone come
in and curl around
the thing, press lips
to cheeks and tell
their loosened tales.

And the berets surround me. The redhead � I'm starting to feel a bit concave back there, depressed by a breast � reminds me that one last whisky gets me the shirt.

Fine. Summer's coming. I could use a shirt. One whisky more. But that's it. And that's me, there in the mirror.

Christ, my brows
are bushed, old
crazy-man style:
white springs at
me. I'll run out of
life any minute.

Throw all my money on the bar, pick up what the barman leaves. Say goodnight to the bar owner, the barman, the large whisky dealer, the small whisky dealer, the dark-haired beret, and the red-haired beret.

I wonder if there's a moon? I dream of Jeannie with the. No. By the light of the silvery moon, da da da dum, da da da da da doom doom doom.

Someone reminds me that I forgot to say: yes, I got the shirt. Now if I can remember where I put it.

Saturday, April 12, 2003


The kid has discovered a picture of Michelangelo's David in her encyclopedia, and you know what? He's not wearing pants!

Friday, April 11, 2003

Looking Up

Out of the corner of my eye just now, a swift timid long-eared mammal larger than a rabbit having a divided upper lip and long hind legs; young born furred and with open eyes comes home from the night shift. But hurry, flesh of any of various rabbits or hares (wild or domesticated) eaten as food, look and run quickly.

Thursday, April 10, 2003


William Hazlitt, literary critic, friend to Lamb and Keats, was born this day in 1778.

Here is one of Hazlitt's many snappy lines: "Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps, for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are and what they ought to be."

And here is a dog laughing.

Which means nothing, except perhaps that the dog never read Hazlitt.


A hunting bird hanging over the field just swept in low. Buteo buteo, the common buzzard, swooping for a common mouse.

Wednesday, April 09, 2003


Snow. Her temperature says the kid is sick, but multiplication tables more than multiplying bugs are suspected. She gets up and ghosts through dark rooms at midnight. Dreams about a tiger that laid an egg. Watches snow out the window and reads about water birds. The woman wakes at six talking about horses at noon, horses in snow.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003


Two white storks (Ciconia ciconia) in the white sky, flying north into the snow and wind. They munch locusts all winter in southern and eastern Africa, then fly back here before Easter to nest. Coming home, they follow the Nile valley across the Sudan and Egypt, skirt the Mediterranean over Arabia and Turkey, and then across eastern Europe to Poland. The early ones will have a hard time in this lingering winter.


What is worse than slaughterhouse rejects? What is worse than slaughterhouse rejects is slaughterhouse rejects scraped up, canned, labeled, sold, bought, uncanned, fed to a cat, partially digested, and vomited back up. On, under, and into your couch.

This is how a man starts to mumble.

Monday, April 07, 2003


The woman declared this day the absolute last for the Christmas tree. After dark, as furtively as a man carrying a tree can be furtive, I carried it out. It was thin and light and stiff, and it shook off its last green on the way through the door.

I don't know if the snow will stop now. I'm afraid it will.

Sunday, April 06, 2003


Big flakes in big wind. Seagulls fly sideways. Winter in the trees and winter by radar.

Saturday, April 05, 2003

Super flumina Babylonis

Slaves in an alien landscape refuse to perform for their captors.

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.
If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.
Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof.
O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.
Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.

A lonely old slave song, but the song of slaves in defiance, a song of frightening wished vengeance.

By the waters of Babylon we sat downe and weapte, when we remembered the, O Syon. As for our harpes, we hanged them up upon the trees, that are therein. Then they that led us awaye captyve, required of us a songe and melody in our hevynes: synge us one of the songes of Sion. How shall we synge the Lordes songe in a straunge lande. If I forget the, O Jerusalem, let my righte hande be forgotten. If I do not remembre the, let my tongue cleve to the rofe of my mouth: yee yf I preferre not Jerusalem in my myrth. Remembre the chyldren of Edom, O Lorde, in the daye of Jerusalem, how they sayd: downe with it, downe with it, even to the grounde. O daughter of Babylon, thou shalt come to misery thy selfe: yee, happy shall he be, that rewardeth the as thou hast served us. Blessed shall he be, that taketh thy chyldren, and throweth them agaynst the stones.

It doesn't matter who were the slaves and who were the slavers. It's all forever ago. Only the rivers and the stones are the same.

Ofer Babilone bradum streame,
��r we sitta� and sare wepa�,
�onne we Sion gemunan swi�e georne.
On salig we sarige swi�e gelome

ure organan up ahengan.
For�on us ��r frunon f�cnum wordum,
woh meldedan, �a us on weg l�ddan:
"Singa� us ymnum ealdra sanga
�e ge on Sione sungan geneahhige."

Hu magon we singan sangas drihtne
on ��re foldan �e us fremde is?
Gif ic �in, Hierusalem, forgyten h�bbe,
forgyte min seo swy�re symble �t �earfe;
�tfeole min tunge f�ste gomum,

gif ic ofergittol �in �fre weor�e,
Gif ic ne forsette �e symble �t frym�e;
ac ic on Hierusalem georne blissie.
Gemune �u, drihten, manigra bearna,
�e on Edom synt eal lifigende,

�onne �u Hierusalem gegodie;
�a nu oft cwe�a�: "Wutun hi idle gedon,
o���t hi heora eard geceosan."
Hw�t, �u eart Babilone bitere �tf�sted
�nge and yfele, hire earm dohter;

eadig by� hw��ere se �e eft gylde�
�a �u him on ealdre �r forgeafe
and us eallum eac gesealdest.
Eadig by� se �e nime� and eac sete�
his agen bearn on �one ��elan stan.

There is no negotiation, no reconciliation, no understanding, when life comes to this. You wait a few thousand years and hope people forget.

Friday, April 04, 2003


Cold again, even snow again, and I had just molted. This morning, I'm back in my thick coat and feathers. But now sun. My skin aches.

Thursday, April 03, 2003

Ducks and Drakes

A spring couple, Mr and Mrs Mallard, has just glided past the window and down for the pond. Ducks come back, quack and all. And what are they up to? Well:

Prior to the act of mating, both birds perform a vertical pumping motion with their heads, followed by the hen flattening herself on the water in the "soliciting position," indicating that she is receptive. After mating, the drake swims around her before they retire to a nearby area to bathe and preen.

But notice how the squeamish author skips directly from "prior to the act of mating" to "after mating" without mentioning what happens in between. Those mallard girls are up to much more than the fact sheets let on.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003


They know already I'm husbanded, they smell my bread and eggs and butter and cat food and something sweet please, hear my watch checked, catch my guilty look away when they look up. I would suck the light out of this place but they burn. I'll read by them.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003


An entirely tangible dove flew over with a real branch in its beak this morning, but the branch, in this climate, was not olive. It could have been willow.