augury doggerel

Monday, May 31, 2004

Glimmer, glimmer

We're at the music school's end-of-year recital. The kid plays piano accompaniment for the youngest class, who display their rhythmics or something. They hop about in pink leotards. Very important to a musical education, we are told. Then the kid's class performs relatively sophisticated rhythmics, possibly an interpretive dance I cannot interpret, and the kid is the lead ribbon twirler (other than a ringer from an older class). The kid looks very serious and seems to express something grave about the wind, but her leotards are cut high at the hips and her underwear is not, so I watch her underwear and listen to her mother and grandmother, one on either side of me, argue about whose fault it is.

And they sing and play oboes and clarinets and violins and cellos and recorders on through the late afternoon in a warm, close auditorium. Two girls as big as their double basses pluck a Scott Joplin duet. Three miniature beings play miniature squeaky violins. A clarinettish girl plays a clarinet. The finale is a choir of girls and two or three wee boy sopranos singing what might be a selection from the conductor's old 45s: the Mills Brothers, Elvis, the Beatles.

Grandpa is a row ahead of us. He inspects and pulls at his fingers. He slowly, mysteriously, vacantly slides his chair back almost into our row, then switches to another chair in his row, then tries to switch back to the first chair without remembering that the first chair is no longer there. Six hands manage to catch him before he drops to the floor, but in the excitement someone farts and the choir begins to sing "Come on and be my leetle goot luck charrm."

I have been quiet and polite--I am overproud of being quiet and polite at such events--but now a snort rips out of my nose. It's a sudden and loud and deep snort. The parents of choirgirls turn and look at me now, and this is just about when they must begin to smell something curling up and around their noses.

I shove my head way down inside my chest and cease to breathe until the clapping begins. When I look up, Grandpa is observing the ceiling and flexing his fingers.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

The Drink

Tonight in the main square a jazz trio backs a woman in tourist-traditional dress who sings Kashubian songs. After them, fireworks and road flares and a pantomime on stilts to celebrate the sea and fishing and Neptune and, it seems, Goldwasser, which is a sort of local vodka supposed to have flakes of real gold in the recipe. Girls in long dresses serve shots to the audience.

On the last tram home, loud drunken teenagers sing of how Jews are the shame of Poland, and they laugh when a gray man in a gray suit falls up the tram steps.

When I get to our block, a police van is circling and a foot patrol shines a light behind homes. I ask about the trouble. The police reassure me that it's only lobuzy, which I have to look up when I get inside. A lobuz, with a diagonal slash through the l, is a bounder, a pickle, an urchin. It is pronounced woe booze.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Pussy Deplore

The cat scrapes the floor, tries to bury my old and malodorous James Bond book.

Saturday, May 22, 2004


I look through new and secondhand bookstores all morning and find nothing, so I start home. At the train station a man sells books he must have found in the garbage. He has them laid out on the asphalt walk where the pedestrian tunnel goes under the platforms.

Romances, textbooks, girlie magazines. Two books in English. One is a pocket guide to the fishes of the world, but I have just finished The Old Man and the Sea in Polish and need no more fish this week. The other is, somehow, exactly what I need: a James Bond book. (Don't ask.)

I give him two zloty (a large gold-colored coin, about fifty cents) and a Marlboro (made in Poland) in exchange for "a new assignment more hazardous and more exciting than any he had met before--a stupendous gamble with fate that was to mean for him--and the lovely Gala--days of tension . . . and fear!"

The man selling books is very dirty and worn and he smells like everything in the world a week ago, but when I light his cigarette his hands cup mine and hold me for a second.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004


In a city square that is still called the coal market, one of the old annual fairs. This place is as old as tea, older if you count from the day the first ship tied up here with tea in the hold. By that clock, it's older than coffee and cocoa and tobacco, older than tomatoes and potatoes and corn, older than the first turkey. As in Breughel's Tower of Babel, the cranes that unloaded ships here were powered by men who walked in squirrel cages.

In the sun just now, two black men and a young black boy sit among their rows of shoes. Under the main tent, a Chinese man sits in front of anatomical illustrations and waits to sell herbal mixtures. On the sidewalk near the torture house, what could be Incans sell CDs of traditional instruments and drum machines. The Slavic townsfolk fill the market and look for something new.

Monday, May 17, 2004


All after noon the sun is out. My eyes don't focus when I look up. A lost communion girl hovers over grass. A ghost just over earth. A white on shine legs. A vague crucifixion just there and there, a little more to the right, each time. The fence across the field grows an orange shadow all after noon.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Wood, Ivory, Cotton

George Gershwin is at a piano. His teeth grip a pipe. His hair recedes. His brain has cancer. His pajamas are polka-dotted. He must be home; the smile must be for a friend with a camera. There are curtains behind him, a window, maybe the reflection of a chair at a table with a white tablecloth.

Here's another snap, same piano, same curtains, same window, same cancer, same pipe, but the smile is closer, his lips are set on his pipe, and he wears a herringbone suit.

Here's a picture of Gershwin, whose curtains are certain, but he looks like he just won at Hialeah. As he plinks the piano, he doesn't know, the poor schmo, that something else is having that idea.

Saturday, May 15, 2004


The kid builds cardboard wings, ties them on her back with brown string, bounces her bed and flaps and just blows dust. The kid plays piano until her grandmother relents and sleeps. The kid wears headphones and 3D spex and we vanish.

Friday, May 14, 2004


Through our airtight window, a stork that could pick a frog off your head walks like it thinks. There are earthmovers at work here but the stork walks the strip of grass they've left between the old railway and a little patch of ground that hath in it Poland's next parking lot. We watched the men lay a concrete pipe into the stream where we used to watch a heron walk. We're watching the men now fill the bogle grass with sand and tamp it flat. When the asphalt covers over you'll never know where we watched deer run mornings away. A stork walking is bad luck.

What kills my time
"The work of the philosophical policeman," replied the man in blue, "is at once bolder and more subtle than that of the ordinary detective. The ordinary detective goes to pot-houses to arrest thieves; we go to artistic tea-parties to detect pessimists. The ordinary detective discovers from a ledger or a diary that a crime has been committed. We discover from a book of sonnets that a crime will be committed. We have to trace the origin of those dreadful thoughts that drive men on at last to intellectual fanaticism and intellectual crime. We were only just in time to prevent the assassination at Hartle pool, and that was entirely due to the fact that our Mr. Wilks (a smart young fellow) thoroughly understood a triolet."

The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare
Original price: "2/6" (shillings and pence)
Used price: "5-" (zloty)
Smell: vaguely fusty

Or Lose It

I suppose I'd better write something before I can't.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Dear Malcolm,

I would have posted this to Tramspark but you chose (wisely I might add) not to give me access to that. This is an itch I've finally scratched; I hope you don't mind too much. Besides which, there is always the great and mighty delete. I wanted you to have a poem up there, and I guess one of mine isn't quite the same.


Doctor Strangelove

I don't know
but I have seen
actually not

and during the
day when there
is only noise
where then is

you have a name
that my cousin
stole from you

he wrote it down
and screwed it
up on a piece of
butcher's paper
whilst sharpening
his knives he swallowed
it whole
without chewing
the wax didn't
touch his teeth

and there it was
your name gone
crossed over to
like a transfer
a tattoo from a bubble

When I was
five I would wear
mittens and a hat in
summer with
my flannel

(blue with white

and it's like
I know every step
I counted them all
walking home
60 per block times
20 blocks
20 mins times
a step a second.

The boots I wore
there, slow me down

Your touch
I always imagine
knows its own

Monday, May 10, 2004

The Towel

I read obituaries. Someone dies and people chant and play pipes and read out a CV and cover letter. And people read poems.

A man with diabetes all his life (sight, kidneys, heart wasted, both legs and an arm gone) gets eulogies, bagpipes, and a poem not named in the paper. A man dies violently ("sudden and tragic" and an appeal to let the law take its course) and gets recorded pop music and a poem written by three friends. A stock car driver who was "like Richard Petty to a lot of people" gets checkered flags and his car's number on his coffin, and the minister reads a poem written by a racing fan. A schoolteacher and her son are shot dead by her second husband and get a piano piece, a reading from the Bible, a gathering of teachers, and some poem. A pizzeria owner wrecks his car and gets an "inspirational poem" called "When Tomorrow Starts Without Me." A Victoria's Secret shop assistant and college student is murdered and gets government representatives, Victoria's Secret executives, a slide show, and a poem written by her aunt. A kajaking champion who stuck under a rock in a river gets hymns, eulogies, and a poem by her sister. A family of four blows up in a house explosion and gets a slide show and eulogies and are lowered to a reading of something called "Footprints in the Sand." A woman whose body is confused with another woman's at the undertaker's gets "Whenever you were weak, granny was strong," read by the wrong grandchild to the wrong family's granny. A woman in a town called Mousehole gets an abbreviated retirement and a poem written by four granddaughters. An unidentified baby (white, female, with a fresh umbilical) is dropped into a creek and gets something called "Dearest Baby Girl" written in pink marker on a poster.

All mean so awfully well, and, well, I am so awfully mean, but I believe I'll start work on my last poem lest (lest) a wellmeaner quotes someone else's kitchen embroidery over my remains.

Saturday, May 08, 2004


The woman is somewhere within range of taxis and trains with phone money keys. I won't expect her before morning. I've tucked in the kid for a third time after herding her through the evening rituals.

Close one door and two have rooms. Close two doors and three. This cherry kitchen table was an oak bar with a long brass coiling rail and rows of light. There's the face of Virginia Woolf in the grain where a cereal bowl would be.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004


On a pier in the afternoon, a small girl from a movie in a pink dress from a grandmother from a movie loses her pink balloon from her grandmother from a movie. The balloon is not helium, just old blown air out of someone, and the girl laughs. The balloon bounces on the wooden pier and rolls through the wide space under the rail just before the girl can catch it. It falls past fishermen and sits without denting the water. Then a gust starts it, slides it off for Denmark or Norway. I'm on a bench reading a ghost story about Denmark and a girl on the water. The grandmother brings her hands to her cheeks and looks afraid of screaming but the girl is a lemur, swings on her grandmother's arm.