augury doggerel

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Humoring Myself

I made up a joke.
Q: How long does it take to die in the Okefenokee Swamp?
A: One alligator...
Maybe someone already made up that joke. Probably someone has. It doesn't matter. I'm engineering my own cheer.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Zendo Shopping

In another dingy part of town, another standard Polish flat converted, at least in name, to a zendo. Another former living room (I picture a guy with a big belly just sitting on the couch with a vacant look) is now devoted to devotion: a statue of Buddha and glamour shots of Zen masters at one end of the room and a big bonging bell at the other.

On the way into the room, step in on the left foot and bow to Buddha. On the way out, turn and bow again, and step out on the right foot. Between the two bows, sit for forty minutes with your eyes not closed but not open, walk in circles for five minutes to unnumb your legs, and then sit for another forty minutes not quite looking at anything. Tea and fruit is served afterwards.

Differences between this place and the other one:
  • The other guys are Korean Zen via the US; these guys are Japanese Zen via France
  • The other guys sit facing the center of the room and one another; these guys sit facing the wall
  • The other guys wear socks in the dharma room; these guys go barefoot
  • The other guys loan you a gray robe to wear; these guys let you wear street clothes as long as you're not too flashy
  • The other guys encourage you to get up and stretch if you can't stand it anymore; these guys tell you to sit through the pain
  • The other guys sing and bow a lot; these guys, at least on the night I am there, only sit
  • The other guys read a koan aloud; these guys do not
  • The other guys have no platform; these guys have a platform for the monk leading things
  • The other guys are just two or three people plus me; these guys, fresh from a public presentation by the big guy on a visit to town, are about eight regulars and eight visitors
  • The other guys are actually guys; these guys include three women (slightly segregated from the men, though)

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

To a Moose

I am the sort to eat the apple whole (but the stem) because I don't like to throw away food. And this is because I am gluttonous and greedy and even proud: watch me crunch all the scaly bits that stick in my teeth.

Christ. I bite into an apple ful savourly and hit the core and swallow the unchewables. When I look down again to line up another bite, there is a dark spot and this dark spot is no seed. This spot has legs and stands in one of the furrows left by my teeth. And now that I focus, this spot has eyes that might be blinking at the light where I have torn the roof off.

Does she have family? Did she? I think back on the crunchy bits and guess and fear.

Sunday, October 23, 2005


This tea is complicated. I could do nothing but drink it or not drink it. I have to drink it and then write about it, drink it and then write about it.

It is red. It is sweet and citric sour and bitter. I ask what kind of tea it is but the ingredients are a secret, says the woman running the tearoom, and I can know only what they call it, which translates to something like Gramps's Tea. But I can see parts.

In the cup, there is a slice of orange and a slice of lemon, or maybe two slices of lemon and a slice of orange, or maybe two slices of orange and a slice of lemon. These float. And on them and around them float dark scepters that, when I let one into my mouth, turn out to be whole cloves.
The most stimulating and carminative of all aromatics; given in powder or infusion for nausea emesis, flatulence, languid indigestion and dyspepsia, and used chiefly to assist the action of other medicines.
Mrs. M. Grieve
I think of spitting them out at first and then, out of curiosity and because I would be a filthy brute to spit something out in a nice tearoom with potted trees and secret recipes, I chew them and immediately become addicted to cloves. There are exactly eight cloves in one cup and then there are twelve in another and then I forget to count cloves. I use my spoon to mangle fruit and stir up the bottom, from which the bloated remains of raisins rise, raisins and cinnamon and maybe other detritus, and one or two more cloves. My tongue, half stunned by cloves, feels unexpected shapes in the peaks of my teeth.
Being extremely hard, it is difficult to grind cloves with a mortar and pestle so an electric grinder such as a coffee grinder is recommended.
Encyclopedia of Spices
I think I've lost part of a tooth and I blame the hard cloves and then the feeling comes back to my tongue and I find the rest of my tooth where I should.

Friday, October 21, 2005


At a company meeting, as the plan for the coming year is revealed, I flip my scrap paper and read about dark matter and why it may not be necessary, why suns might circle suns with no need to suppose great globs of unknown.

But my bowels, my bowels. I engulf all fruit and vegetable matter in my path. I eat trees of fruit, upend and empty root cellars. I have eaten four apples, four pears, two bananas, and a green cheesy salad today. All is a jumble, ajumble within. And this meeting is not over.
The key, Dr Cooperstock claims, is a "non-linearity" that arises in Einstein's theory.
We meet in a cafeteria and I sit at a counter where the centerpiece is gourds and garlic and cucumbers and a pineapple and long curly red hot peppers and a sheaf of wheat. It is an edible harvest bouquet. On the pineapple is a picture of a pineapple with a slice carved out of it to show the structure of a pineapple all the way down from the frightening surface to the bright yellow core.

A slide show, white letters on blue with yellow highlights, and it's blue outside. They are trying to massage our productivity lobes, but it's blue outside and I can see the airport radar tower where they watch the skies between smokes. And the peppers are bright red. I want to take one and eat it but something.

Saturday, October 15, 2005


Up past the cemetery where normal folk are buried I find, in a hollow between the trees, a field of metal stars standing upright in the grass. At the closed end of the hollow is a stone platform backed by a curved wall with a bas-relief sculpture of three Soviet fighters. Inscriptions in Polish and Russian declare that the people named here were heroes of the Soviet Union who died flipping Gdansk from the Nazi frying pan. The sculpture and inscriptions are thick with yellow-orange paint, as if they have had to be painted over, over and over.

There are 908 names in Cyrillic, 908 numbered fighters and one unnumbered general. Most died in late March or early April of 1945, which is about when the Red Army burned this city to the ground.

At the other end of the field are gigantic statues of two sad women. The plaque below them, in Russian and Polish, says something like:
Two Fatherlands
Two Mothers
Love and Remembrance
This is where I sit and eat a banana and watch two workers use a pressure hose to clean the wall yet again. The first of November is coming.

Monday, October 10, 2005


Today there is weather for it and I'm out with a leaking thermos and two apples and three books. I climb the bastions (where bats now breed in the tunnels) and cross the moat (which is now a railroad and tram line and six lanes of highway) and walk straight through the gates of the city.

Beneath the statues of Neptune and Mercury, where Napoleon stood in 1807 and Hitler stood in 1939, I proclaim this city mine. I have an apple. I have another. The sun is shining on me. I drink an entire thermos of tea. No one can stop me.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Blood Pressure

I go into a place to get a coffee to drink by the millrace. They draw me today, the millrace and the air and a hot coffee to hold. A woman at the salad bar asks whether I speak English. I hesitate. "Yes... yes... quite a bit, actually." I don't tell her it's my native language and she doesn't appear to catch on. Do I have an accent now?

She wants to know whether she can take a little of each vegetable for the posted price or whether the sign somehow means that she can take only one kind of vegetable for that price. I hesitate again. Is this a sensible question? I try to ask someone for her, but I cannot get an employee's attention. I assure the woman myself that she must be allowed to mix vegetables, that it is only right that a woman should be permitted to mix her vegetables. She smiles at this and agrees.

But I hesitated. I don't know that this woman should mix her vegetables. What do I know about a salad bar? Have I ever used a salad bar? Can I remember having ever used a salad bar?

But advising tourists is like giving advice online. I talk as if I know and then I leave. After a minute, I think of walking back to make sure she's OK, but then I think about not walking back to make sure she's OK. I wander over to the millrace and drink my coffee on a small bridge where the water drops away under me. I wonder how deep the pool is at the bottom.

After I finish my coffee I walk through a space between buildings where a man with a frantic look approaches and tells me that the three trees I'm looking at--I suppose I was looking at the trees and I suppose there were three--that the three trees created a very specific microclimate in the courtyard and now look what they've done. I notice that some of the limbs have been cut. I give the man that particular frowning smile and nodding shake that together mean nothing. By and large I am for trees and microclimates, but not today with frantic men.

I am looking up to where the windows of St Joseph's Church should be, but they are boarded over, missing, probably being reconstructed. I'm holding a tourist's pose and seconds later I hear a man's voice calling to me. He is calling me a word like "chief" or "boss" and he wants a moment of my time because, as the script always goes, he needs my imagined foreign money. I say no to nothing in particular and without even looking.

There is little in the church. According to a sign in the vestibule, the place was burned out in the war. When the Russian soldiers found a hundred women, children, and old people hiding inside the church, the soldiers threw incendiaries inside and barred the exits. The place is closed for the moment. Through glass doors I see a nun arranging things near the altar. She has a large flower in her hand and I think of Henry Gibson and then of verrry interesting, which is neither Henry Gibson nor Russian soldiers, but wrapped in the same fold of my brain.

Outside, back at the water, from another bridge, I watch one leaf of all the leaves on the water moving upstream. There is no wind unless there's a microclimate above a single leaf. I tell a passing man about the leaf, how only one leaf fights the current. It is as if it's tied to a fish. I ask him to watch the leaf fight the current. He tells me it's just the wind, the wind, and he walks away.

I go back downstream, past the millrace, past where the salad woman must have had one end or the other. In any event, she is gone now and I will never know her fate.