augury doggerel

Tuesday, March 29, 2005


I go into the house of birds and reptiles and open my thermos pah to sip tea and warm my ears. Bird sounds.

A toucan, Ramphastos swainsonii, passes a grape to another toucan, billtip to billtip, then takes another grape, tosses it into the air, and catches it in its throat.

Escaped crickets hide in the wiring over the skinks. Because I am, I think, the only human being, I can (I must) warn the crickets: be quiet, run for your lives.

Turtles with knobby shells, toe-hold shells, climb one another under a sun lamp.

A small square door opens over the turtles, leaving a hole in the sky painted on the back wall. A young woman reaches through and adds just one piece of purple lettuce to the chopped fruit in the corner. When she looks up at me, she looks surprised.

Above the birds now I hear a radio from the back. "Ooo, baby, do you know what that's worth? Ooo, heaven is a place on earth."

There is a pool at the bottom of the python display. Python molurus molurus as thick as a man's leg stretches and hovers just over the water. It tastes the air in here.

Saturday, March 26, 2005


The penguins live in huts on a small hill of mud and stone above a pond. The pond is fenced off for now, so there is nothing to do but mate or prepare to mate or watch others mate.

One penguin walks with a load of straw from a hut down near the water to a hut near the rocks at the top, and then turns to start again. I cannot tell whether this is robbery or a change of address. There is nothing furtive about the penguin, no looking over its shoulder, and the other penguins do nothing to stop it and nothing to help.

I go on and watch sea lions wrestle, but then I notice large birds swooping towards the penguins, so I go back.

A gang of gray herons, local toughs twice the height of the penguins and armed with long sharp bills, are strutting through the penguin village. They stick their bills into huts and pull out silver fish. They poke at penguins that stand in doorways. The penguins can do nothing. They form a row as if ordered to do so.

But one penguin walks with a load of straw from a hut down near the water to a hut near the rocks at the top, and then turns to start again.

Sunday, March 20, 2005


At night we go out alone to a white hill in moonlight while other kids do homework or watch television. The kid is a mad laughing queen. When she is tired of the sled, she slides on her back, then on her chest, face first, and then she turns and rolls down the hill. I stay at the bottom to agree how marvelous it is and admire the moon.

Then she rolls off course and stops near a large dark bush half way down the slope, looks into the bush, and screams. She runs on all fours like an animal away from the bush while I vanish from the bottom of the hill somehow and appear where she is. What? What?


There is a man in the bush with a knife, she says, and she shows how he holds a knife over his head. I look at her behind me and at the bush in front of me and I don't know what to believe.

She tells me not to go, but I walk out of sight round the bush to make sense of what she tells me. Fresh snow all the way round, until I meet my tracks going off round the bush into otherwise fresh snow.

At home later I will tell the woman it was impossible, that there was no one else there unless he flew, unless he was a ghost, and I will smile when she says a ghost is not impossible, but that's at home. Out here, with the moon and a bush and a hill and the woods, I must convince myself first, then the kid, that we're the only ones out here.

I tie my scarf to her sled for a harness and run us both home. I'm a horse I'm a horse I'm a horse I'm a horse I'm a horse.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Out of the Blue

Me: Have you finished your Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs?
Kid: Yes.
Me: Then you had better wash your bowl.
Kid: Do I have to do everything?

So I wash her bowl. And she tells me as I wash her bowl that she does not believe in God. I ask her not to enlighten her grandmother.

Friday, March 11, 2005

How I Won a Bill Bryson Book

I wrote a faux-crank (well, I'm a real crank, but not this particular kind of crank) question for the Guardian to pose to Bill Bryson in an interview:
Pluto was discovered only because it caused a "slight perturbation" in the orbits of the planets then known. It perturbs me to this day, and not merely slightly. Is Pluto a planet or is it just a little ball of uninteresting and perhaps smelly ice very far away from us? Or is it both? What's the difference between a planet and a dirty little stain of cosmic debris? Should we trim the list of planets in our solar system to eight? Or, if we are going to keep Pluto on the list, what about adding others? I've heard that there are more filthy balls of slush lurking out past Pluto ...

Note the ellipsis. They cut off the bit where I claimed to be the head of a group that is against including Pluto as one of our planets. Supposedly, they'll contact me for my address. Shall I have it mailed to Malcolm Davidson, President, The Anti-Pluto Society?

Happy birthday to me. I'm 44 and grumpy because Mister Cat (if he had a twin, he'd make a fine left slipper) started the morning by pissing on my pack. He missed my passport and bus pass, but he soaked the book I was reading (piss passport bus pass mumble), so I hope the Bryson book comes soon.

Sunday, March 06, 2005


At the movies, a man crouches in the aisle and talks to a woman seated in the aisle seat. Then he floats between the seats and I see he is not crouching, but is a dwarf. The woman is much older than he is or he is magically preserved. He has beautiful skin and shining hair.

I go for coffee after in a shopping center where underwear models parade on a catwalk. I see just one from the escalator. She looks sleepy and perfect. I notice what I should notice -- high heels, high-cut underpants, push-up bra -- but I do not credit the shoes or the underwear. This is where I fail.

And I do not ask myself whether I should call him a dwarf or call her a model. In this, I also fail, when I look at it now on paper. But the important thing is that he, and not she, sat directly in front of me at the samurai movie today.