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Animal Review for April 28
April 5 April 9


The Duck of Paradise


Between two visits to the doorbell of a man I hardly know, I took a little walk on Neckar Island. The island has contributed to flood control in Tuebingen since the early 19th century. A swampy plain was converted to an allee of sycamores bounded on both sides by lawns and broad, flat channels. The river flows by quickly, even though there is a dam a bit downstream. Students in summer float about in long wooden boats propelled by sticks. Whoever's working doesn't walk the length of the boat. He pulls the stick out hand over hand and pushes it in again, hand over hand. The passengers drink and sing as if they were characters in von Eichendorff's 'Life of a Slacker' and not ambitious students. Sometimes tourists buy rides in the boats so they can pretend to be students pretending to be slackers. The real slackers sit on the benches of Neckar Island, smoking cigarettes with their dogs.


Today I devoted my time to swatting the heads off dandelions with a branch. I saw a beautiful duck. Usually there are only boring mallards and something like wood ducks, but today I saw a duck with an enormous, orang-utan- (but sideways) -like crest and a fabulous ermine cape. His tail fanned out on the water like a hand of cards. I checked the other ducks to make sure they don't do anything interesting with their tails, and in fact, they don't spread their tails out one bit. They just glide around with their tails modestly retracted, blunt and high.


After ringing the doorbell again, I visited the women's bookstore ("Thalestris"). A handbook of lesbian sex caught my eye, and before long I was reading the "ten good reasons to have anal sex."  From reason 2 ("prevents hemorrhoids!") to reason 6 ("makes you feel dirty!") and on into the depths, each was more inclined than the one before to make me walk quickly from the shop, shaking my head. One last attempt at the doorbell proved to me that the man in question had left town, forgetting me completely. After I got home, he called. He's planning to work all weekend. I sure know how to pick them.


The First Slug of Spring


Around seven, long, long before sunset (to my naive dismay, but it's already setting after nine), I walked up on to the Oesterberg. A huge, dramatically situated meadow fills one side of this diminutive mountain. The grass is still navigable, and flowers are everywhere. Most are small, pale bells, white or lavender.


I squatted, then sat, in the grass, drinking a large, warm beer. At first I thought, "This shit is making me feel dopey," and then I thought, "Beer!  Rock on!"  Actually I'm exaggerating. High on beer, I had a sort of almost useful insight regarding my art assignment. Herr Penck has requested that I fill a cardboard box with the objects I keep around to remind me of my origins. My box and those of 29 others will be exhibited in the Sudhaus in July. I thought, "The English language is my home. I could exhibit the wonderful paragraph I wrote about how every poet hopes to be awarded custody of his native language and wants a place in literary history, and then he finds out he's just part of the history of mass culture, and then he decides cockroaches are better than panda bears because they can survive being flushed down the toilet." I puzzled for a long time over what the German term for "custody" might be, eventually realizing that I have no idea. Like I said, Beer!  Rock on!  I guess I could use the word for "inherit."


The slug confronted me on my way back down. He was very small. I regarded him with loathing. Soon I saw his larger relative and then I remembered that native slugs are nocturnal. The sunset had drawn them from their caves. I sighed.


Nation of Two-Shoes


While in Philadelphia I was told of a man who, like me, had spent time in Germany. "He claims there's no German word for 'nerd,'" my informant remarked.

I was overjoyed. At last independent corroboration of my long-held belief!  "Or sucker," I added. "They're all nerds and suckers so, like, why have a word?"

 I wrote more, but then I erased it.


Animal Review for April 9
April 5

Animals of Oswego

Today I saw a deer walk the length of the lacrosse practice fields behind my parents' house. It was quite large, perhaps because the area's many avid hunters are careful to cull out the weak and the sick.

The poodles are very small. I seldom come within five feet of them, as I am 5'8". While we eat, they circle like sharks and Winnie (the truly small one) barks in a pointed, commanding fashion.You would expect a dog so small to yip, or even to be "yappy," but Winnie's barks come seldom and seem quite meaningful. They mean, "Give me your food now."

Paddington's bark seems to ask, "What is going on? Tell me soon before I panic." He barks whenever anything happens that does not happen 15 times a day. The description applies to surprisingly few events.

In addition, the house provides shelter for Major John, Jungle Joe Conrad, G.B.Shaw, and Colette. They are bears involved in complex and wistful romantic constellations. Shaw (my mother says) is my child and wants to return to me, except that not long ago he was found sleeping with Colette, who is half his size and wears a hat.Etc.etc. My mother and I have had many discussions about custody of Shaw, too many to contemplate right now. She gave him to me as a present and I gave him back, if you must know. Jungle Joe is my favorite. He sits in a lawn chair on the dining room table and says, in a slightly nasal voice, "Let's go on my jungle adventure." He doesn't need anything from anyone. The fat, soft bears sit in the guest room, independent and forgotten, while Shaw, skinny and wearing an anxious frown, huddles against Colette and Major on my mother's bedside table.

I acquired a new bunny at Price Chopper. He gave me a plaintive look as I walked by. His bow is firmly sewn to his neck, and it is too tight. I struggled to loosen it, then lined up all the more or less identical bunnies to see which one had the most appealing facial expression. As you might expect, the first, who had caught my eye from fifteen feet, was victorious. I rushed him home and snipped off the tags that would only serve to remind both of us of the Chinese labor camp. If you ever think about what factory jobs are like, it's no fun to buy anything.


Animal Review for April 5


Orcas, Sea Otters

When in Oswego, one reads magazines one would not normally read, e.g., 'The Railway Magazine' (a dense, acronym-laden guide for British trainspotters) and 'Proceedings of the Naval Institute.' In the latter I saw a somewhat irritating news item whose essence careful readers of this item's heading may already have guessed at: Killer whales, deprived of their usual sustenance by overfishing, have already eaten 70-90% of the otters in the Bering Sea. The article didn't say what their usual prey is, but I read somewhere else recently that killer whales (as you might expect) learn from each other and develop cultural differences in their eating habits, so it's safe to assume that even if the sea were soon packed solid with fish end-to-end, they would go on eating the otters once they found out they taste good. I hope they don't taste good, but Bingley ('Lives and Manners of the Animal Creation'? London? 1813? I don't remember the details exactly) claimed the young ones are delicious. Cod, the article went on to say, normally live for 20 years, but the average age of today's cod is three, too young to reproduce. The orcas and otters were offered as examples of the sometimes unpredictable effects of blotting out life from the planet.

I consider "Orca" a precious, prettified marketing term for an animal that is not especially nice, and would support the addition of "killer" to the common names of all carnivores.

Dinner-Table Conversation 

While obediently eating Pacific Whitefish (my parents were initially opposed to my vegetarianism, and after I gave up on trying to maintain it in Oswego, we all stopped believing in it, though there are still rules: no chicken, no lamb, no beef, no shrimp, none of that stuff they dye orange and call crab) I ventured to say that I have been told that koalas, up close, are smelly.

My father refuted this. While he attended UC Berkeley in the late 50s, he was occasionally known to visit the San Francisco Zoo, where the koalas roamed free, within limits. You could get within a few feet of them. They smelled fine. You couldn't pet them or hold them, but only because they -- "would take your arm off?" I suggested. No, Dad said -- just your finger.

"They're actually small Bengal tigers," added Mom.

"They're a larval form of the Bengal tiger," I said. "After attaining full growth as koalas, they come down from the trees and take to the sea, making their way over a period of months to the Indian subcontinent where they emerge on the beaches, their fur --"

"Their fur comes off in the water," said Mom.

"But then why does the new fur come in orange?" I asked. There was general silence. I made one further lame joke and dropped the subject. After additional reflection and seeing a short film on skunks, I realized that because tigers taste bad (i.e., they contain an aversive substance as do Monarch butterflies, rubbing alcohol and nail polish remover), they can afford to cultivate a bright, conspicuous appearance, but I don't plan to talk about it.

Beware the Love Like Cake 

Officially I have no problems, so it was with dismay that I discovered that I had a problem, namely, that there was almost nothing but pineapple in my dish. I had opened the can and taken the first spoonful of exotic tropical fruit cocktail, and my serving was virtually devoid of guava, papaya, mango and lychee. "It's a consistent problem," Andrea said. "The fruit is in layers and you have to stir it." At the word "problem," I felt completely happy, and began to laugh with joy. 

All my problems resemble the fruit cocktail problem. The stock market is down, so I might have to get a job. I have too many boyfriends and can't keep them straight. But I'm not ungrateful. I would never say, "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." I just go around all confused and cranky and say I have no problems.

I saw CNN on the plane (I'm visiting America for three weeks). A film about refugee camps in Angola made me cry. I also sobbed a bit over 'Billy Elliott: I Will Dance.' Actually I was crying even before I watched any TV, until I saw my reflection in the dark LED video screen and thought, "Hey, I don't look so bad!" 

Then I killed time (the flight was almost nine hours) by writing a long letter to a man I hardly know. The letter was neither charming nor seductive, but I mailed it promptly on my arrival in New York. It was more a weary, unpretentious confession of nothing in particular. With no real problems, I don't need real solutions -- I am free to imagine both. My problems are hardly worthy of the name, and I toy with solutions, alternately support and undermine them, live for them and forget them, describe the entire deep/shallow process in detail to the receptive/indifferent audience of my choice, and then leave the country. If it's a fruit-cocktail-type problem and I am fruit cocktail, then it doesn't really matter anyway, does it? I think of Scarlett O'Hara's mother crying out "Philippe! Philippe!" as she died: The secret love of her youth was her lifelong obsession. But I suppose if you have exactly one secret love before you marry a possessive tyrant at 15, it's hard to forget him, plus there's no danger you'll ever do any better. Was it really all that flattering to Philippe?

 Until recently, while deriding neoplatonism (by that I mean the idea that things that last longer are worth more), I cultivated lifelong obsessions, or at least dramatic continuity. If the plane had been plunging into the sea, who would I have written to? Now that I'm fruit cocktail, I might have written to the pineapple that currently dominates the visible upper layers, but probably not. There's a love like fire and a love like water, but the love like light syrup is the greatest love of all -- surrounding, suspending and transforming even lychees into something palatable you might waste years of your life on. I would have written to the syrup. 

Did I mention that I'm in Oswego? Symbol and reality run together here in the expressionist dream world and vast Cornell box of my parents' home. In a small potted plant, two angels lie face down, their skirts and wingtips caked with dirt. Over them looms the menacing figure of a broadly smiling earthworm. The cactus is trying desperately to put down roots elsewhere -- some of its attempts are eight inches long. But the Flightless Ibis already wrote a cycle of prose poems about this house and took 72 pictures, so I'll stop there.


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