The ostrich is bigger and a good deal more famous
so if we’ve not heard of the cassowary, well, you really can’t blame us:
It’s just the world’s second biggest bird, and as such gets forgotten,
though the lack of acclaim it receives is quite rotten.
There are three different species of this noble specimen,
(if you thought there were four, then we’d tell you to guess again),
there’s a one-wattled species, and then a dwarf model,
and the Southern strain’s marked by its two fleshy wattles.
Unlike most birds, the males of these species are tender,
standing tall (nearly six feet) as their offspring’s defenders,
while the mother birds are off having good birdlike fun,
the males stay at home, guarding the nest and the young.
And as guards go, these guys have the means and the arms
(well not arms, really: feet are the way that they’d harm
any threats to their families, with five-inch long claws,
they dismember things threatening them with foaming jaws).
So three cheers for the Cassowary, hip hip hooray,
(I just wish the one standing here would go away).

(With apologies to Ogden Nash).

In Praise of Forsythia

We completely redecorated the public parts of our house (living room, halls, den, dining room, kitchen) last summer and fall, with new furniture, new paint, art, plants, the whole nine yards. We have one window in our living room that you can’t really see out of, because there is a giant forsythia bush in front of it. We were pleased to see this week, when the bush exploded into bloom, that the interior color scheme works even better with a sea of yellow blossoms behind it.


Summing Up

I’ve been spending most of this week putting together a “turnover manual” for whoever who follows me into the Rensselaer Newman Foundation as Director. One of the things I did was pull all of my booking files and stack them all up into one list. There are a few redundancies and double entries, but even counting them, I was sort of impressed (if I say so myself) at how many of these things I’d done since 2002. Here is the complete list. Each thing on the list involved booking, promoting, setting up, breaking down, attending, collecting, hanging, sound mixing, lighting and/or taking care of guest performers and artists and their work. When you’re in the middle of something like that, you sometimes don’t realize how much of it you’re doing. I think that’s not a bad little legacy to leave the organization when I depart this Friday.

Incongruous Poetry, Part Two: Lamprey


Oh lamprey, dear lamprey, my petromyzon,
thine round jawless mouth like a small setting sun.
Yon sun, though, hath no rasping tongue in its midst,
like thine: gently drilling through prey thou has kissed.

Oh lamprey, dear lamprey, thine ammocoetes
(as thine larvae are called) are the belles of the seas:
armed with nary a sucker nor even a tooth,
they dost oozeth thick slime that doth capture their foodth.

Oh lamprey, dear lamprey, thine seven paired gills
and thine one dorsal nostril dost givest me chills.
Thou art sleek and effective, thy perfect design
is not of evolution, but proves the divine.

Oh lamprey, dear lamprey, through man-made canals
thou hast swum from the ocean to finer locales:
to Lake Huron, and Erie, and Michigan too,
to Superior, via Lake Ontarioo.

Oh lamprey, dear lamprey, yon Great Lakes are thine,
thou King of the Fishes Who Don’t Have a Spine!

Incongruous Poetry, Part One: The Luminous Squid

I love the power and grandeur of poetry. I also love lots of weird creatures that don’t generally get accorded a lot of poetic attention. And I really love merging those loves by writing poems about things that are not supposed to have verses and stanzas written about them. Sure, a rose is a rose is a rose, but what about the boll weevil, the lamprey, the sea cucumber, the ratsnake, the remora, the gemini snake, the slime mold, the tapeworm, the luminous squid, and any number of other worthy, admirable living things that aren’t quite so pretty? Can’t they inspire us to fits of creative frenzy? In my case, yes they can. I’ll periodically post some of my poems of this flavor here, in a series tagged “Incongruous Poetry.” Some of the poems are doggerel, or childlike nursery rhymes, but sometimes high forms can be applied too. Have you ever read a sonnet about a remora? Keep reading here, and some day you will . . . but not today, because I begin this series with . . .

The Luminous Squid

The luminous squid, the luminous squid,
the scientists found it, they found it, they did!
Deep off Hawaii in the trench where it hid:
the sleek and elusive and luminous squid.

The luminous squid, the luminous squid,
Jacques Cousteau missed it, as did Captain Kidd.
It was found near Oahu, and not near Madrid:
the newsworthy mollusk, the luminous squid.

The luminous squid, the luminous squid,
(a sailmaker’s hand tool is known as a “fid”
and his plug of tobacco he might call his “quid,”
and when spitting, he might spot a luminous squid).

The luminous squid, the luminous squid,
has tendered a merciless takeover bid
to oust the sea slugs and to finally be rid
of those urchins, that crotchety luminous squid.

The luminous squid, the luminous squid
has no superego, it’s all about id
when it’s mating and eating and mating amid
some more eating, the gluttonous luminous squid.

The luminous squid, the luminous squid
was once in a footnote that started: “Ibid.”
I would tell you about it, but time does forbid
me from saying much more of the luminous squid.


The grackles are back, and I am very, very happy. They’re my favorite birds. And it’s fun to say their name, though not quite as fun as it is to say “scrod” or “axolotl.”

We’ve got a hot tub in our back yard and I do most of my reading while sitting in it, pretty much year round. (As long as the air temperature’s above about 25 degrees, anyway, and the wind isn’t blowing too hard). We also have spectacular gardens (courtesy Marcia’s magical green thumb), and a long, dense row of arborvitae that just crawl with birds during the spring, summer and fall months.

I’m always pleased when the robins begin to turn up, and it’s always a treat to see the first goldfinch or cardinal of the season show up. In the winter, I enjoy the crows and blue jays that slug it out up here, but for pure bird watching satisfaction, I enjoy nothing more than the grackles that (lucky me!) set up their homes in our back yard year after year after year.

Grackles have got style, pizzaz and serious attitude. Look at them from one angle, and they are shiny and black . . . but then they turn to hit the sunlight just the right way, and, presto, radiant irridescent purples and blues. Grackles don’t hop tentatively around the yard like robins do. When they are on the ground, they stomp from place to place, confident, serious, businesslike. They are very territorial, and will let you know loudly and emphatically if you happen to venture too close to their corner of the yard. They are cranky and intolerant, and I love them for it.

As I sat outside this afternoon, I saw concentrated grackle activity that indicates at least two nests being constructed, with a possible third. There were a lot of males out there, puffing up their feathers and doing their best “hey baby hey baby hey baby” moves to impress their tough-to-please intended beloveds, then yelling at each other and jockeying for prime position in the trees so as to best get their mojos on.

In a couple of weeks, if not sooner, there will be two (or three) nesting pairs out there, each in their own corner of the yard, lords and ladies of all that they survey. I will sit in the hot tub in the center of yard, making no sudden movements, glad that they let me use part of their turf without (much) complaint.

It will be excellent, only getting better when the slime molds return in June or so. I can’t wait.