Thursday, February 14, 2013

oodle ardle wardle doodle

A character performs a small action and becomes memorable, the rest of this character's behaviour could be anything but the detail sometimes drives itself into my memory, the man Essex in Shirley Jackson for example, touching the older woman's elbow, or a number of characters in The Tale of the Heike, which I read in a translation by Royall Tyler who lives in rural NSW and if he had made his translation at home would have done so with the magpies going, "Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle," outside the kitchen window or the study window or wherever he works. I am not the man's interior designer but I know what magpies sound like though that bit of euphony was not invented from life but borrowed from a poem.

There might be a more convincing way to write magpie noises but for now I will borrow, so that anyone who has read the poem may identify those words with magpies immediately and submit to their memories of a depressing piece of verse, a very helpless submission, if they have it, and I will tap into the power or habit of their minds and inflict upon them this memory which seems fair enough if my aim is to fill them for one moment with a nebulous magpie-impression, which it might be, I haven't seriously examined my intentions in this regard, and why should we specify real ones when literary ones will do well enough very quickly while I go on to the next thing, which will be the Heike? Human characters suffer in the magpie-poem, they age, the magpies are detached Fates having a good time in a tree, or a bad time, or some sort of enigmatic time, and like this Europe encounters the southern hemisphere in those mono-aural and Nornish idea-birds, which would possibly not have occupied the same position in a piece of poetic art if the poem had been written by someone else from somewhere else; by correlation an Australasian Heike would have had less ritual suicide since it is not a local habit in that region, nor is listening to magpies a local habit in Japan thanks to lack of opportunity which in this instance means lack of magpies, though you will note, however, that the phrase "lack of opportunity" does not always means that magpies are lacking but sometimes something else. This could be the only time in your life that you read the phrase "lack of opportunity" and understand that it means also "lack of magpies." That is speculation and I will add that Japan is not deprived of birds in general. There are many crows there, a lot of them, having witnessed some myself, one specific group of about four or five walking on an asphalt path and staring with alert head-movements at the grass or at their feet, which were doubtless sharp-nailed and craggy-black, and in them mites, mites by the toenails, mites between the scaly armours, and on those mites other mites, and so on down in dizzying seclusion, inside a middle-sized industrial city to the left or west of the Pacific Ocean.

It is also true to say that the magpies possibly would not have occupied that position in the poem if another person from the poet's own country had written it, therefore see that people are like nations with a new culture in each, along with warfares, petty battles, and other terrors, and that they live by planting their flags, now magpie-this, now magpie-that.

Speaking of flags, I had one Year 5 teacher who showed us a scar across the top of his scalp, a scar that had been made, he said, by a magpie, but we had been reading a book about a boy who put an ice cream bucket on his head to protect himself from magpies while he climbed a windmill which makes me wonder now if the story might have been an attempt to make the head-scar relevant to our learning processes. Yet we used to cover our heads with softball gloves when we went under the magpie nesting tree by the decaying netball courts with their rotting soft edges so we all knew that genuine magpie scars were an entirely feasible development of our skins as well as his.


  1. Did you know that our magpies have two voiceboxes. I don't know if any other creatures have. Anyway it means they can sing harmonies on their own, which makes me wonder why we all can't have two voiceboxes.

    1. No. Where'd you hear that? I know that we can sing in more than one pitch at once, but that's not nearly as handy.

  2. By 'our' I mean 'Australian', by the way.