A Bestiary  by Bradford Morrow

Sitting on a lilypad, bulbous eyes betraying nothing, the frog tosses his long and viscous tongue from his throat at a plump green fly that has meandered, helpless as a schoolgirl, into his neighborhood. 

BOMB 25 Fall 1998

Home of the Bill T. Jones / Arnie Zane Company


25 Hurson Body

Michael Hurson, Frog, 1988, linoleum cut four colors. For A Bestiary by Bradford Morrow, published by Grenfell Press.

Frog

Sitting on a lilypad, bulbous eyes betraying nothing, the frog tosses his long and viscous tongue from his throat at a plump green fly that has meandered, helpless as a schoolgirl, into his neighborhood. This time his aim is off and the fly, aware of the danger she was in, skitters away across the duckweed backwater. Some people consider frogs’ legs a delicacy to eat. For myself, I’d rather dine on duckweed, and see the fly transformed into a lady whose fate brings only the freedom to fly.

 

Giraffe

The earliest known giraffe was not a running tree, but a philosopher who understood both the transaction of ideas and commerce in the world. Were he one who needed to clothe himself against the elements he would not have been seen in a Jacob’s coat or tattered rags, but a suit of decent clothes. Practical and meditative, he surmised this yellow hide with its black spots would suffice in any weather. He mused over the shape of his horns and how they resembled keyholes, considered his quirtlike tail, his long eyelashes, his soulful lips, and conceived of how in various circumstances these would be useful. Above all, he considered his neck, and what it might mean to him and for him. He knew that the neck is a conveyor, important thus to despositer and that which receives. He knew that the neck remarks thought to muscle and so to each act. Both matrix and maker, the neck is not cowardly but capable. While some things may twist and turn into unnatural forms in order to strike out or be stricken, the neck turns to accept and twists to gain and reaches finally to make a gift; of blood, of thought, of nourishment, of breath. No giraffe may live without its neck. Every giraffe down the long lineage of giraffes has known this. The neck bridges brain to brawn and mouth to gut and nostril to lung and space to earth. All is entry, and the resolution of imbalance moving not toward order, but joy.

 

Grouse

Grousing is attitude more than animal, an activity reserved for pinched ladies and disappointed gentlemen. Those who have failed at love grouse, as do those whose business has gone sour. Mostly grousing is the habitual manifestation by complaint of one predisposed to disdaining everything—an emotional mechanism that locks a depressive, weary, unruly mind away from its own self, which is finally the only real locus where fault might be found. The grouse is not grouchy or grumpy, though. She preens herself with her chicken-beak and fans her modest peacock-tail and feels marvelously contented in pecking at the seeds she finds in the wild yard softened under morning drizzle.

 

Lemming

The lemming began as a bear in the land of the sky. He was a great beast, and wandered unchallenged among the other animals in the high meadows above the arctic air. Crossing a stream one day he slipped and fell to earth, and as he fell he grew smaller and smaller until he became a mouse. The Eskimo elders who saw this convened and made up their minds to give him a name to honor his sky-bear heart. So they called him Kilyungmituk, “the little one who fell from the sky.”

He made his way across the snow, burrowed in the mossy tundra, explored the boreal forest. He kept his own counsel, and thereby remained clear-headed and discrete. He multiplied. He cherished his anonymity, and learned how to change the color of his coat from brown in summer to white in winter. Sometimes he allowed himself to peer up at the Northern lights and think back to the land of the sky and the pleasant times he enjoyed there. Whenever he did this, however, his whiskers would twitch, and he would feel an ache in his belly, and he would know that he was homesick.

As the years continued to pass, he found himself less strict in keeping his eyes upon the frozen ground, and more and more often turned his head to stare upward. As much as he appreciated the fine name the Eskimo elders had given him, he understood what he had to do. In the spring, he and his plentiful family migrated over the lowlands toward the sea. Soon enough, the waves could be heard, and he could see stranded blocks of ice tossing along the lemony coast, and he made his way down to the water where finally he and his family plunged in, and drowned.

This was how it came to pass that again he entered into the land of the sky, where even now he walks, a magnificent bear, proud among the many beasts. The stream with the hidden hole awaits him, just as it did before. It is understood the moment will come when he will take anew the fatal step, and tumble once more to earth. Everything is process, everything is circle, everything is falling and rising. The lemming knows this, and now you know it, too.

 

Mongoose

Sings, The mongoose he is quick of eye,
     Mongoose he is agile,
     Mongoose is immune to poison,
     Mungo likes his woman strong.

Mongoose is a viverrine that comes from Madagascar,
Mongoose comes from India, viverra ichneumon, Man

Sings, The mongoose he sleep all day,
     Mongoose don’t scare easy.
     Mongoose lives a danger life,
     Mongoose doesn’t worry.

Mongoose is a viverrine that comes from Madagascar,
Mongoose comes from India, viverra ichneumon, Man.

Sings, Mongoose is a mean-goose,
     Mongoose drinketh man-juice,
     Mongoose dance in moon-gauze,
     “Hey Mon Goose.”

for Joseph McElroy

 

Owl

While we sleep the owl does his work, restless soul. He asks his whos and whys—only some of the reason we call him wise—and turns the streamside world around in his flat-faced head. He queries, educes, castle-builds, visions, but soon it is time for a moonlight kill, as night thoughts are more passionate and more wearying than those of day.

Silent, he falls from his limb like a feathery cat on a mouse and pecks to its meat with his hooked bill. The mouse and all it knows of the forest floor becomes now some of the substance of the bird. He takes his limb again. He rotates his horned head, preens, and blinks. He settles.

With the mouse’s data and vim inside him he gazes on the land in the moonglowing thicket. The patterns there roll back their eerie veils, tango for him on his clawed-soft branch. Outrageous puce rings begin to rise from the stones to seduce a sudden hovering moth fashioned of mite and fishglue and chafe. Puce and moth couple prismatic beyond the ridge of maple. They shiver and cry and, after, collapse into the null from which they came.

The owl is content at what he has seen; still he knows that once more tonight he will not sleep.

 

Pig

Never laggard, my pig is persistent and knows what she wants, what she wants is to eat. Burlap and tin, slop and jetsam, nothing in the pen to her is repugnant. The world is totally to her taste and yet she’s a connoisseur. When the cock crows dawn—a delicious sound, that signal to gorge—she sets right to it, to her constant theme, her one-way song with that which surrounds her. All is edible and she feels quite famished, my epicure and democrat of the palate’s desires. She passes over nothing in her hunger business as the landscape submits to her cylinder snout. Her corkscrew tail coils and uncoils as she sniffs the day long—day night taste good!—and routs and rolls in the buffet mud, the refectory mud, the grocery mud, ruminating as she goes on what she likes to eat, and what she likes to eat is everything. Oh, swine gods who ride on your food-shaped clouds over orchard and chimney—which must look so yummy!—let nothing come between my pig and her meal. She’s fat as a polka and supple as soap, and eats out of love for all that she meets. Should anything ever stand in her way, may my pig have the appetite to eat that obstacle, too.

 

Snake

Like cur, like vermin, like swine and hyena, like louse, like black sheep, like slithery sludge, like skulking in green, like villain and vice, like stinkard, like pill, like hell on wheels, like sine qua non, like raze, like oil, like risk, like truth, like clap and hazard, like church bells burning, like liver on rice, like snarl and toil and sass and fury, like foil, like deals and dregs, like scum and tyrant, like pillage, like the devil, like shrew, like vivid, like a shadow in a hurry, like gasps and jostle, like a snake in the grass, like a needle in the woodstack, like eyes and threshing, like frazzle, like bullet, like a beating, like caressing, like lust, like splendor, like honey and rust the serpent’s a sinner with a bad rep rap and all he ever wanted was to be liked.

 

Unicorn

The unicorn sees itself in the quiet pool and feels unresolved. Why, it thinks, have many wise men had so much to say about me, an animal that does not even exist I look at myself, it muses, in this mirror and wonder what the historian was thinking when he said that I was frightening and fierce. I ask, how did the sage construe me as the most docile of creatures? How is it possible so many men have understood my horn to be the essence of human sexuality? What does it mean to me? I have no horn. I have no exquisite white coat. I’m not here; I never was.

Bradford Morrow’s novel Come Sunday was published this spring by Weidenfeld & Nicolson and will be issued in paperback this coming April in the Collier Fiction Series. A Bestiary, including illustrations, is forthcoming from the Grenfell Press. He is editor of the literary magazine Conjunctions.

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Originally published in

BOMB 25, Fall 1998
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