I admire grass, thought Blurtso. It never gets discouraged. It keeps growing no matter how often they mow it down. And in a storm it just bends with the wind. It makes me happy to think… we are what we eat.
Shall we read page three of The Children’s Story? said Ms. Johnson. Oh yes, said Virginia, I want to know why the teacher and children are afraid. Very well, said Ms. Johnson, page three says:
The children rustled, watching the teacher, wondering what possessed her… Johnny looked away from the door and watched with the other children. He did not understand anything except that the teacher was afraid, and because she was afraid she was making them all worse and he wanted to shout that there was no need to fear. “Just because they’ve conquered us there’s no need for panic-fear,” Dad had said. “Don’t be afraid, Johnny. If you fear too much, you’ll be dead even though you’re alive.”
We still don’t know why they’re afraid, said Virginia. No, we don’t, said Ms. Johnson. I don’t like to be afraid, said Virginia. Neither do I, said Ditto. Maybe that’s why Johnny has so much hate, said Virginia. Why? said Ms. Johnson. Because he doesn’t like to be afraid, and he’s angry at the person who’s making him afraid. Are we sure it’s a person? said Ms. Johnson. It says “they” conquered, said Virginia.
Who are they? said Ms. Johnson. I don’t know, said Virginia, but they must be bad if they conquered. Is conquering bad? said Ms. Johnson. That depends if you’re a conquer or a conquered, said Virginia. A “conqueror,” said Ms. Johnson. “They” could be another kind of animal, said Ditto. Like what? said Ms. Johnson. Any kind of animal that’s different from them, said Ditto, like a herd of rhinoceri. “Rhinoceroses,” said Ms. Johnson. Or a swarm of bees, said Ditto, or a school of piranhas. What’s a piranha? said Virginia. A piranha, said Ms. Johnson, is a freshwater fish with an insatiable appetite for meat. Insatiable? said Virginia. Impossible to satisfy, said Ms. Johnson. Oh, said Virginia.
Why don’t you like to be afraid? said Ms. Johnson. Because, said Virginia, I don’t know what’s going to happen. But something good might happen, said Ms. Johnson. But it might not, said Virginia. We fear the unknown, said Ditto, like Hamlet. Hamlet? said Ms. Johnson. Yes, said Ditto, my parents and their friend Blurtso staged a play called “Hamlet” last year. What does Hamlet say? said Ms. Johnson. He says, said Ditto, that he would rather stay with something familiar that doesn’t make him happy than take his chances with something unfamiliar. Something unfamiliar? said Ms. Johnson. Yes, said Ditto. Like what? said Ms. Johnson. Like death, said Ditto. Are you afraid of death? said Ms. Johnson. Yes, said Ditto. And you, Virginia? Yes, said Virginia.
Do you think Johnny is afraid of death in the story? said Ms. Johnson. Yes, said Ditto, or something worse. What’s worse than death? said Ms. Johnson. No one can say, said Ditto, until they know what death is. So it might not be bad? said Ms. Johnson. It might not, said Ditto, but we don’t know, so we create nightmares to fill the unknown. Is that what Johnny’s dad is telling us, said Ms. Johnson, when he says, “If you fear too much, you’ll be dead even though you’re alive”? Yes, said Ditto.
Have you ever heard of Franklin Delano Roosevelt? said Ms. Johnson. No, said Ditto. He was a president of the United States who said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” What does that mean? said Virginia. It means, said Ditto, that the worst thing to do is be afraid. Why? said Virginia. Because when you’re afraid, said Ditto, you’ll do anything to stop being afraid. Do you think it’s easy, said Ms. Johnson, to frighten people into doing what you want them to do? Yes, said Ditto, all you have to do is convince them something unknown will happen if they don’t.
The birds are nice, said Blurtso, they sound very happy. Yes, said Bonny, Pablo can identify all of them by their songs. Really, said Blurtso, what was that one? That was a chickadee, said Pablo. And that one? said Blurtso. That was another chickadee. How about that one? said Blurtso. That was the same chickadee you heard the first time, said Pablo. Wow, said Blurtso, that’s amazing.
Oh, oh, said Blurtso, do you see that? Yes, said Harlan. What are we going to do? said Blurtso. I don’t mind a single ant, said Harlan, but when you’re surrounded by hundreds or thousands, they become unpleasant. Do you think he’ll tell his friends about the loft? said Blurtso. I don’t know, said Harlan. Maybe he’s a hermit ant, said Blurtso. A hermit ant? said Harlan. Yes, said Blurtso, an ant who rejects the frenetic pace of contemporary ant traditions and ant society, and goes off on his own to contemplate nature and his relationship to the cosmos. Or maybe, said Harlan, he’s a scout ant.
“Blurtso sings the donkey electric”
I sing the donkey electric!
A song of asses I sing, near and far!
Asses on hills, asses in fields, asses in herds,
more bountiful than the once-bountiful buffalo,
asses on land and asses at sea, asses short, skinny, fat and tall!
Multitudes of asses, spanning these star-spangled states!
I have perceived that to be an ass
is to be enough.
The ears of the ass are sacred, delicate,
twitching receptacles of sound,
assiduous antennae registering, recording all,
the hooves of the ass are no less
than the slippers of sultans
striding silken alfombras and seraglio stone,
the snout of the ass and his nostrils—a dual lamp
of Aladdin—inhaling flowery fragrance,
leading to wished-for fiestas of pumpkin pleasure,
the ass’s tail, though stumpy or small, and swatting flies,
is a palm fanning reclining Cleopatra,
his teeth, precious jade, are greened and polished
by the grass of a thousand fields,
his attentive eyes and friendly balance of features,
—courtly countenance and caryatid composure—
no less perfect than the visage of Helen.
Such asses I see, to the north and to the south!
From blistering bivouacs of winter
to blazing battalions of summer,
Patagonia to Peloponnese, Malibu to Manhattan,
Concord to Cambridge, every here
and every there, asses I see! Brown, grey,
yellow, red, purple, orange, azure asses!
Asses in other climes, asses in other times,
French, British, Australian, Arabian, Asian asses!
Eating every blade of grass, an ass!
Trampling every leaf that falls, a hoof!
Wading every stream that sings,
a snout, a snort, and a bray!
Hee-haw goes the jack!
Hee-haw goes the jenny!
Hee-haw go the judge and jury and judged!
Hee-haw from the dell! Hee-haw from the glen!
Hee-haw at mid-day! Hee-haw at the moon!
I see the resigned ass, bearing a load,
obeying the coax of his lord,
I see the boisterous ass braying,
in the barn, his bonny bray,
I see the amorous ass (of these there are many),
expressing exigencies by day and by night,
I see farms, fields, freeways and burgs,
each in their way, replete with asininities,
I see the asinine politician, professor, and poet,
each one leaving a brand on the asses of asses.
And the asses of yore, you ask, where are they
with their clip and clop on the stones of the street?
Les ânes voici! I say! Les ânes voici!
Heeding the whinny and neigh,
and ass-bray of the future!
What song do I sing? (you ask and I reply),
I sing the song of asses!
Certain, and stoic, and strong!
From each face an ass!
From each office, family, and farm!
Asses I sing! Avalanches of asses!
I sing! I sing a song of asses!
I sing the donkey electric!