THE BOOK OF BEASTS
The Barbaric Yawp
always has something better to do. He doesn't give a damn about weddings,
family dinners, matters of honor, overdue library books, court summons,
parking tickets, reconciliations, or international law. He climbs volcanoes
for fun, and takes the bus only when he has to sleep.
The Barbaric Yawp is out late
and up late, will drink you under the table, has his eye on your wife,
and already has your wallet.
The Barbaric Yawp has slept
with all the women you wish you'd slept with. They reside now in the
harem of his memory.
He does have a tame side, but the Barbaric Yawp never lets it show.
He sneaks into your house while you're away, looks through your photo
albums and pets your cats.
Basilisk can kill with a glance; its bite hurts, too. Most consider
themselves poets, and will scribble their cantos on the backs of road
signs and the undersides of train seats. A few are published, but all
Basilisks live brief lives. Their loneliness is terminal.
Corsets have been known to fly in pairs beneath the ceilings
of dark caves. They roost at the seashore, and feed their newly hatched
young on the children of politicians. Like the boa snake, the Corset
kills by way of constriction.
Gilgamesh is known to have
slain at least one, and in wearing its hide, he inadvertently began
the fashion trend for which he is still remembered.
Corsets may be captured in
their sleep, by tying their wings together with string. Once a Corset
is bound, never set it free. It will learn captivity, but not forgiveness.
The Gielgud's sense of shame is so acute that, even when innocent,
it would rather commit a crime than purge itself of unfixed dread. It
stores its guilt in mason jars and buries them in backyards.
To discover a Gielgud is easier
than commonly believed. Simply stand at your bedroom window and wait
for the sound of a shovel in the dark. Peek if you must, but make sure
the Gielgud does not notice you watching him work. His supply of mason
jars is endless.
Girlfriends take various forms--some appear as unmarked bottles
of wine, others as fields of horses. Avid researchers one and all, Girlfriends
are often found skulking through ruins, hunting for papyrus scrolls.
These they garnish with parsley and serve to guests.
Girlfriends usually travel
alone, and have been known to ask difficult riddles, which the wise
will always leave unanswered.
Pity the Horseshoe Crab, invention of some mad magician, who
crammed its clanking shell with gears and pistons, and set a burning
ember in its heart. It patrols the beachhead, fending off gulls and
jellyfish with the sword of its tail, hording sea glass in the plastic
buckets left by children.
Knight of a bygone era, the
Horseshoe Crab still believes in just causes, and chivalry, and love.
If you discover one flipped on its back by a wave, turn it upright and
walk away without a word. For the Horseshoe Crab has known enough of
sharpened sticks and ridicule.
Your average Nit-Picker stands about three feet tall, and you
will know him by the slimy trail he leaves across your bureau. He moves
quickly, and will be detained only by promises of swap-meets. But beware,
the Nit-Picker always comes out with the better end of the bargain.
At restaurants, the Nit-Picker
may eat his entire meal before informing the waitress of how horrible
he thinks it is. He likes to go on blind-dates, but does not like to
pay for them. You can hold a Nit-Picker's gaze by placing a mirror in
front of it--the nit-picker is enthralled by its own reflection.
Nit-Pickers despise change of every
kind. I once met one in the 34th Street subway station. He was peeling
away sections of the subway map with his fingernails, revealing details
from the old map beneath.
To discover the work of Saint Jerome's Bane is the worst nightmare
of every librarian; this sniveling, three-toed flunky feeds only on
rare first editions. His finger will open any lock, and his eyes are
searchlights. He is sometimes mistaken for the night watchman or for
someone's rich uncle.
Saint Jerome's Bane hibernates
in spring and fall, while classes are in session. By that time, he has
devoured at least fourteen of the books you are looking for. He digests
them slowly, at a rate of one word per minute, starting at the end of
the book and working towards the beginning.
To see one Wumpus all alone is a blessing of good luck. To see
two is to know your fate as you know your own brother. A Wumpus sent
in the mail is a charm against loss of memory. One worn as a necklace
brings wealth and sound sleep to the wearer.
To "Girdle the Wumpus"
means to hedge your bets. "Pass the Wumpus" is a game played
by truant children. If someone threatens to "Guzzle the Wumpus,"
it is best to leave quickly and without argument.
Wyvern's tail is spiked, so it can pack a wallop as it retreats.
It figures prominently in the heraldic arms of families of cowards.
Saurian, with two wings, two legs, two hearts, the wyvern is also of
two minds. In one mind, it is running up to greet you. In the other,
it is hiding behind its mother's leg.
The Wyvern sometimes appears small,
but this is a trick of the eye. Wyverns are always large, some are just
Berry's work has appeared on the Conjunctions website.
An Assistant Editor of PEN
America, he will be teaching creative writing at the Excel Program
of UC Santa Cruz.