Selected Observations on Urban Fauna



Neighborhood: All Over

Illustrations by Aurélie Bernard Wortsman 


A contemporary take on the medieval bestiary, featuring the actual and apocryphal creatures that share our constricted urban space. The following is the first installment in a series of observations on urban fauna, text and image gleaned from the lifelong perambulations on asphalt and cement by two native New Yorkers, a father-daughter team, author Peter Wortsman and artist-illustrator Aurélie Bernard Wortsman.



There is something comic, Chaplinesque in a pigeon’s walk. Head bobbing, ridiculously pecking as though at an invisible seed or crumb, it waddles forward, ever onwards, ever hopeful. With its three-pronged feet (plus one absurd vestigial hind toe) it resembles a court jester, a resemblance enhanced by the violet and blue iridescence of its feather cloak. To lonely old souls, it embodies the hungry incarnation of their lost or never found love and will stick around as long as the bread holds out. When, finally, it takes flight, awkward and heavy, this asphalt-colored bird is like a piece of the pavement which by some fluke of gravity broke loose and is foolishly falling upwards by mistake.

 Subway Mice

Subway mice – true urbanites – wear coats of khaki rather than gray, ever ready for war. Attacks come unpredictably every five, ten, fifteen minutes: a roar in the tunnel, from which the desperate guerillas take cover where they can: savvy old veterans in the gaps between pillars, leaping clear of the current; and the foolhardy newcomers in crevices between the tracks and ties, where the casualties are more severe. Some refuse to run. Perhaps their hunger is too great, or their strength has failed them, or a stubborn resolve, not to be mistaken for suicide, suddenly takes hold. It may be a tin can bleeding sweetly, or a bread rind, or the irresistible allure of a brown paper bag. Playing hide and seek with fate, their tiny tails flap – oblivious to the rumble and the ominous pair of yellow eyes grinning in the distance.

Little Alien from the Planet Uterus

These spots and swirls resembling lunarscapes (transmitted, not from Outer, but from Inner Space) reveal the molten core of the Planet Uterus, its sole inhabitant soon to erupt, kicking up a cosmic storm, refusing to hold still for identification. The technician takes a fuzzy likeness all the same. What will it want? What will Earth look like on landing? Read this years hence, little alien from the Planet Uterus, and remember – your mother, her bulging belly prodded by a high tech cattle prong; your father, benumbed bull, peering fearfully over the technician’s shoulder, asking: What is it? And you, a reluctant neuter squiggle on a screen, a black hole, a big bang in the making – is there pleasure and pain where you are?


[Text excerpted from A Modern Way to Die, by Peter Wortsman, Pelekinesis, Second Edition, 2020, Copyright © 1991, 2020] 

A writer in multiple modes (fiction, drama, essays and poetry) and frequent contributor to Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood, Peter Wortsman is the author, most recently, of Epiphany of a Middle-Aged Pilgrim, Essays in Lieu of a Memoir, Pelekinesis, 2021. A chapbook of his cut-up poems, Borrowed Words, is due out from Bamboo Dart Press, in 2022.

Aurélie Bernard Wortsman is an artist, cartoonist and the director of Andrew Edlin Gallery, in New York, specializing in Art Brut and Outsider Art, where she curated “Beverly Buchanan: Shacks and Legends, 1985-2011,” and “Agatha Wojciechowsky: Spirits Among Us,” in 2021. Co-founder of the artistic cartoon duo, Zou and Lou, her work has been exhibited at Wynwood Arts 29 in Miami, and other venues, and published in anthologies and zines. 

© 2022 Peter Wortsman and Aurélie Bernard Wortsman

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§ 2 Responses to “Selected Observations on Urban Fauna”

  • Susan T. Landry says:

    dear Peter,

    so wonderful to see this piece this morning! i am very plesedd that you have shared this evocative collaboration with Aurélie. i remember chatting with you about the artwork Aurélie was doing and how happy you were to see her blossom in this direction, and how proud you are. i especially like the first entry, on pigeons… the artwork and your writing are both so strong and engaging.

    i am also pleased to read of the inroads Aurélie is making into the NYC art world. no small adventure. the fates be willing, next time i come to the city i’ll give you a head’s up; i’d love to see the gallery and more of her work. and i look forward to more of your cut-up poems! i remember when you were posting some of these on FB in the early days of the plague, and that i very much enjoyed them. xo susan

  • Jeffrey Loeb says:

    Wonderful little ruminations, Peter. So much in them. Who says anthropomorphism can’t be fun, and funny! Jeff

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