[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Lee's hand shook as he filled the delicate cups. He drank his down in one gulp. 'Don't you see?' he cried. 'The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in 'Thou shalt,' meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—'Thou mayest'— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if 'Thou mayest'—it is also true that 'Thou mayest not.' Don’t you see?' "
---John Steinbeck, East of Eden


"That country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coalbins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain."
---Ray Bradbury, The October Country


"An editor doesn't just read, he reads well, and reading well is a creative, powerful act. The ancients knew this and it frightened them. Mesopotamian society, for instance, did not want great reading from its scribes, only great writing. Scribes had to submit to a curious ruse: they had to downplay their reading skills lest they antagonize their employer. …. In their fear of readers, ancients understood something we have forgotten about the magnitude of readership. Reading breeds the power of an independent mind. When we read well, we are thinking hard for ourselves—this is the essence of freedom. It is also the essence of editing. Editors are scribes liberated to not simply record and disseminate information, but think hard about it, interpret, and ultimately, influence it."
---Susan Bell


"The poet is someone who is permanently involved with a language that is dying and which he resurrects, not by giving it back some triumphant aspect but by making it return sometimes, like a specter or a ghost: the poet wakes up language and in order to really make the 'live' experience of this waking up, of this return to life of language, one has to be very close to the corpse of the language."
---Jacques Derrida, trans. unknown


"But with that I have to say I don't believe in 'best of' books. It creates a hierarchy, and books are not hierarchy, books are medicine. We read what we need to heal us. There are personal prescriptions, but there's no such thing as 'best.' "
---Sandra Cisneros


"We cannot make ourselves understand; the most we can do is to foster a state of mind, in which understanding may come to us."
---Aldous Huxley


"In what form, asks the writer, can I most truthfully describe the world as it is experienced by this particular self? And it is from that starting point that each writer goes on to make their individual compromise with the self, which is always a compromise with truth as far as the self can know it. That is why the most common feeling, upon re-reading one's own work, is Prufrock's: 'That is not it at all … that is not what I meant, at all…' Writing feels like self-betrayal, like failure."
---Zadie Smith, "Fail Better"


"Bad writing does nothing, changes nothing, educates no emotions, rewires no inner circuitry---we close its covers with the same metaphysical confidence in the universality of our own interface as we did when we opened it. But great writing---great writing forces you to submit to its vision. You spend the morning reading Chekhov and in the afternoon, walking through your neighbourhood, the world has turned Chekhovian; the waitress in the cafe offers a non-sequitur, a dog dances in the street."
---Zadie Smith, "Fail Better"


"The search for an identity is one of the most wholesale phony ideas we’ve ever been sold. In the twenty-first century it’s almost entirely subsumed in its purest form of 'brand identity'—for Levi to be 'more black' would simply involve the purchasing of items connected with the idea of blackness. How can anyone be more black? Or more female? It’s like saying 'I want to be more nose-having, more leg possessing.' People can only be defined by their actions in a world that contains other people. Sitting on a hill alone screaming 'I am a Muslim in the 24–29 age bracket who likes Pepsi and sitcoms about loose bands of interconnected young people in my age group; I am a person who is French and into the things of Frenchness; I am a basketball player; a flower picker…' What does it mean? The Belsey children need to stop worrying about their identity and concern themselves with the people they care about, ideas that matter to them, beliefs they can stand by, tickets they can run on. Intelligent humans make those choices with their brain and hearts and they make them alone. The world does not deliver meaning to you. You have to make it meaningful. The Belseys need to weigh situations as they appear before them, and decide what they want and need and must do. It’s a tough, unimaginably lonely and complicated way to be in the world. But that’s the deal: you have to live; you can’t live by slogans, dead ideas, clichés, or national flags. Finding an identity is easy. It’s the easy way out."
---Zadie Smith, On Beauty


"I want to be loved unreasonably by an unreasonable love because we’ve nearly drowned in the poison of reasonable loving, reasonable liking, reasonable living, reasonable essays, reasonable art and reasonable political discourse."
---Kiese Laymon


"My literature classes didn’t help. My professors stressed the importance of approaching a text with detachment, with a critical gaze rather than an emotional one. There wasn’t a place in academia for gushing or ranting. There wasn’t room to simply say, 'I loved this and I don’t know why.' One had to use academic jargon. One had to be methodical and thorough. It was like listening to a song and wanting so badly to get up and dance, but instead of dancing, you have to sit there and think about why those sounds made you want to dance and consider the exact mechanics behind the formula of a danceable song. And I didn’t want to fucking do that. I just wanted to dance. I just wanted to read. I just wanted to write. I didn’t want to deconstruct lines of poetry or do a close reading of Faulkner’s usage of semicolons."
---Jenny Zhang, "The Importance of Angsty Art"


"On Leaving the Body to Science"
The my becomes
            a the, becomes
                         the state’s

the coroner’s,
            a law’s, something
                         assignable,

by me, alone,
            though it will not
                         be the I

I am on
            leaving it, no
                         longer to be

designated human or
            corpse: cadaver
                         it will be,

nameless patient
           stored in
                        the deep hold

of the hospital
           as in the storage
                       of a ghost ship

run aground —
          the secret in it
                       that will,

perhaps, stir again
          the wind that
                       failed. It

will be preserved,
          kept like larva,
                       like a bullet

sealed gleaming
          in its chamber.
                       They will gather

around it,
          probe and sample,
                        argue — then

return it
          to its between-
                        world, remove

their aprons
          and gloves
                        and stroll, some evenings,

a city block
           for a beer,
                        a glass of chilled

white wine. Even there, they
           will continue
                        to speak of it,

what they
           glean from beneath
                        the narrative

of scars, surgical
           cavities, the
                        wondrous

mess it became
           before I left it
                        to them

with what’s
           left of me, this
                        name, a signature,

a neatened
           suture, perfect, this
                        last, selfish stitch. 

---Claudia Emerson


"The pleasure of recognizing that one may have to undergo the same realizations, write the same notes in the margin, return to the same themes in one’s work, relearn the same emotional truths, write the same book over and over again—not because one is stupid or obstinate or incapable of change, but because such revisitations constitute a life."
---Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts


"My Uncle's Favorite Coffee Shop"
Serum of steam rising from the cup,
what comfort to be known personally by Barbara,
her perfect pouring hand and starched ascot,
known as the two easy eggs and the single pancake,
without saying.
What pleasure for an immigrant—
anything without saying.

My uncle slid into his booth.
I cannot tell you—how I love this place.
He drained the water glass, noisily clinking his ice.
My uncle hailed from an iceless region.
He had definite ideas about water drinking.
I cannot tell you—all the time. But then he’d try.

My uncle wore a white shirt every day of his life.
He raised his hand against the roaring ocean
and the television full of lies.
He shook his head back and forth
from one country to the other
and his ticket grew longer.
Immigrants had double and nothing all at once.
Immigrants drove the taxis, sold the beer and Cokes.
When he found one note that rang true,
he sang it over and over inside.
Coffee, honey.
His eyes roamed the couples at other booths,
their loose banter and casual clothes.
But he never became them.

Uncle who finally left in a bravado moment
after 23 years, to live in the old country forever,
to stay and never come back,

maybe it would be peaceful now,
maybe for one minute,
I cannot tell you—how my heart has settled at last.
But he followed us to the sidewalk
saying, Take care, Take care,
as if he could not stand to leave us.

I cannot tell—

how we felt
to learn that the week he arrived,
he died. Or how it is now,
driving his parched streets,
feeling the booth beneath us as we order,
oh, anything, because if we don’t,
nothing will come.
---Naomi Shihab Nye


"I have spent time studying the nature of light. It is part curiosity and part meditation; someday I hope to understand why I see the way I do. Scriveners have studied light, too, and in the books Madding read to me, they claimed that the brightest light—true light—is the combination of all other kinds of light. Red, blue, yellow, more; put it all together and the result is shining white.

"This means, in a way, that true light is dependent on the presence of other lights. Take the others away and darkness results. Yet the reverse is not true: take away darkness and there is only more darkness. Darkness can exist by itself. Light cannot."
---N.K. Jemisin, The Broken Kingdoms


"I overcame myself, the sufferer; I carried my own ashes to the mountains; I invented a brighter flame for myself. And behold, then this ghost fled from me."
---Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, trans. unknown


"What Came to Me"
I took the last
dusty piece of china
out of the barrel.
It was your gravy boat,
with a hard, brown
drop of gravy still
on the porcelain lip.
I grieved for you then
as I never had before.
---Jane Kenyon


"The Woodlice"
The beauty of one sister
who loved them so
she smuggled the woodlice
into her pockets & then into
the house, after a day’s work
of digging in the yard,
& after the older ones of us
had fed her & washed,
she carried them into
the bed with her, to mother
them, so that they would have
two blankets & be warm, for
this is what she knew of love,
& the beloveds emerged one
by one from their defenses, unfolding
themselves across the bed’s white sheet
like they did over 400 years ago, carried
from that other moonlight,
accidentally, or by children, into
the ship’s dark hold, slowly
adapting to the new rooms
of cloths, then fields, & we,
the elders to that sister,
we, having seen strangers
in our house before, we, being
older, being more ugly & afraid,
we began, then, to teach her the lessons
of dirt & fear.
---Aracelis Girmay


"Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruit it will not bear, and when the land kills of its own volition, we acquiesce and say the victim had no right to live."
---Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye


"Ashes of Life"
Love has gone and left me and the days are all alike;
Eat I must, and sleep I will,—and would that night were here!
But ah!—to lie awake and hear the slow hours strike!
Would that it were day again!—with twilight near!

Love has gone and left me and I don’t know what to do;
This or that or what you will is all the same to me;
But all the things that I begin I leave before I’m through,—
There’s little use in anything as far as I can see.

Love has gone and left me,—and the neighbors knock and borrow,
And life goes on forever like the gnawing of a mouse,—
And to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow
There’s this little street and this little house.
---Edna St. Vincent Millay


"Imagine that the world is made out of love. Now imagine that it isn’t. Imagine a story where everything goes wrong, where everyone has their back against the wall, where everyone is in pain and acting selfishly because if they don’t, they’ll die. Imagine a story, not of good against evil, but of need against need against need, where everyone is at cross-purposes and everyone is to blame."
---Richard Siken


"Ignorance in doing science creates the excitement of doing science, and anyone who does it knows that discoveries lead to a further ignorance."
---George Coyne


"I’m working on my own life story. I don’t mean I’m putting it together; no, I’m taking it apart."
---Margaret Atwood, The Tent


"Why we don't die"

In late September many voices
Tell you you will die.
That leaf says it. That coolness.
All of them are right.

Our many souls- what
Can they do about it?
Nothing. They’re already
Part of the invisible.

Our souls have been
Longing to go home
Anyway. “It’s late,” they say.
“Lock the door, let’s go.”

The body doesn’t agree. It says,
“We buried a little iron
Ball under that tree.
Let’s go get it.”
---Robert Bly


"When you are writing laws you are testing words to find their utmost power. Like spells, they have to make things happen in the real world, and like spells, they only work if people believe in them."
---Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall


"Hatred"
I shall hate you
Like a dart of singing steel
Shot through still air
At even-tide,
Or solemnly
As pines are sober
When they stand etched
Against the sky.
Hating you shall be a game
Played with cool hands
And slim fingers.
Your heart will yearn
For the lonely splendor
Of the pine tree
While rekindled fires
In my eyes
Shall wound you like swift arrows.
Memory will lay its hands
Upon your breast
And you will understand
My hatred.
---Gwendolyn B. Bennett


"Let us take seriously the figure of the feminist kill-joy. Does the feminist kill other people’s joy by pointing out moments of sexism? Or does she expose the bad feelings that get hidden, displaced, or negated under public signs of joy? The feminist is an affect alien: she might even kill joy because she refuses to share an orientation toward certain things as being good because she does not find the objects that promise happiness to be quite so promising."
---Sara Ahmed, "Happy Objects"


"Toward what island-home am I moving"
Toward what island-home am I moving,
not wanting to marry, not wanting
too much of that emptiness at evening,
as when I walked through a field at dusk
and felt wide in the night.
And it was again the evening that drew me
back to the field where I was most alone,
compassed by stems and ruts,
no light of the fixed stars, no flashing in the eyes,
only heather pared by dry air, shedding
a small feathered radiance when I looked away,
an expanse whose deep sleep seemed an unending
warren I had been given, to carry out such tasks—
that I might find nothing dead.
And it was again the evening that drew me
back to the field where I could sense no boundary—
the smell of dry earth, cool arch of my neck, the darkness
entirely within myself.
And when I shut my eyes there was no one.
Only weeds in drifts of stillness, only
stalks and gliding sky.

Come, black anchor, let us not be harmed.
The deer leafing in the dark.
The old man at the table, unable to remember.
The children whose hunger is just hunger,
and never desire.
---Joanna Klink


"She loved to read and did so quite uncritically, taking each book as a prescription of sorts, an argument for a certain kind of life."
---Jennifer Egan, The Invisible Circus


Where does the world cease to be itself
and become our longing for it?
---Christopher Howell, "Longing"


"… self-knowledge isn’t the goal I seek. Strength, strength is what I want. Strength not to endure, I have that and it has made me weak— but strength to act—"
---Susan Sontag


"To me, a song is a validation of lyric poetry’s primal nature. Song exists inside time to express individual feeling, but it also has the capacity to transcend time. Song emanates from individuals and rises up out of time. Lyric poetry speaks from the very middle of this mystery. Song and lyric poetry have a lot to do with my thinking about the Book.

"The Book I am imagining is a gigantic anthology filled with every poem and song ever written. All poems and songs feed into it. The Book is an ultimate jukebox, an iPod as big as the moon from which each person can download that playlist that will help them live. We go to it not for entertainment (as the jukebox or iPod metaphor might imply) but to find the words we need to sustain us. The Book is a huge, accessible repository of testimony about the mysteries and catastrophes and wonders that we experience. We’re there to sustain the Book, too, with what we sing, write, and compose. When you write a poem, it’s here in time, functioning in your own individual life, and maybe the lives of the people around you. But your poem also goes into the Book, where it has its own life, the span of which may be much longer and much different than you’ve imagined."
---Gregory Orr


"Full Moon"
Good God!
What did I dream last night?
I dreamt I was the moon.
I woke and found myself still asleep.

It was like this: my face misted up from inside
And I came and went at will through a little peephole.
I had no voice, no mouth, nothing to express my trouble,
except my shadows leaning downhill, not quite parallel.

Something needs to be said to describe my moonlight.
Almost frost but softer, almost ash but wholer.
Made almost of water, which has strictly speaking
No feature, but a kind of counter-light, call it insight.

Like in woods, when they jostle their hooded shapes,
Their heads congealed together, having murdered each other,
There are moon-beings, sound-beings, such as deer and half-deer
Passing through there, whose eyes can pierce through things.

I was like that: visible invisible visible invisible.
There’s no material as variable as moonlight.
I was climbing, clinging to the underneath of my bones, thinking:
Good God! Who have I been last night?
---Alice Oswald


"The Future Is an Animal"
In every kind of dream I am a black wolf
careening through a web. I am the spider
who eats the wolf and inhabits the wolf’s body.
In another dream I marry the wolf and then
am very lonely. I seek my name and they name me
Lucky Dragon. I would love to tell you that all
of this has a certain ending but the most frightening
stories are the ones with no ending at all.
The path goes on and on. The road keeps forking,
splitting like an endless atom, splitting
like a lip, and the globe is on fire. As many
times as the book is read, the pages continue
to grow, multiply. They said, In the beginning,
and that was the moral of the original and most
important story. The story of man. One story.
I laid my head down and my head was heavy.
Hair sprouted through the skin, hair black
and bending toward night grass. I was becoming
the wolf again, my own teeth breaking
into my mouth for the first time, a kind of beauty
to be swallowed in interior bite and fever.
My mind a miraculous ember until I am the beast.
I run from the story that is faster than me,
the words shatter and pant to outchase me.
The story catches my heels when I turn
to love its hungry face, when I am willing
to be eaten to understand my fate.
---Tina Chang


"House Guest"
The sad seamstress
who stays with us this month
is small and thin and bitter.
No one can cheer her up.
Give her a dress, a drink,
roast chicken, or fried fish—
it’s all the same to her.

She sits and watches TV.
No, she watches zigzags.
“Can you adjust the TV?”
“No,” she says. No hope.
she watches on and on,
without hope, without air.

Her own clothes give us pause,
but she’s not a poor orphan.
She has a father, a mother,
and all that, and she’s earning
quite well, and we’re stuffing
her with fattening foods.

We invite her to use the binoculars.
We say, “Come see the jets!”
We say, “Come see the baby!”
Or the knife grinder who cleverly
plays the National Anthem
on his wheel so shrilly.
Nothing helps.

She speaks: “I need a little
money to buy buttons.”
She seems to think it’s useless
to ask. Heavens, buy buttons,
if they’ll do any good,
the biggest in the world—
by the dozen, by the gross!
Buy yourself an ice cream,
a comic book, a car!

Her face is closed as a nut,
closed as a careful snail
or a thousand year old seed.
Does she dream of marriage?
Of getting rich? Her sewing
is decidedly mediocre.

Please! Take our money! Smile!
What on earth have we done?
What has everyone done
and when did it all begin?
Then one day she confides
that she wanted to be a nun
and her family opposed her.

Perhaps we should let her go,
or deliver her straight off
to the nearest convent - and wasn’t
her month up last week, anyway?

Can it be that we nourish
one of the Fates in our bosoms?
Clotho, sewing our lives
with a bony little foot
on a borrowed sewing machine,
and our fates will be like hers,
and our hems crooked forever?
---Elizabeth Bishop


"Everyone’s getting older. When I crossed that line in my mind where I knew I was with the person that I wanted to marry, it was a very heavy thing, because you’re inviting death into your life. You know that that’s hopefully after many, many, many, many years, but the idea of death stops being abstract, because there is someone you can’t bear to lose. when it registers as true, it’s like a little shade of grief that comes in when love is its most real version. Then it contains death inside of it, and then that death contains love inside of it."
---Joanna Newsom


"my dream about being white"
hey music and
me
only white,
hair a flutter of
fall leaves
circling my perfect
line of a nose,
no lips,
no behind, hey
white me
and i’m wearing
white history
but there’s no future
in those clothes
so i take them off and
wake up
dancing.
---Lucille Clifton


"Cutting away what I consider to be the engine of the essay—doubt and the unknown, let’s say—leaves us with articles and theses, facts and information, our side and their side, dreary optimism and even drearier pessimism, but nowhere to turn in a moment of true need."
---Charles D’Ambrosio, "Loitering"


"Professor Johnston often said that if you didn’t know history, you didn’t know anything. You were a leaf that didn’t know it was part of a tree."
---Michael Crichton, Timeline


"One actually thinks in poetry […] It’s a form of thought, not a form of expression, because a form of expression means you have something separate from what’s being expressed."
---Margaret Atwood


"I like Simone Weil’s idea that writing is actually the translation of a text we already carry within us. That notion makes a heavy task lighter. In fact, though, writing is the backbreaking work of hacking a footpath, as in a coal mine; in total darkness, beneath the earth.

"In poetry there are moments of illumination. A streak of light falls in the dark corridor, then the darkness slams shut overhead once more.

"In prose the darknesses are even thicker, the black clods even harder."
---Anna Kamieńska


"Yet how strange a thing is the beauty of music! The brief beauty that the player brings into being transforms a given period of time into pure continuance; it is certain never to be repeated; like the existence of dayflies and other such short-lived creatures, beauty is a perfect abstraction and creation of life itself. Nothing is so similar to life as music."
---Yukio Mishima, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, trans. unknown


"The Darren language has a word for the attraction one feels to danger: esui. It is esui that makes warriors charge into hopeless battles and die laughing. Esui is also what draws women to lovers who are bad for them—men who would make poor fathers, women of the enemy. The Senmite word that comes closest is ‘lust,’ if one includes ‘bloodlust’ and 'lust for life,’ though these do not adequately capture the layered nature of esui. It is glory, it is folly. It is everything not sensible, not rational, not safe at all—but without ensui, there is no point in living."
---N.K. Jemisin, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms


"… memory does not so much depend on the completeness of things left behind as on their thoroughly crafted and rough outlines, on their worn surfaces, on their very scars and absences, on mould, rusts, and fragmentations. In other words, ruined things remind us, as archaeologists and students of things, to acknowledge that they do not remember–or at least only reluctantly so–the linear narratives we relentlessly have made them bear witness to. Indeed, such appropriation of things and fragments from the past as ‘historical witness’ may also be seen as yet another aspect of their domestication; a conduct where things are made to serve as loyal contributors to a continuous past which in reality they are ‘blasted’ out of and thus, exist in opposition to."
---Dora Petursdottir and Bjornar Olsen, "Archaeology of Ruins"


"Strange Theater"
You are reading a book at a table on the stage
of a small theater. The theater will be closing
in two months. There are books by Freud, Nietzsche,
and Foucault on the table. You are seven, face
beautifully framed by thick glasses, having read
since four with just one candle. There is nothing
on stage except you, the candle, the books.
The curtain falls. You are crushed between the purple velvet.

Act II, Scene I

Open, A girl in a garden.

She is picking azaleas, placing them into a metal can,
swelling. The bees and the dragonflies won’t leave
her. She swats at them with a small shovel.

The background changes and she is ten years older,
in the army with a rifle. The rifle is always the main character.
Two years later, times have changed. She’s performing
in a sequined number, face covered with pancake and blush,
just a few people in the audience as she sings her final number,
a couple of steps and her stockings fall to her ankles.

Act II, Scene II

The spotlight is focused on someone new. A hustler
with a purple fedora, a cigar, a fat gold cane.
He dances, sidesteps the woman. He is the predator
and she should’ve seen it coming but she had
her childhood glasses on. She is tough and wrestles
the hustler. She has him head-locked under her arm,
the props are falling, they are tumbling down
a hole left of stage.

Act III, Scene I

The hustler is gone. All she has left of him
is his plumage. She is hungry and indicates so
by holding her stomach and grimacing.
She wants to go home.

There is a paper boat that can take her back
to New York but she is not sure it can hold her
weight. The paper boat gondolier pushes her
onto the boat. People wave from the other side.
They wanted her to leave all along, her presence
needed off stage, in the minutes elsewhere.

Epilogue

The journey was under the bright lights,
a floor functioning like an emergency
room in a hospital, gurney and urgency.
She exits and exits again, until she’s
on the street, in a parking lot. How those
faces still light up. She walks through the lot,
as if blindly feeling. She knows them now
in her waking life. They inhabit her, shaking her
down in daylight. The moon never did any good
but light the way to those pale faces.
---Tina Chang


"Wild Invention"
This is a story about a girl who ran,
all night she ran after the wolf, aimed
at its hind legs, then stood above it,
and shot it between the eyes, skinned
it until the soul of the animal departed
from this world. Then the meat stopped
pulsing, then it shined with all its delicate
possibilities.

This is the story of the girl who stalked
the forest with nothing but a shotgun
and compass, due North, hollowed
the animal under moonlight, desire
dripping like blood into a tin pan,
the stars leaking a tonic into her cup.
Her appetite was the forest she traveled.
Though lost, she dragged the wolf
with her like a past surrendering
to a new life. The sun emerging
over the mountain like a heart flayed
open with a light in the middle.

*

The animal must be shot. You must
be hungry enough to skin it without
flinching, must be willing to cook it,
still trembling over the watchful eye
of the fire. You must also be willing
to track yourself down, see the will
of the god who made all beasts fear
for their lives. The rabbit quivers in its
white coat, raises its ears and takes off,
the boar nothing but an exotic pest
roaming the hillsides. You eat, grateful
for the skin that keeps this life in tact,
under the roof beams of your long life,
under a bridge that is a heaven of deer bones.
You are a more wonderful animal
than you could ever imagine: Great flying
loon, foxes coupling in the dark brush.
---Tina Chang


"I pray. I pray a lot. I’m somebody who has a big inner life, and for most of my life it had a lot of darkness in it, and for me prayer is a way of standing in a light. It’s no more complicated than that. So I pray both for people and I do something called the Ignatian Exercises, which are a way of kind of looking at the end of every day at that day and examining places where you saw God, places where God was present for you. If you do that every day over a long period of time, you start to realize that the things you ‘value,’ the things that are supposed to be important to you are often just not that important. And the places that really are sustaining to you in a spiritual way are very surprising — they’re not where you think they’re going to be."
---Mary Karr


"The need to go astray, to be destroyed, is an extremely private, distant, passionate, turbulent truth."
---Georges Bataille, trans. unknown


"Literature does its best to maintain that its concern is with the mind; that the body is a sheet of plain glass through which the soul looks straight and clear, and, save for one or two passions such as desire and greed, is null, and negligible and non-existent. On the contrary, the very opposite is true. All day, all night, the body intervenes; blunts or sharpens, colours or discolours, turns to wax in the warmth of June, hardens to tallow in the murk of February. The creature within can only gaze through the pane - smudged or rosy; it cannot separate off from the body like the sheath of a knife or the pod of a pea for a single instant; it must go through the whole unending process of changes, heat and cold, comfort and discomfort, hunger and satisfaction, health and illness, until there comes the inevitable catastrophe; the body smashes itself to smithereens, and the soul (it is said) escapes. But of this daily drama of the body there is no record."
---Virginia Woolf, "On Being Ill"


"Joy in the Woods"
There is joy in the woods just now,
      The leaves are whispers of song,
And the birds make mirth on the bough
      And music the whole day long,
And God! to dwell in the town
      In these springlike summer days,
On my brow an unfading frown
      And hate in my heart always—

A machine out of gear, aye, tired,
Yet forced to go on—for I’m hired.

Just forced to go on through fear,
      For every day I must eat
And find ugly clothes to wear,
      And bad shoes to hurt my feet
And a shelter for work-drugged sleep!
      A mere drudge! but what can one do?
A man that’s a man cannot weep!
      Suicide? A quitter? Oh, no!

But a slave should never grow tired,
Whom the masters have kindly hired.

But oh! for the woods, the flowers
      Of natural, sweet perfume,
The heartening, summer showers
      And the smiling shrubs in bloom,
Dust-free, dew-tinted at morn,
      The fresh and life-giving air,
The billowing waves of corn
      And the birds’ notes rich and clear:—

For a man-machine toil-tired
May crave beauty too—though he’s hired.

---Claude McKay


"I, too, overflow; my desires have invented new desires, my body knows unheard-of songs. Time and again I, too, have felt so full of luminous torrents that I could burst."
---Hélène Cixous, The Laugh of the Medusa, trans. unknown


"Still Life"
Down by the pond, addicts sleep
on rocky grass half in water, half out,
and there the moon lights them
out of tawny silhouettes into the rarest
of amphibious flowers I once heard called striders,
between, but needing, two worlds.
Of what can you accuse them now,
                                                    beauty?

---Katie Ford


"How does one hate a country, or love one?…I lack the trick of it. I know people, I know towns, farms, hills and rivers and rocks, I know how the sun at sunset in autumn falls on the side of a certain plowland in the hills; but what is the sense of giving a boundary to all that, of giving it a name and ceasing to love where the name ceases to apply?"
---Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness


"I love borders. August is the border between summer and autumn; it is the most beautiful month I know. Twilight is the border between day and night, and the shore is the border between sea and land. The border is longing; when both have fallen in love but still haven’t said anything. The border is to be on the way. It is the way that is the most important thing."
---Tove Jansson, trans. unknown


"What is love of one’s country; is it hate of one’s uncountry? Then it’s not a good thing. Is it simply self-love? That’s a good thing, but one mustn’t make a virtue of it, or a profession."
---Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness


"No matter how voraciously or widely we read, it can still be hard to articulate the exquisite sensation of finding a book that grabs us; whose narrative causes us to lose all sense of time—of our bodies, even—and stay up reading longer than the morning’s commitments make sensible. It’s a bit like being in love, in that sense: even when we know we ought to be doing something else, that the story will still be waiting for us if we step away for an hour or two, it doesn’t seem to matter—we pine, distracted and eager, as in the earliest, deepest stages of infatuation, conducting a whirlwind romance that starts with a word and ends with the rosy afterglow of the last page turned. This is the deepest magic of stories, and its most important: the conjuration of an empathy so pure, it all but tumbles us out of our skins and into someone else’s."
---Foz Meadows


"Because We Love Bare Hills and Stunted Trees"
Because we love bare hills and stunted trees
we head north when we can,
past taiga, tundra, rocky shoreline, ice.

Where does it come from, this sparse taste
of ours? How long
did we roam this hardscape, learning by heart
all that we used to know:
turn skin fur side in,
partner with wolves, eat fat, hate waste,
carve spirit, respect the snow,
build and guard flame?

Everything once had a soul,
even this clam, this pebble.
Each had a secret name.
Everything listened.
Everything was real,
but didn’t always love you.
You needed to take care.

We long to go back there,
or so we like to feel
when it’s not too cold.
We long to pay that much attention.
But we’ve lost the knack;
also there’s other music.
All we hear in the wind’s plainsong
is the wind.
---Margaret Atwood


"One aspect of literature is that it calls us to empathize. Another is that it requires great amounts of time alone, in solitude, thinking one’s own thoughts. If she is not careful, the writer might focus on the second and forget the first. The writing practice, especially when we are apprenticing, especially when we are young, can draw us into the infinite mirror of our self-reflective consciousness. Beware, is all I have to say. Don’t be that guy. Get a job washing dishes. Or work admissions at the local A.I.D.S. clinic. The living, wrought world can not be found in your head."
---Rebecca Gayle Howell


"I had been in recent correspondence with Wendell Berry, in whom I had confided how anxiety-filled I was about the suffering I thought some of us, mostly the poor, would experience in this coming climate change, how I was beginning to think nothing could be done to relieve what was to come. And he told me that I must not give into despair. That hoping was what could be done, actually. And that hope would bring work; work, hope. That I should find, and I’m paraphrasing here, a little job to do—a poem to write, a speech to give.

"Not immediately, but soon thereafter, the first How To poems came, and I followed them. I followed the words, the sentences and lines, like bread crumbs back to shelter. I understood, eventually, I was in the middle of a book, the same way one might understand she’s woken in the middle of a field. One of my teachers, Jean Valentine, told me if I listened for what was true, the poems would write themselves. I tried to do that when I was writing Render. I still do."
---Rebecca Gayle Howell


"For the old-time people, time was not a series of ticks of a clock, one following the other. For the old-time people time was round–like a tortilla; time had specified moments and specific locations so that the beloved ancestors who had passed on were not annihilated by death, but only relocated….All times go on existing side by side for all eternity. No moment is lost or destroyed. There are no future times or past times; there are always all the times, which differ slightly, as the locations on the tortilla differ slightly."
---Leslie Marmon Silko, "Notes on Almanac of the Dead"


"The ordinary response to atrocities is to banish them from consciousness. Certain violations of the social compact are too terrible to utter aloud: this is the meaning of the word unspeakable.
Atrocities, however, refuse to be buried. Equally as powerful as the desire to deny atrocities is the conviction that denial does not work. Folk wisdom is filled with ghosts who refuse to rest in their graves until their stories are told. Murder will out. Remembering and telling the truth about terrible events are prerequisites both for the restoration of the social order and for the healing of individual victims."
---Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery


"From this disappearing middle I strolled. I had my curiosity mainly and my stubbornness. They passed as a passion. Everything, happy and unhappy, has resulted from these two traits."
---Lisa Robertson, "Essay on Origins"


"On a Passenger Ferry"
The deck is big, and crowded. In one corner,
an old woman, sick, on chemo, not in pain, is
writing in an elementary-school notebook.
Nobody else saw her, but I saw her.
I had seen her before. Her round, kind face,
smiling and still as a photograph
outside a window—
---Jean Valentine


"This is how I figure it: the ladder is neither immobile nor empty. It is animated. It incorporates the movement it arouses and inscribes. My ladder is frequented. I say my because of my love for it: it’s climbed by those authors I feel a mysterious affinity for; affinities, choices, are always secret."
---Hélène Cixous, qtd. by Marci Vogel in "Line of Sight: Lineage as Vision"


"I have a little talk I give sometimes about windows and mirrors, that children—and humans, everybody—all need both windows and mirrors in their lives: mirrors through which you can see yourself and windows through which you can see the world."
---Lucille Clifton, qtd. by Marci Vogel in "Line of Sight: Lineage as Vision"
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"The Monument"
Now can you see the monument? It is of wood
built somewhat like a box. No. Built
like several boxes in descending sizes
one above the other.
Each is turned half-way round so that
its corners point toward the sides
of the one below and the angles alternate.
Then on the topmost cube is set
a sort of fleur-de-lys of weathered wood,
long petals of board, pierced with odd holes,
four-sided, stiff, ecclesiastical.
From it four thin, warped poles spring out,
(slanted like fishing-poles or flag-poles)
and from them jig-saw work hangs down,
four lines of vaguely whittled ornament
over the edges of the boxes
to the ground.
The monument is one-third set against
a sea; two-thirds against a sky.
The view is geared
(that is, the view's perspective)
so low there is no "far away,"
and we are far away within the view.
A sea of narrow, horizontal boards
lies out behind our lonely monument,
its long grains alternating right and left
like floor-boards--spotted, swarming-still,
and motionless. A sky runs parallel,
and it is palings, coarser than the sea's:
splintery sunlight and long-fibred clouds.
"Why does the strange sea make no sound?
Is it because we're far away?
Where are we? Are we in Asia Minor,
or in Mongolia?"
An ancient promontory,
an ancient principality whose artist-prince
might have wanted to build a monument
to mark a tomb or boundary, or make
a melancholy or romantic scene of it...
"But that queer sea looks made of wood,
half-shining, like a driftwood, sea.
And the sky looks wooden, grained with cloud.
It's like a stage-set; it is all so flat!
Those clouds are full of glistening splinters!
What is that?"
It is the monument.
"It's piled-up boxes,
outlined with shoddy fret-work, half-fallen off,
cracked and unpainted. It looks old."
--The strong sunlight, the wind from the sea,
all the conditions of its existence,
may have flaked off the paint, if ever it was painted,
and made it homelier than it was.
"Why did you bring me here to see it?
A temple of crates in cramped and crated scenery,
what can it prove?
I am tired of breathing this eroded air,
this dryness in which the monument is cracking."

It is an artifact
of wood. Wood holds together better
than sea or cloud or and could by itself,
much better than real sea or sand or cloud.
It chose that way to grow and not to move.
The monument's an object, yet those decorations,
carelessly nailed, looking like nothing at all,
give it away as having life, and wishing;
wanting to be a monument, to cherish something.
The crudest scroll-work says "commemorate,"
while once each day the light goes around it
like a prowling animal,
or the rain falls on it, or the wind blows into it.
It may be solid, may be hollow.
The bones of the artist-prince may be inside
or far away on even drier soil.
But roughly but adequately it can shelter
what is within (which after all
cannot have been intended to be seen).
It is the beginning of a painting,
a piece of sculpture, or poem, or monument,
and all of wood. Watch it closely.
--Elizabeth Bishop


"Your whole life you are really writing one book, which is an attempt to grasp the consciousness of your time and place--a single book written from different stages of your ability."
--Nadine Gordimer


"Naming is a difficult and time-consuming process; it concerns essences, and it means power. But on the wild nights who can call you home? Only the one who knows your name."
--Jeanette Winterson, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit


"I'm a witch woman; high on tobacco and holy water. I'm a woman delighted with her disasters. They give me something to do. A profession of sorts. I have the magic of words."
--Sandra Cisneros


"To give a cause to damage is to contain a mess, to mop up a spillage. The figure of the feminist killjoy is rather like that of the broken jug: she too flies off the handle, an expression used to indicate the suddenness of anger.

"Maybe she snaps. She is snappy.

"Think of when a twig snaps. We might hear that snap as an origin of a movement, as the beginning of violence, because we don't notice the pressure on the twig. A feminist understanding of power attends to what I called in The Cultural Politics of Emotion (2004), 'a history of reaction,' a history that tends to be erased, of bodies that are pressed, contorted, reduced, by what they come up against.

"A snap is not a starting point.

"She snaps; it shatters.

"We can be shattered by what we come up against; we can shatter into a million pieces when we hurl ourselves against those walls, those hardenings of history."
--Sara Ahmed, "Fragility"
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Travel"
The railroad track is miles away,
And the day is loud with voices speaking,
Yet there isn't a train goes by all day
But I hear its whistle shrieking.

All night there isn't a train goes by,
Though the night is still for sleep and dreaming,
But I see its cinders red on the sky,
And hear its engine steaming.

My heart is warm with friends I make,
And better friends I'll not be knowing;
Yet there isn't a train I wouldn't take,
No matter where it's going.
--Edna St. Vincent Millay


"Shakur"
I'm coming at you live from the half way out
Where the winter morning stretches out

Like a white sheet over lovers the infinite
Has fetched. The still & bone-blue white

Couple found parked, frozen on the highway,
I'm thinking of them & the drug that made

Them think they were warm enough to chill
Because I know staying alive requires pills

And a wicked streak. I'd need a head cocooned
In bass, I'd need to be locked in a womb

To hear your dopey two note melody, your song
Pimped by wreckage, your light longing

For lightness. I'd have to be as quiet
As the youths whose youth made them stupid

And lovely. They are God's niggas now like you.
I'm thinking of the stall of intoxicated cool

That stalled you before it stalled them. I know
Men who want to die this way, smoke like snow

Tattooing their bodies with narcotic holiness,
The glaze of status, the faux lacquer of bliss.

I'm coming at you live frostbitten & thinking
Language is for losers. Who cannot think

Our elegies are endless endlessly & the words
We put to them too often unheard & hurried?

I'm coming at you live from the intangible.
Do you want to ride, or die crowded into a small

Space spitting Come with me? One day my song
Will be called "Language Is for Lovers." One

Day desire will not be a form of wickedness.
And when you offer your drug, O Ghost, I'll resist.
--Terrance Hayes


"The Black Album"
Black like my sister's black eye an imaginary father
gave her, so now she is forever beaten
by the absence of men, her pupil,
black like a record is black.
Black like my coffee mug but not my coffee
for I drink it with cream. For I walk out
onto the beach and bless the black bottoms
of the boats, for the plankton glow
inside the black sea like white blood cells.
For music and poverty are the great regulators of the world
when white kids in Kansas are bumping Tupac
from the windows of Ford pickups, working
in the canneries, dreaming of LA; raving and mad
between the turntables. The more I listen to Jay-Z
the more I'm reminded of Led Zeppelin,
The Stones, how they begin to live
the same life. How they need each other like organs
from a greater body. And then there are the black
keys Mr. Mozart bent into sound
so the people in the castle would have something
to move them, when outside the sky was black
and so was the moor, someone walking
across it, lost in his own suffering,
but a part of everything, the bog, the moon, the man
on the moon with his black dinner jacket, his teeth
bright black and earth below with its factories
pumping like a dog's heart pumps after its owner
drives up, opens the door, calls out its name.
Black like the buttons on your grandfather's coat
and black like the suits we wear
when our grandfathers die. I'm telling you
it's hard to tell the rivers apart from the hills, the super-malls
from the ma and pa's when I feel them both
so acutely. Black like the licorice used to be
and black like the lace bra Susan wore
beneath a baby-blue t-shirt
and how I would take her to the mat like a wrestler
and how she would keep her black boots on
so that now when I think of black boots I am no longer thinking
of Neo Nazis or soldiers but bedrooms and bedposts.
She had a black pair of handcuffs with black feathers
so that it looked like a black bird of submission.
For she was good when bound up
by black leather belts, for what we did
we did in the black voice box of evening
and in the morning when the light came in
to touch her where she slept, drooling on the pillow.
David wrote, "I don't know,
now, if any of us get out of this."
And I'm not sure any of us would want to,
the world coming together, crashing
around us, while we drive through the forests of Vermont,
listening to the Black Album, blasting it,
and the black bear that leaps from the road onto the tree
like a heavy black star, so that later
I would think of blackberries growing off
the freeway, the way you feel when you're moving
along like a train running, furious, on all this black coal.
--Matthew Dickman


IV
What's that shining in the leaves,
the shadowy leaves,
like tears when somebody grieves,
shining, shining in the leaves?

Is it dew or is it tears,
dew or tears,
hanging there for years and years
like a heavy dew of tears?

Then that dew begins to fall,
roll down and fall.
Maybe it's not tears at all.
See it, see it roll and fall.

Hear it falling on the ground,
hear, all around.
That is not a tearful sound,
beating, beating on the ground.

See it lying there like seeds,
like black seeds.
See it taking root like weeds,
faster, faster than the weeds,

all the shining seeds take root,
conspiring root,
and what curious flower or fruit
will grow from that conspiring root?

Fruit or flower? It is a face.
Yes, a face.
In that dark and dreary place
each seed grows into a face.

Like an army in a dream
the faces seem,
darker, darker, like a dream.
They're too real to be a dream.
--Elizabeth Bishop, from "Songs for a Colored Singer"


"Questions of Travel"
There are too many waterfalls here; the crowded streams
hurry too rapidly down to the sea,
and the pressure of so many clouds on the mountaintops
makes them spill over the sides in soft slow-motion,
turning to waterfalls under our very eyes.
--For if those streaks, those mile-long, shiny, tearstains,
aren't waterfalls yet,
in a quick age or so, as ages go here,
they probably will be.
But if the streams and clouds keep travelling, travelling,
the mountains look like the hulls of capsized ships,
slime-hung and barnacled.

Think of the long trip home.
Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?
Where should we be today?
Is it right to be watching strangers in a play
in this strangest of theatres?
What childishness is it that while there's a breath of life
in our bodies, we are determined to rush
to see the sun the other way around?
The tiniest green hummingbird in the world?
To stare at some inexplicable old stonework,
inexplicable and impenetrable,
at any view,
instantly seen and always, always delightful?
Oh, must we dream our dreams
and have them, too?
And have we room
for one more folded sunset, still quite warm?

But surely it would have been a pity
not to have seen the trees along this road,
really exaggerated in their beauty,
not to have seen them gesturing
like noble pantomimists, robed in pink.
--Not to have had to stop for gas and heard
the sad, two-noted, wooden tune
of disparate wooden clogs
carelessly clacking over
a grease-stained filling-station floor.
(In another country the clogs would all be tested.
Each pair there would have identical pitch.)
--A pity not to have heard
the other, less primitive music of the fat brown bird
who sings above the broken gasoline pump
in a bamboo church of Jesuit baroque:
three towers, five silver crosses.
--Yes, a pity not to have pondered,
blurr'dly and inconclusively,
on what connection can exist for centuries
between the crudest wooden footwear
and, careful and finicky,
the whittled fantasies of wooden cages.
--Never to have studied history in
the weak calligraphy of songbirds' cages.
--And never to have had to listen to rain
so much like politicians' speeches:
two hours of unrelenting oratory
and then a sudden golden silence
in which the traveller takes a notebook, writes:

"Is it lack of imagination that makes us come
to imagined places, not just stay at home?
Or could Pascal have been not entirely right
about just sitting quietly in one's room?

Continent, city, country, society:
the choice is never wide and never free.
And here, or there...No. Should we have stayed at home,
wherever that may be?

--Elizabeth Bishop
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud"
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Outdid the sparkling waves in glee;
A poet could not but be gay,
In such jocund company;
I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
--William Wordsworth


"For our continued influxes of feeling are modified and directed by our thoughts, which are indeed the representatives of all our past feelings [...]"
--William Wordsworth, preface to Lyrical Ballads


"In the Waiting Room"
In Worcester, Massachusetts,
I went with Aunt Consuelo
to keep her dentist's appointment
and sat and waited for her
in the dentist's waiting room.
It was winter. It got dark
early. The waiting room
was full of grown-up people,
arctics and overcoats,
lamps and magazines.
My aunt was inside
what seemed like a long time
and while I waited I read
the National Geographic
(I could read) and carefully
studied the photographs:
the inside of a volcano,
black, and full of ashes;
then it was spilling over
in rivulets of fire.
Osa and Martin Johnson
dressed in riding breeches,
laced boots, and pith helmets.
A dead man slung on a pole
--"Long Pig," the caption said.
Babies with pointed heads
wound round and round with wire
like the necks of light bulbs.
Their breasts were horrifying.
I read it right straight through.
I was too shy to stop.
And then I looked at the cover:
the yellow margins, the date,

Suddenly, from inside,
came an oh! of pain
--Aunt Consuelo's voice--
not very loud or long.
I wasn't at all surprised;
even then I knew she was
a foolish, timid woman.
I might have been embarrassed,
but wasn't. What took me
completely by surprise
was that it was me:
my voice, in my mouth.
Without thinking at all
I was my foolish aunt,
I--we--were falling, falling,
our eyes glued to the cover
of the National Geographic,
February, 1918.

I said to myself: three days
and you'll be seven years old.
I was saying it to stop
the sensation of falling off
the round, turning world
into cold, blue-black space.
But I felt: you are an I,
you are an Elizabeth,
you are one of them.
Why should you be one, too?
I scarcely dared to look
to see what it was I was.
I gave a sidelong glance
--I couldn't look any higher--
at shadowy gray knees,
trousers and skirts and boots
and different pairs of hands
lying under the lamps.
I knew that nothing stranger
had ever happened, that nothing
stranger could ever happen.
Why should I be my aunt,
or me, or anyone?
What similarities--
boots, hands, the family voice
I felt in my throat, or even
the National Geographic
and those awful hanging breasts--
held us all together
or made us all just one?
How--I didn't know any
word for it--how "unlikely"...
How had I come to be here,
like them, and overhear
a cry of pain that could have
got loud and worse but hadn't?

The waiting room was bright
and too hot. It was sliding
beneath a big black wave,
another, and another.

Then I was back in it.
The War was on. Outside,
in Worcester, Massachusetts,
were night and slush and cold,
and it was still the fifth
of February, 1918.
--Elizabeth Bishop


"Wet Casements"
When Eduard Raban, coming along the passage, walked into the open doorway, he saw that it was raining. It was not raining much.
--Kafka, Wedding Preparations in the Country

The concept is interesting: to see, as though reflected
In streaming windowpanes, the look of others through
Their own eyes. A digest of their correct impressions of
Their self-analytical attitudes overlaid by your
Ghostly transparent face. You in falbalas
Of some distant but not too distant era, the cosmetics,
The shoes perfectly pointed, drifting (how long you
Have been drifting; how long I have too for that matter)
Like a bottle-imp towards a surface which can never be approached,
Never pierced through into the timeless energy of a present
Which would have its own opinions on these matters,
Are an epistemological snapshot of the processes
That first mentioned your name at some crowded cocktail
Party long ago, and someone (not the person addressed)
Overheard it and carried that name around in his wallet
For years as the wallet crumbled and bills slid in
And out of it. I want that information very much today,

Can't have it, and this makes me angry.
I shall use my anger to build a bridge like that
Of Avignon, on which people may dance for the feeling
Of dancing on a bridge. I shall at last see my complete face
Reflected not in the water but in the worn stone floor of my bridge.

I shall keep to myself.
I shall not repeat others' comments about me.
--John Ashbery


"Garden Abstract"
The apple on its bough is her desire--
Shining suspensions, mimic of the sun.
The bough has caught her breath up, and her voice,
Dumbly articulate in the slant and rise
Of branch on branch above her, blurs her eyes.
She is prisoner of the tree and its green fingers.

And so she comes to dream herself the tree,
The wind possessing her, weaving her young veins,
Holding her to the sky and its quick blue,
Drowning the fever of her hands in sunlight.
She has no memory, nor fear, nor hope
Beyond the grass and shadows at her feet.
--Hart Crane


"Pastorale"
No more violets,
And the year
Broken into smoky panels.
What woods remember now
Her calls, her enthusiasms.

That ritual of sap and leaves
The sun drew out,
Ends in this latter muffled
Bronze and brass. The wind
Takes rein.

If, dusty, I bear
An image beyond this
Already fallen harvest--
I can only query, "Fool--
Have you remembered too long;

Or was there too little said
For ease or resolution--
Summer scarcely begun
And violets,
A few picked, the rest dead?"
--Hart Crane


"Repose of Rivers"
The willows carried a slow sound,
A sarabande the wind mowed on the mead.
I could never remember
That seething, steady leveling of the marshes
Till age had brought me to the sea.

Flags, weeds. And remembrance of steep alcoves
Where cypresses shared the noon's
Tyranny; they drew me into hades almost.
And mammoth turtles climbing sulphur dreams
Yielded, while sun-silt rippled them
Asunder...

How much I would have bartered! the black gorge
And all the singular nestings in the hills
Where beavers learn stitch and tooth.
The pond I entered once and quickly fled--
I remember now its singing willow rim.

And finally, in that memory all things nurse;
After the city that I finally passed
With scalding unguents spread and smoking darts
The monsoon cut across the delta
At gulf gates...There, beyond the dykes

I heard wind flaking sapphire, like this summer,
And willows could not hold more steady sound.
--Hart Crane


"At Melville's Tomb"
Often beneath the wave, wide from this ledge
The dice of drowned men's bones he saw bequeath
An embassy. Their numbers as he watched,
Beat on the dusty shore and were obscured.

And wrecks passed without sound of bells,
The calyx of death's bounty giving back
A scattered chapter, livid hieroglyph,
The portent wound in corridors of shells.

Then in the circuit calm of one vast coil,
Its lashings charmed and malice reconciled,
Frosted eyes there were that lifted altars;
And silent answers crept across the stars.

Compass, quadrant and sextant contrive
No farther tides...High in the azure steeps
Monody shall not wake the mariner.
This fabulous shadow only the sea keeps.
--Hart Crane
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Like everything else this strange morning, the words became symbols, wrote themselves all over the grey-green walls. If only she could put them together, she felt, write them out in some sentence, then she would have got at the truth of things. The extraordinary unreality was frightening; but it was also exciting. Going to the lighthouse. Perished. Alone. The grey-green light on the wall opposite. The empty places. Such were some of the parts, but how bring them together?"
--Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse


"Poets Hitchhiking on the Highway"
Of course I tried to tell him
but he cranked his head
without an excuse.
I told him the sky chases
the sun
And he smiled and said:
"What's the use."
I was feeling like a demon
again
So I said: "But the ocean chases
the fish."
This time he laughed
and said: "Suppose the
strawberry were
pushed into a mountain."
After that I knew the
war was on--
So we fought:
He said: "The apple-cart like a
broomstick-angel
snaps & splinters
old dutch shoes."
I said: "Lightning will strike the old oak
and free the fumes!"
He said: "Mad street with no name."
I said: "Bald killer! Bald killer! Bald killer!"
He said, getting real mad, "Young Poets
"Firestoves! Gas! Couch!"
I said, only smiling,
"I know God would turn back his head
If I sat quietly and thought."
We ended by melting away,
hating the air!
--Gregory Corso


"The Nutritionist"
The nutritionist said I should eat root vegetables.
Said if I could get down thirteen turnips a day
I would be grounded, rooted.
Said my head would not keep flying away
to where the darkness lives.

The psychic told me my heart carries too much weight.
Said for twenty dollars she'd tell me what to do.
I handed her the twenty. She said, "Stop worrying, darling.
You will find a good man soon."

The first psycho therapist told me to spend
three hours each day sitting in a dark closet
with my eyes closed and ears plugged.
I tried it once but couldn't stop thinking
about how gay it was to be sitting in the closet.

The yogi told me to stretch everything but the truth.
Said to focus on the out breath. Said everyone finds happiness
when they care more about what they give
than what they get.

The pharmacist said, "Lexapro, Lamicatl, Lithium, Xanax."

The doctor said an anti-psychotic might help me
forget what the trauma said.

The trauma said, "Don't write this poem.
Nobody wants to hear you cry
about the grief inside your bones."

But my bones said, "Tyler Clementi dove
into the Hudson River convinced
he was entirely alone."

My bones said, "Write the poem."

The lamplight. Considering the river bed.
To the chandelier of your fate hanging by a thread.
To everyday you could not get out of bed.
To the bulls eye of your wrist
To anyone who has ever wanted to die.

I have been told, sometimes, the most healing thing to do--
Is remind ourselves over and over and over:
"Other people feel this too."

The tomorrow that is coming, gone
And it has not gotten better
When you are half finished writing that letter
to your mother that says "I swear to God I tried
But when I thought I hit bottom, it started hitting back"
There is no bruise like the bruise of loneliness kicks into the spine

So let me tell you I know there are days
it looks like the whole world is dancing in the streets
when you break down like the doors of the looted buildings

You are not alone
and wondering who will be convicted of the crime
of insisting you keep loading your grief into the chamber of your shame

You are not weak just because your heart feels so heavy
I have never met a heavy heart
that wasn't a phone booth with a red cape inside
Some people will never understand
the kind of superpower it takes for some people to just walk outside
Some days I know my smile looks like the gutter of a falling house

But my hands are always holding tight to the ripchord of believing
A life can be rich like the soil
Can make food of decay
Can turn wound into highway
Pick me up in a truck with that bumper sticker that says
"It is no measure of good health to be well adjusted to a sick society."

I have never trusted anyone
with the pulled back bow of my spine
the way I trusted ones who come undone at the throat
Screaming for their pulses to find the fight to pound

Four nights before Tyler Clementi jumped from the George Washington Bridge
I was sitting in a hotel room in my own town
Calculating exactly what I had to swallow
to keep a bottle of sleeping pills down

What I know about living is the pain is never just ours
Every time I hurt I know the wound is an echo
So I keep a listening to the moment the grief becomes a window
When I can see what I couldn't see before,
through the glass of my most battered dream

I watched a dandelion lose its mind in the wind
and when it did, it scattered a thousand seeds.

So the next time I tell you how easily I come out of my skin,
don't try to put me back in,
just say "Here we are together at the window aching for it to all get better
but knowing as bad as it hurts our hearts, made of only just skin,
knowing there is a chance the worst day might still be coming--
let me say right now for the record, I'm still gonna be here
asking this world to dance, even if it keeps stepping on my holy feet
you--you stay here with me, okay?
You stay here with me.
Raising your bright against the bitter dark
Your bright longing
Your brilliant fists of loss"

Friends, if the only thing we have to gain in staying is each other,
my God that's plenty
my God that's enough
my God that is so so much for the light to give

each of us at each other's backs whispering over and over and over

"Live"
"Live"
"Live"

--Andrea Gibson


"All Souls' Night, 1917"
You heap the logs and try to fill
The little room with words and cheer,
But silent feet are on the hill,
Across the window veiled eyes peer.
The hosts of lovers, young in death,
Go seeking down the world to-night,
Remembering faces, warmth and breath--
And they shall seek till it is light.
Then let the white-flaked logs burn low,
Lest those who drift before the storm
See gladness on our hearth and know
There is no flame can make them warm.
--Hortense King Flexner


"House on a Cliff"
Indoors the tang of a tiny oil lamp. Outdoors
The winking signal on the waste of sea.
Indoors the sound of the wind. Outdoors the wind.
Indoors the locked heart and the lost key.

Outdoors the chill, the void, the siren. Indoors
The strong man pained to find his red blood cools,
While the blind clock grows louder, faster. Outdoors
The silent moon, the garrulous tides she rules.

Indoors ancestral curse-cum-blessing. Outdoors
The empty bowl of heaven, the empty deep.
Indoors a purposeful man who talks at cross
Purposes, to himself, in a broken sleep.
--Louis Macneice


"The Changeling"
Toll no bell for me, dear Father dear Mother,
Waste no sighs;
There are my sisters, there is my little brother
Who plays in the place called Paradise,
Your children all, your children for ever;
But I, so wild,
Your disgrace, with the queer brown face, was never,
Never, I know, but half your child!

In the garden at play, all day, last summer,
Far and away I heard
The sweet "tweet-tweet" of a strange new-comer,
The dearest, clearest call of a bird.
It lived down there in the deep green hollow,
My own old home, and the fairies say
The word of a bird is a thing to follow,
So I was away a night and a day.

One evening, too, by the nursery fire,
We snuggled close and sat round so still,
When suddenly as the wind blew higher,
Something scratched on the window-sill,
A pinched brown face peered in--I shivered;
No one listened or seemed to see;
The arms of it waved and the wings of it quivered,
Whoo--I knew it had come for me!
Some are as bad as bad can be!
All night long they danced in the rain,
Round and round in a dripping chain,
Threw their caps at the window-pane,
Tried to make me scream and shout
And fling the bedclothes all about:
I meant to stay in bed that night,
And if only you had left a light
They would never have got me out!

Sometimes I wouldn't speak, you see,
Or answer when you spoke to me,
Because in the long, still dusks of Spring
You can hear the whole world whispering;
The shy green grasses making love,
The feathers grow on the dear grey dove,
The tiny heart of the redstart beat,
The patter of the squirrel's feet,
The pebbles pushing in the silver streams,
The rushes talking in their dreams,
The swish-swish of the bat's black wings,
The wild-wood bluebell's sweet ting-tings,
Humming and hammering at your ear,
Everything there is to hear
In the heart of hidden things.
But not in the midst of the nursery riot,
That's why I wanted to be quiet,
Couldn't do my sums, or sing,
Or settle down to anything.
And when, for that, I was sent upstairs
I did kneel down to say my prayers;
But the King who sits on your high church steeple
Has nothing to do with us fairy people!

'Times I pleased you, dear Father, dear Mother,
Learned all my lessons and liked to play,
And dearly I loved the little pale brother
Whom some other bird must have called away.
Why did they bring me here to make me
Not quite bad and not quite good,
Why, unless They're wicked, do They want, in spite,
to take me
Back to Their wet, wild wood?
Now, every night I shall see the windows shining,
The gold lamp's glow, and the fire's red gleam,
While the best of us are twining twigs and the rest of us
are whining
In the hollow by the stream.
Black and chill are Their nights on the wold;
And They live so long and They feel no pain:
I shall grow up, but never grow old,
I shall always, always be very cold,
I shall never come back again!
--Charlotte Mew


"Cycles Ago"
In memory of your dream one July night

The low crying curlew and peewit, the honey pale orb of the moon,
The dew covered grass in the valley, our mother the sea with her croon
The leaping green leaves in the woodland, the flame of the stars in the skies,
Are tossed in Love's robe for he passes, and mad with Love's feet for he flies.

You came and moved near me a little with pensive remembering grace
The sad rose colours of autumn with weariness mixed in your face,
My world was fallen and over, for your dark soft eyes on it shone;
A thousand years it had waited and now it is gone, it is gone.

'We were as if brother and sister of old in the desert land',
How softly you spake it, how softly 'I give but a friendly hand
They sold us in slavery together before this life had begun
But Love bides nobody’s bidding being older than moon or sun.'

Ah cycles ago did I meet you and mingle my gaze with your gaze,
They mingled a moment and parted and weariness fell on our days,
And we went alone on our journeys and envied the grass covered dead
For Love had gone by us unheeding, a crown of stars on his head.
--W. B. Yeats


"The Cat in the Kitchen"
For Donald Hall

Have you heard about the boy who walked by
The black water? I won't say much more.
Let's wait a few years. It wanted to be entered.
Sometimes a man walks by a pond, and a hand
Reaches out and pulls him in.
There was no
Intention, exactly. The pond was lonely, or needed
Calcium, bones would do. What happened then?
It was a little like the night wind, which is soft,
And moves slowly, sighing like an old woman
In her kitchen late at night, moving pans
About, lighting a fire, making some food for the cat.
--Robert Bly


"Casabianca"
Love's the boy stood on the burning deck
trying to recite "The boy stood on
the burning deck." Love's the son
stood stammering elocution
while the poor ship in flames went down.

Love's the obstinate boy, the ship,
even the swimming sailors, who
would like a schoolroom platform, too,
or an excuse to stay
on deck. And love's the burning boy.
--Elizabeth Bishop


"Tulips"
The tulips make me want to paint,
Something about the way they drop
Their petals on the tabletop
And do not wilt so much as faint,

Something about their burnt-out hearts,
Something about their pallid stems
Wearing decay like diadems,
Parading finishes like starts,

Something about the way they twist
As if to catch the last applause,
And drink the moment through long straws,
And how, tomorrow, they'll be missed.

The way they're somehow getting clearer,
The tulips make me want to see--
The tulips make the other me
(The backwards one who's in the mirror,

The one who can't tell left from right),
Glance now over the wrong shoulder
To watch them get a little older
And give themselves up to the light.
--A. E. Stallings


"Wife's Disaster Manual"
When the forsaken city starts to burn,
after the men and children have fled,
stand still, silent as prey, and slowly turn

back. Behold the curse. Stay and mourn
the collapsing doorways, the unbroken bread
in the forsaken city starting to burn.

Don't flinch. Don't join in.
Resist the righteous scurry and instead
stand still, silent as prey. Slowly turn

your thoughts away from escape: the iron
gates unlatched, the responsibilities shed.
When the forsaken city starts to burn,

surrender to your calling, show concern
for those who remain. Come to a dead
standstill. Silent as prey, slowly turn

into something essential. Learn
the names of the fallen. Refuse to run ahead
when the forsaken city starts to burn.
Stand still and silent. Pray. Return.
--Deborah Paredez


"Flight 1067 to L.A."
Snowy sierra sawteeth
lift to leftward
as I drink white wine staidly
above the Great Valley in the belly
of a silvery pseudocetacean
sailing the airsea to a palmy city.
I am my ancestors' sci-fi.
--Ursula K. Le Guin


"October"
Although a tide turns in the trees
the moon doesn't turn the leaves
though chimneys smoke and blue concedes
to bluer home-time dark.

Though restless leaves submerge the park
in yellow shallows, ankle-deep,
and through each tree the moon shows, halved
or quartered or complete,

the moon's no fruit and has no seed,
and turns no tide of leaves on paths
that still persist but do not lead
where they did before dark.

Although the moonstruck pond stares hard
the moon looks elsewhere. Manholes breathe.
Each mind's a different, distant world
this same moon will no leave.
--Jacob Polley


"History"
for Charles R. Saunders

Against endless, black, forever, dark nothing,
Blanches the blear North Star

Hot-eyed, I look up, aspiring to warm those stars.
But, cold and uncaring, they just grow colder.

To destroy everything,
A nihilist must be optimistic.

If I had any luck at all,
I'd have some rum.

Depression is boring.
Let tears spring as sprightly as piano notes.

Let us breathe pain with every breath--
Until we fall, breathless.

The plot of life, Kemosabe,
Trails off to a grave.
--George Elliot Clarke


Much Madness is divinest Sense--
To a discerning Eye--
Much Sense--the starkest Madness--
'Tis the Majority
In this, as all, prevail--
Assent--and you are sane--
Demur--you're straightaway dangerous--
And handled with a Chain--
--Emily Dickinson


I started Early--Took my Dog--
And visited the Sea--
The Mermaids in the Basement
Came out to look at me--

And Frigates--in the Upper Floor
Extended Hempen Hands--
Presuming Me to be a Mouse--
Aground--upon the Sands--

But no Man moved Me--till the Tide
Went past my simple Shoe--
And past my Apron--and my Belt
And past my Bodice--too--

And made as He would eat me up--
As wholly as a Dew
Upon a Dandelion's Sleeve--
And then--I started--too--

And He--He followed--close behind--
I felt His Silver Heel
Upon my Ankle--Then My Shoes
Would overflow with Pearl--

Until We met the Solid Town--
No One He seemed to know--
And bowing--with a Mighty look--
At me--The Sea withdrew--
--Emily Dickinson


Remorse--is Memory--awake--
Her Parties all astir--
A Presence of Departed Acts--
At window--and at Door--

It's Past--set down before the Soul
And lighted with a match--
Perusal--to facilitate--
And help Belief to stretch--

Remorse is cureless--the Disease
Not even God--can heal--
For 'tis His institution--and
The Adequate of Hell--
--Emily Dickinson


My Life had stood--a Loaded Gun--
In Corners--till a Day
The Owner passed--identified--
And carried Me away--

And now We roam in Sovereign Woods--
And now We hunt the Doe--
And every time I speak for Him
The Mountains straight reply--

And do I smile, such cordial light
Upon the Valley glow--
It is as a Vesuvian face
Had lets its pleasure through--

And when at Night--Our good day done--
I guard My Master's Head--
'Tis better than the Eider Duck's
Deep Pillow--to have shared--

To foe of His--I'm deadly foe--
None stir the second time--
On whom I lay a Yellow Eye--
Or an emphatic Thumb--

Though I than He--may longer live
He longer must--than I--
For I have but the power to kill,
Without--the power to die--
--Emily Dickinson


Publication--is the Auction
Of the Mind of Man--
Poverty--be justifying
For so foul a thing

Possibly--but We--would rather
From Our Garret go
White--unto the White Creator--
Than invest--Our Snow--

Thought belong to Him who gave it--
Then--to Him Who bear
Its Corporeal illustration--sell
The Royal Air--

In the Parcel--Be the Merchant
Of the Heavenly Gate--
But reduce no Human Spirit
To Disgrace of Price--
--Emily Dickinson


The Bible is an antique Volume--
Written by faded Men
At the suggestion of Holy Spectres--
Subjects--Bethlehem--
Eden--the ancient Homestead--
Satan--the Brigadier--
Judas--the Great Defaulter--
David--the Troubadour--
Sin--a distinguished Precipice
Others must resist--
Boys that "believe" are very lonesome--
Other Boys are "lost"--
Had but the Tale a warbling Teller--
All the Boys would come--
Orpheu's Sermon captivated--
It did not condemn--
--Emily Dickinson


Of Death I try to think like this,
The Well in which they lay us
Is but the Likeness of the Brook
That menaced not to slay us,
But to invite by that Dismay
Which is the Zest of sweetness
To the same Flower Hesperian,
Decoying but to greet us--

I do remember when a Child
With bolder Playmates straying
To where a Brook that seemed a Sea
Withheld us by its roaring
From just a Purple Flower beyond
Until constrained to clutch it
If Doom itself were the result,
The boldest leaped, and clutched it--
--Emily Dickinson


He ate and drank the precious Words--
His Spirit grew robust--
He knew no more that he was poor,
Nor that his frame was Dust--
He danced along the dingy Days
And this Bequest of Wings
Was but a Book--What Liberty
A loosened Spirit brings--
--Emily Dickinson


God is indeed a jealous God--
He cannot bear to see
That we had rather not with Him
But with each other play.
--Emily Dickinson
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone's lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don't have to compromise convictions to be compassionate."
--Rick Warren


"There is a loneliness in this world so great
that you can see it in the slow movement of
the hands of a clock.

People so tired
mutilated
either by love or no love.

People just are not good to each other
one on one.

The rich are not good to the rich,
the poor are not good to the poor.

We are afraid.

Our educational system tells us
that we can all be
big-ass winners.

It hasn't told us
about the gutters
or the suicides.

Or the terror of one person
aching in one place
alone

untouched
unspoken to
watering a plant."
--Charles Bukowski, from "The Crunch"


"How is it that one day life is orderly and you are content, a little cynical perhaps, but on the whole just so, and then without warning you find the solid floor is a trapdoor and you are now in another place whose geography is uncertain and whose customs are strange.

"Travellers at least have a choice. Those who set sail know that things will not be the same as at home. Explorers are prepared. But for us, who travel along the blood vessels, who come to the cities of the interior by chance, there is no preparation. We who were fluent find life is a foreign language."
--Jeanette Winterson, The Passion


"The Villainess"
resembles your mother, at least around the eyes--
treacherous, limpid and seal-like.
Inevitably handsome as a lioness, she
commands ranks, smokes cigarettes,
wears fur, has sex without apologizing.
Sometimes, she looks just like you,
but with crow's feet, more tattoos and better lingerie.

She conjures dragons or viruses,
she can lie easily to police or to you.
And you must love her, though she betrays you in a heartbeat--
you keep accepting the poisoned comb, the spinning wheel,
with open, pale hands.

In Snow White and Sleeping Beauty,
Disney covers up her hair in strange black hoods
afraid that if they don't
you won't distinguish her
from their watery, Barbie-eyed heroines.
--Jeannine Hall Gailey


"The magic show was deceptive: the magicians were hidden. When you looked more closely, a sort of sleight of hand was happening. In reality, the sublime was not an idea that cut the poet down to size. In fact the opposite. It was an idea made by the poet. And so, throughout the show, the poet was behind the curtain, defining the very grandeur he appeared to be awed by, and in the process becoming a steward of it. And so a new kind of poet emerged: A master of secrets, a controller of meaning. And, of course, a stakeholder in perpetuating that grandeur."
--Eavan Boland, "Reading as Intimidation"


"A woman stands over an abyss. She finds her child has survived the worst of history. She takes up pen and paper and records the moment. But the moment refuses to be contained. It flows out and beyond the poem into story and consequence. Looked at from that story and those consequences, the poem appears incomplete. But was it? Is it?

"I don't believe so. The poem is a note from the underworld. It is the first signal from Ceres that she has found her child. All the rest can come later."
--Eavan Boland, "Translating the Underworld"


"A place, a moment. It is the late 1970s. I am up at 7 a.m. I have small children. The morning is chilly. I am in the kitchen, looking out my window at a suburban back garden. For the first five minutes, as I turn on the kettle, watch it steam, pour coffee, I can stare at it uninterrupted.

"Then I turn on the radio. Guns and armaments fill the kitchen. Hoods, handcuffs, ArmaLites--the paraphernalia of urban struggle slides easily in and out of the newsreader's voice. A blackbird flickers down into the grass. I can see neighbors' rooftops. The voice continues. An odd thought forms in my mind, painful and inexact. I look around the kitchen, lost in contradictions. Then I realize what it is. My coffee is the instant variety, closed in a glass jar made in Huddersfield. My marmalade comes from London. My kettle from Holland. My knife from Germany. My radio from Japan. Only the violence, it seems--only that--is truly Irish."
--Eavan Boland, "Domestic Violence"


"Another September"
Dreams fled away, this country bedroom, raw
With the touch of the dawn, wrapped in a minor peace,
Hears through an open window the garden draw
Long pitch black breaths, lay bare its apple trees,
Ripe pear trees, brambles, windfall-sweetened soil,
Exhale rough sweetness against the starry slates.
Nearer the river sleeps St. John's, all toil
Locked fast inside a dream with iron gates.

Domestic Autumn, like an animal
Long used to handling by those countrymen,
Rubs her kind hide against the bedroom wall
Sensing a fragrant child come back again
--Not this half-tolerated consciousness
That plants its grammar in her yielding weather
But that unspeaking daughter, growing less
Familiar where we fell asleep together.

Wakeful moth wings blunder near a chair,
Toss their light shell at the glass, and go
To inhabit the living starlight. Stranded hair
Stirs on still linen. It is as though
The black breathing that billows her sleep, her name,
Drugged under judgement, waned and--bearing daggers
And balances--down the lampless darkness they came,
Moving like women: Justice, Truth, such figures.
--Thomas Kinsella


"My Blue Piano"
At home I have a blue piano.
But I can't play a note.

It's been in the shadow of the cellar door
Ever since the world went rotten.

Four starry hands play harmonies.
The Woman in the Moon sang in her boat.
Now only rats dance to the clanks.

The keyboard is in bits.
I weep for what is blue. Is dead.

Sweet angels I have eaten
Such bitter bread. Push open
The door of heaven. For me, for now--

Although I am still alive--
Although it is not allowed.
--Else Lasker-Schüler, translated from the German


"Can any one poet say poetry was wrong? Can a single writer challenge a collective past? My answer is simple. Not only can, but should. Poetry should be scrubbed, abraded, cleared, and re-stated with the old wash stones of argument and resistance. It should happen every generation. Every half-generation. In every working poet's life and practice.

"As a young poet I stepped back from aesthetics. It was the era of the New Criticism, of modernism, of ordained poetic authority. The critique of the poem, shadowed and strengthened by sciences of reason and textual analysis, seemed powerful but also alien. Only gradually did I begin to realize that this was beside the point: that every poet has to make their own critique. That authority inheres in that; and only that."
--Eavan Boland, "Domestic Violence"


"Rooms"
I remember rooms that have had their part
In the steady slowing down of the heart.
The room in Paris, the room at Geneva,
The little damp room with the seaweed smell,
And that ceaseless maddening sound of the tide--
Rooms where for good or for ill--things died.
But there is the room where we (two) lie dead,
Though every morning we seem to wake and might just as well seem to sleep again
As we shall somewhere in the other quieter, dustier bed
Out there in the sun--in the rain.
--Charlotte Mew


"If the language is occasionally uncertain, the stance of Plath as nature poet is anything but. This is a speaker with a new kind of control: able to command the natural world because she herself is generative of it. As a mother with her child--at the very center of that world--she can speak about seasons and times with a new freedom and invention. She can fit in fabrics and tapestries, the dark outside and the light inside. Despite the hardship and cold of these days, her zest for the world evokes the eloquence of Lucille Clifton's lines from "cutting greens": and i taste in my natural appetite / the bond of live things everywhere.

"Here truly is a female Prospero, speaking from her shipwrecked island, never doubting that the elements will obey her. Where other nature poets have labored for imitation or even awe, she will have none of it. This nature poem is an act of power, not deference."
--Eavan Boland, "The Other Sylvia Plath"


"Nick and the Candlestick"
I am a miner. The light burns blue.
Waxy stalactites
Drip and thicken, tears

The earthen womb

Exudes from its dead boredom.
Black bat airs

Wrap me, raggy shawls,
Cold homicides.
They weld to me like plums.

Old cave of calcium
Icicles, old echoer.
Even the newts are white,

Those holy Joes.
And the fish, the fish--
Christ! They are panes of ice,

A vice of knives,
A piranha
Religion, drinking

Its first communion out of my live toes.
The candle
Gulps and recovers its small altitude,

Its yellows hearten.
O love, how did you get here?
O embryo

Remembering, even in sleep,
Your crossed position.
The blood blooms clean

In you, ruby.
The pain
You wake to is not yours.

Love, love,
I have hung our cave with roses.
With soft rugs--

The last of Victoriana.
Let the stars
Plummet to their dark address,

Let the mercuric
Atoms that cripple drip
Into the terrible well,

You are the one
Solid the spaces lean on, envious.
You are the baby in the barn.
--Sylvia Plath


"And if some awkwardness remains, rather than trying to disguise it, I want to propose an odd and opposite fiction. If most real letters are conversation by other means, think of this as a different version. Imagine a room at dusk, with daylight almost gone. I can do this because I associate that light, that hour, with ease and conversation. I was born at dusk. Right in the center of Dublin in fact, in a nursing home beside Stephen's Green. Big, cracking heaps of sycamore and birch leaves are burned there in autumn and I like to think of the way blue, bitter smoke must have come the few hundred yards or so towards the room where I was born.

"And so I have no difficulty imagining us sitting there and talking in that diminishing light. Maybe the sights of late summer were visible through the window only moments ago. Fuchsia and green leaves, perhaps. But now everything is retreating into skeletal branches and charcoal leaves. My face is in shadow. You cannot see it, although your presence shapes what I am saying. And so in the last light, at the end of the day, what matters is language. Is the unspoken at the edge of the spoken. And so I have made a fiction to sustain what is already a fiction: this talking across time and absence.

"But about what? What name will I give it? In the widest sense, I want to talk about the past. The past, that is, of poetry: the place where so much of the truth and power of poetry is stored. 'Poetry is the past which breaks out in our hearts,' said Rilke, whose name should be raised whenever one poet writes to another. But the past I want to talk about is more charged and less lyrical than that for women poets. It is, after all, the place where authorship of the poem eluded us. Where poetry itself was defined by and in our absence. There has been a debate since I was a young poet, about whether women poets should engage with that past at all. 'For writers, and at this moment for women writers in particular,' Adrienne Rich wrote eloquently in 'When We Dead Awaken,' 'there is the challenge and promise of a whole new psychic geography to be explored. But there is also a difficult and dangerous walking on ice, as we try to find language and images for a consciousness we are just coming into and with little in the past to support us.'

"Then why go there? Why visit the site of our exclusion? We need to go to that past: not to learn from it, but to change it. If we do not change that past, it will change us. And I, for one, do not want to become a grateful daughter in a darkened house. But in order to change the past of poetry, we have to know what happened there. We have to be able to speak about it as poets, and even that can be difficult. Ever since I began as a poet I have heard people say that fixed positions--on gender, on politics of any kind--distort and cloud the question of poetry. In those terms, this letter can seem to be a clouding, a distortion. But poetry is not a pure stream. It will never be sullied by partisan argument. The only danger to poetry is the reticence and silence of poets. This piece is about the past and our right as women poets to avail of it. It is about the art and against the silence. Even so, I still need to find a language with which to approach that past. The only way of doing that, within the terms of this fiction, is to go back to the space you now occupy: in other words, to the beginning."
--Eavan Boland, "Letter to a Young Woman Poet"


"Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law"
1
You, once a belle in Shreveport,
with henna-colored hair, skin like a peachbud,
still have your dresses copied from that time,
and play a Chopin prelude
called by Cortot: "Delicious recollections
float like perfume through the memory."
Your mind now, moldering like wedding-cake,
heavy with useless experience, rich
with suspicion, rumor, fantasy,
crumbling to pieces under the knife-edge
of mere fact. In the prime of your life.
Nervy, glowering, your daughter
wipes the teaspoons, grows another way.

2
Banging the coffee-pot into the sink
she hears the angels chiding, and looks out
past the raked gardens to the sloppy sky.
Only a week since They said: Have no patience.
The next time it was: Be insatiable.
Then: Save yourself; others you cannot save.
Sometimes she's let the tapstream scald her arm,
a match burn to her thumbnail,
or held her hand above the kettle's snout
right inthe woolly steam. They are probably angels,
since nothing hurts her anymore, except
each morning's grit blowing into her eyes.

3
A thinking woman sleeps with monsters.
The beak that grips her, she becomes. And Nature,
that sprung-lidded, still commodious
steamer-trunk of tempora and mores
gets stuffed with it all: the mildewed orange-flowers,
the female pills, the terrible breasts
of Boadicea beneath flat foxes' heads and orchids.
Two handsome women, gripped in argument,
each proud, acute, subtle, I hear scream
across the cut glass and majolica
like Furies cornered from their prey:
The argument ad feminam, all the old knives
that have rusted in my back, I drive in yours,
ma semblable, ma soeur!

4
Knowing themselves too well in one another:
their gifts no pure fruition, but a thorn,
the prick filed sharp against a hint of scorn...
Reading while waiting
for the iron to heat,
writing, My Life had stood--a Loaded Gun--
in that Amherst pantry while the jellies boil and scum,
or, more often,
iron-eyed and beaked and purposed as a bird,
dusting everything on the whatnot every day of life.

5
Dulce ridens, dulce loquens,
she shaves her legs until they gleam
like petrified mammoth-tusk.

6
When to her lute Corinna sings
neither words nor music are her own;
only the long hair dipping
over her cheek, only the song
of silk against her knees
and these
adjusted in reflections of an eye.
Poised, trembling and unsatisfied, before
an unlocked door, that cage of cages,
tell us, you bird, you tragical machine--
is this fertillisante douleur? Pinned down
by love, for you the only natural action,
are you edged more keen
to prise the secrets of the vault? has Nature shown
her household books to you, daughter-in-law,
that her sons never saw?

7
"To have in this uncertain world some stay
which cannot be undermined, is
of the utmost consequence."
Thus wrote
a woman, partly brave and partly good,
who fought with what she partly understood.
Few men about her would or could do more,
hence she was labeled harpy, shrew and whore.

8
"You all die at fifteen," said Diderot,
and turn part legend, part convention.
Still, eyes inaccurately dream
behind closed windows blankening with steam.
Deliciously, all that we might have been,
all that we were--fire, tears,
wit, taste, martyred ambition--
stirs like the memory of refused adultery
the drained and flagging bosom of our middle years.

9
Not that it is done well, but
that it is done at all? Yes, think
of the odds! or shrug them off forever.
This luxury of the precocious child,
Time's precious chronic invalid,--
would we, darlings, resign it if we could?
Our blight has been our sinecure:
mere talent was enough for us--
glitter in fragments and rough drafts.
Sigh no more, ladies.
Time is male
and in his cups drinks to the fair.
Bemused by gallantry, we hear
our mediocrities over-praised,
indolence read as abnegation,
slattern thought styled intuition,
every lapse forgiven, our crime
only to cast too bold a shadow
or smash the mold straight off.
For that, solitary confinement,
tear gas, attrition shelling.
Few applicants for that honor.

10
Well,
she's long about her coming, who must be
more merciless to herself than history.
Her mind full to the wind, I see her plunge
breasted and glancing through the currents,
taking the light upon her
at least as beautiful as any boy
or helicopter,
poised, still coming,
her fine blades making the air wince
but her cargo
no promise then:
delivered
palpable
ours.
--Adrienne Rich


"Diving into the Wreck"
First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
assiduous team
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.

There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there
hanging innocently
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.

Otherwise
it is a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.

I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
will begin.

First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he

whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass

We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.
--Adrienne Rich


"Sestina"
September rain falls on the house.
In the failing light, the old grandmother
sits in the kitchen with the child
beside the Little Marvel Stove,
reading the jokes from the almanac,
laughing and talking to hide her tears.

She thinks that her equinoctial tears
and the rain that beats on the roof of the house
were both foretold by the almanac,
but only known to a grandmother.
The iron kettle sings on the stove.
She cuts some bread and says to the child,

It's time for tea now; but the child
is watching the teakettle's small hard tears
dance like mad on the hot black stove,
the way the rain must dance on the house.
Tidying up, the old grandmother
hangs up the clever almanac

on its string. Birdlike, the almanac
hovers half open above the child,
hovers above the old grandmother
and her teacup full of dark brown tears.
She shivers and says she thinks the house
feels chilly, and puts more wood in the stove.

It was to be, says the Marvel Stove.
I know what I know, says the almanac.
With crayons the child draws a rigid house
and a winding pathway. Then the child
puts in a man with buttons like tears
and shows it proudly to the grandmother.

But secretly, while the grandmother
busies herself about the stove,
the little moons fall down like tears
from between the pages of the almanac
into the flower bed the child
has carefully placed in the front of the house.

Time to plant tears, says the almanac.
The grandmother sings to the marvelous stove
and the child draws another inscrutable house.
--Elizabeth Bishop
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you're proud of. If you find that you're not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again."
--F. Scott Fitzgerald


"The Bright Field"
I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
the treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.
--R. S. Thomas


"It Is Marvellous to Wake up Together"
It is marvellous to wake up together
At the same minute; marvellous to hear
The rain begin suddenly all over the roof,
To feel the air suddenly clear
As if electricity had passed through it
From a black mesh of wires in the sky.
All over the roof the rain hisses,
And below, the light falling of kisses.
An electrical storm is coming or moving away;
It is the prickling air that wakes us up.
If lightning struck the house now, it would run
From the four blue china balls on top
Down the roof and down the rods all around us,
And we imagine dreamily
How the whole house caught in a bird-cage of lightning
Would be quite delightful rather than frightening;
And from the same simplified point of view
Of night and lying flat on one's back
All things might change equally easily,
Since always to warn us there must be these black
Electrical wires dangling. Without surprise
The world might change to something quite different,
As the air changes or the lightning comes without our blinking,
Change as the kisses are changing without our thinking.
--Elizabeth Bishop


"Left"
Eenee Menee Mainee Mo!
--Rudyard Kipling, "A Counting-out Song," in
Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides, 1923

The woman with cheerleading legs
has been left for dead. She hot paces a roof,
four days, three nights, her leaping fingers,
helium arms rise & fall, pulling at the week-
old baby in the bassinet, pointing to the eighty-
two-year-old grandmother, fanning & raspy
in the New Orleans Saints folding chair.

Eenee Menee Mainee Mo!

Three times a day the helicopter flies
by in a low crawl. The grandmother insists on
not being helpless, so she waves a white hand-
kerchief that she puts on and takes off her head
toward the cameraman and the pilot who
remembers well the art of his mirror-eyed
posture in his low-flying helicopter: Bong Son,
Dong Ha, Pleiku, Chu Lai. He makes a slow
Vietcong dip & dive, a move known in Rescue
as the Observation Pass.

The roof is surrounded by broken-levee
water. The people are dark but not broken. Starv-
ing, abandoned, dehydrated, brown & cumulous,
but not broken. The four-hundred-year-old
anniversary of observation begins, again--

Eenee Menee Mainee Mo!
Catch a--


The woman with pom-pom legs waves
her uneven homemade sign:

Pleas Help Pleas

and even if the e has been left off the Pleas e

do you know simply
by looking at her
that it has been left off
because she can't spell
(and therefore is not worth saving)
or was it because the water was rising so fast
there wasn't time?

Eenee Menee Mainee Mo!
Catch a--a--


The low-flying helicopter does not know
the answer. It catches all of this on patriotic tape,
but does not land, and does not drop dictionary,
or ladder.

Regulations require an e be at the end
of any Pleas e before any national response
can be taken.

Therefore, it takes four days before
the national council of observers will consider
dropping one bottle of water, or one case
of dehydrated baby formula, on the roof
where the e has rolled off into the flood,

(but obviously not splashed
loud enough)

where four days later not the mother,
not the baby girl,
but the determined hanky waver,
whom they were both named for,
(and after) has now been covered up
with a green plastic window awning,
pushed over to the side
right where the missing e was last seen.

My mother said to pick
The very best one!


What else would you call it,
Mr. Every-Child-Left-Behind.

Anyone you know
ever left off or put on
an e by mistake?

Potato Po tato e

In the future observation helicopters
will leave the well-observed South and fly
n Kanye-West-Was-Finally-Right formation.
They will arrive over burning San Diego.

The fires there will be put out so well.
The people there will wait in a civilized manner.
And they will receive foie gras and free massage
for all their trouble, while their houses don't
flood, but instead burn calmly to the ground.

The grandmothers were right
about everything.

People who outlived bullwhips & Bull
Connor, historically afraid of water and routinely
fed to crocodiles, left in the sun on the sticky tar-
heat of roofs to roast like pigs, surrounded by
forty feet of churning water, in the summer
of 2005, while the richest country in the world
played the old observation game, studied
the situation: wondered by committee what to do;
counted, in private, by long historical division;
speculated whether or not some people are surely
born ready, accustomed to flood, famine, fear.

My mother said to pick
The very best one
And you are not it!


After all, it was only po' New Orleans,
old bastard city of funny spellers. Nonswimmers
with squeeze-box accordion accents. Who would
be left alive to care?
--Nikky Finney


"Concerto no. 11: Condoleezza and the Chickering"
[In Italian, con dolcezza means "with sweetness"]

Angelena Rice, mother, second-generation piano master.
Music is deliberate, lush, summer-alive in the hot
Birmingham air. She is drawn to riff and scat, in the
tradition of the feet of fleeing slaves. Improvisation
darts like Ghanian goldfish in her blood.

Angelena Rice has chops.

She works all day.
She can't teach the girl every little thing.


Mattie Ray, grandmother, first-generation piano master,
the after-school-neighborhood-piano-teacher
of Black girls, on Dynamite Hill, of Condoleezza.

Mattie Ray knows her way to and from the woodshed,
but for Condoleezza, the stride piano is put away:

Practice. Practice. Practice.
Steer your bright mind to Vulcan's torch--
high atop Red Mountain.
He alone will show you how to hammer
out your notes into Roman thunder.


When she is a girl she learns to play to the Italian
in her blood. She is third-generation Black girl with
sensual, graceful, doing fingers. No other Black girl
in Bombingham, with the sound of music emerald
set so deep in her heart, has ever been told over
Sunday dinner, while the gravy is still passing through
the air, King is crazy.

In the future, when she plays Secretary of State on the
world stage, the black keys will always be a stretch.

She will refuse to ever leave the Brahms-etched pages
that she has always counted on being open and before
her. Peter the Great, begging to commence.

When she is at her Watergate window, practicing
at her Chickering, she will, in the tradition of other
deposed heads, refuse to imagination grace notes &
half counts. She won't, not even when no one is
looking, sideslip or walk the white keys with only
the fingers of her left hand.

She will never ever close her eyes to a full spontaneous
pause nor understand the opium sweet of interlude
or diminished scale. The pleasure of imagining a
world outside of Mussorgsky's Khovanshchina
will elude her for the rest of her life. No one inside
her inner circle will suggest how else the dawning
new day might sound, if she would only--just this
once--take her eyes off the score.
--Nikky Finney


"Thunderbolt of Jove"
The width of the lightning bolt is only about as wide as a pencil.
--The Weather Channel


The first saffron sheet breaks, two cumulous tin cans spill
a wide powder keg of gunpowder gray. Coiled thunder sparks
the inky nigrescent sky, rinds of one hundred oranges peel,
infuse, are slung. The mother goes flying. The daughter
takes to the glass.

Pots are topped. A stove shut down. The tiny kitchen stage
abandoned. The mother slips from flamingo to fleeing barn
owl. She spills: one widemouthed mason jar of liquid fear.
Her wild turning head is beak & breast pointed south,
toward the farther-further, darker, backside of the house.
She will only give herself to any windowless den, any
camouflage of cover: lavender snow quilt, moth-eaten
polka-dot coverlet, camphor woolens lost in the dark rib
of the closet, anything brother to lead, sister to opacity.

The only daughter stands at the sizzling window. As brown
moth, brazen & mesmerized, heedless, her nose wood-
peckered into the whirling world of the storm, thirsty
to call at the lightning, ambitious to burn, while the mother
throws her last warning out into the pitchfork of sky:

Lightning can come through any open
door, Girl. Can walk straight through
glass at any angle. Can take down
a little thing like you--just like that!


Out of view the mother freely dives. Prayer is the last light
spray of tongue-talk easing her safely down. Underneath
waves of mercerized cotton she will wait out the pageantry
of flashing orange light.

The girl is willing to be turned into the roar of rock, the float
of ash, just to feel its flashy fingers strike, to watch the fiery
sky pull at the tingling tips of her hands grazing the skin of
the glass. Her lips so close to self-suffocation, soon she is
choked back alive, the sky a fusillade of booms; air: florid,
tangerine jagged lines of corn-colored bombs.

At the weatherproof double panes her childhood lifts away
to the dusty locust field. Her fists, ripe with electricity, open
& close, her eyes are sweetly singed. The flutter-beat of her
lashes returns her to the softening sky, to the sight of her
self, on the other side of the kitchen glass, wet, staring back.

She begins shaking herself, back down from sky to earth.
Her stubborn lashes are two honey-drunk bumblebees still
tumbled on their backs. She has been fire-fed, rude. A girl
in levitation with the mad & thundering Jove. Going forward,
she is willing to go blind, lose her obeying-girl tongue, her
momentary sight, for any hot lemony tremble of the long
pencil's flash ever again.

The glass shows respect, staying warm for the mother's
return: She Stagolee-fumbles back into her kitchen. Sleepy
cotton stuck to her cheeks and hair. Her messy bonnet
needs to be retucked. But her eyes know a miracle
when they see one:

The girl is still there, still breathing, still camped out
at the unbroken glass, with a toothpick-size shadow
of resistance balanced in the flush of her lips. Done.
Nothing more to warn the girl against now. Now the long
solemncholy wait, for the twisting out all the way. The final
life & turn, the wax and rock of childbirth evenly sculpted,
the early pollinated melancholy, this sandy, burnished,
smoldering lead of lanky Old Maid-to-be.
--Nikky Finney


"The Four Temperaments"
The probing eye turns the sun's rays into police batons.
And in the evening: the hubbub from a party in the room below
sprouts up through the floor like unreal flowers.

Driving on the plain. Darkness. The coach seemed stuck on the spot.
An anti-bird screeched in starry emptiness.
The albino sun stood over tossing dark seas.

*

A man like an uprooted tree with croaking foliage
and lightning at attention saw the beast-smelling
sun rise up among pattering wings on the world's

rocky island surging ahead behind banners of foam through night
and day with white sea birds howling
on the deck and all with a ticket to Chaos.

*

You need only close your eyes to hear plainly
the gulls' faint Sunday over the sea's endless parish.
A guitar begins twanging in the thicket and the cloud dawdles

slowly as the green sledge of late spring
--with the whinnying light in the shafts--
comes gliding on the ice.

*

Woke with my girl's heels clopping in the dream
and outside two snowdrifts like winter's abandoned gloves
while leaflets from the sun cascaded over the city.

The road never comes to an end. The horizon rushes ahead.
The birds shake in the tree. The dust whirls around the wheels.
All the rolling wheels that contradict death!
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton


"Syros"
In Syros harbor leftover cargo steamers lay waiting.
Prow by prow by prow. Moored many years since:
CAPE RION, Monrovia.
KRITOS, Andros.
SCOTIA, Panama.

Dark pictures on the water, they have been hung away.

Like toys from our childhood that have grown to giants
and accuse us
of what we never became.

XELATROS, Pireus.
CASSIOPEIA, Monrovia.
The sea has read them through.

But the first time we came to Syros, it was at night,
we saw prow by prow by prow in the moonlight and thought:
What a mighty fleet, magnificent connections.
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton


"In the Nile Delta"
The young wife wept over her food
in the hotel after a day in the city
where she saw the sick creep and huddle
and children bound to die of want.

She and her husband went to their room.
Sprinkled water to settle the dirt.
Lay on their separate beds with few words.
She fell in a deep sleep. He lay awake.

Out in the darkness a great noise ran past.
Murmurs, tramping, cries, carts, songs.
All in want. Never came to a stop.
And he sank in sleep curled in a No.

A dream came. He was on a voyage.
In the grey water a movement swirled
and a voice said: "There is one who is good.
There is one who can see all without hating."
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton


"Lament"
He laid aside his pen.
It rests still on the table.
It rests still in the empty room.
He laid aside his pen.

Too much that can neither be written nor kept silent!
He is paralyzed by something happening far away
although the wonderful traveling bag throbs like a heart.

Outside it is early summer.
Whistlings from the greenery--men or birds?
And cherry trees in bloom embrace the trucks that have come home.

Weeks go by.
Night comes slowly.
The moths settle on the windowpane:
small pale telegrams from the world.
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton


"A Winter Night"
The storm puts its mouth to the house
and blows to produce a note.
I sleep uneasily, turn, with shut eyes
read the storm's text.

But the child's eyes are large in the dark
and for the child the storm howls.
Both are fond of lamps that swing.
Both are halfway toward speech.

The storm has childish hands and wings.
The Caravan bolts toward Lapland.
And the house feels its own constellation of nails
holding the walls together.

The night is calm over our floor
(where all expired footsteps
rest like sunk leaves in a pond)
but outside the night is wild.

Over the world goes a graver storm.
It sets its mouth to our soul
and blows to produce a note. We dread
the storm will blow us empty.
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Don't ever think I fell for you, or fell over you. I didn't fall in love, I rose in it."
--Toni Morrison, Jazz


"My favorite kind of pie is cake. I have a giant umbrella that protects no one. My father is a sadist and I am my father's son. These statements are not lies but perhaps they lack a certain clarity. When one lies, one undermines trust in society--which is not my intention--but if there is a Truth out there, to be had clearly and definitively, I'm not sure I'm the kind that can get to it; and if I can get to it I'm not sure I should be the one entrusted with it. I'm a doubter. I'm suspicious of context. I have enough trouble figuring out where to put the punctuation and I type like a hundred monkeys stuck in taffy, putting the commas where I breathe and the periods where I breathe more. Most of the time I feel like I'm barking and pointing, but one of the tricks to making decent art is to address your weaknesses. If I bark, I might as well bark pretty. If I point, I might as well point whole-heartedly.

"In my town some people use the f-word. In public. As an adjective. Which is wrong. Not just because it's a verb but because it's boring, it shows a weakness not being addressed. It's worse than lying, much much worse, this muddy self-erasing noise. Jorie Graham came to Tucson a few years ago. She gave a reading and a Q&A where she was quite brilliant. No matter what stupid questions we asked, she took 20 minutes to answer each one, swerving from literary theory to art history to pop culture and tying it all up with connections we had always felt but only now could see. In one of her answers she told a story about her daughter. I want to share it here, even though it's not my story twice removed.

"The daughter is sad. I'm so sad says the daughter. Why are you sad? asks the mother. The daughter doesn't know. The days go by. The daughter isn't getting better and the mother worries, frets, paces. The mother isn't a doctor, she's a poet, so she brings home a book. I'm too sad to read says the daughter but it's not for reading, it's for figuring: it's a thesaurus. You can be as sad as you need to be says the mother but you must know what kind of sad you are. Are you sad-lonely, sad-desperate, sad-lacking-in-faith? The daughter sits at her desk and looks at the words she has written on the sheet of paper. It's not that the words are any less true than she imagined, it's not that they're smaller than she thought, but they're limited, they have boundaries, they're finite, and she's bigger than they are, surprisingly bigger and more vast than these words on the page, written in her own hand. Go figure. She starts to feel better.

"What I love about this story is the idea that truth is something you can creep up on, one word at a time; that there's some sort of alchemical math you can perform to ratchet the lens into focus. I'm not saying I do it well--and I'm certainly not claiming I'm doing it here--but that I might be able to do it eventually, practice my weak hand, mean what I mean instead of barking into the void...well...it's encouraging. Of course, there's the other camp, the one that insists that naming a thing invokes it, gives it power. I don't just mean the superstitious among us; I mean, even more inclusively, the socially smooth, the polite. Kafka (or was it Rilke) said that poetry was the axe that breaks the frozen river of the soul, but we walk on the ice as we go through our day, thin ice more often than not, and no one no one no one wants to see the rushing icy river of your soul when you're standing in line at the bank.

"How are you? Fine, and you? It's not that we don't care, it's that we're terrified that someone will actually break down and tell us. Everyone I know is in some kind of pain. Everyone. How do you like them apples? And so, another reason to lie, because we've all agreed not to tell the truth to each other, not about that. Someone put their hand in my heart and they didn't take it back out. If I died tonight, no one would notice for weeks. My father is a sadist and I am my father's son. I learned it well. Do I have the stomach for it? Do you really want to know?"
--Richard Siken


"Interview with a Policeman"
You say you want this story
in my own words,
but you won't tell it my way.
Reporters never do. If everybody's racist
that means you too.
I grab your finger,
as you jab it at my chest.
So what the mini cam caught that?
You want to know all about it, right?--
the liquor store, the black kid
who pulled his gun
at the wrong time.
You saw the dollars he fell on and bloodied.
Remember how cold it was that night,
but I was sweating.
I'd worked hard, I was through
for twenty for hours
and I wanted some brew.
When I heard a shout,
I turned and saw the clerk
with his hands in the air
saw the kid drop his gun,
as I yelled and ran from the back.
I only fired when he bent down,
picked up his gun and again dropped it.
I saw he was terrified,
saw his shoulder and head jerk to the side
as the next bullet hit.
When I dove down, he got his gun once more
and fired wildly.

Liquor poured onto the counter, the floor
onto which he fell back finally,
still firing now toward the door,
when his arm flung itself behind him,
I could hear dance music
over the sound of liquor spilling and spilling
and when I balanced on my hands
and stared at him, a cough or spasm
sent a stream of blood out of his mouth
and hit me in the face.
Later, I felt as if I'd left part of myself
stranded on that other side,
where anyplace you turn is down,
is out for money, for drugs,
or just for something new like shoes
or sunglasses,
where your own rage
destroys everything in its wake
including you.
Especially you.
Go on, set your pad and pencil down,
turn off the camera, the rape.
The ape in the gilded cage
looks too familiar, doesn't he
and underneath it all,
like me, you just want to forget him.
Tonight, though, for awhile you'll lie awake.
You'll hear the sound of gunshots
in someone else's neighbourhood,
then comforted, turn over in your bed
and close your eyes,
but the boy like a shark redeemed at last,
yet unrepentant
will reenter your life
by the unlocked door of sleep
to take everything but his fury back.
--Ai


"What Year Was Heaven Desegregated?"
Watching the news about Diallo, my eight year-old cousin, Jake,
asks why don't they build black people
with bulletproof skin?
I tell Jake there's another planet, where humans change colors like mood rings.
You wake up Scottish, and fall asleep Chinese; enter a theatre
Persian, and exit Puerto Rican. And Earth
is a junkyard planet, where they send all the broken humans
who are stuck in one color. That
pseudo-angels in the world before this offer deals to black fetuses, to give up
their seats on the shuttle to earth, say: wait
for the next one, conditions will improve. Then Jake asks
do they
have ghettos in the afterlife? Seven years ago
I sat in a car, an antenna filled with crack cocaine smoldering
between my lips, the smoke spreading
in my lungs, like the legs of Joseph Stalin's mom in the delivery
room. An undercover piglet hoofed up
to the window. My buddy busted an illegal u-turn, screeched
the wrong way down a one-way street.
I chucked the antenna, shoved the crack rock up my asshole.
The cops swooped in from all sides,
yanked me out. I clutched my butt cheeks like a third fist gripping
a winning lotto ticket. The cop yelled,
"White boys only come in this neighborhood for two reasons: to steal
cars and buy drugs. You already got wheels."
I ran into the burning building of my mind. I couldn't see shit.
It was filled with crack smoke. I dug
through the ashes of my conscience, till I found my educated, white
male dialect, which I stuck in my voice box
and pushed play. Officer, I'm going to be honest with you: "Blah,
blah blah." See, the sad truth is my skin
said everything he needed to know. My skin whispered into his pink
ear, "I'm white." You can't pin shit on this
pale fabric. This pasty cloth is pin resistant. Now slap my wrist,
so I can go home, take this rock out
of my ass, and smoke it. If Diallo was white, those bullets would've
bounced off his chest like spitballs. But
his execution does prove that a black man with a wallet is as dangerous
to the cops as a black man with an Uzi.
Maybe he whipped that wallet out like a grenade, hollered, "I buy,
therefore I am an American." Or maybe
he just said, "hey man, my tax money paid for two of those bullets
in that gun." Last year on vacation in DC,
little Jake wondered how come there's a Vietnam wall, Abe Lincoln's
house, a Holocaust building, but nothing
about slavery? No thousand-foot sculpture of a whip. No
giant dollar bill dipped in blood.
Is it 'cause there's no Hitler to blame it on, no donkey to stick it on?
Are they afraid the blacks will want a settlement?
I mean, if Japanese-Americans locked up in internment camps
for five years cashed out at thirty g's, what's
the price tag on a three-hundred-year session with a dominatrix
who's not pretending? And the white people
say we gave 'em February. Black History Month. But it's so much
easier to have a month than an actual
conversation. Jake, life is one big song, and we are the chorus.
Riding the subway is a chorus.
Driving the freeway is a chorus. But you gotta stay ready, 'cause you never
know when the other instruments will
drop out, and ta-dah--it's your moment in the lit spot, the barometer
of your humanity, and you'll hear the footsteps
of a hush, rushing through the theater, as you aim for the high notes
with the bow and arrow in your throat.
--Jeffrey McDaniel


"Revenge of the Jagged Ambush Bug"
Please don't taunt the scrivener
unless he is plopping around in a useless plot,
then you may lampoon him at will.
Don't butter the monkeys, just don't.
And no etudes on the ballfield after eight.
Permits are required for flagellation,
keep your messianic woes to yourself.
Breathing on the bumblebees is strictly forbidden.
No muffins permitted in the aviary.
Talking dogs must keep it to a whisper.
Neither should you pee on the piglet.
You may boogie on the bridge but only lightly.
Try not to spend the summer in a state of torpor.
If you must eructate at the funeral
do so behind a bush, and make it sound
as if a rhinoceros is charging.
Do not write on the gazebo.

Do not sleep during the ranting.
Do not rant during the sleeping.
This is just a fragment of what I remember
of my childhood, and a rollercoaster
I never dared ride, and some daisies,
and ghouls, thousands of ghouls
dancing on our graves. I mean rules,
thousands of rules digging our graves.
That's much better, that's approaching
the gazebo and deliberately, fiercely
writing on it, words that will cauterize
the delicate, the wan and sickly passerby:
Marcus Aurelius is a horse's ass.
There, now I can die with my boots on.
--James Tate


"The War Next Door"
I thought I saw some victims of the last war bandaged and
limping through the forest beside my house. I thought I recognized
some of them, but I wasn't sure. It was kind of a hazy dream
from which I tried to wake myself, but they were still there,
bloody, some of them on crutches, some lacking limbs. This sad
parade went on for hours. I couldn't leave the window. Finally,
I opened the door. "Where are you going?" I shouted. "We're
just trying to escape," one of them shouted back. "But the war's
over," I said. "No it's not," one said. All the news reports had
said it had been over for days. I didn't know who to trust. It's
best to just ignore them, I told myself. They'll go away. So I
went into the living room and picked up a magazine. There was a
picture of a dead man. He had just passed my house. And another
dead man I recognized. I ran back in the kitchen and looked out.
A group of them were headed my way. I opened the door. "Why
didn't you fight with us?" they said. "I didn't know who the
enemy was, honest, I didn't," I said. "That's a fine answer. I
never did figure it out myself," one of them said. The others looked
at him as if he were crazy. "The other side was the enemy, obviously,
the ones with the beady eyes," said another. "They were mean,"
another said, "terrible." "One was very kind to me, cradled me
in his arms," said one. "Well, you're all dead now. A lot of
good that will do you," I said. "We're just gaining our strength
back," one of them said. I shut the door and went back in the
living room. I heard scratches at the window at first, but then
they faded off. I heard a bugle in the distance, then the roar of
a cannon. I still don't know which side I was on.
--James Tate


"A Christian Country"
God slumbers in a back alley
With a gin bottle in His hand.
Come on, God, get up and fight
Like a man.
--Langston Hughes


"How to Speak to the Dead"
This is how it works: They talk. You listen.
Let them go on at length about the harp lessons
and the cataloging of their regrets. Then, let them
begin their questions; most often they ask about the
minutia of the earth. They will ask you to detail
the habits of grass and trees. They will ask you to
tell them about the current cycle of cicadas:
the red eyes, the husks, the sacrament that is sleep.
Tell them of your latest visit to the psychiatrist.
Tell them how he diagnosed what you experience
to be a form of complicated grief. Over their brittle
laughter, protest: No, listen. I paid for that. Tell them
your husband left last winter. They knew that too.
Expect their shrugs. Allow them to continue:
Can you tell us again how it feels to be cold?
Can you remind us of the colors the leaves make
in autumn? How does it feel to want?
Tell them about
that dream last night about the invasion. No, the one about
the fire. How there was a fire in the shape of men
marching the streets, how the bystanders threw themselves
headlong into the pageant, their burning hands destroying
all they touched until there was nothing left in the world
but you and ash. Ask them if death is like that.
They'll say: Nothing gone stays gone here; you are never
alone in death. Listen,
they'll say, that's the worst part of all.
--T.J. Jarrett


"Grief Calls Us to the Things of This World"
The morning air is all awash with angels
--Richard Wilbur, "Love Calls Us to the Things of This World"

The eyes open to a blue telephone
In the bathroom of this five-star hotel.

I wonder whom I should call? A plumber,
Proctologist, urologist, or priest?

Who is blessed among us and most deserves
The first call? I choose my father because

He's astounded by bathroom telephones.
I dial home. My mother answers. "Hey, Ma,"

I say, "Can I talk to Poppa?" She gasps,
And then I remember that my father

Has been dead for nearly a year. "Shit, Mom,"
I say. "I forgot he's dead. I'm sorry--

How did I forget?" "It's okay," she says.
"I made him a cup of instant coffee

This morning and left it on the table--
Like I have for, what, twenty-seven years--

And I didn't realize my mistake
Until this afternoon." My mother laughs

At the angels who wait for us to pause
During the most ordinary of days

And sing our praise to forgetfulness
Before they slap our souls with their cold wings.

Those angels burden and unbalance us.
Those fucking angels ride us piggyback.

Those angels, forever falling, snare us
And haul us, prey and praying, into dust.
--Sherman Alexie


"Gone Before"
Sadness, though your beard may be fake,
your anonymity is quite real,
whispered the dying man to his nurse,
raising his arms for his last sponge bath.
Early renderings had no vanishing point.
Painters dream in oil.
Dreams, like canaries,
are sent down into our mineshafts
to discover how long we might survive,
the dreamers, like secretaries,
are sent home in sneakers,
carrying their pumps.
Sadness, you are so Japanese: snow
on just one side of the leaf
that has not yet dropped.
Snow of all snow
and of every lost chance,
last insects walking in fear across glass,
zeppelin beacons pulsing through the fog.
Snow as illegible as the cardboard
held by the man who can't spell
how hungry he is,
kneeling frozen at the fountain
to sail a small boat
folded from his last dollar.
Seen from deep orbit, hearts
wink white with loneliness.
A mother pulls her daughter by her arm.
A little girl pulls her doll by its hair.
Inside the space capsule after splashdown:
nothing. Not even a note.
The hospitals they have built
just for people like us to die in
are built entirely of corridors,
which they keep empty,
except for a grinding light.
Outside, the snow falls without making a sound.
And still the dogs scatter.
--Dobby Gibson


"The Dark Sooner"
Then came the darker sooner,
came the later lower.
We were no longer a sweeter-here
happily-ever-after. We were after ever.
We were farther and further.
More was the word we used for harder.
Lost was our standard-bearer.
Our gods were fallen faster,
and fallen larger.
The day was duller, duller
was disaster. Our charge was error.
Instead of leader we had louder,
instead of lover, never. And over this river
broke the winter's black weather.
--Catherine Wing


"Dwelling"
As though touching her
might make him known to himself

as though his hand moving
over her body might find who
he is, as though he lay inside her, a country

his hand's traveling uncovered
as though such a country arose
continually up out of her
to meet his hand's setting forth and setting forth.

And the places on her body have no names.
And she is what's immense about the night.
And their clothes on the floor are arranged
for forgetfulness.
--Li-Young Lee


the mind is its own beautiful prisoner.
Mind looked long at the sticky moon
opening in dusk her new wings

then decently hanged himself,one afternoon.

The last thing he saw was you
naked amid unnaked things,

your flesh,a succinct wandlike animal,
a little strolling with the futile purr
of blood;your sex squeaked like a billiard-cue
chalking itself,as not to make an error,
with twists spontaneously methodical.
He suddenly tasted worms windows and roses

he laughed,and closed his eyes as a girl closes
her left hand upon a mirror.
--e. e. cummings


"Meeting Poets"
Meeting poets I am disconcerted sometimes
by the colour of their socks
the suspicion of a wig
the wasp in the voice
and an air, sometimes, of dankness.

Best to meet in poems:
cool speckled shells
in which one hears
a sad but distant sea.
--Eunice de Souza


"Ghalib"
Tonight, you recite Ghalib from memory;

because poetry, like blood, must come from the heart.


Taking a sip from your glass after every couplet,

the scotch rhyming perfectly the melancholy on your tongue.


You cling to nostalgia like an empty mirror,

to the scent of this language that withers like flowers.


You gather pain the way the sky gathers,

pinprick by slow pinprick, the stars.


Somewhere between question and answer

the feeling dissolves. The need to sing becomes


the struggle not to fall. And you arrange

your ruins into one last gesture,


knowing the Beloved will not heed your call,

knowing she will prove false, like God, or the Moon.

***

You write to me from Delhi,

speak of summer blackouts,


of how, disconnected from the machines,

you thought of Ghalib--


the bomb blast of his grief

leaving the city in ruins--


and how the history of loss

could be written on a feather.


When the power returned

you turned the lights off,


lit a candle to see

the darkness a little better,


and still the shadows

were not the same.

***


"Madness", Ghalib writes, "is never without its reasons;

surely there is something that the veil is meant to protect"


And I think of all the years we have spent

listening to these ghazals, the verses


falling from our lips like pieces of exquisite glass

from broken window frames;


shaping our mouths to his sadness,

unbuttoning our collars to let his words stain


the rubbed language of our songs.

What have we been hiding from,


my friend? What longing is this inside us

that we disguise in a dead man's clothes
--Aseem Kaul


"I See Kashmir from New Delhi at Midnight"
1
One must wear jeweled ice in dry plains
to will the distant mountains to glass.
The city from where no news can come
is now so visible in its curfewed night
that the worst is precise:
From Zero Bridge
a shadow chased by searchlights is running
away to find its body. On the edge
of the Cantonment, where Gupkar Road ends,
it shrinks almost into nothing, is

nothing by Interrogation gates
so it can slip, unseen, into the cells:
Drippings from a suspended burning tire
are falling on the back of a prisoner,
the naked boy screaming, "I know nothing."

2
The shadow slips out, beckons Console Me,
and somehow there, across five hundred miles,
I'm sheened in moonlight, in emptied Srinagar,
but without any assurance for him.

On Residency Road, by Mir Pan House,
undheard we speak: "I know those words by heart
(you once said them by chance): In autumn
when the wind blows sheer ice, the chinar leaves
fall in clusters--

one by one, otherwise."
"Rizwan, it's you, Rizwan, it's you," I cry out
as he steps closer, the sleeves of his phiren torn.
"Each night put Kashmir in your dreams," he says,
then touches me, his hands crusted with snow,
whispers, "I have been cold a long, long time."

3
"Don't tell my father I have died," he says,
and I follow him through blood on the road
and hundreds of pairs of shoes the mourners
left behind, as they ran from the funeral,
victims of the firing. From windows we hear
grieving mothers, and snow begins to fall
on us, like ash. Black on edges of flames,
it cannot extinguish the neighborhoods,
the homes set ablze by midnight soldiers.
Kashmir is burning:

By that dazzling light
we see men removing statues from temples.
We beg them, "Who will protect us if you leave?"
They don't answer, they just disappear
on the road to the plains, clutching the gods.

4
I won't tell your father you have died, Rizwan,
but where has your shadow fallen, like cloth
on the tomb of which saint, or the body
of which unburied boy in the mountains,
bullet-torn, like you, his blood sheer rubies
on Himalayan snow?

I've tied a knot
with green thread at Shah Hamdan, to be
untied only when the atrocities
are stunned by your jeweled return, but no news
escapes the curfew, nothing of your shadow,
and I'm back, five hundred miles, taking off
my ice, the mountains granite again as I see
men coming from those Abodes of Snow
with gods asleep like children in their arms.
--Agha Shahid Ali


"The Man-Moth"
Here, above,
cracks in the buildings are filled with battered moonlight.
The whole shadow of Man is only as big as his hat.
It lies at his feet like a circle for a doll to stand on,
and he makes an inverted pin, the point magnetized to the moon.
He does not see the moon; he observes only her vast properties,
feeling the queer light on his hands, neither warm nor cold,
of a temperature impossible to record in thermometers.

But when the Man-Moth
pays his rare, although occasional, visits to the surface,
the moon looks rather different to him. He emerges
from an opening under the edge of one of the sidewalks
and nervously begins to scale the faces of the buildings.
He thinks the moon is a small hole at the top of the sky,
proving the sky quite useless for protection.
He trembles, but must investigate as high as he can climb.

Up the façades,
his shadow dragging like a photographer's cloth behind him,
he climbs fearfully, thinking that this time he will manage
to push his small head through that round clean opening
and be forced through, as from a tube, in black scrolls on the light.
(Man, standing below him, has no such illusions.)
But what the Man-Moth fears most he must do, although
he fails, of course, and falls back scared but quite unhurt.

Then he returns
to the pale subways of cement he calls his home. He flits,
he flutters, and cannot get aboard the silent trains
fast enough to suit him. The doors close swiftly.
The Man-Moth always seats himself facing the wrong way
and the train starts at once at its full, terrible speed,
without a shift in gears or a gradation of any sort.
He cannot tell the rate at which he travels backwards.

Each night he must
be carried through artificial tunnels and dream recurrent dreams.
Just as the ties recur beneath his train, these underlie
his rushing brain. He does not look out the window,
for the third rail, the unbroken draught of poison,
runs there beside him. He regards it as a disease
he has inherited the susceptibility to. He has to keep
his hands in his pockets, as others must wear mufflers.

If you catch him,
hold up a flashlight to his eye. It's all dark pupil,
an entire night itself, whose haired horizon tightens
as he stares back, and closes up the eye. Then from the lids
one tear, his only possession, like the bee's sting, slips.
Slyly he palms it, and if you're not paying attention
he'll swallow it. However, if you watch, he'll hand it over,
cool as from underground springs and pure enough to drink.
--Elizabeth Bishop


"The Tryst"
In the early evening rain
I leave the vault
and walk into the city

of lamentations, and stand.
I think it is September, September.

Where are you, Josephine?
It is one minute until you must appear,
draped in a grass-green serape,

shorter than most people,
more beautiful, baleful...

pressing a hand to my forehead,
slipping into my famished pocket
the elixir, the silver needle.
--James Tate


"Child on Top of a Greenhouse"
The wind billowing out the seat of my britches,
My feet crackling splinters of glass and dried putty,
The half-grown chrysanthemums staring up like accusers,
Up through the streaked glass, flashing with sunlight,
A few white clouds all rushing eastward,
A line of elms plunging and tossing like horses,
And everyone, everyone pointing up and shouting!
--Theodore Roethke


"Flower Dump"
Cannas shiny as slag,
Slug-soft stems,
Whole beds of bloom pitched on a pile,
Carnations, verbenas, cosmos,
Molds, weeds, dead leaves,
Turned-over roots
With bleached veins
Twined like fine hair,
Each clump in the shape of a pot;
Everything limp
But one tulip on top,
One swaggering head
Over the dying, the newly dead.
--Theodore Roethke
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"I meet a lot of people who claim to be writers. They like to identify with the images and lifestyle and assumptions that go along with being a writer, but they don't actually do any serious writing. Writing poems or stories as catharsis or therapy--to vent or get something off your chest--is not the same as writing poetry or short stories professionally. Writing can be enjoyable and is one of many forms of self-help, but that doesn't mean that you're born to be a writer. You might sew a button on your shirt, but you're not a tailor; you might cook dinner for your family, but you're not a chef; you might play golf for fun, but you're not on the PGA tour or in charge of a golf course.

"This is where the disparity begins--the dueling identities. If you're an administrative assistant in your day job, and you are not actively advancing your career, and you write a few poems a year in your spare time, you are not a writer. Identifying with being a writer only brings you further from the life you are living. As each day passes, you think about how you're not doing what you should be doing, you begin to become depressed because you're too busy worrying about living a fantasy life someday and paying no attention to the life you have right now. Wanting to change careers and taking action to make that happen is one thing; hoping that some miracle will occur that will change everything for you is a path to depression and anxiety."
--Jem Matzan


"You cannot work too hard at poetry. People are bad at it not because they have tin ears, but because they simply don't have the faintest idea how much work goes into it. It's not as if you're ordering a pizza or doing something that requires direct communication in a very banal way. But it seems these days the only people who spend time over things are retired people and prisoners. We bolt things, untasted.

"It's so easy to say, 'That'll do.' Everyone's in a hurry. People are intellectually lazy, morally lazy, ethically lazy...All the time. When people get angry with a traffic warden they don't stop and think what it would be like to be a traffic warden or how annoying it would be if people could park wherever they liked. People talk lazily about how hypocritical politicians are. But everyone is. On the one hand we hate that petrol is expensive and on the other we go on about global warming. We abrogate the responsibility for thought and moral decisions onto others and then have the luxury of saying it's not good enough.

"At its best poetry engages with the realities of existence. That's why it's so grown up. It's the absolute opposite of this Disney idea that if you dream hard enough you can get anything--that's so manifestly not true. Good art has a skull showing. We just need to knuckle down and produce it.

"I don't like this idea that mankind is meant to feel wicked for existing. And that's what religious people often make one feel. They think we should spend our time either apologising to God for being what we are, or praising him for making us what we are. I mean, what kind of God would need to be praised all the time? If we meet a human being like that we rapidly find them an appalling bore. And if we have to apologise to the creator of the universe, too, that's mad. Atheists also feel the need to apologise to nature: 'Oh, I'm so sorry that I behave like a man. And that's so unfair on poor squirrels and mice and things.' Bollocks, you know. Tree frogs don't get up in the morning and say, 'Oh dear, I should have been a better tree frog.' One has to be reasonable about it. And to recognise that we've done many good and remarkable things. We may have created a lot of landfill sites, but we've also produced King Lear and Don Giovanni and the Parthenon. Wonderful things, beautiful."
--Stephen Fry


"Pieces"

"Listen to the shooting," he said. "Can you hear it? It's hammering on us like rain."
— Omar, a protestor in Homs.


The world is wrong and I am wrung,
a bell of cloth dripping salt
into an earth too broken for roots.
I am a jumble, I am a heap,
a tangle of wires crosspurposed
and my voice is glass
and my voice is in the earth
and the rain is made of metal and mortar
and fire scorns water thin as air and the heat
melts skin. The world is wrong
and I am stung, I am raw to this wasp-air's buzz
to these teeth stacked like walls
against words, against tongues,
and I would tell these sons of men
something so shiningsharp that they would sing with it
hold the sun in a cup of their hands
but this glass voice breaks in my throat
and I would speak swallows with clear wings
to scrape an augury against the sky in splinters
but no one speaks glass.

My grandmother is a country I would know
It is her name, her voice I hear
when I read this gold-cloth word
this sand-gold word, this sun-bright word
with its vowels askew in my alphabet,
this word of riches and gates, of grapes and roads,
of layers and music and dust. It is my grandmother's name
I hear breaking beneath numbers
beneath 200
beneath rain that heaves through bodies like grief
beneath forty-eight
and nineteen, and eighteen.

I will not speak of my name.

I will not speak of your countries
of this language we share
that is not glass. I will not speak
of your smoke
and your silence
and the bullets stitching purpose to our backs.

My voice is in pieces
I cannot swallow.
But if you would hear it
I will put a sliver in your eye
slide it stinging into place.
It is glass. See through it.
Change.
--Amal El-Mohtar


"A Sleepless Night"
April, and the last of the plum blossoms
scatters on the black grass
before dawn. The sycamore, the lime,
the struck pine inhale
the first pale hints of sky.
An iron day,
I think, yet it will come
dazzling, the light
rise from the belly of leaves and pour
burning from the cups
of poppies.
The mockingbird squawks
from his perch, fidgets,
and settles back. The snail, awake
for good, trembles from his shell
and sets sail for China. My hand dances
in the memory of a million vanished stars.

A man has every place to lay his head.
--Philip Levine


"Under One Small Star"
My apologies to chance for calling it necessity
My apologies to necessity if I'm mistaken, after all.
Please, don't be angry, happiness, that I take you as my due.
May my dead be patient with the way my memories fade.
My apologies to time for all the world I overlook each second.
My apologies to past loves for thinking that the latest is the first.
Forgive me, distant wars, for bringing flowers home.
Forgive me, open wounds, for pricking my finger.
I apologise for my record of minuets to those who cry from the depths.
I apologise to those who wait in railway stations for being asleep today at
five a.m.
Pardon me, hounded hope, for laughing from time to time.
Pardon me, deserts, that I don't rush to you bearing a spoonful of water.
And you, falcon, unchanging year after year, always in the same cage,
you gaze always fixed on the same point in space,
forgive me, even if it turns out you were stuffed.
My apologies to the felled tree for the table's four legs.
My apologies to great questions for small answers.
Truth, please don't pay me much attention.
Dignity please be magnanimous.
Bear with me, O mystery of existence, as I pluck the occasional thread from
your train.
Soul, don't take offense that I've only got you now and then.
My apologies to everyone that I can't be everywhere at once.
My apologies to everyone that I can't be each woman and each man.
I know that I won't be justified as long as I live,
since I myself stand in my own way.
Don't bear me ill will, speech, that I borrow weighty words,
then labor heavily so that they may seem light.
--Wislawa Szymborska


"Crow on the Beach"
Hearing shingle explode, seeing it skip,
Crow sucked his tongue.
Seeing sea-grey mash a mountain of itself
Crow tightened his goose pimples.
Feeling spray from the sea's root nothinged on his crest
Crow's toes gripped the wet pebbles.
When the smell of the whale's den, the gulfing of the crab's last prayer,
Gimletted in his nostril,
He grasped he was on earth.

He knew he grasped
Something fleeting
Of the sea's ogreish outcry and convulsion.
He knew he was the wrong listener unwanted
To understand or help--

His utmost gaping of a brain in his tiny skull
Was just enough to wonder, about the sea,

What could be hurting so much?
--Ted Hughes


"The Fish"
I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.
He didn't fight.
He hadn't fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely. Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper:
shapes like full-blown roses
stained and lost through age.
He was speckled and barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
and infested
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green weed hung down.
While his gills were breathing in
the terrible oxygen
--the frightening gills,
fresh and crisp with blood,
that can cut so badly--
I thought of the coarse white flesh
packed in like feathers,
the big bones and the little bones,
the dramatic reds and blacks
of his shiny entrails,
and the pink swim-bladder
like a big peony.
I looked into his eyes
which were far larger than mine
but shallower, and yellowed,
the irises backed and packed
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little, but not
to return my stare.
--It was more like the tipping
of an object toward the light.
I admired his sullen face,
the mechanism of his jaw,
and then I saw
that from his lower lip
--if you could call it a lip
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line,
or four and a wire leader
with the swivel still attached,
with all their five big hooks
grown firmly in his mouth.
A green line, frayed at the end
where he broke it, two heavier lines,
and a fine black thread
still crimped from the strain and snap
when it broke and he got away.
Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw.
I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnels--until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
And I let the fish go.
--Elizabeth Bishop
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"In one of your poems, you wrote about seeing a moose appear in the road. I loved that poem for being so looming, so Canadian. When I returned from the doctor's office today I went straight home and looked for that poem, for the line I had forgotten and needed to see again to believe it was real:

"Why, why do we feel (we all feel) this sweet sensation of joy?

"I know why, but only briefly. Then it disappears and I am left with my same old misunderstanding. I am left to my television, my websites, my class of eighth graders studying earth science. And Elizabeth, I am left wanting to see that moose.

"I want to witness this animal you described as towering, as high as a church. I would crawl off the bus and leave all the passengers behind--even you, my dear Elizabeth--and reach for the moose and her great antlerless head. I would take my time, grand and otherworldly, and when I turned around again it would be your face peering back at me from the bus window.

"You make me remember myself: a young girl sitting on a bus, traveling somewhere, anywhere, with her own reflection hovering in the darkness outside."
--Laura Maylene Walter, "To Elizabeth Bishop, with Love"


"Write about an Empty Birdcage"
Write about an empty birdcage. As in: write about your ribcage after
robbery. Use negative space to wind a song from the place on the
dresser where a music box isn't. Write about the corners where the two
of you used to meet. Draw the intersections, arrow to the sidewalk
where her shoes aren't near yours. Write about

an empty birdcage. As in: write about a hinged-open
jaw that is neither sigh nor scream. Use this to signify
EXIT. Make sure to describe the teeth, the glint of
metal deep down in the molars, the smell of breath after lack of
water. Make sure to draw this mouth a thirsty and human portrait of
what it means to be used up. Write about voice by writing

about how it feels when it's painful to swallow. If you must put noise
in the scene
make it the sound of bird wings flapping in a cardboard box. Show us
an empty cage and give us the sound of confinement. Take hope and fold
it small as seed, then suck on it. Slow and selfish. Write about an
empty birdcage. Birdcage can read: building, structure, abandoned or
adorned. As in:

loop and tighten a vine of nostalgia around the room
you currently brick yourself into. Recreate the sweet of jasmine, but
mortar the door so it will not seep through. Write about an empty
birdcage. Replay us the scene. As in: she presses her pale cheek
against the window, as he turns his pinstriped back, slow and final.
Again. She presses her pale cheek against the window, and he turns
his pinstriped back, slow and

final. Again. She presses her pale
cheek against the window, as he turns his pinstriped back, slow and
final. Again. She presses her her pale cheek against the window,
as he turns his pinstriped back, slow and final.
Write about an empty birdcage. Write about the hinges.
Describe them as dry knuckles. Write

how I became a moan.
--Elaina M. Ellis
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"To have that sense of one's intrinsic worth which constitutes self-respect is potentially to have everything: the ability to discriminate, to love and to remain indifferent. To lack it is to be locked within oneself, paradoxically incapable of either love or indifference."
--Joan Didion


"When a man is rabidly for one cause, and then is just as rabidly for another cause, it is not because he loves the causes: it is because he loves the rabies."
--Paul Collins


"It sifts from Leaden Sieves"
It sifts from Leaden Sieves--
It powders all the Wood.
It fills with Alabaster Wool
The Wrinkles of the Road--

It makes an Even Face
Of Mountain, and of Plain--
Unbroken Forehead from the East
Unto the East again--

It reaches to the Fence--
It wraps it Rail by Rail
Till it is lost in Fleeces--
It deals Celestial Veil

To Stump, and Stack--and Stem--
A Summer's empty Room--
Acres of Joints, where Harvests were,
Recordless, but for them--

It Ruffles Wrists of Posts
As Ankles of a Queen--
Then stills its Artisans--like Ghosts--
Denying they have been--
--Emily Dickinson


"Pink Dog"
[Rio de Janeiro]

The sun is blazing and the sky is blue.
Umbrellas clothe the beach in every hue.
Naked, you trot across the avenue.

Oh, never have I seen a dog so bare!
Naked and pink, without a single hair...
Startled, the passersby draw back and stare.

Of course they're mortally afraid of rabies.
You are not mad; you have a case of scabies
but look intelligent. Where are your babies?

(A nursing mother, by those hanging teats.)
In what slum have you hidden them, poor bitch,
while you go begging, living by your wits?

Didn't you know? It's been in all the papers,
to solve this problem, how they deal with beggars?
They take and throw them in the tidal rivers.

Yes, idiots, paralytics, parasites
go bobbing in the ebbing sewage, nights
out in the suburbs, where there are no lights.

If they do this to anyone who begs,
drugged, drunk, or sober, with or without legs,
what would they do to sick, four-legged dogs?

In the cafés and on the sidewalk corners
the joke is going round that all the beggars
who can afford them now wear life preservers.

In your condition you would not be able
even to float, much less to dog-paddle.
Now look, the practical, the sensible

solution is to wear a fantasía.
Tonight you simply can't afford to be a-
n eyesore. But no one will ever see a

dog in máscara this time of year.
Ash Wednesday'll come but Carnival is here.
What sambas can you dance? What will you wear?

They say that Carnival's degenerating
--radios, Americans, or something,
have ruined it completely. They're just talking.

Carnival is always wonderful!
A depilated dog would not look well.
Dress up! Dress up and dance at Carnival!
--Elizabeth Bishop
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"The arsonist stood up in court and said"
I am not an arsonist. I dreamt
the building was a phoenix
and needed my help. Before sticking me
in a sentence, like a four-syllable word
with only one meaning, consider
what becomes of the ashes: see
how after smearing a palm-full
hair grows on a bald man's scalp, how
just a sprinkle makes irises sprout through
sidewalk cracks. You call me sick,
but have you ever seen a suicidal
parakeet, a homeless butterfly?
You want to know how you go crazy?
One marble at a time. It's the law
of your language that dictates mess
is the precursor for messiah. You don't
understand my logic to the hmph degree.
Your style of math is forty-three floors
beneath me. But you should have seen
the fire, a symphony of mayhem, people
leaping from windows, like lightning
bolts somersaulting out of a terrible cloud.
--Jeffrey McDaniel


"One Art"
The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

--Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) disaster.
--Elizabeth Bishop
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Behold but One in all things; it is the second that leads you astray."
--Kabir

"Society becomes great when old men plant trees whose shade they'll never sit under."
--Greek proverb

"In summer the song sings itself."
--William Carlos Williams

"Should we have stayed home and thought of here?"
--Elizabeth Bishop

"All of us failed to match our dreams of perfection. So I rate us on the basis of our splendid failure to do the impossible."
--William Faulkner

"Perhaps they were right in putting love into books. Perhaps it could not live anywhere else."
--William Faulkner

Profile

scrapofpaper: (Default)
scrapofpaper

November 2015

S M T W T F S
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
2930     

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Jul. 21st, 2017 02:29 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios