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"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 pale stars were sliding into their places. The whispering of the leaves was almost hushed. All about them it was still and shadowy and sweet. It was that wonderful moment when, for lack of a visible horizon, the not yet darkened world seems infinitely greater—a moment when anything can happen, anything be believed in."
---Olivia Howard Dunbar, The Shell of Sense


"Scarcely has night arrived to undeceive, unfurling her wings of crepe (wings drained even of the glimmer just now dying in the tree-tops); scarcely has the last glint still dancing on the burnished metal heights of the tall towers ceased to fade, like a still glowing coal in a spent brazier, which whitens gradually beneath the ashes, and soon is indistinguishable from the abandoned hearth, than a fearful murmur rises amongst them, their teeth chatter with despair and rage, they hasten and scatter in their dread, finding witches everywhere, and ghosts. It is night...and Hell will gape once more."
---Charles Nodier, Smarra & Trilby


"The desire to reach for the stars is ambitious. The desire to reach hearts is wise."
---Maya Angelou


"At midnight, fireworks in the plaza. No photographs—you know what fireworks are like. Tawdry, staggering, irresistible, like human love. Live stars fall on twenty thousand people massed in a darkened square. Some cry out, get burned, applaud. No star falls on me, although I try to position myself. Will you say you cannot make out my face in the dark? you heartless creature. At the end of the fireworks we burn down the cathedral, as is traditional. So dazed with light and sulfur by now, there is no question it is the appropriate finale. Tomorrow morning, when we try to celebrate Saint James's solemn Mass amid the charred ruins, we will think again. But fireworks are always now, aren't they? like human love. ¡Corazón arriba!

"When is a pilgrim like the middle of the night? When he burns."
---Anne Carson, "Compostela"


"Beware the autumn people.
For some, autumn comes early, stays late, through life, where October follows September and November touches October and then instead of December and Christ's birth there is no Bethlehem Star, no rejoicing, but September comes again and old October and so on down the years, with no winter, spring or revivifying summer.
For these beings, fall is the only normal season, the only weather, there be no choice beyond.
Where do they come from? The dust.
Where do they go? The grave.
Does blood stir their veins? No, the night wind.
What ticks in their head? The worm.
What speaks through their mouth? The toad.
What sees from their eye? The snake.
What hears with their ear? The abyss between the stars.
They sift the human storm for souls, eat flesh of reason, fill tombs with sinners. They frenzy forth. In gusts they beetle-scurry, creep, thread, filter, motion, make all moons sullen, and surely cloud all clear-run waters. The spider-web hears them, trembles—breaks.
Such are the autumn people."
---Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes


"September Midnight"
Lyric night of the lingering Indian Summer,
Shadowy fields that are scentless but full of singing,
Never a bird, but the passionless chant of insects,
      Ceaseless, insistent.  

The grasshopper’s horn, and far-off, high in the maples,
The wheel of a locust leisurely grinding the silence
Under a moon waning and worn, broken,
      Tired with summer.  

Let me remember you, voices of little insects,
Weeds in the moonlight, fields that are tangled with asters,
Let me remember, soon will the winter be on us,
      Snow-hushed and heavy.  

Over my soul murmur your mute benediction,
While I gaze, O fields that rest after harvest,
As those who part look long in the eyes they lean to,
      Lest they forget them.

---Sara Teasdale


"A Sunset of the City"
Already I am no longer looked at with lechery or love.
My daughters and sons have put me away with marbles and dolls,
Are gone from the house.
My husband and lovers are pleasant or somewhat polite
And night is night.

It is a real chill out,
The genuine thing.
I am not deceived, I do not think it is still summer
Because sun stays and birds continue to sing.

It is summer-gone that I see, it is summer-gone.
The sweet flowers indrying and dying down,
The grasses forgetting their blaze and consenting to brown.

It is a real chill out. The fall crisp comes.
I am aware there is winter to heed.
There is no warm house
That is fitted with my need.
I am cold in this cold house this house
Whose washed echoes are tremulous down lost halls.
I am a woman, and dusty, standing among new affairs.
I am a woman who hurries through her prayers.

Tin intimations of a quiet core to be my
Desert and my dear relief
Come: there shall be such islanding from grief,
And small communion with the master shore.
Twang they. And I incline this ear to tin,
Consult a dual dilemma. Whether to dry
In humming pallor or to leap and die.

Somebody muffed it? Somebody wanted to joke.
---Gwendolyn Brooks


"Three Songs at the End of Summer"
A second crop of hay lies cut  
and turned. Five gleaming crows  
search and peck between the rows.
They make a low, companionable squawk,  
and like midwives and undertakers  
possess a weird authority.

Crickets leap from the stubble,  
parting before me like the Red Sea.  
The garden sprawls and spoils.

Across the lake the campers have learned  
to water ski. They have, or they haven’t.  
Sounds of the instructor’s megaphone  
suffuse the hazy air. “Relax! Relax!”

Cloud shadows rush over drying hay,  
fences, dusty lane, and railroad ravine.  
The first yellowing fronds of goldenrod  
brighten the margins of the woods.

Schoolbooks, carpools, pleated skirts;  
water, silver-still, and a vee of geese.

*

The cicada’s dry monotony breaks  
over me. The days are bright  
and free, bright and free.

Then why did I cry today  
for an hour, with my whole  
body, the way babies cry?

*

A white, indifferent morning sky,  
and a crow, hectoring from its nest  
high in the hemlock, a nest as big  
as a laundry basket …
                                   In my childhood  
I stood under a dripping oak,
while autumnal fog eddied around my feet,  
waiting for the school bus
with a dread that took my breath away.

The damp dirt road gave off  
this same complex organic scent.

I had the new books—words, numbers,  
and operations with numbers I did not  
comprehend—and crayons, unspoiled  
by use, in a blue canvas satchel
with red leather straps.

Spruce, inadequate, and alien  
I stood at the side of the road.  
It was the only life I had.

---Jane Kenyon


"Empathy isn't just listening, it’s asking the questions whose answers need to be listened to. Empathy requires inquiry as much as imagination. Empathy requires knowing you know nothing. Empathy means acknowledging a horizon of context that extends perpetually beyond what you can see."
---Leslie Jamison, The Empathy Exams


"Getting lost is both the plight and the joy of the artist...This getting lost cannot be faked. We cannot pretend to be lost. We cannot be quasi-lost. In order to possibly find that way out---in order to discover that thing previously unknown to us---we walk through the pitch-black darkness. We feel our hands against cave walls. We slip and fall. We bruise ourselves, blind to our own path."
---Dani Shapiro


"Gathering is peculiar, because you see nothing but what you're looking for. If you're picking raspberries, you see only what's red, and if you're looking for bones you see only the white. No matter where you go, the only thing you see is bones."
---Tove Jansson, The Summer Book


"Average Tour"
It's not the child’s nightmare slide
down a ten-foot razor into a bath
of alcohol, nor the cobra's hooded stare
suddenly come near, but the multiplying string
of insignificance that's become your life.

The doorbell chimes, a phone
jars you from your book.
Your balding pharmacist recounts
the longest dullest joke
in history, his jaw hinged
like a puppet's blah
and blah and blah as you stitch
a smile across your face. A cop
drags you from your slot
in traffic: go straight to court, wait
for hours, weep shamelessly
to save ten bucks.

Such aggressively minor suffering
wins no handshakes, roses, accolades
and threatens to suck the soul out,

though in a small compartment in your skull
you hope for finer things.
At night you set aside your lists
and dime-sized aches to lift its lid
and find the simple room
in which everything you meant to speak
and shape and do is spoken,
formed and done: thirty-odd
thousand jasmine-scented nights
opening like satin umbrellas
all at once. But less and less

you unlatch paradise.
You learn to sleep through days, standing
like a beast, sleep while turning pages
or crying out from love. You sleep
and sleep. One day you wake up dead.
Strange hands raise you from your bed.
The zipper's jagged teeth interlock
before your shining eyes. Small world.
---Mary Karr


"The best way to know life is to love many things."
---Vincent van Gogh


Poem that opened you---
The opposite of a wound.

Didn't the world
Come pouring through?
---Gregory Orr


"Poetry…being able to see ghosts, then making others believe in them wholeheartedly."
---Kevin Stock


"Meditation"

"Is anything central?"
John Ashbery


One event stands out from childhood:
the day someone left.
The house was not empty,
but it would happen again
and again. This affected my sight:
fragments filled the air
with everything---a man
standing by the door, a cinder
in the air, evenings by myself.

Certain contradictions recurred:
a streetlamp glowing at sunrise,
the moon rising in the afternoon.
Now a white sheet covers everything,
a network of cloth, a web on the door.

Perhaps this explains nothing
but a restlessness to leave the world,
the desire to sleep on the floor
of one's past, beyond the rise of memory.
Once, someone left. The world was not changed
as I was, but the house I lived in
was left by itself, a thin frame standing
against the past and parting of events.
---Ira Sadoff


"Persephone in September"
The leaves are at my feet. The grass is dead.
The air is bitter as a dragonbite.
I hear the thunder moaning overhead,
Like some great creature dying in the night.
The winter wraps my shoulders like a shawl,
And I can taste the still unfallen snow.
The darkness comes like footsteps in the hall.
The winds reclaim the world, and I must go.

I take a road beyond the sight of eyes
That runs beyond the minds of walking men,
And only this I leave---a song that cries,
"Oh, I will surely, surely come again!"
And, knowing this, I turn my eyes and mark
My iron lover, crouching in the dark.
---Peter S. Beagle


"Planets and Words

"SESHAT IS A planet of books, of reading and writing. Not only do the people of Seshat document their every waking moment with words, they also build machines that write things into existence. On Seshat, a pen’s ink can be stem cells or plastic or steel, and thus words can become flesh and food and many-coloured candies and guns. In Seshat, you can eat a chocolate soufflé in the shape of a dream you had, and the bright-eyed ancient chocolatier may have a new heart that is itself a word become flesh. Every object in Seshat writes, churning out endless idiot stories about what it is like to be a cow, a pill jar or a bottle of wine. And of course the genomes of living beings are also read and written: the telomeres in Seshatian cells are copied and extended and rewritten by tiny molecular scribes, allowing the people of Seshat to live nearly as long as their books.

"It is no surprise that Seshat is overcrowded, its landfills full of small pieces of plastic, its networks groaning under the weight of endless spambot drivel, the work of fridges and fire alarms with literary aspirations, the four-letter library of Babel that flows from the mouths of DNA sequencers, with no end in sight.

"Yet the Seshatians hunger for more things to read. They have devised books with golden pages that the Universe itself can write in: books where gold atoms displaced by dark matter particles leave traces in carefully crafted strands of DNA, allowing the flows and currents of the dark to be read and mapped and interpreted. And over the centuries, as the invisible ink of the neutralinos and axions dries and forms words on the golden pages, hinting at ships that could be built to trace every whirl and letter out in the void and turn the dark sentences into light, the people of Seshat hold their breath and hope that their planet will be the first line in a holy book, or at least the hook in a gripping yarn, and not the inevitable, final period."
---Hannu Rajaniemi, "Invisible Planets"


"Good Death"
Of words placed in their best black clothes. Of that darkness full.
Of the laugh, forged of dust that spilled its gold light into the tomb.
Of the wreath carved upon the copper vault.
Of the ivory city – bones like trumpets – blowing you away from us in song.
Of the city again where you will be welcomed by vultures.
Of the road between the dates, a short slash. An usher in a gold hat.
Of the pronunciation of sorrow, always, in summer.
Of the snake who suffered the story.
Of the afterlife & its downpour of ordinary rites.
Of rites I enact in my broken thoughts.
Of my fever waving its anguish until the match goes out in disbelief.
Of the nine stars bleeding mercy beneath the roof of God.
Of God, God, & God.
Of the peace & suffering my people have been promised.
Of the clean, white clothes I gave the undertaker.
                              Here are the stockings, I said, not knowing
whether they would match her skin.
Of the poems I’ve been trying to write. Die, I say.
                              Go elsewhere for songs.
Of the food & the appetite.
Of my father’s shoulders in a black suit.
Of downpour again.
Of the animals who charge me with horns
                              when I offer my clay ribs.
Of her visitations.
Of the hot comb I cradled on my knees in the bathroom.
Of the brutal gospel of hair, untouched toothbrush, clothes
                               in closets with sale tags.
Of dreams where my teeth scatter like maple leaves.
Of what I will never remember.
Of the rain that makes my howls float like empty bottles of glass.
Of the dreams where my white clothes grow flames.
Of what I will remember remembering.
Of the neon-colored nail polish on her hand
                             I held at her deathbed.
Of what I hated to ask the night & gods.
Of the knees that remember the orange mud before the grass grew back.
Of you, Reader, looking at my face here & reading
                              because we all want to know how to bear it.
Of the strange, caring question their voices poured like grace
                            over my side where I was trying to leave. Get out of skin.
Of it being over, again & again.
Of it beginning.  They ask me was it a good death, was it
                             a good death, was there peace for all of us. Why
                             should I want peace instead of my mother?
Of the mothers who have always known while holding children
                              in their wombs – why wasn’t I told?
Now I walk into the sea with my jewel of anguish & shake those                            human flowers 
                               from my new, bald skull.

---Rachel Eliza Griffiths


"The Testing-Tree"
1

On my way home from school
   up tribal Providence Hill
      past the Academy ballpark
where I could never hope to play
   I scuffed in the drainage ditch
      among the sodden seethe of leaves
hunting for perfect stones
   rolled out of glacial time
      into my pitcher’s hand;
then sprinted lickety-
   split on my magic Keds
      from a crouching start,
scarcely touching the ground
   with my flying skin
      as I poured it on
for the prize of the mastery
   over that stretch of road,
      with no one no where to deny
when I flung myself down
   that on the given course
      I was the world’s fastest human.

 
2

Around the bend
   that tried to loop me home
      dawdling came natural
across a nettled field
   riddled with rabbit-life
      where the bees sank sugar-wells
in the trunks of the maples
   and a stringy old lilac
      more than two stories tall
blazing with mildew
   remembered a door in the 
      long teeth of the woods.
All of it happened slow:
   brushing the stickseed off,
      wading through jewelweed
strangled by angel’s hair,
   spotting the print of the deer
      and the red fox’s scats.
Once I owned the key
   to an umbrageous trail
      thickened with mosses
where flickering presences
   gave me right of passage
      as I followed in the steps
of straight-backed Massassoit
   soundlessly heel-and-toe
      practicing my Indian walk.

 
3

Past the abandoned quarry
   where the pale sun bobbed
      in the sump of the granite,
past copperhead ledge,
   where the ferns gave foothold,
      I walked, deliberate,
on to the clearing,
   with the stones in my pocket
      changing to oracles
and my coiled ear tuned
   to the slightest leaf-stir.
      I had kept my appointment.
There I stood in the shadow,
   at fifty measured paces,
      of the inexhaustible oak,
tyrant and target,
   Jehovah of acorns,
      watchtower of the thunders,
that locked King Philip’s War
   in its annulated core
      under the cut of my name.
Father wherever you are
    I have only three throws
       bless my good right arm.
In the haze of afternoon,
   while the air flowed saffron,
      I played my game for keeps--
for love, for poetry,
   and for eternal life--
      after the trials of summer.

4

In the recurring dream
   my mother stands
      in her bridal gown
under the burning lilac,
   with Bernard Shaw and Bertie
      Russell kissing her hands;
the house behind her is in ruins;
   she is wearing an owl’s face
      and makes barking noises.
Her minatory finger points.
   I pass through the cardboard doorway
      askew in the field
and peer down a well
   where an albino walrus huffs.
      He has the gentlest eyes.
If the dirt keeps sifting in,
   staining the water yellow,
      why should I be blamed?
Never try to explain.
   That single Model A
      sputtering up the grade
unfurled a highway behind
   where the tanks maneuver,
      revolving their turrets.
In a murderous time
   the heart breaks and breaks
      and lives by breaking.
It is necessary to go
   through dark and deeper dark
      and not to turn.
I am looking for the trail.
   Where is my testing-tree?
      Give me back my stones!

---Stanley Kunitz


"Under the Harvest Moon"
Under the harvest moon,
When the soft silver
Drips shimmering
Over the garden nights,
Death, the gray mocker,
Comes and whispers to you
As a beautiful friend
Who remembers.

Under the summer roses
When the flagrant crimson
Lurks in the dusk
Of the wild red leaves,
Love, with little hands,
Comes and touches you
With a thousand memories,
And asks you
Beautiful, unanswerable questions.
---Carl Sandburg


"Writing is a corporeal activity. We work ideas through our bodies; we write through our bodies, hoping to get into the bodies of our readers. We study and write about society not as an abstraction but as composed of actual bodies in proximity to other bodies."
---Elspeth Probyn, "Writing Shame"


"He imagined himself in topographical terms. Corners, junctions, stiles, fingerposts, forks, crossroads, trivia, beckoning over-the-hill paths, tracks that led to danger, death or bliss: he internalized the features of path-filled landscapes such that they gave form to his melancholy and his hopes. Walking was a means of personal myth-making...he not only thought on paths and of them, but also with them."
---Robert Macfarlane, talking of poet Edward Thomas, The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot


Because the story of our life
becomes our life

Because each of us tells
the same story
but tells it differently

and none of us tells it
the same way twice

because grandmothers looking like spiders
want to enchant the children
because grandfathers need to convince us
what happened happened because of them

and though we listen only
haphazardly, with one ear,
we will begin our story
with the word and
---Lisel Mueller, "Why We Tell Stories"


"A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. Whilst she is walking across a room or whilst she is weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid envisaging herself walking or weeping. From earliest childhood she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually. And so she comes to consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as the two constituent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman. She has to survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to men, is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life. Her own sense of being in herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another […] One might simplify this by saying: men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object — and most particularly an object of vision: a sight."
---John Berger, Ways of Seeing


"Neither grief nor pride had so much truth in them as did joy, the joy that trembled in the cold wind between sky and sea, bright and brief as fire."
---Ursula K. Le Guin, Planet of Exile


"Metaphor achieves its end through its capacity to function in two referential fields at once, joining the familiar field of established meaning with the unfamiliar field for which there is no external characterisation, and which stands complete within itself. It is this field which houses the forces which make the Pindaric ode a living, lasting thing.

"In order to reach this second field, language must divest itself of its function of direct description. This is the role of metaphor within poetic discourse where it first destroys the literal level, then creates new meaning, Metaphor arises from a blockage in literal, inadequate interpretation, exploiting the gap between words and objects, sense and reference, and splitting the illusory bond between name and thing. From this wreckage a more fundamental mode of reference emerges, one which lays the way for a new, more adequate interpretation. Like ‘poeticalness’ itself, metaphor is not ‘a supplementation of discourse, but a total re-evaluation of discourse and of all its components whatsoever.’ The breakdown of literal levels of meaning sets us on the road to rediscovery and redescription, allowing poet and audience both to step back from a world of ordinary reference where words function as signs, to one of symbols, where words become significant in themselves. This symbolic language is notoriously dense, making words into a more substantial matter which does not merely represent, but expresses. Such opaque discourse replaces denotation with connotation, the hallmark of metaphoric speech."
---Deborah Steiner, The Crown of Song: Metaphor in Pindar


"Defeat"
Defeat, my Defeat, my solitude and my aloofness,
You are dearer to me than a thousand triumphs,
And sweeter to my heart than all world-glory.

Defeat, my Defeat, my self-knowledge and my defiance,
Through you I know that I am yet young and swift of foot
And not to be trapped by withering laurels.
And in you I have found aloneness
And the joy of being shunned and scorned.

Defeat, my Defeat, my shining sword and shield,
In your eyes I have read
That to be enthroned is to be enslaved,
And to be understood is to be levelled down,
And to be grasped is but to reach one’s fullness
And like a ripe fruit to fall and be consumed.

Defeat, my Defeat, my bold companion,
You shall hear my songs and my cries and my silences,
And none but you shall speak to me of the beating of wings,
And urging of seas,
And of mountains that burn in the night,
And you alone shall climb my steep and rocky soul.

Defeat, my Defeat, my deathless courage,
You and I shall laugh together with the storm,
And together we shall dig graves for all that die in us,
And we shall stand in the sun with a will,
And we shall be dangerous.
---Kahlil Gibran, trans. unknown


"A Separate Time"
In the years since I saw you on Sunday,
I left my home and walked out across the earth
with only my occasional luck and knowledge of cards.
I met men and women constantly dissatisfied,
who hadn't learned to close their hands,
who sewed and patched their few words
fashioning garments they hoped to grow into.
There were winters sheltered in a cabin beneath pines.
There were frozen rivers and animals crazy with hunger.
But always I saw myself walking toward you,
as a drop of water touching the earth immediately
turns toward the sea. Tonight I visit your house.
In the time precious to newspapers and clocks,
only a few days have passed. The room is quiet.
Looking into your eyes, I become like the exile
who turns the corner of the last cliff and suddenly
stares down into the valley of his homeland,
sees the terraced fields and white-roofed houses
grouped on the hillside. Then, the smell of woodsmoke
and a woman calling her husband in for the night.
---Stephen Dobyns


"Recovery"
You have decided to live. This is your fifth
day living. Hard to sleep. Harder to eat,

the food thick on your tongue, as I watch you,
my own mouth moving.

Is this how they felt after the flood? The floor
a mess, the garden ruined,

the animals insufferable, cooped up so long?
So much work to be done.

The sodden dresses. Houses to be built.
Wood to be dried and driven and stacked. Nails!

The muddy roses. So much muck about. Hard walking.
And still a steady drizzle,

the sun like a morning moon, and all of them grumpy
and looking at each other in that new way.

We walk together, slowly, on this your fifth day
and you, occasionally, glimmer with a light

I've never seen before. It frightens me,
this new muscle in you, flexing.

I had the crutches ready. The soup simmering.
But now it is as we thought.

Can we endure it, the rain finally stopped?
---Marie Howe


" 'Night is also a sun,' and the absence of myth is also a myth: the coldest, the purest, the only true myth."
---Georges Bataille


"Night Song"
The day darkens. You have not
light enough to push the night
from your rooms. In your mirror,
you see an older self just returned
from a country where you are going.
As you watch him, you imagine
a vast plain under a lowering sky.
There are no stars, but in the distance
are sparse fires of memory, and regret
like an animal’s call on the night air.
He has returned through a place as cold
as indifference or an empty heart,
and you would ask some question,
but he brings neither help nor comfort,
offers no message but silence. So you
step aside. You think this was not
what you were promised or even
planned for. What plans, what had you
intended? You fall like a pebble flicked
from a window above a darkening street.
---Stephen Dobyns


"I feel more and more every day, as my imagination strengthens, that I do not live in this world alone but in a thousand worlds."
---John Keats


"The instant dissolves in the succession of other nameless instants. In order to save it we must convert it into a rhythm. The ‘happening’ opens up another possibility: the instant that is never repeated. By definition, this instant is the final one: the ‘happening’ is an allegory of death."
---Octavio Paz, from “Recapitulations,” trans. Helen Lane


"Art is here to prove, and to help one bear, the fact that all safety is an illusion."
---James Baldwin


"I have the impression that thinking is a form of feeling and that feeling is a form of thinking."
---Susan Sontag


"We must not fear daylight just because it almost always illuminates a miserable world."
---René Magritte


"Madness and witchery… are conditions commonly associated with the use of the female voice in public, in ancient as well as modern contexts. Consider how many female celebrities of classical mythology, literature and cult make themselves objectionable by the way they use their voice. For example there is the heartchilling groan of the Gorgon, whose name is derived from a Sanskrit word garg meaning “a guttural animal howl that issues as a great wind from the back of the throat through a hugely distended mouth.” There are the Furies whose highpitched and horrendous voices are compared by Aiskhylos to howling dogs or sounds of people being tortured in hell. There is the deadly voice of the Sirens and the dangerous ventriloquism of Helen and the incredible babbling of Kassandra and the fearsome hullabaloo of Artemis as she charges through the woods. There is the seductive discourse of Aphrodite which is so concrete an aspect of her power that she can wear it on her belt as a physical object or lend it to other women. There is the old woman of Eleusinian legend Iambe who shrieks and throws her skirt up over her head to expose her genitalia. There is the haunting garrulity of the nymph Echo (daughter of Iambe in Athenian legend) who is described by Sophokles as 'the girl with no door on her mouth.'

"Putting a door on the female mouth as been an important project of patriarchal culture from antiquity to present day. Its chief tactic is an ideological association of female sound with monstrosity, disorder and death."
---Anne Carson, The Gender of Sound


"Tell Me Something Good"
You are standing in the minefield again.
Someone who is dead now

told you it is where you will learn
to dance. Snow on your lips like a salted

cut, you leap between your deaths, black as god’s
periods. Your arms cleaving little wounds

in the wind. You are something made. Then made
to survive, which means you are somebody’s

son. Which means if you open your eyes, you’ll be back
in that house, beneath a blanket printed with yellow sailboats.

Your mother’s boyfriend, his bald head ringed with red
hair, like a planet on fire, kneeling

by your bed again. Air of whiskey & crushed
Oreos. Snow falling through the window: ash returned

from a failed fable. His spilled-ink hand
on your chest. & you keep dancing inside the minefield—

motionless. The curtains fluttering. Honeyed light
beneath the door. His breath. His wet blue face: earth

spinning in no one’s orbit. & you want someone to say Hey…
    Hey
I think your dancing is gorgeous. A little waltz to die for,

darling. You want someone to say all this
is long ago. That one night, very soon, you’ll pack a bag

with your favorite paperback & your mother’s .45,
that the surest shelter was always the thoughts

above your head. That it’s fair—it has to be—
how our hands hurt us, then give us

the world. How you can love the world
until there’s nothing left to love

but yourself. Then you can stop.
Then you can walk away—back into the fog

-walled minefield, where the vein in your neck adores you
to zero. You can walk away. You can be nothing

still breathing. Believe me.

---Ocean Vuong


"Forecast"
I twist myself into a knot
the day pulls taut.

I am what I am
told. Good red meat

gone necrotic. A spot of black
spread out to ruin

a perfect evening. It’s the way
the weather wears me.

A cold, blank day. My blood-
burned fingers. A white noise

swelling in me. It’s nothing
but night now. That’s how

all the days end. An hour
glistens in its glass case, turns

rancid in my memory.
Another day, another

dress the day lays out
before me. I grow older

if I’m lucky.
And I’m lucky.

My sad heart in its excess.
Such petty injury. I am worn

against the weather. Limp and prone
to empty.

What came before this.
I can’t remember.

I dress for all the lives I want
behind me. I have come here

to make seen the day
I see. I fall from focus.

The day goes sour. It asks me
nothing. It asks nothing of me.
---Camille Rankine


Time, for us, is a straight line,
                                               on which we hang our narratives.
For landscape, however, it all is a circling
From season to season, the snake’s tail in the snake’s mouth,
No line for a story line.
In its vast wheel, in its endless turning,
                                                             no lives count, not one.

Hard to imagine that no one counts,
                                                         that only things endure.
Unlike the seasons, our shirts don’t shed,
Whatever we see does not see us,
                                                        however hard we look,
The rain in its silver earrings against the oak trunks,
The rain in its second skin.

---Charles Wright, "Scar Tissue II"


"Any entity, any process that cannot or should not be resisted or avoided must somehow be partnered. Partner one another. Partner diverse communities. Partner life. Partner any world that is your home. Partner God. Only in partnership can we thrive, grow, change. Only in partnership can we live."
---Octavia Butler, Parable of the Talents


"Changelings are fish you're supposed to throw back."
---Holly Black, The Darkest Part of the Forest


"The Flower Carrier"
for Jean Cassou and for Ida Jankelevitch

My hands are no longer mine,
they belong to the flowers I’ve just plucked;
can these flowers, with such pure imagination,
invent another being for these hands
that are no longer mine? And then,
obedient, I’ll stand at his side,
at the being’s side, curious about my former hands,
and I will never leave him, listening
with all my heart, before he can say to me:
O light-fingered one!
---Rainer Maria Rilke, trans. A. Poulin, Jr.


"For Phil"
in memory of Philip Levine

He sits reading under his desk lamp,
he loves how wind distresses tail and mane,
he likes the rhymes internal and irregular,
how people from the old days walk in and out
of the poem, how the father who dies
in one stanza can rise in another, how, despite
the drought, the rain keeps falling in fourteen lines.
His rumpled bed is never not specific
as the dent his head leaves in the pillow.
He rubs his hands across his jaw, unshaven,
his touch on the back of your wrist is delicate
and urgent, when you help him up from bed,
he isn’t shy about holding on, when he lies
back down, he grips his water bottle and won’t
let go. Smiling, says: Let’s not use that word:
it’s been used ten thousand eight-hundred
and seventy-six times. He shrugs off the weepers,
the brotherly lovers, the sour preachers turning
purple and blue in their dandruff-sprinkled robes.
Out in his backyard in Fresno, the oranges ripening.
At his window in Brooklyn, the plane trees,
stripped bare of leaves, click softly in the breeze.
Him in his undershirt, in his tweed jackets,
in sweat pants watching Norman Schemansky clean and jerk.
Now he’s throwing rocks on the bridle path,
he’s turning into a fox, the brush of his tail
mocks the path, he leaps clear of his own tracks,
doubles back, loses the lords and ladies riding.
Now he’s preaching to rats, showing them pages
in Holy Books, Money Books, Books of the Entitled
that are good to eat and chew right down.
But all alone in his study with ice and sun, he scrawls
with his fountain pen, crosses it all out, starts again:
and this time rising up are the sheared away walls
of an abandoned highschool, a stack of rusted axles,
a diner where nobody talks openly
of love but where ketchup and mockery
are served up with the coffee and his heart,
arrhythmic, pulse out of sync, all on its own.
---Tom Sleigh


"November Aubade"
When I was very young, I confused
the sound of crickets with the stars.
It was, almost, a word—the shrill chant diffused
by recurrence. Through the wind the stars
held and wavered. Even now, while walking by
a culvert on a warm November day,
the stagnant water shows a sky—
and the grass is deep with stars. But they
have dimmed—these are the last to fade—
like the voice of someone you once loved
you still hear in the early light of day.
---Carol Quinn


Not knowing when the Dawn will come,
I open every Door,
Or has it Feathers, like a Bird,
Or Billows, like a Shore —
---Emily Dickinson


"Happiness"
There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.

It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basketmaker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.
                     It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.

---Jane Kenyon
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Neither love nor terror makes one blind: indifference makes one blind."
---James Baldwin, If Beale Street Could Talk


"To believe in the immortality of a poem would be to believe in the immortality of language. We must bow to the evidence: languages are born and die; any meaning will one day cease to have meaning. And isn't this ceasing to have meaning the meaning of meaning? We must bow to the evidence …"
---Octavio Paz, "Recapitulations"


Why does tragedy exist?

Because you are full of rage.

Why are you full of rage?

Because you are full of grief.
---Anne Carson, Grief Lessons: Four Plays by Euripides


There is a kind of depression that empties the soul.
The eyes stay bright,
                             the mind stays clear as Canada on an autumn day
Just after the rain.
But the soul hangs loose as a plastic bag in a tree
When the wind has died.
                                        It is that drained.
And overcast. The little jack-weeds
That line its edges exhale,
And everything falls to a still, uneasy remove.
It stirs when the wind shifts,
                                             and seasons tumble and stall.
It stirs, but it doesn't disappear.
Though weeds re-up and the clouds relent,
                                                                     it doesn't disappear.

---Charles Wright, Littlefoot


"I see now that keen interest can illuminate anything, and that anything, moreover, has something worth illuminating in it, and that without that interest gates carved by Benvenuto Cellini from two diamonds would merely look chilly."
---Lord Dunsany


"The crucial thing in any work of any kind is that it must be a gift---the reader must possess it even more than the person who wrote it. It must be given completely."
---Jesse Ball


"Empathy isn't just something that happens to us---a meteor shower of synapses firing across the brain---it's also a choice we make: to pay attention, to extend ourselves. It's made of exertion, that dowdier cousin of impulse. Sometimes we care for another because we know we should, or because it's asked for, but this doesn't make our caring hollow. The act of choosing simply means we've committed ourselves to a set of behaviors greater than the sum of our individual inclinations: I will listen to his sadness, even when I'm deep in my own. To say 'going through the motions'---this isn't reduction so much as acknowledgment of the effort---the labor, the motions, the dance---of getting inside another person's state of heart or mind.

"This confession of effort chafes against the notion that empathy should always arise unbidden, that genuine means the same thing as unwilled, that intentionality is the enemy of love. But I believe in intention and I believe in work. I believe in waking up in the middle of the night and packing our bags and leaving our worst selves for our better ones."
---Leslie Jamison, The Empathy Exams


"Investigation"
This much is known:
the thread you never
let go of
guided you back.
And when you emerged,
years later, light
hurt your eyes.
Blood on your rusted
blade was dry.

But what happened
in the labyrinth?
In deepest dark
you grappled,
felt its breath
on your face,
stabbed,
and fled.

                A monster?
Wouldn't anything
cry like that,
pierced to the heart?

---Gregory Orr


"Poetry is a shared social space."
---Mary Jo Bang


"There's no absence, if there remains even the memory of absence. Memory dies unless it's given a use. Or as Athos might have said: If one no longer has land but has the memory of land, then one can make a map."
---Anne Michaels, "The Drowned City, Part I"


desire,
a huge fish I drag with me
through the wilderness:
I love its glint among the dust and stones."
---Gregory Orr, "Leaving the Asylum"


"Gwendolyn Brooks Park, Topeka"
They carved the letters yellow,
and painted
the wood around the letters green,
chained a picnic table to the grass
out near where the roof of the dead
mall directs a crack
of sunset to radiate the Burger King sign gold.
Last place open after midnight:
then apartment windows hold
stars and satellites in the cold.
A creek runs like a paper fold
from one corner of park to other,
twenty or thirty blocks from where
she took her first breaths of infancy
in the only city I know of
with the letters for poet
that does not also carry
a port or a point in its name.
---Ed Skoog


"A poem, if thrown at a pane of glass, should break the glass."
---Daniil Kharms


"A few nights ago, I felt the same pull I felt the day I turned on a television, years ago, and watched the beginning of a nation sinking into something called terrorism. Daily the news would play these wars out live & daily I'd watch this new reality television this easing of violence into our consciousness muting this thing called violence numbing us to this thing once called violence now called protection. I killed my television soon after."
---Metta Sáma, "Silence: a Retreat a Meditation"


"Rain Moving In"
The blackboard is erased in the attic
And the wind turns up the light of the stars,
Sinewy now. Someone will find out, someone will know.
And if somewhere in this great planet
The truth is discovered, a patch of it, dried, glazed by the sun,
It will just hang on, in its own infamy, humility. No one
Will be better for it, but things can't get any worse.
Just keep playing, mastering as you do the step
Into disorder this one meant. Don't you see
It's all we can do? Meanwhile, great fires
Arise, as of haystacks aflame. The dial had been set
And that's ominous, but all your graciousness in living
Conspires with it, now that this is our home:
A place to be from, and have people ask about.
---John Ashbery


"I feel like all the work is collaborative work, it's just that it comes out under an individual name so the other people you’re in collaboration with are subordinated in a certain kind of way to one's own name, even though all of those voices are constantly with you and in your head. There's a customarily solitary practice of orchestrating or organizing all those voices in a particular way, but I think now what I'd like to do is just not even be involved in that solitary practice of composing, or arranging. I mean there's always an element, however illusory, of working by yourself, which takes the form of practicing in that sense that, you know, a piano player would practice alone, but then the actual practice that you're practicing for, so to speak, is in the ensemble, in the encounter."
---Fred Moten
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Frame, an Epistle"
Most of the things you made for me--blanket--
chest, lapdesk, the armless rocker--I gave
away to friends who could use them and not
be reminded of the hours lost there,
not having been witness to those designs,
the tedious finishes. But I did keep
the mirror, perhaps because like all mirrors,
most of these years it has been invisible,
part of the wall, or defined by reflection--
safe--because reflection, after all, does change.
I hung it here in the front, dark hallway
of this house you will never see, so that
it might magnify the meager light,
become a lesser, backward window. No one
pauses long before it. But this morning,
as I put on my overcoat, then straightened
my hair, I saw outside my face its frame
you made for me, admiring for the first
time the way the cherry you cut and planed
yourself had darkened, just as you said it would.
--Claudia Emerson


Under the heart of grass, dew is heavy.
Along the path, a barefoot child carries
an open basket of strawberries.
And through a window I watch him--
as if he's hauling a basket of dawn.

How I wish a path would run my way,
how I wish I held a basket that swayed.
Then I wouldn't long for a far-off realm,
I wouldn't envy what someone else had.
And I would never--really--come back home.
--Arseny Tarkovsky, translator unknown


"Gravity"
After Carrie Mae Weems's "The Kitchen Table Series"

I. THE STRAW

Can you throw this away Maybe you should hire more Black staff
Where are you really from You’re not busy are you You look ethnic today
Where's the African American section Can you turn the music down
Fasterfasterfaster Let me see those eyes Beautiful If you were mine
I'd never let you leave the house It's like you went straight to Africa
to get this one Is that your hair I mean your real hair Blackass
Your gums are black You Black You stink You need a perm
I don't mean to be
racist

But
You're scarred over, I'm the one bleeding
You're just going to rip apart whatever I say
You've said sorry only two times
We tacitly agreed
Then dead me


II. THE CAMEL'S BACK

When you born on somebody else's river in a cursed boat it's all
downhill from there. Ha. Just kidding. I'd tell you what I don't have
time for but I don’t have time. Catch up. Interrogate that. Boss. Halo.
I juke the apocalypse. Fluff my feathers. Diamond my neck. Boom,
like an 808. One in a million. I don't want no scrubs. You don't know
my name. Everything I say is a spell. I'm twenty-five. I'm ninety. I'm
ten. I'm a moonless charcoal. A sour lover. Hidden teeth beneath the
velvet. I'm here and your eyes lucky. I'm here and your future lucky.
Ha. God told me to tell you I'm pretty. Ha. My skin Midas-touch the
buildings I walk by. Ha. Every day I'm alive the weather report say:
Gold. I know. I know. I should leave y'all alone, salt earth like to stay
salty. But here go the mirror, egging on my spirit. Why I can't go back.
Or. The reasons it happened. Name like a carriage of fire. Baby, it's
real. The white face peeking through the curtain. Mule and God. I'm
blunted off my own stank. I'm Bad. I dig graves when I laugh.
--Angel Nafis


"The present is not marked off from a past that it has replaced or a future that will, in turn, replace it; it rather gathers the past and future into itself, like refractions in a crystal ball."
--Tim Ingold, "The Temporality of the Landscape"


"To Be Alive"
To be alive: not just the carcass
But the spark.
That's crudely put, but...

If we're not supposed to dance,
Why all this music?
--Gregory Orr


"It's not enough that a poem extol the virtues of survival and overcoming. What if the poet never overcomes? What if the poet hears the same bitter verdict when testimony after testimony has been given? What if that poet--and this is the ultimate emotional transgression that repels the reader who takes comfort in literature as forgiveness--still feels a shadow of hate and it is that hate that disfigures song into something broken? But see, the only way to get at that inalienable grief is to disfigure song."
--Cathy Park Hong, "Against Witness"


"This first, which might doom everything: poetry is the closest literary form we have to silence. I think about prose too sometimes. What I think is--prose is made almost completely of words. And poetry is not. I keep coming back to this notion in more visceral ways, especially these warmer mornings, the windows open, all the early neighborhood silence rushing in. But of course that silence, like poetry's, isn't silence at all. I hear all manner of birds--the robin's clear push-me, pull-me song, the whirl of the wren and the house finch, the plaintive two or three notes of the chickadee, the two-note hiccup rush of the titmouse. Count more: the thump of the paper on the porch, the guy across the street slamming his car door once, twice. [...] Such an ordinary world. Not the sound of poetry. Not yet anyway. Still, the wayward, sometimes urgent sound of such a world is specifically--to me--a poetic sound, neither the mind's nor the heart's but some weird hybrid, a rhythm out to discover what is knowable and, more aptly perhaps, what is not."
--Marianne Boruch, "The Sound of It"


"In this rhetoric s/m becomes reparative or restorative; and the formalization of its practices suggests a ritual that is repeated in order to recuperate losses or heal the wounds of life. S/m, then, implicitly begins to take on the shape of an art form that is counterpoised to life, and in this opposition its acting out becomes an artistic performance that is more 'real' than life itself. 'Above and beyond the boundaries of time, the boundaries of life and death, there is a greater truth in visions,' Thompson writes. In this way s/m becomes expressed as a journey in which there is no truth prior to the experience but one at the journey's end. Nonetheless this 'end-truth' is somehow always already there, for it is a presupposition of the desire to make the journey itself. In this sense s/m takes on both a redemptive and pastoralizing tone, partaking in the discourses of sacrifice, amendment, atonement. Not, however, in the service of those who have 'sinned,' but as compensation for those who have been sinned against."
--Lynda Hart, Between the Body and the Flesh: Performing Sadomasochism


"Between takeoff and landing, we are each in suspended animation, a pause between chapters of our lives. When we stare out the window into the sun's glare, the landscape is only a flat projection with mountain ranges reduced to wrinkles in the continental skin. Oblivious to our passage overhead, other stories are unfolding beneath us. Blackberries ripen in the August sun; a woman packs a suitcase and hesitates at her doorway; a letter is opened and the most surprising photograph slides from between the pages. But we are moving too fast and we are too far away; all the stories escape us, except our own."
--Robin Wall Kimmerer, Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses


"I Am an Only Child (Am I Only a Child)"
Occasionally, there is a herd of mares outside my window.
They shout my name over & over. I say back, I say, I don't have
any stories to tell you. They become angry. They throw their
bodies at the walls of my home. Finally I dig a moat. I dig it
deep. All night, there are horses drowning outside my window.
They cry, How could you do this to us? They cry. I lower the blinds
& sleep for a long, long time. When I awake, my bedroom is full
of limp horse bodies. Who put these in here? Who?
but not a single mare stirs. I lift the blinds. The moat is empty.
The face of the water gleams in the sun. I leap out. I lower
my body into the moat. Finally I am alone, I say to myself. I dip
my muzzle into the water, & drink.
--Anaïs Duplan


"Take away my affections and I should be like sea weed out of water; like the shell of a crab, like a husk. All my entrails, marrow, juice, pulp would be gone. I should be blown into the first pubble and drown. Take away the love of my friends and my burning and pressing sense of the importance and lovability of human life and I should be nothing but a membrane, a fibre, uncoloured, lifeless..."
--Virginia Woolf, from a letter to Ethel Smyth


"The future is only an indifferent void no one cares about, but the past is filled with life, and its countenance is irritating, repellent, wounding, and to the point that we want to destroy or repaint it. We want to be masters of the future only for the power to change the past."
--Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting


"A story with a single ending seems to us a bare and diminished thing, like a tree with a single branch; and each ending seems to us an expression of something that is buried deep within the tale and can be brought to light in that way and no other."
--Steven Millhauser, Little Kingdoms


"Drag"
The dress is an oil slick. The dress
ruins everything. In a hotel room
by the water, I put it on when
he says, I want to watch you take it off.
Zipping me up, he kisses the mile
markers of my spine. I can't afford
this view. From here, I see a city
that doesn't know it's already
drowning. My neck shivers from
the trail of his tongue. I keep my
eyes on the window, just past
his bald spot. He's short. I can see
the rain that has owned us for weeks
already. The dress will survive us.
The dress will be here when men
come in boats to survey the damage.
He makes me another drink, puts
on some jazz, and the dress begins
to move without me. Slow like some-
thing that knows it cannot be stopped,
the dress seeps. The dress slides
with my body floating inside,
an animal caught in the sludge.
If he wraps his arms around me,
it will be the rest of his life.
I don't even know what I am
in this dress; I just sway with
my arms open and wait.
--Saeed Jones


"Night, the Poem"
If you find your true voice, bring it to the land of the dead. There is kindness in the ashes. And terror in non-identity. A little girl lost in a ruined house, this fortress of my poems.

I write with the blind malice of children pelting a madwoman, like a crow, with stones. No--I don't write: I open a breach in the dusk so the dead can send messages through.

What is this job of writing? To steer by mirror-light in darkness. To imagine a place known only to me. To sing of distances, to hear the living notes of painted birds on Christmas trees.

My nakedness bathed you in light. You pressed against my body to drive away the great black frost of night.

My words demand the silence of a wasteland.

Some of them have hands that grip my heart the moment they're written. Some words are doomed like lilacs in a storm. And some are like the precious dead--even if I still prefer to all of them the words for the doll of a sad little girl.
--Alejandra Pizarnik, translated by Cole Heinowitz


"IX Shooting Back"
You load, focus, aim.
The shutter falls like a tiny axe,
Reopens, a blinking eye washed in light.

An image enters the world
Premature, wet, lit like a miracle. The holier ones
Exploit darkness, develop like secrets.

Only the faithful possess
Nerve enough to stand this long, arms crossed,
Fearlessly posed, in the line of fire.

Every shot attempts to capture
The will-to-survive of its target:
High-top fades, hooded sweats, hard stares,

A Gucci background, a wicker chair.
--Thomas Sayers Ellis


"The Corn Baby"
They brought it. It was brought
from the field, the last sheaf, the last bundle

the latest and most final armful. Up up
over the head, hold it, hold it high, it held

the gazer's gaze, it held hope, did hold it.
Through the stubble of September, on shoulders

aloft, hardly anything, it weighed, like a sparrow,
it was said, something winged, hollow, though

pulsing, freed from the field
where it flailed in wind, where it waited, wanted

to be found and bound with cord. It had
limbs, it had legs. And hands. It had fingers.

Fingers and a face peering from the stalks,
shuttered in the grain, closed, though just a kernel

a shut corm. They brought him and autumn
rushed in, tossed its cape of starlings,

tattered the frost-spackled field.
--Mark Wunderlich

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