[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
I ask you, how much beauty
can a person bear? It is
heavier than ugliness, even the burden
of emptiness is nothing beside it.
---Louise Glück, "Baskets"


"I shall never forget the occasion when I was visiting a school as a writer and the whole place suddenly fell into an uproar because the school tomboy - a most splendid Britomart of a girl - had beaten up the school bully. Everything stopped in the staffroom while the teachers debated what to do. They wanted to give the tomboy a prize, but decided reluctantly that they had better punish her and the bully too. They knew that if, as a child, you do pluck up courage to hit the bully, it is an act of true heroism - as great as that of Beowulf in his old age. I remember passing the tomboy, sitting in her special place of punishment opposite the bully. She was blazing with her deed, as if she had actually been touched by a god. And I thought that this confirmed all my theories: a child in her position is open to any heroic myth I care to use; she is inward with folktales; she would feel the force of any magical or divine intervention."
---Diana Wynne Jones


"Because children grow up, we think its a child’s purpose to grow up. But a child’s purpose is to be a child. Nature doesn’t disdain what lives for a day. It pours the whole of itself into each moment. We don’t value the lily less for not being made of flint and built to last. Life’s bounty is in its flow, later is too late. Where is the song when its being sung? The dance when its being danced? It’s only humans who want to own the future, too. We persuade ourselves that the universe is modestly employed in unfolding our destination. We note the haphazard chaos of history by the day, by the hour, but there is something wrong with the picture. Where is the unity, the meaning, of nature’s highest creation? Surely those millions of little streams of accident and willfulness have their correction in the vast underground river, which, without a doubt, is carrying us to the place where we’re expected! But there is not such place, that’s why it’s called utopia. The death of a child has no more meaning than the death of armies, of nations. Was the child happy while he lived? That is the proper question, the only question. If we can’t arrange our own happiness, it’s a conceit beyond vulgarity to arrange the happiness of those who come after us."
---Tom Stoppard


"A poem is a glass, through which light is conveyed to us."
---Susan Howe, "Vagrancy in the Park"


"To love does not mean to surrender, dissolve and merge with another person. It is the noble opportunity for an individual to ripen, to become something in and of himself. To become a world in response to another is a great immodest challenge that has sought him out and called him forth."
---Rainer Maria Rilke


"The Sermon on the Warpland"
“The fact that we are black
is our ultimate reality.”
—Ron Karenga


And several strengths from drowsiness campaigned
but spoke in Single Sermon on the warpland.

And went about the warpland saying No.
“My people, black and black, revile the River.
Say that the River turns, and turn the River.

Say that our Something in doublepod contains
seeds for the coming hell and health together.
Prepare to meet
(sisters, brothers) the brash and terrible weather;
the pains;
the bruising; the collapse of bestials, idols.
But then oh then!—the stuffing of the hulls!
the seasoning of the perilously sweet!
the health! the heralding of the clear obscure!

Build now your Church, my brothers, sisters. Build
never with brick nor Corten nor with granite.
Build with lithe love. With love like lion-eyes.
With love like morningrise.
With love like black, our black—
luminously indiscreet;
complete; continuous.
---Gwendolyn Brooks


"The Second Sermon on the Warpland"
For Walter Bradford

1.

This is the urgency: Live!
and have your blooming in the noise of the whirlwind.


2.

Salve salvage in the spin.
Endorse the splendor splashes;
stylize the flawed utility;
prop a malign or failing light—
but know the whirlwind is our commonwealth.
Not the easy man, who rides above them all,
not the jumbo brigand,
not the pet bird of poets, that sweetest sonnet,
shall straddle the whirlwind.
Nevertheless, live.


3.

All about are the cold places,
all about are the pushmen and jeopardy, theft—
all about are the stormers and scramblers but
what must our Season be, which stars from Fear?
Live and go out.
Define and
medicate the whirlwind.


4.

The time
cracks into furious flower. Lifts its face
all unashamed. And sways in wicked grace.
Whose half-black hands assemble oranges
is tom-tom hearted
(goes in bearing oranges and boom).
And there are bells for orphans—
and red and shriek and sheen.
A garbageman is dignified
as any diplomat.
Big Bessie’s feet hurt like nobody’s business,
but she stands—bigly—under the unruly scrutiny, stands in the
     wild weed.

In the wild weed
she is a citizen,
and is a moment of highest quality; admirable.

It is lonesome, yes. For we are the last of the loud.
Nevertheless, live.

Conduct your blooming in the noise and whip of the whirlwind.

---Gwendolyn Brooks


"This then, I thought, as I looked about me, is the representation of history. It requires a falsification of perspective. We, the survivors, see everything from above, see everything at once, and still we do not know how it was."
---W.G Sebald, The Rings of Saturn


"If power were never anything but repressive, if it never did anything but to say no, do you really think one would be brought to obey it? What makes power hold good, what makes it accepted, is simply the fact that it doesn’t only weigh on us as a force that says no, but that it traverses and produces things, it induces pleasure, forms knowledge, produces discourse. It needs to be considered as a productive network which runs through the whole social body, much more than as a negative instance whose function is repression."
---Michel Foucault, "Truth and Power," trans. unknown


"This very insatiability of the photographing eye changes the terms of confinement in the cave, our world. In teaching us a new visual code, photographs alter and enlarge our notions of what is worth looking at and what we have a right to observe. They are a grammar and, even more importantly, an ethics of seeing. Finally, the most grandiose result of the photographic enterprise is to give us the sense that we can hold the whole world in our heads – as an anthology of images."
---Susan Sontag, On Photography


"I am in debt. I owe the world an unpayable sum, and yet each morning at my desk with the sun rising in the long distance—some mornings it blazes and on others it is a distant bulb barely able to raise smoke from the cold black tar of the roof—I sit down to repay that debt. My debt is simple. It is the poems of Elizabeth Bishop and Larry Levis. The prose of Norman Maclean and Michael Ondaatje. Derek Walcott and Wallace Stevens. Henry Thoreau and Ed Abbey. Naomi Shihab Nye and Terrance Hayes. Jack Gilbert. The list goes on and on. Some are my friends and some are people I know only in their words. But they have—each and every one—given me their language and their syntax. They have each offered me a gift—a fragment, story, a song, a glimpse of the sun streaming through their world. You want to know what keeps me going? I have no choice. The words are theirs and I owe the vigorish. It is all I can do to keep up the payments."
---Jeffrey Thomson


"In Memoriam: Martin Luther King, Jr."
I

honey people murder mercy U.S.A.
the milkland turn to monsters teach
to kill to violate pull down destroy
the weakly freedom growing fruit
from being born

America

tomorrow yesterday rip rape
exacerbate despoil disfigure
crazy running threat the
deadly thrall
appall belief dispel
the wildlife burn the breast
the onward tongue
the outward hand
deform the normal rainy
riot sunshine shelter wreck
of darkness derogate
delimit blank
explode deprive
assassinate and batten up
like bullets fatten up
the raving greed
reactivate a springtime
terrorizing

death by men by more
than you or I can

STOP


II

They sleep who know a regulated place
or pulse or tide or changing sky
according to some universal
stage direction obvious
like shorewashed shells

we share an afternoon of mourning
in between no next predictable
except for wild reversal hearse rehearsal
bleach the blacklong lunging
ritual of fright insanity and more
deplorable abortion
more and
more
---June Jordan


"Sanctuary"
My land is bare of chattering folk;
The clouds are low along the ridges,
And sweet's the air with curly smoke
From all my burning bridges.
---Dorothy Parker


"Compassion hurts. When you feel connected to everything, you also feel responsible for everything. And you cannot turn away. Your destiny is bound with the destinies of others. You must either learn to carry the Universe or be crushed by it. You must grow strong enough to love the world, yet empty enough to sit down at the same table with its worst horrors."
---Andrew Boyd, Daily Afflictions: The Agony of Being Connected to Everything in the Universe


"Frequently Asked Questions: 10"
Do you see current events differently because you were raised by a black father and are married to a black man?

           I am surprised they haven’t left already — 
things have gotten downright frosty, nearly unbearable.
A mob of them is apparently mouthing off outside

when I put down my newspaper and we all gather
           to stand beside my daughter in the bay
of kitchen windows. Quiscalus quiscula:

this name sounds like a spell which, after its casting,
          will make things crumble into a complement
of unanswerable questions. Though, if you need me

           to tell you God’s honest truth, I know nothing
but their common name the morning we watch them attack
our feeder. I complain about the mess they leave. Hulls

           I’ll have to sweep up or ignore. My father — 
who I am thankful is still alive — says We could use
a different kind of seed. A simple solution. We want that

brown bird with the shock of red: the northern flicker.
           We want western bluebirds, more of the skittish
finches. But mostly we get grackle grackle grackle

all day long. Can it be justifiable to revile these
           harbingers? They scoff all we offer
and — being too close and too many — scare

other birds away. My husband says, Look
           at all those crackles. I almost laugh at him,
but the winter air does look hurtful loud

around the black flock. Like static is loud when it sticks
           sheets to sheets so they crackle when pulled
one from another. And sting. My father — who is older now

           than his older brothers will ever be — promises
           he will solve the problem of the grackles
and leaves the window to search for his keys.

The dawn sky — blue breaking into blackness — 
           is what I see feathering their bodies. The fence
is gray. The feeder is gray, the aspen bark. Gray

           hulls litter the ground. But the grackles,
their passerine claws — three facing forward, one turned
           back — around the roost bar of the feeder, are

so bright within their blackness, I pray they will stay. 

---Camille T. Dungy


"We read many different Iliads, many different Alcestises in the course of our lives, and the relationship between the two texts, and between Achilles and Admetus, will change accordingly. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between ourselves and the poetry, or our reading of it. But of course the words on the page are always the same; it is we who change a little each year, just like the tree outside our library window. Thus it happens that as we examine ourselves in the poetry on the page, its allusions to us may change from time to time. But when the buds ripen in spring, the tree brings forth leaves like the ones that the wind blew away in the fall."
---Richard Garner, “From Homer to Tragedy: The Art of Allusion in Greek Poetry”


"Someday I'll Love Ocean Vuong"
After Frank O’Hara / After Roger Reeves

Ocean, don’t be afraid.
The end of the road is so far ahead
it is already behind us.
Don’t worry. Your father is only your father
until one of you forgets. Like how the spine
won’t remember its wings
no matter how many times our knees
kiss the pavement. Ocean,
are you listening? The most beautiful part
of your body is wherever
your mother’s shadow falls.
Here’s the house with childhood
whittled down to a single red tripwire.
Don’t worry. Just call it horizon
& you’ll never reach it.
Here’s today. Jump. I promise it’s not
a lifeboat. Here’s the man
whose arms are wide enough to gather
your leaving. & here the moment,
just after the lights go out, when you can still see
the faint torch between his legs.
How you use it again & again
to find your own hands.
You asked for a second chance
& are given a mouth to empty into.
Don’t be afraid, the gunfire
is only the sound of people
trying to live a little longer. Ocean. Ocean,
get up. The most beautiful part of your body
is where it’s headed. & remember,
loneliness is still time spent
with the world. Here’s
the room with everyone in it.
Your dead friends passing
through you like wind
through a wind chime. Here’s a desk
with the gimp leg & a brick
to make it last. Yes, here’s a room
so warm & blood-close,
I swear, you will wake—
& mistake these walls
for skin.
---Ocean Vuong


"How is it possible to reclaim the body when it’s visible only in a mirror? A reflection of the body, external and reversed: the image both belongs to me and doesn’t. The photos, which I still have tucked away in the plastic sleeves of leather albums, reflect something more than what they show: a gaze that follows across the distances of continents and years. I can move my body through the world, and yet there is also an image of my body that resembles in every way the real thing: two people, bound together by this perceived resemblance—a woman who has died, a woman who goes on living."
---Lacy M. Johnson, The Other Side


"Slept"

    The thorns had hands. The fire stood still.
     It will take a hundred years

    to piece together a hundred dreams.
     A room of ashes was a room out-spun.

    Mother says the heart is a wheel

    and it will turn as I turn. Quickly.
     Nightly.            I  married the owl.

    ~

    I told her I could not walk,

    the walls circled my steps. I told her,
     my flesh became stone  and I did not

    bleed blood, but sound.
           What sound?    I could not describe it;

    it was voiceless

    and low. But it was not.
     Mostly I was not            alone  in my solitude.

    My breath became the ghost of me,

    or the ghost of an old man
     I’d long forgotten,
                                        a midnight grandfather.

    Pages of thoughts, they were not mine,
               though my hand mastered

    their language. I told her,

               I        cannot howl winsomely
     like vixens.
                           Like thieves. I wandered the forest,

    fingering every loose twig,
     but I was sleeping. My hand,

    good as air, was sleeping.

    ~

    In my sleep, I wrote the field guide:
     red-winged dream, tufted dream.

    One was of salt,

               one        without hunger—a forest

    of three-leaved trees.
     I thought I knew everything.

    My bed sat alone amongst the sassafras.
     A fox, mid-pace and mid-bark, stopped

    statue-like on a patch of moss.

                 I        was watcher,

    or maker.                      Yellow-bellied
     dream, mourning dream.

    Each thing I saw: a seed to myself.

    Inside a girl stirred restless as rain.
     I could not see her. I only grew.

    Mother says when the basket’s full,
     it is time to come home.

    ~

    Asleep, I lived

               in        silence, but in light.

    What if waking             were        a room
     black as the mind? Horn-billed dream,

    Stellar’s dream. And the body,

    a darkness        there        is no memory of.

---Jennifer Chang


"Poetry — No definition of poetry is adequate unless it be poetry itself. The most accurate analysis by the rarest wisdom is yet insufficient, and the poet will instantly prove it false by setting aside its requisitions. It is indeed all that we do not know. The poet does not need to see how meadows are something else than earth, grass, and water, but how they are thus much. He does not need discover that potato blows are as beautiful as violets, as the farmer thinks, but only how good potato blows are. The poem is drawn out from under the feet of the poet, his whole weight has rested on this ground. It has a logic more severe than the logician’s. You might as well think to go in pursuit of the rainbow, and embrace it on the next hill, as to embrace the whole of poetry even in thought."
---Henry David Thoreau
[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
"The purpose of literature is to turn blood into ink."
--T. S. Eliot


"self-exam (my body is a cage)"
Do this: take two fingers, place them on
the spot behind your ear, either

ear, the spot where your skull drops off

into that valley of muscle
& nerve--that is the muscle that holds up

the skull, that turns the dumb bone
this way & that, that nods your face up &

down when you think you
get it--press deeper, touch the little bundle of

nerves buried there, buried in
the gristle--the nerves that make you blink

when the light bewilders you, that make your tongue
slide in & out when you think you're in

love, when you think you need a drink, touch
that spot as if you have an itch, close your eyes &

listen, please, close
your eyes—can you hear it? We think our souls live

in boxes, we think someone sits behind our eyes,
lording in his little throne, steering the fork to

the mouth, the mouth to the tit, we think
hungry children live in our bellies & run out with their

empty bowls as the food rains
down, we sometimes think we are those

hungry children, we think
we can think anything & it won't

matter, we think we can think cut out her tongue,
& then ask her to sing.
--Nick Flynn


"You remember too much,
my mother said to me recently.
Why hold onto all that?

And I said,
Where do I put it down?"
--Anne Carson, "The Glass Essay"


"raving: i"
Once I wrote a poem larger than any man, even Jesus.
So tall the furrow of hair couldn't be tousled,
feet large as lakes. I titled it Personification so it
would live, Godzilla in parenthesis so it would kill.

There was blood. Testicles lay in the streets
like confetti post-parade. I was glad: Diana
after Actaeon's own salivating pack consumed him--
limb by limb licked, tendons trailing.

I rode the shoulder of my poem, wanting to see
their faces, none specific, all malevolent, calling out
last moments in ridiculous language--love, affection,
Tender,
one screamed. Not loudly enough and too late.

I wore red paint, salvaging neither plated breast,
nor firm mouth. Not once was I tender.
I wanted them wasted--him, him, him, him, him
--CM Burroughs


"I tell my students, 'When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game."
--Toni Morrison


"I said that the world is absurd, but I was too hasty. This world in itself is not reasonable, that is all that can be said. But what is absurd is the confrontation of this irrational and the wild longing for clarity whose call echoes in the human heart."
--Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus


"Nobody is as powerful as we make them out to be."
--Alice Walker


"Books are meat and medicine
and flame and flight and flower
steel, stitch, cloud and clout,
and drumbeats on the air."
--Gwendolyn Brooks


"The best way to keep a prisoner from escaping is to make sure he never knows he's in prison."
--Fyodor Dostoyevsky

"Nothing I accept about myself can be used against me to diminish me. I am who I am, doing what I came to do, acting upon you like a drug or a chisel to remind you of your me-ness, as I discover you in myself."
--Audre Lorde, "Eye to Eye"


"The bed was warm and ordinary and perfect, and it had been such a long, long day. Probably the longest day of my life. I felt like I had proof that not all days are the same length, not all time has the same weight. Proof that there are worlds and worlds and worlds on top of worlds, if you want them to be there."
--Carol Rifka Brunt, Tell the Wolves I'm Home


"Night and Sleep"
At the time of night-prayer, as the sun slides down,
the route the senses walk on closes, the route to the invisible opens.
The angel of sleep then gathers and drives along the spirits;
just as the mountain keeper gathers his sheep on a slope.
And what amazing sights he offers to the descending sheep!
Cities with sparkling streets, hyacinth gardens, emerald pastures!
The spirit sees astounding beings, turtles turned to men,
men turned to angels, when sleep erases the banal.
I think one could say the spirit goes back to its old home:
it no longer remembers where it lives, and loses its fatigue.
It carries around in life so many griefs and loads
and trembles under their weight; but now they are gone,
and it is all well.
--Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks and Robert Bly


"An Appendix to the Vision of Peace"
Don't stop after beating the swords
Into ploughshares, don't stop! Go on beating
And make musical instruments out of them.
Whoever wants to make war again
Will have to turn them into ploughshares first.
--Yehuda Amichai, translated by Glenda Abramson and Tudor Parfitt


"The Task Never Completed"
No task is ever completed,
only abandoned or pressed into use.
Tinkering can be a form of prayer.

Twenty-six botched worlds preceded
Genesis we are told in ancient commentary,
and ha-Shem said not only,
of this particular attempt,
It is good, but muttered,
if only it will hold.

Incomplete, becoming, the world
was given to us to fix, to complete
and we've almost worn it out.

My house was hastily built,
on the cheap. Leaks, rotting
sills, the floor a relief map of Idaho.

Whenever I get some money, I stove
up, repair, add on, replace.
This improvisation permits me to squat
here on the land that owns me.

We evolve through mistakes, wrong
genes, imitation gone wild.

Each night sleep unravels me into wool,
then into sheep and wolf. Walls and fire
pass through me. I birth stones.

Every dawn I stumble from the roaring
vat of dreams and make myself up
remembering and forgetting by halves.

Every dawn I choose to take a knife
to the world's flank or a sewing kit,
rough improvisation, but a start.
--Marge Piercy


"To the extent that it is possible you must live in the world today as you wish everyone to live in the world to come. That can be your contribution. Otherwise, the world you want will never be formed. Why? Because you are waiting for others to do what you are not doing; and they are waiting for you, and so on."
--Alice Walker, The Temple of My Familiar


"[Faith] means that, from the very roots of our being, we should always be prepared to live with this mystery as one being lives with another. Real faith means the ability to endure life in the face of this mystery."
--Martin Buber


"On the Death of a Parent"
Move to the front
of the line
a voice says, and suddenly
there is nobody
left standing between you
and the world, to take
the first blows
on their shoulders.
This is the place in books
where part one ends, and
part two begins,
and there is no part three.
The slate is wiped
not clean but like a canvas
painted over in white
so that a whole new landscape
must be started,
bits of the old
still showing underneath--
those colors sadness lends
to a certain hour of evening.
Now the line of light
at the horizon
is the hinge between earth
and heaven, only visible
a few moments
as the sun drops
its rusted padlock
into place.
--Linda Pastan


"Every October it becomes important, no, necessary to see the leaves turning, to be surrounded by leaves turning...You'll be driving along depressed when suddenly a cloud will move and the sun will muscle through and ignite the hills. It may not last. Probably won't last. But for a moment the whole world comes to. Wakes up. Proves it lives. It lives--red, yellow, orange, brown, russet, ocher, vermillion, gold. Flame and rust. Flame and rust, the permutations of burning. You're on fire. Your eyes are on fire.

"It won't last, you don't want it to last. You can't stand any more. But you don't want it to stop. It's what you've come for. It's what you'll come back for. It won't stay with you, but you'll remember that it felt like nothing else you've felt or something you've felt that also didn't last."
--Lloyd Schwartz


"A Short History of Judaic Thought in the Twentieth Century"
The rabbis wrote:
although it is forbidden
to touch a dying person,
nevertheless, if the house
catches fire
he must be removed
from the house.

Barbaric!
I say,
and whom may I touch then,
aren't we all
dying?

You smile
your old negotiator's smile
and ask:
but aren't all our houses
burning?
--Linda Pastan
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Great poetry does not teach us anything--it changes us. Man is like a musical instrument of many strings, of which only a few are sounded by the narrow interests of his daily life; and the others, for want of use, are continually becoming tuneless and forgotten. Heroic poetry is a phantom finger swept over all the strings, arousing from man's whole nature a song of answering harmony. It is the poetry of action, for such alone can arouse the whole nature of man. It touches all the strings--those of wonder and pity, of fear and joy. It ignores morals, for its business is not in any way to make us rules for life, but to make character. It is not, as a great English writer has said, 'criticism of life', but rather a fire in the spirit, burning away what is mean and deepening what is shallow."
--W. B. Yeats, "Irish Poets and Irish Poetry"


"Boy Breaking Glass"
To Marc Crawford
from whom the commission


Whose broken window is a cry of art
(success, that winks aware
as elegance, as a treasonable faith)
is raw: is sonic: is old-eyed première.
Our beautiful flaw and terrible ornament.
Our barbarous and metal little man.

"I shall create! If not a note, a hole.
If not an overture, a desecration."

Full of pepper and light
and Salt and night and cargoes.

"Don't go down the plank
if you see there's no extension.
Each to his grief, each to
his loneliness and fidgety revenge.
Nobody knew where I was and now I am no longer there."

The only sanity is a cup of tea.
The music is in minors.

Each one other
is having different weather.

"It was you, it was you who threw away my name!
And this is everything I have for me."

Who has not Congress, lobster, love, luau,
the Regency Room, the Statue of Liberty,
runs. A sloppy amalgamation.
A mistake.
A cliff.
A hymn, a snare, and an exceeding sun.
--Gwendolyn Brooks


"Adam's Curse"
We sat together at one summer's end,
That beautiful mild woman, your close friend,
And you and I, and talked of poetry.
I said, 'A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
Better go down upon your marrow-bones
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen
The martyrs call the world.'
And thereupon
That beautiful mild woman for whose sake
There's many a one shall find out all heartache
On finding that her voice is sweet and low
Replied, 'To be born woman is to know--
Although they do not talk of it at school--
That we must labour to be beautiful.'
I said, 'It's certain there is no fine thing
Since Adam's fall but needs much labouring.
There have been lovers who thought love should be
So much compounded of high courtesy
That they would sigh and quote with learned looks
Precedents out of beautiful old books;
Yet now it seems an idle trade enough.'

We sat grown quiet at the name of love;
We saw the last embers of daylight die,
And in the trembling blue-green of the sky
A moon, worn as if it had been a shell
Washed by time's waters as they rose and fell
About the stars and broke in days and years.

I had a thought for no one's but your ears:
That you were beautiful, and that I strove
To love you in the old high way of love;
That it had all seemed happy, and yet we'd grown
As weary-hearted as that hollow moon.
--W. B. Yeats


"Kitchenette Building"
We are things of dry hours and the involuntary plan,
Grayed in and gray. "Dream" makes a giddy sound, not strong
Like "rent," "feeding a wife," "satisfying a man."

But could a dream send up through onion fumes
Its white and violet, fight with fried potatoes
And yesterday's garbage ripening in the hall,
Flutter, or sing an aria down these rooms

Even if we were willing to let it in,
Had time to warn it, keep it very clean,
Anticipate a message, let it begin?

We wonder. But not well! not for a minute!
Since Number Five is out of the bathroom now,
We think of lukewarm water, hope to get in it.
--Gwendolyn Brooks


"A Display of Mackerel"
They lie in parallel rows,
on ice, head to tail,
each a foot of luminosity

barred with black bands,
which divide the scales'
radiant sections

like seams of lead
in a Tiffany window.
Iridescent, watery

prismatics: think abalone,
the wildly rainbowed
mirror of a soapbubble sphere,

think sun on gasoline.
Splendor, and splendor,
and not a one in any way

distinguished from the other
--nothing about them
of individuality. Instead

they're all exact expressions
of one soul,
each a perfect fulfillment

of heaven's template,
mackerel essence. As if,
after a lifetime arriving

at this enameling, the jeweler's
made uncountable examples,
each as intricate

in its oily fabulation
as the one before.
Suppose we could iridesce,

like these, and lose ourselves
entirely in the universe
of shimmer--would you want

to be yourself only,
unduplicatable, doomed
to be lost? They'd prefer,

plainly, to be flashing participants,
multitudinous. Even now
they seem to be bolting

forward, heedless of stasis.
They don't care they're dead
and nearly frozen,

just as, presumably,
they didn't care that they were living:
all, all for all,

the rainbowed school
and its acres of brilliant classrooms,
in which no verb is singular,

or every one is. How happy they seem,
even on ice, to be together, selfless,
which is the price of gleaming.
--Mark Doty


"I am even willing to argue passion is what separates us from other life-forms--that is, beyond the power to reason is our ability to escape from the desert of pure reason by its own primary instrument, language. And if it be poetry that makes the words flesh, then it is no less or more escapable than our bodies. But it is at least that free."
--C. D. Wright, Cooling Time: an American Poetry Vigil


"Poetry is tribal not material. As such it lights the fire and keeps watch over the flame. Believe me, this is where you get warm again. And naked. This is where you can remember the good times along with the worst; where you are not allowed to forget the worst, else you cannot be healed. This is where your memory must be exacting--where you and your progeny are held accountable but also laudable. Even and especially in our amnesiac land, poets are the griots, the ones who see that the word does not break faith with the line of the body."
--C. D. Wright
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"The Mother Writes to the Murderer: A Letter"
To you whose brain is a blunt fist
pushed deep inside your skull
whose eyes are empty bullets
whose mouth is a stone more speechless
than lost stones at the bottoms of rivers
who lives in a shrunken world where nothing blooms
and no promise is ever kept

To you whose face I never saw but now see
everywhere the rest of my life

You don't know where she hid her buttons

arranged in families by color or size
tissue-wrapped in an oatmeal box
how she told them goodnight sleep well
and never felt ashamed

You don't know her favorite word
and I won't tell you

You don't have her drawings taped to your refrigerator
blue circuses, red farms
You don't know she cried once in a field of cows
saying they were too beautiful to eat

I'm sure you never thought of that
I'm sure nothing is too beautiful for you to eat

You have no idea what our last words were to one another
how terribly casual
because I thought she was going a block away
with her brother to the store
They would be back in ten minutes

I was ironing her dress
while two houses away an impossible darkness
rose up around my little girl

What can I wish you in return?
I was thinking knives and pistols
high voltages searing off your nerves
I was wishing you could lose your own life
bit by bit finger by toe
and know what my house is like

how many doors I still will have to open

Maybe worse would be for you to love something
and have it snatched up sifted out of your sight
for what reason?
a flurry of angels recalled to heaven
and then see how you sit
and move and remember
how you sleep at night
how you feel about mail my letter to you
all the letters passing through all the hands
of the people on earth
when the only one that matters
is the one you can neither receive
nor send
--Naomi Shihab Nye


"To the River"
(for CSE Cooney)
He said come to the river,
the wet, wild water that is black as a mirror
with nothing to show.
He said come to the river,
the dirt-dank river, by the dew-spangled banks
of the murmur and flow.
He said come to the river.
And I came to the river.
I came to the river, with a ribbon in my hair,
with a tune on my tongue,
with a name that he gave,
with my red shoes tied,
with my milk and my bread,
with a stone in my pocket,
with my heart, not my head,
with my knee-socks high,
and my bed unmade.
He said take your red shoes off,
leave your buttons undone.
And he kissed me by the river
until there was blood.
And the river took my ribbon,
which fled the current like a snake.
And the river took my tongue,
and the river took my name.
He took from me the tune I knew;
And the river made my bed.
He said come to the river,
the wet, wild water that is cold as a hand
with no blood to warm.
So I came to the river,
and I stay by the river, by the silt-silked shore,
by the stone that I slipped on,
by the fern-beds so dark,
by the buried red shoe,
by the salt stain I made,
near the road that I left
that leads to my bed.
And I know I am dead but I still cannot rest.
And I'm hideous and hair-thatched
because I must be trash
for him to throw me to the river
like a used cigarette.
Fish have skimmed flesh from my jaw;
they've nibbled with sharp teeth.
My finger-bones lie tangled, far
away from here, my ankle bones
are further still, my smashed hips
are the dirt...
He said come to the river
so I stay by the river, by the sopping wet earth,
yes, come to the river, boys,
with no ferns in your hair,
come to the river, please,
and warm my bed.
--Jessica Paige Wick


"Truth"
And if sun comes
How shall we greet him?
Shall we not dread him,
Shall we not fear him
After so lengthy a
Session with shade?

Though we have wept for him,
Though we have prayed
All through the night-years--
What if we wake one shimmering morning to
Hear the fierce hammering
Of his firm knuckles
Hard on the door?

Shall we not shudder?
Shall we not flee
Into the shelter, the dear thick shelter
Of the familiar
Propitious haze?

Sweet is it, sweet is it
To sleep in the coolness
Of snug unawareness.

The dark hangs heavily
Over the eyes.
--Gwendolyn Brooks
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Two Bowls of Milk"

Are two bowls of milk. They are round
and white and have nothing to do

with the moon. They have no implications
of blindness, or sight. They wait

on the doorstep like bowls
or like things that closely resemble

bowls in their stillness. The bowls do not
foreshadow cats. There are two

because two hands set them out
and each wanted to hold something.

Milk because not water. The curve of
milk against the curve of bowl.
--Stephanie Bolster


"The Moment"

The moment when, after many years
of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the center of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,

is the same moment when the trees unloose
their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language,
the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can't breathe.

No, they whisper. You own nothing.
You were a visitor, time after time
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you.
You never found us.
It was always the other way round.
--Margaret Atwood


"Appeal to the Grammarians"

We, the naturally hopeful,
Need a simple sign
For the myriad ways we're capsized.
We who love precise language
Need a finer way to convey
Disappointment and perplexity.
For speechlessness and all its inflections,
For up-ended expectations,
For every time we're ambushed
By trivial or stupefying irony,
For pure incredulity, we need
The inverted exclamation point.
For the dropped smile, the limp handshake,
For whoever has just unwrapped a dumb gift
Or taken the first sip of a flat beer,
Or felt love or pond ice
Give way underfoot, we deserve it.
We need it for the air pocket, the scratch shot,
The child whose ball doesn't bounce back,
The flat tire at journey's outset,
The odyssey that ends up in Weehawken.
But mainly because I need it--here and now
As I sit outside the Caffe Reggio
Staring at my espresso and cannoli
After this middle-aged couple
Came strolling by and sneezed all over my table
And she said to him, "See, that's why
I don't like to eat outside."
--Paul Violi


"Variations on the Word Sleep"

I would like to watch you sleeping,
which may not happen.
I would like to watch you,
sleeping. I would like to sleep
with you, to enter
your sleep as its smooth dark wave
slides over my head.

And walk with you through that lucent
wavering forest of blue-green leaves
with its watery sun and three moons
towards the cave where you must descend,
towards your worst fear.

I would like to give you the silver
branch, the small white flower, the one
word that will protect you
from the grief at the center
of your dream, from the grief
at the center. I would like to follow
you up the long stairway
again and become
the boat that would row you back
carefully, a flame
in two cupped hands
to where your body lies
beside you, and you enter
it as easily as breathing in.

I would like to be the air
that inhabits you for a moment
only. I would like to be that unnoticed
and that necessary.
--Margaret Atwood


"We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon."
--Gwendolyn Brooks


"The Invitation"

It doesn't interest me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for
and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing.

It doesn't interest me how old you are.
I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool
for love
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn't interest me what planets are squaring your moon...
I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow
if you have been opened by life's betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn't interest me if the story you are telling me
is true.
I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,
"Yes."

It doesn't interest me
to know where you live or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.

It doesn't interest me who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the center of the fire
with me
and not shrink back.

It doesn't interest me where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone
with yourself
and if you truly like the company you keep
in the empty moments.
--Mountain Oraih

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