[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"All night I wait for language to form me. And think of the wind that comes to me, stays in me. All night I have walked in the unknown rain. I was given a silence full of forms and visions (you say). And run desolate like the only bird in the wind."
---Alejandra Pizarnik, "L'obscurité des eaux," trans. Cecilia Rossi


"Never are voices so beautiful as on a winter's evening, when dusk almost hides the body, and they seem to issue from nothingness with a note of intimacy seldom heard by day."
---Virginia Woolf, Night and Day


"We come back here to the status of metaphor in the fifth-century world, so different from its high profile in our own. Fifth-century listeners did not have our option of saying that something is metaphorical, 'therefore not real.' Personification, as the fifth century inherited and used it, was not an isolatable trick of language, but part of explaining what happened to and inside people."
---R. Padel, In and Out of the Mind


"The world is full of painful stories. Sometimes it seems as though there aren't any other kind and yet I found myself thinking how beautiful that gleam of water was through the trees."
---Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower


"There are no 'pure' phenomena, nor can there be, either in Nature or in society---that is what Marxist dialectics teaches us, for dialectics shows that the very concept of purity indicates a certain narrowness, a one-sidedness of human cognition, which cannot embrace an object in all its totality and complexity. There is no 'pure' capitalism in the world, nor can there be; what we always find is admixtures either of feudalism, philistinism, or of something else. Therefore, if anyone recalls that the war is not 'purely' imperialist, when we are discussing the flagrant deception of 'the masses of the people' by the imperialists, who are deliberately concealing the aims of undisguised robbery with 'national' phraseology, then such a person is either an infinitely stupid pedant, or a pettifogger and deceiver."
---V. I. Lenin, The Collapse of the Second International


"The Impossible Indispensability of the Ars Poetica"
But of course the poem is not an assertion. Do you see? When I wrote
That all my poems over the long years before I met you made you come true,
And that the poems for you since then have made you in yourself become more true,
I did not mean that the poems created or invented you. How many have foundered
In that sargasso! No, what I have been trying to say
For all the years of my awakening
Is that neither of the quaint immemorial views of poetry is adequate for us.
A poem is not an expression, nor is it an object. Yet it somewhat partakes of both. What a poem is
Is never to be known, for which I have learned to be grateful.
But the aspect in which I see my own
Is as the act of love. The poem is a gift, a bestowal.
The poem is for us what instinct is for animals, a continuing and chiefly unthought corroboration of essence
(Though thought, ours and the animals' is still useful).
Why otherwise is the earliest always the most important, the formative? The Iliad, the Odyssey, the book of Genesis,
These were acts of love, I mean deeply felt gestures, which continuously bestow upon us
What we are. And if I do not know which poem of mine
Was my earliest gift to you,
Except that it had to have been written about someone else,
Nevertheless it was the gesture accruing value to you, your essence, while you were still a child, and thereafter
Across all these years. And see, see how much
Has come from that first sonnet after our loving began, the one
That was a kiss, a gift, a bestowal. This is the paradigm of fecundity. I think the poem is not
Transparent, as some have said, nor a looking-glass, as some have also said,
Yet it has almost the quality of disappearance
In its cage of visibility. It disperses among the words. It is a fluidity, a vapor, of love.
This, the instinctual, is what caused me to write "Do you see?" instead of "Don't you see?" in the first line
Of this poem, this loving treatise, which is what gives away the poem
And gives it all to you.
---Hayden Carruth


"Science fiction is the only genre that not only allows you to disregard everything that we’re taught is realistic and practical, but actually demands that you do. So it allows us to move beyond the bounds of what is realistic and what is real, into the realm of the imagination, That is actually something that organizers do every single day. All organizing is science fiction. When organizers imagine a world without poverty, without war, without borders or prisons—that’s science fiction. They’re moving beyond the boundaries of what is possible or realistic, into the realm of what we are told is impossible. Being able to collectively dream those new worlds means that we can begin to create those new worlds here."
---Walidah Imarisha


"Autumn Day"
Lord, it is time. The summer was immense.
Lay your shadow on the sundials, turn
the urgent winds loose across the plains.
Ordain full ripening of the last fruit;
grant it but two days in the south wind,
follow it to perfection, and compress
the last sweetness for the heavy wine.
Whoever has no home will build none now.
Whoever is alone will long remain so,
sleepless, taken up with books and letters
and wandering back and forth along the ways,
restive, at the drifting of the leaves.
---Rainer Maria Rilke, trans. unknown


[_________________]
                                   for ...

at night they pulled me into the dark they yelled
I spoke clearly through wool over my head the night
was clear moonlight against the wool their shadows
lengthened by flashlight their pipes shown through
moonlight bloodied edgeless
                             they removed the wool bag
to see my face to see my face they tilted it beneath
flashlight and counted what teeth remained what
white one of them had a son his face tilted at night
to my lips his teeth were white his face
like night would he recognize this wound this me

I smelled rain with what was left of my nose
with what was left of my nose I bled into my mouth
with what was left of my mouth I spoke my name
                                                          could they
hear my voice breaking blood to speak could they
hear me over truck engine over asphalt hissing beneath
my skin pulled my mouth my nose my blood without its body
dragged down a road where my blood made a road within
a road my mouth a mile back my tongueless name my foot
in a ditch my hands one waits for the other to lift like dust

---Phillip B. Williams


"The River"
          for Rekia Boyd

In the Book of Grief, a woman wrapped in black
scarves walks from the river bottom and says her own
name to the dusk. Horseflies comb
her hair this late afternoon to the tune of beauty
cricketing through the chamomile, distending
a frog's yellow throat. A ring of rust
draws a mouth on the woman's neck.
When she leans back the red crease loosens
as if to crack open and say:

            Who summoned me? Who thinks my gaze
            is a wheel of thread to sew wings onto backs
            that never had wings? Who traced the maze
            sunset makes on the water to lead me back?
            The air is caustic here and rotten milk
            spills from the flowerbeds. The earth is iron-
            stenched. There is blood like unwound silk
            ribboning from a body. Whose child has learned
            their history? Who's found the door but can't get out?
            Whose words do I perform from my sealed mouth?  

And the frogs fall quiet in the riverbed.
     And the crickets detune their shins
            in the chamomile disintegrating quickly

as it came. It was too easy a song
       and so must begin again, the lyric unwinding
            toward a destination not already-fulfilled,

the one to fulfill it touching the dead
     with unwashed hands, the unwashed mind
            scouring again the moment for merchandise.

Horseflies and their diligent limbs have failed,
     the desk lamp---not made into sun or
            moon---just the light, this time,

and its heat refuting elegy. And the river woman
      asks what in this now, and asks
            whose to say, and the sage of her voice

leaves my mouth, the inquiry the lyric,
      the impetus, that working organ
              running down as rivers do.

Inside, a thousand fish like specter-arrows
       swim hectored by waves, their patterns
            make turning back a moving forward

in the current. Inside me I carry the image of Boyd
       and ask permission to begin again,
            to say the words death in context,          

violence with the angel of vengeance
       at the corner of my lips but
            what now with this anger? What now

with these thousand fish in this river and
       the river woman waiting patiently
             for instructions, her yellow dress just now

appearing, the black scarves not for her
       but for me and I don't need that lace,
            or those seams sealed to keep

their secret massacres. Let them fade
       like frogs, like an intention. I hand over
            the image to the river. I watch it fold                      

into its own fish, unable to distinguish
it from the other, glistening arguments that turn,
       go nowhere; turn away. Am gone. 

---Phillip B. Williams


"Praise House: The New Economy"
The rosemary bush blooming
its unabashed blue. Also dumplings
filled with steam and soup
so my mouth fills and I bubble
over with laughter. Little things.
People kissing on bicycles.
Being able to walk up the stairs
and run back down.
Joanna’s garden after the long flight
to Tel Aviv. Not being detained
like everyone thought I would.
The man with dreadlocks
and a perfect green shirt walking home
from work. One cold beer
before I drink it and get sick.
How peaches mold into compost in a single day:
orange to gray to darkness into dirt.
Her ankle’s taste. The skin
right under the knob, delicate
as a tomatillo’s shroud. All the animals
that talk to me. That I finally let them
talk to me. The blessing of waking
early enough to watch the fox
bathe itself. The suction of a man’s hands
meeting another’s on the street.
Every single person looking up
to see them. Bros, yes. But lovely
in the golden light with brims swung
to the back. I want shoulders like
they have. Want my waist to taper
to an ass built like the David’s. I admit it:
this body’s not enough for me.
Still I love it. Al B Sure blasting
out a Nissan Sentra’s windows.
Bowties. Ridiculous blues.
My mother’s seizures—specifically
that I don’t have them.
That I can answer Ross’ call
or not because we live Harmonious
and are always talking somehow.
Tapestries with their gluttony of deer.
Fig perfume and also cypress.
Boxer briefs and packing socks
in jockey shorts. Strap ons.
Soft and hard. Welcome in her hand
and in mine as I greet the real me.
The little shop in Provincetown
And the speckled dog that licks itself
in that fresco of the crucifixion.
Mary Oliver. I love her. I really do.
The baseball she gave me
that says, “Go Sox!” Though, I love
the Orioles. Old Bay on all my shrimp.
And justice. And cities burning
if people need to burn them to get free.
My grandmother gardening
in the late light. Sun Ra. The first time.
Paris, even though I’ve never been
there. Natal plums. Tattoos everlasting:
Clouds. Orion’s belt. Pushing inside her
with both hands holding myself
up. My weight. Her grabbing and saying,
“God.” “Fuck.” The neighbors.
Casablanca. Not knowing anything.
Angels. Mashed potatoes. Good red wine.
---Gabrielle Calvocoressi


"Neither Conquest nor Surrender"
I have not been long in the meaning of shadow, the one shared bruise of
all things. Light in its truest mood. I had come to know this masklessness
in my own restless mornings. I found my shadow in the pit of myself,
merely a knot of what it could become, until light pulled my form from me
and gave it to my shadow. It keeps quiet, working harder than the mind to
make real what is not, though it is the mind that imagines the shadow
having its own language, its own dark idiom translating the body onto
whatever surface will hold it. The shadow is the mind, the mind’s work,
seen. I roll over

~

         and see him sleeping next to me, having forgotten he was there, the
wrinkled cave of him now locked, almost. I sit upright on the bed and face
the wall that holds my shadow like an opened door.

~

Through which the impossible multitudes of the hidden self swiftly pass.

---Phillip B. Williams


"Children Walk on Chairs to Cross a Flooded Schoolyard"

Taytay, Rizal Province, Philippines (based on the photo by Noel Celis)

Hardly anything holds the children up, each poised
mid-air, barely the ball of one small foot
kissing the chair’s wood, so
they don’t just step across, but pause
above the water. I look at that cotton mangle
of a sky, post-typhoon, and presume
it’s holding something back. In this country,
it’s the season of greedy gods
and the several hundred cathedrals
worth of water they spill onto little tropic villages
like this one, where a girl is likely to know
the name of the man who built
every chair in her school by hand,
six of which are now arranged
into a makeshift bridge so that she and her mates
can cross their flooded schoolyard.
Boys in royal blue shorts and red rain boots,
the girls brown and bare-toed
in starch white shirts and pleated skirts.
They hover like bells that can choose
to withhold their one clear, true
bronze note, until all this nonsense
of wind and drizzle dies down.
One boy even reaches forward
into the dark sudden pool below
toward someone we can’t see, and
at the same time, without looking, seems
to offer the tips of his fingers back to the smaller girl
behind him. I want the children
ferried quickly across so they can get back
to slapping one another on the neck
and cheating each other at checkers.
I’ve said time and time again I don’t believe
in mystery, and then I’m reminded what it’s like
to be in America, to kneel beside
a six-year-old, to slide my left hand
beneath his back and my right under his knees,
and then carry him up a long flight of stairs
to his bed. I can feel the fine bones,
the little ridges of the spine
with my palm, the tiny smooth stone
of the elbow. I remember I’ve lifted
a sleeping body so slight I thought
the whole catastrophic world could fall away.
I forget how disaster works, how it can turn
a child back into glistening butterfish
or finches. And then they’ll just do
what they do, which is teach the rest of us
how to move with such natural gravity.
Look at these two girls, center frame,
who hold out their arms
as if they’re finally remembering
they were made for other altitudes.
I love them for the peculiar joy
of returning to earth. Not an ounce
of impatience. This simple thrill
of touching ground.
---Patrick Rosal


"Personal Helicon"
for Michael Longley

As a child, they could not keep me from wells
And old pumps with buckets and windlasses.
I loved the dark drop, the trapped sky, the smells
Of waterweed, fungus and dank moss.

One, in a brickyard, with a rotted board top.
I savoured the rich crash when a bucket
Plummeted down at the end of a rope.
So deep you saw no reflection in it.

A shallow one under a dry stone ditch
Fructified like any aquarium.
When you dragged out long roots from the soft mulch
A white face hovered over the bottom.

Others had echoes, gave back your own call
With a clean new music in it. And one
Was scaresome, for there, out of ferns and tall
Foxgloves, a rat slapped across my reflection.

Now, to pry into roots, to finger slime,
To stare, big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring
Is beneath all adult dignity. I rhyme
To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.
---Seamus Heaney


We grow accustomed to the Dark -
When Light is put away -
As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp
To witness her Good bye -

A Moment - We Uncertain step
For newness of the night -
Then - fit our Vision to the Dark -
And meet the Road - erect -

And so of larger - Darknesses -
Those Evenings of the Brain -
When not a Moon disclose a sign -
Or Star - come out - within -

The Bravest - grope a little -
And sometimes hit a Tree
Directly in the Forehead -
But as they learn to see -

Either the Darkness alters -
Or something in the sight
Adjusts itself to Midnight -
And Life steps almost straight.
---Emily Dickinson


"For darkness restores what light cannot repair."
---Joseph Brodsky, trans. unknown


"And I, leaning out of my window, alone, peering into the gloom, am seized by a passionate desire for everything that is hidden and forbidden. I want the night to come, and kiss me with her hot mouth, and lead me through an amethyst twilight to the place of the white gardenia. There is a dull, heavy sound of clocks striking far away, and, in my room, darkness, emptiness, save for the ghostlike bed. I feel to lie there quiet, silent, passively warm would be too fearful—yet—quite a little fascinating."
---Katherine Mansfield, from a journal entry


"All Hallows"
Even now this landscape is assembling.
The hills darken. The oxen
sleep in their blue yoke,
the fields having been
picked clean, the sheaves
bound evenly and piled at the roadside
among cinquefoil, as the toothed moon rises:

This is the barrenness
of harvest or pestilence.
And the wife leaning out the window
with her hand extended, as in payment,
and the seeds
distinct, gold, calling
Come here
Come here, little one

And the soul creeps out of the tree.
---Louise Glück


"That is why I—the Other, the exception, the sometimes unexpected—came to poetry. To make because I couldn’t find. To risk the shards. To speak with fire. To shape glass. To make once. To keep making."
---Scherezade Siobhan, "Llamada"


Is there no voice to cry out from the wind and say what it is like to be the wind,
To be roughed up by the trees and to bring music from the scattered houses
And the stones, and to be in such an intimate relationship with the sea
That you cannot understand it? Is there no one who feels like a pair of pants?
---Kenneth Koch, "Fresh Air"


"She appeared to be walking in a dream; or, more truly, the vivid life and reality assumed by her emotions made all outward occurrences unsubstantial, like the teasing phantasms of a half-conscious slumber."
---Nathaniel Hawthorne, The House of the Seven Gables


"If I’m interested in a writer, I want to know who they are as writers, and I want to know the communities they came out of. I’m not ticking off boxes. I’m making relationships, between myself and the writing I love, and the organizations that support that writing, so that I know who their newcomers are, their ancestors and their heroes. And so if I choose a writer for something, it comes out of that long relationship. It is coming out of the conversations, and those rooms. If your life and reading are not diverse, I feel sorry for you. You’re living in a tiny tiny corridor inside of an enormous world. You’re on what amounts to a restricted diet while a feast goes on around you. Get out of that corridor and live."
---Alexander Chee


"The doors to the world of the wild Self are few but precious. If you have a deep scar, that is a door, if you have an old, old story, that is a door. If you love the sky and the water so much you almost cannot bear it, that is a door. If you yearn for a deeper life, a full life, a sane life, that is a door."
---Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype


"I write, I extend my hand; without my knowing it, this is already a prayer, I extend my hand to you so that you will exist because you do exist, beyond my fingers, your fingers, without my knowing it this is already a response, already I draw to my side the site for you, with one hand I call the other hand, it is in this modest, all-powerful way that I begin to save what is lost. When I write I ask for your hand."
---Hélène Cixous, Stigmata: Escaping Texts, trans. unknown


"Vert"
As in green, vert, a royal demesne
stocked with deer. Invert as in tipped
as a snow globe, going nowhere in circles
but not lost, not bereft as the wood
without deer, waiting for the white antlered
buck, or his does, or any slim yearling
to step along the berm, return. Vertigo
as in whirling round, swimming in the head,
unanchored by the long spring,
the horse cantering, the meadow dropping
like an elevator into the earth, falling
like Persephone through a crevice, a swiveling
crack, a loose screw, a lost way. Disordered
as in death lasts, my brother’s not coming back.
The spin of it continuous as in looking down
from height, and then it stops, the spinning
just slows, a chariot wheel stilled in grass.
The world is the same, but it isn’t. The tipped
views of trees when hanging from your knees.
The deer in twos and threes watching.
---Catherine Staples


"Northern Pike"
All right. Try this,
Then. Every body
I know and care for,
And every body
Else is going
To die in a loneliness
I can’t imagine and a pain
I don’t know. We had
To go on living. We
Untangled the net, we slit
The body of this fish
Open from the hinge of the tail
To a place beneath the chin
I wish I could sing of.
I would just as soon we let
The living go on living.
An old poet whom we believe in
Said the same thing, and so
We paused among the dark cattails and prayed
For the muskrats,
For the ripples below their tails,
For the little movements that we knew the crawdads were making under water,
For the right-hand wrist of my cousin who is a policeman.
We prayed for the game warden’s blindness.
We prayed for the road home.
We ate the fish.
There must be something very beautiful in my body,
I am so happy.
---James Wright


3.
(To Iphigeneia.)
Your hair is scattered light:
The Greeks will bind it with petals.

And like a little beast,
dappled and without horns,
That scampered on the hill-rocks,
They will leave you
With stained throat–
Though you never cropped hill-grass
To the reed-cry
and the shepherd’s note.

Some Greek hero is cheated
And your mother’s court
Of its bride.

And we ask this–where truth is,
Of what use is valour and is worth?
For evil has conquered the race,
There is no power but in base men,
Nor any man whom the gods do not hate.
---H.D., "Chorus of the Women of Chalkis"


"As for 'Write what you know,' I was regularly told this as a beginner. I think it’s a very good rule and have always obeyed it. I write about imaginary countries, alien societies on other planets, dragons, wizards, the Napa Valley in 22002. I know these things. I know them better than anybody else possibly could, so it’s my duty to testify about them."
---Ursula K. Le Guin


"I am coloured glass from a church window long since shattered. I find pieces of myself everywhere, and I cut myself handling them."
---Jeanette Winterson, Lighthousekeeping


"My deepest impulses are optimistic; an attitude that seems to me as spiritually necessary and proper as it is intellectually suspect."
---Ellen Willis


"We cast a shadow on something wherever we stand, and it is no good moving from place to place to save things; because the shadow always follows. Choose a place where you won’t do harm---yes, choose a place where you won’t do very much harm, and stand in it for all you are worth, facing the sunshine."
---E.M. Forster, A Room with a View


"People say that you should really do something out of your comfort zone. Why? I worked very hard to find my comfort zone. It was really rough and I can’t even get there that often. Takes all day and I gotta get off to a good start and do all the right things and avoid the right people and find all the right people and do all of these things to find my comfort zone. And then I’m supposed to do something outside of my - Fuck you! You do something outside your comfort zone. My comfort zone is hard-won….

"But then, that’s where popular culture and pop psych comes in and wants – and the shtick I was looking at last night was that like, so, if it’s ‘afraid’, then, ‘You should do the things you’re afraid of’. Why? Why? I have felt quite enough fear. I don’t think I will benefit from more fear. I don’t think it’s the missing element in my life. I don’t think that’s the thing I need to be seeking out. ‘Go to the places that scare you.’ No! I have carved out an awesome space in which I don’t have to visit the places that scare me. I don’t like them there. I’ve been there. I know more about them than you, person telling me to go to the places that scare me."
---John Darnielle
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Lee's hand shook as he filled the delicate cups. He drank his down in one gulp. 'Don't you see?' he cried. 'The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in 'Thou shalt,' meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—'Thou mayest'— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if 'Thou mayest'—it is also true that 'Thou mayest not.' Don’t you see?' "
---John Steinbeck, East of Eden


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

I am on
            leaving it, no
                         longer to be

designated human or
            corpse: cadaver
                         it will be,

nameless patient
           stored in
                        the deep hold

of the hospital
           as in the storage
                       of a ghost ship

run aground —
          the secret in it
                       that will,

perhaps, stir again
          the wind that
                       failed. It

will be preserved,
          kept like larva,
                       like a bullet

sealed gleaming
          in its chamber.
                       They will gather

around it,
          probe and sample,
                        argue — then

return it
          to its between-
                        world, remove

their aprons
          and gloves
                        and stroll, some evenings,

a city block
           for a beer,
                        a glass of chilled

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

what they
           glean from beneath
                        the narrative

of scars, surgical
           cavities, the
                        wondrous

mess it became
           before I left it
                        to them

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

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

---Claudia Emerson


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


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

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

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

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

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

I cannot tell—

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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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


"Why we don't die"

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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

Act II, Scene I

Open, A girl in a garden.

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

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

Act II, Scene II

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

Act III, Scene I

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

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

Epilogue

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


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

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

*

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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

---Claude McKay


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


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

---Katie Ford


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


"I have a little talk I give sometimes about windows and mirrors, that children—and humans, everybody—all need both windows and mirrors in their lives: mirrors through which you can see yourself and windows through which you can see the world."
---Lucille Clifton, qtd. by Marci Vogel in "Line of Sight: Lineage as Vision"
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"With Ruins"
Choose a quiet
place, a ruins, a house no more
a house,
under whose stone archway I stood
one day to duck the rain.

The roofless floor, vertical
studs, eight wood columns
supporting nothing,
two staircases careening to nowhere, all
make it seem

a sketch, notes to a house, a three-
dimensional grid negotiating
absences,
an idea
receding into indefinite rain,

or else that idea
emerging, skeletal
against the hammered sky, a
human thing, scoured seen clean
through from here to an iron heaven.

A place where things
were said and done,
there you can remember
what you need to
remember. Melancholy is useful. Bring yours.

There are no neighbors to wonder
who you are,
what you might be doing
walking there,
stopping now and then

to touch a crumbling brick
or stand in a doorway
framed by the day.
No one has to know you
think of another doorway

that framed the rain or news of war
depending on which way you faced.
You think of sea-roads and earth-roads
you traveled once, and always
in the same direction: away.

You think
of a woman, a favorite
dress, your old father's breasts
the last time you saw him, his breath,
brief, the leaf

you've torn from a vine and which you hold now
to your cheek like a train ticket
or a piece of cloth, a little hand or a blade--
it all depends
on the course of your memory.

It's a place
for those who own no place
to correspond to ruins in the soul.
It's mine.
It's all yours.
--Li-Young Lee


"When you are in the middle of a story it isn't a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it. It's only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all. When you are telling it, to yourself or to someone else."
--Margaret Atwood, Alias Grace


"In the afternoons, when the shades were pulled for my nap, the light coming through was of a dark yellow, nearly orange, melancholy, as heavy as honey and it made me thirsty. That doesn't say it all, nor even a greater part. Yet it seems eve more incomplete when we were there in person. Half the day in half the room.
--Lyn Hejinian, "A name trimmed with colored ribbons"


"We are the learned or ignorant caretakers of several memories. When I write, language remembers without my knowing or indeed with my knowing, remembers the Bible, Shakespeare, Milton, the whole of literature, each book.

"Then, I who write, I inscribe an additional memory in language--a memory in progress--of what I have read personally, noticed, retained from a text or a language to the other. And the whole is poured back, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously, into the river I sail."
--Hélène Cixous


"It had been quiet in Estha's head until Rahel came. But with her she had brought the sound of passing trains, and the light and shade and light and shade that falls on you if you have a window seat. The world, locked out for years, suddenly flooded in, and now Estha couldn't hear himself for the noise. Trains. Traffic. Music. The stock market. A dam had burst and savage waters swept everything up in a swirling. Comets, violins, parades, loneliness, clouds, beards, bigots, lists, flags, earthquakes, despair were all swept up in a scrambled swirling."
--Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things


"Occasionally, when [she] listened to songs that she loved on the radio, something stirred inside her. A liquid ache spread under her skin, and she walked out of the world like a witch, to a better, happier place. On days like this there was something restless and untamed about her."
--Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things


"I believe that one can only begin to advance along the path of discovery, the discovery of writing or anything else, from mourning and in the reparation of mourning. In the beginning the gesture of writing is linked to the experience of disappearance, to the feeling of having lost the key to the world, of having been thrown outside. Of having suddenly acquired the precious sense of the rare, of the mortal. Of having urgently to regain the entrance, the breath, to keep the trace."
--Hélène Cixous, translated by Deborah Jenson


"We're thirsty, thirsty. We're salt water and sweet. And the bitter and the sad mixes with the dulce. It's as if we're rivers and oceans emptying and filling and swelling and drowning one another. It's frightening and wonderful all at once. For once, I feel as if there's not enough of me, as if I'm too small to contain all the happiness inside me."
--Sandra Cisneros, Caramelo
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Hoplophobia"
The most common manifestation of hoplophobia
is the idea that [weapons] possess a will of their own.

--Colonel Jeff Cooper


trigger warning: violence, war, guns, murder )
--Jamaal May


"How to Disappear Completely"
You are quarter ghost on your mother's side.
Your heart is a flayed peach in a bone box.
Your hair comes away in clumps like cheap fabric wet.
A reflecting pool gathers around your altar
of plywood sub flooring and split wooden slats.
You are rag doll prone. You are contort,
angle and arc. Here you rot. Here
you are a greening abdomen, slipping skin,
flesh fly, carrion beetles.
This is where bullets take shelter,
where scythes find their function, breath loses
its place on the page. This is where the page is torn
out of every book before chapter's close,
this is slippage, this is a shroud of neglect
pulled over the body, this
is your chance to escape.
     Little wraith,
bend light around your skin until it colors you clear,
disappear like silica in a kiln, become
glass and glass beads, become
the staggered whir of an exhaust fan:
something only noticed
when gone. Become
an origami swan. Fold yourself smaller
than ever before. Become less. More
in some ways but less
in the way a famine is less. They will
forgive you for not being satisfied
with fitting in their hands.

They will forgive you
for dying to be

a bird diminutive enough
to fit in a mouth and not be crushed.

--Jamaal May


"Fire Graffiti"
Throughout those dismal months my life was only sparked
alight when I made love to you.
As the firefly ignites and fades, ignites and fades, we follow the flashes
of its flight in the dark among the olive trees.

Throughout those dismal months, my soul sat slumped and lifeless
but my body walked to yours.
The night sky was lowing.
We milked the cosmos secretly, and survived.
--Tomas Tranströmer, translator unknown


"Words"
What has happened?
language eludes me
the nice specifying
words of my life fail
when I call

Ah says a friend
dried up no doubt
on the desiccated
twigs in the swamp
of the skull like
a lake where the
water level has been
shifted by highways
a couple of miles off

Another friend says
No no    my dear    perhaps
you are only meant to
speak more plainly

--Grace Paley


"The Abyssal Plain"
Here beneath the last revenant of light
that falls the way a man might fall asleep,
drawn through the part that hallucinates
eel and angel, the strange blue fin that sweeps
a camouflage of dust into the camera,
what good is desire. The lamps of fish
have all gone cold, dark, their exotica
scattered in tiny particles of flesh.
What this world needs is a place to drown
its refuse: old ships, derricks, nuclear waste,
the leviathan of grief. A place like time
which, in truth, heals nothing. It forgets,
taken in like a pill that makes us calm
and dreamless, beneath the silence of the rain.
--Bruce Bond


"Self Portrait"
I did not want my body
Spackled in the world's
Black beads and broke
Diamonds. What the world

Wanted, I did not. Of the things
It wanted. The body of Sunday
Morning, the warm wine and
The blood. The dripping fox

Furs dragged through the black New
York snow--the parked car, the pearls,
To the first pew--the funders,
The trustees, the bloat, the red weight of

The world. Their faces. I wanted not
That. I wanted Saint Francis, the love of
His animals. The wolf, broken and bleeding--
That was me.
--Cynthia Cruz


"Elegy for a Walnut Tree"
Old friend now there is no one alive
who remembers when you were young
it was high summer when I first saw you
in the blaze of day most of my life ago
with the dry grass whispering in your shade
and already you had lived through wars
and echoes of wars around your silence
through days of parting and seasons of absence
with the house emptying as the years went their way
until it was home to bats and swallows
and still when spring climbed toward summer
you opened once more the curled sleeping fingers
of newborn leaves as though nothing had happened
you and the seasons spoke the same language
and all these years I have looked through your limbs
to the river below and the roofs and the night
and you were the way I saw the world.
--W. S. Merwin


"Desires are already memories."
--Italo Calvino, translator unknown


The world has tired of tears.
We weep owls now. They live longer.
They know their way in the dark.
--Natalie Diaz, "Prayers or Oubliettes"


"Awaking in New York"
Curtains forcing their will
against the wind,
children sleep,
exchanging dreams with
seraphim. The city
drags itself awake on
subway straps; and
I, an alarm, awake as a
rumor of war,
lie stretching into dawn,
unasked and unheeded.
--Maya Angelou


"I feel that I am just earth, soil lying helpless to move myself, but thinking. I seem to hear herds of big beasts like horses and cows thundering over me, and rains beating down; and winds sweeping furiously overall acting upon me, but me, well, just soil,
feeling but not able to take part in it all. Then a soft wind like love passes over and warms me, and a summer rain comes down like understanding and softens me, and I push a blade of grass or a flower, or maybe a pine tree--that's the ground thinking. Plants are ground thoughts, because the soil can't move itself."
--Zora Neale Hurston, "John Redding Goes to Sea"


"To write by shreds, by storm clouds, by visions, by violent chapters, in the present as in the archpast, in pre-vision, in the true chaos of verbal tenses, crossing over years and oceans at a god's pace, with the past on my right and the future on my left--this is forbidden in academies, it is permitted in apocalypses. What joy it is."
--Hélène Cixous, Stigmata: Escaping Texts


"Herman Finley"
I didn't tell you that, in the end, he begged
For the end. Death like the bed after
The bedtime story. Death like a widening
Crack of light beneath the door.
He begged them to let him
Go so he could go. Said I want
To die. Then said kill me. Please.

You and I endure that first pain.
We just want to die. People with that
Other ultimately physical agony say
Kill me and know they won't discuss it
In therapy. Kill me. I'm thinking
Of him today because I want to die
And I am ashamed to say it. My thinking

Is red and sticky. Rather than kill me,
I'd like you to listen as I live
In a perpetual whine. Can't I still be
Somebody's baby? Say yes for yourself.
Call me some time. Every day I wish to die,
Remind me how he insisted.
Kill me. And I'll live again.
--Jericho Brown


"I suppose it is submerged memories that give to our dreams their curious air of hyper-reality. But perhaps there is something else as well, something nebulous, gauze-like, through which everything one sees in a dream seems, paradoxically, much clearer. A pond becomes a lake, a breeze becomes a storm, a handful of dust is a desert, a grain of sulfur in the blood is a volcanic inferno."
--W. G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn


"Cocktails with Orpheus"
After dark, the bar full of women part of me loves--the part that stood
naked outside the window of Miss Geneva, recent divorcée who owned
a gun, O Miss Geneva where are you now--Orpheus says she did

not perish, she was not turned to ash in the brutal light, she found
a good job, she made good money, she had her own insurance and
a house, she was a decent wife. I know descent lives in the word

decent. The bar noise makes a kind of silence. When Orpheus hands
me his sunglasses, I see how fire changes everything. In the mind
I am behind a woman whose skirt is hiked above her hips, as bound

as touch permits, saying don't forget me when I become the liquid
out of which names are born, salt-milk, milk-sweet and animal-made.

I want to be a human above the body, uprooted and right, a fold
of pleas released, but I am a black wound, what's left of the deed.
--Terrance Hayes


"The secret of understanding poetry is to hear poetry's words as what they are: the full self's most intimate speech, half waking, half dream. You listen to a poem as you might listen to someone you love who tells you their truest day. Their words might weep, joke, whirl, leap. What's unspoken in the words will still be heard. It's also the way we listen to music: You don't look for extractable meaning, but to be moved."
--Jane Hirshfield


"sideshow"
trigger warning: violence, guns, racism, suicide )
--Danez Smith


"My medium is poetry; my tool is American English, a language I adore for its shorthand syntax, its outrageous slop, its mongrel weirdness. I think and dream and feel in this language like the wiry old rose bush that pushes its way out from my front yard to splay its blooms above the cracked sidewalk."
--Cate Marvin


"I Don't Miss It"
But sometimes I forget where I am,
Imagine myself inside that life again.

Recalcitrant mornings. Sun perhaps,
Or more likely colorless light

Filtering its way through shapeless cloud.

And when I begin to believe I haven't left,
The rest comes back. Our couch. My smoke

Climbing the walls while the hours fall.
Straining against the noise of traffic, music,

Anything alive, to catch your key in the door.
And that scamper of feeling in my chest,

As if the day, the night, wherever it is
I am by then, has been only a whir

Of something other than waiting.

We hear so much about what love feels like.
Right now, today, with the rain outside,

And leaves that want as much as I do to believe
In May, in seasons that come when called,

It's impossible not to want
To walk into the next room and let you

Run your hands down the sides of my legs,
Knowing perfectly well what they know.
--Tracy K. Smith


"Snow at Night"
I prefer it even to love,
alone and without ghost
it falls a hard weather,
a withdrawing room
that revives me to stolen daylight
in which I feel no wish
to brush a gleaming finish
over the sheen-broken glass
I've arranged and rearranged,
an apprentice of mosaics
who will not be taught but asks
to be left alone with the brittle year
so carnivorous of all I'd made.
But the snow I love covers
my beasts and seas,
my ferns and spines
worn through and through.
I will change your life, it says,
to which I say please.
--Katie Ford


"Two Men & a Truck"
Once, I was as large
as any living creature could be.

I could lift the world and carry it
from my breast to its bath.

When I looked down from the sky
you could see the love in my eye:

"Oh, tiny world, if anything
ever happened to you, I would die."

And I said, "No!" to the hand. Snatched
the pebble from the mouth, fished it out

and told the world it would choke!
Warned the world over & over! "Do

you hear me? Do you want to choke?!"

But how was the world to know
what the truth might be? Perhaps

they grant you special powers, these
choking stones. Maybe

they change the child into a god, all-swallowing.


For, clearly, there were other gods.
The world could see

that I, too, was at the mercy of something.
Sure, I could point to the sky

and say its name, but I couldn't make it change.
Some days it was blue, true, but others

were ruined by its gray:
"I'm sorry, little world--

no picnic, no parade, no swimming pool today ... "

And the skinned knee in spite of me.
And why else would there be

such terror in the way she screamed, and the horn honking,
and the squealing wheels, and, afterward, her cold

sweat against my cheek?

Ah, she wants us to live forever.
It's her weakness ... Now I see!


But, once, I was larger
than any other being--

larger, perhaps, than any being
had any right to be.

Because, of course, eventually, the world
grew larger, and larger, until it could lift

me up and put me down anywhere
it pleased. Until, finally, I would need

its help to move the bird bath, the book-
shelf, the filing cabinet. "And

could you put my desk by the window, sweetie?"

A truck, two men, one of them my son, and
everything I ever owned, and they

didn't even want to stop for lunch.

Even the freezer. Even the piano.
("You can have it if you can move it.")

But, once, I swear, I was ... And now
this trunk in the attic to prove it:

These shoes in the palm of my hand?
You used to wear them on your feet.

This blanket the size of a hand towel?
I used to wrap it around you sleeping

in my arms like this. See? This
is how small the world used to be when

everything else in the world was me.
--Laura Kasischke


"A Reason"
That is why I am here
not among the ibises. Why
the permanent city parasol
covers even me.

             It was the rains
in the occult season. It was the snows
on the lower slopes. It was water
and cold in my mouth.

            A lack of shoes
on what appeared to be cobbles
which were still antique

           Well wild wild whatever
in wild more silent blue
 
           the vase grips the stems
petals fall    the chrysanthemum darkens

           Sometimes this mustard feeling
clutches me also. My sleep is reckoned
in straws

            Yet I wake up
and am followed into the street.

--Barbara Guest


"Tender Arrivals"
Where ever something breathes
Heart beating the rise and fall
Of mountains, the waves upon the sky
Of seas, the terror is our ignorance, that's
Why it is named after our home, earth
Where art is locked between
Gone and Destination
The destiny of some other where and feeling
The ape knew this, when his old lady pulled him up
Off the ground. Was he grateful, ask him he's still sitting up there
Watching the sky's adventures, leaving two holes for his own. Oh sing
Gigantic burp past the insects, swifter than the ugly Stanleys on the ground
Catching monkey meat for Hyenagators, absolute boss of what does not
Arrive in time to say anything. We hear that eating, that doo dooing, that
Burping, we had a nigro mayor used to burp like poison zapalote
Waddled into the cave of his lust. We got a Spring Jasper now, if
you don't like that
woid, what about courtesan, dreamed out his own replacement sprawled
Across the velvet cash register of belching and farting, his knick names when they
let him be played with. Some call him Puck, was love, we thought, now a rubber
Flat blackie banged across the ice, to get past our Goli, the Africannibus of memory.
Here. We have so many wedged between death and passivity. Like eyes that collide
With reality and cannot see anything but the inner abstraction of flatus, a
biography, a car, a walk to the guillotine, James the First, Giuliani the Second
When he tries to go national, senators will stab him, Ides of March or Not. Maybe
Both will die, James 1 and Caesar 2, as they did in the past, where we can read about
The justness of their assassinations
As we swig a little brew and laugh at the perseverance
Of disease at higher and higher levels of its elimination.
We could see anything we wanted to. Be anything we knew how to be. Build
anything we needed. Arrive anywhere we should have to go. But time is as stubborn
as space, and they compose us with definition, time place and 
condition.
The howlees the yowlees the yankees the super left streamlined post racial ideational
chauvinists creeep at the mouth of the venal cava. They are protesting 
fire and
Looking askance at the giblets we have learned to eat. "It's nobody's heart," they
say, and we agree. It's the rest of some thing's insides. Along with the flowers, the
grass, the tubers, the river, pieces of the sky, earth, our seasoning, baked
throughout. What do you call that the anarchist of comfort asks,
Food, we say, making it up as we chew. Yesterday we explained language.
--Amiri Baraka


"Register of Eliminated Villages"
trigger warning: war )
--Tarfia Faizullah
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"If writing is thinking and discovery and selection and order and meaning, it is also awe and reverence and mystery and magic...Authors arrive at text and subtext in thousands of ways, learning each time they begin anew how to recognize a valuable idea and how to reader the texture that accompanies, reveals or displays it to its best advantage."
--Toni Morrison


"And no, it wasn't shame I now felt, or guilt, but something rarer in my life and stronger than both: remorse. A feeling which is more complicated, curdled, and primeval. Whose chief characteristic is that nothing can be done about it: too much time has passed, too much damage has been done, for amends to be made."
--Julian Barnes


"To a Cat"
Mirrors are not more silent
nor the creeping dawn more secretive;
in the moonlight, you are that panther
we catch sight of from afar.
By the inexplicable workings of a divine law,
we look for you in vain;
More remote, even, than the Ganges or the setting sun,
yours is the solitude, yours the secret.
Your haunch allows the lingering
caress of my hand. You have accepted,
since that long forgotten past,
the love of the distrustful hand.
You belong to another time. You are lord
of a place bounded like a dream.
--Jorge Luis Borges


Ten thousand poets
have viewed ten thousand moons,
this moon, just one
--Soji, translated by Gary Barnes


" 'The proper stuff of fiction' does not exist; everything is the proper stuff of fiction, every feeling, every thought; every quality of brain and spirit is drawn upon; no perception comes amiss. And if we can imagine the art of fiction come alive and standing in our midst, she would undoubtedly bid us break her and bully her, as well as honour and love her, for so her youth is renewed and her sovereignty assured."
--Virginia Woolf


"The future must no longer be determined by the past. I do not deny that the effects of the past are still with us. But I refuse to strengthen them by repeating them, to confer upon them an irremovability the equivalent of destiny, to confuse the biological and the cultural. Anticipation is imperative."
--Hélène Cixous


"Is the true self this which stands on the pavement in January, or that which bends over the balcony in June? Am I here, or am I there? Or is the true self neither this nor that, neither here nor there, but something so varied and wandering that it is only when we give the rein to its wishes and let it take its way unimpeded that we are indeed ourselves?"
--Virginia Woolf


"Fanfare for the Makers"
A cloud of witnesses. To whom? To what?
To the small fire that never leaves the sky.
To the great fire that boils the daily pot.

To all the things we are not remembered by,
Which we remember and bless. To all the things
That will not notice when we die,

Yet lend the passing moment words and wings.

*

So fanfare for the Makers: who compose
A book of words or deeds who runs may write
As many who do run, as a family grows

At times like sunflowers turning towards the light.
As sometimes in the blackout and the raids
One joke composed an island in the night.

As sometimes one man’s kindness pervades
A room or house or village, as sometimes
Merely to tighten screws or sharpen blades

Can catch a meaning, as to hear the chimes
At midnight means to share them, as one man
In old age plants an avenue of limes

And before they bloom can smell them, before they span
The road can walk beneath the perfected arch,
The merest greenprint when the lives began

Of those who walk there with him, as in default
Of coffee men grind acorns, as in despite
Of all assaults conscripts counter assault,

As mothers sit up late night after night
Moulding a life, as miners day by day
Descend blind shafts, as a boy may flaunt his kite

In an empty nonchalent sky, as anglers play
Their fish, as workers work and can take pride
In spending sweat before they draw their pay.

As horsemen fashion horses while they ride,
As climbers climb a peak because it is there,
As life can be confirmed even in suicide:

To make is such. Let us make. And set the weather fair.
--Louis MacNeice


We walk in the cedar groves
intending love, no one is here

but the suicides, returned
in the shapes of birds
with their razor-blue
feathers, their beaks like stabs, their eyes
red as the food of the dead, their single
iridescent note,
complaint or warning:

Everything dies, they say,
Everything dies.
Their colours pierce the branches.

Ignore them. Lie on the ground
like this, like the season
which is full and not theirs;

our bodies hurt them,
our mouths tasting of pears, grease,
onions, earth we eat
which was not enough for them,
the pulse under the skin, their eyes
radiate anger, they are thirsty:

Die, they whisper, Die,
their eyes consuming
themselves like stars, impersonal:

they do not care whose
blood fills the sharp trenches
where they were buried, stake through
the heart; as long
as there is blood.
--Margaret Atwood


"First Prayer"
In these prayers let us not forget our bodies
which were loyal most of the time
though they would have preferred freedom;

They stood in rows when we lined them up,
they ate when we told them to, when the food was bad
they didn't complain, they wore our livery,
our utensils, grey animal fur hands
on their hands, blades on their feet,
they let us warp them
for purposes of display or science

and so many of them are roaming around empty
in parks and standing idle on corners
because their owners have abandoned them
in favour of word games or jigsaw puzzles.

In spite of it all they forgive us
again and again, they heal their own wounds
and ours too, they walk upright for us
when we ourselves are crippled,
they touch each other, perform love in our place
and for our sake, who are numbed and disabled;

and they are discreet, they keep our secret,
with their good help we will rise from the dead.

O body, descend
from the wall where I have nailed you
like a flayed skin or a war trophy

Let me inhabit you, have compassion on me
once more, give me this day.
--Margaret Atwood


"Head against White"
i
Swift curve of the lip, nose, forehead,
thrust of the bristling
jaw: a military stance.

Face closed, teeth and eyes concealed,
the body sheeted / muscles frozen shut.

Be alive, my hands
plead with you, Be alive.

Scar on the chin, allusion
to a minor incident, oval

dent in the skull
my fingers return to, mention with touch, cherish
as though the wound is my own.

ii
The way your face
unhinges and comes apart:

confident upturned mouth, eyes
crouched in the sockets, maimed and lightblue with terror,

man on a roof's edge balancing
the moment before he topples, no can't
move, regain ground, under your weight the floor

peels back, recedes, leaving you
alone in the silent air.

It's all right. This magic fails.

No use to be the sky,
bending and watching.

iii
Those times we have rumours of, arctic or alpine
when the wind and snow have stopped
at last and the rescue teams
with their tools and joyous motors

are out chasing the survivors
back from their cold refuge, hermitage
of ice to the land of sharp
colours and enforced life

Surely this is the first sign they find:
this face, rigid and fierce
with renunciation, floating up through
the softening white rock
like a carved long-buried god,

revealed word

iv
Under the skin's fixed surface: destroyed face
caving in on itself

No way I can walk back with you
to the country of these mutilations.

You lie here, safe, cared for, casualty
of a war that took place elsewhere,

your body replaying for you
the deserts, jungles, the smell of rotting

leaves, harsh acid scent of blood,
the mistakes, the intersections,

fact with fact, accidents
that perhaps never occurred.

Break it, I tell you. Break
it.
Geology wins. The layer

of trite histories presses you down,
monotony of stone. Oval frame.

v
In the mirror, face to glass face,
noon, the winter light strikes

through the window, your eyes flare, the city
burns whitely behind you. Blood flows
under the molten skin.

To move beyond the mirror's edge, discard
these scars, medals, to pronounce

your own flesh. Now

to be this
man on fire, hands open and held
out, not empty, giving

time / From these hardened
hours, these veteran
faces, burials

to rise up living
--Margaret Atwood

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