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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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


"The Second Sermon on the Warpland"
For Walter Bradford

1.

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


2.

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


3.

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


4.

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

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

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

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

---Gwendolyn Brooks


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


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


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


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


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

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

America

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

death by men by more
than you or I can

STOP


II

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

---Camille T. Dungy


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


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

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


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


"Slept"

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

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

    Mother says the heart is a wheel

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

    ~

    I told her I could not walk,

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

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

    it was voiceless

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

    My breath became the ghost of me,

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

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

    their language. I told her,

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

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

    good as air, was sleeping.

    ~

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

    One was of salt,

               one        without hunger—a forest

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

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

    statue-like on a patch of moss.

                 I        was watcher,

    or maker.                      Yellow-bellied
     dream, mourning dream.

    Each thing I saw: a seed to myself.

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

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

    ~

    Asleep, I lived

               in        silence, but in light.

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

    Stellar’s dream. And the body,

    a darkness        there        is no memory of.

---Jennifer Chang


"Poetry — No definition of poetry is adequate unless it be poetry itself. The most accurate analysis by the rarest wisdom is yet insufficient, and the poet will instantly prove it false by setting aside its requisitions. It is indeed all that we do not know. The poet does not need to see how meadows are something else than earth, grass, and water, but how they are thus much. He does not need discover that potato blows are as beautiful as violets, as the farmer thinks, but only how good potato blows are. The poem is drawn out from under the feet of the poet, his whole weight has rested on this ground. It has a logic more severe than the logician’s. You might as well think to go in pursuit of the rainbow, and embrace it on the next hill, as to embrace the whole of poetry even in thought."
---Henry David Thoreau
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"A tale, like the universe, they tell us, expands ceaselessly each time you examine it, until there is finally no telling exactly where it begins, where it ends, or where it places you now."
--Chang-Rae Lee


"Who Understands Me but Me"
They turn the water off, so I live without water,
they build walls higher, so I live without treetops,
they paint the windows black, so I live without sunshine,
they lock my cage, so I live without going anywhere,
they take each last tear I have, I live without tears,
they take my heart and rip it open, I live without heart,
they take my life and crush it, so I live without a future,
they say I am beastly and fiendish, so I have no friends,
they stop up each hope, so I have no passage out of hell,
they give me pain, so I live with pain,
they give me hate, so I live with my hate,
they have changed me, and I am not the same man,
they give me no shower, so I live with my smell,
they separate me from my brothers, so I live without brothers,
who understands me when I say this is beautiful?
who understands me when I say I have found other freedoms?

I cannot fly or make something appear in my hand,
I cannot make the heavens open or the earth tremble,
I can live with myself, and I am amazed at myself, my love, my beauty,
I am taken by my failures, astounded by my fears,
I am stubborn and childish,
in the midst of this wreckage of life they incurred,
I practice being myself,
and I have found parts of myself never dreamed of by me,
they were goaded out from under rocks in my heart
when the walls were built higher,
when the water was turned off and the windows painted black.
I followed these signs
like an old tracker and followed the tracks deep into myself,
followed the blood-spotted path,
deeper into dangerous regions, and found so many parts of myself,
who taught me water is not everything,
and gave me new eyes to see through walls,
and when they spoke, sunlight came out of their mouths,
and I was laughing at me with them,
we laughed like children and made pacts to always be loyal,
who understands me when I say this is beautiful?
--Jimmy Santiago Baca


"The point of having a child is to be rent asunder, torn in two. Years before I had my son I heard of an artist explaining why she had decided to become a mother: I didn't want to reach the end of my life intact. Imperious, I judged this to be sentimental--permanently damaged by a chronic illness, I considered myself already ruined and misunderstood by the healthy and normal. And what is more normal than the ability to give birth? But motherhood is a different sort of damage. It is a shattering, a disintegration of the self, after which the original form is quite gone. Still, it is a breakage that we are, as a species if not as individuals, meant to survive."
--Sarah Manguso, "The Grand Shattering"


"Lying My Head Off"
Here's my head, in a dank corner of the yard.
I lied it off and so off it rolled.
It wasn't unbelieving that caused it
to drop off my neck and loll down a slope.
Perhaps it had a mind of its own, wanted
to leave me for a little while.

Or it was scared and detached itself
from the stalk of my neck as a lizard's tail
will desert its body in fright of being caught.
The fact is, I never lied. The fact is,
I always lied. Before us, we have two mirrors.
At times, they say, one must lie in order

to survive. I drove by the house, passed
it several times, pretending it was not
my own. Its windows were red with curtains
and the honeyed light cast on the porch
did not succeed in luring me back inside.
I never lied. I drove by the house,

suckling the thought of other lovers
like a lozenge. I was pale as a papery birch.
I was pure as a brand new pair of underwear.
It will be a long while before I touch another.
Yet, I always lied, an oil slick on my tongue.
I used to think that I was wrong, could

not tell the truth for what it was. Yet, one
cannot take a lawsuit out on oneself.
I would have sworn in court that I believed
myself and then felt guilty a long time after.
I hated the house and I hated myself.
The house fattened with books, made me

grow to hate books, when all the while
it was only books that never claimed
to tell the truth. I hated him and I hated
his room, within which his cloud of smoke
heaved. I disappeared up narrow stairs,
slipped quick beneath the covers.

My stomach hurts, I told him, I was tired.
I grew my dreams thick through hot nights:
dear, flickering flowers. They had eyes
which stared, and I found I could not afford
their nurture, could not return their stare,
Meanwhile, liars began their parade

without my asking, strode sidewalks inches
before my doorstep. I watched their hulking
and strange beauty, their songs pregnant
with freedom, and became an other self.
I taught children how to curse.
I bought children gold pints of liquor.

I sold my mind on the street.
1 learned another language. It translates easily.
Here's how: What I say is not what I mean,
nor is it ever what I meant to say.

You must not believe me when I say
there's nothing left to love in this world.
--Cate Marvin


"And if I Am to Forgive You"
trigger warning: abuse )
--Sierra DeMulder


"For Memory"
Old words:  trust   fidelity
Nothing new yet to take their place.

I rake leaves, clear the lawn, October grass
painfully green beneath the gold
and in this silent labor thoughts of you
start up
I hear your voice:   disloyalty   betrayal
stinging the wires

I stuff the old leaves into sacks
and still they fall and still
I see my work undone

One shivering rainswept afternoon
and the whole job to be done over

I can't know what you know
unless you tell me
there are gashes in our understandings
of this world
We came together in a common
fury of direction
barely mentioning difference
(what drew our finest hairs
to fire
the deep, difficult troughs
unvoiced)
I fell through a basement railing
the first day of school and cut my forehead open--
did I ever tell you? More than forty years
and I still remember smelling my own blood
like the smell of a new schoolbook

And did you ever tell me
how your mother called you in from play
and from whom? To what? These atoms filmed by ordinary dust
that common life we each and all bent out of orbit from
to which we must return simply to say
this is where I came from
this is what I knew

The past is not a husk   yet change goes on

Freedom. It isn't once, to walk out
under the Milky Way, feeling the rivers
of light, the fields of dark--
freedom is daily, prose-bound, routine
remembering. Putting together, inch by inch
the starry worlds. From all the lost collections.

--Adrienne Rich


The daily things we do
For money or for fun
Can disappear like dew
Or harden and live on.
Strange reciprocity:
The circumstance we cause
In time gives rise to us,
Becomes our memory.
--Philip Larkin


"A Work of Fiction"
As I turned over the last page, after many nights, a wave of sorrow enveloped me. Where had they all gone, these people who had seemed so real? To distract myself, I walked out into the night; instinctively, I lit a cigarette. In the dark, the cigarette glowed, like a fire lit by a survivor. But who would see this light, this small dot among the infinite stars? I stood a while in the dark, the cigarette glowing and growing small, each breath patiently destroying me. How small it was, how brief. Brief, brief, but inside me now, which the stars could never be.
--Louise Glück


"Questionnaire"
1. How much poison are you willing
to eat for the success of the free
market and global trade? Please
name your preferred poisons.

2. For the sake of goodness, how much
evil are you willing to do?
Fill in the following blanks
with the names of your favorite
evils and acts of hatred.

3. What sacrifices are you prepared
to make for culture and civilization?
Please list the monuments, shrines,
and works of art you would
most willingly destroy.

4. In the name of patriotism and
the flag, how much of our beloved
land are you willing to desecrate?
List in the following spaces
the mountains, rivers, towns, farms
you could most readily do without.

5. State briefly the ideas, ideals, or hopes,
the energy sources, the kinds of security,
for which you would kill a child.
Name, please, the children whom
you would be willing to kill.
--Wendell Berry


"In Middlemarch love enables knowledge. Love is a kind of knowledge. If Fred didn't love Mary, he would have no reason to exercise his imagination on her family. It's love that makes him realize that two women without their savings are a real thing in the world and not merely incidental to his own sense of dishonor. It's love that enables him to feel another's pain as if it were his own. For Eliot, in the absence of God, all our moral tests must take place on this earth and have their rewards and punishments here. We are one another's lesson, one another's duty."
--Zadie Smith, "Middlemarch and Everybody"


"While melancholy is a state of vague dreaminess, never deep or intense, sadness is closed, serious, and painfully interiorized. One can be sad anywhere, but sadness grows in intensity in a closed space while melancholy flourishes in open spaces. Sadness almost always stems from a precise motive and is therefore concentrated, whereas there are no exterior causes for melancholy. I know why I am sad, but I do not know why I am melancholy."
--Emil Cioran, "On Sadness"


"The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things--the beauty, the memory of our own past--are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited."
--C. S. Lewis


"After Many Springs"
Now,
in June,
When the night is a vast softness
Filled with blue stars,
And broken shafts of moon-glimmer
Fall upon the earth,
Am I too old to see the fairies dance?
I cannot find them any more.
--Langston Hughes


"The poet Osip Mandelstam talked about the revision process as being like the process of memory: that a glimpse of the whole piece comes in a flash and the writer spends months and years trying to remember it exactly."
--Stephen Dobyns, "Deceptions"


"When we come upon beautiful things--the tiny mauve-orange-blue moth on the brick, Augustine's cake, a sentence about innocence in Hampshire--they act like small tears in the surface of the world that pull us through to some vaster space; or they form 'ladders reaching toward the beauty of the world,' or they lift us (as though by the air currents of someone else's sweeping), letting the ground rotate beneath us several inches, so that when we land, we find we are standing in a different relation to the world than we were a moment before. It is not that we cease to stand at the center of the world, for we never stood there. It is that we cease to stand even at the center of our own world. We willingly cede our ground to the thing that stands before us."
--Elaine Scarry, On Beauty and Being Just


To look hard at something, to look through it, is to transform it,
Convert it into something beyond itself, to give it grace.
For over 30 years I've looked at this meadow and mountain landscape
Till it's become iconic and small
And sits, like a medieval traveller's triptych,
                                                                     radiant in its disregard.


--Charles Wright, "Looking Around III"


"Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note"
Lately, I've become accustomed to the way
The ground opens up and envelopes me
Each time I go out to walk the dog.
Or the broad edged silly music the wind
Makes when I run for a bus...

Things have come to that.

And now, each night I count the stars,
And each night I get the same number.
And when they will not come to be counted,
I count the holes they leave.

Nobody sings anymore.

And then last night, I tiptoed up
To my daughter's room and heard her
Talking to someone, and when I opened
The door, there was no one there...
Only she on her knees, peeking into

Her own clasped hands.
--Amiri Baraka


"No two stories ever go the same way, although in different hands one story might possibly go any one of a thousand ways; and though the woods may look the same from outside, it is a new and different labyrinth every time."
--Eudora Welty, "Place in Fiction"
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"There Is No Shelter"
Each evening, the sins of the whole world collect here like a dew.
In the morning, little galaxies, they flash out
And flame,
                   their charred, invisible residue etching

The edges our lives take and the course of things, filling
The shadows in,
                      an aftertrace, through the discards of the broken world,
Like the long, slow burn of a struck match.

--Charles Wright


"The Body as Metaphor"
We only imagine it ends
like childhood, or rain:
fever, the purl in the bone, the amended
lustre of the self, all shell and glitter,

as if I had long been decided
that flesh is a journey,
something immense in the blood,
like a summer of locusts,

or something not quite visible, but quick
as birchseed, or the threading of a wire
through sleep and rapture, gathering the hand
that reaches from the light, to close, or open.
--John Burnside


"The Asians Dying"
When the forests have been destroyed their darkness remains
The ash the great walker follows the possessors
Forever
Nothing they will come to is real
Nor for long
Over the watercourses
Like ducks in the time of the ducks
The ghosts of the villages trail in the sky
Making a new twilight

Rain falls into the open eyes of the dead
Again again with its pointless sound
When the moon finds them they are the color of everything

The nights disappear like bruises but nothing is healed
The dead go away like bruises
The blood vanishes into the poisoned farmlands
Pain the horizon
Remains
Overhead the seasons rock
They are paper bells
Calling to nothing living

The possessors move everywhere under Death their star
Like columns of smoke they advance into the shadows
Like thin flames with no light
They with no past
And fire their only future
--W. S. Merwin


"Moonbeam"
The mist rose with a little sound. Like a thud.
Which was the heart beating. And the sun rose, briefly diluted.
And after what seemed years, it sank again
and twilight washed over the shore and deepened there.
And from out of nowhere lovers came,
people who still had bodies and hearts. Who still had
arms, legs, mouths, although by day they might be
housewives and businessmen.

The same night also produced people like ourselves.
You are like me, whether or not you admit it.
Unsatisfied, meticulous. And your hunger is not for experience
but for understanding, as though it could be had in the abstract.

Then it's daylight again and the world goes back to normal.
The lovers smooth their hair; the moon resumes its hollow existence.
And the beach belongs again to mysterious birds
soon to appear on postage stamps.

But what of our memories, the memories of those who depend on images?
Do they count for nothing?

The mist rose, taking back proof of love.
Without which we have only the mirror, you and I.
--Louise Glück


"Amber"
It never mattered that there was once a vast grieving:

trees on their hillsides, in their groves, weeping--
a plastic gold dropping

through seasons and centuries to the ground—
until now:

On this fine September afternoon from which you are absent
I am holding, as if my hand could store it,
an ornament of amber

you once gave me.

Reason says this:
The dead cannot see the living.
The living will never see the dead again.
The clear air we need to find each other in is gone forever, yet

this resin
collected seeds, leaves, and even small feathers as it fell
and fell,

which now in a sunny atmosphere seem as alive as
they ever were,

as though the past could be present and memory itself
a Baltic honey--

a chafing at the edges of the seen, a showing off of just how much
can be kept safe

inside a flawed translucence.
--Eavan Boland


"One Night"
I am scared of one night. One night might come upon me while I sleep. One night might kiss me & never unzip its lips. I never try to leave the bed, never try to sit up. One night is always there like a tumor: a drum machine fear. I've known one night my whole life. It chases me off the edge of the screen at the end of each act. It speaks & I listen with all my wounds & all my fingerprints. I want an operation to connect me to one night. It is lost in the dark, surely alone, surely shivering, & there is nothing I can do to protect it.
--Mathias Svalina
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"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, reviewing The Goblin Emperor


"Directive"
Back out of all this now too much for us,
Back in a time made simple by the loss
Of detail, burned, dissolved, and broken off
Like graveyard marble sculpture in the weather,
There is a house that is no more a house
Upon a farm that is no more a farm
And in a town that is no more a town.
The road there, if you'll let a guide direct you
Who only has at heart your getting lost,
May seem as if it should have been a quarry--
Great monolithic knees the former town
Long since gave up pretense of keeping covered.
And there's a story in a book about it:
Besides the wear of iron wagon wheels
The ledges show lines ruled southeast-northwest,
The chisel work of an enormous Glacier
That braced his feet against the Arctic Pole.
You must not mind a certain coolness from him
Still said to haunt this side of Panther Mountain.
Nor need you mind the serial ordeal
Of being watched from forty cellar holes
As if by eye pairs out of forty firkins.
As for the woods' excitement over you
That sends light rustle rushes to their leaves,
Charge that to upstart inexperience.
Where were they all not twenty years ago?
They think too much of having shaded out
A few old pecker-fretted apple trees.
Make yourself up a cheering song of how
Someone's road home from work this once was,
Who may be just ahead of you on foot
Or creaking with a buggy load of grain.
The height of the adventure is the height
Of country where two village cultures faded
Into each other. Both of them are lost.
And if you're lost enough to find yourself
By now, pull in your ladder road behind you
And put a sign up CLOSED to all but me.
Then make yourself at home. The only field
Now left's no bigger than a harness gall.
First there's the children's house of make-believe,
Some shattered dishes underneath a pine,
The playthings in the playhouse of the children.
Weep for what little things could make them glad.
Then for the house that is no more a house,
But only a belilaced cellar hole,
Now slowly closing like a dent in dough.
This was no playhouse but a house in earnest.
Your destination and your destiny's
A brook that was the water of the house,
Cold as a spring as yet so near its source,
Too lofty and original to rage.
(We know the valley streams that when aroused
Will leave their tatters hung on barb and thorn.)
I have kept hidden in the instep arch
Of an old cedar at the waterside
A broken drinking goblet like the Grail
Under a spell so the wrong ones can't find it,
So can't get saved, as Saint Mark says they mustn't.
(I stole the goblet from the children's playhouse.)
Here are your waters and your watering place.
Drink and be whole again beyond confusion.
--Robert Frost


"Matins"
You want to know how I spend my time?
I walk the front lawn, pretending
to be weeding. You ought to know
I'm never weeding, on my knees, pulling
clumps of clover from the flower beds: in fact
I'm looking for courage, for some evidence
my life will change, though
it takes forever, checking
each clump for the symbolic
leaf, and soon the summer is ending, already
the leaves turning, always the sick trees
going first, the dying turning
brilliant yellow, while a few dark birds perform
their curfew of music. You want to see my hands?
As empty now as at the first note.
Or was the point always
to continue without a sign?
--Louise Glück


"Field Flowers"
What are you saying? That you want
eternal life? Are your thoughts really
as compelling as all that? Certainly
you don't look at us, don't listen to us,
on your skin
stain of sun, dust
of yellow buttercups: I'm talking
to you, you staring through
bars of high grass shaking
your little rattle-- O
the soul! the soul! Is it enough
only to look inward? Contempt
for humanity is one thing, but why
disdain the expansive
field, your gaze rising over the clear heads
of the wild buttercups into what? Your poor
idea of heaven: absence
of change. Better than earth? How
would you know, who are neither
here nor there, standing in our midst?
--Louise Glück


"Retreating Light"
You were like very young children,
always waiting for a story.
And I'd been through it all too many times;
I was tired of telling stories.
So I gave you the pencil and paper.
I gaze you pens made of reeds.
I had gathered myself, afternoons in the dense meadows.
I told you, write your own story.

After all those years of listening
I thought you'd know
what a story was.

All you could do was weep.
You wanted everything told to you
and nothing thought through yourselves.

Then I realized you couldn't think
with any real boldness or passion;
you hadn't had your own lives yet,
your own tragedies.
So I gave you lives, I gave you tragedies,
because apparently tools alone weren't enough.

You will never know how deeply
it pleases me to see you sitting there
like independent beings,
to see you dreaming by the open window,
holding the pencils I gave you
until the summer morning disappears into writing.

Creation has brought you
great excitement, as I knew it would,
as it does in the beginning.
And I am free to do as I please now,
to attend to other things, in confidence
you have no need of me anymore.
--Louise Glück


trigger warning: 9/11 )
--Shelley Stenhouse, "Circling," Poetry after 9/11: an Anthology of New York Poets


"What I Said"
trigger warning: 9/11 )
--Norman Stock


"Religious Art"
Certain precautions, obstacles
set against vandals--the stretch
of highway, for example, outside Nichols, New Mexico,
loneliness like a family art,
a man's idea of himself
pinned down in the Holy Land, strings of peppers
drying on a porch.

I press hard with my feet
against the earth and
call this fighting back. All yesterday
I walked around counting birds.
Trees, a spray of pebbles in the forecourt,
a dip the wind took about six

maintain the posts assigned, repel boarders.

The peculiar emptiness
in the mown hayfield this afternoon
we stood staring into--as a precaution--
the clefts and shadowy declines containing
our deepest interests, the grass shining and then going dull against
the fading light, these were protection enough.
--Charlie Smith


"Before I Was Born"
There is a moment of separation
between two things, & one of them is living.
A moth is living, is still alive.
And all this is happening on the other side
        of the river.

Life is multiple, I have multiple selves, a past.
And different languages are spoken in office
        buildings & tents.
Equipment is arranged along a shoreline.
The lights in the buildings go out, one at a time.

The man on the subway platform is playing the accordion.
I make a fist, then relax, my fingers are trembling.
Bulbs burn out on an exit sign, the color of beef
        at a lunch counter.
A woman on the subway reading War and Peace

asks me to follow her but I get lost in the crowd.
To obey with your eyes closed is the beginning of panic.
Nothing I do can impede the flow.
My oldest friend bursts into tears on the street.

If I could only have one thought at a time
& remember that there are others who think
        the same way
& elsewhere--a man is preparing food for his child.
And elsewhere, a woman folds her skirt
        over the back of a chair.

Take a page out of your own book & remember
        the river beneath the bridge.
We pass over the Alps in a train in the middle of the night.
My arms are forgotten in the motion of the train
        moving, word by word.

--Lewis Warsh


"Boerum Hill Tanka"
trigger warning: 9/11 )
--Kimiko Hahn
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"There's this idea that monsters don't have reflections in a mirror. And what I've always thought isn't that monsters don't have reflections in a mirror. It's that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves."
--Junot Díaz


"She knew then that Sade had not personally known the dead man. Her grief was almost theoretical. It didn't mean any less, but it was a different sort of grief from Miranda's. It was the sort of grief you didn't have to suppress because letting it out made it smaller instead of bigger. The sort of grief you could say something about because you instinctively understood that it could not continue, rigid inside your breathing apparatus like a metal stem."
--Helen Oyeyemi, White Is for Witching


"The University Library is a mouth shut tight, each tooth a book, each book growing over, under and behind the other. The writing desks are placed in front of the bookshelves, some of them between bookshelves so that whoever is sitting at the desk gets a feeling of something dusty, intangible and unspeakably powerful, something like God, watching them through tiny gaps in the shelves."
--Helen Oyeyemi, White Is for Witching


"Circe's Power"
I never turned anyone into a pig.
Some people are pigs; I make them
look like pigs.

I'm sick of your world
that lets the outside disguise the inside.

Your men weren't bad men;
undisciplined life
did that to them. As pigs,

under the care of
me and my ladies, they
sweetened right up.

Then I reversed the spell,
showing you my goodness
as well as my power. I saw

we could be happy here,
as men and women are
when their needs are simple. In the same breath,

I foresaw your departure,
your men with my help braving
the crying and pounding sea. You think

a few tears upset me? My friend,
every sorceress is
a pragmatist at heart; nobody

sees essence who can't
face limitation. If I wanted only to hold you

I could hold you prisoner.
--Louise Glück


"The Wild Iris"
At the end of my suffering
there was a door.

Hear me out: that which you call death
I remember.

Overhead, noises, branches of the pine shifting.
Then nothing. The weak sun
flickered over the dry surface.

It is terrible to survive
as consciousness
buried in the dark earth.

Then it was over: that which you fear, being
a soul and unable
to speak, ending abruptly, the stiff earth
bending a little. And what I took to be
birds darting in low shrubs.

You who do not remember
passage from the other world
I tell you I could speak again: whatever
returns from oblivion returns
to find a voice:

from the center of my life came
a great fountain, deep blue
shadows on azure seawater.
--Louise Glück


"Trillium"
When I woke up I was in a forest. The dark
seemed natural, the sky through the pine trees
thick with many lights.

I knew nothing; I could do nothing but see.
And as I watched, all the lights of heaven
faded to make a single thing, a fire
burning through the cool firs.
Then it wasn't possible any longer
to stare at heaven and not be destroyed.

Are there souls that need
death's presence, as I require protection?
I think if I speak long enough
I will answer that question, I will see
whatever they see, a ladder
reaching through the firs, whatever
calls them to exchange their lives--

Think what I understand already.
I woke up ignorant in a forest;
only a moment ago, I didn't know my voice
if one were given me
would be so full of grief, my sentences
like cries strung together.
I didn't even know I felt grief
until that word came, until I felt
rain streaming from me.
--Louise Glück


"Lamium"
This is how you live when you have a cold heart.
As I do: in shadows, trailing over cool rock,
under the great maple trees.

The sun hardly touches me.
Sometimes I see it in early spring, rising very far away.
Then leaves grow over it, completely hiding it. I feel it
glinting through the leaves, erratic,
like someone hitting the side of a glass with a metal spoon.

Living things don't all require
light in the same degree. Some of us
make our own light: a silver leaf
like a path no one can use, a shallow
lake of silver in the darkness under the great maples.

But you know this already.
You and the others who think
you live for truth and, by extension, love
all that is cold.
--Louise Glück


"Spring Snow"
Look at the night sky:
I have two selves, two kinds of power.

I am here with you, at the window,
watching you react. Yesterday
the moon rose over moist earth in the lower garden.
Now the earth glitters like the moon,
like dead matter crusted with light.

You can close your eyes now.
I have heard your cries, and cries before yours,
and the demand behind them.
I have shown you what you want:
not belief, but capitulation
to authority, which depends on violence.
--Louise Glück


"Matins"
Forgive me if I say I love you: the powerful
are always lied to since the weak are always
driven by panic. I cannot love
what I can't conceive, and you disclose
virtually nothing: are you like the hawthorn tree,
always the same thing in the same place,
or are you more the foxglove, inconsistent, first springing up
a pink spike on the slope behind the daisies,
and the next year, purple in the rose garden? You must see
it is useless to us, this silence that promotes belief
you must be all things, the foxglove and the hawthorn tree,
the vulnerable rose and tough daisy--we are left to think
you couldn't possibly exist. Is this
what you mean us to think, does this explain
the silence of the morning,
the crickets not yet rubbing their wings, the cats
not fighting in the yard?
--Louise Glück


"The Mask"
The mask is what you use; it isn't a fake, it's a mask. Your senses love you; they evolved to be your mask--or you made them, didn't you?

I keep talking to my future self: she tells me how to be her. I'm already her, that mask.

The bacterium puts on its mask, a painstaking silver drop. The quail flies up, I see his red crest which is almost invisible in dawn and desert dun, don't alliterate or you'll go to hell.

In my culture I need to repeat sounds, so I can step across the instant gap to future, future her. I can't even known what I'll write, she tells me things.

Light through rabbit's ear orange-pink on other side of gully. The rabbit's mask's alien, but I can humanize him--he can be powerful and dangerous. The dark chaotic wind--not wind--can flash from his eye holes, and his teeth holes can be scary.

Why are you scared? Afraid you're going to die? Are you still afraid of that? she asks. It's not that she's smug. Even though she knows what's going to happen to me. But she's not dead yet either.

The mask is covered with writing that people think they understand, now they understand it; you never understood it. Before. Now you can.

The mask is leering at you, with its dark mouth and eyes: you can't understand what you're making up right now, so get on with making it up.
--Alice Notley


"Language of Mercy"
They seem unapproachable in the crowded room--Tara and her father
at night: she'd have to be young and with him. And I'd have to owe
them tentativeness. But who set up this system of debts
sticking to you baby a lawyer's daydream--My culture won't have
a legal system. I'm still not sorry for everything I've done.

He's protecting his merciful child but she is mercy and needs no
protection. I don't need to be sorry, I need to be merciful.

Your hair is all in clumps; your future self forgives you
you mime paroxysms of grief in the vision: I don't want to feel
I don't want to feel any more today and prefer the symbolic world.
I have been living poems for so long I'm only a figure and I'm glad.

You opened this particular poem and you're inside, you can't
get out. Shall we talk about the origin of fear again?

Walk toward the gathering one more time, with its yellow
mound of disorder--a cloth perhaps--at one side of the area.
He thinks he has to protect her, but Mercy needs no protection,
and has no time for fear. Part of me chooses to be her.

Someone is singing to me; I suppose it's a prayer or invocation
Birds gather in the mesquite tree, confessing to existence.
--Alice Notley


"Skull"
I took a skull and transformed it. It looks like a
different one. I know it used to have ruby brains inside.
And dreams that I interpreted badly. And wretched onyx-hooked
and emerald-gush feelings. And the rattle of reasoning...conk, conk.
Take it out, and here's this skull, and you still think it talks like you,

famished my tongue casts about for a confirmative taste.

Then I know I'm the beautiful monster I've made. Naked bares
my fantasy teeth--so we can feel better. My errors could not
be forgiven by others; but now we're the color of lions and peacocks, we, I,
have painted tears, and real-bead brains. I mean literal birds
in my mouth. I'm what they call an overmodeled skull.

I have shiny seashells for eyes; I have lizard guts for hair.
I think the best thoughts I can imagine. I also receive them,
from nowhere, at all. I have a lot of voices, I spew them
they look like overmodeled snake nerves, sequins on fiber slime.
Actually she pastes them to me, so she can talk. She began
existing by doing this, fabricated cowrie-shell eons of light years ago.
--Alice Notley
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"You should be angry. You must not be bitter. Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. It doesn't do anything to the object of its displeasure. So use that anger. You write it. You paint it. You dance it. You march it. You vote it. You do everything about it. You talk it. Never stop talking it."
--Maya Angelou


"The garden is closed off by a tall wall, the top of which is studded with shards of glass in different colors, held in place by cement. From my vantage point they look like teeth. This fierce device doesn't prevent boys form occasionally climbing the walls to steal avocados, medlar fruit and papayas. They put a wooden board on top of the wall, and pull themselves over. If you ask me it's far too risky an enterprise for such meager pickings. But perhaps they're not doing it to savor the fruit, but to savor the risk itself...Maybe all risks to them will taste to them of ripe medlar fruit from now on. You can imagine that one of them will end up becoming a sapper. There will always be more than enough work for sappers in this country. Only yesterday I saw something on television, a report on the mine-sweeping operations. The director of an NGO was bemoaning how uncertain they are about numbers. No one knows with any certainty how many mines were buried in Angolan soil. Somewhere between ten and twenty million. More mines than Angolans, probably. So say one of these boys became a sapper. Whenever he drags himself across a minefield he'll always have that faint taste of medlar fruit in his mouth. And one day he'll be faced with the inevitable question, thrown at him by a foreign journalist with mingled curiosity and horror:

" 'So when you're there dismantling a mine, what goes through your head?'

"And the boy he still has within him will reply, with a smile:

" 'Medlar fruit, old man.'

"Old Esperança thinks it's the wall that makes the thieves--I've heard her say as much to Félix. The albino turned to her, amused:

" 'Who'd have thought I had an anarchist in the house?! Any moment now I'm going to discover that you've been reading Bakunin...'

"He said this, then forgot all about her. She'd never read Bakunin, of course; never read a book at all, come to that, barely knows how to read. But I'm always learning things about life in general, or life in this country--which is life in a state of intoxication--from hearing her talk to herself, sometimes in a gentle murmur, almost like a song, sometimes out loud like someone scolding, as she cleans the house. Old Esperança believes that she's never going to die. In 1992 she survived a massacre. She'd gone to the house of one of the opposition leaders to pick up a letter from her youngest son who was on service in Huambo, when bursts of gunfire suddenly erupted from all around. She was determined to leave the place, to go back to her old musseque house, but they wouldn't let her.

" 'It's a crazy idea, old lady. Just pretend that it's raining. It'll pass soon enough.'

"But it didn't pass. Like a storm the gunfire gathered, getting more ferocious and closing in, getting louder and closer to the house. Félix was the one who told me what happened that night:

" 'This brawling band, a mob of rioters, well armed and extremely drunk, forced their way into the house and slapped around all the people there. The commander wanted to know the name of the old woman. Esperança Job Sapalalo, sir, she said, and he laughed. Esperança--Hope, he joked. Always the last to die. The opposition leader and his family were lined up in the yard and shot. When it came to be Old Esperança's turn, the gunmen had no bullets left. You know what saved you, don't you? the commander shouted. It was logistics. We've never been very good with logistics. And he sent her on her way. Since then she's believed herself to be immune to death. And who knows, maybe she is.'

"It doesn't strike me as impossible. Esperança Job Sapalalo has a fine web of wrinkles on her face and completely white hair, but her flesh is still firm, her gestures solid and precise. If you ask me she's the pillar keeping this house up."
--José Eduardo Agualusa, The Book of Chameleons, translated from the Portuguese by Daniel Hahn


"Gaspar--that was the teacher's name--was moved by the helplessness of certain words. He saw them as down on their luck, abandoned in some desolate place in the language, and he sought to recover them. He used them ostentatiously, and persistently, which annoyed some people and unsettled others. I think he succeeded. His students started using these words too, to begin with merely in jest, but later like a private dialect, a tribal marking, which set them apart from their peers. Nowadays, Félix Ventura assured me, his students are still quite capable of recognizing one another, even if they've never met before, on hearing just a few words..."
--José Eduardo Agualusa, The Book of Chameleons, translated from the Portuguese by Daniel Hahn


"Once, when I was in my old human form, I decided to kill myself. I wanted to die, completely. I hoped that eternal life, Heaven and Hell, God, the Devil, reincarnation, all that stuff, was no more than slowly woven superstition, developed over centuries out of man's greatest terror. There was a gun shop right by my house but I'd never before set foot in it, and the owner didn't know me. There I bought a pistol. Then I bought a crime novel and a bottle of gin. Then I went down to a hotel on the beach, drank the gin in big gulps with considerable distaste (I've always found alcohol repulsive) and lay down on the bed to read the book. I thought that the gin, in combination with the tedium of a pointless plot, would give me the courage to put the gun to my head and pull the trigger. But as it turned out the book wasn't bad at all, and I kept reading right to the last page. By then it had started to rain. It was as though it were raining night--or to explain myself a little more clearly, it was as though falling from the sky were the thick fragments of that sleepy black ocean through which the stars navigate their course. I kept expecting the stars to fall and shatter on impact with the window, with a flash and a crashing. But they didn't fall. I turned out the light. I put the pistol to my head,

"and I fell asleep."
--José Eduardo Agualusa, The Book of Chameleons, translated from the Portuguese by Daniel Hahn


"In olden days stories for children always used to end with the words, and they lived happily ever after, this being after the Prince has married the Princess and they've had lots of children. In life there's never a plot that works out like that, of course. Princesses marry bodyguards, they marry trapeze artists and life goes on, and they live unhappily until they separate. And years later, just like the rest of us, they die. We're only happy--truly happy--when it's forever after, but only children live in a world where things can last forever."
--José Eduardo Agualusa, The Book of Chameleons, translated from the Portuguese by Daniel Hahn


"Imagine a young man racing along on his motorcycle, on a minor road. The wind is beating at his face. The young man closes his eyes, and opens his arms wide, just like they do in films, feeling himself completely alive and in communion with the universe. He doesn't see the lorry lunging out from the crossing. He dies happy. Happiness is almost always irresponsible. We're happy for those brief moments when we close our eyes."
--José Eduardo Agualusa, The Book of Chameleons, translated from the Portuguese by Daniel Hahn


"In the book the minister conversed with real people (sometimes with royal people) and it would be most convenient if these people should tomorrow believe that they had indeed traded confidences and opinions with him. Our memory feeds itself to a large extent on what other people remember of us. We remember other people's memories as though they were our own--even fictional ones.

" 'It's like the Castle of São Jorge in Lisbon--do you know it? It has battlements, but they're fake. António de Oliveira Salazar ordered that some crenelations be added to the castle to make it more authentic. To him there was something wrong with a castle without crenelations--there was something monstrous about it--like a camel without humps. So the fake part of the Castle of São Jorge is today what makes it realistic. Several octogenarian Lisboans I've spoken to are convinced the castle has always had crenelations. There's something rather amusing about that, isn't there? If it were authentic, no one would believe in it.' "
--José Eduardo Agualusa, The Book of Chameleons, translated from the Portuguese by Daniel Hahn


"What is a poem but a means of making sense of all that comes through the senses, a senseless dream decoded? What is a dream but a story broken into fragments and scattered, card-like, before a child as a test of memory? What is memory but a warm welcome from a stranger who knows you by name and perhaps a kiss and invitation to board in a larger room with greater storage space and more natural light? But there are also memories that haunt, past moments that we'd rather think of as belonging to past lives. And then there are those stored in books and records for the sake of collective memory: history."
--Saul Williams, The Dead Emcee Scrolls: The Lost Teachings of Hip-hop


How could you not
Realize the power of word
After being forced
To serve a sentence?
--Saul Williams, The Dead Emcee Scrolls: The Lost Teachings of Hip-hop


I am not a writer
I am the plight
Of unfigured equations:
A stick of cinnamon
A grove a cloves
Cayenne and a bowl of honey
Water and money
--Saul Williams, The Dead Emcee Scrolls: The Lost Teachings of Hip-hop


As an artist
First, I was black.
I wrote with a yearning
To be a leader. I was
Born into a mourning
Race. We mourned
The death of a king.
I awoke to find
My tongue a scepter.
--Saul Williams, The Dead Emcee Scrolls: The Lost Teachings of Hip-hop


"Penelope's Song"
Little soul, little perpetually undressed one,
do now as I bid you, climb
the shelf-like branches of the spruce tree;
wait at the top, attentive, like
a sentry or look-out. He will be home soon;
it behooves you to be
generous. You have not been completely
perfect either; with your troublesome body
you have done things you shouldn't
discuss in poems. Therefore
call out to him over the open water, over the bright water
with your dark song, with your grasping,
unnatural song--passionate,
like Maria Callas. Who
wouldn't want you? Whose most demonic appetite
could you possibly fail to answer? Soon
he will return from wherever he goes in the meantime,
suntanned from his time away, wanting
his grilled chicken. Ah, you must greet him,
you must shake the boughs of the tree
to get his attention,
but carefully, carefully, lest
his beautiful face be marred by too many falling needles.
--Louise Glück


"Parable of the King"
The great king looking ahead
saw not fate but simply
dawn glittering over
the unknown island: as a king
he thought in the imperative--best
not to reconsider direction, best
to keep going forward
over the radiant water. Anyway,
what is fate but a strategy for ignoring
history, with its moral
dilemmas, a way of regarding
the present, where decisions
are made, as the necessary
link between the past (images of the king
as a young prince) and the glorious future (images
of slave girls). Whatever
it was ahead, why did it have to be
so blinding? Who could have known
that wasn't the usual sun
but flames rising over a world
about to become extinct?
--Louise Glück


"Moonless Night"
A lady weeps at a dark window.
Must we say what it is? Can't we simply say
a personal matter? It's early summer;
next door the Lights are practising klezmer music.
A good night: the clarinet is in tune.

As for the lady--she's going to wait forever;
there's no point in watching longer.
After awhile, the streetlight goes out.

But is waiting forever
always the answer? Nothing
is always the answer; the answer
depends on the story.

Such a mistake to want
clarity above all things. What's
a single night, especially
one like this, now so close to ending?
On the other side, there could be anything,
all the joy in the world, the stars fading,
the streetlight becoming a bus stop.
--Louise Glück
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Anger is better. There is a sense of being in anger. A reality and presence. An awareness of worth. It is a lovely surging."
--Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye


"When you keep hurting someone, you do one of three things. Either you fill them up with hate, and they destroy everything around them. Or you fill them up with sadness, and they destroy themselves. Or you fill them up with justice, and they try to destroy everything that's bad and cruel in this world."
--Nick Lake, In Darkness


"Nationalism does nothing but teach you to hate people you never met, and to take pride in accomplishments you had no part in."
--Doug Stanhope


"You will remember when a bird crashed through the window and fell to the floor. You will remember, those of you who were there, how it jerked its wings before dying, and left a spot of blood on the floor after it was removed. But who among you was first to notice the negative bird it left in the window? Who first saw the shadow that the bird left behind, the shadow that was better proof of the bird's existence than the bird ever was? Who was with me when I mourned the death of my son, when I excused myself to bury that bird with my own hands?"
--Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything Is Illuminated


"The thing under my bed waiting for me isn't real. I know that, and I also know that if I'm careful to keep my foot under the covers, it will never be able to grab my ankle."
--Stephen King, Night Shift


"[...]the actual work isn't the thing you make, but the process that makes it[...]"
--John Darnielle, in a blog post here


"A woman-of-color who writes poetry or paints or dances or makes movies knows there is no escape from race or gender when she is writing or painting. She can't take off her color and sex and leave them at the door or her study or studio. Nor can she leave behind her history. Art is about identity, among other things, and her creativity is political."
--Gloria Anzaldúa, Making Face/Making Soul: Haciendo Caras--Creative and Cultural Perspectives by Women of Color


And there was
no sacred place
from which we were absent.

No grove,
No dance,
No sound...
--from Sappho 94, translated from the Greek by Ellen Greene


"A Brief History of My Life: Part VII"
I can't go to the east village anymore
because it is like going on a tour

of my worst dates. I get older, my heart
leaps at the sight of children

who don't belong to me, I pronounce
everything like an Italian opera title.

I used to listen to songs and have someone
in mind for the you parts, now I just want

to be where the light is intense, I want
the kind of heat that kills you

if you drive into it unprepared. This
isn't a metaphor for anything else.

When I speak of the light, I mean the light.
I go to church and sing along and feel

just as moved as if my faith were blind.
When I speak of the blind, I mean

the light. Truly the only things Lindsey Lohan and I
have in common are our preoccupations

with fame and weight loss, and yet I recognize
a kinship there, as if those two things mattered

more than anything. When I speak of
the darkness, I mean this living.

In a restaurant called Caracas,
I once spent fifteen minutes arguing

about an Ayn Rand book because
every time he said Anthem I thought

he meant We the Living and I said
what dystopia, what about the woman,

and he said what about the Home
of the Infants and I said what

Home of the Infants? What about
loving a man so much you'll sleep

with another man in order to finance
the first man's tuberculosis treatment?

Welcome to Russia, I said, and we
were looking at each other and then

not. I tried to picture Caracas, tried
to leave him for elsewhere, a fever.
--Leigh Stein


"In every important way we are such secrets from each other, and I do believe that there is a separate language in each of us, also a separate aesthetics and a separate jurisprudence. Every single one of us is a little civilization built on the ruins of any number of preceding civilizations, but with our own variant notions of what is, beautiful and what is acceptable--which, I hasten to add, we generally do not satisfy and by which we struggle to live. We take fortuitous resemblances among us to be actual likeness, because those around us have also fallen heir to the same customs, trade in the same coin, acknowledge, more or less, the same notions of decency and sanity. But all that really just allows us to coexist with the inviolable, untransversable, and utterly vast spaces between us."
--Marilynne Robinson, Gilead


"When writers die they become books, which is, after all, not too bad an incarnation."
--Jorge Luis Borges


"Most theories of white supremacy seek to plumb the depths of its excessiveness, beyond the ordinary; they miss the fact that racism is a mundane affair. The fundamental excess of the paradigm of policing which infuses this culture is wholly banal. Those theories overlook that fact in favor of extant extravagance, spectacle, or the 'deep psychology' of rogue elements and become complicit in perpetuating white supremacy. The reality is an invidious ethos of excess that, instead, constitutes the surface of everything in this society.

[...]

"White supremacy is nothing more than what we perceive of it; there is nothing beyond it to give it legitimacy, nothing beneath it nor outside it to give it justification. The structure of its banality is the surface on which it operates. Whatever mythic content it pretends to claim is a priori empty. Its secret is that it has no depth. There is no dark corner that, once brought to the light of reason, will unravel its system. In each instance of repetition, 'what is repeated is the emptiness of repetition', an articulation that 'does not speak and yet has always been said.' In other words, its truth lies in the rituals that sustain its circuitous, contentless logic; it is, in fact, nothing but its very practices."
--Jared Sexton, The Avant-Garde of White Supremacy


"Detail of the Woods"
I looked at all the trees and didn't know what to do.

A box made out of leaves.
What else was in the woods? A heart, closing. Nevertheless.

Everyone needs a place. It shouldn't be inside of someone else.
I kept my mind on the moon. Cold moon, long nights moon.

From the landscape: a sense of scale.
From the dead: a sense of scale.

I turned my back on the story. A sense of superiority.
Everything casts a shadow.

Your body told me in a dream it's never been afraid of anything.
--Richard Siken


"Stars, too, were time travelers. How many of those ancient points of light were the last echoes of suns now dead? How many had been born but their light not yet come this far? If all the suns but ours collapsed tonight, how many lifetimes would it take us to realize that we were alone?"
--Ransom Riggs, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children


"It becomes clear--for some--that the more closely one resembles the invader, the more comfortable one's life may become."
--James Baldwin, Evidence of Things Not Seen


"When you amuse, it even seems, for the briefest possible moment, that you are who you appear to be, so clever and confident and at ease. [...] Then while your court jester of a self is mumming out front, the rest of you can slip out the stage door where you can't be found."
--Caroline Kettlewell, Skin Game


"An intellectual says a simple thing in a hard way. An artist says a hard thing in a simple way."
--Charles Bukowski


"For me, forgiveness and compassion are always linked: how do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?"
--bell hooks


"I never asked Tolstoy to write for me, a little colored girl in Lorain, Ohio. I never asked [James] Joyce not to mention Catholicism or the world of Dublin. Never. And I don't know why I should be asked to explain your life to you. We have splendid writers to do that, but I am not one of them. It is that business of being universal, a word hopelessly stripped of meaning for me. Faulkner wrote what I suppose could be called regional literature and had it published all over the world. That's what I wish to do. If I tried to write a universal novel, it would be water. Behind this question is the suggestion that to write for black people is somehow to diminish the writing. From my perspective there are only black people. When I say 'people,' that's what I mean."
--Toni Morrison


"If your ancestors cut down all the trees, it's not your fault, but you still don't live in a forest."
--Pam Oliver


"There is hope,
but not for us."
--Franz Kafka, to his friend Max Brod


"Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place."
--Zora Neale Hurston


"The Dream Keeper"
Bring me all of your dreams,
You dreamer,
Bring me all your
Heart melodies
That I may wrap them
In a blue cloud-cloth
Away from the too-rough fingers
Of the world.
--Langston Hughes


"Birds born in a cage think flying is an illness."
--Alejandro Jodorowsky


"I suppose the other thing too many forget is that we were all stories once, each and every one of us. And we remain stories. But too often we allow those stories to grow banal, or cruel or unconnected to each other.We allow the stories to continue, but they no longer have a heart. They no longer sustain us."
--Charles de Lint, The Onion Girl


"Knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving. When we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape."
--bell hooks


"Who has not asked himself at some time or other: am I a monster or is this what it means to be a person?"
--Clarice Lispector, The Hour of the Star


"If you knew what was going to happen, if you knew everything that was going to happen next--if you knew in advance the consequences of your own actions--you'd be doomed. You'd be as ruined as God. You'd be a stone."
--Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin


"There was a small stand of trees nearby, and from it you could hear the mechanical cry of a bird that sounded as if it were winding a spring. We called it the wind-up bird. Kumiko gave it the name. We didn't know what it was really called or what it looked like, but that didn't bother the wind-up bird. Every day it would come to the stand of trees in our neighborhood and wind the spring of our quiet little world."
--Haruki Murakami


"To light a candle is to cast a shadow."
--Ursula K. Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea


"I am clouded and bruised with the print of minds and faces and things so subtle that they have smell, colour, texture, substance but no name."
--Virginia Woolf, The Waves


"It's saying no. That's your first hint that something's alive. It says no. That's how you know a baby is starting to turn into a person. They run around saying no all day, throwing their aliveness at everything to see what it'll stick to. You can't say no if you don't have desires and opinions and wants of your own. You wouldn't even want to. No is the heart of thinking."
--Catherynne M. Valente, The Girl Who Soared over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two


"Blue Rotunda"
I am tired of having hands
she said
I want wings--

But what will you do without your hands
to be human?

I am tired of human
she said
I want to live on the sun--

*

Pointing to herself:

Not here.
There is not enough
warmth in this place.
Blue sky, blue ice

the blue rotunda
lifted over
the flat street--

and then, after a silence:

*

I want
my heart back
I want to feel everything again--

That's what
the sun meant: it meant
scorched--

*

It is not finally
interesting to remember.
The damage

is not interesting.
No one who knew me then
is still alive.

My mother
was a beautiful woman--
they all said so.

*

I have to imagine
everything
she said

I have to act
as though there is actually
a map to that place:

when you were a child--

*

And then:

I'm here
because it wasn't true; I

distorted it--

*

I want she said
a theory that explains
everything

in the mother's eye
the invisible
splinter of foil

the blue ice
locked in the iris--

*

Then:

I want it
to be my fault
she said
so I can fix it--

*

Blue sky, blue ice,
street like a frozen river


you're talking
about my life
she said

*

except
she said
you have to fix it

in the right order
not touching the father
until you solve the mother

*

a black space
showing
where the word ends

like a crossword saying
you should take a breath now

the black space meaning
when you were a child--

*

And then:

the ice
was there for your own protection

to teach you
not to feel--

the truth
she said

I thought it would be like
a target, you would see

the center--

*

Cold light filling the room.

I know where we are
she said
that's the window
when I was a child

That's my first home, she said
that square box--
go ahead and laugh.

Like the inside of my head:
you can see out
but you can't go out--

*

Just think
the sun was there, in that bare place

the winter sun
not close enough to reach
the children's hearts

the light saying
you can see out
but you can't go out


Here, it says,
here is where everything belongs
--Louise Glück


"Aesthetics"
we must know a force
greater than our weaknesses
--Jean Toomer


like most boys, ignorant
or fearful of beauty, we
pinned back the wings

of butterflies and plucked
off their legs, and watched
and watched them tumble

from leaves like pinecones
wheeling from rooftops;
and we laughed.

we crumbled alka-seltzer
for the pigeons, "those
flying rats," my mother’s

ex-husband once called.
their bodies floundering like
toys flung from a window.

white foam from their mouths
stark against the asphalt
framing their artless convulsions

and we laughed
with open-mouths until
tears dripped from our

chins and our throats
were raw with the rightness
of god.
--Amaud Jamaul Johnson


"By revealing that difference is arbitrary and potentially free-floating, mutable rather than essential, the monster threatens to destroy not just individual members of a society, but the very cultural apparatus through which individuality is constituted and allowed."
--Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, "Monster Culture (Seven Theses)"


"And God said 'Love Your Enemy,' and I obeyed him and loved myself."
--Khalil Gibran


"She never talked about what they were; she only said, Man, I'm glad I got to know you.

"And he said, I'm glad I'm me knowing you."
--Junot Díaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao


I'm still the one who knelt before you
in monk’s robes, wanting to be of use.
You filled him as he called you into being--
a voice from a quiet cell
with the world blowing past.
And you are ever again the wave
sweeping through all things.

That's all there is. Only an ocean
where now and again islands appear.
That's all there is: no harps, no angels.
And the one before whom all things bow
is the one without a voice.

Are you, then, the All? and I the separated one
who tumbles and rages?
Am I not the whole? Am I not all things
when I weep, and you the single one, who hears it?

Listen--don't you hear something?
Aren't there voices other than mine?
Is that a storm? I am one also,
whipping the trees to call to you.
Are you distracted from hearing me
by some whining little tune?
That's mine as well--hear mine as well;
it's lonely and unheard.

I'm the one who's been asking you--
it hurts to ask--Who are you?
I am orphaned
each time the sun goes down.
I can feel cast out from everything
and even churches look like prisons.

That's when I want you--
you knower of my emptiness,
you unspeaking partner to my sorrow--
that's when I need you, God, like food.

Maybe you don't know what the nights are like
for people who can't sleep.
They all feel guilty--
the old man, the young woman, the child,
They're driven through darkness as though condemned,
their pale hands writhing; they're twisted
like a pack of frenzied hounds.

What's past lies still ahead,
and the future is finished.

They see not the faintest glimmer of morning
and listen in vain for the cock's crow.
The night is a huge house
where doors torn open by terrified hands
lead into endless corridors, and there’s no way out.

God, every night is like that.
Always there are some awake,
who turn, turn, and do not find you.
Don't you hear them blindly treading the dark?
Don't you hear them crying out
as they go farther and father down?
Surely you hear them weep; for they are weeping.

I seek you, because they are passing
right by my door. Whom should I turn to,
if not the one whose darkness
is darker than night, the only one
who keeps vigil with no candle,
and is not afraid--
the deep one, whose being I trust,
for it breaks through the earth into trees,
and rises,
when I bow my head,
faint as fragrance
from the soil.
--Rainer Maria Rilke, translator unknown


"Examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day. The mind receives a myriad impressions--trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel. From all sides they come, an incessant shower of innumerable atoms; and as they fall, as they shape themselves into the life of Monday or Tuesday, the accent falls differently from of old; the moment of importance came not here but there; so that, if a writer were a free man and not a slave, if he could write what he chose, not what he must, if he could base his work upon his own feeling and not upon convention, there would be no plot, no comedy, no tragedy, no love interest or catastrophe in the accepted style, and perhaps not a single button sewn on as the Bond Street tailors would have it. Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end. Is it not the task of the novelist to convey this varying, this unknown and uncircumscribed spirit, whatever aberration or complexity it may display, with as little mixture of the alien and external as possible? We are not pleading merely for courage and sincerity; we are suggesting that the proper stuff of fiction is a little other than custom would have us believe it."
--Virginia Woolf, "Modern Fiction"


"You think I'll be the dark sky so you can be the star? I'll swallow you whole."
--Warsan Shire


"For a decade or more, booze made everything more beautiful, except for those things that really mattered, those it made invisible."
--Adam Stanley

"Good books make you ask questions. Bad readers want everything answered."
--Scott Westerfeld


"Cities are smells: Acre is the smell of iodine and spices. Haifa is the smell of pine and wrinkled sheets. Moscow is the smell of vodka on ice. Cairo is the smell of mango and ginger. Beirut is the smell of the sun, sea, smoke, and lemons. Paris is the smell of fresh bread, cheese, and derivations of enchantment. Damascus is the smell of jasmine and dried fruit. Tunis is the smell of night musk and salt. Rabat is the smell of henna, incense and honey. A city that cannot be known by its smell is unreliable. Exiles have a shared smell: the smell of longing for something else; a smell that remembers another smell. A painting, nostalgic that guides you, like a worn tourist map, to the smell of the original place. A smell is a memory and a setting sun. Sunset, here, is beauty rebuking the stranger.

"But to love the sunset is not, as they say, one of the attributes of exile."
--Mahmoud Darwish, In the Presence of Absence


"Vampires, burial, death: inter the corpse where the road forks, so that when it springs from the grave, it will not know which path to follow. Drive a stake through its heart: it will be stuck to the ground at the fork, it will haunt that place that leads to many other places, that point of indecision. Behead the corpse, so that, acephalic, it will not know itself as subject, only as pure body.

"The monster is born only at this metaphoric crossroads, as an embodiment of a certain cultural moment--of a time, a feeling, and a place. The monster's body quite literally incorporates fear, desire, anxiety, and fantasy (ataractic or incendiary), giving them life and an uncanny independence. The monstrous body is pure culture. A construct and a projection, the monster exists only to be read: the monstrum is etymologically "that which reveals", "that which warns," a glyph that seeks a hierophant. Like a letter on the page, the monsters signifies something other than itself: it is always a displacement, always inhabits the gap between the time of upheaval that created it and the moment into which it is received, to be born again. These epistemological spaces between the monster's bones are Derrida's familiar chasm of différance: a genetic uncertainty principle, the essence of the monster's vitality, the reason it always rises from the dissection table as its secrets are about to be revealed and vanishes into the night."
--Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, "Thesis I: The Monster's Body Is a Cultural Body"


"Once it happened, as I lay awake at night, that I suddenly spoke in verses, in verses so beautiful and strange that I did not venture to think of writing them down, and then in the morning they vanished; and yet they lay hidden within me like the hard kernel within an old brittle husk."
--Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf


"There is a secret bond between slowness and memory, between speed and forgetting. Consider this utterly commonplace situation: a man is walking down the street. At a certain moment, he tries to recall something, but the recollection escapes him. Automatically he slows down. Meanwhile, a person who wants to forget a disagreeable incident he has just lived through starts unconsciously to speed up his pace, as if he were trying to distance himself from a thing still too close to him in time.

"In existential mathematics, that experience takes the form of two basic equations: the degree of slowness is directly proportion to the intensity of memory; the degree of speed is directly proportional to the intensity of forgetting."
--Milan Kundera, Slowness


"Can the hungry go on a hunger strike? Non-violence is a piece of theatre. You need an audience. What can you do when you have no audience? People have the right to resist annihilation."
--Arundhati Roy


"Some people--and I am one of them--hate happy endings. We feel cheated. Harm is the norm. Doom should not jam. The avalanche stopping in its tracks a few feet above the cowering village behaves not only unnaturally but unethically."
--Vladimir Nabokov, Pnin
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Nostos"
There was an apple tree in the yard--
this would have been
forty years ago--behind,
only meadows. Drifts
of crocus in the damp grass.
I stood at that window:
late April. Spring
flowers in the neighbor's yard.
How many times, really, did the tree
flower on my birthday,
the exact day, not
before, not after? Substitution
of the immutable
for the shifting, the evolving.
Substitution of the image
for relentless earth. What
do I know of this place,
the role of the tree for decades
taken by a bonsai, voices
rising from the tennis courts--
Fields. Smell of the tall grass, new cut.
As one expects of a lyric poet.
We look at the world once, in childhood.
The rest is memory.
--Louise Glück


"Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth."
--Kurt Vonnegut


"Everybody's youth is a dream, a form of chemical madness."
--F. Scott Fitzgerald, "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz"


"People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them."
--James Baldwin


"There was once a very great American surgeon named Halsted. He was married to a nurse. He loved her--immeasurably. One day Halsted noticed that his wife's hands were chapped and red when she came back from surgery. And so he invented rubber gloves. For her. It is one of the great love stories in medicine. The difference between inspired medicine and uninspired medicine is love. When I met Ana I knew: I loved her to the point of invention."
--Sarah Ruhl, The Clean House


"We don't give other people credit for the same interior complexity we take for granted in ourselves, the same capacity for holding contradictory feelings in balance, for complexly alloyed affections, for bottomless generosity of heart and petty, capricious malice. We can't believe that anyone could be unkind to us and still be genuinely fond of us, although we do it all the time.

"Years ago a friend of mine had a dream about a strange invention; a staircase you could descend deep underground, in which you heard recordings of all the things anyone had ever said about you, both good and bad. The catch was, you had to pass through all the worst things people had said before you could get to the highest compliments at the very bottom. There is no way I would ever make it more than two and a half steps down such a staircase, but I understand its terrible logic: if we want the rewards of being loved we have to submit to the mortifying ordeal of being known."
--Tim Kreider, "I Know What You Think of Me"


"Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to a divine purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: That we are here for the sake of others...for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day, I realize how much my outer and inner life is built upon the labors of people, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received."
--Albert Einstein


"Once, in my father's bookshop, I heard a regular customer say that few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart. Those first images, the echo of words we think we have left behind, accompany us throughout our lives and sculpt a palace in our memory to which, sooner or later--no matter how many books we read, how many worlds we discover, or how much we learn or forget--we will return."
--Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind


"The moon likes secrets. And secret things. She lets mysteries bleed into her shadows and leaves us to ask whether they originated from otherworlds, or from our own imaginations."
--Charles de Lint


"To the Reader: Twilight"
Whenever I look
out at the snowy
mountains at this hour
and speak directly
into the ear of the sky,
it's you I'm thinking of.
You're like the spirits
the children invent
to inhabit the stuffed horse
and the doll.
I don't know who hears me.
I don't know who speaks
when the horse speaks.
--Chase Twichell


"The poet has come back"
The poet has come back to being a poet
after decades of being virtuous instead.

Can't you be both?
No. Not in public.

You could, once,
back when God was still thundering vengeance

and liked the scent of blood,
and hadn't gotten around to slippery forgiveness.

Then you could scatter incense and praise,
and wear your snake necklace,

and hymn the crushed skulls of your enemies
to a pious chorus.

No deferential smiling, no baking of cookies,
no I'm a nice person really.

Welcome back, my dear.
Time to resume our vigil,

time to unlock the cellar door,
time to remind ourselves

that the god of poets has two hands:
the dextrous, the sinister.
--Margaret Atwood


"If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality."
--Desmond Tutu


"Hate does that. Burns off everything but itself, so whatever your grievance is, your face looks just like your enemy's."
--Toni Morrison, Love


"Many of the stories we tell ourselves (of what it means to be men, to be human, to be loved) we did not invent, we inherited. Often they were forced into our genetic timeline through violence of invasion, abuse of a home, ugliness of forced intimacy. When this 'story' becomes an environment our children are raised in, they see it not as an invasion, but as routine. How then does a society interrupt a cycle if not with imagination? How then do we begin healing ourselves if not by healing our stories?"
--Mark Gonzales


"Here's a wagon that's going a piece of the way. It will take you that far; backrolling now behind her a long monotonous succession of peaceful and undeviating changes from day to dark and dark to day again, through which she advanced in identical and anonymous and deliberate wagons as though through a succession of creakwheeled and limpeared avatars, like something moving forever and without progress across an urn."
--William Faulkner, Light in August
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"It must be some one impression, that gives rise to every real idea. But self or person is not any one impression, but that to which our several impressions and ideas are suppos'd to have a reference. If any impression gives rise to the idea of self, that impression must continue invariably the same, thro' the whole course of our lives; since self is suppos'd to exist in that manner. But there is no impression constant and invariable.[...]For my part, when I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble on some particular perception of other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe any thing but the perception."
--David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature


"It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity."
--W. E. B. DuBois


"Persephone the Wanderer"
trigger warning: rape )
--Louise Glück


"In Midas' Country"
Meadows of gold dust. The silver
Currents of the Connecticut fan
And meander in bland pleatings under
River-verge farms where rye-heads whiten.
All's polished to a dull luster

In the sulfurous noon. We move
With the languor of idols below
The sky's great bell glass and briefly engrave
Our limbs' image on a field of straw
And goldenrod as on gold leaf.

It might be heaven, this static
Plenitude: apples gold on the bough,
Goldfinch, goldfish, golden tiger cat stock-
Still in one gigantic tapestry--
And lovers affable, dovelike.

But now the water-skiers race,
Bracing their knees. On unseen towlines
They cleave the river's greening patinas;
The mirror quivers to smithereens.
They stunt like clowns in the circus.

So we are hauled, though we would stop
On this amber bank where grasses bleach.
Already the farmer's after his crop,
August gives over its Midas touch,
Wind bares a flintier landscape.
--Sylvia Plath


"A Winter Ship"
At this wharf there are no grand landings to speak of.
Red and orange barges list and blister
Shackled to the dock, outmoded, gaudy,
And apparently indestructible.
The sea pulses under a skin of oil.

A gull holds his pose on a shanty ridgepole,
Riding the tide of the wind, steady
As wood and formal, in a jacket of ashes,
The whole flat harbor anchored in
The round of his yellow eye-button.

A blimp swims up like a day-moon or tin
Cigar over his rink of fishes.
The prospect is dull as an old etching.
They are unloading three barrels of little crabs.
The pier pilings seem about to collapse

And with them that rickety edifice
Of warehouses, derricks, smokestacks and bridges
In the distance. All around us the water slips
And gossips in its loose vernacular,
Ferrying the smells of dead cod and tar.

Farther out, the waves will be mouthing icecakes--
A poor month for park-sleepers and lovers.
Even our shadows are blue with cold.
We wanted to see the sun come up
And are met, instead, by this iceribbed ship,

Bearded and blown, an albatross of frost,
Relic of tough weather, every winch and stay
Encased in a glassy pellicle.
The sun will diminish it soon enough:
Each wave-tip glitters like a knife.
--Sylvia Plath


"Poem for a Birthday"
1. Who

The month of flowering's finished. The fruit's in,
Eaten or rotten. I am all mouth.
October's the month for storage.

This shed's fusty as a mummy's stomach:
Old tools, handles and rusty tusks.
I am at home here among the dead heads.

Let me sit in a flowerpot,
The spiders won't notice.
My heart is a stopped geranium.

If only the wind would leave my lungs alone.
Dogbody noses the petals. They bloom upside down.
They rattle like hydrangea bushes.

Mouldering heads console me,
Nailed to the rafters yesterday:
Inmates who don't hibernate.

Cabbageheads: wormy purple, silver-glaze,
A dressing of mule ears, mothy pelts, but green-hearted,
Their veins white as porkfat.

O the beauty of usage!
The orange pumpkins have no eyes.
These halls are full of women who think they are birds.

This is a dull school.
I am a root, a stone, an owl pellet,
Without dreams of any sort.

Mother, you are the one mouth
I would be a tongue to. Mother of otherness
Eat me. Wastebasket gaper, shadow of doorways.

I said: I must remember this, being small.
There were such enormous flowers,
Purple and red mouths, utterly lovely.

The hoops of blackberry stems made me cry.
Now they light me up like an electric bulb.
For weeks I can remember nothing at all.

2. Dark House
This is a dark house, very big.
I made it myself,
Cell by cell from a quiet corner,
Chewing at the gray paper,
Oozing the glue drops,
Whistling, wiggling my ears,
Thinking of something else.

It has so many cellars,
Such eelish delvings!
I am round as an owl,
I see by my own light.
Any day I may litter puppies
Or mother a horse. My belly moves.
I must make more maps.

These marrowy tunnels!
Moley-handed, I eat my way.
All-mouth licks up the bushes
And the pots of meat.
He lives in an old well,
A stony hole. He's to blame.
He's a fat sort.

Pebble smells, turnipy chambers.
Small nostrils are breathing.
Little humble loves!
Footlings, boneless as noses,
It is warm and tolerable
In the bowel of the root.
Here's a cuddly mother.

3. Maenad
Once I was ordinary:
Sat by my father's bean tree
Eating the fingers of wisdom.
The birds made milk.
When it thundered I hid under a flat stone.

The mother of mouths didn't love me.
The old man shrank to a doll.
O I am too big to go backward:
Birdmilk is feathers,
The bean leaves are dumb as hands.

This mouth is fit for little.
The dead ripen in the grapeleaves.
A red tongue is among us.
Mother, keep out of my barnyard,
I am becoming another.

Dog-head, devourer:
Feed me the berries of dark.
The lids won't shut. Time
Unwinds from the great umbilicus of the sun
Its endless glitter.

I must swallow it all.

Lady, who are these others in the moon's vat--
Sleepdrunk, their limbs at odds?
In this light the blood is black.
Tell me my name.

4. The Beast

He was bullman earlier,
King of the dish, my lucky animal.
Breathing was easy in his airy holding.
The sun sat in his armpit.
Nothing went moldy. The little invisibles
Waited on him hand and foot.
The blue sisters sent me to another school.
Monkey lived under the dunce cap.
He kept blowing me kisses.
I hardly knew him.

He won't be got rid of:
Mumblepaws, teary and sorry,
Fido Littlesoul, the bowel's familiar.
A dustbin's enough for him.
The dark's his bone.
Call him any name, he'll come to it.

Mud-sump, happy sty-face.
I've married a cupboard of rubbish.
I bed in a fish puddle.
Down here the sky is always falling.
Hogwallow's at the window.
The star bugs won't save me this month.
I housekeep in Time's gut-end
Among emmets and mollusksm
Duchess of Nothing,
Hairtusk's bride.

5. Flute Notes from a Reedy Pond
Now coldness comes sifting down, layer after layer,
To our bower at the lily root.
Overhead the old umbrellas of summer
Wither like pithless hands. There is little shelter.

Hourly the eye of the sky enlarges its blank
Dominion. The stars are no nearer.
Already frog-mouth and fish-mouth drink
The liquor of indolence, and all thinks sink

Into a soft caul of forgetfulness.
The fugitive colors die.
Caddis worms drowse in their silk cases,
The lamp-headed nymphs are nodding to sleep like statues.

Puppets, loosed from the strings of the puppet-master,
Wear masks of horn to bed.
This is not death, it is something safer.
The wingy myths won't tug at us any more:

The molts are tongueless that sang from above the water
Of golgotha at the tip of a reed,
And how a god flimsy as a baby's finger
Shall unhusk himself and steer into the air.

6. Witch Burning
In the marketplace they are piling the dry sticks.
A thicket of shadows is a poor coat. I inhabit
The wax image of myself, a doll's body.
Sickness begins here: I am a dartboard for witches.
Only the devil can eat the devil out.
In the month of red leaves I climb to a bed of fire.

It is easy to blame the dark: the mouth of a door,
The cellar's belly. They've blown my sparkler out.
A black-sharded lady keeps me in a parrot cage.
What large eyes the dead have!
I am intimate with a hairy spirit.
Smoke wheels from the beak of this empty jar.

If I am a little one, I can do no harm.
If I don't move about, I'll knock nothing over. So I said,
Sitting under a potlid, tiny and inert as a rice grain.
They are turning the burners up, ring after ring.
We are full of starch, my small white fellows. We grow.
It hurts at first. The red tongues will teach the truth.

Mother of beetles, only unclench your hand:
I'll fly through the candle's mouth like a singeless moth.
Give me back my shape. I am ready to construe the days
I coupled with dust in the shadow of a stone.
My ankles brighten. Brightness ascends my thighs.
I am lost, I am lost, in the robes of all this light.

7. The Stones
This is the city where men are mended.
I lie on a great anvil.
The flat blue sky-circle

Flew off like the hat of a doll
When I fell out of the light. I entered
The stomach of indifference, the wordless cupboard.

The mother of pestles diminished me.
I became a still pebble.
The stones of the belly were peaceable,

The head-stone quiet, jostled by nothing.
Only the mouth-hole piped out,
Importunate cricket

In a quarry of silences.
The people of the city heard it.
They hunted the stones, taciturn and separate,

The mouth-hole crying their locations.
Drunk as a foetus
I suck at the paps of darkness.

The food tubes embrace me. Sponges kiss my lichens away.
The jewelmaster drives his chisel to pry
Open one stone eye.

This is the after-hell: I see the light.
A wind unstoppers the chamber
Of the ear, old worrier.

Water mollifies the flint lip,
And daylight lays its sameness on the wall.
The grafters are cheerful,

Heating the pincers, hoisting the delicate hammers.
A current agitates the wires
Volt upon volt. Catgut stitches my fissures.

A workman walks by carrying a pink torso.
The storerooms are full of hearts.
This is the city of spare parts.

My swaddled legs and arms smell sweet as rubber.
Here they can doctor heads, or any limb.
On Fridays the little children come

To trade their hooks for hands.
Dead men leave eyes for others.
Love is the uniform of my bald nurse.

Love is the bone and sinew of my curse.
The vase, reconstructed, houses
The elusive rose.

Ten fingers shape a bowl for shadows.
My mendings itch. There is nothing to do.
I shall be good as new.
--Sylvia Plath


"Widow"
Widow. The word consumes itself--
Body, a sheet of newsprint on the fire
Levitating a numb minute in the updraft
Over the scalding, red topography
That will put her heart out like an only eye.

Widow. The dead syllable, with its shadow
Of an echo, exposes the panel in the wall
Behind which the secret passage lies--stale air,
Fusty remembrances, the coiled-spring stair
That opens at the top onto nothing at all....

Widow. The bitter spider sits
And sits in the center of her loveless spokes.
Death is the new dress she wears, her hat and collar.
The moth-face of her husband, moonwhite and ill,
Circles her like a prey she'd love to kill

A second time, to have him near again--
A paper image to lay against her heart
The way she'd laid his letters, till they grew warm
And seemed to give her warmth, like a live skin.
But it she who is paper now, warmed by no one.

Widow: that great, vacant estate!
The voice of God is full of draftiness,
Promising simply the hard stars, the space
Of immortal blankness between stars
And no bodies, singing like arrows up to heaven.

Widow, the compassionate trees bend in,
The trees of loneliness, the trees of mourning.
They stand like shadows about the green landscape--
Or even like black holes cut out of it.
A window resembles then, a shadow-thing,

Hand folding hand, and nothing in between.
A bodiless soul could pass another soul
In this clear air and never notice it--
One soul pass through the other, frail as smoke
And utterly ignorant of the way it took.

That is the fear she has--the fear
His soul may beat and be beating at her dull sense
Like blue Mary's angel, dovelike against a pane
Blinded to all but the gray, spiritless room
It looks in on, and must go on looking in on.
--Sylvia Plath


"Stars over the Dordogne"
Stars are dropping thick as stones into the twiggy
Picket of trees whose silhouette is darker
Than the dark of the sky because it is quite starless.
The woods are a well. The stars drop silently.
They seem large, yet they drop, and no gap is visible.
Nor do they send up fires where they fall
Or any signal of distress or anxiousness.
They are eaten immediately by the pines.

Where I am at home, only the sparsest stars
Arrive at twilight, and then after some effort.
The smaller and more timid never arrive at all
But stay, sitting far out, in their own dust.
They are orphans. I cannot see them. They are lost.
But tonight they have discovered this river with no trouble,
They are scrubbed and self-assured as the great planets.

The Big Dipper is my only familiar.
I miss Orion and Cassiopeia's Chair. Maybe they are
Hanging shyly under the studded horizon
Like a child's too-simple mathematical problem.
Infinite number seems to be the issue up there.
Or else they are present, and their disguise so bright
I am overlooking them by looking too hard.
Perhaps it is the season that is not right.

And what if the sky here is no different,
And it is my eyes that have been sharpening themselves?
Such a luxury of stars would embarrass me.
The few I am used to are plain and durable;
I think they would not wish for this dressy backcloth
Or much company, or the mildness of the south.
They are too puritan and solitary for that--
When one of them falls it leaves a space,

A sense of absence in its old shining place.
And where I lie now, back to my own dark star,
I see those constellations in my head,
Unwarmed by the sweet air of this peach orchard.
There is too much ease here; these stars treat me too well.
On this hill, with its view of lit castles, each swung bell
Is accounting for its cow. I shut my eyes
And drink the small night chill like news of home.
--Sylvia Plath
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Learning is constant open-mindedness, to assess and reassess, to make connections with what you already know and find ways that they are related--or not. It is to be fully receptive to everything you come into contact with, to have a kind of playfulness with the various senses. It is to allow for expansion. Learning can also mean deep self-analysis, to be an observer of your thoughts, to understand why you feel certain emotions, to underpin the reasons why you react or respond to different external stimuli and situations. It means to be open to change and to allow your future to open up new possibilities. Learning means you are a student, not only in class, but also in the real world where things, events, and people can present lessons, or shades of experience which you can consider applying into your own life. Learning means to not be attached to a single ideal. It means creating something new, something fresh, something that you can say is your own. And the ultimate learning, is to learn how to be yourself, comfortably, without judging yourself. To learn how to be you--fully."
--unknown


"Openness"
Here we are, naked lovers,
beautiful to each other--and that's enough.
The leaves of our eyelids our only covers,
we're lying amidst deep night.

But they know about us, they know,
the four corners, and the chairs nearby us.
Discerning shadows also know,
and even the table keeps quiet.

Our teacups know full well
why the tea is getting cold.
And old Swift can surely tell
that his book's been put on hold.

Even the birds are in the know:
I saw them writing in the sky
brazenly and openly
the very name I call you by.

The trees? Could you explain to me
their unrelenting whispering?
The wind may know, you say to me,
but how is just a mystery.

A moth surprised us through the blinds,
its wings in fuzzy flutter.
Its silent path--see how it winds
in a stubborn holding pattern.

Maybe it sees where our eyes fail
with an insect's inborn sharpness.
I never sensed, nor could you tell
that our hearts were aglow in the darkness.
--Wislawa Szymborska


"Coming to This"
We have done what we wanted.
We have discarded dreams, preferring the heavy industry
of each other, and we have welcomed grief
and called ruin the impossible habit to break.

And now we are here.
The dinner is ready and we cannot eat.
The meat sits in the white lake of its dish.
The wine waits.

Coming to this
has its rewards: nothing is promised, nothing is taken away.
We have no heart or saving grace,
no place to go, no reason to remain.
--Mark Strand


"Midsummer"
On nights like this we used to swim in the quarry,
the boys making up games requiring them to tear off  the girls’ clothes
and the girls cooperating, because they had new bodies since last summer
and they wanted to exhibit them, the brave ones
leaping off  the high rocks --bodies crowding the water.

The nights were humid, still. The stone was cool and wet,
marble for  graveyards, for buildings that we never saw,
buildings in cities far away.

On cloudy nights, you were blind. Those nights the rocks were dangerous,
but in another way it was all dangerous, that was what we were after.
The summer started. Then the boys and girls began to pair off
but always there were a few left at the end -- sometimes they'd keep watch,
sometimes they'd pretend to go off  with each other like the rest,
but what could they do there, in the woods? No one wanted to be them.
But they'd show up anyway, as though some night their luck would change,
fate would be a different fate.

At the beginning and at the end, though, we were all together.
After the evening chores, after the smaller children were in bed,
then we were free. Nobody said anything, but we knew the nights we'd meet
and the nights we wouldn't. Once or twice, at the end of summer,
we could see a baby was going to come out of all that kissing.

And for those two, it was terrible, as terrible as being alone.
The game was over. We'd sit on the rocks smoking cigarettes,
worrying about the ones who weren’t there.

And then finally walk home through the fields,
because there was always work the next day.
And the next day, we were kids again, sitting on the front steps in the morning,
eating a peach.  Just that, but it seemed an honor to have a mouth.
And then going to work, which meant helping out in the fields.
One boy worked for an old lady, building shelves.
The house was very old, maybe built when the mountain was built.

And then the day faded. We were dreaming, waiting for night.
Standing at the front door at twilight, watching the shadows lengthen.
And a voice in the kitchen was always complaining about the heat,
wanting the heat to break.

Then the heat broke, the night was clear.
And you thought of  the boy or girl you’d be meeting later.
And you thought of  walking into the woods and lying down,
practicing all those things you were learning in the water.
And though sometimes you couldn't see the person you were with,
there was no substitute for that person.

The summer night glowed; in the field, fireflies were glinting.
And for those who understood such things, the stars were sending messages:
You will leave the village where you were born
and in another country you’ll become very rich, very powerful,
but always you will mourn something you left behind, even though
you can't say what it was,
and eventually you will return to seek it.
--Louise Glück


"Blue"
It sings they say, and so it does: something like the note
that fractures glass or gets so far below
the range of human hearing that it shakes your heart;

and the glass it breaks is blue, and that's a blue note for sure
from the guy on the alto sax in the basement dive,
which is where they're bound to meet up in the classic noir,

the private eye, the girl with a shadowy past, the old-style cop,
and it's nigh--on certain she'll have to take a bullet
or we'll see her in prison blue as they lead her to the drop.

The fragments of glass were part of it too, that's plain,
though no one noticed, just as they failed to spot
how the crucifix in her bedroom made sense of the subtle stain

on her cocktail dress. And in this, the director's cut,
the dive is deeper, the saxophone sadder, the cop
bent as a dog's hind leg, the girl a scheming slut,

and the gumshoe comes in late with the one and only clue
that would finally set things straight, though its true
meaning is hidden from him, and lost on you.
--David Harsent


"The Hurricane"
The tree lay down
on the garage roof
and stretched, You
have your heaven,
it said, go to it.
--William Carlos Williams


"There had been a lot of death in the newspapers lately. [...] and then before Christmas that Pan Am Flight 103 ripping open like a rotten melon five miles above Scotland and dropping all these bodies and flaming wreckage all over the golf course and the streets of this little town like Glockamorra, what was its real name, Lockerbie. Imagine sitting there in your seat being lulled by the hum of the big Rolls-Royce engines and the stewardesses bringing the clinking drinks caddy and the feeling of having caught the plane and nothing to do now but relax and then with a roar and a giant ripping noise and scattered screams this whole cozy world dropping away and nothing under you but black space and your chest squeezed by the terrible unbreathable cold, that cold you can scarcely believe is there but that you sometimes actually feel still packed into the suitcases, stored in the unpressurised hold, when you unpack your clothes, the dirty underwear and beach towels with the merciless chill of death from outer space still in them. [...] Those bodies with hearts pumping tumbling down in the dark. How much did they know as they fell, through air dense like tepid water, tepid gray like this terminal where people blow through like dust in an air duct, to the airline we're all just numbers on the computer, one more or less, who cares? A blip on the screen, then no blip on the screen. Those bodies tumbling down like wet melon seeds."
--John Updike, "Rabbit at Rest"


"An Irish Airman Foresees His Death"
I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;
My county is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan's poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.
--W. B. Yeats
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Fragments"
Now there is a slit in the blue fabric of air.
His house spins faster. He holds down books,
chairs; his life and its objects fly upward:
vanishing black specks in the indifferent sky.

The sky is a torn piece of blue paper.
He tries to repair it, but the memory
of death is like paste on his fingers
and certain days stick like dead flies.

Say the sky goes back to being the sky
and the sun continues as always. Now,
knowing what you know, how can you not see
thin cracks in the fragile blue vaults of air.

My friend, what can I give you or darkness
lift from you but fragments of language,
fragments of blue sky. You had three
beautiful daughters and one has died.
--Stephen Dobyns


"To save a man who does not want to be saved is as good as murdering him."
--Horace, translator unknown


"The Tao of Touch"
What magic does touch create
that we crave it so. That babies
do not thrive without it. That
the nurse who cuts tough nails
and sands calluses on the elderly
tells me sometimes men weep
as she rubs lotion on their feet.

Yet the touch of a stranger
the bumping or predatory thrust
in the subway is like a slap.
We long for the familiar, the open
palm of love, its tender fingers.
It is our hands that tamed cats
into pets, not our food.

The widow looks in the mirror
thinking, no one will ever touch
me again, never. Not hold me.
Not caress the softness of my
breasts, my inner thighs, the swell
of my belly. Do I still live
if no one knows my body?

We touch each other so many
ways, in curiosity, in anger,
to command attention, to soothe,
to quiet, to rouse, to cure.
Touch is our first language
and often, our last as the breath
ebbs and a hand closes our eyes.
--Marge Piercy


"How the Earth and All the Planets Were Created"
I went to find the grave of my grandmother
who died before my time. And hers.

I searched among marsh grass and granite
and single headstones
and smashed lettering
and archangel wings and found none.

For once I said
I will face this landscape
and look at it as she was looked upon:

Unloved because unknown.
Unknown because un-named.

Glass Pistol Castle disappeared,
Baltray and then Clogher Head.

To the west the estuary of the Boyne -
stripped of its battles and history -
became only willow-trees and distances.

I drove back in the half-light
of late summer on
anonymous roads on my journey home
as the constellations rose overhead,
some of them twisted into women:

pinioned and winged
and single-handedly holding high the dome
and curve and horizons of today and tomorrow,

All the ships looking up to them.
All the compasses made true by them.
All the night skies named for their sorrow.
--Eavan Boland


"In the White Sky"
Many things in the world have
already happened. You can
go back and tell about them.
They are part of what we
own as we speed along
through the white sky.

But many things in the world
haven't yet happened. You help
them by thinking and writing and acting.
Where they begin, you greet them
or stop them. You come along
and sustain the new things.

Once, in the white sky there was
a beginning, and I happened to notice
and almost glimpsed what to do.
But now I have come far
to here, and it is away back there.
Some days, I think about it.
--William Stafford


"Last-Minute Message for a Time Capsule"
I have to tell you this, whoever you are:
that on one summer morning here, the ocean
pounded in on tumbledown breakers,
a south wind, bustling along the shore,
whipped the froth into little rainbows,
and a reckless gull swept down the beach
as if to fly were everything it needed.
I thought of your hovering saucers,
looking for clues, and I wanted to write this down,
so it wouldn't be lost forever--
that once upon a time we had
meadows here, and astonishing things,
swans and frogs and luna moths
and blue skies that could stagger your heart.
We could have had them still,
and welcomed you to earth, but
we also had the righteous ones
who worshipped the True Faith, and Holy War.
When you go home to your shining galaxy,
say that what you learned
from this dead and barren place is
to beware the righteous ones.
--Philip Appleman


"What is a saint? A saint is someone who has achieved a remote human possibility. It is impossible to say what that possibility is. I think it has something to do with the energy of love. Contact with this energy results in the exercise of a kind of balance in the chaos of existence. A saint does not dissolve the chaos; if he did the world would have changed long ago. I do not think that a saint dissolves the chaos even for himself, for there is something arrogant and warlike in the notion of a man setting the universe in order. It is a kind of balance that is his glory. He rides the drifts like an escaped ski. His course is a caress of the hill. His track is a drawing of the snow in a moment of its particular arrangement with wind and rock. Something in him so loves the world that he gives himself to the laws of gravity and chance. Far from flying with the angels, he traces with the fidelity of a seismograph needle the state of the solid bloody landscape. His house is dangerous and finite, but he is at home in the world. He can love the shapes of human beings, the fine and twisted shapes of the heart. It is good to have among us such men, such balancing monsters of love. It makes me think that the numbers in the bag actually correspond to the numbers on the raffles we have bought so dearly, and so the prize is not an illusion."
--Leonard Cohen, Beautiful Losers


"There was a kindliness about intoxication--there was that indescribable gloss and glamour it gave, like the memories of ephemeral and faded evenings. After a few high-balls there was magic in the tall glowing Arabian night of the Bush Terminal Building--its summit a peak of sheer grandeur, gold and dreaming against the inaccessible sky. And Wall Street, the crass, the banal--again it was the triumph of gold, a gorgeous sentient spectacle; it was where the great kings kept the money for their wars...

...The fruit of youth or of the grape, the transitory magic of the brief passage from darkness to darkness—the old illusion that truth and beauty were in some way entwined."
--F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and the Damned


"Testimonial"
Back when the earth was new
and heaven just a whisper,
back when the names of things
hadn't had time to stick;

back when the smallest breezes
melted summer into autumn,
when all the poplars quivered
sweetly in rank and file...

the world called, and I answered.
Each glance ignited to a gaze.
I caught my breath and called that life,
swooned between spoonfuls of lemon sorbet.

I was pirouette and flourish,
I was filigree and flame.
How could I count my blessings
when I didn't know their names?

Back when everything was still to come,
luck leaked out everywhere.
I gave my promise to the world,
and the world followed me here.
--Rita Dove


"Fat Is Not a Fairy Tale"
I am thinking of a fairy tale,
Cinder Elephant,
Sleeping Tubby,
Snow Weight,
where the princess is not
anorexic, wasp-waisted,
flinging herself down the stairs.

I am thinking of a fairy tale,
Hansel and Great,
Repoundsel,
Bounty and the Beast,
where the beauty
has a pillowed breast,
and fingers plump as sausage.

I am thinking of a fairy tale
that is not yet written,
for a teller not yet born,
for a listener not yet conceived,
for a world not yet won,
where everything round is good:
the sun, wheels, cookies, and the princess.
--Jane Yolen


"Sex without Love"
How do they do it, the ones who make love
without love? Beautiful as dancers,
gliding over each other like ice-skaters
over the ice, fingers hooked
inside each other's bodies, faces
red as steak, wine, wet as the
children at birth whose mothers are going to
give them away. How do they come to the
come to the come to the God come to the
still waters, and not love
the one who came there with them, light
rising slowly as steam off their joined
skin? These are the true religious,
the purists, the pros, the ones who will not
accept a false Messiah, love the
priest instead of the God. They do not
mistake the lover for their own pleasure,
they are like great runners: they know they are alone
with the road surface, the cold, the wind,
the fit of their shoes, their over-all cardio-
vascular health--just factors, like the partner
in the bed, and not the truth, which is the
single body alone in the universe
against its own best time.
--Sharon Olds


"The Triumph of Achilles"
In the story of Patroclus
no one survives, not even Achilles
who was nearly a god.
Patroclus resembled him; they wore
the same armor.

Always in these friendships
one serves the other, one is less than the other:
the hierarchy
is always apparent, though the legends
cannot be trusted--
their source is the survivor,
the one who has been abandoned.

What were the Greek ships on fire
compared to this loss?

In his tent, Achilles
grieved with his whole being
and the gods saw
he was a man already dead, a victim
of the part that loved,
the part that was mortal.
--Louise Glück


"Meditations in an Emergency"
Now I am quietly waiting for
the catastrophe of my personality
to seem beautiful again,
and interesting, and modern.

The country is grey and
brown and white in trees,
snows and skies of laughter
always diminishing, less funny
not just darker, not just grey.

It may be the coldest day of
the year, what does he think of
that? I mean, what do I? And if I do,
perhaps I am myself again.
--Frank O'Hara


"Bird"
The moon plays horn, leaning on the shoulder of the dark universe
to the infinite glitter of chance. Tonight I watched Bird kill himself,

larger than real life. I've always had a theory that some of us
are born with nerve endings longer than our bodies. Out to here,

father than his convoluted scales could reach. Those nights he
played did he climb the stairway of forgetfulness, with his horn,

a woman who is always beautiful to strangers? All poets
understand the final uselessness of words. We are chords to

other chords to other chords, if we're lucky, to melody. The moon
is brighter than anything I can see when I come out of the theater,

than music, than memory of music, or any mere poem. At least
I can dance to "Ornithology" or sweet-talk beside "Charlie's Blues,"

but inside this poem I can't play a horn, hijack a plane to
somewhere where music is the place those nerve endings dangle.

Each rhapsody embodies counterpoint, and pain stuns the woman
in high heels, the man behind the horn, sings the heart.

To survive is sometimes a leap into madness. The fingers of
saints are still hot from miracles, but can they save themselves?

Where is the dimension a god lives who will take Bird home?
I want to see it, I said to the Catalinas, to the Rincons,

to anyone listening in the dark. I said, Let me hear you
by any means: by horn, by fever, by night, even by some poem

attempting flight home.
--Joy Harjo
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Playing around with symbols, even as a critic, can be a kind of kiddish parlor game. A little of it goes a long way. There are other things of greater value in any novel or story...humanity, character analysis, truth on other levels...Good symbolism should be as natural as breathing...and as unobtrusive."
--Ray Bradbury


"Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back. That's part of what it means to be alive. But inside our heads--at least that's where I imagine it--there's a little room where we store those memories. A room like the stacks in this library. And to understand the workings of our own heart we have to keep on making new reference cards. We have to dust things off every once in awhile, let in fresh air, change the water in the flower vases. In other words, you'll live forever in your own private library."
--Haruki Murakami


"This person, this self, this me, finally, was made somewhere else. Everything had come from somewhere else, and it would all go somewhere else. I was nothing but a pathway for the person known as me."
--Haruki Murakami


"I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn."
--Anne Frank


"From this I reach what might be called a philosophy; at any rate it is a constant idea of mine; that behind the cotton wool is hidden a pattern; that we--I mean all human beings--are connected with this; that the whole world is a work of art; that we are parts of the work of art. Hamlet or a Beethoven quartet is the truth about this vast mass that we call the world. But there is no Shakespeare, there is no Beethoven; certainly and emphatically there is no God; we are the words; we are the music; we are the thing itself."
--Virginia Woolf


"That the Science of Cartography Is Limited"
--and not simply by the fact that this shading of
forest cannot show the fragrance of balsam,
the gloom of cypresses
is what I wish to prove.

When you and I were first in love we drove
to the borders of Connacht
and entered a wood there.

Look down you said: this was once a famine road.

I looked down at ivy and the scutch grass
rough-cast stone had
disappeared into as you told me
in the second winter of their ordeal, in

1847, when the crop had failed twice,
Relief Committees gave
the starving Irish such roads to build.

Where they died, there the road ended
and ends still and when I take down
the map of this island, it is never so
I can say here is
the masterful, the apt rendering of

the spherical as flat, nor
an ingenious design which persuades a curve
into a plane,
but to tell myself again that

the line which says woodland and cries hunger
and gives out among sweet pine and cypress,
and finds no horizon

will not be there.
--Eavan Boland


"Don't Ask Me"
Lights coming on in windows; windows lit all night long suddenly
dark...How long have I been here, unable to read, head on the desk,
listening to rain, the rain striking the window; the far off and near-
unheard roar of a lone fighter, moonlit trail vanishing past the horizon,
a phrase I had long ago underlined. When? To those very words I've
been listening again. It's now the lovely lilac time. It lasts about forty-
five minutes here. I really ought to get out of the house, go for a walk,
drive around, find some home owner's lilac bush to sample if this can be
done without looking suspicious or overly pervy, plunging my face in its
great heart-shaped leaves, breathing that scent which is childhood to me,
I don't know why. All I know is that I have been sitting here all night
missing out on what may well be the last chance I am ever going to have.
Now the birds are starting. All those either distant or extremely quiet,
darkly feathered voices, one of night's elements, one of its chapters.
Though what this one's about, we don't know, and likely do not want
to. Where are they anyway? Two blocks away, or right outside the
window in those densely-leaved and vaguely signing branches? And
before they were where were they? Words, more words. What have I
done?
--Franz Wright


"Bavarian Gentians"
Not every man has gentians in his house
in soft September, at slow, sad Michaelmas.

Bavarian gentians, big and dark, only dark
darkening the daytime, torch-like, with the smoking blueness of Pluto's
gloom,
ribbed and torch-like, with their blaze of darkness spread blue
down flattening into points, flattened under the sweep of white day
torch-flower of the blue-smoking darkness, Pluto's dark-blue daze,
black lamps from the halls of Dis, burning dark blue,
giving off darkness, blue darkness, as Demeter's pale lamps give off
light,
lead me then, lead the way.

Reach me a gentian, give me a torch!
let me guide myself with the blue, forked torch of this flower
down the darker and darker stairs, where blue is darkened on blueness
even where Persephone goes, just now, from the frosted September
to the sightless realm where darkness is awake upon the dark
and Persephone herself is but a voice
or a darkness invisible enfolded in the deeper dark
of the arms Plutonic, and pierced with the passion of dense gloom,
among the splendor of torches of darkness, shedding darkness on
the lost bride and her groom.
--D.H. Lawrence


"Time Does Not Bring Relief"
Time does not bring relief; you all have lied
Who told me time would ease me of my pain!
I miss him in the weeping of the rain;
I want him at the shrinking of the tide;
The old snows melt from every mountain-side,
And last year's leaves are smoke in every lane;
But last year's bitter loving must remain
Heaped on my heart, and my old thoughts abide.
There are a hundred places where I fear
To go,--so with his memory they brim.
And entering with relief some quiet place
Where never fell his foot or shone his face
I say, "There is no memory of him here!"
And so stand stricken, so remembering him.
--Edna St. Vincent Millay


"The Shoe"
Each time I relived it, after the worst
was over, I'd say to myself, as if my fate
would solace me,
"at least I'll never have to do this again."
It is true that I'll never have to kiss his
dying hands, now dead. I'll never have
to find where he left his coffee mug, now mine.

I'll never have to wash his hair or repair
his typewriter or stock the medicine stand.
I'll never even have to find places
that can use his clothes because
some friend--I don't remember who--
did that for me when I could not. I
distributed his portrait, I picked up his poems.

I thanked friends and children for helping me
hold on. I made braids out of dead funeral
flowers to border the rooms where
once he breathed and took on the heavy
chores, gladly, of loving me. I sprinkled
one teaspoon of his ashes on our bereft bed
and slept with them. They scourged my body.

But when that single shoe, the mate I thought
had got sent off with its partner, showed up
today, alone, crouching behind the couch, alive
with Effie's opulent Turkish angora fur, I knew
solace was something I could neither seek nor
find. Oh beloved! I know I am an old woman.
But I cannot live in your shoe.
--Kathryn Starbuck


"Starlings in Winter"
Chunky and noisy,
but with stars in their black feathers,
they spring from the telephone wire
and instantly
they are acrobats
in the freezing wind.
And now, in the theater of air,
they swing over buildings,
dipping and rising;
they float like one stippled star
that opens,
becomes for a moment fragmented,
then closes again;
and you watch
and you try
but you simply can't imagine
how they do it
with no articulated instruction, no pause,
only the silent confirmation
that they are this notable thing,
this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin
over and over again,
full of gorgeous life.
Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,
even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;
I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
pumping hard. I want
to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.
--Mary Oliver


"I Measure Every Grief"
I measure every grief I meet
With analytic eyes;
I wonder if it weighs like mine,
Or has an easier size.

I wonder if they bore it long,
Or did it just begin?
I could not tell the date of mine,
It feels so old a pain.

I wonder if it hurts to live,
And if they have to try,
And whether, could they choose between,
They would not rather die.

I wonder if when years have piled--
Some thousands--on the cause
Of early hurt, if such a lapse
Could give them any pause;

Or would they go on aching still
Through centuries above,
Enlightened to a larger pain
By contrast with the love.

The grieved are many, I am told;
The reason deeper lies,--
Death is but one and comes but once
And only nails the eyes.

There's grief of want, and grief of cold,--
A sort they call 'despair,'
There's banishment from native eyes,
In sight of native air.

And though I may not guess the kind
Correctly yet to me
A piercing comfort it affords
In passing Calvary,

To note the fashions of the cross
Of those that stand alone
Still fascinated to presume
That some are like my own.
--Emily Dickinson


"Distressed Haiku"
In a week or ten days
the snow and ice
will melt from Cemetery Road.

I'm coming! Don't move!

Once again it is April.
Today is the day
we would have been married
twenty-six years.

I finished with April
halfway through March.

You think that their
dying is the worst
thing that could happen.

Then they stay dead.

Will Hall ever write
lines that do anything
but whine and complain?

In April the blue
mountain revises
from white to green.

The Boston Red Sox win
a hundred straight games.
The mouse rips
the throat of the lion

and the dead return
the whole sky.
--Donald Hall


"The Path"
Convinced, I am sure!
I wish a new journey no more.

Please spare me, spare this old sailor,
True, I desire another journey no more.

***

Please, I implore!
Do not show me the stars,
drawing a map of the world in the skies.

For it is now years,
the sky falls down, every night anew,
And I know, it will fall the same, wherever I go--
and unchanged, unchanged! The same as before!

True,
I desire another journey no more.

***

And the trains crossing this small village–-
breaking the silence of my cottage–-
can no longer disparage–-
my piece of sky.

My window,
stays wide open; and my sky infinite,
unchanged, unchanged!

***

And the path,
later than the bridge,
sends me no new invite.
For the only sailboat I knew–-
left for its maiden trip long ago.

My door,
stays unlocked, and open to the same spheres,
unchanged, unchanged!

***

Asking me why?
For you cannot afford–-
to commission a new mission–-
but one!

A journey to bring back
the need, the hunger, the thirst,
the fear, the fire, the silence and the cold,
the beasts and the faint torch, in the memories.

A journey to recall, to remember all the routes crossed,
and the crossroads passed, departing from the roots.

Save this one,
This old sailor, desire a journey for hire, no more.
--Ahmad Shamlou, translation by Maryam Dilmaghani


"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"
S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s'i'odo il vero,
Senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.


Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question...
Oh, do not ask, "What is it?"
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, "Do I dare?" and, "Do I dare?"
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair--
(They will say: "How his hair is growing thin!")
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin--
(They will say: "But how his arms and legs are thin!")
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all--
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all--
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
And should I then presume?
And how should I begin?

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep...tired...or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet--and here's no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: "I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all"--
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say: "That is not what I meant at all;
That is not it, at all."

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor--
And this, and so much more?--
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
"That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all."

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous--
Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old...I grow old...
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.
--T.S. Eliot


"Celestial Music"
I have a friend who still believes in heaven.
Not a stupid person, yet with all she knows, she literally talks to God.
She thinks someone listens in heaven.
On earth she's unusually competent.
Brave too, able to face unpleasantness.

We found a caterpillar dying in the dirt, greedy ants crawling over it.
I'm always moved by disaster, always eager to oppose vitality
But timid also, quick to shut my eyes.
Whereas my friend was able to watch, to let events play out
According to nature. For my sake she intervened
Brushing a few ants off the torn thing, and set it down
Across the road.

My friend says I shut my eyes to God, that nothing else explains
My aversion to reality. She says I'm like the child who
Buries her head in the pillow
So as not to see, the child who tells herself
That light causes sadness--
My friend is like the mother. Patient, urging me
To wake up an adult like herself, a courageous person--

In my dreams, my friend reproaches me. We're walking
On the same road, except it's winter now;
She's telling me that when you love the world you hear celestial music:
Look up, she says. When I look up, nothing.
Only clouds, snow, a white business in the trees
Like brides leaping to a great height--
Then I'm afraid for her; I see her
Caught in a net deliberately cast over the earth--

In reality, we sit by the side of the road, watching the sun set;
From time to time, the silence pierced by a birdcall.
It's this moment we're trying to explain, the fact
That we're at ease with death, with solitude.
My friend draws a circle in the dirt; inside, the caterpillar doesn't move.
She's always trying to make something whole, something beautiful, an image
Capable of life apart from her.
We're very quiet. It's peaceful sitting here, not speaking, The composition
Fixed, the road turning suddenly dark, the air
Going cool, here and there the rocks shining and glittering--
It's this stillness we both love.
The love of form is a love of endings.
--Louise Glück


"In Tennessee I Found a Firefly"
Flashing in the grass; the mouth of a spider clung
to the dark of it: the legs of the spider
held the tucked wings close,
held the abdomen still in the midst of calling
with thrusts of phosphorescent light--

When I am tired of being human, I try to remember
the two stuck together like burrs. I try to place them
central in my mind where everything else must
surround them, must see the burr and the barb of them.
There is courtship, and there is hunger. I suppose
there are grips from which even angels cannot fly.
Even imagined ones. Luciferin, luciferase.
When I am tired of only touching,
I have my mouth to try to tell you
what, in your arms, is not erased.
--Mary Szybist


"They Call It Attempted Suicide"
My brother's girlfriend was not prepared for how much blood
splashed out. He got home in time, but was angry
about the mess she had made of his room. I stood behind,
watching them turn into something manageable. Thinking
how frightening it must have been before things had names.
We say peony and make a flower out of that slow writhing.
Deal with the horror of recurrence by calling it
a million years. The death everywhere is no trouble
once you see it as nature, landscape, or botany.
--Jack Gilbert


"The Geology of Norway"
But when his last night in Norway came, on 10 December, he greeted it with some relief, writing that it was perfectly possible that he would never return. --Ray Monk, Ludwig Wittgenstein

I have wanted there to be
no story. I have wanted
only facts. At any given point in time
there cannot be a story: time,
except as now, does not exist.
A given point in space
is the compression of desire. The difference
between this point and some place else
is a matter of degree.
This is what compression is: a geologic epoch
rendered to a slice of rock you hold between
your finger and your thumb.
That is a fact.
Stories are merely theories. Theories
are dreams.
A dream
is a carving knife
and the scar it opens in the world
is history.
The process of compression gives off thought.
I have wanted
the geology of light.

They tell me despair is a sin.
I believe them.

The hand moving is the hand thinking,
and despair says the body does not exist.
Something to do with bellies and fingers
pressing gut to ebony,
thumbs on keys. Even the hand
writing is the hand thinking. I wanted
speech like diamond because I knew
that music meant too much.

And the fact is, the earth is not a perfect sphere.
And the fact is, it is half-liquid.
And the fact is there are gravitational anomalies. The continents
congeal, and crack, and float like scum on cooling custard.
And the fact is,
the fact is,
and you might think the fact is
we will never get to the bottom of it,
but you would be wrong.
There is a solid inner core.
Fifteen hundred miles across, iron alloy,
the pressure on each square inch of its heart
is nearly thirty thousand tons.
That's what I wanted:
words made of that: language
that could bend light.

Evil is not darkness,
it is noise. It crowds out possibility,
which is to say
it crowds out silence.
History is full of it, it says
that no one listens.

The sound of wind in leaves,
that was what puzzled me, it took me years
to understand that it was music.
Into silence, a gesture.
A sentence: that it speaks.
This is the mystery: meaning.
Not that these folds of rock exist
but that their beauty, here,
now, nails us to the sky.

The afternoon blue light in the fjord.
Did I tell you
I can understand the villagers?
Being, I have come to think,
is music; or perhaps
it's silence. I cannot say.
Love, I'm pretty sure,
is light.
You know, it isn't
what I came for, this bewilderment
by beauty. I came
to find a word, the perfect
syllable, to make it reach up,
grab meaning by the throat
and squeeze it till it spoke to me.
How else to anchor
memory? I wanted language
to hold me still, to be a rock,
I wanted to become a rock myself. I thought
if I could find, and say,
the perfect word, I'd nail
mind to the world, and find
release.
The hand moving is the hand thinking.
what I didn't know: even the continents
have no place by earth.

These mountains: once higher
than the Himalayas. Formed in the pucker
of a supercontinental kiss, when Europe
floated south of the equator
and you could hike from Norway
down through Greenland to the peaks
of Appalachia. Before Iceland existed.
Before the Mediterranean
evaporated. Before it filled again.
Before the Rockies were dreamt of.
And before these mountains,
the rock raised in them
chewed by ice that snowed from water
in which no fish had swum. And before that ice,
the almost speechless stretch of the Precambrian:
two billion years, the planet
swathed in air that had no oxygen, the Baltic Shield
older, they think, than life.

So I was wrong.
This doesn't mean
that meaning is a bluff.
History, that's what
confuses us. Time
is not linear, but it's real.
The rock beneath us drifts,
and will, until the slow cacophony of magma
cools and locks the continents in place.
Then weather, light,
and gravity
will be the only things that move.

And will they understand?
Will they have a name for us?--Those
perfect changeless plains,
those deserts,
the beach that was this mountain,
and the tide that rolls for miles across
its vacant slope.
--Jan Zwicky


"You don't tell a story only to yourself. There's always someone else.

"Even when there is no one.

"A story is like a letter. Dear You, I'll say. Just you, without a name. Attaching a name attaches you to the world of fact, which is riskier, more hazardous: who knows what the chances are out there, of survival, yours? I will say you, you, like an old love song. You can mean more than one."
--Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Writing down your thoughts is both necessary and harmful. It leads to eccentricity, narcissism, preserves what should be let go. On the other hand, these notes intensify the inner life, which, left unexpressed, slips through your fingers. If only I could find a better kind of journal, humbler, one that would preserve the same thoughts, the same flesh of life, which is worth saving."
--Anna Kamieńska, In That Great River: A Notebook


"People say, 'I'm going to sleep now,' as if it were nothing. But it's really a bizarre activity. 'For the next several hours, while the sun is gone, I'm going to become unconscious, temporarily losing command over everything I know and understand. When the sun returns, I will resume my life.' If you didn't know what sleep was, and you had only seen it in a science fiction movie, you would think it was weird and tell all your friends about the movie you'd seen. 'They had these people, you know? And they would walk around all day and be okay? And then, once a day, usually after dark, they would lie down on these special platforms and become unconscious. They would stop functioning almost completely, except deep in their minds they would have adventures and experiences that were completely impossible in real life. As they lay there, completely vulnerable to their enemies, their only movements were to occasionally shift from one position to another; or, if one of the 'mind adventures' got too real, they would sit up and scream and be glad they weren't unconscious anymore. Then they would drink a lot of coffee.' So, next time you see someone sleeping, make believe you're in a science fiction movie. And whisper, 'The creature is regenerating itself.' "
--George Carlin


"Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding."
--Albert Einstein


"A message is one of his tools, just like the rhetoric, just like the punctuation. That's quite valid, but you don't write a story just to show your versatility with your tools. You write a story to tell about people, man in his constant struggle with his own heart, with the hearts of others, or with his environment. It's--it's man in--in the ageless, eternal struggles which we inherit and we go through as though they've never happened before, shown for a moment in a dramatic instant of--of the furious motion of being alive. That's all any story is. You can catch this fluidity which is--is human life, and you focus a light on it, and you stop it long enough for people to be able to see it."
--William Faulkner


"There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody's expense but his own."
--Herman Melville, Moby-Dick


"There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after."
--J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit


"Drinking is an emotional thing. It joggles you out of the standardism of everyday life, out of everything being the same. It yanks you out of your body and your mind and throws you against the wall. I have the feeling that drinking is a form of suicide where you're allowed to return to life and begin all over the next day. It's like killing yourself, and then you're reborn. I guess I've lived about ten or fifteen thousand lives now."
--Charles Bukoswki


"The heart is the toughest part of the body.
Tenderness is in the hands."
--Carolyn Forché


"One of the strange things about living in the world is that it is only now and then one is quite sure one is going to live forever and ever and ever. One knows it sometimes when one gets up at the tender solemn dawn-time and goes out and stands out and throws one's head far back and looks up and up and watches the pale sky slowly changing and flushing and marvelous unknown things happening until the East almost makes one cry out and one's heart stands still at the strange unchanging majesty of the rising of the sun--which has been happening every morning for thousands and thousands and thousands of years. One knows it then for a moment or so. And one knows it sometimes when one stands by oneself in a wood at sunset and the mysterious deep gold stillness slanting through and under the branches seems to be saying slowly again and again something one cannot quite hear, however much one tries. Then sometimes the immense quiet of the dark blue at night with the millions of stars waiting and watching makes one sure; and sometimes a sound of far-off music makes it true; and sometimes a look in someone's eyes."
--Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden


"It is the unique power of cinema to allow a great many people to dream the same dream together and to present illusion to us as if it were strict reality. It is, in short, an admirable vehicle for poetry."
--Jean Cocteau, The Testament of Orpheus


It is true there is not enough beauty in the world.
It is also true that I am not competent to restore it.
Neither is there candor, and here I may be of some use.

I am
at work, though I am silent.

The bland

misery of the world
bounds us on either side, an alley

lined with trees; we are

companions here, not speaking,
each with his own thoughts;

behind the trees, iron
gates of the private houses,
the shuttered rooms

somehow deserted, abandoned,

as though it were the artist’s
duty to create
hope, but out of what? what?

the word itself
false, a device to refute
perception--At the intersection,

ornamental lights of the season.

I was young here. Riding
the subway with my small book
as though to defend myself against

this same world:

you are not alone,
the poem said,
in the dark tunnel.
--Louise Glück


"Every war is ironic because every war is worse than expected. Every war constitutes an irony because its means are so melodramatically disproportionate to its presumed ends."
--Paul Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Twilight"
All day he works at his cousin's mill,
so when he gets home at night, he always sits at this one window,
sees one time of day, twilight.
There should be more time like this, to sit and dream.
It's as his cousin says:
Living--living takes you away from sitting.

In the window, not the world but a squared-off landscape
representing the world. The seasons change,
each visible only a few hours a day.
Green things followed by golden things followed by whiteness--
abstractions from which come intense pleasures,
like the figs on the table.

At dusk, the sun goes down in a haze of red fire between two poplars.
It goes down late in summer--sometimes it's hard to stay awake.

Then everything falls away.
The world for a little longer
is something to see, then only something to hear,
crickets, cicadas.
Or to smell sometimes, aroma of lemon trees, of orange trees.
Then sleep takes this away also.

But it's easy to give things up like this, experimentally,
for a matter of hours.

I open my fingers--
I let everything go.

Visual world, language,
rustling of leaves in the night,
smell of high grass, of woodsmoke.

I let it go, then I light the candle.
--Louise Glück


"Noon"
They're not grown up--more like a boy and girl, maybe.
School's over. It's the best part of the summer, when it's still beginning--
the sun's shining, but the heat isn't intense yet.
And freedom hasn't gotten boring.

So you can spend the whole day, all of it, wandering in the meadow.
The meadow goes on indefinitely, and the village keeps getting more and more faint--

It seems a strange position, being very young.
They have this thing everyone wants and they don't want--
but they want to keep it anyway; it's all they can trade on.

When they're by themselves like this, these are the things they talk about.
How time for them doesn't race.
It's like the reel breaking at the movie theater. They stay anyway--
mainly, they just don't want to leave. But till the reel is fixed,
the old one just gets popped back in,
and all of a sudden you're back to long ago in the movie--
the hero hasn't even met the heroine. He's still at the factory,
he hasn't begun to go bad. And she's wandering around the docks, already bad.
But she never meant it to happen. She was good, then it happened to her,
like a bag pulled over her head.

The sky's completely blue, so the grass is dry.
They'll be able to sit with no trouble.
They sit, they talk about everything--then they eat their picnic.
They put the food on the blanket, so it stays clean.
They've always done it this way; they take the grass themselves.

The rest--how two people can lie down on one blanket--
they know about it but they're not ready for it.
They know people who've done it, a kind of game or trial--
then you say, no, wrong time, I think I'll just keep being a child.
But your body doesn't listen. It knows everything now,
it says you're not a child, you haven't been a child for a long time.

Their thinking is, stay away from change. It's an avalanche--
all the rocks sliding down the mountain, and the child standing underneath
just gets killed.

They sit in the best place, under the poplars.
And they talk--it must be hours, the sun's in a different place.
About school, about people they both know,
about being an adult, about how you knew what your dreams were.

They used to play games, but that's stopped now--too much touching.
They only touch each other when they fold the blanket.

They know this in each other.
That's why it isn't talked about.
Before they do anything like that, they'll need to know more--
in fact, everything that can happen. Until then, they'll just watch
and stay children.

Today she's folding the blanket alone, to be safe.
And he looks away--he pretends to be too lost in thought to help out.

They know that at some point you stop being children, and at that point
you become strangers. It seems unbearably lonely.

When they get home to the village, it's almost twilight.
It's been a perfect day; they talk about this,
about when they'll have a chance to have a picnic again.

They walk through the summer dusk,
not holding hands but still telling each other everything.
--Louise Glück


"In the Café"
It's natural to be tired of earth.
When you've been dead this long, you'll probably be tired of heaven.
You do what you can do in a place
but after awhile you exhaust that place,
so you long for rescue.

My friend falls in love a little too easily.
Every year or so a new girl--
If they have children he doesn't mind--
he can fall in love with children also.

So the rest of us get sour and he stays the same,
full of adventure, always making new discoveries.
But he hates moving, so the women have to come from here, or near here.

Every month or so, we meet for coffee.
In summer, we'll walk around the meadow, sometimes as far as the mountain.
Even when he suffers, he's thriving, happy in his body.
It's partly the women, of course, but not that only.

He moves into their houses, learns to like the movies they like.
It's not an act--he really does learn,
the way someone goes to cooking school and learns to cook.

He sees everything with their eyes.
He becomes not what they are but what they could be
if they weren't trapped in their characters.
For him, this new self of his is liberating because it's invented--

he absorbs the fundamental needs in which their souls are rooted,
he experiences as his own the rituals and preferences these give rise to--
but as he lives with each woman, he inhabits each version of himself
fully, because it isn't compromised by the normal shame and anxiety.

When he leaves, the women are devastated.
Finally they met a man who answered all their needs--
there was nothing they couldn't tell him.
When they meet him now, he's a cipher--
the person they knew didn't exist anymore.
He came into existence when they met,
he vanished when it ended, when he walked away.

After a few years, they get over him.
They tell their new boyfriends how amazing it was,
like living with another woman, but without the spite, the envy,
and with a man's strength, a man's clarity of mind.

And the men tolerate this, they even smile.
They stroke the woman's hair--
they know this man doesn’t exist; it's hard for them to feel competitive.

You couldn't ask, though, for a better friend,
a more subtle observer. When we talk, he's candid and open,
he's kept the intensity we all had when we were young.
He talks openly of fear, of the qualities he detests in himself.
And he's generous--he knows how I am just by looking.
If I'm frustrated or angry, he'll listen for hours,
not because he's forcing himself, because he's interested.

I guess that's how he is with the women.
But the friends he never leaves--
With them, he's trying to stand outside his life, to see it clearly--

Today he wants to sit; there's a lot to say,
too much for the meadow. He wants to be face to face,
talking to someone he's known forever.

He's on the verge of a new life.
His eyes glow, he isn't interested in the coffee.
Even though it's sunset, for him
the sun is rising again, and the fields are flushed with dawn light,
rose colored and tentative.

He's himself in these moments, not pieces of the women
he's slept with. He enters their lives as you enter a dream,
without volition, and he lives there as you live in a dream,
however long it lasts. And in the morning, you remember
nothing of the dream at all, nothing at all.
--Louise Glück


"Earthworm"
It is not sad not to be human
nor is living entirely within the earth
demeaning or empty: it is the nature of the mind
to defend its eminence, as it is the nature of those
who walk on the surface to fear its depths--one's
position determines one's feelings. And yet
to walk on top of a thing is not to prevail over it--
it is more the opposite, a disguised dependency,
by which the slave completes the master. Likewise
the mind disdains what it can't control,
which will in turn destroy it. It is not painful to return
without language or vision: if, like the Buddhists,
one declines to leave
inventories of the self, one emerges in a space
the mind cannot conceive, being wholly physical, not
metaphoric. What is your word? Infinity, meaning
that which cannot be measured.
--Louise Glück


"Accidental Outlaw"
Already, mother, I can sometimes see
a memory hanging like a hammock
in your head--swinging between those
trees etched remember and forget.

One day, a game of cowboys
who have lost their Indians. You
will grab at your past, the names
of neighbors, and my face
with a threadbare lariat, driving me
farther and farther away. My
words tumbling like a weed through
your mind's abandoned corral,

swaying back and forth like saloon doors.
You will be confused, but still
beautiful, holding a dishrag
like a sheriff's badge in your hand.

And of all the things I've ever
hoped for in your one-horse life,
this is all I will ask when you die:
that when your soul, that bandito,
steals away, all the surrendered memories
will line up like cavalry. You will
mount them, set in the direction of God
knows where, and ride.
--Stacy Gnall


"Unquieted Calvary"
The dead are tired of lounging around--hands folded
across hearts, pledging

allegiance to cedar.


The stones on their graves are fixed flags,

surname-spangled
banners marking each small empire of earth.


In Calvary Cemetery in Queens,
these flags are raised to full mast.


The sweat of one's brow is what burns.

The dead grow restless.


The Irish have said this.

And they have started pushing.


They are pushing against the bases
of the slabs that class them,


pushing out through the smug, brown

soil surrounding them.


They are pushing to recall
the sweet weight of work on the shoulder,


the elbow's compromise,

the fingertip's fine appliance.


They are pushing to feel the wingspan
of effort spread

in their chests--


the stones exhaling for them.
--Stacy Gnall


"The Funambulist"
Name: Girolamo Zini
Occupation: Rope-walker
Location: Istria/Trieste
Cause of Death: Atlantoaxial Dislocation

--The Mütter Museum, Philadelphia

You live in a disease museum, a physician's vaudeville,
home to cold diagrams and graphs, those attempts
to map the tubes and sewage inside us.

Among immodest organs and muscle
demanding attention, stares a wall of skulls,
all hung like death's dumb trophies.

Below the brain case of a boy who was once
a shoemaker's apprentice, and beside the embroiderer of silk,
your skull waits patiently for its next life, Girolamo.

You do not wire-walk to the sound of the calliope.
You do not shake the hand of gravity.
Your skull just sits, a vase once filled with breath.

This is what you see as you climb the ladder:
The women who peer up through the pinholes of hands,
the men who pretend they are solid as Roman numerals.

You glance to the children you will frighten by simply walking away.
Then you will move across the taut rope towards safety,
sequins, the girl on the platform with the impossible waist.

Is this what it is to exist, Girolamo? To touch toe to rope
for a moment, to test how thin of a world we can stretch
our weight over, only to fall when our skin has broken in?

Here, where students of the ache learn to listen
to the blub blub of that badge we wear behind our chests,
learn to drag our insides like lakes for evidence of infection.

Yes, now Girolamo, as the security guard is turning away,
let me blow into your bare nostrils and make them flare,
paint the color back in your face as though by number.

Girolamo, I will pull the red breath from your mouth
like a magician's scarf. I will tiptoe you to safety.
--Stacy Gnall


"L'échapper Belle"
How the world loves the sleight of hand--
trees pulled endlessly from the earth's black hat,

the sun keeping the colors of leaves up its sleeve,
and even the little girl now by the door

of the Houdini museum, exchanging a dollar with her slight hand.
Her eyes are two wide tickets as she steps inside.

What question marks will be around these corners?
The dull knife-light along the carpet leads

to a display on the pranks that mirrors pull, a collage of locks
scuffed from struggle--the brawls between his own two fists.

A reel projects stunts: the threat of rope, straitjackets, burlap sacks.
He is suspended from a crane over the Atlantic.

The sights turn the white scarf of her face into a fluttering dove,
slice her and leave the saw inside.

Until now, the only magic she'd seen is bread rise, eggs hatch,
grass that grows between cracks in her street.

But alchemy was his everyday--the finale,
from flat-top to spats, his life-sized statue

she walks past--Ladies and gentlemen--and catches
a flash. Did he just--and for my next trick--move?

Oh! That little horror from the corner of her mouth
as he steps from the stage, his cards fanned out

in a blunt bouquet: Pick a flower, any flower.
A diamond dances from the deck. A club crashes out of air.

Was this--a heart fades into a spade--your card?
--that suit, its dark Valentine shape.

She's missed him by so many years, she thinks.
And yet, he has illusioned this escape:

as she moves through the exit and squints
at the bright of the street, she feels herself

part down the center like a red velvet curtain,
and all that had been hidden behind, steps outside.
--Stacy Gnall
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Ask Me"
Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.
--William Stafford


"On the Edge"
After your mother dies, you will learn to live

on the edge of life, to brace yourself

like she did, one hand on the dashboard,

the other gripping your purse while you drive

through the stop sign, shoulders tense,

eyes clamped shut, waiting for the collision

that doesn't come. You will learn

to stay up all night knowing she's gone,

watching the morning open
like an origami swan, the sky

a widening path, a question

you can’t answer. In prison, women

make tattoos from cigarette ash

and shampoo. It’s what they have.

Imagine the fish, gray scales

and black whiskers, growing slowly

up her back, its lips kissing her neck.

Imagine the letters of her daughter’s name

a black chain around her wrist.

What is the distance between this moment

and the last? The last visit and the next?

I want my mother back. I want

to hunt her down like the perfect gift,

the one you search for from store to store

until your feet ache, delirious with her scent.

This is the baggage of your life, a sign

of your faith, this staying awake

past exhaustion, this needle in your throat.

--Dorianne Laux


"A Myth of Innocence"
One summer she goes into the field as usual
stopping for a bit at the pool where she often
looks at herself, to see
if she detects any changes. She sees
the same person, the horrible mantle
of daughterliness still clinging to her.

The sun seems, in the water, very close.
That's my uncle spying again, she thinks--
everything in nature is in some way her relative.
I am never alone, she thinks,
turning the thought into a prayer.
Then death appears, like the answer to a prayer.

No one understands anymore
how beautiful he was. But Persephone remembers.
Also that he embraced her, right there,
with her uncle watching. She remembers
sunlight flashing on his bare arms.

This is the last moment she remembers clearly.
Then the dark god bore her away.

She also remembers, less clearly,
the chilling insight that from this moment
she couldn't live without him again.

The girl who disappears from the pool
will never return. A woman will return,
looking for the girl she was.

She stands by the pool saying, from time to time,
I was abducted, but it sounds
wrong to her, nothing like what she felt.
Then she says, I was not abducted.
Then she says, I offered myself, I wanted
to escape my body.
Even, sometimes,
I willed this. But ignorance

cannot will knowledge. Ignorance
wills something imagined, which it believes exists.

All the different nouns--
she says them in rotation.
Death, husband, god, stranger.
Everything sounds so simple, so conventional.
I must have been, she thinks, a simple girl.

She can't remember herself as that person
but she keeps thinking the pool will remember
and explain to her the meaning of her prayer
so she can understand
whether it was answered or not.
--Louise Glück


"Asking for Directions"
We could have been mistaken for a married couple
riding on the train from Manhattan to Chicago
that last time we were together. I remember
looking out the window and praising the beauty
of the ordinary: the in-between places, the world
with its back turned to us, the small neglected
stations of our history. I slept across your
chest and stomach without asking permission
because they were the last hours. There was
a smell to the sheepskin lining of your new
Chinese vest that I didn't recognize. I felt
it deliberately. I woke early and asked you
to come with me for coffee. You said, sleep more,
and I said we only had one hour and you came.
We didn't say much after that. In the station,
you took your things and handed me the vest,
then left as we had planned. So you would have
ten minutes to meet your family and leave.
I stood by the seat dazed by exhaustion
and the absoluteness of the end, so still I was
aware of myself breathing. I put on the vest
and my coat, got my bag and, turning, saw you
through the dirty window standing outside looking
up at me. We looked at each other without any
expression at all. Invisible, unnoticed, still.
That moment is what I will tell of as proof
that you loved me permanently. After that I was
a woman alone carrying her bag, asking a worker
which direction to walk to find a taxi.
--Linda Gregg


"The Way Things Are"
No, the candle is not crying, it can not feel pain.
Even telescopes, like the rest of us, grow bored.
Bubblegum will not make the hair soft and shiny.
The duller the imagination, the faster the car,
I am your father and that is the way things are.

When the sky is looking the other way,
do not enter the forest. No, the wind
is not caused by the rushing of clouds.
An excuse is as good a reason as any.
A lighthouse, launched, will not go far,
I am your father and that is the way things are.

No, old people do not walk slowly
because they have plenty of time.
Gardening books when buried will not flower.
Though lightly worn, a crown may leave a scar,
I am your father and that is the way things are.

No, the red woolly hat has not been
put on the railing to keep it warm.
When one glove is missing, both are lost.
Today's craft fair is tomorrow's boot sale.
The guitarist weeps gently, not the guitar
I am your father and that is the way things are.

Pebbles work best without batteries.
The deckchair will fail as a unit of currency.
Even though your shadow is shortening
it does not mean you are growing smaller.
Moonbeams sadly, will not survive in a jar,
I am your father and that is the way things are.

For centuries the bullet remained quietly confident
that the gun would be invented.
A drowning surrealist will not appreciate
the concrete lifebelt.
No guarantee my last goodbye is an au revoir,
I am your father and that is the way things are.

Do not become a prison officer unless you know
what you're letting someone else in for.
The thrill of being a shower curtain will soon pall.
No trusting hand awaits a falling star
I am your father, and I am sorry
but this is the way things are.
--Robert McGough


"Sequestered Writing"
Horses were turned loose in the child's sorrow. Black and roan, cantering through snow.
The way light fills the hand with light, November with graves, infancy with white.
White. Given lilacs, lilacs disappear. Then low voices rising in walls.
The way they withdrew from the child's body and spoke as if it were not there.

What ghost comes to the bedside whispering You?
-- With its no one without its I --
A dwarf ghost? A closet of empty clothes?
Ours was a ghost who stole household goods. Nothing anyone would miss.
Supper plates. Apples. Barbed wire behind the house.

At the end of the hall, it sleepwalks into a mirror wearing mother's robe.
A bedsheet lifts from the bed and hovers. Face with no face. Come here.
The bookcase knows, and also the darkness of books. Long passages into,
Endless histories toward, sleeping pages about. Why else toss gloves into a grave?

A language that once sent ravens through firs. The open world from which it came.
Words holding the scent of an asylum fifty years. It is fifty years, then.
The child hears from within: Come here and know, below
And unbeknownst to us, what these fields had been.
--Carolyn Forché


"The Not-so-good Earth"
For a while there we had 25-inch Chinese peasant families
famishing in comfort on the 25-inch screen
and even Uncle Billy whose eyesight's going fast
by hunching up real close to the convex glass
could just about make them out – the riot scene
in the capital city for example
he saw that better than anything, using the contrast knob
to bring them up dark – all those screaming faces
and bodies going under the horses' hooves – he did a terrific job
on that bit, not so successful though
on the quieter parts where they're just starving away
digging for roots in the not-so-good earth
cooking up a mess of old clay
and coming out with all those Confucian analects
to everybody's considerable satisfaction
(if I remember rightly Grandmother dies
with naturally a suspenseful break in the action
for a full symphony orchestra plug for Craven A
neat as a whistle probably damn glad
to be quit of the whole gang with their marvellous patience.)
We never did find out how it finished up... Dad
at this stage tripped over the main lead in the dark
hauling the whole set down smack on its inscrutable face,
wiping out in a blue flash and curlicue of smoke
6 million Chinese without a trace...
--Bruce Dawe


"Beyond Harm"
A week after my father died
suddenly I understood
his fondness for me was safe--nothing
could touch it. In that last year,
his face would sometimes brighten when I would
enter the room, and his wife said
that once, when he was half asleep,
he smiled when she said my name. He respected
my spunk – when they tied me to the chair, that time
they were tying up someone he respected, and when
he did not speak, for weeks, I was one of the
beings to whom he was not speaking,
someone with a place in his life. The last
week he even said it, once,
by mistake. I walked into his room
'How are you' and he said 'I love you
too.' From then on, I had
that word to lose. Right up to the last
moment, I could make some mistake, offend him,
and with one of his old mouths of disgust he could
re-skew my life. I did not think of it much,
I was helping to take care of him,
wiping his face and watching him.
But then, a while after he died,
I suddenly thought, with amazement, he will always
love me now, and I laughed--he was dead, dead!
--Sharon Olds


"Hell"
The second-hardest thing I have to do is not be longing's slave.

Hell is that. Hell is that, others, having a job, and not having a job. Hell is thinking continually of those who were truly great.

Hell is the moment you realize that you were ignorant of the fact, when it was true, that you were not yet ruined by desire.

The kind of music I want to continue hearing after I am dead is the kind that makes me think I will be capable of hearing it then.

There is music in Hell. Wind of desolation! It blows past the egg-eyed statues. The canopic jars are full of secrets.

The wind blows through me. I open my mouth to speak.

I recite the list of people I have copulated with. It does not take long. I say the names of my imaginary children. I call out four-syllable words beginning with B. This is how I stay alive.

Beelzebub. Brachiosaur. Bubble-headed. I don't know how I stay alive. What I do know is that there is a light, far above us, that goes out when we die,

and that in Hell there is a gray tulip that grows without any sun. It reminds me of everything I failed at,

and I water it carefully. It is all I have to remind me of you.
--Sarah Manguso


"A Footnote to History"
For ten centuries
they sent no word

though I often heard
through seashells

ships whispering for help.

I stuffed my pockets
with the sounds of wrecks.

I still can't decipher
scripts of storms

as I leaf through
the river's waves.
--Agha Shahid Ali


"Sudden"
If it had been a heart attack, the newspaper
might have used the word massive,
as if a mountain range had opened
inside her, but instead

it used the word suddenly, a light coming on

in an empty room. The telephone

fell from my shoulder, a black parrot repeating
something happened, something awful

a sunday, dusky. If it had been

terminal, we could have cradled her
as she grew smaller, wiped her mouth,

said good-bye. But it was sudden,

how overnight we could be orphaned
& the world became a bell we'd crawl inside
& the ringing all we'd eat.
--Nick Flynn


"A Bitterness"
I believe you did not have a happy life.
I believe you were cheated.
I believe your best friends were loneliness
and misery.
I believe your busiest enemies were anger
and depression.
I believe joy was a game you could never
play without stumbling.
I believe comfort, though you craved it, was forever a stranger.
I believe music had to be melancholy or not at all.
I believe no trinket, no precious metal, shone so bright as your
bitterness.
I believe you lay down at last none the wiser and unassuaged.
Oh, cold and dreamless under wild, amoral, reckless, peaceful flowers of
the hillsides.
--Mary Oliver


"Blue Willow: Persephone Falling"
"Depression is hidden knowledge."
--James Hillman

You think it will never happen again.
Then one day in November it does, the narrow,
dusty boards of the trapdoor you fell through
twenty years before cracking apart, a black grin
opening its toothless mouth, darkness seeping out
to fill the dead cornfields rattling around you.
That sound's back in your head again--
like angry bees or static or rubber bands
breaking. And beneath it a distant hum
you remember being scared was voices
till the doctor explained it was your own brain,
working overtime to understand its disordered signals.

And meanwhile, every sadness on NPR is yours--
from the African country where 30% of the childbearing
women have AIDS, to the Appalachian mother
who sells her great-grandmother's Blue Willow china
for fifty bucks to feed her kids, to your own
mother, who dies again every autumn, something
wrong when she didn't come home for Thanksgiving
the way she promised, the torn-sheet dinner napkins
you'd embroidered--"M" for "Mommy"--with ordinary
thread, wrapped in tin foil under the bed, melancholy's
blue index finger pressed into your forehead, choosing
you for its team. Where it seems you must play for life,

whether you want to or not. Though that's not
what you're thinking as you hurtle
through the night, jittery as the rabbit
you swerve to avoid, your head filled
with chattering fog, a glass door sliding shut
between you and the world, that feeling of being
outside yourself so loud you don't seem real.
Though you are. As you maneuver the car carefully
through the dark, remembering how you willed
yourself to live this way for two years,
synapses flashing like emergency lights
you thought you'd never see again.

But here they are, the medication you've ratcheted
down for a year necessary after all, the biochemical
net too small, the darkness you've pushed away
for twenty years with what your doctor calls
one hand tied behind you suddenly back.
As you remember setting out your mother's
Blue Willow on the table every night
as a child--blue people in blue houses
under blue trees--each plate a story you can
walk into, where everything is fine. If it weren't
so dark inside and you weren't so scared.
If you could only think how to get there, and what
treasure you are supposed to find when you do.
--Alison Townsend


"Breaking Up"
I fell out of love: that's our story's dull ending,
as flat as life is, as dull as the grave.
Excuse me--I'll break off the string of this love song
and smash the guitar. We have nothing to save.

The puppy is puzzled. Our furry small monster
can't decide why we complicate simple things so--
he whines at your door and I let him enter,
when he scratches at my door, you always go.

Dog, sentimental dog, you'll surely go crazy,
running from one to the other like this--
too young to conceive of an ancient idea:
it's ended, done with, over, kaput. Finis.

Get sentimental and we end up by playing
the old melodrama, "Salvation of Love."
"Forgiveness," we whisper, and hope for an echo;
but nothing returns from the silence above.

Better save love at the very beginning,
avoiding all passionate "nevers," "forevers;"
we ought to have heard what the train wheels were shouting,
"Do not make promises!" Promises are levers.

We should have made note of the broken branches,
we should have looked up at the smokey sky,
warning the witless pretensions of lovers--
the greater the hope is, the greater the lie.

True kindness in love means staying quite sober,
weighing each link of the chain you must bear.
Don't promise her heaven--suggest half an acre;
not "unto death," but at least to next year.

And don't keep declaring, "I love you, I love you."
That little phrase leads a durable life--
when remembered again in some loveless hereafter,
it can sting like a hornet or stab like a knife.

So--our little dog in all his confusion
turns and returns from door to door.
I won't say "forgive me" because I have left you;
I ask pardon for one thing: I loved you before.
--Yevgeny Yevtushenko


"Root"
I think she has roots in the soles of her feet
and when she walks
she plants herself into the earth
and lets the earth take hold of her.
I think if you listened close enough
for long enough
you could just make out the sound
of those roots in those soles
lifting through the soil
sighing in the sunlight
and digging their way back into the darkness
with each and every step.

I've met people who are fire,
all flame and spark and the promise
of combustion.
Without fail and without doubt
I've been burned and boiled
and left with nothing but the residue
of the ash they left behind on my skin.
I've felt the breezes of people who are wind,
airy and light and always drifting.
They cool the soul and for a moment
you close your eyes and feel their
breath across your face but always,
always, open them sometime or another
to their absence. They always,
always, blow away and you're left
with tousled hair and the numbness where
they rested.

I think I am the water and I think I always
have been. I go my own way and somehow
without knowing how, find my way through the
cracks and crevices, the grooves and holes
in the rocks that form around these
fragile hearts.

I think she is the earth and has roots
in her soles and leaves in her hair.
She curls her toes into the sand and
braces herself against the wind,
defiant against the flames
and holds tight to the world as it
spins beneath her. We spin and only
she can feel it.

I think she has roots and her roots
need water and I am the water and always
have been and know and hold the secrets
to sinking beneath the soil
and giving strength to the growth
that's been waiting to come.
Some people are fire
and some are wind
but we are water and earth
and through the roots on her
feet and the leaves in her hair
she will drink me and absorb
all I have ever been.

I can hear the sound
of her footsteps
now.
--Tyler Knott Gregson


"The Grasshoppers' Silence"
Listen to the story the prisoner's wife
hears in the Bengali darkness: the
one he'd told her about a grasshopper
he'd caught in his sweep net at dusk
and taken home in a glass jar with
breathing holes punched in the lid.

"Why do boys catch insects?" she'd asked,
and he'd answered: "Because they are lonely."

He told her the alarmed grasshopper
fiddled, rubbing its leg against its
belly. In Bangladesh, as in China,
ancient violins have one string; and
they sing in minor keys. "Why is their
music so sad?" she asked him, even
though she already knew the answer.

"Their music is sad because grasshoppers are sad."

In Bangladesh, unfaithful women are
called "grasshoppers," because the
adulteresses jump from leaf to leaf
in monsoon swamps. "Don't ever leave
me," her husband had ordered his
captive insect, pulling off one of its
legs before he made it a suit of rags.

"Did it ever sing after that?" she'd asked.

His wife was a curious woman who'd
gazed past the Chittagong Hills to praise
the sunrise, its clamorous golds and
vermilions. "Don't you ever leave me,"
he'd said to her every time she opened
a book or looked out the window, her
eyes astonished as water lilies opening
to the first light of dawn. And that one
last time, "You left me," tearing out her
eyes and leaving them both alone in the
dark--her in a room without windows and
him in the prison he'd made for himself,
listening to the grasshoppers' silence.
--Linda Rogers


"What was my childhood disease? Love, I suppose. I was susceptible to contracting great love, suffering the chills and delirium of that pox. But it seems I am safe now, unlikely to contract it again. The advantages of immunity are plain. People contort themselves around the terror of being alone, making any compromise against that. It's a great freedom to give up on love, and get on with everything else."
--Barbara Kingsolver, The Lacuna
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"The Red Poppy"
The great thing
is not having
a mind. Feelings:
oh, I have those; they
govern me. I have
a lord in heaven
called the sun, and open
for him, showing him
the fire of my own heart, fire
like his presence.
What could such glory be
if not a heart? Oh my brothers and sisters,
were you like me once, long ago,
before you were human? Did you
permit yourselves
to open once, who would never
open again? Because in truth
I am speaking now
the way you do. I speak
because I am shattered.
--Louise Glück
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Wanting to meet an author because you like his work is like wanting to meet a duck because you like paté."
--Margaret Atwood


"A Myth of Devotion"
When Hades decided he loved this girl
he built for her a duplicate of earth,
everything the same, down to the meadow,
but with a bed added.

Everything the same, including sunlight,
because it would be hard on a young girl
to go so quickly from bright light to utter darkness.

Gradually, he thought, he'd introduce the night,
first as the shadows of fluttering leaves.
Then moon, then stars. Then no moons, no stars.
Let Persephone get used to it slowly.
In the end, he thought, she'd find it comforting.

A replica of earth
except there was love here.
Doesn't everyone want love?

He waited many years,
building a world, watching
Persephone in the meadow.
Persephone, a smeller, a taster.
If you have one appetite, he thought,
you have them all.

Doesn't everyone want to feel in the night
the beloved body, compass, polestar,
to hear the quiet breathing that says
I am alive, that means also
you are alive, because you hear me,
you are here with me. And when one turns,
the other turns--

That's what he felt, the lord of darkness,
looking at the world he had
constructed for Persephone. It never crossed his mind
that there'd be no more smelling here,
certainly no more eating.

Guilt? Terror? The fear of love?
These things he couldn't imagine;
no lover ever imagines them.

He dreams, he wonders what to call this place.
First he thinks: The New Hell. Then: The Garden.
In the end, he decides to name it
Persephone's Girlhood.

A soft light rising above the level meadow,
behind the bed. He takes her in his arms.
He wants to say I love you, nothing can hurt you.

but he thinks
this is a lie, so he says in the end
you're dead, nothing can hurt you
which seems to him
a more promising beginning, more true.
--Louise Glück


"Emotions, in my experience, aren't covered by single words. I don't believe in 'sadness,' 'joy,' or 'regret.' Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I'd like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions, like, say, 'the happiness that attends disaster.' Or: 'the disappointment of sleeping with one's fantasy.' I'd like to show how 'intimations of mortality brought on by aging family members' connects with 'the hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age.' I'd like to have a word for 'the sadness inspired by failing restaurants' as well as for 'the excitement of getting a room with a minibar.' I've never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I've entered my story, I need them more than ever. I can't just sit back and watch from a distance anymore. From here on in, everything I'll tell you is colored by the subjective experience of being part of events. Here's where my story splits, divides, undergoes meiosis. Already the world feels heavier, now I'm a part of it. I'm talking about bandages and sopped cotton, the smell of mildew in movie theaters, and of all the lousy cats and their stinking litter boxes, of rain on city streets when the dust comes up and the old Italian men take their folding chars inside. Up until now it hasn't been my world. Not my America. But here we are, at last."
--Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex, pg. 217


"Part of my interest was scientific, zoological. I'd never seen a creature with so many freckles before. A Big Bang had occurred, originating at the bridge of her nose, and the force of this explosion had sent galaxies of freckles hurtling and drifting to every end of her curved, warm-blooded universe. There were clusters of freckles on her forearms and wrists, an entire Milky Way spreading across her forehead, even a few sputtering quasars flung into the wormholes of her ears.

"Since we're in English class, let me quote a poem. Gerard Manley Hopkins's 'Pied Beauty,' which begins, 'Glory be to God for dappled things.' When I think back about my immediate reaction to that redheaded girl, it seems to spring from an appreciation of natural beauty. I mean the heart pleasure you get from looking at speckled leaves or the palimpsested bark of plane trees in Provence. There was something richly appealing in her color combination, the ginger snaps floating in the milk-white skin, the gold highlights in the strawberry hair. It was like autumn, looking at her. It was like driving up north to see the colors."
--Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex pgs. 323-324


" 'You know what I keep thinking?' I said.

" 'What?'

" 'I keep thinking about Maxine. I can't believe she's dead.'

" 'I know. It doesn't seem like she's really dead. It's like I dreamed it.'

" 'The only way we know it's true is that we both dreamed it. That's what reality is. It's a dream everyone has together.'

" 'That's deep,' said the Object.

"I smacked her.

" 'Ow!'

" 'That's what you get.'

"Bugs were attracted by our coconut oil. We killed them without mercy."
--Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex, pgs. 343-344


"Because to influence a person is to give him one's own soul. He does not think his natural thoughts, or burn with his natural passions. His virtues are not real to him. His sins, if there are such things as sins, are borrowed. He becomes an echo of someone else's music, an actor of a part that has not been written for him. The aim of life is self-development. To realise one's nature perfectly--that is what each of us is here for. People are afraid of themselves, nowadays. They have forgotten the highest of all duties, the duty that one owes to one's self. Of course they are charitable. They feed the hungry, and clothe the beggar. But their own souls starve, and are naked. Courage has gone out of our race. Perhaps we never really had it. The terror of society, which is the basis of morals, the terror of God, which is the secret of religion--these are the two things that govern us."
--Lord Henry of The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde, pg. 20


"Music had stirred him like that. Music had troubled him many times. But music was not articulate. It was not a new world, but rather another chaos, that it created in us. Words! Mere words! How terrible they were! How clear, and vivid, and cruel! One could not escape from them. And yet what a subtle magic there was in them! They seemed to be able to give a plastic form to formless things, and to have a music of their own as sweet as that of viol or of lute. Mere words! Was there anything so real as words?"
--Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, pg. 22


"Only listen, Alan. All I ask of you is to perform a certain scientific experiment. You go to hospitals and dead-houses, and the horrors that you do there don't affect you. If in some hideous dissecting-room or fetid laboratory you found this man lying on a leaden table with red gutters scooped out in it for the blood to flow through, you would simply look upon him as an admirable subject. You would not turn a hair. You would not believe that you were doing anything wrong. On the contrary, you would probably feel that you were benefiting the human race, or increasing the sum of knowledge in the world, or gratifying intellectual curiosity, or something of that kind. What I want you to do is merely what you have often done before. Indeed, to destroy a body must be far less horrible than what you are accustomed to work at."
--Dorian Gray of The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde, pgs. 191-192

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