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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the coroner’s,
            a law’s, something

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

I am on
            leaving it, no
                         longer to be

designated human or
            corpse: cadaver
                         it will be,

nameless patient
           stored in
                        the deep hold

of the hospital
           as in the storage
                       of a ghost ship

run aground —
          the secret in it
                       that will,

perhaps, stir again
          the wind that
                       failed. It

will be preserved,
          kept like larva,
                       like a bullet

sealed gleaming
          in its chamber.
                       They will gather

around it,
          probe and sample,
                        argue — then

return it
          to its between-
                        world, remove

their aprons
          and gloves
                        and stroll, some evenings,

a city block
           for a beer,
                        a glass of chilled

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

what they
           glean from beneath
                        the narrative

of scars, surgical
           cavities, the

mess it became
           before I left it
                        to them

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

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

---Claudia Emerson

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

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

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

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

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

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

I cannot tell—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Why we don't die"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Act II, Scene I

Open, A girl in a garden.

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

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

Act II, Scene II

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

Act III, Scene I

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

---Claude McKay

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

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

---Katie Ford

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I have a little talk I give sometimes about windows and mirrors, that children—and humans, everybody—all need both windows and mirrors in their lives: mirrors through which you can see yourself and windows through which you can see the world."
---Lucille Clifton, qtd. by Marci Vogel in "Line of Sight: Lineage as Vision"
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"The fact is that poetry is not the books in the library...Poetry is the encounter of the reader with the book, the discovery of the book."
--Jorge Luis Borges, Poetry

"Consolata Dreams of Risa"
She entered the vice like a censored poet whose suspect lexicon was too supple, too shocking to publish.
--Toni Morrison, Paradise

trigger warning: self-harm, sexual assault )
--Rachel Eliza Griffiths

"Blues for Sweet Thing"
trigger warning: prostitution )
--Rachel Eliza Griffiths

"January First"
The year's doors open
like those of language, 
toward the unknown.
Last night you told me:
we shall have to think up signs,
sketch a landscape, fabricate a plan
on the double page
of day and paper.
Tomorrow, we shall have to invent,
once more,
the reality of this world.

I opened my eyes late.
For a second of a second
I felt what the Aztec felt,
on the crest of the promontory,
lying in wait
for time's uncertain return
through cracks in the horizon.

But no, the year had returned.
It filled all the room
and my look almost touched it.
Time, with no help from us,
had placed
in exactly the same order as yesterday
houses in the empty street,
snow on the houses,
silence on the snow.

You were beside me,
still asleep. 
The day had invented you
but you hadn't yet accepted
being invented by the day.
--Nor possibly my being invented, either.
You were in another day.

You were beside me
and I saw you, like the snow,
asleep among appearances.
Time, with no help from us,
invents houses, streets, trees
and sleeping women.

When you open your eyes
we'll walk, once more,
among the hours and their inventions.
We'll walk among appearances
and bear witness to time and its conjugations.
Perhaps we'll open the day's doors.
And then we shall enter the unknown.

--Octavio Paz

"What I've always loved about reading is, I don't know if there's a more intimate experience you can have with another human being. They might not even be alive, they might be dead--shit, man, 3rd century Greece or whatever, B.C.--but they're there, they're a poet, they're drawing a breath, or they're creating the picture in your mind with the words. They place this word after this word after this word, and therefore they're controlling you in that way; but you're creating that though, at the same time, which is different than cinema or music, right?"
--Scott McClanahan, interview with The Rumpus

"My imagination makes me human and makes me a fool; it gives me all the world and exiles me from it."
--Ursula K. Le Guin, "Winged: the Creatures on my Mind"

"We Are Hard on Each Other"

We are hard on each other
and call it honesty,
choosing our jagged truths
with care and aiming them across
the neutral table.

The things we say are
true; it is our crooked
aims, our choices
turn them criminal.


Of course your lies
are more amusing:
you make them new each time.

Your truths, painful and boring
repeat themselves over & over
perhaps because you own
so few of them


A truth should exist,
it should not be used
like this. If I love you

is that a fact or a weapon?
--Margaret Atwood

"There are some themes, some subjects, too large for adult fiction; they can only be dealt with adequately in a children's book."
--Philip Pullman

"Burning the Old Year"
Letters swallow themselves in seconds.
Notes friends tied to the doorknob,
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.

So much of any year is flammable,
lists of vegetables, partial poems.
Orange swirling flame of days,
so little is a stone.

Where there was something and suddenly isn't,
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.
I begin again with the smallest numbers.

Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,
only the things I didn't do
crackle after the blazing dies.
--Naomi Shihab Nye

(And I, I am no longer of that world)

Naked, he lies in the blinded room
chainsmoking, cradled by drugs, by jazz
as never by any lover's cradling flesh.

Miles Davis coolly blows for him:
O pena negra, sensual Flamenco blues;
the red clay foxfire voice of Lady Day

(lady of the pure black magnolias)
sobsings her sorrow and loss and fare you well,
dryweeps the pain his treacherous jailers

have released him from for a while.
His fears and his unfinished self
await him down in the anywhere streets.

He hides on the dark side of the moon,
takes refuge in a stained-glass cell,
flies to a clockless country of crystal.

Only the ghost of Lady Day knows where
he is. Only the music. And he swings
oh swings: beyond complete immortal now.
--Robert Hayden

"When Eliza studies, she travels through space and time. In COUSCOUS, she can sense desert and sand-smoothed stone. In CYPRESS, she tastes salt and wind. She visits Africa, Greece, and France. Each word has a story: a Viking birth, a journey across the sea, the exchange from mouth to mouth, from border to border, until æpli is apfel is appel is APPLE, crisp and sweet on Eliza's tongue. When it is night and their studying complete, these are the words she rides into sleep. The voice of the dictionary is the voice of her dreams."
--Myla Goldberg, Bee Season

"Toward the Correction of Youthful Ignorance"
There was a carriage in the story and when it rumbled
over the cobblestones one caught a glimpse
of the gaslit face inside...

But the young men, after reading "The Dead"
by James Joyce, sauntered out of the classroom
and agreed: "it's puerile, that's what it is."

Are there no more mothers who lie yellowing
in their gowns? Am I to insist, when I hate my desk,
my galoshed legs shoved in under, and all
Christmas dinners right down to eternity--?

When I was younger I wandered out to the highway
and saw a car with its windshield beautifully cracked.
The blood on the seat was so congealed
and there was so much of it, I described it to no one.

When I was younger I did not think
I would live to see the cremation of my youth,
then the hair on my arms went up in flames
along with my love for Nelson Giles.

Now I saunter out in the lamblike snow
where the black squirrels leap from bough
to bough, gobbling everything.

The snowflakes are pretty in a way.
The young men know that and compact them into balls.
When they hit my windshield I begin to laugh.

I think they are right after all:
there's no love in this world

but it's a beautiful place.
Let their daughters keep the diaries,
careful descriptions of boys in the dark.
--Mary Ruefle

"Perpetually Attempting to Soar"
A boy from Brooklyn used to cruise on summer nights.
As soon as he'd hit sixty he'd hold his hand out the window,
cupping it around the wind. He'd been assured
this is exactly how a woman's breast feels when you put
your hand around it and apply a little pressure. Now he knew,
and he loved it. Night after night, again and again, until
the weather grew cold and he had to roll the window up.
For many years afterwards he was perpetually attempting
to soar. One winter's night, holding his wife's breast
in his hand, he closed his eyes and wanted to weep.
He loved her, but it was the wind he imagined now.
As he grew older, he loved the word etcetera and refused
to abbreviate it. He loved sweet white butter. He often
pretended to be playing the organ. On one of his last mornings,
he noticed the shape of his face molded in the pillow.
He shook it out, but the next morning it reappeared.
--Mary Ruefle

"The Butcher's Story"
When I was a boy
a young man from our village
was missing for three days.
My father, my uncle and I
went looking for him in a cart
drawn by our horse, Samuel.
We went deep into the swamp
where we found three petrified trees,
gigantic and glorious. From them
we make beautiful cabinets,
polished like glass.
--Mary Ruefle

"At the Beginning Stop Suffering"
I am mercy; I have no understanding of who I am;
though, with my thousand arms, I have written of my own
nature since writing began. I inhabit you and you write about me again.
There is always the sound or color or feeling in which I can arrive.
Lying in bed suffering from loneliness or anger the woman
with eyes closed sees me bending over here, a many-armed figure
wearing a rayed disk hat. Not a clear image, but made of the blue and red
brocade beneath the eyelids. Yes you were right, you contain all
the qualities and possibilities, all the gods--I'm here inside when
you need me; I can come to you when you've forgotten my
name; a voice of yours, hidden to you, calls for mercy and mercy always comes.
--Alice Notley, Culture of One
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"You Have to Be Careful"
You have to be careful telling things.
Some ears are tunnels.
Your words will go in and get lost in the dark.
Some ears are flat pans like the miners used
looking for gold.

What you say will be washed out with the stones.
You look for a long time till you find the right ears.
Till then, there are birds and lamps to be spoken to,
a patient cloth rubbing shine in circles,
and the slow, gradually growing possibility
that when you find such ears
they already know.
--Naomi Shihab Nye

Sleep like the down elevator's
imitation of a memory lapse.

Then early light.

Why were you born, voyager?
One is not born for a reason,
although there is a skein of causes.
Out of yellowish froth,
cells began to divide, or so they say,
and feed on sunlight,
for no reason.
After that life wanted life.

You are awake now?
I am awake now.


In front of me six African men, each of them tall
and handsome, all of them impeccably tailored;
all six ordered Coca-Cola at dinner (Muslim,
it seems, a trade delegation? diplomats?);
the young American girl next to me
is a veterinary assistant from DC;
I asked her if she kept records
or held animals. A little of both,
she says. She's on her way to Stockholm.
The young man in the window seat, also American,
black hair not combed any time
in recent memory, expensive Italian shirt,
gold crucifix fastened to his earlobe,
scarab tattooed in the soft skin
between thumb and forefinger of his left hand,
is reading a Portuguese phrasebook.
A lover perhaps in Lisbon or Faro.
There should be a phrase for this passenger tenderness,
the flickering perceptions like the whitecaps
later on the Neva, when the wind
off the Gulf of Finland, roughens the surface
of the river and spills the small petals
of white lilacs on the gray stone
of the embankment. Above it two black-faced gulls,
tilted in the air, cry out sharply, and sharply.


They are built like exclamation points, woodpeckers.


Are you there? It's summer. Are you smeared with the juice of cherries?

The light this morning is touching everything,
the grasses by the pond,
and the wind-chivvied water,
and the aspens on the bank, and the one white fir on its sunward side,
and the blue house down the road
and its white banisters which are glowing on top
and shadowy on the underside,
which intensifies the luster of the surfaces that face the sun
as it does to the leaves of the aspen.

Are you there? Maybe it would be best
to be the shadow side of a pine needle
on a midsummer morning
(to be in imagination and for a while
on a midsummer morning
the shadow side of a pine needle).

The sun has concentrated to a glowing point
in the unlit bulb of the porchlight on the porch
of the blue house down the road.
It almost hurts to look at it.

Are you there? Are you soaked in dreams still?

The sky is inventing a Web site called newest azure.
There are four kinds of birdsong outside
and a methodical early morning saw.
No, not a saw. It's a boy on a scooter and the sun
on his black helmet is concentrated to a point of glowing light.
He isn't death come to get us
and he isn't truth arriving in a black T-shirt
chevroned up the arms in tongues of flame.

Are you there? For some reason I'm imagining
the small hairs on your neck, even thought I know
you are dread and the muse
and my mortal fate and a secret.
It's a boy on a scooter on a summer morning.
Did I say the light was touching everything?
--Robert Hass, from "July Notebook: The Birds"

trigger warning: mention of rape, torture, and murder )
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Activity of mind, I think, is the only thing that keeps one's life going, unless one has a larger emotional activity of some other kind. One's mind that's like a restless steamer paddle urging the ship along, tho' the wind is non-existent and the sea is as still as glass. What a force a human being is! There are worse solitudes than drift ice, and yet this eternal throbbing heat and energy of one's mind thaws a pathway through; and open sea and land shall come in time. Think though, what man is midst fields and woods. A solitary creature dependent on winds and tides, and yet somehow suppressing the might of a spark in his brain. What nonsense to write!"
--Virginia Woolf, The Early Journals, 1897 - 1909

"A library in the middle of a community is a cross between an emergency exit, a life raft and a festival. They are cathedrals of the mind; hospitals of the soul; theme parks of the imagination.

"On a cold, rainy island, they are the only sheltered public spaces where you are not a consumer, but a citizen, instead. A human with a brain and a heart and a desire to be uplifted, rather than a customer with a credit card and an inchoate 'need' for 'stuff.' A mall--the shops--are places where your money makes the wealthy wealthier. But a library is where the wealthy's taxes pay for you to become a little more extraordinary, instead. A satisfying reversal. A balancing of the power."
--Caitlin Moran, "Libraries: Cathedrals of Our Souls"

"Reality Demands"
Reality demands
that we also mention this:
Life goes on.
It continues at Cannae and Borodino,
at Kosovo Polje and Guernica.

There's a gas station
on a little square in Jericho,
and wet paint
on park benches in Bila Hora.
Letters fly back and forth
between Pearl Harbor and Hastings,
a moving van passes
beneath the eye of the lion at Chaeronea,
and the blooming orchards near Verdun
cannot escape
the approaching atmospheric front.

There is so much Everything
that Nothing is hidden quite nicely.
Music pours
from the yachts moored at Actium
and couples dance on the sunlit decks.

So much is always going on,
that it must be going on all over.
Where not a stone still stands,
you see the Ice Cream Man
besieged by children.
Where Hiroshima had been
Hiroshima is again,
producing many products
for everyday use.
This terrifying world is not devoid of charms,
of the mornings
that make waking up worthwhile.

The grass is green
on Maciejowice's fields,
and it is studded with dew,
as is normal grass.

Perhaps all fields are battlefields,
those we remember
and those that are forgotten:
the birch forests and the cedar forests,
the snow and the sand, the iridescent swamps
and the canyons of black defeat,
where now, when the need strikes, you don't cower
under a bush but squat behind it.

What moral flows from this? Probably none.
Only that blood flows, drying quickly,
and, as always, a few rivers, a few clouds.

On tragic mountain passes
the wind rips hats from unwitting heads
and we can't help
laughing at that.
--Wisława Szymborska, translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

"For Mohammed Zeid of Gaza, Age 15"
There is no stray bullet, sirs.
No bullet like a worried cat
crouching under a bush,
no half-hairless puppy bullet
dodging midnight streets.
The bullet could not be a pecan
plunking the tin roof,
not hardly, no fluff of pollen
on October's breath,
no humble pebble at our feet.

So don't gentle it, please.

We live among stray thoughts,
tasks abandoned midstream.
Our fickle hearts are fat
with stray devotions, we feel at home
among bits and pieces,
all the wandering ways of words.

But this bullet had no innocence, did not
wish anyone well, you can't tell us otherwise
by naming it mildly, this bullet was never the friend
of life, should not be granted immunity
by soft saying--friendly fire, straying death-eye,
why have we given the wrong weight to what we do?

Mohammed, Mohammed, deserves the truth.
This bullet had no secret happy hopes,
it was not singing to itself with eyes closed
under the bridge.
--Naomi Shihab Nye

"As usual, Junko thought about Jack London's 'To Build a Fire.' It was the story of a man traveling alone through the snowy Alaskan interior and his attempts to light a fire. He would freeze to death unless he could make it catch. The sun was going down. Junko hadn't read much fiction, but that one short story she had read again and again, ever since her teacher had assigned it as an essay topic during summer vacation of her first year in high school. The scene of the story would always come vividly to mind as she read. She could feel the man's fear and hope and despair as if they were her own; she could sense the very pounding of his heart as he hovered on the brink of death. Most important of all, though, was the fact that the man was fundamentally longing for death. She knew that for sure. She couldn't explain how she knew, but she knew it from the start. Death was really what he wanted. He knew that it was the right ending for him. And yet he had to go on fighting with all his might. He had to fight against an overwhelming adversary in order to survive. What most shook Junko was this deep-rooted contradiction.

"The teacher ridiculed her view. 'Death is really what he wanted? That's a new one for me! And strange! Quite 'original,' I'd have to say.' He read her conclusion aloud before the class, and everybody laughed.

"But Junko knew. All of them were wrong. Otherwise how could the ending of the story be so quiet and beautiful?"
--Haruki Murakami, "landscape with flatiron"

" 'That's the duty of the old,' said the librarian. 'To be anxious on behalf of the young. And the duty of the young is to scorn the anxiety of the old.'

"They sat for a while longer, and then parted, for it was late, and they were old and anxious."
--Phillip Pullman, The Golden Compass

"Sex in Motel Rooms"

Because I need music
I press my ear to the wall

and listen to the lovers
in the next room

as they undress each other
as they undress each other.

The glorious

of one shirt, two shirts
clanging to the floor.


After she came
she rolled away

and fell off the edge
of the twin bed.


As I drive home
to the reservation

I pass by the motel
where a white girl I loved

during high school
lost her virginity
to a white boy
after the goddamn prom.


On the first night of our honeymoon
we lie in bed, too exhausted for sex

or conversation. Instead, we listen
to the surf, wave after wave after wave.


On the couch, X wants Y
to take off her pants

but she refuses
because her friend, Z

is naked in bed
on the other side

of the room
with X's best friend, A

who is desperately
in love with Y.


O, the lonely country!
O, the lonely city!
O, the lonely motel!
O, the lonely bed!
O, the lonely man!


There are two beds in the room. Of course
we make love in one, fall asleep in the other.


Listen, she says, I always wanted
to watch a pornographic movie

in a hotel room, so my boyfriend
and I ordered one, pay-per-view

but it wasn't real porn. I mean
they didn't show any penetration.

It was just a bunch of shots
of sweaty bellies and profiles,

really tame, generic stuff,
and it barely aroused us

so we just sort of kissed
and fondled each other

then fell asleep, still
wearing most of our clothes.


In the darkness, her dark body grows darker
until I am making love to her and her shadow.


In Santa Monica, over
the course of three nights

the woman in the next room
sleeps with three different men.

I watch them all arrive
through the security peephole

in my door. One of the men
is beautiful, one is ugly

and the third is a waiter
from the restaurant downstairs.


Scientists recently examined a hotel room comforter
and discovered 412 different samples of sperm.


Okay, he says, I'm not one of those guys
who sleeps with anything that moves

but the threat of AIDS prevented me
from even thinking

about becoming one of those guys.
AIDS is a shitty deal for everybody

but it's a really shitty deal for sex in general.
After all, our parents got to fuck

and fuck and fuck and fuck
without the fear of death.

I mean, I think all the liberalism
and progressive social change

during the sixties happened
because everybody was fucking

like crazy. And I think we elected
and re-elected that right-wing Reagan asshole

because nobody was fucking.
That's right, sex and politics

are linked. Tight as tight.
If it was up to me, I’d set up this motel

where sex was happening
in every room. Sex and food.

I mean, the mini-bars would be filled
with cheese and crackers and fruit.

Room service would be complimentary.
Good coffee machines.

Sex and jobs, too.
I mean, in order to participate

you'd have to work at the motel,
janitor, maid, waiter, something.

Sex and love, of course
I mean, if you wanted to, you could

just have sex with one person.
That would be permitted

maybe even encouraged.
Everybody would have enough sex

everybody would have enough food
and everybody would have a job.


Home with her
we get ready for bed

brush our teeth, wash our faces
all of those small ceremonies

and then we're beneath
the down comforter

on a cold Seattle night
and I'm almost asleep

when she moves close
kisses my ear and asks me

to pretend we're in the last
vacant motel room in the world.
--Sherman Alexie

"Irish Music"
Now in middle age, my blood like a thief who
Got away, unslain, & the trees hung again in the grim,
Cheap embroidery of leaves, I come back to the white roads,
The intersections in their sleeves of dust,
And vines like woodwinds twisted into shapes
For playing different kinds of silence.
Just when my hearing was getting perfect, singular
As an orphan's shard of mirror, they
Change the music into something I
No longer follow.
But how like them to welcome me home this way:
The house with its doorstop finally rotted away,
And carted off for a stranger's firewood,
And yet, behind the window there,
A woman bent over a map of her childhood, but still
A real map, that shows her people's
Ireland like a bonnet for the mad on top of
Plenty of ocean.
Hunger kept those poor relations traveling until
They almost touched the sea again,
And settled.
And there have been changes, even here.
In Parlier, California,
The band in the park still plays the same song,
But with a fresher strain of hopelessness.
This, too, will pass.
There is that message, always, of its threadbare refrain,
The message, too, of what one chooses to forget
About this place: the Swedish tailgunner who,
After twenty missions in the Pacific, chopped off
His own left hand
To get back home. No one thinks of him;
Not even I believe he found another reason, maybe,
For all left hands. So memory sires
Oblivion--this settlement of sheds, & weeds,
Where the lat exile which the bloodstream always sang
Comes down to a matter of a few sparrows hopping
On & off a broken rain gutter, or downspout, & behind them,
A barn set up on a hill & meant to stay there,
Ignoring the sky
With the certainty they bolted into the crossbeams--
The whole thing
Towering over the long silent
Farmer & his wife; & that still house
Where their fingers have remembered, for fifty years,
Just where to touch the bannister; & then the steps,
That, one day, led up to me. Come home,
Say the blackened, still standing chimneys, & the missing bell
Above the three-room schoolhouse--
You've inherited all there is: the ironic,
Rueful smile of a peasant who's extinct,
Who nods, understanding, too well, the traveler,
And who orders another shot of schnapps
While his wife, pregnant, angry, puts both hands
Under her chin, & waits up.

And always, I pack the car, I answer no....
When my own son was next to nothing,
He, too, would wait up with us,
Awake with hands already wholly formed,
And no larger than twin question marks in the book I closed,
One day, in a meadow,
When I reached for her--above the silent town,
Above the gray, decaying smoke of the vineyards.

A stranger who saw us there might have said:
I saw two people naked on your land.
But afterward, our pulses
Already lulling & growing singular, my eyes
Closed on that hill, I saw
A playground, mothers chatting; water falling because
It was right to be falling, over a cliff; & the way
Time & the lights of all home towns grew still
In that tense shape of water just before it fell...
I watched it a long time ago,
And, for no reason I could name, turned away from it,
To take that frail path along a mountainside--
Then passed through alder, spruce, & stunted pine,
Stone & a cold wind,
Up to the empty summit.
--Larry Levis

"Though His Name Is Infinite, My Father Is Asleep"
When my father disappeared,
He did not go into hiding.
In old age, he was infinite,
So where could he hide? No,
He went into his name,
He went into his name, & into
The way two words keep house,
Each syllable swept clean
Again when you say them;
That's how my father left,
And that's how my father went
Out of his house, forever.
Imagine a house without words,
The family speechless for once
At the kitchen table, & all night
A hard wind ruining
The mottled skin of plums
In the orchard, & no one
Lifting a finger to stop it.
But imagine no word for "house,"
Or wind in a bare place always,
And soon it will all disappear--
Brick, & stone, & wood--all three
Are wind when you can't say
"House," & know, anymore, what it is.
Say Father, then, to no one,
Or say my father was, himself,
A house, or say each word's a house,
Some lit & some abandoned.
Then go one step further,
And say a name is a home,
As remote & as intimate.
Say home, then, or say, "I'll
Never go home again," or say,
Years later, with that baffled,
Ironic smile, "I'm on my way
Home," or say, as he did not,
"I'm going into my name."
Go further; take a chance, & say
A name is intimate. Repeat all
The names you know, all
The names you've ever heard,
The living & the dead, the precise
Light snow of their syllables.
Say your own name, or say
A last name, say mine, say his,
Say a name so old & frayed
By common use it's lost
All meaning now, & sounds
Like a house being swept out,
Like wind where there's no house.
Say finally there is no way
To document this, or describe
The passing of a father, that
Faint scent of time, or how
He swore delicately, quickly
Against it without ever appearing
To hurry the ceremony of swearing.
And say, too, how you disliked
And loved him, how he stays up
All night now in two words,
How his worn out, infinite name
Outwits death when you say it.
And say finally how the things
He had to do for you
Humiliated him until
He could not get his breath, & say
How much they mattered, how
Necessary he was. And then,
Before sleep, admit, also,
That his name is nothing,
Light as three syllables,
Lighter than pain or art, lighter
Than history, & tell how two words,
That mean nothing to anyone
Else, once meant a world
To you; how sometimes, even you,
In the sweep of those syllables,
Wind, crushed bone, & ashes--
Begin to live again.
--Larry Levis

I say we had better look our nation searchingly
in the face, like a physician diagnosing some deep disease.
--Democratic Vistas

Look for me under your bootsoles.

On Long Island, they moved my clapboard house
Across a turnpike, & then felt so guilty they
Named a shopping mall center after me!

Now that I'm required reading in your high schools,
Teenagers call me a fool.
Now what I sang stops breathing.

And yet
It was only when everyone stopped believing in me
That I began to live again--
First in the thin whine of Montana fence wire,
Then in the transparent, cast-off garments hung
In the windows of the poorest families,
Then in the glad music of Charlie Parker.
At times now,
I even come back to watch you
From the eyes of a taciturn boy at Malibu.
Across the counter at the beach concession stand,
I sell you hot dogs, Pepsis, cigarettes--
My blond hair long, greasy, & swept back
In a vain old ducktail, deliciously
Out of style.
And no one notices.
Once, I even came back as me,
An aging homosexual who ran the Tilt-a-Whirl
At county fairs, the chilled paint on each gondola
Changing color as it picked up speed,
And a Mardi Gras tattoo on my left shoulder.
A few of you must have seen my photographs,
For when you looked back,
I thought you caught the meaning of my stare:

Still water,

A Kosmos. One of the roughs.

And Charlie Parker's grave outside Kansas City
Covered with weeds.

Leave me alone.
A father who's outlived his only child.

To find me now will cost you everything.
--Larry Levis
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."
--George Bernard Shaw

"The Peace of Wild Things"
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
--Wendell Berry

"The Breath of Night"
The moon rises. The red cubs rolling
In the ferns by the rotten oak
Stare over a marsh and a meadow
To the farm's white wisp of smoke.

A spark burns, high in heaven.
Deer thread the blossoming rows
Of the old orchard, rabbits
Hop by the well-curb. The cock crows

From the tree by the widow's walk;
Two stars, in the trees to the west,
Are snared, and an owl's soft cry
Runs like a breath through the forest.

Here too, though death is hushed, though joy
Obscures, like night, their wars,
The beings of this world are swept
By the Strife that moves the stars.
--Randall Jarrell

"Spoils of the Dead"
Two fairies it was
On a still summer day
Came forth in the woods
With the flowers to play.
The flowers they plucked
They cast on the ground
For others, and those
For still others they found.
Flower-guided it was
That they came as they ran
On something that lay
In the shape of a man.
The snow must have made
The feathery bed
When this one fell
On the sleep of the dead.
But the snow was gone
A long time ago,
And the body he wore
Nigh gone with the snow.
The fairies drew near
And keenly espied
A ring on his hand
And a chain at his side.
They knelt in the leaves
And eerily played
With the glittering things,
And were not afraid.
And when they went home
To hide in their burrow,
They took them along
To play with to-morrow.
When you came on death,
Did you not come flower-guided
Like the elves in the wood?
I remember that I did.
But I recognised death
With sorrow and dread,
And I hated and hate
The spoils of the dead.
--Robert Frost

"Poem for Flora"
when she was little
and colored and ugly with short
straightened hair
and a very pretty smile
she went to Sunday school to hear
'bout nebuchadnezzar the king
of the jews

and she would listen

shadrach, meshach and abednego in the fire

and she would learn
how god was neither north
nor south east or west
with no color but all
she remembered was that
Sheba was Black and comely

and she would think

i want to be
like that.
--Nikki Giovanni

for Dr. Temple Grandin, autistic veterinarian

When she was little, visiting her
uncle and aunt's ranch, she liked
to get into the cattle press, flick
the lever to squeeze its sides in,

then she began to believe
she had a body, not just
a collection of electrons
repelling each other in space.

She was thought to lack empathy
for sad events, her classmates' tears,
but she noticed the other things
--rocks getting crushed, stars

that were dying. She hated
how cattle herded for slaughter would mill
about moaning, stamping their hooves,
would sometimes stampede

in eyerolling panic; she noticed
how they moved in the stockyards
to soothe themselves--in circles,
like water. She pondered her need

for pattern and order, how swinging
or rocking could calm her, and she
thought of a way to ease that ascension
to abattoir hell. She thought

of a ramp rising in widening circles,
like water. The feedlot execs could see
a PR trend, so they put the ramps in.
But they didn't see much more than

customers feeling sorry for cows; not
what Aquinas saw, that cruelty
to animals diminishes the human.
They did not, like Temple, wear

bovine skin, snort blood and fear, flick
flies with her tail, speak
with her doomed brethren
in Angus and Brahmin.
--Rebecca Foust

"Last August Hours before the Year 2000"
Spun silk of mercy,
long-limbed afternoon,
sun urging purple blossoms from baked stems.
What better blessing than to move without hurry
under trees?
Lugging a bucket to the rose that became a twining
house by now, roof and walls of vine--
you could live inside this rose.
Pouring a slow stream around the
ancient pineapple crowned with spiky fruit,
I thought we would feel old
by the year 2000.
Walt Disney thought cars would fly.

What a drama to keep thinking the last summer
the last birthday
before the calendar turns to zeroes.
My neighbor says anything we plant
in September takes hold.
She's lining pots of little grasses by her walk.

I want to know the root goes deep
on all that came before,
you could lay a soaker hose across
your whole life and know
there was something
under layers of packed summer earth
and dry brown grass
to moisten.
--Naomi Shihab Nye
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Everything in Our World Did Not Seem to Fit"
Once they started invading us.
Taking our houses and trees, drawing lines,
pushing us into tiny places.
It wasn't a bargain or deal or even a real war.
To this day they pretend it was.
But it was something else.
We were sorry what happened to them but
we had nothing to do with it.
You don't think what a little plot of land means
till someone takes it and you can't go back.
Your feet still want to walk there.
Now you are drifting worse
than homeless dust, very lost feeling.
I cried even to think of our hallway,
cool stone passage inside the door.
Nothing would fit for years.
They came with guns, uniforms, declarations.
LIFE magazine said,
"It was surprising to find some Arabs still in their houses."
Surprising? Where else would we be?
Up in the hillsides?
Conversing with mint and sheep, digging in dirt?
Why was someone else's need for a home
greater than our own need for our own homes
we were already living in? No one has ever been able
to explain this sufficiently. But they find
a lot of other things to talk about.
--Naomi Shihab Nye

"From an African Diary"

On the Congolese marketplace pictures
shapes move thin as insects, deprived of their human power.
It's a hard passage between two ways of life.
He who has arrived has a long way to go.

A young man found a foreigner lost among the huts.
Didn't know whether to take him for a friend or a subject for extortion.
His doubt disturbed him. They parted in confusion.

The Europeans mostly stay clustered by the car as if it were Mama.
The crickets are as strong as electric razors. The car drives home.
Soon the beautiful darkness comes, taking charge of the dirty clothes. Sleep.
He who has arrived has a long way to go.

It helps perhaps with handshakes like a flight of migratory birds.
It helps perhaps to let the truth out of the books.
It is necessary to go further.

The student reads in the night, reads and reads to be free
and having passed his exam he becomes a step for the next man.
A hard passage.
He who has gone furthest has a long way to go.
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton

Walked along the antipoetic wall.
Die Mauer. Don't look over.
It wants to surround our adult lives
in the routine city, the routine landscape.

Eluard touched some button
and the wall opened
and the garden showed itself.

I used to go with the milk pail through the wood.
Purple trunks on all sides.
An old joke hung
as beautiful as a votive ship.

Summer read out of Pickwick Papers.
The good life, a tranquil carriage
crowded with excited gentlemen.

Close your eyes, change horses.

In distress come childish thoughts.
We sat by the sickbed and prayed
for a pause in the terror, a breach
where the Pickwicks could pull in.

Close your eyes, change horses.

It is easy to love fragments
that have been on the way a long time.
Inscriptions on church bells
and proverbs written across saints
and many-thousand-year-old seeds.

Archilochos!--No answer.

The birds roamed over the seas' rough pelt.
We locked ourselves in with Simenon
and felt the serials debouch.

Feel the smell of truth.

The open window has stopped
in front of the treetops
and the evening sky's farewell letter.

Shiki, Björling, and Ungaretti
with life's chalks on death's blackboard.
The poem which is completely possible.

I looked up when the branches swung.
White gulls were eating black cherries.
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton

"About History"

One day in March I go down to the sea and listen.
The ice is as blue as the sky. It is breaking up under the sun.
The sun that also whispers in a microphone under the covering of ice.
It gurgles and froths. And someone seems to be shaking a sheet far out.
It's all like History: our Now. We are submerged, we listen.


Conferences like flying islands about to crash...
Then: a long trembling bridge of compromises.
There shall the whole traffic go, under the stars,
under the unborn pale faces,
outcast in the vacant spaces, anonymous as grains of rice.


Goethe traveled in Africa in '26 disguised as Gide and saw everything.
Some faces become clearer from everything they see after death.
When the daily news from Algeria was read out
a large house appeared with all the windows blackened,
all except one. And there we saw the face of Dreyfus.


Radical and Reactionary live together as in an unhappy marriage,
molded by each other, dependent on each other.
But we who are their children must break loose.
Every problem cries in its own language.
Go like a bloodhound where the truth has trampled.


Out on the open ground not far from the buildings
an abandoned newspaper has lain for months, full of events.
It grows old through nights and days in rain and sun,
on the way to becoming a plant, a cabbage head, on the way to being united with the earth.
Just as a memory is slowly transmuted into your own self.
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton

"Open and Closed Spaces"
A man feels the world with his work like a glove.
He rests for a while at midday having laid aside the gloves on the shelf.
They suddenly grow, spread,
and black out the whole house from inside.

The blacked-out house is away among the winds of spring.
"Amnesty," runs the whisper in the grass: "amnesty."
A boy sprints with an invisible line slanting up in the sky
where his wild dream of the future flies like a kite bigger than the suburb.

Further north you can see from a summit the endless blue carpet of pine forest
where the cloud shadows
are standing still.
No, are flying.
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton

"In the Open"

Late autumn labyrinth.
At the entrance to the wood a discarded empty bottle.
Go in. At this season the woods are silently deserted halls.
Only a few kinds of noise: as if someone were cautiously removing twigs with tweezers
or a hinge creaking faintly inside a thick tree trunk.
The frost has breathed on the mushrooms and they have shriveled.
They are like objects and garments found after a disappearance.
Now twilight comes. It's a matter of getting out
and seeing your landmarks again: the rusty implement in the field
and the house on the other side of the lake, a russet square strong as a bouillon cube.


A letter from America set me off, drove me out
one light night in June on the empty streets in the suburb
among newborn blocks without memory, cool as blueprints.

The letter in my pocket. Desperate furious striding, it is a kind of pleading.
With you, evil and good really have faces.
With us, it's mostly a struggle between roots, ciphers, and shades of light.

Those who run death's errands don't avoid the daylight.
They rule from glass stories. They swarm in the sun's blaze.
They lean across the counter and turn their head.

Far away I happen to stop before one of the new façades.
Many windows all merging together into one single window.
The light of the night sky is caught there with the gliding of the treetops.
It is a mirroring sea without waves, erect in the summer night.

Violence seems unreal
for a little.


The sun scorches. The plane flies low
throwing a shadow in the form of a large cross rushing forward on the ground.
A man is crouching in the field at something.
The shadow comes.
For a fraction of a second he is in the middle of the cross.

I have seen the cross that hangs under cool church vaults.
Sometimes it's like a snapshot
of something in violent movement.
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton

(for V)

The way you make love is the way God will be with you.


The arc of your boneless back flags above me.
We are blind discoverers, the nine seas pool
between us, blue curves, maritime, sheath of
surrender, limbed night.

What sweeter world could be voyaged from
the earth's center, pieced of figsuckle,
orange, the twice-licked skin of key limes,
breath of peppermint, braided, burning.


The long twin inches of my hands take the
whole night to ski the two pineapples halves
of you; brown baklava pieced over a caramel
cooler of skin. The monsoon is early.

Two marsupials coax deeper into the pouch of
wet night. Wandering inside the hour of the lung
hoping to turn conch by day. Our outside skins,
well brushed. Inside, we are desperate sandpaper,

breathless, the buttery lights of day sink into
dawn; two perfect halves of pink grapefruit,
skinned, twelve times crushed to velvet, lifted,
assumed to the inside flesh of new coconut.

A burning moon fossilizes, figs sway, right over
right, left dips left. Don't fall, is what you whisper,
back to you, in your sleep. It's too late to warn
the earth of the impression coming.


We wrap each other down, around, become
ground cover for every lonely night that ever was.

In the morning the monkeys come to eat what's
left of us. Talk is of the great storm, long gone
now. The older one, the Bishop, who never stops
filling his jaws & covering his eyes, listens back,

for one last thunder squall of fruit he hopes will
fall. He wants one last floating midnight-note to
drop like nine miles of ripe banana down the back
of his throat. He wants return, homily, consecration.

What was it that shook the blood oranges & bread-
fruit from our every tree? What left the roads
reduced, impassable?

What assuaged the purple hills all night, all the way
to the tea blue sea, cooling the fruit floating there,
twister of raw sugar, cubed, then row after row, ginger,
grated, peeled, dried, tangling tango of tongues.
--Nikky Finney

"The Clitoris"
is 9 cm deep
in the pelvis.

Most of it scrunched & hidden.

New studies show
the shy curl
to be longer
than the penis,
but like Africa,
the continent,
it is never drawn
to size.

Mapmakers, and others, who draw
important things for a living,
do not want us to know this.

In some females,

the clitoris stretches,
8 in,
with 2 to 3.5
in, shaft free,
outside the body.

The longest clitoris of record
has been found in the blue whale.

In water
desire can rise,
honor sea levels,
ignore land-locked cartographers.

In water,
desire refuses retreat.
--Nikky Finney

"Dancing with Strom"
I want to tell you, ladies and gentlemen, there's not enough troops in the army to force the southern people to break down segregation and accept the Negro [pronounced Nigra] into our theatres, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches.
--Strom Thurmond, South Carolina Senator and Presidential Candidate for the States' Rights Party, 1948

I said, "I'm gonna fight Thurmond from the mountain to the sea."
--Modjeska Monteith Simkins, Civil Rights Matriarch, South Carolina, 1948

The youngest has been married off.

He is as tall as Abraham Lincoln. Here, on his
wedding day, he flaunts the high spinning laugh
of a newly freed slave. I stand above him, just
off the second-floor landing, watching
the celebration unfold.

Uncle-cousins, bosom buddies, convertible cars
of nosy paramours, strolling churlish penny-
pinchers pour onto the mansion estate. Below,
Strom Thurmond is dancing with my mother.

The favorite son of South Carolina has already
danced with the giddy bride and the giddy bride's
mother. More women await: Easter dressy,
drenched in caramel, double exposed, triple cinched,
lined up, leggy, ready.

I refuse to leave the porch.

If I walk down I imagine he will extend his
hand, assume I am next in his happy darky line,
#427 on his dance card. His history
and mine, burnt cork and blackboard chalk,
concentric, pancaked, one face, two histories,
slow dragging, doing the nasty.

My father knows all this.

Daddy's Black Chief Justice legs straddle the boilerplate
carapace of the CSS H.L. Hunley, lost Confederate
submarine, soon to be found just off the coast of
Charleston. He keeps it fully submerged by
applying the weight of every treatise he has
ever written against the death penalty of
South Carolina. Chanting "Briggs v. Elliott,"
he keeps the ironside door of the submarine shut.
No hands.

His eyes are a Black father's beacon, search-
lights blazing for the married-off sons, and
on the unmarried, whale-eyed, nose-in-book
daughter, born unmoored, quiet, yellow,
strategically placed under the hospital lights to
fully bake. The one with the most to lose.

There will be no trouble. Still, he chain-
smokes. A burning stick of mint & Indian
leaf seesaws between his lips. He wants
me to remember that trouble is a fire that
runs like a staircase up then down. Even
on a beautiful day in June.

I remember the new research just out:
What the Negro gave America
Chapter 9,206:

Enslaved Africans gifted porches to North
America. Once off the boats they were told,
then made, to build themselves a place--to live.

They build the house that will keep them alive.

Rather than be the bloody human floret on
yet another southern tree, they imagine higher
ground. They build landings with floor enough
to see the trouble coming. Their arced imaginations
nail the necessary out into the floral air. On the
backs and fronts of twentypenny houses,
a watching place is made for the ones who will
come tipping with torch & hog tie through the
quiet woods, hoping to hang them as decoration
in the porcupine hair of longleaf.

The architecture of Black people is sui generis.
This is architecture dreamed by the enslaved:

Their design will be stolen.
Their wits will outlast gold.
My eyes seek historical rest from the kiss-
kiss theater below; Strom Thurmond's
it's-never-too-late-to-forgive-me chivaree.
I search the tops of yellow pine while my
fingers reach, catch, pinch my father's
determined-to-rise smoke.

Long before AC African people did the
math: how to cool down the hot air of
South Carolina?

If I could descend, without being trotted
out by some roughrider driven by his
submarine dreams, this is what I'd take
my time and scribble into the three-tiered,
white crème wedding cake:

Filibuster. States' Rights. The Grand Inquisition
of the great Thurgood Marshall. This wedding
reception would not have been possible without
the Civil Rights Act of 1957 (opposed by

The Dixiecrat senator has not worn his
sandy seersucker fedora to the vows.
The top of Strom Thurmond's bald head
reveals a birthmark tattooed in contrapposto
pose: Segregation Forever.

All my life he has been the face of hatred;
the blue eyes of the Confederate flag,
the pasty bald of white men pulling wooly
heads up into the dark skirts of trees,
the sharp, slobbering, amber teeth of
German shepherds, still clenched inside
the tissue-thin, (still-marching), band-leader
legs of Black schoolteachers, the single-
minded pupae growing between the legs of
white boys crossing the tracks, ready to
force Black girls into fifth-grade positions,
Palmetto state-sanctioned sex 101.

I don't want to dance with him.

My young cousin arrives at my elbow.
Her beautiful lips the color of soft-skin
mangoes. She pulls, teasing the stitches
of my satin bridesmaid gown, "You better
go on down there and dance with Strom--
while he still has something left."

I don't tell her it is unsouthern for her
to call him by his first name, as if they
are familiar. I don't tell her: To bear
witness to marriage is to believe that
everything moving through the sweet
wedding air can be confidently, left--
to Love.

I stand on the landing high above the
beginnings of Love, holding a plastic
champagne flute, drinking in the warm
June air of South Carolina. I hear my
youngest brother's top hat joy. Looking
down I find him, deep in the giddy crowd,
modern, integrated, interpretive.

For ten seconds I consider dancing with
Strom. His Confederate hands touch
every shoulder, finger, back that I love.
I listen to the sound of Black laughter
shimmying. All worry floats beyond
the gurgling submarine bubbles,
the white railing, every drop of
champagne air.

I close my eyes and Uncle Freddie
appears out of a baby's breath of fog.
(The dead are never porch bound.)
He moves with ease where I cannot.
He walks out on the rice-thrown air,
heaving a lightning bolt instead of
a wave. Suddenly, there is a table set,
complete with 1963 dining room stars,
they twinkle twinkle up & behind him.
Thelonious, Martin, Malcolm, Nina,
Dakota, all mouths Negro wide &
open have come to sing me down.
His tattered almanac sleeps curled like
a wintering slug in his back pocket.
His dark Dogon eyes jet to the scene
below, then zoom past me until they are
lost in the waning sugilite sky. Turning
in the shadows of the wheat fields,
he whispers a truth plucked from
the foreword tucked in his back pocket:
Veritas: Black people will forgive you
quicker than you can say Orangeburg

History does not keep books on the
handiwork of slaves. But the enslaved
who built this Big House, long before
I arrived for this big wedding, knew
the power of a porch.

This native necessity of nailing down
a place, for the cooling off of air,
in order to lift the friendly, the kindly,
the so politely, the in-love-ly, jubilant,
into the arms of the grand peculiar,
for the greater good of
the public spectacular:

giving us
--Nikky Finney
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"The Rider"
A boy told me
if he roller-skated fast enough
his loneliness couldn't catch up to him,

the best reason I ever heard
for trying to be a champion.

What I wonder tonight
pedaling hard down King William Street
is if it translates to bicycles.

A victory! To leave your loneliness
panting behind you on some street corner
while you float free into a cloud of sudden azaleas,
pink petals that have never felt loneliness,
no matter how slowly they fell.
--Naomi Shihab Nye

"The A & P"
She rolled a tomato in her hand, pink rubber
ball engineered to fit a machine. The motion
recalled Florida, toward the Glades, Pahokee,
Belle Glade, Miccosukee, fields crawling
with tomato plants, and the proportion all wrong
between the rows: wide enough for a truck to drive
through. A truckload of migrant workers, Cuban,
Haitian, Jamaican, perhaps Creek, Seminole,
turning, rolling to a spot on the horizon, stopping
somewhere, the next unpicked spot the same,
on the row, assembly line.

A voice from somewhere
urban, in her ear: We have forgotten where
our food comes from.

But she remembered exactly.
Between the rows of manufactured produce she remembered
Lib Martin's bucket of tomatoes: green, red,
irregular skin cracked like red dirt, drought,
rain. The acid juice gushed against thirst.

Not forgetting. Learning certain things, like these sweet
potatoes, knobbed roots broken to yellow clay,
eating them baked as some ate clay, hot
from the sun, comfort. Sweet potatoes twenty cents a pound.

A man in Nash County died digging them last fall,
forty cents a bucket, seventy buckets a day, take out
a hundred fifty bucks a month for beans and rice.

Pull wild salad, fish the Tar River, drink
cheap wine, a dollar a pint. Can't escape,
beaten with tree limbs, the woods full of snakes. Be
so hot. Fall into dirt from your own digging, and die.

Not about forgetting. Never being told.

Eating the lives of others like a child, unconscious,
sucking the breast. Herself as a girl sucking
sugar cane by the gas heater, hot, sweet,
knowing nothing of the cold field, the knives of cane,
the women and the men, rounding the mill like mules.

But it was about forgetting. Every day she wanted to
forget something she'd learned about the house, the fields,
the lopped cedar posts propping up the scuppernong arbor,
the fallen grapes fermenting on the ground. If she could have,
just tonight, a little white wine. The amnesiac sugar,
liquor, how good it tastes. It used to be whiskey,
or a little rum-and-coke.

How drunk she got
that night, her and the two men, drunk, standing up
in the boat between two rivers of stars, between
the muddy banks of the Black Warrior.
They sang
until the boat sank, then waded out as if
free in another country. She'd washed the black muck
off her feet, clinging weight, erosion, lives
she knew, lives she did not know. She had walked
up the bank, stagger, not like her father. Just like
her father. What did he know?

Too much, her mother said,
he knows too much to be happy.

Drinking to forget
what he did, or what he should have done? At the river,
the river bottom land.

Maybe the grapefruit in her hand,
yellow globe, pink flesh, came from there, prison farm
in the bottoms. Hot boxes. Boxes of fruit. Each piece
wrapped like a jewel in green tissue paper.

She had learned about grapefruit, lemons, oranges.
In the store, workers unpack them like presents. Pesticide
spreads skin to skin, and your hands begin to die,
go numb, skin falls off, membrane of a peeled orange.

Stay conscious, a voice said. Can't do nothing if you don't
stay conscious. Right foot should know what the left foot is doing.

But every time, every damn time, she walked
into this A & P to get groceries, she had to decide
not to be like her father. Decide like tonight.
No grapefruit, no tomatoes, none of that Iowa honey,
bees that never saw a flower, their universe a warehouse.
Ask where the sweet potatoes came from. Then a few
in a paper sack, thudding like lumps of dirt.

Then her feet up and down the aisles twice as wide
as a row should be hoed, making her feet take her
past, her hand not reach down a bottle, not even
the scuppernong that could give her back herself
innocent, under the arbor, sucking grapes down
to the skin, the familiar taste, numbness, a long
slow spiral down the river, oblivion's boat,
her feet never stepping out on either side of land.

She made herself walk past the wine, to check-out,
to figure up how much this food would cost her.
She could dig up the backyard again this spring,
some rows of tomatoes, some cane poles spiraling
bean vines. Some squash, three seeds and a fish head
at the bottom of each hole.
The dead silver eye
would look at her again. Again she would ask herself
the use of what she was doing, and again as she hoed,
barefoot in blackjack clay, and as the tomatoes came in
to be picked, eaten, given to friends, canned for winter.
Again as the blisters came, and then the calluses on her hands.
--Minnie Bruce Pratt

"On Marriage"
Then Almitra spoke again and said, "And what of Marriage, master?"
And he answered saying:
You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when white wings of death scatter your days.
Aye, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together, yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.
--Khalil Gibran

"The Garden"
Thousands upon thousands of years
are not enough
to tell you
the tiny second of eternity
wherein you kissed me
and wherein I kissed you
one morning in the light of winter
in Park Montsouris in Paris
in Paris
on earth
the earth who is a star.
--Jacques Prévert

"For the Dead"
I dreamed I called you on the telephone
to say: Be kinder to yourself
but you were sick and would not answer

The waste of my love goes on this way
trying to save you from yourself

I have always wondered about the left-over
energy, the way water goes rushing down a hill
long after the rains have stopped

or the fire you want to go to bed from
but cannot leave, burning-down but not burnt-down
the red coals more extreme, more curious
in their flashing and dying
than you wish they were
sitting long after midnight
--Adrienne Rich

"My Father's Love Letters"
On Fridays he'd open a can of Jax
After coming home from the mill,
& ask me to write a letter to my mother
Who sent postcards of desert flowers
Taller than men. He would beg,
Promising to never beat her
Again. Somehow I was happy
She had gone, & sometimes wanted
To slip in a reminder, how Mary Lou
Williams' "Polka Dots & Moonbeams"
Never made the swelling go down.
His carpenter's apron always bulged
With old nails, a claw hammer
Looped at his side & extension cords
Coiled around his feet.
Words rolled from under the pressure
Of my ballpoint: Love,
Baby, Honey, Please.
We sat in the quiet brutality
Of voltage meters & pipe threaders,
Lost between sentences . . .
The gleam of a five-pound wedge
On the concrete floor
Pulled a sunset
Through the doorway of his toolshed.
I wondered if she laughed
& held them over a gas burner.
My father could only sign
His name, but he'd look at blueprints
& say how many bricks
Formed each wall. This man,
Who stole roses & hyacinth
For his yard, would stand there
With eyes closed & fists balled,
Laboring over a simple word, almost
Redeemed by what he tried to say.
--Yusef Komunyakaa

"Whenever we return with music from our dreams, it retains its beauty; the beautiful line of verse, though, oxidizes on its exposure to daylight, and turns to gibberish before our eyes. No better proof that music pays its line far more deeply into the unconscious. Poetry is the music of consciousness."
--Don Paterson
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Dead Brother Super Hero"
You don't have to
be afraid
His super-outfit is made from handfuls of shit and garbage blood and pinned together
by stars

Flying around
the room
like a mosq-

Drinking all the blood
or whatever we

to save us

need to be saved


I whispered To the rescue
and sat
on the dead edge
of my bed
all night

all morning

My feet did not touch the floor

My heart raced
I counted my breath like small white sheep and pinned my eyes open and stared at the door

Any second now
any second



He saved my brain
from its burning

He stopped and started the bullet it my heart
with his teeth

Just like that
He looked down from outer space through all the clouds, the birds dropping like weights

He looked out
from the center of the earth
through the fire
he was


He stood in the doorway
and closed his eyes

His cape sweeping the floor
--Michael Dickman

"Letter to the Woman Who Stopped Writing Me Back"
I wanted you to be the first to know - Harper & Row
has agreed to publish my collected letters to you.

The tentative title is Exorcist in the Gym of Futility.

Unfortunately I never mailed the best one,
which certainly was one of a kind.

A mutual friend told me that when I quit drinking,

I surrendered my identity in your eyes.

Now I'm just like everybody else, and it's so funny,

the way monogamy is funny, the way
someone falling down in the street is funny.

I entered a revolving door and emerged
as a human being. When you think of me
is my face electronically blurred?

I remember your collarbone, forming the tiniest
satellite dish in the universe, your smile
as the place where parallel lines inevitably crossed.

Now dinosaurs freeze to death on your shoulder.

I remember your eyes: fifty attack dogs on a single leash,
how I once held the soft audience of your hand.

I've been ignored by prettier women than you,
but none who carried the heavy pitchers of silence
so far, without spilling a drop.
--Jeffrey McDaniel

"Two Countries"
Skin remembers how long the years grow
when skin is not touched, a gray tunnel
of singleness, feather lost from the tail
of a bird, swirling onto a step,
swept away by someone who never saw
it was a feather. Skin ate, walked,
slept by itself, knew how to raise a
see-you-later hand. But skin felt
it was never seen, never known as
a land on the map, nose like a city,
hip like a city, gleaming dome of the mosque
and the hundred corridors of cinnamon and rope.

Skin had hope, that's what skin does.
Heals over the scarred place, makes a road.
Love means you breathe in two countries.
And skin remembers--silk, spiny grass,
deep in the pocket that is skin's secret own.
Even now, when skin is not alone,
it remembers being alone and thanks something larger
that there are travelers, that people go places
larger than themselves.
--Naomi Shihab Nye

I stopped too long
in the forest, it's important to appear,
not talk so much. Then one
might as well be the sort of wardrobe they
have in country hotels. One picks
something up and lets it go again. Muddle,
contradictions are all I see. Before, I
owned some books, a green room. And through
the darkness shines: I studied long
ago at a wonderful faculty. Near here
there's a lake that makes the passer-by
giddy, its surface seems to hover over the
low shore. It is painful not to remember
with pain any more. And I caught sight of
them, I saw for a moment how terrified
they were: the hunters at the edge of the night.
--Tua Forsström, translated from the Swedish by David McDuff

"Human beings, atom-splitters and moon-striders, serenaders, sonneteers, they want to be gods, but they are animals, with bodies that once belonged to fish."
--Martin Amis

"With me, the present is forever, and forever is always shifting, flowing, melting. This second is life. And when it is gone it is dead. But you can't start over with each new second. You have to judge by what is dead. It's like quicksand ... hopeless from the start. A story, a picture, can renew sensation a little, but not enough, not enough. Nothing is real except the present, and already, I feel the weight of centuries smothering me. Some girl a hundred years ago once lived as I do. And she is dead. I am the present, but I know I, too, will pass. The high moment, the burning flash, come and are gone, continuous quicksand. And I don't want to die."
--Sylvia Plath

"Here am I"
We all wanted that high school sweetheart
We wanted to be young in the fifties with meatloafs and sock hops
and lawns so perfect they looked like Clark Gable was kissing them

We wanted to be thirteen and alive and meet a girl that was thirteen and alive
and walk with her pass the grandstands
to sit and hold hands with to sit and kiss with to sit and sit with
but that never happened

We wanted to be poor but not too poor
connecting this country like Kerouac and thumbs
winking at small town waitresses
pulling them into back seats and trailer park homes
where the two of you would find passion expanding
between the locking of your bones
and morning would come to find you out on the road
with your pockets empty but for your hands
but your hands they'd be overflowing with your soul
but that's not what happened

We once climbed into beds like the day was a hard mountain
and the sheets were a valley where dinosaurs still lived
and how we would explore them with a flashlight
catching them between pages and pictures
of triceratops and brontosauruses
but even he was opened up with the smoke of the houses
on the corners we once climbed through
the streets and footballs with which we once threw
the school desks upon which we once drew
the windows that sat open through which we once flew
before the outside world
of parking spaces and dead friends came flooding on in
and we forgot what we wanted
and became what we become:
waitresses and bartenders
city employees and temp positions
grown children and dead adults
we are junkies and one kiss poems
and we cry the stars

We write our scars onto dumpsters and electric boxes
because the only thing we can hear is our hearts
and the only ones listening are the streets
to the blood that breathes through the letters we leave
we try to rise up out of these burning buildings
but instead get buried somewhere beneath
because I know my life my life is a high school kid's notebook
that kid that goes back and forth between school and home
stacking the letters and the pictures
into sentences that save him
stacked too close for anyone outside of his own imagination to read
because it's through the ink that his heart beats
that his heart breathes

And we all just wanted to just write these notes:
check if you like me check if you don't
check if you'll date me check if you won't
because we all wanted the love songs to be true
and we all loved dinosaurs once
and we all wanted the stars
to hold our hands to lick the teeth to fuck us
but they end up fucking us

So let your smile twist
like my heart dancing precariously on the edge of my finger tips
staining them that same high school kid
licking his thoughts using his sharpie tip
I wuz here motherfuckers
and ain't none of yall can write that in the spot that I just wrote it in
I am here motherfucker
and we all here motherfucker
and we all motherfuckers motherfucker
because every breath I give brings me a second closer
to the day that my mother may die
and every breath I take takes me a second further
from the moment she caught my father's eye
because every word I carry is another stone to put into place
in the foundation I'm building to ease the days
and help erase something I never saw:
what all of us wanted and what none of us got
what we all had and have and what we all forgot
that we all became something
and it may not be what we once thought it'd be when we were kids
but something is still something
and like some cats say
something's better then nothing
feet are smarter than an engine
dreams are stronger than thighs
and questions are the only answers we need
to know that we're still as alive as the time when I held the mind of a child
asking why is 2 + 3 equal to 5?
Where do people go when they die?
What made the beauty of the moon? the beauty of the sea?
Did that beauty make you did that beauty make me?
Will it make me something?
Will I be something
Am I something?
And the answer comes:

I already am
I always was
and you still have time to be
--Anis Mojgani

"Those who saw him hushed. On Church Street. Liberty. Cortlandt. West Street. Fulton. Vesey. It was a silence that heard itself, awful and beautiful. Some thought at first that it must have been a trick of the light, something to do with the weather, an accident of shadowfall. Others figured it might be the perfect city joke--stand around and point upward, until people gathered, tilted their heads, nodded, affirmed, until all were staring upward at nothing at all, like waiting for the end of a Lenny Bruce gag. But the longer they watched, the surer they were. He stood at the very edge of the building, shaped dark against the gray of the morning. A window washer maybe. Or a construction worker. Or a jumper.

"Up there, at the height of a hundred and ten stories, utterly still, a dark toy against the cloudy sky.

"He could only be seen at certain angles so that the watchers had to pause at street corners, find a gap between buildings, or meander from the shadows to get a view unobstructed by cornicework, gargoyles, balustrades, roof edges. None of them had yet made sense of the line strung at his feet from one tower to the other. Rather, it was the manshape that held them there, their necks craned, torn between the promise of doom and the disappointment of the ordinary.

"It was the dilemma of the watchers: they didn't want to wait around for nothing at all, some idiot standing on the precipice of the towers, but they didn't want to miss the moment either, if he slipped, or got arrested, or dove, arms stretched.

"Around the watchers, the city still made its everyday noises. Car horns. Garbage trucks. Ferry whistles. The thrum of the subway. The M22 bus pulled in against the sidewalk, braked, sighed down into a pothole. A flying chocolate wrapper touched against a fire hydrant. Taxi doors slammed. Bits of trash sparred in the darkest reaches of the alleyways. Sneakers found their sweetspots. The leather of briefcases rubbed against trouserlegs. A few umbrella tips clinked against the pavement. Revolving doors pushed quarters of conversation out into the street.

"But the watchers could have taken all the sounds and smashed them down into a single noise and still they wouldn't have heard much at all: even when they cursed, it was done quietly, reverently.


"The man above remained rigid, and yet his mystery was mobile. He stood beyond the railing of the observation deck of the south tower--at any moment he might just take off."
--Colum McCann, Let the Great World Spin

"What Corrigan wanted was a fully believable God, one you could find in the grime of the everyday. The comfort he got from the hard, cold truth--the filth, the war, the poverty--was that life could be capable of small beauties. He wasn't interested in the glorious tales of the afterlife or the notions of a honey-soaked heaven. To him that was a dressing room for hell. Rather he consoled himself with the fact that, in the real world, when he looked closely into the darkness he might find the presence of a light, damaged and bruised, but a little light all the same. He wanted, quite simply, for the world to be a better place, and he was in the habit of hoping for it. Out of that came some sort of triumph that went beyond theological proof, a cause for optimism against all the evidence.

" 'Someday the meek might actually want it,' he said."
--Colum McCann

" 'You ever have the feeling there's a stray something or other inside you?' he said. 'You don't know what it is, like a ball, or a stone, could be iron or cotton or grass or anything, but it's inside you. It's not a fire or a rage or anything. Just a big ball. And there's no way to get at it?' He cut himself short, looked away, tapped the left side of his chest. 'Well, here it is. Right here.'

"We seldom know what we're hearing when we hear something for the first time, but one thing is certain: we hear it as we will never hear it again. We return to the moment to experience it, I suppose, but we can never really find it, only its memory, the faintest imprint of what it really was, what it meant."
--Colum McCann

"Our mother used to like to use a gambit in the telling of her stories: 'Once upon a time and long ago, in fact so long ago that I couldn't have been there, and if I had been there, I could not be here, but I am here, and I wasn't there, but I'll tell you anyway: Once upon a time and long ago...' whereupon she would launch into a story of her own creation, fables that sent my brother and me to different places, and we would wake in the morning wondering if we had dreamed different parts of the same dream, or if we had duplicated each other, or if in some strange world our dreams had overlapped and switched places with each other, something I would have done easily after I heard about Corrigan's smash into the guardrail: Teach me, brother, how to live.

"We have all heard of these things before. The love letter arriving as the teacup falls. The guitar striking up as the last breath sounds out. I don't attribute it to God or to sentiment. Perhaps it's chance. Or perhaps chance is just another way to try to convince ourselves that we are valuable."
--Colum McCann

"She wanted to tell him so much, on the tarmac, the day he left. The world is run by brutal men and the surest proof is their armies. If they ask you to stand still, you should dance. If they ask you to burn the flag, wave it. If they ask you to murder, re-create. Theorem, anti-theorem, corollary, anti-corollary. Underline it twice. It's all there in the numbers."
--Colum McCann

"Coming to the city was like entering a tunnel, he said, and finding to your surprise that the light at the end didn't matter; sometimes in fact the tunnel made the light tolerable."
--Colum McCann

"One afternoon he was astounded by a coyote stepping through the snow and jumping playfully just under his wire. At its lowest point in summer the wire had been fifteen feet in the air, but the snow was so deep now that the coyote could have leaped over.

"After a while he went to put some wood in the stove and then suddenly the coyote was gone, like an apparition. He was sure he had dreamed it, except when he looked through binoculars there were still some paw marks in the snow. He went out in the cold to the path he had dug in the snow, wearing only boots, jeans, a lumber shirt, a scarf. He climbed the pegs in the pole, walked the wire without a balancing pole, and traveled out to meet the tracks. The whiteness thrilled him. It seemed to him that it was like stepping along the spine of a horse toward a cool lake. The snow reinstructed the light, bent it, colored it, bounced it. He was exuberant, almost stoned. I should jump inside and swim. Dive into it. He put one foot out and then hopped, arms stretched, palms flat. But in midflight he realized what he'd done. He didn't even have time to curse. The snow was crisp and dense, and he had jumped feet-first off the wire, like a man into a pool. I should just have fallen backward, given myself a different form. He was chest-deep in it and could not get out. Trapped, he tried swishing back and forth. His legs felt wrong, neither heavy nor light. He was encased, a cell of snow. He broke free with his elbows and tried to grab the wire above him but he was too far down. The snow leaked along his ankle, down into his boots. His shirt had ridden up on his body. It was like landing in a cold wet skin. He could feel the crystals on his ribcage, his navel, his chest. It was his business to live, to fight for it--it would be, he thought, his whole life's work just to get himself out of there. He gritted his teeth and tried inching himself upward. A long, tugging pain in his body. He sank back into his original form. The threat of gray sunset coming down. The far line of trees like sentries, watching.

"He was the sort of man who could do chin-ups on one finger, but there was nothing to reach for--the wire was out of his grasp. There was the momentary thought of remaining there, frozen, until a thaw came, and he'd descend with the thaw until he was fifteen feet under the wire again, rotting, the slowest sort of falling, until he reached the ground, perhaps even gnawed at by the same coyote he admired.

"His hands were fully free and he warmed them by tightening and untightening. He removed the scarf from his neck, slowly, in measured motion--he knew his heart would be slowing in the cold--and he looped the wire with it and tugged. Little beads of snow shook from the scarf. He could feel the scarf threads stretch. He knew the wire, the soul of it: it would not betray him, but the scarf, he thought, was old and worn. It could stretch or rip. Kicking his feet out beneath him, through the snow, making room, looking for somewhere compact. Don't fall backward. Each time he rose, the scarf stretched. He clawed upward and pulled himself higher. It was possible now. The sun had dipped all the way behind the trees. He made circles with his feet to loosen them, pushed his body sideways through the snow, exploded upward, tore his right foot from the snow and swung his leg, touched the wire, found grace.

"He pulled his body onto the cable, kneeled, then lay a moment, looked at the sky, felt the cable become his spinal cord.

"Never again did he walk in the snow: he allowed that sort of beauty to remind him of what could happen. He hung the scarf on a hook on the door and the next night he saw the coyote again, sniffing aimlessly around where his imprint still lay."
--Colum McCann

"Within seconds he was pureness moving, and he could do anything he liked. He was inside and outside his body at the same time, indulging in what it meant to belong to the air, no future, no past, and this gave him the offhand vaunt to his walk. He was carrying his life from one side to the other. On the lookout for the moment when he wasn't even aware of his breath.

"The core reason for it all was beauty. Walking was a divine delight. Everything was rewritten when he was up in the air. New things were possible with the human form. It went beyond equilibrium.

"He felt for a moment uncreated. Another kind of awake."
--Colum McCann

"The theater began shortly after lunch. His fellow judges and court officers and reporters and even the stenographers were already talking about it as if it were another of those things that just happened in the city. One of those out-of-the-ordinary days that made sense of the slew of ordinary days. New York had a way of doing that. Every now and then the city shook its soul out. It assailed you with an image, or a day, or a crime, or a terror, or a beauty so difficult to wrap your mind around that you had to shake your head in disbelief.

"He had a theory about it. It happened, and re-happened, because it was a city uninterested in history. Strange things occurred precisely because there was no necessary regard for the past. The city lived in a sort of everyday present. It had no need to believe in itself as a London, or an Athens, or even a signifier of the New World, like a Sydney, or a Los Angeles. No, the city couldn't care less about where it stood. He had seen a T-shirt once that said: NEW YORK FUCKIN' CITY. As if it were the only place that ever existed and the only one that ever would."
--Colum McCann

"He stirs in his sleep. His lips are dry. The white sheets move with his body. A man's beard is a weather line: an intersperse of light and dark, a flurry of gray at the chin, a dark hollow beneath his lip. It amazes me how it darkens him, this morning beard, how it has grown in such a short time, even the little flecks of gray where there was none the night before.

"The thing about love is that we come alive in bodies not our own."
--Colum McCann

"One of the most beautiful things I ever saw--still, to this day--was the sight of my father getting ready to go fishing one afternoon with some friends he'd made at the local corner store. He bumbled his way around the house, packing. My mother didn't want him to carry any of it, not even the rod and tackle, for fear it might strain him. He slammed more tackle into the the picnic basket and shouted that he'd carry any damn thing he wanted. He even loaded the basket with extra beer and tuna-fish sandwiches for his friends. When a whistle came from outside, he turned and kissed her at the door, tapped her rear end, and whispered something in her ear. Mama snapped her head back and laughed, and I figured years later that it must've been something good and rude. She watched him go until he was almost out of sight beyond the corner, then she came back inside and got on her knees--she wasn't a godly woman, mind; she used to say that the heart's future was in a spadeful of dirt--but she began praying for rain, an all-out serious prayer that might bring my father back quickly so she could be with him.

"That was the sort of everyday love I had to learn to contend with: if you grow up with it, it's hard to think you'll ever match it. I used to think it was difficult for children of folks who really loved each other, hard to get out from under that skin because sometimes it's just so comfortable you don't want to have to develop your own.

"I will not for the life of me forget the sign they painted for me a few years later, after I'd lost two of my brothers in the Second World War over Anzio, and after the bombs had been dropped on Japan, after the speeches and the glad-handing. I was on my way up north to attend college in Syracuse, New York, and they had written on a little sign with my father's favorite paint, the precious gold that he kept for high-class jobs, and they held it up at the bus station, the placard built strong like a kite with a diamond-shaped back so it wouldn't flap in the wind: COME HOME SOON, GLORIA.

"I didn't come home soon. I didn't come home at all. Not then, at least. I stayed up north, not so much running wild as having my head in books, and then my heart in a quick marriage, and then my soul in a sling, and then my head and heart in my own three little boys, and letting the years slip by, like folk do, watching my ankles puff up, and the next time I truly came home, to Missouri, years later, I was freedom-riding on the buses, and hearing stories about the police dragging out the water cannons, and I could hear my mother's voice in my ears: Gloria, you've done nothing all this time, nothing at all, where have you been, what have you done, why didn't you come back, didn't you know I was praying for rain?"
--Colum McCann

"Everything falls into the hands of music eventually. The only thing that ever rescued me was listening to a big voice. There are years accumulated in a sound. I took to listening on the radio every Sunday and spent whatever extra grief money the government gave me on tickets to the Metropolitan. I felt like I had a room full of voices. The music pouring out over the Bronx. I sometimes turned the stereo so loud the neighbors complained. I bought earphones. Huge ones that covered half my head. I wouldn't even look at myself in the mirror. But there was a medicine in it."
--Colum McCann

"The photo was taken on the same day her mother died--it was one of the reasons she was attracted to it in the first place: the sheer fact that such beauty had occurred at the same time. She had found it, yellowing and torn, in a garage sale in San Francisco four years ago. At the bottom of a box of photographs. The world delivers its surprises. She bought it, got it framed, kept it with her as she went form hotel to hotel.

"A man high in the air while a plane disappears, it seems, into the edge of the building. One small scrap of history meeting a larger one. As if the walking man were somehow anticipating what would come later. The intrusion of time and history. The collision point of stories. We wait for the explosion but it never occurs. The plane passes, the tightrope walker gets to the end of the wire. Things don't fall apart.

"It strikes her as an enduring moment, the man alone against scale, still capable of myth in the face of all other evidence. It has become one of her favorite possessions--her suitcase would feel wrong without it, as if it were missing a latch. When she travels she always tucks the photo in tissue paper along with the other mementoes: a set of pearls, a lock of her sister's hair."
--Colum McCann

"A pull on the sheets. Jaslyn looks down as Claire moves her left hand. The fingers go up and down as if playing a piano. The yellow rufflework of age. The person we know at first, she thinks, is not the one we know at last.

"A clock sounds.

"Little else to distract attention from the evening, just a clock, in a time not too distant from the present time, yet a time not too distant from the past, the unaccountable unfolding of consequence into tomorrow's time, the simple things, the grain of bedwood alive in light, the slight argument of dark still left in the old woman's hair, the ray of moisture on the plastic lifebag, the curl of the braided flower petal, the chipped edge of a photo frame, the rim of a mug, the mark of a stray tea line along its edge, a crossword puzzle sitting unfinished, the yellow of a pencil dangling over the edge of the table, one end sharpened, the eraser in midair. Fragments of a human order. Jaslyn turns the pencil around to safety, then rises, rounds the far end of the bed, toward the window. Her hands on the windowsill. She parts the curtains a little more, opens the triangle, lifts the window frame minutely, feels the curl of breeze on her skin: the ash, the dust, the light now pressing the dark out of things. We stumble on, now, we drain the light from the dark, to make it last. She lifts the window higher. Sounds outside, growing clearer in the silence, traffic at first, machine hum, cranework, playgrounds, children, the tree branches down on the avenue slapping each other around.

"The curtain falls back but still a corridor of brightness has opened up on the carpet. Jaslyn steps to the bed again, takes off her shoes, drops them. Claire parts her lips ever so slightly. Not a word, but a difference in her breathing, a measured grace.

"We stumble on, thinks Jaslyn, bring a little noise into the silence, find in others the ongoing of ourselves. It is almost enough."
--Colum McCann
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Folklore develops most rapidly and with the most diversity among populations of the powerless. Given a lack of ability to affect the world around us and a lack of information about causation, humans tend to kick into high explanatory gear, propitiating unseen forces, insisting that wearing this color will bring bad fortune, this color good, seeking to order a disordered universe. This is part of why fairy tales are considered to be for children--children are engines of folklore, throwing any explanation for a baffling universe over which they have no influence at all at the wall to see what sticks. Fairy tales tell them how to grow up and survive, what the psychological rules are--but that's never enough. Kids make their own. So do other powerless populations both extreme and quotidian: victims of totalitarian regimes and natural disasters, runaways, the rural and urban poor, medical students have endless bizarre rituals, and of course writers participate in their own versions of sacrifice, bargaining with unfeeling gods, and sympathetic magic. The relative powerlessness of the medieval person--not the protagonists, the Black Princes and Joans and Aquinases, but the actual man or even monk on the ground, did create an extraordinarily rich narrative patchwork of Christian, pagan, folk magic, science, half-forgotten philosophy, and political determinism that starkly and strongly informs what we now recognize as the object known as a fairy tale. Something about those stories goes straight to the deep narrative brain, and because we modern and very civilized kittens conceive of the medieval era as somewhat vague and eventless on a macro level if not the micro, a broad grassy plain of peasants in ruddy health, noble kings, women who'd never heard the word feminism, with the dark wood just beyond to provide story and threat and the scintillating thrill of the Other, placing fairy tales there makes them feel somewhat non-specific, and therefore universal."
--Catherynne M. Valente, "Dragon Bad, Sword Pretty" (here)

"Quarter to Six"
and the house swept with the colors of dusk,
I set the table with plates and lace. In these minutes
left to myself, before the man and child scuff at the doorstep
and come in, I think of you and wonder what I would say
if I could write. Would I tell you how I avoid his eyes,
this man I've learned to live with, afraid
of what he doesn't know about me. That I've finished
a pack of cigarettes in one sitting, to ready myself
for dinner, when my hands will waver over a plate of fish
as my daughter grows up normal in the chair beside me. Missy,

this is what's become of the wedding you swore you'd come to
wearing black. That was back in 1970 as we sat on the bleached
floor of the sanitarium sharing a cigarette you'd won
in a game of pool. You said even school was better
than this ward, where they placed the old men
in their draped pants, the housewives screaming in loud
flowered shifts as they clung to the doors that lined the halls.
When we ate our dinner of fish and boiled potatoes,
it was you who nudged me under the table
as the thin man in striped pajamas climbed
the chair beside me in his bare feet, his pink-tinged urine
making soup of my leftovers. With my eyes locked on yours,
I watched you keep eating. So I lifted my fork
to my open mouth, jello quivering green
against the tines, and while I trusted you and chewed
on nothing, he leapt into the arms of the night nurse
and bit open the side of her face. You had been there

longer, knew the ropes, how to take the sugar-coated pill
and slip it into the side pocket in your mouth, pretend
to swallow it down in drowsy gulps while
the white-frocked nurse eyed the clockface above our heads.
You tapped messages into the wall while I wept, struggling
to remember the code, snuck in after bedcount,
with cigarettes, blew the blue smoke through the barred windows.
We traded stories, our military fathers:
yours locking you in a closet for the days it took
to chew ribbons of flesh from your fingers, a coat
pulled over your head; mine, who worked
his ringed fingers inside me while the house
slept, my face pressed into the pillow, my fists
knotted into the sheets. Some nights

I can't eat. The dining room fills
with their chatter, my hand stuffed with the glint
of a fork and the safety of butter knives
quiet at the sides of our plates. If I could write you now,
I'd tell you I wonder how long I can go on with this careful
pouring of the wine from the bottle, straining to catch it
in the fragile glass. Tearing open my bread, I see

the scar, stiches laced up to the root of your arm, the flesh messy
where you grabbed at it with the broken glass of an ashtray.
That was the third time. And later you laughed
when they twisted you into the white strapped jacket
demanding you vomit the pills. I imagined you
in the harsh light of a bare bulb where you took
the needle without flinching, retched
when the ipecac hit you, your body shelved over
the toilet and no one to hold your hair
from your face. I don't know

where your hands are now, the fingers that filled my mouth
those nights you tongued me open in the broken light
that fell through chicken-wired windows. The intern
found us and wretched us apart, the half-moon of your breast
exposed as you spit on him. "Now you're going to get it,"
he hissed through his teeth and you screamed "Get what?"
As if there was anything anyone could give you.
If I could write you now, I'd tell you

I still see your face, bone-white as my china
above the black velvet cape you wore to my wedding
twelve years ago, the hem of your black crepe skirt
brushing up the dirty rice swirls
as you swept down the reception line to kiss me.
"Now you're going to get it," you whispered,
cupping my cheek in your hand.
--Dorianne Laux

"Think of something that you said. Now write
what you wish you had said." --William Stafford


I wish I had said nothing.
Had not returned the call.
Had left the call dangling, a shirt from one pin.

And settled into the deep pink streaks of sundown
without a single word flying from my mouth.
The thousand small birds of January

in their smooth, soaring cloud
finding the trees.

Or if I had to say something,
only a tiny tiny thing. A well-shaped phrase.
Smoothed off at the edges like a child's wooden
That nobody would get a splinter from.

No one has a deep wish to quote you accurately.
They want a good story.
It is not your story, really. It is theirs.
So they do not care if they run the four sentences
you said
(one that you really said, then three loose ones you
their chatty questions with)
into one sentence as if you said all that
together. Like a speech.
It sounds good to them.
They do not care
how it sounds to you.

And you will have to live with it.
Foolishness ringing in your head.
Will not be able to sleep.
Nights on end. Nights standing on ends
like tops spun on pointy heads.
Will hate yourself for forgetting
this is what reporters do.
Will feel sudden sympathy for movie stars.
They do not care about you either.
But they have seen their words and silences defiled.
Will promise never again to answer questions
dashed across a phone line. Write it down.
Always write it down. Say it slowly. Say it
the way you learned words. Say it
as if words still count.
One two. The shoe still has
a buckle.
--Naomi Shihab Nye

"The City"
You said: "I'll go to another country, go to another shore,
find another city better than this one.
Whatever I try to do is fated to turn out wrong
and my heart lies buried like something dead.
How long can I let my mind moulder in this place?
Wherever I turn, wherever I look,
I see the black ruins of my life, here,
where I've spent so many years, wasted them, destroyed them totally."

You won't find a new country, won't find another shore.
This city will always pursue you.
You'll walk the same streets, grow old
in the same neighborhoods, turn gray in these same houses.
You'll always end up in this city. Don't hope for things elsewhere:
there's no ship for you, there's no road.
Now that you've wasted your life here, in this small corner,
you've destroyed it everywhere in the world.
--Constantine P. Cavafy, translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard

"Lady Lazarus"
I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it--

A sort of walking miracle, my skin
Bright as a Nazi lampshade,
My right foot

A paperweight,
My face a featureless, fine
Jew linen.

Peel off the napkin
O my enemy.
Do I terrify?--

The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?
The sour breath
Will vanish in a day.

Soon, soon the flesh
The grave cave ate will be
At home on me

And I a smiling woman.
I am only thirty.
And like the cat I have nine times to die.

This is Number Three.
What a trash
To annihilate each decade.

What a million filaments.
The peanut-crunching crowd
Shoves in to see

Them unwrap me hand and foot--
The big strip tease.
Gentlemen, ladies

These are my hands
My knees.
I may be skin and bone,

Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.
The first time it happened I was ten.
It was an accident.

The second time I meant
To last it out and not come back at all.
I rocked shut

As a seashell.
They had to call and call
And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.

Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I've a call.

It's easy enough to do it in a cell.
It's easy enough to do it and stay put.
It's the theatrical

Comeback in broad day
To the same place, the same face, the same brute
Amused shout:

'A miracle!'
That knocks me out.
There is a charge

For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge
For the hearing of my heart--
It really goes.

And there is a charge, a very large charge
For a word or a touch
Or a bit of blood

Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.
So, so, Herr Doktor.
So, Herr Enemy.

I am your opus,
I am your valuable,
The pure gold baby

That melts to a shriek.
I turn and burn.
Do not think I underestimate your great concern.

Ash, ash--
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there--

A cake of soap,
A wedding ring,
A gold filling.

Herr God, Herr Lucifer

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.
--Sylvia Plath

"Last Night as I Was Sleeping"
Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt--marvelous error!--
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt--marvelous error!--
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt--marvelous error!--
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.

Last night as I slept,
I dreamt--marvelous error!--
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.
--Antonio Machado, translated by Robert Bly
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"The Mother Writes to the Murderer: A Letter"
To you whose brain is a blunt fist
pushed deep inside your skull
whose eyes are empty bullets
whose mouth is a stone more speechless
than lost stones at the bottoms of rivers
who lives in a shrunken world where nothing blooms
and no promise is ever kept

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

You don't know where she hid her buttons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

how many doors I still will have to open

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

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

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

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

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

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

The dark hangs heavily
Over the eyes.
--Gwendolyn Brooks
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Making a Fist"
For the first time, on the road north of Tampico,
I felt the life sliding out of me,
a drum in the desert, harder and harder to hear.
I was seven, I lay in the car
watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past the glass.
My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin.

"How do you know if you are going to die?"
I begged my mother.
We had been traveling for days.
With strange confidence she answered,
"When you can no longer make a fist."

Years later I smile to think of that journey,
the borders we must cross separately,
stamped with our unanswerable woes.
I who did not die, who am still living,
still lying in the backseat behind all my questions,
clenching and opening one small hand.
--Naomi Shihab Nye
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Wandering around an Albuquerque Airport Terminal"
After learning my flight was detained for hours,
I heard the announcement:
If anyone in the vicinity of gate 4-A understands any Arabic,
Please come to the gate immediately.

Well--one pauses these days. Gate 4-A was my own gate. I went there.
An older woman in full traditional Palestinian dress,
Just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly.
Help, said the flight service person. Talk to her. What is her
Problem? we told her the flight was going to be four hours late and she
Did this.

I put my arm around her and spoke to her haltingly.
Shu dow-a, shu- biduck habibti, stani stani schway, min fadlick,
Sho bit se-wee?

The minute she heard any words she knew--however poorly used--
She stopped crying.

She thought our flight had been canceled entirely.
She needed to be in El Paso for some major medical treatment the
Following day. I said no, no, we're fine, you'll get there, just late,

Who is picking you up? Let's call him and tell him.
We called her son and I spoke with him in English.
I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and
Would ride next to her--southwest.

She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it.

Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and
Found out of course they had ten shared friends.

Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian
Poets I know and let them chat with her. This all took up about two hours.

She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life. Answering

She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies--little powdered
Sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts--out of her bag--
And was offering them to all the woman at the gate.

To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a
Sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the traveler from California,
The lovely woman from Laredo--we were all covered with the same
Powdered sugar. And smiling. There are no better cookies.

And then the airline broke out the free beverages from huge coolers--
Non-alcoholic--and the two little girls for our flight, one African
American, one Mexican American--ran around serving us all apple juice
And lemonade and they were covered with powdered sugar too.

And I noticed my new best friend--by now we were holding hands--
Had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing,

With green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling tradition. Always
Carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.

And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought,
This is the world I want to live in. The shared world.

Not a single person in this gate--once the crying of confusion stopped
--has seemed apprehensive about any other person.

They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too.
This can still happen anywhere.

Not everything is lost.
--Naomi Shihab Nye
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Eating Poetry"
Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.

The librarian does not believe what she sees.
Her eyes are sad
and she walks with her hands in her dress.

The poems are gone.
The light is dim.
The dogs are on the basement stairs and coming up.

Their eyeballs roll,
their blond legs burn like brush.
The poor librarian begins to stamp her feet and weep.

She does not understand.
When I get on my knees and lick her hand,
she screams.

I am a new man.
I snarl at her and bark.
I romp with joy in the bookish dark.
--Mark Strand

"The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars..."
--Jack Kerouac

"So Much Happiness"
It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness.
With sadness there is something to rub against,
a wound to tend with lotion and cloth.
When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to pick up,
something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs or change.

But happiness floats.
It doesn't need you to hold it down.
It doesn't need anything.
Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing,
and disappears when it wants to.
You are happy either way.
Even the fact that you once lived in a peaceful tree house
and now live over a quarry of noise and dust
cannot make you unhappy.
Everything has a life of its own,
it too could wake up filled with possibilities
of coffee cake and ripe peaches,
and love even the floor which needs to be swept,
the soiled linens and scratched records...

Since there is no place large enough
to contain so much happiness,
you shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you
into everything you touch. You are not responsible.
You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit
for the moon, but continues to hold it, and share it,
and in that way, be known.
--Naomi Shihab Nye
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you hold in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes any sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out in the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
--Naomi Shihab Nye
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Valentine for Ernest Mann"

You can't order a poem like you order a taco.
Walk up to the counter, say, "I'll take two"
and expect it to be handed back to you
on a shiny plate.

Still, I like your spirit.
Anyone who says, "Here's my address,
write me a poem," deserves something in reply.
So I'll tell you a secret instead:
poems hide in the bottoms of our shoes,
they are sleeping. They are the shadows
drifting across our ceilings the moment
before we wake up. What we have to do
is live in a way that lets us find them.

Once I knew a man who gave his wife
two skunks for a valentine.
He couldn't understand why she was crying.
"I thought they had such beautiful eyes."
And he was serious. He was a serious man
who lived in a serious way. Nothing was ugly
just because the world said so. He really
liked those skunks. So, he reinvented them
as valentines and they became beautiful.
At least, to him. And the poems that had been
in the eyes of the skunks for centuries
crawled out and curled up at his feet.

Maybe if we re-invent whatever our lives give us
we find poems. Check your garage, the odd
in your drawer, the person you almost like,
but not quite.
And let me know.
--Naomi Shihab Nye


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November 2015



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