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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

I am on
            leaving it, no
                         longer to be

designated human or
            corpse: cadaver
                         it will be,

nameless patient
           stored in
                        the deep hold

of the hospital
           as in the storage
                       of a ghost ship

run aground —
          the secret in it
                       that will,

perhaps, stir again
          the wind that
                       failed. It

will be preserved,
          kept like larva,
                       like a bullet

sealed gleaming
          in its chamber.
                       They will gather

around it,
          probe and sample,
                        argue — then

return it
          to its between-
                        world, remove

their aprons
          and gloves
                        and stroll, some evenings,

a city block
           for a beer,
                        a glass of chilled

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

what they
           glean from beneath
                        the narrative

of scars, surgical
           cavities, the
                        wondrous

mess it became
           before I left it
                        to them

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

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

---Claudia Emerson


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


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

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

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

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

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

I cannot tell—

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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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


"Why we don't die"

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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

Act II, Scene I

Open, A girl in a garden.

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

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

Act II, Scene II

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

Act III, Scene I

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

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

Epilogue

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


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

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

*

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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

---Claude McKay


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


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

---Katie Ford


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


"I have a little talk I give sometimes about windows and mirrors, that children—and humans, everybody—all need both windows and mirrors in their lives: mirrors through which you can see yourself and windows through which you can see the world."
---Lucille Clifton, qtd. by Marci Vogel in "Line of Sight: Lineage as Vision"
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Anger is better. There is a sense of being in anger. A reality and presence. An awareness of worth. It is a lovely surging."
--Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

[...]

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

*

Pointing to herself:

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

the blue rotunda
lifted over
the flat street--

and then, after a silence:

*

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

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

*

It is not finally
interesting to remember.
The damage

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

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

*

I have to imagine
everything
she said

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

when you were a child--

*

And then:

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

distorted it--

*

I want she said
a theory that explains
everything

in the mother's eye
the invisible
splinter of foil

the blue ice
locked in the iris--

*

Then:

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

*

Blue sky, blue ice,
street like a frozen river


you're talking
about my life
she said

*

except
she said
you have to fix it

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

*

a black space
showing
where the word ends

like a crossword saying
you should take a breath now

the black space meaning
when you were a child--

*

And then:

the ice
was there for your own protection

to teach you
not to feel--

the truth
she said

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

the center--

*

Cold light filling the room.

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

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

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

*

Just think
the sun was there, in that bare place

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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

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


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


"Some people--and I am one of them--hate happy endings. We feel cheated. Harm is the norm. Doom should not jam. The avalanche stopping in its tracks a few feet above the cowering village behaves not only unnaturally but unethically."
--Vladimir Nabokov, Pnin
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"It's so hard to forget pain, but it's even harder to remember sweetness. We have no scar to show for happiness. We learn so little from peace."
--Chuck Palahniuk, Diary


"59"
Writing down verses, I got
a paper cut on my palm.
The cut extended my life line
by nearly one-fourth.
--Vera Pavlova


"i am a beggar always"
i am a beggar always
who begs in your mind

(slightly smiling, patient, unspeaking
with a sign on his
chest
BLIND)yes i

am this person of whom somehow
you are never wholly rid(and who

does not ask for more than
just enough dreams to
live on)
after all, kid

you might as well
toss him a few thoughts

a little love preferably,
anything which you can't
pass off on another people: for
instance a
plugged promise-

the he will maybe(hearing something
fall into his hat)go wandering
after it with fingers;till having

found
what was thrown away
himself
taptaptaps out of your brain, hopes, life
to(carefully turning a
corner)never bother you any more
--e. e. cummings


"War of the Foxes"
(i)

Two rabbits were chased by a fox, of all the crazy shit in the world, and the fox kept up the chase,
circling the world until the world caught up with them in some broken-down downtown metropolis.
Inside the warren, the rabbits think fast. Pip touches the only other rabbit listening.

Pip: We're doomed.
Flip: Oh Pip!
Pip: I know where you can hide.
Flip: Are you sure?
Pip: Yes. Here, hide inside me.

This is the story of Pip and Flip, the bunny twins. We say that once there were two and now there is
only one. When the fox sees Pip run past, he won't know that the one is inside the other. He'll think
Well, there's at least one more rabbit in that warren. But no one's left. You know this and I know this.
Together we trace out the trail away from doom. There isn't hope, there is a trail. I follow you.

When a rabbit meets a rabbit, one takes the time to tell the other this story. The rabbits then agree
there must be two rabbits, at least two rabbits, and that in turn there is a trace. I am only repeating
what I heard. This is one love. There are many loves but only one war.

Bird 1: This is the same story.
Bird 2: No, this is the rest of the story.

Let me tell you a story about war. A man found his life to be empty. He began to study Latin.
Latin was difficult for the man to understand. I will study Latin, even though it is difficult, said the man. Yes, even
if it is difficult.


Let me tell you a story about war. A man had a dream about a woman and then he met her. The man
had a dream about the woman's former lover. The former lover was sad, he wanted to fight. The
man said to the woman I will have to comfort your former lover or I will always be fighting him in my dreams. Yes,
said the woman. You will need to comfort him, or we will never be finished with this.

Let me tell you a story about war. A fisherman's son and his dead brother sat on the shore. That is my
country and this is your country and the line in the sand is the threshold between them,
said the dead brother. Yes,
said the fisherman's son.

You cannot have an opponent if you keep saying yes.

Bird 1: This is the wrong story.
Bird 2: All stories are the wrong story when you are impatient.

Let me tell you a story about war. A man says to another man Can I tell you something? The other man
says No. A man says to another man There is something I have to tell you. No, says the other man. No, you
don't.


Bird 1: Now we are getting somewhere.
Bird 2: Yes, yes we are.


(ii)

Let me tell you a story about war:

A boy spills a glass of milk and his father picks him up by the back of the shirt and throws him
against the wall. You killed my wife and you can't even keep a glass on the table. The wife had died of sadness,
by her own hand. The father walks out of the room and the room is almost empty.

The road outside the house lies flat on the ground. The ground surrenders.

The father works late. The dead wife's hand makes fishsticks while the boy sits in the corner where
he fell. The fish in the fishsticks think to themselves This is not what we meant to be.

Its roots in the ground and its branches in the air, a tree is pulled in two directions.

The wife has a dead hand. This is earlier. She is living and her dead hand feeds her pills that don't
work. The boy sleeps on the roof or falls out of trees. The father works late. The wife looks out the
window and thinks Not this.

The boy is a bird, bad bird. He falls out of trees.


(iii)

Let me tell you a story about war:

The fisherman's son serves drinks to sailors. He stands behind the bar. He listens closely for news of
his dead brother. The sailors are thirsty. They drink rum. Tell me a story, says the fisherman’s son.

"There is nothing interesting about the sea. The water is flat, flat and calm, it seems a sheet of glass.
You look at it, the more you look at it the more you feel like you are looking into your own head,
which is a stranger's head, empty. We listen to the sound with our equipment. I have learned to
understand this sound. When you look there is nothing, with the equipment there is sound. We sit in
rows and listen down the tunnels for the song. The song has red words in it. We write them down on
sheets of paper and pass them along. Sometimes there is noise and sometimes song and often there is
silence, the long tunnel, the sea like glass...

You are a translator, says the fisherman's son.
Yes, says the sailor.
And the sound is the voice of the enemy.
Yes, yes it is.



(iv)

Let me tell you a story about war:

They went to the museum and wandered the rooms. He saw a painting and stood in front of it for
too long. It was a few minutes before she realized he had gotten stuck. He was stuck looking at a
painting. She stood next to him, looking at his face and then the face in the painting. What do you see?
she asked. I don't know, he said. He didn't know. She was disappointed, then bored. He was looking at
a face and she was looking at her watch. This is where everything changed. There was now a distance
between them. He was looking at a face but it might as well have been a cabbage or a sugar beet.
Perhaps it was something about yellow near pink. He didn't know how to say it. Years later he still
didn't know how to say it, and she was gone.


(v)

Let me tell you a story about love:

There was a place on the floor where they could lie together, on the floor together, backs pressed to
the carpet, where they could look out the window together and see only the tops of the trees. They
would do this. They would lie on the floor and say things like Now we are in the country! or Oh, what a far
away place this is!
Then they would stand up and look out the window the way they usually did, the
houses reappearing in the window frame.

She had a soft voice and strong hands. When she sang she would seem too large for the room and
she would play guitar and sing which would make his chest feel huge. Sometimes he would touch her
knee and smile. Sometimes she would touch his face and close her eyes.


(vi)

Fox rounds the warren but there are no bunnies, jumps up with claws but there are no bunnies,
moves down the road but there are no bunnies. There are no bunnies. He chases a bird instead. All
wars are the same war. The bird flies away.


(vii)

The fisherman's son knows nothing worth stealing. Perhaps, perhaps.

He once put a cat in a cardboard box but she got out anyway. He once had a brother he lost to the
sea. Brother, dead brother, who speaks to him in dreams. These are a few things worth saying.

He knows that when you snap a mast it's time to get a set of oars or learn how to breathe
underwater. Rely on one thing too long and when it disappears and you have nothing...well, that's
just bad planning. It's embarrassing, to think it could never happen.

A man does work. A machine can, too. Power of agency, agent of what. This is a question we might
ask. An agent is a spy or not. A spy is a promise to God, hidden where only God can find it.

The agents meet at the chain link fence and tell each other stories. A whisper system. To testify
against yourself is an interesting thing, a sacrifice. Some people do it. Some people find money in the
street but you cannot rely on it. The fisherman's son is at the fence, standing there, waiting to see if
he is useful.

You cannot get in the way of anyone's path to God. You can, but is does no good. Every agent
knows this. Some say God is where we put our sorrow. God says Which one of you fuckers can get to me
first?


You cannot get in the way of anyone's path to happiness, it also does no good. The problem is
figuring out which part is the path and which part is the happiness.

It's a blessing, every day someone shows up at the fence. And when no one shows up, a different
kind of blessing. In the wrong light anyone can look like a darkness.
--Richard Siken


"Ola"

Joppa Churchyard
M.M 1915-1917


--egg-shaped, barely
consonantal. The road
hairpins and plunges,
but I can't stop myself
from stopping here:
sandstone, cedars,
the building's tilt
its eventual undoing.
Where are the things
you touched? Sunlight
through the toppling
chimney stones, a clump
of daffodils. Flute
note, bottle, breath
in a bone. You
matter. You still matter.
--Davis McCombs


"An Horation Notion"
The thing gets made, gets built, and you're the slave
who rolls the log beneath the block, then another,
then pushes the block, then pulls a log
from the rear back to the front
again and then again it goes beneath the block,
and so on. It's how a thing gets made--not
because you're sensitive, or you get genetic-lucky,
or God says: Here's a nice family,
seven children, let's see: this one in charge
of the village dunghill, these two die of buboes, this one
Kierkegaard, this one a drooling

nincompoop, this one clerk, this one cooper.
You need to love the thing you do--birdhouse building,
painting tulips exclusively, whatever--and then
you do it
so consciously driven
by your unconscious
that the thing becomes a wedge
that splits a stone and between the halves
the wedge then grows, i.e., the thing
is solid but with a soul,
a life of its own. Inspiration, the donnée,

the gift, the bolt of fire
down the arm that makes the art?
Grow up! Give me, please, a break!
You make the thing because you love the thing
and you love the thing because someone else loved it
enough to make you love it.
And with that your heart like a tent peg pounded
toward the earth's core.
And with that your heart on a beam burns
through the ionosphere.
And with that you go to work.
--Thomas Lux


"Dorothy Wordsworth"
The daffodils can go fuck themselves.
I’m tired of their crowds, yellow rantings
about the spastic sun that shines and shines
and shines. How are they any different

from me? I, too, have a big messy head
on a fragile stalk. I spin with the wind.
I flower and don’t apologize. There’s nothing
funny about good weather. Oh, spring again,

the critics nod. They know the old joy,
that wakeful quotidian, the dark plot
of future growing things, each one
labeled Narcissus nobilis or Jennifer Chang.

If I died falling from a helicopter, then
this would be an important poem. Then
the ex-boyfriends would swim to shore
declaiming their knowledge of my bulbous

youth. O, Flower, one said, why aren’t you
meat? But I won’t be another bashful shank.
The tulips have their nervous joie-de-vivre,
the lilacs their taunt. Fractious petals, stop

interrupting my poem with boring beauty.
All the boys are in the field gnawing raw
bones of ambition and calling it ardor. Who
the hell are they? This is a poem about war.
--Jennifer Chang


"Snowy Egret"
A boy walks out in the morning with a gun.
Bright air, the smell of grass and leaves
and reeds around the pond October smells.
A scent of apples from the orchard in the air.
A smell of ducks. Two cinnamon teal,
he thinks they are teal, the ones he'd seen
the night before as the pond darkened
and he'd thought the thought that the dark
was coming earlier. He is of an age
when the thought of winter is a sexual thought,
the having thoughts of one's own is sexual,
the two ducks muttering and gliding
toward the deeper reeds away from him,
as if distance were a natural courtesy,
is sexual, which is to say, a mystery, an ache
inside his belly and his chest that rhymes
somehow with the largeness of the night.
The stars conjuring themselves from nothing
but the dark, as if to say it's not as if
they weren't all along just where they were,
ached in the suddenly swifter darkening
and glittering and cold. He's of an age
when the thought of thinking is, at night,
a sexual thought. This morning in the crystal
of the air, dew, and the sunlight that the dew
has caught on the grass blades sparkling at his feet,
he stalks the pond. Three larger ducks,
mallards probably, burst from the reeds
and wheel and fly off south. Three redwings,
gone to their winter muteness, fly three ways
across the pond to settle on three cattails
opposite or crossways from each other,
perch and shiver into place and look around.
That's when he sees the snowy egret
in the rushes, pure white and stone still
and standing on one leg in that immobile,
perfect, almost princely way. He'd seen it
often in the summer, often in the morning
and sometimes at dusk, hunting the reeds
under the sumac shadows on the far bank.
He'd watched the slow, wide fanning
of its wings, taking off and landing,
the almost inconceivably slow way
it raised one leg and then another
when it was stalking, the quick cocking
of its head at sudden movement in the water,
and the swift, darting sureness when it stabbed
the water for a stickleback or frog. Once
he'd seen it, head up, swallowing a gopher,
its throat bulging, a bit of tail and a trickle
of blood just visible below the black beak.
Now it was still and white in the brightness
of the morning in the reeds. He liked
to practice stalking, and he raised the gun
to his shoulder and crouched in the wet grasses
and drew his bead just playfully at first.
--Robert Hass


"On the Coast near Sausalito"
1.
I won't say much for the sea,
except that it was, almost,
the color of sour milk.
The sun in that clear
unmenacing sky was low,
angled off the gray fissure of the cliffs,
hills dark green with manzanita.

Low tide: slimed rocks
mottled brown and thick with kelp
merged with the gray stone
of the breakwater, sliding off
to antediluvian depths.
The old story: here filthy life begins.

2.
Fish--
ing, as Melville said,
"to purge the spleen,"
to put to task my clumsy hands
my hands that bruise by
not touching
pluck the legs from a prawn,
peel the shell off,
and curl the body twice about a hook.

3.
The cabezone is not highly regarded
by fishermen, except Italians
who have the grace
to fry the pale, almost bluish flesh
in olive oil with a sprig
of fresh rosemary.

The cabezone, an ugly atavistic fish,
as old as the coastal shelf
it feeds upon
has fins of duck's-web thickness,
resembles a prehistoric toad,
and is delicately sweet.

Catching one, the fierce quiver of surprise
and the line's tension
are a recognition.

4.
But it's strange to kill
for the sudden feel of life.
The danger is
to moralize
that strangeness.
Holding the spiny monster in my hands
his bulging purple eyes
were eyes and the sun was
almost tangent to the planet
on our uneasy coast.
Creature and creature,
we stared down centuries.
--Robert Hass


"The Nineteenth Century as a Song"
"How like a well-kept garden is your soul."
John Gray's translation of Verlaine
& Baudelaire's butcher in 1861
shorted him four centimes
on a pound of tripe.
He thought himself a clever man
and, wiping the calves' blood from his beefy hands.
gazed briefly at what Tennyson called
"the sweet blue sky."

It was a warm day.
What clouds there were
were made of sugar tinged with blood.
They shed, faintly, amid the clatter of carriages
new settings of the songs
Moravian virgins sang on wedding days.

The poet is a monarch of the clouds

& Swinburne on his northern coast
"trod," he actually wrote, "by no tropic foot,"
composed that lovely elegy
and then found out Baudelaire was still alive
whom he had lodged dreamily
in a "deep division of prodigious breasts."

Surely the poet is monarch of the clouds.
He hovers, like a lemon-colored kite,
over spring afternoons in the nineteenth century
while Marx in the library gloom
studies the birth rate of the weavers of Tilsit
and that gentle man Bakunin,
home after fingerfucking the countess,
applies his numb hands
to the making of bombs.
--Robert Hass


"The Assimilation of the Gypsies"
In the background, a few shacks & overturned carts
And a gray sky holding the singular pallor of Lent.
And here the crowd of onlookers, though a few of them
Must be intimate with the victim,
Have been advised to keep their distance.
The young man walking alone in handcuffs that join
Each wrist in something that is not prayer, although
It is as urgent, wears
A brown tweed coat flecked with white, a white shirt
Open at the collar.
And beside him, the broad, curving tracks of a bus that
Passed earlier through the thawing mud...they seem
To lead him out of the photograph & toward
What I imagine is
The firing squad: a few distant cousins & neighbors
Assembled by order of the State--beside
The wall of a closed schoolhouse.
Two of the men uneasily holding rifles, a barber
And an unemployed postal clerk,
Are thinking of nothing except perhaps the first snowfall
Last year in the village, how it covered & simplified
Everything--the ruts in the road & the distant
Stubble in the fields--& of how they cannot be,
Now, any part of that. Still,
They understand well enough why
The man murdered the girl's uncle with an axe,
Just as they know why his language,
Because it was not official & had to be translated
Into Czech at the trial, failed to convince
Anyone of its passion. And if
The red-faced uncle kept threatening the girl
Until she at last succumbed under a browning hedge, & if
The young man had to use three strokes with the axe
To finish the job--well, they shrug,
All he had, that day, was an axe.
And besides, the barber & the clerk suspect that this boy,
Whom they have known for half their lives,
Had really intended to kill the girl that evening--
Never the uncle.
In a lost culture of fortune tellers, unemployable
Horse traders, & a frank beauty the world
Will not allow,
It was the time of such things, it was late summer,
And it is summer now, the two executioners agree,
That all of this ended. This is
Jarabina. 1963. And if
Koudelka tells us nothing else about this scene,
I think he is right, if only because
The young man walks outside time now, & is not
So much a murderer as he is, simply, a man
About to be executed by his neighbors...
And so it is important to all of them that he behave
With a certain tact & dignity as he walks
Of his own accord but with shoulders hunched,
Up to the wall of the empty schoolhouse;
And, turning his head
First to one side, then to the other,
He lets them slip the blindfold over his eyes
And secure it with an old gentleness
They have shared
Since birth. And perhaps at this moment
All three of them remember slipping light scarves,
Fashioned into halters,
Over the muzzles of horses, & the quickness of horses.
And if the boy has forgiven them in advance
By such a slight gesture, this turning of his head,
It is because he knows, as they do, too,
Not only that terror is a state
Of complete understanding, but also that
In a few years, this whole village, with its cockeyed
Shacks, tea leaves, promiscuity between cousins,
Idle horse thieves, & pale lilacs used
To cure the insane,
Will be gone--bulldozed away so that the land
Will lie black & fallow & without history.
And nothing will be planted there, or buried,
As the same flocks of sparrows
Will go on gathering, each spring, in the high dark
Of these trees.
Still, it is impossible not to see
That the young man has washed & combed his hair
For this last day on earth; it is impossible
Not to see how one of the policemen has turned back
To the crowd as if to prevent
Any mother or sister from rushing forward--
Although neither one, if she is here, seems
About to move. And in the background,
You can see that a few of the houses are entirely white,
Like a snowfall persisting into spring,
Or into oblivion, though this
May be the fault of the photograph or its development
Under such circumstances....
And now even the children in the crowd, who have gathered
To watch all this, appear to be growing bored
With the procedures & the waiting.
I suppose that the young man's face,
Without looking up, spoke silently to Koudelka as he passed,
Just as it speaks now, to me, from this photograph.
Now that there is nothing either of us can do for him.
His hair is clean & washed, & his coat is buttoned.
Except for his handcuffs, he looks as if
He is beginning a long journey, or going out,
For the first time into the world...
He must have thought he could get away with this,
Or else he must have thought he loved her.
It is too late to inquire.
It is mid-afternoon & twenty years too late,
And even the language he used to explain it all
Is dying a little more, each moment, as I write this--
And as I begin to realize that
This ancient, still blossoming English
Will also begin to die, someday, to crack & collapse
Under its own weight--
Though that will not happen for years & years,
And long after the barber & the clerk
Have lowered their rifles & turned away to vomit
For what seems like a long time, & then,
Because there is nothing else for them to do,
They will walk home together, talking softly in a language
That has never been written down.
If you look closely at the two of them
Sweating in their black wool suits,
You can see how even their daily behavior,
The way they avoid the subject,
Has become an art:
One talks of his daughter, who is learning to dance.
The other mentions his mother, who died, last year--
When the orchards were simple with their fruit,
And ripe--of an undiagnosed illness.
And if the lots they pass are empty because the horses
Were shipped off years ago to Warsaw
For the meat on their backs?
And if there is no hope for this,
Or any poetry?
On their lips the quick syllables of their
Language fly & darken into a few, last
Delicious phrases, arpeggios--
Even though they are talking of country life
As they pass the smells of cooking
Which rise in smoke from the poorest of houses
And even from stoves carried outdoors & burning,
As fuel, the cheap paneling of shacks
Which the government gave them.
Until it seems that all they are
Rises in smoke,
As it always has,
And as it will continue to do in this place
For a few more years.
--Larry Levis
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering one must not love. But then one suffers from not loving. Therefore to love is to suffer, not to love is to suffer. To suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love. To be happy then is to suffer. But suffering makes one unhappy. Therefore, to be unhappy one must love, or love to suffer, or suffer from too much happiness. I hope you're getting this down."
--Woody Allen


"It is often said experiments must be made without a preconceived idea. That is impossible. Not only would it make all experiment barren, but that would be attempted which could not be done. Every one carries in his mind his own conception of the world, of which he can not so easily rid himself. We must, for instance, use language; and our language is made up only of preconceived ideas and can not be otherwise. Only these are unconscious preconceived ideas, a thousand times more dangerous than the others."
--Jules Henri Poincaré


"Dust of Snow"
The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.
--Robert Frost


"Poetry can unleash a terrible fear. I suppose it is the fear of possibilities, too many possibilities, each with its own endless set of variations. It's like looking too closely and too long into a mirror; soon your features distort, then erupt. You look too closely into your poems, or listen too closely to them as they arrive in whispers, and the features inside you--call it heart, call it mind, call it soul--accelerate out of control. They distort and they erupt, and it is one strange pain. You realize, then, that you can't attempt breaking down too many barriers in too short a time, because there are as many horrors waiting to get in at you as there are parts of yourself pushing to break out, and with the same, or more, fevered determination."
--Jim Carroll


"Reading is that fruitful miracle of a communication in the midst of solitude."
--Marcel Proust


"Poetry should be written the way adultery is committed: on the run, on the sly, during the time not accounted for. And then you come home, as if nothing ever happened."
--Vera Pavlova


"Once you start to speak, people will yell at you. They will interrupt you, put you down and suggest it's personal. And the world won't end. And the speaking will get easier and easier. And you will find you have fallen in love with your own vision, which you may never have realized you had. And you will lose some friends and lovers, and realize you don't miss them. And new ones will find you and cherish you. And you will still flirt and paint your nails, dress up and party, because, as I think Emma Goldman said, 'If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution.' And at last you'll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking."
--Audre Lorde


"We can make our minds so like still water that beings gather about us that they may see, it may be, their own images, and so live for a moment with a clearer, perhaps even with a fiercer life because of our quiet."
--W. B. Yeats


"I've had so many knives stuck into me, when they hand me a flower I can't quite make out what it is. It takes time."
--Charles Bukowski


"When did we see each other face-to-face? Not until you saw into my cracks and I saw into yours. Before that, we were just looking at ideas of each other, like looking at your window shade but never seeing inside. But once the vessel cracks, the light can get in. The light can get out."
--John Green, Paper Towns


"I think of the reader as a cat, endlessly fastidious, capable by turns of mordant indifference and riveted attention, luxurious, recumbent, ever poised. Whereas the writer is absolutely a dog, panting and moping, too eager for an affecionate scratch behind the ears, lunging frantically after any old stick thrown in the distance."
--Patricia Hampl


"Saying Your Names"
Chemical names, bird names, names of fire
and flight and snow, baby names, paint names,
delicate names like bones in the body,
Rumplestiltskin names that are always changing,
names that no one's ever able to figure out.
Names of spells and names of hexes, names
cursed quietly under the breath, or called out
loudly to fill the yard, calling you inside again,
calling you home. Nicknames and pet names
and baroque French monikers, written in
shorthand, written in longhand, scrawled
illegibly in brown ink on the backs of yellowing
photographs, or embossed on envelopes lined
with gold. Names called out across the water,
names I called you behind your back,
sour and delicious, secret and unrepeatable,
the names of flowers that open only once,
shouted from balconies, shouted from rooftops,
or muffled by pillows, or whispered in sleep,
or caught in the throat like a lump of meat.
I try, I do. I try and try. A happy ending?
Sure enough--Hello darling, welcome home.
I'll call you darling, hold you tight. We are
not traitors but the lights go out. It's dark.
Sweetheart, is that you? There are no tears,
no pictures of him squarely. A seaside framed
in glass, and boats, those little boats with
sails aflutter, shining lights upon the water,
lights that splinter when they hit the pier.
His voice on tape, his name on the envelope,
the soft sound of a body falling off a bridge
behind you, the body hardly even makes
a sound. The waters of the dead, a clear road,
every lover in the form of stars, the road
blocked. All night I stretched my arms across
him, rivers of blood, the dark woods, singing
with all my skin and bone Please keep him safe.
Let him lay his head on my chest and we will be
like sailors, swimming in the sound of it, dashed
to pieces.
Makes a cathedral, him pressing against
me, his lips at my neck, and yes, I do believe
his mouth his heaven, his kisses falling over me
like stars. Names of heat and names of light,
names of collision in the dark, on the side of the
bus, in the bark of the tree, in ballpoint pen
on jeans and hands and the backs of matchbooks
that then get lost. Names like pain cries, names
like tombstones, names forgotten and reinvented,
names forbidden or overused. Your name like
a song I sing to myself, your name like a box
where I keep my love, your name like a nest
in the tree of love, your name like a boat in the
sea of love--O now we're in the sea of love!
Your name like detergent in the washing machine.
Your name like two X's like punched-in eyes,
like a drunk cartoon passed out in the gutter,
your name with two X's to mark the spots,
to hold the place, to keep the treasure from
becoming ever lost. I'm saying your name
in the grocery store, I'm saying your name on
the bridge at dawn. Your name like an animal
covered with frost, your name like a music that's
been transposed, a suit of fur, a coat of mud,
a kick in the pants, a lungful of glass, the sails
in wind and the slap of waves on the hull
of a boat that's sinking to the sound of mermaids
singing songs of love, and the tug of a simple
profound sadness when it sounds so far away.
Here is a map with your name for a capital,
here is an arrow to prove a point: we laugh
and it pits the world against us, we laugh,
and we've got nothing left to lose, and our hearts
turn red, and the river rises like a barn on fire.
I came to tell you, we'll swim in the water, we'll
swim like something sparkling underneath
the waves. Our bodies shivering, and the sound
of our breathing, and the shore so far away.
I'll use my body like a ladder, climbing
to the thing behind it, saying farewell to flesh,
farewell to everything caught underfoot
and flattened. Names of poisons, names of
handguns, names of places we've been
together, names of people we'd be together.
Names of endurance, names of devotion,
street names and place names and all the names
of our dark heaven crackling in their pan.
It's a bed of straw, darling. It sure as shit is.
If there was one thing I could save from the fire,
he said, the broken arms of the sycamore,
the eucalyptus still trying to climb out of the yard--
your breath on my neck like a music that holds
my hands down, kisses as they burn their way
along my spine--or rain, our bodies wet,
clothes clinging arm to elbow, clothes clinging
nipple to groin--I'll be right here. I'm waiting.

Say hallelujah, say goodnight, say it over
the canned music and your feet won't stumble,
his face getting larger, the rest blurring
on every side. And angels, about twelve angels,
angels knocking on your head right now, hello,
hello, a flash in the sky, would you like to
meet him there, in Heaven? Imagine a room,
a sudden glow. Here is my hand, my heart,
my throat, my wrist. Here are the illuminated
cities at the center of me, and here is the center
of me, which is a lake, which is a well that we
can drink from, but I can't go through with it.
I just don't want to die anymore.
--Richard Siken


"Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale"
Measure the walls. Count the ribs. Notch the long days.
Look up for blue sky through the spout. Make small fires
with the broken hulls of fishing boats. Practice smoke signals.
Call old friends, and listen for echoes of distant voices.
Organize your calendar. Dream of the beach. Look each way
for the dim glow of light. Work on your reports. Review
each of your life's ten million choices. Endure moments
of self-loathing. Find the evidence of those before you.
Destroy it. Try to be very quiet, and listen for the sound
of gears and moving water. Listen for the sound of your heart.
Be thankful that you are here, swallowed with all hope,
where you can rest and wait. Be nostalgic. Think of all
the things you did and could have done. Remember
treading water in the center of the still night sea, your toes
pointing again and again down, down into the black depths.
--Dan Albergotti


"A Short History of the Apple"
The crunch is the thing, a certain joy in crashing through
living tissue, a memory of Neanderthal days.

--Edward Bunyard, The Anatomy of Dessert, 1929

Teeth at the skin. Anticipation.
Then flesh. Grain on the tongue.
Eve's knees ground in the dirt
of paradise. Newton watching
gravity happen. The history
of apples in each starry core,
every papery chamber's bright
bitter seed. Woody stem
an infant tree. William Tell
and his lucky arrow. Orchards
of the Fertile Crescent. Bushels.
Fire blight. Scab and powdery mildew.
Cedar apple rust. The apple endures.
Born of the wild rose, of crab ancestors.
The first pip raised in Kazakhstan.
Snow White with poison on her lips.
The buried blades of Halloween.
Budding and grafting. John Chapman
in his tin pot hat. Oh Westward
Expansion. Apple pie. American
as. Hard cider. Winter banana.
Melt-in-the-mouth made sweet
by hives of Britain's honeybees:
white man's flies. O eat. O eat.
--Dorianne Laux


"The Ice-Cream Man"
Rum and raisin, vanilla, butter-scotch, walnut, peach:
You would rhyme off the flavours. That was before
They murdered the ice-cream man on the Lisburn Road
And you bought carnations to lay outside his shop.
I named for you all the wild flowers of the Burren
I had seen in one day: thyme, valerian, loosestrife,
Meadowsweet, tway blade, crowfoot, ling, angelica,
Herb robert, marjoram, cow parsley, sundew, vetch,
Mountain avens, wood sage, ragged robin, stitchwort,
Yarrow, lady's bedstraw, bindweed, bog pimpernel.
--Michael Longley


"Trench Names"
The column, like a snake, winds through the fields,
Scoring the grass with wheels, with heavy wheels
And hooves, and boots. The grass smiles in the sun,
Quite helpless. Orchard and copse are Paradise
Where flowers and fruits grow leisurely, and birds
Rise in the blue, and sing, and sink again
And rest. The woods are ancient. They have names--
Thiepval, deep vale, La Boisselle, Aubépines,
Named long ago by dead men. And their sons
Know trees and creatures, earth and sky, the same.

We gouge out tunnels in the sleeping fields.
We turn the clay and slice the turf, and make
A scheme of cross-roads, orderly and mad,
Under and through, like moles, like monstrous worms.
Dig out our dens, like cicatrices scored
Into the face of earth. And we give names
To our vast network in the roots, imposed,
Imperious, desperate to hide, to hurt.

The sunken roads were numbered at the start.
A chequer board. But men are poets, and names
Are Adam's heritage, and English men
Imposed a ghostly English map on French
Crushed ruined harvests and polluted streams.

So here run Piccadilly, Regent Street,
Oxford Street, Bond Street, Tothill Fields, Tower Bridge,
And Kentish places, Dover, Tunbridge Wells,
Entering wider hauntings, resonant,
The Boggart Hole, Bleak House, Deep Doom and Gloom.

Remembering boyhood, soldier poets recall
The desperate deeds of Lost Boys, Peter Pan,
Hook Copse, and Wendy Cottage. Horrors lurk
In Jekyll Copse and Hyde Copse. Nonsense smiles
As shells and flares disorder tidy lines
In Walrus, Gimble, Mimsy, Borogrove--
Which lead to Dum and Dee and to that Wood
Where fury lurked, and blackness, and that Crow.

There's Dead Man's Dump, Bone Trench and Carrion Trench,
Cemetery Alley, Skull Farm, Suicide Road,
Abuse Trench and Abyss Trench, Cesspool, Sticky Trench,
Slither Trench, Slimy Trench, Slum Trench, Bloody Farm.
Worm Trench, Louse Post, Bug Alley, Old Boot Street.
Gas Alley, Gangrene Alley, Gory Trench.
Dreary, Dredge, Dregs, Drench, Drizzle, Drivel, Bog.

Some frame the names of runs for frames of mind.
Tremble Copse, Wrath Copse, Anxious Crossroads, Howl,
Doleful and Crazy Trenches, Folly Lane,
Ominous Alley, Worry Trench, Mad Point,
Lunatic Sap, and then Unbearable
Trench, next to Fun Trench, Worry Trench, Hope Trench,
And Happy Alley.

How they swarm, the rats.
Fat beasts and frisking, yellow teeth and tails
Twitching and slippery. Here they are at home
As gaunt and haunted men are not. For rats
Grow plump in ratholes and are not afraid,
Resourceful little beggars, said Tom Thinn,
The day they ate his dinner, as he died.

Their names are legion. Rathole, Rat Farm, Rat Pit,
Rat Post, Fat Rat, Rats' Alley, Dead Rats' Drain,
Rat Heap, Flat Rat, the Better 'Ole, King Rat.
They will outlast us. This is their domain.

And when I die, my spirit will pass by
Through Sulphur Avenue and Devil's Wood
To Jacob's Ladder along Pilgrim's Way
To Eden Trench, through Orchard, through the gate
To Nameless Trench and Nameless Wood, and rest.
--A. S. Byatt


"What's in My Journal"
Odd things, like a button drawer. Mean
Thing, fishhooks, barbs in your hand.
But marbles too. A genius for being agreeable.
Junkyard crucifixes, voluptuous
discards. Space for knickknacks, and for
Alaska. Evidence to hang me, or to beatify.
Clues that lead nowhere, that never connected
anyway. Deliberate obfuscation, the kind
that takes genius. Chasms in character.
Loud omissions. Mornings that yawn above
a new grave. Pages you know exist
but you can't find them. Someone's terribly
inevitable life story, maybe mine.
--William Stafford


"A Song on the End of the World"
On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.

On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.

And those who expected lightning and thunder
Are disappointed.
And those who expected signs and archangels' trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.

Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he's much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
No other end of the world will there be,
No other end of the world will there be.
--Czesław Miłosz, translated from the Polish by Anthony Miłosz


"A Remedy for Insomnia"
Not sheep coming down the hills,
not cracks on the ceiling--
count the ones you loved,
the former tenants of dreams
who would keep you awake,
once meant the world to you,
rocked you in their arms,
those who loved you...
You will fall asleep, by dawn, in tears.
--Vera Pavlova


"Notes on the Night Highway (II)"
The sky can't hold the electricity forever--

it keeps spilling out. In Oklahoma,
the radio tower lost beneath its flashing

light was a dark web I knew to be there
(though the lit house on the black hill

never quite landed in its thought--).
Trucks sleeping by the highway wonderfully

express the drivers sealed inside them--
when we drifted by, I put this into words

as passing headlights filled your hair.
I try to believe we live in love's body--

so when it forgets us, we're still organs
pulsing for its life. My father claims

the past is in us, while my mother
claims it holds us. In the right hands,

a row of shrubs can turn into animals
and then the wind will stroke their fur.

A sculptor's chisel pierces stone exactly
to its sculpture. I must remember

that by holding you, I prepare to let you go--
even when lightning lifts the fields

sharply into view, I must remember
how we slide through them--
--Wayne Miller
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"A poet is a musician who can't sing."
--Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind


"The scientist does not study nature because it is useful; he studies it because he delights in it, and he delights in it because it is beautiful. If nature were not beautiful, it would not be worth knowing, and if nature were not worth knowing, life would not be worth living."
--Henri Poincaré


"home means that"
home means that
when the certainly
roof leaks it
's our (home

means if any moon
or possibly
sun shines they are
our also my

darling)but should some im
probably
unworld crash
to 1

nonillion(& so)nothings
each(let's
kiss)means

home
--e.e. cummings


"No, I'm not clever. I've always cared more for people than for ideas."
--Virginia Woolf


"Let us simmer over our incalculable cauldron, our enthralling confusion, our hotch-potch of impulses, our perpetual miracle--for the soul throws up wonders every second. Movement and change are the essence of our being; rigidity is death; conformity is death: let us say what comes into our heads, repeat ourselves, contradict ourselves, fling out the wildest nonsense, and follow the most fantastic fancies without caring what the world does or thinks or says. For nothing matters except life."
--Virginia Woolf


"I Write For..."
I write for my own kind,
I do not pitch my voice
that every phrase be heard
by those who have no choice:
their quality of mind
must be withdrawn and still,
as moth that answers moth
across a roaring hill.
--John Hewitt


"Empty Room"
The clock disserts on punctuation, syntax.
The clock's voice, thin and dry, asserts, repeats.
The clock insists: a lecturer demonstrating,
Loudly, with finger raised, when the class has gone.

But time flows through the room, light flows through the room
Like someone picking flowers, like someone whistling
Without a tune, like talk in front of a fire,
Like a woman knitting or a child snipping at paper.
--A. S. J. Tessimond


"Latterday Oracles: Noise"
Listen to me and you will not need to listen
To your own voice thin as a shred of paper uncurling,
Your laughter empty and brittle as an eggshell:
Your thoughts thrown back in your teeth by the cynical wind.

You will not hear the diffidence of breath,
The importunacy of blood, denying death,
The pulse's halt and start,
The morse code of the heart,
Or your two hands whispering together, unquiet as air-stirred leaves.

Listen to me and you will not need to listen.
I am your rampart against silence, time,
And all the gods with empty arms, and eyes
Cold as mirrors, cold and white with questions.
--A. S. J. Tessimond


"Come In"
As I came to the edge of the woods,
Thrush music--hark!
Now if it was dusk outside,
Inside it was dark.

Too dark in the woods for a bird
By sleight of wing
To better its perch for the night,
Though it still could sing.

The last of the light of the sun
That had died in the west
Still lived for one song more
In a thrush's breast.

Far in the pillared dark
Thrush music went--
Almost like a call to come in
To the dark and lament.

But no, I was out for stars:
I would not come in.
I meant not even if asked,
And I hadn't been.
--Robert Frost


"Near the Wall of a House"
Near the wall of a house painted
to look like stone,
I saw visions of God.

A sleepless night that gives others a headache
gave me flowers
opening beautifully inside my brain.

And he who was lost like a dog
will be found like a human being
and brought back home again.

Love is not the last room: there are others
after it, the whole length of the corridor
that has no end.
--Yehuda Amichai


"Little Beast"
1.

An all-night barbeque. A dance on the courthouse lawn.
The radio aches a little tune that tells the story of what the night
is thinking. It's thinking of love.


It's thinking of stabbing us to death
and leaving our bodies in a dumpster.
That's a nice touch, stains in the night, whiskey kisses for everyone.

Tonight, by the freeway, a man eating fruit pie with a buckknife
carves the likeness of his lover's face into the motel wall. I like him
and I want to be like him, my hands no longer an afterthought.



2.

Someone once told me that explaining is an admission of failure.
I'm sure you remember, I was on the phone with you, sweetheart.



3.

History repeats itself. Somebody says this.
History throws its shadow over the beginning, over the desktop,
over the sock drawer with its socks, its hidden letters.
History is a little man in a brown suit
trying to define a room he is outside of.
I know history. There are many names in history
but none of them are ours.



4.

He had green eyes,
so I wanted to sleep with him
green eyes flicked with yellow, dried leaves on the surface of a pool--
You could drown in those eyes, I said.
The fact of his pulse,
the way he pulled his body in, out of shyness or shame or a desire
not to disturb the air around him.
Everyone could see the way his muscles worked,
the way we look like animals,
his skin barely keeping him inside.
I wanted to take him home
and rough him up and get my hands inside him, drive my body into his
like a crash test car.
I wanted to be wanted and he was
very beautiful, kissed with his eyes closed, and only felt good while moving.
You could drown in those eyes, I said,
so it's summer, so it's suicide,
so we're helpless in sleep and struggling at the bottom of the pool.



5.

It wasn't until we were well past the middle of it
that we realized
the old dull pain, whose stitched wrists and clammy fingers,
far from being subverted,
had only slipped underneath us, freshly scrubbed.
Mirrors and shop windows returned our faces to us,
replete with tight lips and the eyes that remained eyes
and not the doorway we had hoped for.
His wounds healed, the skin a bit thicker that before,
scars like train tracks on his arms and on his body underneath his shirt.



6.

We still groped for each other on the backstairs or in parked cars
as the road around us
grew glossy with ice and our breath softened the view through the glass
already laced with frost,
but more frequently I was finding myself sleepless, and he was running out of
lullabies.
But damn if there isn't anything sexier
than a slender boy with a handgun,
a fast car, a bottle of pills.



7.

What would you like? I'd like my money's worth.
Try explaining a life bundled with episodes of this--
swallowing mud, swallowing glass, the smell of blood
on the first four knuckles.
We pull our boots on with both hands
but we can't punch ourselves awake and all I can do
is stand on the curb and say Sorry
about the blood in your mouth. I wish it was mine.


I couldn't get the boy to kill me, but I wore his jacket for the longest time.
--Richard Siken


"The Wife of the Man of Many Wiles"
Believe what you want to. Believe that I wove,
If you wish, twenty years, and waited, while you
Were knee-deep in blood, hip-deep in goddesses.

I've not much to show for twenty years' weaving--
I have but one half-finished cloth at the loom.
Perhaps it's the lengthy, meticulous grieving.

Explain how you want to. Believe I unraveled
At night what I stitched in the slow siesta,
How I kept them all waiting for me to finish,

The suitors, you call them. Believe what you want to.
Believe that they waited for me to finish,
Believe I beguiled them with nightly un-doings.

Believe what you want to. That they never touched me.
Believe your own stories, as you would have me do,
How you only survived by the wise infidelities.

Believe that each day you wrote me a letter
That never arrived. Kill all the damn suitors
If you think it will make you feel better.
--A.E. Stallings


"Jack Straw's Castle"
1.
Jack Straw sits
sits in his castle
Jack Straw watches the rain

why can't I leave my castle
he says, isn't there anyone
anyone here besides me

sometimes I find myself wondering
if the castle is a castle at all
a place apart, or merely
the castle that ever snail
must carry around till his death

and then there's the matter of breath
on a cold day it rears before me
like a beautiful fern
I'm amazed at the plant

will it survive me
a man of no account
visited only by visions

and no one here
no one who knows how to play


visions, voices,burnings smells
all of a rainy day

2.

Pig Pig she cries
I can hear her from next door
He fucked me in the mouth
and now he won't give me car fare
she rages and cries



3.

The rain stops. I look round: a square of the floor,
Blond wood, shines palely in the laggard sun;
The kittens suck, contrasting strips of fur,
The mother in their box, a perfect fit,
I finally got it how I wanted it,
A fine snug house when all is said and done.

But night makes me uneasy: floor by floor
Rooms never guessed at open from the gloom
First as thin smoky lines, ghost of a door
Or lintel that develops like a print
Darkening into full embodiment
--Boudoir and oubliette, room on room on room.

And I have met or believed I met
People in some of them, though they were not
The kind I need. They looked convincing, yet
There always was too much of the phantom to them.
Meanwhile, and even when I walked right through them,
I was talking, talking to myself. Of what?

Fact was, the echo of each word drowned out
The next word spoken, and I cannot say
What it was I was going on about.
It could be I was asking, Do these rooms
Spring up at night-time suddenly, like mushrooms,
Or have they all been hiding here all day?


4.

Dream sponsors:
Charles Manson, tongue
playing over dry lips,
thinking a long thought;
and the Furies, mad
puppetry heads appearing
in the open transom above
a forming door, like heads
of kittens staring angrily
over the edge of their box:

'Quick, fetch Medusa,'
their shrewish voices,
'Show him Medusa.'

Maybe I won't turn away,
maybe I'm so cool
I could outstare her.


5.

The door opens.
There are no snakes.
The head
is on the table.

On the table
gold hair struck
by light from
the naked bulb,
a dazzle in which
the ground of dazzle
is consumed, the
hair burning
in its own gold.

And her eyes
gaze at me,
pale blue, but
blank as the eyes
of zombie or angel,
with the stunned
lack of expression
of one
who has beheld
the source of everything
and found it
the same as nothing.

In her dazzle I
catch fire
self-delighted
self-sufficient
self-consuming
till
I burn out
so heavy
I sink into
darkness into
my foundations.


6.

Down in the cellars, nothing is visible
no one
Though there's a sound about me of many breathing
Light slap of foot on stone and rustle of body
Against body and stone.
And when later
I finger a stickiness along the ridges
Of a large central block that feels like granite
I don't know if it's my own, or I shed it,
Or both, as if priest and victim were only
Two limbs of the same body.
The lost traveller.
For this is the seat of needs
so deep, so old
That even where eye never perceives body
And where the sharpest ear discerns only
The light slap and rustle of flesh on stone
They, the needs, seek ritual and ceremony
To appease themselves
(Oh, the breathing all around me)
Or they would tear apart the life that feeds them.



7.

I am the man on the rack.
I am the man who puts the man on the rack.
I am the man who watches the man who puts the man on the
rack.


8.

Might it not have been
a thought-up film
which suddenly ceases

the lights go up
I can see only
this pearl-grey chamber
false and quiet
no audience here
just the throned one

nothing outside the bone
nothing accessible

the ambush and taking of
meaning were nothing
were
inventions of Little Ease

I sit
trapped in bone
I am back again
where I never left, I sit
in my first instant, where
I never left

petrified at my centre

9. 

I spin like a solitary star, I swoon.

But there breaks into my long solitude

A bearded face, it's Charlie, close as close,
His breath that stinks of jail--of pain and fungus,
So close that I breathe nothing else.

Then I recall as if it were my own
Life on the hot ranch, and the other smells.
Of laurel in the sun, fierce, sweet; of people
--Death-swear or lust-sweat they smelt much the same.
He reigned in sultry power over his dream.

I come back to the face pushed into mine.
Tells me he's bound to point out, man,
That dreams don't come from nowhere: it's your dream
He says, you dreamt it. So there's no escape.

And now he's squatting at a distance
To wait the taunt's effect, paring his nails,
From time to time glancing up sideways at me,
A sly mad look. Yes, but he's not mad either.

He's gone too far, Charlie you've overdone it.
Something inside my head turns over.
I think I see how his taunt can be my staircase,
For if I brought all of this stuff inside
There must be an outside to bring it from.
Outside the castle, somewhere, there must be
A real Charles Manson, a real woman crying,
And laws I had no hand in, like gravity.

About midnight. Where earlier there had seemed
A shadowy arch projected on the bone-like stone,
I notice, fixing itself,
Easing itself in place even as I see it,
A staircase leading upward.
Is that rain
Far overhead, that drumming sound?
Boy, what a climb ahead.

At the bottom, looking back, I find
He is, for now at any rate, clean gone.


10.

My coldness wakes me,
mine, and the kitchen chair's.

How long have I sat here? I
went to sleep in bed.

Entering real rooms perhaps,
my own spectre, cold,

unshivering as a flight of
flint steps that leads nowhere,

in a ruin, where the wall
abruptly ends, and the steps too

and you stare down at the broken
slabs far below, at the ivy

glinting over bone-chips which must
at one time have been castle.

11.

Down panic, down. The castle is still here,
And I am in the kitchen with a beer
Hearing the hurricane thin out to rain.
Got to relax if I'm to sleep again.
The castle is here, but not snug any more,
I'm loose, I rattle in its hollow core.
And as for that parade of rooms--shed, jail,
Cellar, each snapping at the next one's tail--
That raced inside my skull for half the night,
I hope I'm through with that. I flick the light.
And hope the dungeons will be there for good
(What laid those stones?) at least I found I could,
Thrown down, escape by learning what to learn;
And hold it that held me.
Till I return.

And so to bed, in hopes that I won't dream.

. . . . . . . . . .

I drift, doze, sleep. But towards dawn it does seem,
While I half-wake, too tired to turn my head,
That someone stirs behind me in the bed
Between two windows on an upper floor.
Is it a real man muttering? I'm not sure.
Though he does not seem phantom-like as yet,
Thick, heavily breathing, with a sweet faint sweat.

So humid, we lie sheetless--and are close,
Facing apart, but leaning ass to ass.

And that mere contact is sufficient tough,
A hinge, it separates but not too much.
An air moves over us, as calm and cool
As the green water of a swimming pool.

What if this is the man I gave my key
Who got in while I slept? Or what if he,
Still, is a dream of that same man?
No, real.
Comes from outside the castle, I can feel.
The beauty's in what is, not what may seem.
I turn. And even if he were a dream
--Thick with sweating flesh against which I lie curled--
With dreams like this, Jack's ready for the world.
--Thom Gunn


"How to Eat a Poem"
Don't be polite.
Bite in.
Pick it up with your fingers and lick the juice that
may run down your chin.
It is ready and ripe now, whenever you are.

You do not need a knife or fork or spoon
or plate or napkin or tablecloth.

For there is no core
or stem
or rind
or pit
or seed
or skin
to throw away.
--Eve Merriam


"Bess"
Ours were the streets where Bess first met her
cancer. She went to work every day at the
secure houses. At her job in the library
she arranged better and better flowers, and when
students asked for books her hand went out
to help. In the last year of her life
she had to keep her friends from knowing
how happy they were. She listened while they
complained about food or work or the weather.
And the great national events danced
their grotesque, fake importance. Always

Pain moved where she moved. She walked
ahead; it came. She hid; it found her.
No one ever served another so truly;
no enemy ever meant so strong a hate.
It was almost as if there was no room
left for her on earth. But she remembered
where joy used to live. She straightened its flowers;
she did not weep when she passed its houses;
and when finally she pulled into a tiny corner
and slipped from pain, her hand opened
again, and the streets opened, and she wished all well.
--William Stafford


"Strange Ways"
Increasingly often now
You reach into your handbag
(the one I bought you some Xmases ago)
And pulling out
A pair of dead cats
Skinned and glistening like the underside of tongues
Or old elastoplasts
Sticky with earwigs
You laugh cruelongly
And hurl them at my eyes
Why?
Even though we have grown old together
And my kisses are little more than functional
I still love you
You and your strange ways
--Roger McGough


"Miniature Bridges, Your Mouth"
what we do in the dark has no hands. no
crossover effect, no good-bye kiss after the alarm.
what we carry in, we carry out, end of story. this
doesn't even want to be love. except in minutes
when your face has the shape of my palm and I think
lungful. let want out with the cat. returns
and returns, something dutiful. persistent.
hold your breath, let it build, let go. this is practice.
I'm losing weight, a bad sign, I'm happy. serious,
you say. contained, I think. the cat comes back
with a dead bird to the doorstep, an offering. bloodless
this should be easy. a two-step to cowboys. you're beautiful
but that's not the point.

x

I know my way back perfectly well. like the back
of my hand, as it were. but look, the labyrinth walls
are high hedge and green. this also could be joy.

xx

I literally don't know your middle name. does that
matter? what systems we arrange for intimacy, small
disclosures like miniature bridges, your mouth. not
what I'd anticipated. softer. to begin with,
I should tell the truth more. I could miss you,
and that's a liability.

xxx

I am not often off-kilter. but you're so silent, even
naked, and almost absent. I hush too, why
are we here. go. want to throw things, you, the clock,
break windows until something bleeds and you finally
scream. I tell you too much; we are not
those people. or nothing--maybe I say
utilitarian fuck. how would that be. I want you
to want to fall in love with me and that's
unhealthy. wrong. leave your shoes by the door
and pretend it's about the movie. it's love
in the movies it's casablanca and toy story
and water no ice come here. pockets need
to be untucked, drawers thrown open,
nobody's safe. there, I've said it:
someone I was could have loved you.
--Marty McConnell


"Tonja's Letter"
She tells me of a dream. A man carrying tea on a tray, and the host,
derisive.

How she got up from her chair, angry. Walked a road along the sea. dauphins
over water, under, over: bracelets of bodies. And above, birds—

How did they take shape out of a white sky?
Paper, creased sharply.

How did they know when to migrate, when to move on?





Later, an answering dream.

I unlocked a cabinet, opened my ribs.
From a many-branching tree: finches, warblers, kingfishers. One pelican.

They flew off. I distracted myself by setting a table, taking goblets
and dishes from the cabinet: no end to what I could take.

And the tree that held the birds?

This was a dream, remember.

In a dream, the day after this one passes through
the day before.

This is how we wake.
--Anne Simpson


"When I Think of the End of the World Now"
I can't help but see the first few crocuses that will
somehow shoot through the layers of ash

like fingers still tender and bright enough to redeem
the particulate drizzle that will no doubt keep

staining our expectant faces as we huddle in cellars,
under overpasses, crouching on hazmat pallets

and wondering how to fill the silences piling above us
like stricken snow. I think of Pavlov sweating

on his deathbed, requesting nothing but a bowl of mud
from the creek near his boyhood home in Ryazan

where he sailed newsprint yachts and packed pies
so thick his mouth would water for days after.

And when he cradled that dish of earth, he must have
sighed, smiling, sinking both hands deep into memory

so his fever had no choice but to break. I think of you
and hear the last yellow line train sparking to a stop

beneath your bedroom window on Killingsworth, that
voice always warning, Doors are closing. I wish I could

go back now and tape the wolfish sounds we'd make
when we made love, though I know or say I know

there may never be a way to replay them.
--James Crews


"To me, at least in retrospect, the really interesting question is why dullness proves to be such a powerful impediment to attention. Why we recoil from the dull. Maybe it's because dullness is intrinsically painful; maybe that's where phrases like 'deadly dull' or 'excruciatingly dull' come from. But there might be more to it. Maybe dullness is associated with psychic pain because something that's dull or opaque fails to provide enough stimulation to distract people from some other, deeper type of pain that is always there, if only in an ambient low-level way, and which most of us spend nearly all our time and energy trying to distract ourselves from feeling, or at least from feeling directly or with our fill attention. Admittedly, the whole thing's pretty confusing, and hard to talk about abstractly...but surely something must lie behind not just the Muzak in dull or tedious place anymore but now also actual TV in waiting rooms, supermarkets' checkouts, airports' gates, SUVs' backseats. Walkmen, iPods, BlackBerries, cell phones that attach to your head. This terror of silence with nothing diverting to do. I can't think anyone really believes that today's so-called 'information society' is just about information. Everyone knows it's about something else, way down.

"The memoir-relevant point here is that I learned, in my time with the Service, something about dullness, information, and irrelevant complexity. About negotiating boredom as one would a terrain, its levels and forests and endless wastes. Learned about it extensively, exquisitely, in my interrupted year. And now ever since that time have noticed, at work and in recreation and time with friends and even the intimacies of family life, that living people do not speak much of the dull. Of those parts of life that are and must be dull. Why this silence? Maybe it's because the subject is, in and of itself, dull...only then we're again right back where we started, which is tedious and irksome. There may, though, I opine, be more to it...as in vastly more, right here before us all, hidden by virtue of its size."
--David Foster Wallace, The Pale King


"Bruno, maybe someday you'll write...Not for me, dig, what he hell does it matter to me. But it has to be beautiful, I feel like it's gotta be beautiful. I was telling you how when I was a kid learning to play, I noticed that time changed. I told that to Jim once and he said that everybody in the world feels the same way and when he gets lost in it...He said that, when somebody gets lost in it...Hell no, I don't get lost when I'm playing. Only the place changes. It's like in an elevator, you're in an elevator talking with people, you don't feel anything strange, meanwhile you've passed the first floor, the tenth, the twenty-first, and the city's down there below you, and you're finishing the sentence you began when you stepped into it, and between the first words and the last ones, there's fifty-two floors. I realized that when I started to play I was stepping into an elevator, but the elevator was time, if I can put it that way. Now realize that I haven't forgotten the mortgage or the religion. Like it's the mortgage and the religion are a suit I'm not wearing at the moment; I know that the suit's in the closet, but at that moment you can't tell me that that suit exists. The suit exists when I put it on, and the mortgage and religion existed when I got finished playing and the old lady came in with her hair, dangling big hunks of hair all over me and complaining I'm busting her ears with that goddamned music."
--Julio Cortázar, "The Pursuer," translated from the Spanish by Paul Blackburn


"Paris isn't a casino in the provinces, and everybody has his eye on Johnny. And while I'm thinking that, I can't help having a bad taste in my mouth, anger, not against Johnny nor the things that happen to him; rather against the people who hang around him, myself, the marquesa and Marcel, for example. Basically we're a bunch of egotists; under the pretext of watching out for Johnny what we're doing is protecting our idea of him, getting ourselves ready for the pleasure Johnny's going to give us, to reflect the brilliance from the statue we've erected among us all and defend it till the last grasp. If Johnny zonked, it would be bad for my book (the translation into English or Italian was coming out any minute), and part of my concern for Johnny was put together from such things. Art and Marcel needed him to help them earn bread, and the marquesa, well, dig what the marquesa saw in Johnny besides his talent. All this has nothing to do with the other Johnny, and suddenly I realized that maybe that was what Johnny was trying to tell me when he yanked off the blanket and left himself as naked as a worm, Johnny with no horn, Johnny with no money and no clothes, Johnny obsessed by something that his intelligence was not equal to comprehending, but which floats slowly into his music, caresses his skin, perhaps is readying for an unpredictable leap which we will never understand."
--Julio Cortázar, "The Pursuer," translated from the Spanish by Paul Blackburn


" 'What happens to them is that they get to think of themselves as wise,' he said sharply. 'They think it's wisdom because they've piled up a lot of books and eaten them. It makes me laugh, because really they're good kids and are really convinced that what they study and what they do are really very difficult and profound things. In the circus, Bruno, it's all the same, and between us it's the same. People figure that some things are the height of difficulty, and so they applaud trapeze artists, or me. I don't know what they're thinking about, do they imagine that you break yourself up to play well, or that the trapeze artist sprains tendons every time he takes a leap? The really difficult things are something else entirely, everything that people think they can do anytime. To look, for instance, or to understand a dog or a cat. Those are the difficult things, the big difficulties. Last night I happened to look in this little mirror, and I swear, it was so terribly difficult I almost threw myself out of bed. Imagine that you're looking at yourself; that alone is enough to freeze you up for half an hour. In reality, this guy's not me, the first second I felt very clearly that he wasn't me. I felt that, and when something like that's felt...But it's like at Atlantic City, on top of one wave the second one falls on you, and then another...You've hardly felt and already another one comes, the words come...No, not words, but what's in the words, a kind of glue, that slime. And the slime comes and covers you and convinces you that that's you in the mirror. Sure, but not to realize it. But sure, I am, with my hair, this scar. And people don't realize that the only thing that they accept is the slime, and that's why they think it's easy to look in a mirror. Or cut a hunk of bread with a knife. Have you ever cut a hunk of bread with a knife?' "
--Julio Cortázar, "The Pursuer," translated from the Spanish by Paul Blackburn


"A man can't say anything, right away you translate it into your filthy language. If I play and you see angels, that's not my fault. If the others open their fat yaps and say that I've reached perfection, it's not my fault. And that's the worst thing, the thing you really and truly left out of your book, Bruno, and that's that I'm not worth a damn, that what I play and what the people applaud me for is not worth a damn, really not worth a damn."
--Julio Cortázar, "The Pursuer," translated from the Spanish by Paul Blackburn
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Don't ever think I fell for you, or fell over you. I didn't fall in love, I rose in it."
--Toni Morrison, Jazz


"My favorite kind of pie is cake. I have a giant umbrella that protects no one. My father is a sadist and I am my father's son. These statements are not lies but perhaps they lack a certain clarity. When one lies, one undermines trust in society--which is not my intention--but if there is a Truth out there, to be had clearly and definitively, I'm not sure I'm the kind that can get to it; and if I can get to it I'm not sure I should be the one entrusted with it. I'm a doubter. I'm suspicious of context. I have enough trouble figuring out where to put the punctuation and I type like a hundred monkeys stuck in taffy, putting the commas where I breathe and the periods where I breathe more. Most of the time I feel like I'm barking and pointing, but one of the tricks to making decent art is to address your weaknesses. If I bark, I might as well bark pretty. If I point, I might as well point whole-heartedly.

"In my town some people use the f-word. In public. As an adjective. Which is wrong. Not just because it's a verb but because it's boring, it shows a weakness not being addressed. It's worse than lying, much much worse, this muddy self-erasing noise. Jorie Graham came to Tucson a few years ago. She gave a reading and a Q&A where she was quite brilliant. No matter what stupid questions we asked, she took 20 minutes to answer each one, swerving from literary theory to art history to pop culture and tying it all up with connections we had always felt but only now could see. In one of her answers she told a story about her daughter. I want to share it here, even though it's not my story twice removed.

"The daughter is sad. I'm so sad says the daughter. Why are you sad? asks the mother. The daughter doesn't know. The days go by. The daughter isn't getting better and the mother worries, frets, paces. The mother isn't a doctor, she's a poet, so she brings home a book. I'm too sad to read says the daughter but it's not for reading, it's for figuring: it's a thesaurus. You can be as sad as you need to be says the mother but you must know what kind of sad you are. Are you sad-lonely, sad-desperate, sad-lacking-in-faith? The daughter sits at her desk and looks at the words she has written on the sheet of paper. It's not that the words are any less true than she imagined, it's not that they're smaller than she thought, but they're limited, they have boundaries, they're finite, and she's bigger than they are, surprisingly bigger and more vast than these words on the page, written in her own hand. Go figure. She starts to feel better.

"What I love about this story is the idea that truth is something you can creep up on, one word at a time; that there's some sort of alchemical math you can perform to ratchet the lens into focus. I'm not saying I do it well--and I'm certainly not claiming I'm doing it here--but that I might be able to do it eventually, practice my weak hand, mean what I mean instead of barking into the void...well...it's encouraging. Of course, there's the other camp, the one that insists that naming a thing invokes it, gives it power. I don't just mean the superstitious among us; I mean, even more inclusively, the socially smooth, the polite. Kafka (or was it Rilke) said that poetry was the axe that breaks the frozen river of the soul, but we walk on the ice as we go through our day, thin ice more often than not, and no one no one no one wants to see the rushing icy river of your soul when you're standing in line at the bank.

"How are you? Fine, and you? It's not that we don't care, it's that we're terrified that someone will actually break down and tell us. Everyone I know is in some kind of pain. Everyone. How do you like them apples? And so, another reason to lie, because we've all agreed not to tell the truth to each other, not about that. Someone put their hand in my heart and they didn't take it back out. If I died tonight, no one would notice for weeks. My father is a sadist and I am my father's son. I learned it well. Do I have the stomach for it? Do you really want to know?"
--Richard Siken


"Interview with a Policeman"
You say you want this story
in my own words,
but you won't tell it my way.
Reporters never do. If everybody's racist
that means you too.
I grab your finger,
as you jab it at my chest.
So what the mini cam caught that?
You want to know all about it, right?--
the liquor store, the black kid
who pulled his gun
at the wrong time.
You saw the dollars he fell on and bloodied.
Remember how cold it was that night,
but I was sweating.
I'd worked hard, I was through
for twenty for hours
and I wanted some brew.
When I heard a shout,
I turned and saw the clerk
with his hands in the air
saw the kid drop his gun,
as I yelled and ran from the back.
I only fired when he bent down,
picked up his gun and again dropped it.
I saw he was terrified,
saw his shoulder and head jerk to the side
as the next bullet hit.
When I dove down, he got his gun once more
and fired wildly.

Liquor poured onto the counter, the floor
onto which he fell back finally,
still firing now toward the door,
when his arm flung itself behind him,
I could hear dance music
over the sound of liquor spilling and spilling
and when I balanced on my hands
and stared at him, a cough or spasm
sent a stream of blood out of his mouth
and hit me in the face.
Later, I felt as if I'd left part of myself
stranded on that other side,
where anyplace you turn is down,
is out for money, for drugs,
or just for something new like shoes
or sunglasses,
where your own rage
destroys everything in its wake
including you.
Especially you.
Go on, set your pad and pencil down,
turn off the camera, the rape.
The ape in the gilded cage
looks too familiar, doesn't he
and underneath it all,
like me, you just want to forget him.
Tonight, though, for awhile you'll lie awake.
You'll hear the sound of gunshots
in someone else's neighbourhood,
then comforted, turn over in your bed
and close your eyes,
but the boy like a shark redeemed at last,
yet unrepentant
will reenter your life
by the unlocked door of sleep
to take everything but his fury back.
--Ai


"What Year Was Heaven Desegregated?"
Watching the news about Diallo, my eight year-old cousin, Jake,
asks why don't they build black people
with bulletproof skin?
I tell Jake there's another planet, where humans change colors like mood rings.
You wake up Scottish, and fall asleep Chinese; enter a theatre
Persian, and exit Puerto Rican. And Earth
is a junkyard planet, where they send all the broken humans
who are stuck in one color. That
pseudo-angels in the world before this offer deals to black fetuses, to give up
their seats on the shuttle to earth, say: wait
for the next one, conditions will improve. Then Jake asks
do they
have ghettos in the afterlife? Seven years ago
I sat in a car, an antenna filled with crack cocaine smoldering
between my lips, the smoke spreading
in my lungs, like the legs of Joseph Stalin's mom in the delivery
room. An undercover piglet hoofed up
to the window. My buddy busted an illegal u-turn, screeched
the wrong way down a one-way street.
I chucked the antenna, shoved the crack rock up my asshole.
The cops swooped in from all sides,
yanked me out. I clutched my butt cheeks like a third fist gripping
a winning lotto ticket. The cop yelled,
"White boys only come in this neighborhood for two reasons: to steal
cars and buy drugs. You already got wheels."
I ran into the burning building of my mind. I couldn't see shit.
It was filled with crack smoke. I dug
through the ashes of my conscience, till I found my educated, white
male dialect, which I stuck in my voice box
and pushed play. Officer, I'm going to be honest with you: "Blah,
blah blah." See, the sad truth is my skin
said everything he needed to know. My skin whispered into his pink
ear, "I'm white." You can't pin shit on this
pale fabric. This pasty cloth is pin resistant. Now slap my wrist,
so I can go home, take this rock out
of my ass, and smoke it. If Diallo was white, those bullets would've
bounced off his chest like spitballs. But
his execution does prove that a black man with a wallet is as dangerous
to the cops as a black man with an Uzi.
Maybe he whipped that wallet out like a grenade, hollered, "I buy,
therefore I am an American." Or maybe
he just said, "hey man, my tax money paid for two of those bullets
in that gun." Last year on vacation in DC,
little Jake wondered how come there's a Vietnam wall, Abe Lincoln's
house, a Holocaust building, but nothing
about slavery? No thousand-foot sculpture of a whip. No
giant dollar bill dipped in blood.
Is it 'cause there's no Hitler to blame it on, no donkey to stick it on?
Are they afraid the blacks will want a settlement?
I mean, if Japanese-Americans locked up in internment camps
for five years cashed out at thirty g's, what's
the price tag on a three-hundred-year session with a dominatrix
who's not pretending? And the white people
say we gave 'em February. Black History Month. But it's so much
easier to have a month than an actual
conversation. Jake, life is one big song, and we are the chorus.
Riding the subway is a chorus.
Driving the freeway is a chorus. But you gotta stay ready, 'cause you never
know when the other instruments will
drop out, and ta-dah--it's your moment in the lit spot, the barometer
of your humanity, and you'll hear the footsteps
of a hush, rushing through the theater, as you aim for the high notes
with the bow and arrow in your throat.
--Jeffrey McDaniel


"Revenge of the Jagged Ambush Bug"
Please don't taunt the scrivener
unless he is plopping around in a useless plot,
then you may lampoon him at will.
Don't butter the monkeys, just don't.
And no etudes on the ballfield after eight.
Permits are required for flagellation,
keep your messianic woes to yourself.
Breathing on the bumblebees is strictly forbidden.
No muffins permitted in the aviary.
Talking dogs must keep it to a whisper.
Neither should you pee on the piglet.
You may boogie on the bridge but only lightly.
Try not to spend the summer in a state of torpor.
If you must eructate at the funeral
do so behind a bush, and make it sound
as if a rhinoceros is charging.
Do not write on the gazebo.

Do not sleep during the ranting.
Do not rant during the sleeping.
This is just a fragment of what I remember
of my childhood, and a rollercoaster
I never dared ride, and some daisies,
and ghouls, thousands of ghouls
dancing on our graves. I mean rules,
thousands of rules digging our graves.
That's much better, that's approaching
the gazebo and deliberately, fiercely
writing on it, words that will cauterize
the delicate, the wan and sickly passerby:
Marcus Aurelius is a horse's ass.
There, now I can die with my boots on.
--James Tate


"The War Next Door"
I thought I saw some victims of the last war bandaged and
limping through the forest beside my house. I thought I recognized
some of them, but I wasn't sure. It was kind of a hazy dream
from which I tried to wake myself, but they were still there,
bloody, some of them on crutches, some lacking limbs. This sad
parade went on for hours. I couldn't leave the window. Finally,
I opened the door. "Where are you going?" I shouted. "We're
just trying to escape," one of them shouted back. "But the war's
over," I said. "No it's not," one said. All the news reports had
said it had been over for days. I didn't know who to trust. It's
best to just ignore them, I told myself. They'll go away. So I
went into the living room and picked up a magazine. There was a
picture of a dead man. He had just passed my house. And another
dead man I recognized. I ran back in the kitchen and looked out.
A group of them were headed my way. I opened the door. "Why
didn't you fight with us?" they said. "I didn't know who the
enemy was, honest, I didn't," I said. "That's a fine answer. I
never did figure it out myself," one of them said. The others looked
at him as if he were crazy. "The other side was the enemy, obviously,
the ones with the beady eyes," said another. "They were mean,"
another said, "terrible." "One was very kind to me, cradled me
in his arms," said one. "Well, you're all dead now. A lot of
good that will do you," I said. "We're just gaining our strength
back," one of them said. I shut the door and went back in the
living room. I heard scratches at the window at first, but then
they faded off. I heard a bugle in the distance, then the roar of
a cannon. I still don't know which side I was on.
--James Tate


"A Christian Country"
God slumbers in a back alley
With a gin bottle in His hand.
Come on, God, get up and fight
Like a man.
--Langston Hughes


"How to Speak to the Dead"
This is how it works: They talk. You listen.
Let them go on at length about the harp lessons
and the cataloging of their regrets. Then, let them
begin their questions; most often they ask about the
minutia of the earth. They will ask you to detail
the habits of grass and trees. They will ask you to
tell them about the current cycle of cicadas:
the red eyes, the husks, the sacrament that is sleep.
Tell them of your latest visit to the psychiatrist.
Tell them how he diagnosed what you experience
to be a form of complicated grief. Over their brittle
laughter, protest: No, listen. I paid for that. Tell them
your husband left last winter. They knew that too.
Expect their shrugs. Allow them to continue:
Can you tell us again how it feels to be cold?
Can you remind us of the colors the leaves make
in autumn? How does it feel to want?
Tell them about
that dream last night about the invasion. No, the one about
the fire. How there was a fire in the shape of men
marching the streets, how the bystanders threw themselves
headlong into the pageant, their burning hands destroying
all they touched until there was nothing left in the world
but you and ash. Ask them if death is like that.
They'll say: Nothing gone stays gone here; you are never
alone in death. Listen,
they'll say, that's the worst part of all.
--T.J. Jarrett


"Grief Calls Us to the Things of This World"
The morning air is all awash with angels
--Richard Wilbur, "Love Calls Us to the Things of This World"

The eyes open to a blue telephone
In the bathroom of this five-star hotel.

I wonder whom I should call? A plumber,
Proctologist, urologist, or priest?

Who is blessed among us and most deserves
The first call? I choose my father because

He's astounded by bathroom telephones.
I dial home. My mother answers. "Hey, Ma,"

I say, "Can I talk to Poppa?" She gasps,
And then I remember that my father

Has been dead for nearly a year. "Shit, Mom,"
I say. "I forgot he's dead. I'm sorry--

How did I forget?" "It's okay," she says.
"I made him a cup of instant coffee

This morning and left it on the table--
Like I have for, what, twenty-seven years--

And I didn't realize my mistake
Until this afternoon." My mother laughs

At the angels who wait for us to pause
During the most ordinary of days

And sing our praise to forgetfulness
Before they slap our souls with their cold wings.

Those angels burden and unbalance us.
Those fucking angels ride us piggyback.

Those angels, forever falling, snare us
And haul us, prey and praying, into dust.
--Sherman Alexie


"Gone Before"
Sadness, though your beard may be fake,
your anonymity is quite real,
whispered the dying man to his nurse,
raising his arms for his last sponge bath.
Early renderings had no vanishing point.
Painters dream in oil.
Dreams, like canaries,
are sent down into our mineshafts
to discover how long we might survive,
the dreamers, like secretaries,
are sent home in sneakers,
carrying their pumps.
Sadness, you are so Japanese: snow
on just one side of the leaf
that has not yet dropped.
Snow of all snow
and of every lost chance,
last insects walking in fear across glass,
zeppelin beacons pulsing through the fog.
Snow as illegible as the cardboard
held by the man who can't spell
how hungry he is,
kneeling frozen at the fountain
to sail a small boat
folded from his last dollar.
Seen from deep orbit, hearts
wink white with loneliness.
A mother pulls her daughter by her arm.
A little girl pulls her doll by its hair.
Inside the space capsule after splashdown:
nothing. Not even a note.
The hospitals they have built
just for people like us to die in
are built entirely of corridors,
which they keep empty,
except for a grinding light.
Outside, the snow falls without making a sound.
And still the dogs scatter.
--Dobby Gibson


"The Dark Sooner"
Then came the darker sooner,
came the later lower.
We were no longer a sweeter-here
happily-ever-after. We were after ever.
We were farther and further.
More was the word we used for harder.
Lost was our standard-bearer.
Our gods were fallen faster,
and fallen larger.
The day was duller, duller
was disaster. Our charge was error.
Instead of leader we had louder,
instead of lover, never. And over this river
broke the winter's black weather.
--Catherine Wing


"Dwelling"
As though touching her
might make him known to himself

as though his hand moving
over her body might find who
he is, as though he lay inside her, a country

his hand's traveling uncovered
as though such a country arose
continually up out of her
to meet his hand's setting forth and setting forth.

And the places on her body have no names.
And she is what's immense about the night.
And their clothes on the floor are arranged
for forgetfulness.
--Li-Young Lee


the mind is its own beautiful prisoner.
Mind looked long at the sticky moon
opening in dusk her new wings

then decently hanged himself,one afternoon.

The last thing he saw was you
naked amid unnaked things,

your flesh,a succinct wandlike animal,
a little strolling with the futile purr
of blood;your sex squeaked like a billiard-cue
chalking itself,as not to make an error,
with twists spontaneously methodical.
He suddenly tasted worms windows and roses

he laughed,and closed his eyes as a girl closes
her left hand upon a mirror.
--e. e. cummings


"Meeting Poets"
Meeting poets I am disconcerted sometimes
by the colour of their socks
the suspicion of a wig
the wasp in the voice
and an air, sometimes, of dankness.

Best to meet in poems:
cool speckled shells
in which one hears
a sad but distant sea.
--Eunice de Souza


"Ghalib"
Tonight, you recite Ghalib from memory;

because poetry, like blood, must come from the heart.


Taking a sip from your glass after every couplet,

the scotch rhyming perfectly the melancholy on your tongue.


You cling to nostalgia like an empty mirror,

to the scent of this language that withers like flowers.


You gather pain the way the sky gathers,

pinprick by slow pinprick, the stars.


Somewhere between question and answer

the feeling dissolves. The need to sing becomes


the struggle not to fall. And you arrange

your ruins into one last gesture,


knowing the Beloved will not heed your call,

knowing she will prove false, like God, or the Moon.

***

You write to me from Delhi,

speak of summer blackouts,


of how, disconnected from the machines,

you thought of Ghalib--


the bomb blast of his grief

leaving the city in ruins--


and how the history of loss

could be written on a feather.


When the power returned

you turned the lights off,


lit a candle to see

the darkness a little better,


and still the shadows

were not the same.

***


"Madness", Ghalib writes, "is never without its reasons;

surely there is something that the veil is meant to protect"


And I think of all the years we have spent

listening to these ghazals, the verses


falling from our lips like pieces of exquisite glass

from broken window frames;


shaping our mouths to his sadness,

unbuttoning our collars to let his words stain


the rubbed language of our songs.

What have we been hiding from,


my friend? What longing is this inside us

that we disguise in a dead man's clothes
--Aseem Kaul


"I See Kashmir from New Delhi at Midnight"
1
One must wear jeweled ice in dry plains
to will the distant mountains to glass.
The city from where no news can come
is now so visible in its curfewed night
that the worst is precise:
From Zero Bridge
a shadow chased by searchlights is running
away to find its body. On the edge
of the Cantonment, where Gupkar Road ends,
it shrinks almost into nothing, is

nothing by Interrogation gates
so it can slip, unseen, into the cells:
Drippings from a suspended burning tire
are falling on the back of a prisoner,
the naked boy screaming, "I know nothing."

2
The shadow slips out, beckons Console Me,
and somehow there, across five hundred miles,
I'm sheened in moonlight, in emptied Srinagar,
but without any assurance for him.

On Residency Road, by Mir Pan House,
undheard we speak: "I know those words by heart
(you once said them by chance): In autumn
when the wind blows sheer ice, the chinar leaves
fall in clusters--

one by one, otherwise."
"Rizwan, it's you, Rizwan, it's you," I cry out
as he steps closer, the sleeves of his phiren torn.
"Each night put Kashmir in your dreams," he says,
then touches me, his hands crusted with snow,
whispers, "I have been cold a long, long time."

3
"Don't tell my father I have died," he says,
and I follow him through blood on the road
and hundreds of pairs of shoes the mourners
left behind, as they ran from the funeral,
victims of the firing. From windows we hear
grieving mothers, and snow begins to fall
on us, like ash. Black on edges of flames,
it cannot extinguish the neighborhoods,
the homes set ablze by midnight soldiers.
Kashmir is burning:

By that dazzling light
we see men removing statues from temples.
We beg them, "Who will protect us if you leave?"
They don't answer, they just disappear
on the road to the plains, clutching the gods.

4
I won't tell your father you have died, Rizwan,
but where has your shadow fallen, like cloth
on the tomb of which saint, or the body
of which unburied boy in the mountains,
bullet-torn, like you, his blood sheer rubies
on Himalayan snow?

I've tied a knot
with green thread at Shah Hamdan, to be
untied only when the atrocities
are stunned by your jeweled return, but no news
escapes the curfew, nothing of your shadow,
and I'm back, five hundred miles, taking off
my ice, the mountains granite again as I see
men coming from those Abodes of Snow
with gods asleep like children in their arms.
--Agha Shahid Ali


"The Man-Moth"
Here, above,
cracks in the buildings are filled with battered moonlight.
The whole shadow of Man is only as big as his hat.
It lies at his feet like a circle for a doll to stand on,
and he makes an inverted pin, the point magnetized to the moon.
He does not see the moon; he observes only her vast properties,
feeling the queer light on his hands, neither warm nor cold,
of a temperature impossible to record in thermometers.

But when the Man-Moth
pays his rare, although occasional, visits to the surface,
the moon looks rather different to him. He emerges
from an opening under the edge of one of the sidewalks
and nervously begins to scale the faces of the buildings.
He thinks the moon is a small hole at the top of the sky,
proving the sky quite useless for protection.
He trembles, but must investigate as high as he can climb.

Up the façades,
his shadow dragging like a photographer's cloth behind him,
he climbs fearfully, thinking that this time he will manage
to push his small head through that round clean opening
and be forced through, as from a tube, in black scrolls on the light.
(Man, standing below him, has no such illusions.)
But what the Man-Moth fears most he must do, although
he fails, of course, and falls back scared but quite unhurt.

Then he returns
to the pale subways of cement he calls his home. He flits,
he flutters, and cannot get aboard the silent trains
fast enough to suit him. The doors close swiftly.
The Man-Moth always seats himself facing the wrong way
and the train starts at once at its full, terrible speed,
without a shift in gears or a gradation of any sort.
He cannot tell the rate at which he travels backwards.

Each night he must
be carried through artificial tunnels and dream recurrent dreams.
Just as the ties recur beneath his train, these underlie
his rushing brain. He does not look out the window,
for the third rail, the unbroken draught of poison,
runs there beside him. He regards it as a disease
he has inherited the susceptibility to. He has to keep
his hands in his pockets, as others must wear mufflers.

If you catch him,
hold up a flashlight to his eye. It's all dark pupil,
an entire night itself, whose haired horizon tightens
as he stares back, and closes up the eye. Then from the lids
one tear, his only possession, like the bee's sting, slips.
Slyly he palms it, and if you're not paying attention
he'll swallow it. However, if you watch, he'll hand it over,
cool as from underground springs and pure enough to drink.
--Elizabeth Bishop


"The Tryst"
In the early evening rain
I leave the vault
and walk into the city

of lamentations, and stand.
I think it is September, September.

Where are you, Josephine?
It is one minute until you must appear,
draped in a grass-green serape,

shorter than most people,
more beautiful, baleful...

pressing a hand to my forehead,
slipping into my famished pocket
the elixir, the silver needle.
--James Tate


"Child on Top of a Greenhouse"
The wind billowing out the seat of my britches,
My feet crackling splinters of glass and dried putty,
The half-grown chrysanthemums staring up like accusers,
Up through the streaked glass, flashing with sunlight,
A few white clouds all rushing eastward,
A line of elms plunging and tossing like horses,
And everyone, everyone pointing up and shouting!
--Theodore Roethke


"Flower Dump"
Cannas shiny as slag,
Slug-soft stems,
Whole beds of bloom pitched on a pile,
Carnations, verbenas, cosmos,
Molds, weeds, dead leaves,
Turned-over roots
With bleached veins
Twined like fine hair,
Each clump in the shape of a pot;
Everything limp
But one tulip on top,
One swaggering head
Over the dying, the newly dead.
--Theodore Roethke
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Legacy"
In Wheeling, West Virginia, inmates riot.
Two cut out the heart of a child rapist
and hold it steaming in a guard's face
because he will live
to tell the story.
They know they have already died
of unrequited love
and in another version
won't recognize the murdered
as he walks toward them
disguised as the betrayed lover.
I don't know the ending,
or how this will make the bruised and broken
child live easier into the night
of a split world,
where in one camp the destroyers
have cooked up
a stench of past and maggots.
And in the other
love begins a dance, a giveaway to honor
the destroyed with new names.
I don't know the ending.
But I know the legacy of maggots is wings.
And I understand how lovers can destroy everything
together.
--Joy Harjo


"Wishbone"
You saved my life he says I owe you everything.
You don't, I say, you don't owe me squat, let's just get going, let's just get gone, but he's
relentless,
keeps saying I owe you, says Your shoes are filling with your own damn blood,
you must want something, just tell me, and it's yours.

But I can't look at him, can hardly speak,
I took the bullet for all the wrong reasons, I'd just as soon kill you myself, I say.
You keep saying I owe you, I owe... but you say the same thing every time.
Let's not talk about it, let's just not talk.
Not because I don't believe it, not because I want it any different, but I'm always saving
and you're always owing and I'm tired of asking to settle the debt.
Don't bother.
You never mean it anyway, not really, and it only makes me that much more ashamed.
There's only one thing I want, don't make me say it, just get me bandages, I'm bleeding,
I'm not just making conversation.
There's smashed glass glittering everywhere like stars. It's a Western, Henry,
it's a downright shoot-em-up. We've made a graveyard out of the bone white afternoon.
It's another wrong-man-dies scenario
and we keep doing it, Henry, keep saying until we get it right...
but we always win and we never quit, see, we've won again, here we are at the place
where I get to beg for it
where I get to say Please, for just one night, will you lay down next to me, we can leave our
clothes on, we can stay all buttoned up?

or will I say
Roll over and let me fuck you till you puke, Henry, you owe me this much, you can indulge me
this at least, can't you?
but we both know how it goes. I say I want you inside me
and you hold my head underwater, I say I want you inside me
and you split me open with a knife. I'm battling monsters, half-monkey, half-tarantula,
I'm pulling you out of the burning buildings and you say I'll give you anything.
But you never come through.
Give me bullet power. Give me power over angels. Even when you're standing up
you look like you're lying down, but will you let me kiss your neck, baby? Do I have to
tie your arms down?
Do I have to stick my tongue in your mouth like the hand of a thief, like a burglary
like it's just another petty theft? It makes me tired, Henry. Do you see what I mean?
Do you see what I'm getting at?
You swallowing matches and suddenly I'm yelling Strike me. Strike anywhere.
I swear, I end up feeling empty, like you've taken something out of me, and I have to search
my body for the scars, thinking
Did he find that one last tender place to sink his teeth in? I know you want me to say it, Henry,
it's in the script, you want me to say Lie down on the bed, you're all I ever wanted
and worth dying for too

but I think I'd rather keep the bullet this time. It's mine, you can't have it, see,
I'm not giving it up. This way you still owe me, and that's
as good as anything.
You can't get out of this one, Henry, you can't get it out of me, and with this bullet
lodged in my chest, covered with your name, I will turn myself into a gun, because
it's all I have,
because I'm hungry and hollow and just want something to call my own. I'll be your
slaughterhouse, your killing floor, your morgue and final resting, walking around with this
bullet inside me
'cause I couldn't make you love me and I'm tired of pulling your teeth. Don't you see, it's like
I've swallowed your house keys, and it feels so natural, like the bullet was already there,
like it's been waiting inside me the whole time.
Do you want it? Do you want anything I have? Will you throw me to the ground
like you mean it, reach inside and wrestle it out with your bare hands?
If you love me, Henry, you don't love me in a way I understand.
Do you know how it ends? Do you feel lucky? Do you want to go home now?
There's a bottle of whiskey in the trunk of the Chevy and a dead man at our feet
staring up at us like we're something interesting.
This is where the evening splits in half, Henry, love or death. Grab an end, pull hard,
and make a wish.
--Richard Siken


"Boot Theory"
A man walks into a bar and says:
Take my wife--please.
So you do.
You take her out into the rain and you fall in love with her
and she leaves you and you're desolate.
You're on your back in your undershirt, a broken man
on an ugly bedspread, staring at the water stains
on the ceiling.
And you can hear the man in the apartment above you
taking off his shoes.
You hear the first boot hit the floor and you're looking up,
you're waiting
because you thought it would follow, you thought there would be
some logic, perhaps, something to pull it all together
but here we are in the weeds again,
here we are
in the bowels of the thing: your world doesn't make sense.
And then the second boot falls.
And then a third, a fourth, a fifth.

A man walks into a bar and says:
Take my wife--please.
But you take him instead.
You take him home, and you make him a cheese sandwich,
and you try to get his shoes off, but he kicks you
and he keeps kicking you.
You swallow a bottle of sleeping pills but they don't work.
Boots continue to fall to the floor
in the apartment above you.
You go to work the next day pretending nothing happened.
Your co-workers ask
if everything's okay and you tell them
you're just tired.
And you're trying to smile. And they're trying to smile.

A man walks into a bar, you this time, and says:
Make it a double.
A man walks into a bar, you this time, and says:
Walk a mile in my shoes.
A man walks into a convenience store, still you, saying:
I only wanted something simple, something generic...
But the clerk tells you to buy something or get out.
A man takes his sadness down to the river and throws it in the river
but then he's still left
with the river. A man takes his sadness and throws it away
but then he's still left with his hands.
--Richard Siken


"Design"
I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth--
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches' broth--
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?--
If design govern in a thing so small.
--Robert Frost


"God's Grandeur"
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs--
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
--Gerard Manley Hopkins
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Littany in Which Certain Things Are Crossed Out"
Every morning the maple leaves.
Every morning another chapter where the hero shifts
from one foot to the other. Every morning the same big
and little words all spelling out desire, all spelling out
You will be alone always and then you will die.
So maybe I wanted to give you something more than a catalog
of non-definitive acts,
something other than the desperation.
Dear So-and-So, I'm sorry I couldn't come to your party.
Dear So-and-So, I'm sorry I came to your party
and seduced you
and left you bruised and ruined, you poor sad thing.
You want a better story. Who wouldn't?
A forest, then. Beautiful trees. And a lady singing.
Love on the water, love underwater, love, love and so on.
What a sweet lady. Sing lady, sing! Of course, she wakes the dragon.
Love always wakes the dragon and suddenly flames everywhere.
I can tell already you think I'm the dragon,
that would be so like me, but I'm not. I'm not the dragon.
I'm not the princess either.
Who am I? I'm just a writer. I write things down.
I walk through your dreams and invent the future. Sure,
I sink the boat of love, but that comes later. And yes, I swallow
glass, but that comes later.
And the part where I push you
flush against the wall and every part of your body rubs against the bricks,
shut up
I'm getting to it.
For a while I thought I was the dragon.
I guess I can tell you that now. And, for a while, I thought I was the princess,
cotton candy pink, sitting there in my room, in the tower of the castle,
young and beautiful and in love and waiting for you with
confidence
but the princess looks into her mirror and only sees the princess,
while I'm out here, slogging through the mud, breathing fire, and getting stabbed to death.
Okay, so I'm the dragon. Big deal.
You still get to be the hero.
You get the magic gloves! A fish that talks! You get eyes like flashlights!
What more do you want?
I make you pancakes, I take you hunting, I talk to you as if you're
really there.
Are you there, sweetheart? Do you know me? Is this microphone live?
Let me do it right for once,
for the record, let me make a thing of cream and stars that becomes,
you know the story, simply heaven.
Inside your head you hear a phone ringing
and when you open your eyes
only a clearing with deer in it. Hello deer.
Inside your head the sound of glass,
a car crash sound as the trucks roll over and explode in slow motion.
Hello darling, sorry about that.
Sorry about the bony elbows, sorry we
lived here, sorry about the scene at the bottom of the stairwell
and how I ruined everything by saying it out loud.
Especially that, but I should have known.
You see, I take the parts that I remember and stitch them back together
to make a creature that will do what I say
or love me back.
I'm not really sure why I do it, but in this version you are not
feeding yourself to a bad man
against a black sky prickled with small lights.
I take it back.
The wooden halls like caskets. These terms from the lower depths.
I take them back.
Here is the repeated image of the lover destroyed.
Crossed out.
Clumsy hands in a dark room. Crossed out. There is something
underneath the floorboards.
Crossed out. And here is the tabernacle
reconstructed.
Here is the part where everyone was happy all the time and we were all
forgiven,
even though we didn't deserve it.
Inside your head you hear
a phone ringing, and when you open your eyes you're washing up
in a stranger's bathroom,
standing by the window in a yellow towel, only twenty minutes away
from the dirtiest thing you know.
All the rooms of the castle except this one, says someone, and suddenly
darkness,
suddenly only darkness.
In the living room, in the broken yard,
in the back of the car as the lights go by. In the airport
bathroom's gurgle and flush, bathed in a pharmacy of
unnatural light,
my hands looking weird, my face weird, my feet too far away.
And the airplane, the window seat over the wing with a view
of the wing and a little foil bag of peanuts.
I arrived in the city and you met me at the station,
smiling in a way
that made me frightened. Down the alley, around the arcade,
up the stairs of the building
to the little room with the broken faucets, your drawings, all your things,
I looked out the window and said
This doesn't look that much different from home,
because it didn't,
but then I noticed the black sky and all those lights.
We walked through the house to the elevated train.
All these buildings, all that glass and the shiny beautiful mechanical wind.
We were inside the train car when I started to cry. You were crying too,
smiling and crying in a way that made me
even more hysterical. You said I could have anything I wanted, but I
just couldn't say it out loud.
Actually, you said Love, for you,
is larger than the usual romantic love. It's like a religion. It's
terrifying. No one
will ever want to sleep with you.

Okay, if you're so great, you do it--
here's the pencil, make it work...
If the window is on your right, you are in your own bed. If the window
is over your heart, and it is painted shut, then we are breathing
river water.
Build me a city and call it Jerusalem. Build me another and call it Jerusalem.
We have come back from Jerusalem where we found not
what we sought, so do it over, give me another version,
a different room, another hallway, the kitchen painted over
and over,
another bowl of soup.
The entire history of human desire takes about seventy minutes to tell.
Unfortunately, we don't have that kind of time.
Forget the dragon,
leave the gun on the table, this has nothing to do with happiness.
Let's jump ahead to the moment of epiphany,
in gold light, as the camera pans to where
the action is,
lakeside and backlit, and it all falls into frame, close enough to see
the blue rings of my eyes as I say
something ugly.
I never liked that ending either. More love streaming out the wrong way,
and I don't want to be the kind that says the wrong way.
But it doesn't work, these erasures, this constant refolding of the pleats.
There were some nice parts, sure,
all lemondrop and mellonball, laughing in silk pajamas
and the grains of sugar
on the toast, love love or whatever, take a number. I'm sorry
it's such a lousy story.
Dear Forgiveness, you know that recently
we have had our difficulties and there are many things
I want to ask you.
I tried that one time, high school, second lunch, and then again,
years later, in the chlorinated pool.
I am still talking to you about help. I still do not have
these luxuries.
I have told you where I'm coming from, so put it together.
We clutch our bellies and roll on the floor...
When I say this, it should mean laughter,
not poison.
I want more applesauce. I want more seats reserved for heroes.
Dear Forgiveness, I saved a plate for you.
Quit milling around the yard and come inside.
--Richard Siken
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Visible World"
Sunlight pouring across your skin, your shadow

flat on the wall.
The dawn was breaking the bones of your heart like twigs.
You had not expected this,
the bedroom gone white, the astronomical light
pummeling you in a stream of fists.
You raised your hand to your face as if
to hide it, the pink fingers gone gold as the light
streamed straight to the bone,
as if you were the small room closed in glass
with every speck of dust illuminated.
The light is no mystery,
the mystery is that there is something to keep the light
from passing through.
--Richard Siken
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"People"
No people are uninteresting.
Their fate is like the chronicle of planets.

Nothing in them is not particular,
and planet is dissimilar from planet.

And if a man lived in obscurity
making his friends in that obscurity
obscurity is not uninteresting.

To each his world is private,
and in that world one excellent minute.

And in that world one tragic minute.
These are private.

In any man who dies there dies with him
his first snow and kiss and fight.
It goes with him.

There are left books and bridges
and painted canvas and machinery.
Whose fate is to survive.

But what has gone is also not nothing:
by the rule of the game something has gone.
Not people die but worlds die in them.

Whom we knew as faulty, the earth's creatures.
Of whom, essentially, what did we know?

Brother of a brother? Friend of friends?
Lover of lover?

We who knew our fathers
in everything, in nothing.

They perish. They cannot be brought back.
The secret worlds are not regenerated.

And every time again and again
I make my lament against destruction.
--Yevgeny Yevtushenko, translated from the original Russian by Lauren Owens


"Climbing Milestone Mountain"
In the morning
We swam in the cold transparent lake, the blue
Damsel flies on all the reeds like millions
Of narrow metallic flowers, and I thought
Of you behind the grill in Dedham, Vanzetti,
Saying, "Who would ever have thought we would make this history?"
Crossing the brilliant mile-square meadow
Illuminated with asters and cyclamen,
The pollen of the lodgepole pines drifting
With the shifting wind over it and the blue
And sulphur butterflies drifting with the wind,
I saw you in the sour prison light, saying,
"Goodbye, comrade."
--Kenneth Rexroth


"Favrile"
Glassmakers,
at century's end,
compounded metallic lusters

in reference
to natural sheens (dragonfly
and beetle wings,

marbled light on kerosene)
and invented names
as coolly lustrous

as their products'
scarab-gleam: Quetzal,
Aurene, Favrile.

Suggesting,
respectively, the glaze
of feathers,

that sun-shot fog
of which halos
are composed,

and -- what?
What to make of Favrile,
Tiffany's term

for his coppery-rose
flushed with gold
like the alchemized

atmosphere of sunbeams
in a Flemish room?
Faux Moorish,

fake Japanese,
his lamps illumine
chiefly themselves,

copying waterlilies'
bronzy stems,
wisteria or trout scales;

surfaces burnished
like a tidal stream
on which an excitation

of minnows boils
and blooms, artifice
made to show us

the lavish wardrobe
of things, the world's
glaze of appearances

worked into the thin
and gleaming stuff
of craft. A story:

at the puppet opera
--where one man animated
the entire cast

while another ghosted
the voices, basso
to coloratura -- Jimmy wept

at the world of tiny gestures,
forgot, he said,
these were puppets,

forgot these wire
and plaster fabrications
were actors at all,

since their pretense
allowed the passions
released to be--

well, operatic.
It's too much,
to be expected to believe;

art's a mercuried sheen
in which we may discern,
because it is surface,

clear or vague
suggestions of our depths,
Don't we need a word

for the luster
of things which insist
on the fact they're made,

which announce
their maker's bravura?
Favrile, I'd propose,

for the perfect lamp,
too dim and strange
to help us read.

For the kimono woven,
dipped in dyes, unraveled
and loomed again

that the pattern might take on
a subtler shading
For the sonnet's

blown-glass sateen,
for bel canto,
for Faberge

For everything
which begins in limit
(where else might our work

begin?) and ends in grace,
or at least extravagance.
For the silk sleeves

of the puppet queen,
held at a ravishing angle
over her puppet lover slain,

for her lush vowels
mouthed by the plain man
hunched behind the stage.
--Mark Doty


"A Route of Evanescence"
A Route of Evanescence
With a revolving Wheel--
A Resonance of Emerald--
A Rush of Cochineal--
And every Blossom on the Bush
Adjusts its tumbled Head--
The mail from Tunis, probably,
An easy Morning's Ride--
--Emily Dickinson


"As kingfishers catch fire"
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rims in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same;
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells;
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.

I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is—
Christ—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces.
--Gerard Manley Hopkins


"Dragonflies Mating"
1.


The people who lived here before us
also loved these high mountain meadows on summer mornings.
They made their way up here in easy stages
when heat began to dry the valleys out,
following the berry harvest probably and the pine buds:
climbing and making camp and gathering,
then breaking camp and climbing and making camp and gathering.
A few miles a day. They sent out the children
to dig up bulbs of the mariposa lilies that they liked to roast
at night by the fire where they sat talking about how this year
was different from last year. Told stories,
knew where they were on earth from the names,
owl moon, bear moon, gooseberry moon.



2.


Jaime de Angulo (1934) was talking to a Channel Island Indian
in a Santa Barbara bar. You tell me how your people said
the world was made. Well, the guy said, Coyote was on the mountain
and he had to pee. Wait a minute, Jaime said,
I was talking to a Pomo the other day and he said
Red Fox made the world. They say Red Fox, the guy shrugged,
we say Coyote. So, he had to pee
and he didn’t want to drown anybody, so he turned toward the place
where the ocean would be. Wait a minute, Jaime said,
if there were no people yet, how could he drown anybody?
The Channelleño got a funny look on his face. You know,
he said, when I was a kid, I wondered about that,
and I asked my father. We were living up toward Santa Ynez.
He was sitting on a bench in the yard shaving down fence posts
with an ax, and I said, how come Coyote was worried about people
when he had to pee and there were no people? The guy laughed.
And my old man looked up at me with this funny smile
and said, You know, when I was a kid, I wondered about that.



3.


Thinking about that story just now, early morning heat,
first day in the mountains, I remembered stories about sick Indians
and—in the same thought—standing on the free throw line.


St. Raphael’s parish, where the northern-most of the missions
had been, was founded as a hospital, was named for the angel
in the scriptures who healed the blind man with a fish


he laid across his eyes.—I wouldn’t mind being that age again,
hearing those stories, eyes turned upward toward the young nun
in her white, fresh-smelling, immaculately laundered robes.—


The Franciscan priests who brought their faith in God
across the Atlantic, brought with the baroque statues and metalwork crosses
and elaborately embroidered cloaks, influenza and syphilis and the coughing disease.


Which is why we settled an almost empty California.
There were drawings in the mission museum of the long, dark wards
full of small brown people, wasted, coughing into blankets,


the saintly Franciscan fathers moving patiently among them.
It would, Sister Marietta said, have broken your hearts to see it.
They meant so well, she said, and such a terrible thing


came here with their love. And I remembered how I hated it
after school—because I loved basketball practice more than anything
on earth—that I never knew if my mother was going to show up


well into one of those weeks of drinking she disappeared into,
and humiliate me in front of my classmates with her bright, confident eyes,
and slurred, though carefully pronounced words, and the appalling


impromptu sets of mismatched clothes she was given to
when she had the dim idea of making a good impression in that state.
Sometimes from the gym floor with its sweet, heady smell of varnish


I’d see her in the entryway looking for me, and I’d bounce
the ball two or three times, study the orange rim as if it were,
which it was, the true level of the world, the one sure thing


the power in my hands could summon. I’d bounce the ball
once more, feel the grain of the leather in my fingertips and shoot.
It was a perfect thing; it was almost like killing her.



4.


When we say “mother” in poems,
we usually mean some woman in her late twenties
or early thirties trying to raise a child.


We use this particular noun
to secure the pathos of the child’s point of view
and to hold her responsible.



5.


If you’re afraid now?
Fear is a teacher.
Sometimes you thought that
Nothing could reach her,
Nothing can reach you.
Wouldn’t you rather
Sit by the river, sit
On the dead bank,
Deader than winter,
Where all the roots gape?



6.


This morning in the early sun,
steam rising from the pond the color of smoky topaz,
a pair of delicate, copper-red, needle-fine insects
are mating in the unopened crown of a Shasta daisy
just outside your door. The green flowerheads look like wombs
or the upright, supplicant bulbs of a vegetal pre-erection.
The insect lovers seem to be transferring the cosmos into each other
by attaching at the tail, holding utterly still, and quivering intently.


I think (on what evidence?) that they are different from us.
That they mate and are done with mating.
They don’t carry all this half-mated longing up out of childhood
and then go looking for it everywhere.
And so, I think, they can’t wound each other the way we do.
They don’t go through life dizzy or groggy with their hunger,
kill with it, smear it on everything, though it is perhaps also true
that nothing happens to them quite like what happens to us
when the blue-backed swallow dips swiftly toward the green pond
and the pond’s green-and-blue reflected swallow marries it a moment
in the reflected sky and the heart goes out to the end of the rope
it has been throwing into abyss after abyss, and a singing shimmers
from every color the morning has risen into.


My insect instructors have stilled, they are probably stuck together
in some bliss and minute pulse of after-longing
evolution worked out to suck the last juice of the world
into the receiver body. They can’t separate probably
until it is done.
--Robert Hass


"Scheherazade"
Tell me about the dream where we pull the bodies out of the lake
and dress them in warm clothes again.
How it was late, and no one could sleep, the horses running
until they forget that they are horses.
It's not like a tree where the roots have to end somewhere,
it's more like a song on a policeman's radio,
how we rolled up the carpet so we could dance, and the days
were bright red, and every time we kissed there was another apple
to slice into pieces.
Look at the light through the windowpane. That means it's noon, that means
we're inconsolable.
Tell me how all this, and love too, will ruin us.
These, our bodies, possessed by light.
Tell me we'll never get used to it.
--Richard Siken


"Birch Bark"
An hour after the storm on Birch Lake
the island bristles. Rock. Leaves still falling.
At this time, in the hour after lightning
we release the canoes.
Silence of water
purer than the silence of rock.
A paddle touches itself. We move
over blind mercury, feel the muscle
within the river, the blade
weave in dark water.

Now each casual word is precisely chosen
passed from bow to stern, as if
leaning back to pass a canteen.
There are echoes, repercussions of water.
We are in absolute landscape,
among names that fold in onto themselves.

To circle the island means witnessing
the blue grey dust of a heron
released out of the trees.
So the dialogue slides
nothing more than friendship
an old song we break into
not needing all the words.

We are past naming the country.
The reflections are never there
without us, without the exhaustion
of water and trees after storm.
--Michael Ondaatje


"To A Sad Daughter"
All night long the hockey pictures
gaze down at you
sleeping in your tracksuit.
Belligerent goalies are your ideal.
Threats of being traded
cuts and wounds
--all this pleases you.
O my god! you say at breakfast
reading the sports page over the Alpen
as another player breaks his ankle
or assaults the coach.

When I thought of daughters
I wasn't expecting this
but I like this more.
I like all your faults
even your purple moods
when you retreat from everyone
to sit in bed under a quilt.
And when I say 'like'
I mean of course 'love'
but that embarrasses you.
You who feel superior to black and white movies
(coaxed for hours to see Casablanca)
though you were moved
by Creature from the Black Lagoon.

One day I'll come swimming
beside your ship or someone will
and if you hear the siren
listen to it. For if you close your ears
only nothing happens. You will never change.

I don't care if you risk
your life to angry goalies
creatures with webbed feet.
You can enter their caves and castles
their glass laboratories. Just
don't be fooled by anyone but yourself.

This is the first lecture I've given you.
You're 'sweet sixteen' you said.
I'd rather be your closest friend
than your father. I'm not good at advice
you know that, but ride
the ceremonies
until they grow dark.

Sometimes you are so busy
discovering your friends
I ache with loss
--but that is greed.
And sometimes I've gone
into my purple world
and lost you.

One afternoon I stepped
into your room. You were sitting
at the desk where I now write this.
Forsythia outside the window
and sun spilled over you
like a thick yellow miracle
as if another planet
was coaxing you out of the house
--all those possible worlds!--
and you, meanwhile, busy with mathematics.

I cannot look at forsythia now
without loss, or joy for you.
You step delicately
into the wild world
and your real prize will be
the frantic search.
Want everything. If you break
break going out not in.
How you live your life I don't care
but I'll sell my arms for you,
hold your secrets forever.

If I speak of death
which you fear now, greatly,
it is without answers.
except that each
one we know is
in our blood.
Don't recall graves.
Memory is permanent.
Remember the afternoon's
yellow suburban annunciation.
Your goalie
in his frightening mask
dreams perhaps
of gentleness.
--Michael Ondaatje


"my fate"
like the fox
I run with the hunted
and if I'm not
the happiest man
on earth
I'm surely the
luckiest man
alive.
--Charles Bukowski


"my atomic stockpile"
I cleaned my place the other day
first time in ten years
and found 100 rejected poems:
I fastened them all to a clipboard
(much bad reading).

now I will clean their teeth
fill their cavities
give them eye and ear examinations
weigh them
offer blood transfusions
then send them out again into the
sick world of posey.
either that
or I must burn down your cities,
rape your women,
murder your men,
enslave your children.

every time I clean my room
the world trembles in the balance.
that's why I only do it once
every ten years.
--Charles Bukowski


"she comes from somewhere"
probably from the belly button or from the shoe under the
bed, or maybe from the mouth of the shark or from
the car crash on the avenue that leaves blood and memories
scattered on the grass.
she comes from love gone wrong under an
asphalt moon.
she comes from screams stuffed with cotton.
she comes from hands without arms
and arms without bodies
and bodies without hearts.
she comes out of cannons and shotguns and old victrolas.
she comes from parasites with blue eyes and soft voices.
she comes out from under the organ like a roach.
she keeps coming.
she's inside of sardine cans and letters.
she's under your fingernails pressing blue and flat.
she's the signpost on the barricade
smeared in brown.
she's the toy soldiers inside your head
poking their lead bayonets.
she's the first kiss and the last kiss and
the dog's guts spilling like a river.
she comes from somewhere and she never stops
coming.

me, and that
old woman:
sorrow.
--Charles Bukowski


"in other words"
the Egyptians loved the cat
were often entombed with it
instead of with the woman
and never with the dog

but now
here
good people with
good eyes
are very few

yet fine cats
with great style
lounge about
in the alleys of
the universe.

about
our argument tonight
whatever it was
about
and
no matter
how unhappy
it made us
feel

remember that
there is a
cat
somewhere
adjusting to the
space of itself
with a delightful
grace

in other words
magic persists
without us
no matter what
we may try to do
to spoil it.
--Charles Bukowski


"the railroad yard"
the feelings I get
driving past the railroad yard
(never on purpose but on my way to somewhere)
are the feelings other men have for other things.
I see the tracks and all the boxcars
the tank cars the flat cars
all of them motionless and so many of them
perfectly lined up and not an engine anywhere
(where are all the engines?).
I drive past looking sideways at it all
a wide, still railroad yard
not a human in sight
then I am past the yard
and it wasn't just the romance of it all
that gives me what I get
but something back there nameless
always making me feel better
as some men feel better looking at the open sea
or the mountains or at wild animals
or at a woman
I like those things too
especially the wild animals and the woman
but when I see those lovely old boxcars
with their faded painted lettering
and those flat cars and those fat round tankers
all lined up and waiting
I get quiet inside
I get what other men get from other things
I just feel better and it's good to feel better
whenever you can
not needing a reason.
--Charles Bukowski


"we ain't got no money, honey, but we got rain"
call it the greenhouse effect or whatever
but it just doesn't rain like it
used to.

I particularly remember the rains of the
depression era.
there wasn't any money but there was
plenty of rain.

it wouldn't rain for just a night or
a day,
it would RAIN for 7 days and 7
nights
and in Los Angeles the storm drains
weren't built to carry off that much
water
and the rain came down THICK and
MEAN and
STEADY
and you HEARD it banging against
the roofs and into the ground
waterfalls of it came down
from the roofs
and often there was HAIL
big ROCKS OF ICE
bombing
exploding
smashing into things
and the rain
just wouldn't
STOP
and all the roofs leaked--
dishpans,
cooking pots
were placed all about;
they dripped loudly
and had to be emptied
again and
again.

the rain came up over the street curbings,
across the lawns, climbed the steps and
entered the houses.
there were mops and bathroom towels,
and the rain often came up through the
toilets: bubbling, brown, crazy, whirling,
and the old cars stood in the streets,
cars that had problems starting on a
sunny day.
and the jobless men stood
looking out the windows
at the old machines dying
like living things
out there.

the jobless men,
failures in a failing time
were imprisoned in their houses with their
wives and children
and their
pets.
the pets refused to go out
and left their waste in
strange places.

the jobless men went mad
confined with
their once beautiful wives.
there were terrible arguments
as notices of foreclosure
fell into the mailbox.
rain and hail, cans of beans,
bread without butter; fried
eggs, boiled eggs, poached
eggs; peanut butter
sandwiches, and an invisible
chicken
in every pot.

my father, never a good man
at best, beat my mother
when it rained
as I threw myself
between them,
the legs, the knees, the
screams
until they
separated.

"I'll kill you," I screamed
at him. "You hit her again
and I'll kill you!"

"Get that son-of-a-bitching
kid out of here!"


"no, Henry, you stay with
your mother!"

all the households were under
siege but I believe that ours
held more terror than the
average.

and at night
as we attempted to sleep
the rains still came down
and it was in bed
in the dark
watching the moon against
the scarred window
so bravely
holding out
most of the rain,
I thought of Noah and the
Ark
and I thought, it has come
again.
we all thought
that.

and then, at once, it would
stop.
and it always seemed to
stop
around 5 or 6 a.m.,
peaceful then,
but not an exact silence
because things continued to
drip
drip
drip

and there was no smog then
and by 8 a.m.
there was a
blazing yellow sunlight,
van Gogh yellow--
crazy, blinding!
and then
the roof drains
relieved of the rush of
water
began to expand in
the warmth:
PANG! PANG! PANG!

and everybody got up
and looked outside
and there were all the lawns
still soaked
greener than green will ever
be
and there were the birds
on the lawn
CHIRPING like mad,
they hadn't eaten decently
for 7 days and 7 nights
and they were weary of
berries
and
they waited as the worms
rose to the top,
half-drowned worms.
the birds plucked them
up
and gobbled them
down; there were
blackbirds and sparrows.
the blackbirds tried to
drive the sparrows off
but the sparrows,
maddened with hunger,
smaller and quicker,
got their due.

the men stood on their porches
smoking cigarettes,
not knowing
they'd have to go out
there
to look for that job
that probably wasn't
there, to start that car
that probably wouldn't
start.

and the once beautiful
wives
stood in their bathrooms
combing their hair,
applying makeup,
trying to put their world back
together again,
trying to forget that
awful sadness that
gripped them,
wondering what they could
fix for
breakfast.

and on the radio
we were told that
school was now
open.
and
soon
there I was
on the way to school,
massive puddles in the
street,
the sun like a new
world,
my parents back in that
house,
I arrived at my classroom
on time.

Mrs. Sorenson greeted us
with, "we don't have our
usual recess, the grounds
are too wet."

"AW!" most of the boys
went.

"but we are going to do
something special at
recess," she went on,
"and it will be
fun!"

well, we all wondered
what that would
be
and the two-hour wait
seemed a long time
as Mrs. Sorenson
went about
teaching her
lessons.

I looked at the little
girls, they all looked so
pretty and clean and
alert,
they sat still and
straight
and their hair was
beautiful
in the California
sunshine.

then the recess bell rang
and we all waited for the
fun.

then Mrs. Sorenson told
us:
"now, what we are going to
do is we are going to tell
each other what we did
during the rainstorm!
we'll begin in the front
row and go right around!
now, Michael, you're
first!..."

well, we all begin to tell
our stories, Michael began
and it went on and on,
and soon we realized that
we were all lying, not
exactly lying but mostly
lying and some of the boys
began to snicker and some
of the girls began to give
them dirty looks and
Mrs. Sorenson said,
"all right, I demand a
modicum of silence
here!
I am interested in what
you did
during the rainstorm
even if you
aren't!"

so we had to tell our
stories and they were
stories.

one girl said that
when the rainbow first
came
she saw God's face
at the end of it.
only she didn't say
which end.

one boy said he stuck
his fishing pole
out the window
and caught a little
fish
and fed it to his
cat.

almost everybody told
a lie.
the truth was just
too awful and
embarrassing to
tell.

then the bell rang
and recess was
over.

"thank you," said Mrs.
Sorenson, "that was very
nice.
and tomorrow the grounds
will be dry
and we will put them
to use
again."

most of the boys
cheered
and the little girls
sat very straight and
still,
looking so pretty and
clean and
alert,
their hair beautiful
in a sunshine that
the world might
never see
again.
--Charles Bukowski

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