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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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


"The Second Sermon on the Warpland"
For Walter Bradford

1.

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


2.

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


3.

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


4.

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

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

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

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

---Gwendolyn Brooks


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


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


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


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


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

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

America

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

death by men by more
than you or I can

STOP


II

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

---Camille T. Dungy


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


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

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


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


"Slept"

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

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

    Mother says the heart is a wheel

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

    ~

    I told her I could not walk,

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

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

    it was voiceless

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

    My breath became the ghost of me,

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

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

    their language. I told her,

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

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

    good as air, was sleeping.

    ~

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

    One was of salt,

               one        without hunger—a forest

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

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

    statue-like on a patch of moss.

                 I        was watcher,

    or maker.                      Yellow-bellied
     dream, mourning dream.

    Each thing I saw: a seed to myself.

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

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

    ~

    Asleep, I lived

               in        silence, but in light.

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

    Stellar’s dream. And the body,

    a darkness        there        is no memory of.

---Jennifer Chang


"Poetry — No definition of poetry is adequate unless it be poetry itself. The most accurate analysis by the rarest wisdom is yet insufficient, and the poet will instantly prove it false by setting aside its requisitions. It is indeed all that we do not know. The poet does not need to see how meadows are something else than earth, grass, and water, but how they are thus much. He does not need discover that potato blows are as beautiful as violets, as the farmer thinks, but only how good potato blows are. The poem is drawn out from under the feet of the poet, his whole weight has rested on this ground. It has a logic more severe than the logician’s. You might as well think to go in pursuit of the rainbow, and embrace it on the next hill, as to embrace the whole of poetry even in thought."
---Henry David Thoreau
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"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
"The pale stars were sliding into their places. The whispering of the leaves was almost hushed. All about them it was still and shadowy and sweet. It was that wonderful moment when, for lack of a visible horizon, the not yet darkened world seems infinitely greater—a moment when anything can happen, anything be believed in."
---Olivia Howard Dunbar, The Shell of Sense


"Scarcely has night arrived to undeceive, unfurling her wings of crepe (wings drained even of the glimmer just now dying in the tree-tops); scarcely has the last glint still dancing on the burnished metal heights of the tall towers ceased to fade, like a still glowing coal in a spent brazier, which whitens gradually beneath the ashes, and soon is indistinguishable from the abandoned hearth, than a fearful murmur rises amongst them, their teeth chatter with despair and rage, they hasten and scatter in their dread, finding witches everywhere, and ghosts. It is night...and Hell will gape once more."
---Charles Nodier, Smarra & Trilby


"The desire to reach for the stars is ambitious. The desire to reach hearts is wise."
---Maya Angelou


"At midnight, fireworks in the plaza. No photographs—you know what fireworks are like. Tawdry, staggering, irresistible, like human love. Live stars fall on twenty thousand people massed in a darkened square. Some cry out, get burned, applaud. No star falls on me, although I try to position myself. Will you say you cannot make out my face in the dark? you heartless creature. At the end of the fireworks we burn down the cathedral, as is traditional. So dazed with light and sulfur by now, there is no question it is the appropriate finale. Tomorrow morning, when we try to celebrate Saint James's solemn Mass amid the charred ruins, we will think again. But fireworks are always now, aren't they? like human love. ¡Corazón arriba!

"When is a pilgrim like the middle of the night? When he burns."
---Anne Carson, "Compostela"


"Beware the autumn people.
For some, autumn comes early, stays late, through life, where October follows September and November touches October and then instead of December and Christ's birth there is no Bethlehem Star, no rejoicing, but September comes again and old October and so on down the years, with no winter, spring or revivifying summer.
For these beings, fall is the only normal season, the only weather, there be no choice beyond.
Where do they come from? The dust.
Where do they go? The grave.
Does blood stir their veins? No, the night wind.
What ticks in their head? The worm.
What speaks through their mouth? The toad.
What sees from their eye? The snake.
What hears with their ear? The abyss between the stars.
They sift the human storm for souls, eat flesh of reason, fill tombs with sinners. They frenzy forth. In gusts they beetle-scurry, creep, thread, filter, motion, make all moons sullen, and surely cloud all clear-run waters. The spider-web hears them, trembles—breaks.
Such are the autumn people."
---Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes


"September Midnight"
Lyric night of the lingering Indian Summer,
Shadowy fields that are scentless but full of singing,
Never a bird, but the passionless chant of insects,
      Ceaseless, insistent.  

The grasshopper’s horn, and far-off, high in the maples,
The wheel of a locust leisurely grinding the silence
Under a moon waning and worn, broken,
      Tired with summer.  

Let me remember you, voices of little insects,
Weeds in the moonlight, fields that are tangled with asters,
Let me remember, soon will the winter be on us,
      Snow-hushed and heavy.  

Over my soul murmur your mute benediction,
While I gaze, O fields that rest after harvest,
As those who part look long in the eyes they lean to,
      Lest they forget them.

---Sara Teasdale


"A Sunset of the City"
Already I am no longer looked at with lechery or love.
My daughters and sons have put me away with marbles and dolls,
Are gone from the house.
My husband and lovers are pleasant or somewhat polite
And night is night.

It is a real chill out,
The genuine thing.
I am not deceived, I do not think it is still summer
Because sun stays and birds continue to sing.

It is summer-gone that I see, it is summer-gone.
The sweet flowers indrying and dying down,
The grasses forgetting their blaze and consenting to brown.

It is a real chill out. The fall crisp comes.
I am aware there is winter to heed.
There is no warm house
That is fitted with my need.
I am cold in this cold house this house
Whose washed echoes are tremulous down lost halls.
I am a woman, and dusty, standing among new affairs.
I am a woman who hurries through her prayers.

Tin intimations of a quiet core to be my
Desert and my dear relief
Come: there shall be such islanding from grief,
And small communion with the master shore.
Twang they. And I incline this ear to tin,
Consult a dual dilemma. Whether to dry
In humming pallor or to leap and die.

Somebody muffed it? Somebody wanted to joke.
---Gwendolyn Brooks


"Three Songs at the End of Summer"
A second crop of hay lies cut  
and turned. Five gleaming crows  
search and peck between the rows.
They make a low, companionable squawk,  
and like midwives and undertakers  
possess a weird authority.

Crickets leap from the stubble,  
parting before me like the Red Sea.  
The garden sprawls and spoils.

Across the lake the campers have learned  
to water ski. They have, or they haven’t.  
Sounds of the instructor’s megaphone  
suffuse the hazy air. “Relax! Relax!”

Cloud shadows rush over drying hay,  
fences, dusty lane, and railroad ravine.  
The first yellowing fronds of goldenrod  
brighten the margins of the woods.

Schoolbooks, carpools, pleated skirts;  
water, silver-still, and a vee of geese.

*

The cicada’s dry monotony breaks  
over me. The days are bright  
and free, bright and free.

Then why did I cry today  
for an hour, with my whole  
body, the way babies cry?

*

A white, indifferent morning sky,  
and a crow, hectoring from its nest  
high in the hemlock, a nest as big  
as a laundry basket …
                                   In my childhood  
I stood under a dripping oak,
while autumnal fog eddied around my feet,  
waiting for the school bus
with a dread that took my breath away.

The damp dirt road gave off  
this same complex organic scent.

I had the new books—words, numbers,  
and operations with numbers I did not  
comprehend—and crayons, unspoiled  
by use, in a blue canvas satchel
with red leather straps.

Spruce, inadequate, and alien  
I stood at the side of the road.  
It was the only life I had.

---Jane Kenyon


"Empathy isn't just listening, it’s asking the questions whose answers need to be listened to. Empathy requires inquiry as much as imagination. Empathy requires knowing you know nothing. Empathy means acknowledging a horizon of context that extends perpetually beyond what you can see."
---Leslie Jamison, The Empathy Exams


"Getting lost is both the plight and the joy of the artist...This getting lost cannot be faked. We cannot pretend to be lost. We cannot be quasi-lost. In order to possibly find that way out---in order to discover that thing previously unknown to us---we walk through the pitch-black darkness. We feel our hands against cave walls. We slip and fall. We bruise ourselves, blind to our own path."
---Dani Shapiro


"Gathering is peculiar, because you see nothing but what you're looking for. If you're picking raspberries, you see only what's red, and if you're looking for bones you see only the white. No matter where you go, the only thing you see is bones."
---Tove Jansson, The Summer Book


"Average Tour"
It's not the child’s nightmare slide
down a ten-foot razor into a bath
of alcohol, nor the cobra's hooded stare
suddenly come near, but the multiplying string
of insignificance that's become your life.

The doorbell chimes, a phone
jars you from your book.
Your balding pharmacist recounts
the longest dullest joke
in history, his jaw hinged
like a puppet's blah
and blah and blah as you stitch
a smile across your face. A cop
drags you from your slot
in traffic: go straight to court, wait
for hours, weep shamelessly
to save ten bucks.

Such aggressively minor suffering
wins no handshakes, roses, accolades
and threatens to suck the soul out,

though in a small compartment in your skull
you hope for finer things.
At night you set aside your lists
and dime-sized aches to lift its lid
and find the simple room
in which everything you meant to speak
and shape and do is spoken,
formed and done: thirty-odd
thousand jasmine-scented nights
opening like satin umbrellas
all at once. But less and less

you unlatch paradise.
You learn to sleep through days, standing
like a beast, sleep while turning pages
or crying out from love. You sleep
and sleep. One day you wake up dead.
Strange hands raise you from your bed.
The zipper's jagged teeth interlock
before your shining eyes. Small world.
---Mary Karr


"The best way to know life is to love many things."
---Vincent van Gogh


Poem that opened you---
The opposite of a wound.

Didn't the world
Come pouring through?
---Gregory Orr


"Poetry…being able to see ghosts, then making others believe in them wholeheartedly."
---Kevin Stock


"Meditation"

"Is anything central?"
John Ashbery


One event stands out from childhood:
the day someone left.
The house was not empty,
but it would happen again
and again. This affected my sight:
fragments filled the air
with everything---a man
standing by the door, a cinder
in the air, evenings by myself.

Certain contradictions recurred:
a streetlamp glowing at sunrise,
the moon rising in the afternoon.
Now a white sheet covers everything,
a network of cloth, a web on the door.

Perhaps this explains nothing
but a restlessness to leave the world,
the desire to sleep on the floor
of one's past, beyond the rise of memory.
Once, someone left. The world was not changed
as I was, but the house I lived in
was left by itself, a thin frame standing
against the past and parting of events.
---Ira Sadoff


"Persephone in September"
The leaves are at my feet. The grass is dead.
The air is bitter as a dragonbite.
I hear the thunder moaning overhead,
Like some great creature dying in the night.
The winter wraps my shoulders like a shawl,
And I can taste the still unfallen snow.
The darkness comes like footsteps in the hall.
The winds reclaim the world, and I must go.

I take a road beyond the sight of eyes
That runs beyond the minds of walking men,
And only this I leave---a song that cries,
"Oh, I will surely, surely come again!"
And, knowing this, I turn my eyes and mark
My iron lover, crouching in the dark.
---Peter S. Beagle


"Planets and Words

"SESHAT IS A planet of books, of reading and writing. Not only do the people of Seshat document their every waking moment with words, they also build machines that write things into existence. On Seshat, a pen’s ink can be stem cells or plastic or steel, and thus words can become flesh and food and many-coloured candies and guns. In Seshat, you can eat a chocolate soufflé in the shape of a dream you had, and the bright-eyed ancient chocolatier may have a new heart that is itself a word become flesh. Every object in Seshat writes, churning out endless idiot stories about what it is like to be a cow, a pill jar or a bottle of wine. And of course the genomes of living beings are also read and written: the telomeres in Seshatian cells are copied and extended and rewritten by tiny molecular scribes, allowing the people of Seshat to live nearly as long as their books.

"It is no surprise that Seshat is overcrowded, its landfills full of small pieces of plastic, its networks groaning under the weight of endless spambot drivel, the work of fridges and fire alarms with literary aspirations, the four-letter library of Babel that flows from the mouths of DNA sequencers, with no end in sight.

"Yet the Seshatians hunger for more things to read. They have devised books with golden pages that the Universe itself can write in: books where gold atoms displaced by dark matter particles leave traces in carefully crafted strands of DNA, allowing the flows and currents of the dark to be read and mapped and interpreted. And over the centuries, as the invisible ink of the neutralinos and axions dries and forms words on the golden pages, hinting at ships that could be built to trace every whirl and letter out in the void and turn the dark sentences into light, the people of Seshat hold their breath and hope that their planet will be the first line in a holy book, or at least the hook in a gripping yarn, and not the inevitable, final period."
---Hannu Rajaniemi, "Invisible Planets"


"Good Death"
Of words placed in their best black clothes. Of that darkness full.
Of the laugh, forged of dust that spilled its gold light into the tomb.
Of the wreath carved upon the copper vault.
Of the ivory city – bones like trumpets – blowing you away from us in song.
Of the city again where you will be welcomed by vultures.
Of the road between the dates, a short slash. An usher in a gold hat.
Of the pronunciation of sorrow, always, in summer.
Of the snake who suffered the story.
Of the afterlife & its downpour of ordinary rites.
Of rites I enact in my broken thoughts.
Of my fever waving its anguish until the match goes out in disbelief.
Of the nine stars bleeding mercy beneath the roof of God.
Of God, God, & God.
Of the peace & suffering my people have been promised.
Of the clean, white clothes I gave the undertaker.
                              Here are the stockings, I said, not knowing
whether they would match her skin.
Of the poems I’ve been trying to write. Die, I say.
                              Go elsewhere for songs.
Of the food & the appetite.
Of my father’s shoulders in a black suit.
Of downpour again.
Of the animals who charge me with horns
                              when I offer my clay ribs.
Of her visitations.
Of the hot comb I cradled on my knees in the bathroom.
Of the brutal gospel of hair, untouched toothbrush, clothes
                               in closets with sale tags.
Of dreams where my teeth scatter like maple leaves.
Of what I will never remember.
Of the rain that makes my howls float like empty bottles of glass.
Of the dreams where my white clothes grow flames.
Of what I will remember remembering.
Of the neon-colored nail polish on her hand
                             I held at her deathbed.
Of what I hated to ask the night & gods.
Of the knees that remember the orange mud before the grass grew back.
Of you, Reader, looking at my face here & reading
                              because we all want to know how to bear it.
Of the strange, caring question their voices poured like grace
                            over my side where I was trying to leave. Get out of skin.
Of it being over, again & again.
Of it beginning.  They ask me was it a good death, was it
                             a good death, was there peace for all of us. Why
                             should I want peace instead of my mother?
Of the mothers who have always known while holding children
                              in their wombs – why wasn’t I told?
Now I walk into the sea with my jewel of anguish & shake those                            human flowers 
                               from my new, bald skull.

---Rachel Eliza Griffiths


"The Testing-Tree"
1

On my way home from school
   up tribal Providence Hill
      past the Academy ballpark
where I could never hope to play
   I scuffed in the drainage ditch
      among the sodden seethe of leaves
hunting for perfect stones
   rolled out of glacial time
      into my pitcher’s hand;
then sprinted lickety-
   split on my magic Keds
      from a crouching start,
scarcely touching the ground
   with my flying skin
      as I poured it on
for the prize of the mastery
   over that stretch of road,
      with no one no where to deny
when I flung myself down
   that on the given course
      I was the world’s fastest human.

 
2

Around the bend
   that tried to loop me home
      dawdling came natural
across a nettled field
   riddled with rabbit-life
      where the bees sank sugar-wells
in the trunks of the maples
   and a stringy old lilac
      more than two stories tall
blazing with mildew
   remembered a door in the 
      long teeth of the woods.
All of it happened slow:
   brushing the stickseed off,
      wading through jewelweed
strangled by angel’s hair,
   spotting the print of the deer
      and the red fox’s scats.
Once I owned the key
   to an umbrageous trail
      thickened with mosses
where flickering presences
   gave me right of passage
      as I followed in the steps
of straight-backed Massassoit
   soundlessly heel-and-toe
      practicing my Indian walk.

 
3

Past the abandoned quarry
   where the pale sun bobbed
      in the sump of the granite,
past copperhead ledge,
   where the ferns gave foothold,
      I walked, deliberate,
on to the clearing,
   with the stones in my pocket
      changing to oracles
and my coiled ear tuned
   to the slightest leaf-stir.
      I had kept my appointment.
There I stood in the shadow,
   at fifty measured paces,
      of the inexhaustible oak,
tyrant and target,
   Jehovah of acorns,
      watchtower of the thunders,
that locked King Philip’s War
   in its annulated core
      under the cut of my name.
Father wherever you are
    I have only three throws
       bless my good right arm.
In the haze of afternoon,
   while the air flowed saffron,
      I played my game for keeps--
for love, for poetry,
   and for eternal life--
      after the trials of summer.

4

In the recurring dream
   my mother stands
      in her bridal gown
under the burning lilac,
   with Bernard Shaw and Bertie
      Russell kissing her hands;
the house behind her is in ruins;
   she is wearing an owl’s face
      and makes barking noises.
Her minatory finger points.
   I pass through the cardboard doorway
      askew in the field
and peer down a well
   where an albino walrus huffs.
      He has the gentlest eyes.
If the dirt keeps sifting in,
   staining the water yellow,
      why should I be blamed?
Never try to explain.
   That single Model A
      sputtering up the grade
unfurled a highway behind
   where the tanks maneuver,
      revolving their turrets.
In a murderous time
   the heart breaks and breaks
      and lives by breaking.
It is necessary to go
   through dark and deeper dark
      and not to turn.
I am looking for the trail.
   Where is my testing-tree?
      Give me back my stones!

---Stanley Kunitz


"Under the Harvest Moon"
Under the harvest moon,
When the soft silver
Drips shimmering
Over the garden nights,
Death, the gray mocker,
Comes and whispers to you
As a beautiful friend
Who remembers.

Under the summer roses
When the flagrant crimson
Lurks in the dusk
Of the wild red leaves,
Love, with little hands,
Comes and touches you
With a thousand memories,
And asks you
Beautiful, unanswerable questions.
---Carl Sandburg


"Writing is a corporeal activity. We work ideas through our bodies; we write through our bodies, hoping to get into the bodies of our readers. We study and write about society not as an abstraction but as composed of actual bodies in proximity to other bodies."
---Elspeth Probyn, "Writing Shame"


"He imagined himself in topographical terms. Corners, junctions, stiles, fingerposts, forks, crossroads, trivia, beckoning over-the-hill paths, tracks that led to danger, death or bliss: he internalized the features of path-filled landscapes such that they gave form to his melancholy and his hopes. Walking was a means of personal myth-making...he not only thought on paths and of them, but also with them."
---Robert Macfarlane, talking of poet Edward Thomas, The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot


Because the story of our life
becomes our life

Because each of us tells
the same story
but tells it differently

and none of us tells it
the same way twice

because grandmothers looking like spiders
want to enchant the children
because grandfathers need to convince us
what happened happened because of them

and though we listen only
haphazardly, with one ear,
we will begin our story
with the word and
---Lisel Mueller, "Why We Tell Stories"


"A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. Whilst she is walking across a room or whilst she is weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid envisaging herself walking or weeping. From earliest childhood she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually. And so she comes to consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as the two constituent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman. She has to survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to men, is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life. Her own sense of being in herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another […] One might simplify this by saying: men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object — and most particularly an object of vision: a sight."
---John Berger, Ways of Seeing


"Neither grief nor pride had so much truth in them as did joy, the joy that trembled in the cold wind between sky and sea, bright and brief as fire."
---Ursula K. Le Guin, Planet of Exile


"Metaphor achieves its end through its capacity to function in two referential fields at once, joining the familiar field of established meaning with the unfamiliar field for which there is no external characterisation, and which stands complete within itself. It is this field which houses the forces which make the Pindaric ode a living, lasting thing.

"In order to reach this second field, language must divest itself of its function of direct description. This is the role of metaphor within poetic discourse where it first destroys the literal level, then creates new meaning, Metaphor arises from a blockage in literal, inadequate interpretation, exploiting the gap between words and objects, sense and reference, and splitting the illusory bond between name and thing. From this wreckage a more fundamental mode of reference emerges, one which lays the way for a new, more adequate interpretation. Like ‘poeticalness’ itself, metaphor is not ‘a supplementation of discourse, but a total re-evaluation of discourse and of all its components whatsoever.’ The breakdown of literal levels of meaning sets us on the road to rediscovery and redescription, allowing poet and audience both to step back from a world of ordinary reference where words function as signs, to one of symbols, where words become significant in themselves. This symbolic language is notoriously dense, making words into a more substantial matter which does not merely represent, but expresses. Such opaque discourse replaces denotation with connotation, the hallmark of metaphoric speech."
---Deborah Steiner, The Crown of Song: Metaphor in Pindar


"Defeat"
Defeat, my Defeat, my solitude and my aloofness,
You are dearer to me than a thousand triumphs,
And sweeter to my heart than all world-glory.

Defeat, my Defeat, my self-knowledge and my defiance,
Through you I know that I am yet young and swift of foot
And not to be trapped by withering laurels.
And in you I have found aloneness
And the joy of being shunned and scorned.

Defeat, my Defeat, my shining sword and shield,
In your eyes I have read
That to be enthroned is to be enslaved,
And to be understood is to be levelled down,
And to be grasped is but to reach one’s fullness
And like a ripe fruit to fall and be consumed.

Defeat, my Defeat, my bold companion,
You shall hear my songs and my cries and my silences,
And none but you shall speak to me of the beating of wings,
And urging of seas,
And of mountains that burn in the night,
And you alone shall climb my steep and rocky soul.

Defeat, my Defeat, my deathless courage,
You and I shall laugh together with the storm,
And together we shall dig graves for all that die in us,
And we shall stand in the sun with a will,
And we shall be dangerous.
---Kahlil Gibran, trans. unknown


"A Separate Time"
In the years since I saw you on Sunday,
I left my home and walked out across the earth
with only my occasional luck and knowledge of cards.
I met men and women constantly dissatisfied,
who hadn't learned to close their hands,
who sewed and patched their few words
fashioning garments they hoped to grow into.
There were winters sheltered in a cabin beneath pines.
There were frozen rivers and animals crazy with hunger.
But always I saw myself walking toward you,
as a drop of water touching the earth immediately
turns toward the sea. Tonight I visit your house.
In the time precious to newspapers and clocks,
only a few days have passed. The room is quiet.
Looking into your eyes, I become like the exile
who turns the corner of the last cliff and suddenly
stares down into the valley of his homeland,
sees the terraced fields and white-roofed houses
grouped on the hillside. Then, the smell of woodsmoke
and a woman calling her husband in for the night.
---Stephen Dobyns


"Recovery"
You have decided to live. This is your fifth
day living. Hard to sleep. Harder to eat,

the food thick on your tongue, as I watch you,
my own mouth moving.

Is this how they felt after the flood? The floor
a mess, the garden ruined,

the animals insufferable, cooped up so long?
So much work to be done.

The sodden dresses. Houses to be built.
Wood to be dried and driven and stacked. Nails!

The muddy roses. So much muck about. Hard walking.
And still a steady drizzle,

the sun like a morning moon, and all of them grumpy
and looking at each other in that new way.

We walk together, slowly, on this your fifth day
and you, occasionally, glimmer with a light

I've never seen before. It frightens me,
this new muscle in you, flexing.

I had the crutches ready. The soup simmering.
But now it is as we thought.

Can we endure it, the rain finally stopped?
---Marie Howe


" 'Night is also a sun,' and the absence of myth is also a myth: the coldest, the purest, the only true myth."
---Georges Bataille


"Night Song"
The day darkens. You have not
light enough to push the night
from your rooms. In your mirror,
you see an older self just returned
from a country where you are going.
As you watch him, you imagine
a vast plain under a lowering sky.
There are no stars, but in the distance
are sparse fires of memory, and regret
like an animal’s call on the night air.
He has returned through a place as cold
as indifference or an empty heart,
and you would ask some question,
but he brings neither help nor comfort,
offers no message but silence. So you
step aside. You think this was not
what you were promised or even
planned for. What plans, what had you
intended? You fall like a pebble flicked
from a window above a darkening street.
---Stephen Dobyns


"I feel more and more every day, as my imagination strengthens, that I do not live in this world alone but in a thousand worlds."
---John Keats


"The instant dissolves in the succession of other nameless instants. In order to save it we must convert it into a rhythm. The ‘happening’ opens up another possibility: the instant that is never repeated. By definition, this instant is the final one: the ‘happening’ is an allegory of death."
---Octavio Paz, from “Recapitulations,” trans. Helen Lane


"Art is here to prove, and to help one bear, the fact that all safety is an illusion."
---James Baldwin


"I have the impression that thinking is a form of feeling and that feeling is a form of thinking."
---Susan Sontag


"We must not fear daylight just because it almost always illuminates a miserable world."
---René Magritte


"Madness and witchery… are conditions commonly associated with the use of the female voice in public, in ancient as well as modern contexts. Consider how many female celebrities of classical mythology, literature and cult make themselves objectionable by the way they use their voice. For example there is the heartchilling groan of the Gorgon, whose name is derived from a Sanskrit word garg meaning “a guttural animal howl that issues as a great wind from the back of the throat through a hugely distended mouth.” There are the Furies whose highpitched and horrendous voices are compared by Aiskhylos to howling dogs or sounds of people being tortured in hell. There is the deadly voice of the Sirens and the dangerous ventriloquism of Helen and the incredible babbling of Kassandra and the fearsome hullabaloo of Artemis as she charges through the woods. There is the seductive discourse of Aphrodite which is so concrete an aspect of her power that she can wear it on her belt as a physical object or lend it to other women. There is the old woman of Eleusinian legend Iambe who shrieks and throws her skirt up over her head to expose her genitalia. There is the haunting garrulity of the nymph Echo (daughter of Iambe in Athenian legend) who is described by Sophokles as 'the girl with no door on her mouth.'

"Putting a door on the female mouth as been an important project of patriarchal culture from antiquity to present day. Its chief tactic is an ideological association of female sound with monstrosity, disorder and death."
---Anne Carson, The Gender of Sound


"Tell Me Something Good"
You are standing in the minefield again.
Someone who is dead now

told you it is where you will learn
to dance. Snow on your lips like a salted

cut, you leap between your deaths, black as god’s
periods. Your arms cleaving little wounds

in the wind. You are something made. Then made
to survive, which means you are somebody’s

son. Which means if you open your eyes, you’ll be back
in that house, beneath a blanket printed with yellow sailboats.

Your mother’s boyfriend, his bald head ringed with red
hair, like a planet on fire, kneeling

by your bed again. Air of whiskey & crushed
Oreos. Snow falling through the window: ash returned

from a failed fable. His spilled-ink hand
on your chest. & you keep dancing inside the minefield—

motionless. The curtains fluttering. Honeyed light
beneath the door. His breath. His wet blue face: earth

spinning in no one’s orbit. & you want someone to say Hey…
    Hey
I think your dancing is gorgeous. A little waltz to die for,

darling. You want someone to say all this
is long ago. That one night, very soon, you’ll pack a bag

with your favorite paperback & your mother’s .45,
that the surest shelter was always the thoughts

above your head. That it’s fair—it has to be—
how our hands hurt us, then give us

the world. How you can love the world
until there’s nothing left to love

but yourself. Then you can stop.
Then you can walk away—back into the fog

-walled minefield, where the vein in your neck adores you
to zero. You can walk away. You can be nothing

still breathing. Believe me.

---Ocean Vuong


"Forecast"
I twist myself into a knot
the day pulls taut.

I am what I am
told. Good red meat

gone necrotic. A spot of black
spread out to ruin

a perfect evening. It’s the way
the weather wears me.

A cold, blank day. My blood-
burned fingers. A white noise

swelling in me. It’s nothing
but night now. That’s how

all the days end. An hour
glistens in its glass case, turns

rancid in my memory.
Another day, another

dress the day lays out
before me. I grow older

if I’m lucky.
And I’m lucky.

My sad heart in its excess.
Such petty injury. I am worn

against the weather. Limp and prone
to empty.

What came before this.
I can’t remember.

I dress for all the lives I want
behind me. I have come here

to make seen the day
I see. I fall from focus.

The day goes sour. It asks me
nothing. It asks nothing of me.
---Camille Rankine


Time, for us, is a straight line,
                                               on which we hang our narratives.
For landscape, however, it all is a circling
From season to season, the snake’s tail in the snake’s mouth,
No line for a story line.
In its vast wheel, in its endless turning,
                                                             no lives count, not one.

Hard to imagine that no one counts,
                                                         that only things endure.
Unlike the seasons, our shirts don’t shed,
Whatever we see does not see us,
                                                        however hard we look,
The rain in its silver earrings against the oak trunks,
The rain in its second skin.

---Charles Wright, "Scar Tissue II"


"Any entity, any process that cannot or should not be resisted or avoided must somehow be partnered. Partner one another. Partner diverse communities. Partner life. Partner any world that is your home. Partner God. Only in partnership can we thrive, grow, change. Only in partnership can we live."
---Octavia Butler, Parable of the Talents


"Changelings are fish you're supposed to throw back."
---Holly Black, The Darkest Part of the Forest


"The Flower Carrier"
for Jean Cassou and for Ida Jankelevitch

My hands are no longer mine,
they belong to the flowers I’ve just plucked;
can these flowers, with such pure imagination,
invent another being for these hands
that are no longer mine? And then,
obedient, I’ll stand at his side,
at the being’s side, curious about my former hands,
and I will never leave him, listening
with all my heart, before he can say to me:
O light-fingered one!
---Rainer Maria Rilke, trans. A. Poulin, Jr.


"For Phil"
in memory of Philip Levine

He sits reading under his desk lamp,
he loves how wind distresses tail and mane,
he likes the rhymes internal and irregular,
how people from the old days walk in and out
of the poem, how the father who dies
in one stanza can rise in another, how, despite
the drought, the rain keeps falling in fourteen lines.
His rumpled bed is never not specific
as the dent his head leaves in the pillow.
He rubs his hands across his jaw, unshaven,
his touch on the back of your wrist is delicate
and urgent, when you help him up from bed,
he isn’t shy about holding on, when he lies
back down, he grips his water bottle and won’t
let go. Smiling, says: Let’s not use that word:
it’s been used ten thousand eight-hundred
and seventy-six times. He shrugs off the weepers,
the brotherly lovers, the sour preachers turning
purple and blue in their dandruff-sprinkled robes.
Out in his backyard in Fresno, the oranges ripening.
At his window in Brooklyn, the plane trees,
stripped bare of leaves, click softly in the breeze.
Him in his undershirt, in his tweed jackets,
in sweat pants watching Norman Schemansky clean and jerk.
Now he’s throwing rocks on the bridle path,
he’s turning into a fox, the brush of his tail
mocks the path, he leaps clear of his own tracks,
doubles back, loses the lords and ladies riding.
Now he’s preaching to rats, showing them pages
in Holy Books, Money Books, Books of the Entitled
that are good to eat and chew right down.
But all alone in his study with ice and sun, he scrawls
with his fountain pen, crosses it all out, starts again:
and this time rising up are the sheared away walls
of an abandoned highschool, a stack of rusted axles,
a diner where nobody talks openly
of love but where ketchup and mockery
are served up with the coffee and his heart,
arrhythmic, pulse out of sync, all on its own.
---Tom Sleigh


"November Aubade"
When I was very young, I confused
the sound of crickets with the stars.
It was, almost, a word—the shrill chant diffused
by recurrence. Through the wind the stars
held and wavered. Even now, while walking by
a culvert on a warm November day,
the stagnant water shows a sky—
and the grass is deep with stars. But they
have dimmed—these are the last to fade—
like the voice of someone you once loved
you still hear in the early light of day.
---Carol Quinn


Not knowing when the Dawn will come,
I open every Door,
Or has it Feathers, like a Bird,
Or Billows, like a Shore —
---Emily Dickinson


"Happiness"
There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.

It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basketmaker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.
                     It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.

---Jane Kenyon
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Scary Parents"
trigger warning: heroin, child abuse )
--Michael Dickman


"The things I steal from sleep are what I am."
--Theodore Roethke


"The Difficulty"
This film, like many others,
claims we'll enjoy life
now that we’ve come through

difficulties, dangers
so incredibly condensed
that they must be over.

If the hardship
was undergone by others,
we identified with them

and, if the danger was survived
by simpler life forms,
they're included in this moment

when the credits roll
and we don't know
when to stand
--Rae Armantrout


"A riot is the language of the unheard."
—Martin Luther King Jr.


"Poem That Wants to Be Called the West Side Highway"
You can do the work just by starting it. You can
do whatever you want. A bill
is drafted on a train to Albany, or in a black
limousine. Like how one day I walked
the entire length of Manhattan, except I didn't.
I didn't finish. Not nearly. How could I?
Stopped as I was by the boat basin. These
credit cards fill with gin
and tonic. They pool with the stuff. Maybe
I get a little lost sometimes,
start thinking I went to Yale. Once I swam
to Governors Island, between the ferries
and freighters. It was like a job you should've seen
me quit. Maybe they looked for me. Maybe
it wasn't someone else's shift, and then
it was. Sometimes people are just turnstiles.
You have to tell them to keep
turning, keep turning into someone else. The rain
crashes across a cab, and the road
has filled. We're waterborne. Or whatever
the word is for that little moment
when the heart lifts. Why don't you devote
yourself the way you once did? It's
an old answer, and an early
one. The alarm goes off for a while after it
stops. In your face in the bathroom
mirror. You play that little song to look at
your teeth. My teeth. They haven't been cared for.
The class giggles at my age. This is
my hearing. The chances taken on a new face.
--Samuel Amadon


"Perpendicular"
It would have been a fine path for a lizard to cross
but I saw none. Brambles and sweet briar grew
on the town side, poppies and wild grasses on the river.
Too hot for birds, the ducks were out, in water and mud,
and frogs were out, by the hundreds it seemed, saying,
Way, Way, in their deepest voices. It was beautiful there
but I'd seen beauty and its opposite so often
that when warmth broke over my skin I remembered winter,
the way fresh grief undoes you the moment you're fully awake.
When she turned two, I asked my young friend
what she would serve at her birthday party and she said,
Tofu and cupcakes. When she was three and I was very sad
she called and said, What are you doing? Picking flowers?
She talked in poems like she was dreaming all the time
or very old or Virginia Woolf. More often in the first world
one wakes from not to the nightmare. When I dreamed I lost
my love I willed myself awake because I would not
survive the pain again, even dreaming. Which is responsible
for that mercy, Doktor, the conscious or the un-? I want
the poppies picked and I want the poppies left where they grow.
Like looking through the window of a moving train
at someone walking up a road lined with poplars
and being someone walking up a road lined with poplars.
The train and the trees, a shower of petals and bees,
sun on the glass and the train perpendicular to the road.
Things entirely themselves arriving in the deep
double shadows of the grass and passersby.
--Kathy Fagan


"At the Fishhouses"
And the black water under the boats with their pools
of bilge rainbowed out like rinds
of steak fat, the salt thick
in my nostrils, but pleasant, too: details
I still remember from Bishop's poem, everything
else about it lost. At the docks,
I watched my friend slip
in her rubber boots; the wide, wet planks
glossy with mosses. You must walk
duckfooted to get to the boats, the black and orange
fishing barrels, the air with its tang
of rusted metals. There are always hooks
and anchors to be found, nets and scrapings
of wood planed by chisel, the way
my great-grandmother was said
to have worked, employed as a shipwright
on the city's waterways in the '30s according
to the newspaper clipping my grandmother
photocopies for me each Christmas.
The description of her gunmetal hair
and slim torso clad in overalls, the hands
she held out for the Times reporter
("Callused," he noted, "strong as a man's")
does not recall the woman
I remember for her farm in Bothell
before it became a Seattle suburb, helping me gather
raspberries from the long canes
she planted by her porch. We spent an afternoon
together sweating in the same long-sleeved
checkered shirts she'd sewn us, according
to the photo I no longer have, and cannot remember
whether is the source or confirmation
of this memory: only the papery, gray-green
streaks of road dust on the canes, a bowl
of chipped porcelain inside of which
were raspberries. Very red, very sweet, furred
like my friend's upper lip I remember
between my teeth as we stood
on the docks. The smell
of iron and winter mist, her mouth
like nothing I have tasted since.
--Paisley Rekdal


"Proof of Poetry"
I wanted first to end up as a drunk in the gutter
and in my twenties I almost ended up there--

and then as an alternative to vodka, to live

alone like a hermit philosopher and court
the extreme poverty that I suspected lay in store for me anyway--

and there were the years in which

I needed very badly to take refuge in mediocrity,
years like blunt scissors cutting out careful squares,

and that was the worst, the very worst--

you could say that always my life
was like a patchwork quilt always ripped apart--

my life like scraps stitched together in a dream

in which animals and people,
plants, chimeras, stars,

even minerals were in a preordained harmony--

a dream forgotten because it has to be forgotten,
but that I looked for desperately, but only sporadically

found in fragments, a hand lifted to strike

or caress or simply lifted for some unknown reason--
and in memory too, some specific pain, sensation of cold or warmth.

I loved that harmony in all its stages of passion

the voices still talking inside me . . . but then, instead of harmony,
there was nothing but rags scattered on the ground.

And maybe that's all it means to be a poet.
--Tom Sleigh


"Strindberg Gray"
He was trying to teach me to economize with my language. Strindberg gray
he said, instead of

              and I thought, sad stuff; plays. Okay: born, rented room,
to Dad & Mom business & bar, how could you not? Or thought,
I cannot be your Lithuania nor her other Armenia,
emptied into river if not skein-tangled senseless. He won't say her name
and not a word of the thitherings. Only that she was lost. Don't speak
the heavy hinges, the crushed-bud breaking of taste
from language. That sort of excess has no place in the new economy.

Strindberg gray, say, when one thinks only January, January, January.
Of the Occurrence as recurrent. A single gunshot
in Dempster's cistern, the echo chambers of sleep. The gray lot
of days in low-light hospitals, Strindberg.

I'll call him gray, his sitting heavy. And her so Strindberg with veil and rose,
her poised in shadow at the door. Funereal nails sunk
into knees would be dripping were they not so goddamn gray.

Excess was for days when my mother sat turning grape leaves
with three sets of pockets: Turkish, English, & Armenian, plus lemon to dry it all out.
By ten, they'd sewn up two; said one is more than enough.

"English, only, Sanossian.
You will speak what we speak."

I don't know what it’s like to lose
a language. Instead,

Strindberg gray, I say, when I want to bring his lost girl back. Strindberg gray,
though I cannot take from him January, July, or the months of coping between.
When my mother leafs through me in her memory banks, bits of face are missing;
sometimes I'm limbless or smear. Gray even scentless, and still all Strindberg.

I tell him, I raise her: be darlings and come scream with me
from all the pockets sewn over. Maybe by late summer we'll be humming:
Tennessee yellow; Tennessee, Tennessee.

--Knar Gavin


"Quite simply, I was in love with New York. I do not mean 'love' in any colloquial way, I mean that I was in love with the city, the way you love the first person who ever touches you and you never love anyone quite that way again."
--Joan Didion, "Goodbye to All That"


"Boy in a Whalebone Corset"
trigger warning: child abuse, homophobia, homophobic and misogynistic slurs )
--Saeed Jones


"My Grandmother's Grave"
When my grandmother died
I thought, "She can't die again."
Everything in her life
happened once and forever:
her bed on our roof,
the battle of good and evil in her tales,
her black clothes,
her mourning for her daughter who
"was killed by headaches,"
the rosary beads and her murmur,
"Forgive us our sins,"
her empty vase from the Ottoman time,
her braid, each hair a history--

First were the Sumerians,
their dreams inscribed in clay tablets.
They drew palms, so dates ripen before their sorrows.
They drew an eye to chase evil
away from their city.
They drew circles and prayed for them:
a drop of water
a sun
a moon
a wheel spinning faster than Earth.
They begged: "Oh gods, don't die and leave us alone."

Over the Tower of Babel,
light is exile,
blurred,
its codes crumbs of songs
leftover for the birds.

More naked emperors
passed by the Tigris
and more ships . . .
The river full
of crowns
helmets
books
dead fish,
and on the Euphrates, corpse-lilies floating.

Every minute a new hole in the body of the ship.

The clouds descended on us
war by war,
picked up our years,
our hanging gardens,
and flew away like storks.

We said there isn't any worse to come.

Then the barbarians came
to the mother of two springs.
They broke my grandmother's grave: my clay tablet.
They smashed the winged bulls whose eyes
were sunflowers
widely open
watching the fragments of our first dreams
for a lifetime.

My hand on the map
as if on an old scar.
--Dunya Mikhail


"The Chart"
trigger warning: racism )
--Rafael Campo


"You remember having friends who used to lampoon the world so effortlessly, crouching at the verge of every joke and waiting to pounce on it, and you remember how they changed as they grew older and the joy of questioning everything slowly became transformed into the pain of questioning everything, like a star consuming its own core."
--Kevin Brockmeier, The View from the Seventh Layer


"Before You Switch Us Off"
An assembly line somewhere
is still churning out husks
of zinc and cadmium like us
but I guess we shouldn't expect to remain
useful after our arms of cable rust over.
So come

collect us for scrap, grind us up
in the gear-laden belly of one of us.
Let it be your hand that pries the access door
with a flat edge of knife, your hand
holding fistfuls of wire, pulling until LEDs go dim.
What if we are analog?

What if our insides are the inner workings
of some clock you don't realize is necessary
until the blade gets stuck,
and a current scrambles up fingertips
in a hurry to your heart, remembering
to fry and shut
down every nerve
ending on its way?

What if the chassis left clicking and buzzing
in a Detroit scrap yard is still
brimming with circuit and hum?
What if armor--

An assembly
line somewhere is
still churning out husks of zinc
and cadmium like us but
I guess we shouldn't
expect to remain useful after
our arms of cable rust
over. So
come.
--Jamaal May


"It's not 'natural' to speak well, eloquently, in an interesting articulate way. People living in groups, families, communes say little--have few verbal means. Eloquence--thinking in words--is a byproduct of solitude, deracination, a heightened painful individuality."
--Susan Sontag, As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals & Notebooks 1964 - 1980


"Night Walk"
The all-night convenience store's empty
and no one is behind the counter.
You open and shut the glass door a few times
causing a bell to go off,
but no one appears. You only came
to but a pack of cigarettes, maybe
a copy of yesterday's newspaper--
finally you take one and leave
thirty-five cents in its place.
It is freezing, but it is a good thing
to step outside again:
you can feel less alone in the night,
with lights on here and there
between the dark buildings and trees.
Your own among them, somewhere.
There must be thousands of people
in this city who are dying
to welcome you into their small bolted rooms,
to sit you down and tell you
what has happened to their lives.
And the night smells like snow.
Walking home for a moment
you almost believe you could start again.
And an intense love rushes to your heart,
and hope. It's unendurable, unendurable.
--Franz Wright


"All our words are but crumbs that fall down from the feast of the mind."
--Kahlil Gibran


"[...] all we see of each other is a speck, like the wick in the middle of that flame. The flame goes about with us everywhere; it's not ourselves exactly, but what we feel [...]"
--Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Art, to be sure, has its roots in the lives of human beings: the weakness, the strength, the absurdity. I doubt that it is limited to our comrades; since we have discovered that art does not belong to what was once the aristocracy, it does not therefore follow that it has become the exclusive property of the common man--which abstraction, by the way, I have yet to meet. Rather, since it is involved with all of us, it belongs to all of us, and this includes our foes, who are as desperate and as vicious and as blind as we are and who can only be as evil as we are ourselves."
--James Baldwin


"Hang yourself, poet, in your own words. Otherwise you are dead."
--Langston Hughes, in the introduction to from The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes


"Literature can train, and exercise, our ability to weep for those who are not us or ours.

"Who would we be if we could not sympathize with those who are not us or ours? Who would we be if we could not forget ourselves, at least some of the time?"
--Susan Sontag


"What the Dragon Said: a Love Story"
So this guy walks into a dragon's lair

      and he says
why the long tale?
                  HAR HAR BUDDY
says the dragon
                  FUCK YOU.
 
The dragon's a classic
the '57 Chevy of existential chthonic threats
take in those Christmas colors, those 
impervious green scales, sticky candy-red firebreath,
comes standard with a heap of rubylust
goldhuddled treasure.
                  Go ahead.
                  Kick the tires, boy.
                  See how she rides.
 
Sit down, kid, says the dragon. Diamonds
roll off her back like dandruff.
 
Oh, you'd rather be called a paladin?
I'd rather be a unicorn.
                  Always thought that
was the better gig. Everyone thinks
you're innocent. Everyone calls you
pure. And the girls aren't afraid
they come right up with their little hands out
for you to sniff
like you're a puppy
and they're gonna take you home.
They let you put your head right
in their laps.
                  But nobody on this earth
ever got what they wanted. Now
 
I know what you came for. You want
my body. To hang it up on a nail
over your fireplace. Say to some milk-and-rosewater chica
who lays her head in your lap
look how much it takes
to make me feel like a man.
                  We're in the dark now, you and me. This is primal
shit right here. Grendel, Smaug, St. George. You've been
called up. This is the big game. You don't have
to make stupid puns. Flash your feathers
like your monkey bravado
can impress. I saw a T-Rex fight a comet
and lose. You've
got nothing I want.
 
Here's something I bet you don't know:
      every time someone writes a story about a dragon
a real dragon dies.
                  Something about seeing
and being seen
                  something about mirrors
that old tune about how a photograph
can take your whole soul. At the end
of this poem
                  I'm going to go out like electricity
in an ice storm. I've made peace with it.
                  That last blockbuster took out a whole family
                  of Bhutan thunder dragons
living in Latvia
the fumes of their cleargas hoard
hanging on their beards like blue ghosts.
 
A dragon's gotta get zen
                  with ephemerality.
 
You want to cut me up? Chickenscratch my leather
with butcher's chalk:
cutlets, tenderloin, ribs for the company barbecue,
chuck, chops, brisket, roast.
                  I dig it, I do.
I want to eat everything, too.
 
When I look at the world
      I see a table.
All those fancy houses, people with degrees, horses and whales,
bankers and Buddha statues
the Pope, astronauts, panda bears and yes, paladins
                  if you let me swallow you whole
                  I'll call you whatever you want.
Look at it all: waitresses and ice caps and submarines down
at the bottom of the heavy lightless saltdark of the sea
                  Don't they know they'd be safer
                  inside me?
 
I could be big for them
      I could hold them all
My belly could be a city
      where everyone was so loved
they wouldn't need jobs. I could be
the hyperreal
post-scarcity dragonhearted singularity.
      I could eat them
      and feed them
      and eat them
      and feed them.
 
This is why I don't get to be a unicorn.
Those ponies have clotted cream and Chanel No. 5 for blood
and they don't burn up like comets
with love that tastes like starving to death.
      And you, with your standup comedy knightliness,
covering Beowulf's greatest hits on your tin kazoo,
you can't begin to think through
      what it takes to fill up a body like this.
It takes everything pretty
and everything true
      and you stick yourself in a cave because
your want is bigger than you.
 
I just want to be
the size of a galaxy
so I can eat all the stars and gas giants
without them noticing
and getting upset.
Is that so bad?
                  Isn't that
what love looks like?
                  Isn't that
what you want, too?
 
I'll make you a deal.
      Come close up
stand on my emeraldheart, my sapphireself
the goldpile of my body
      Close enough to smell
everything you'll never be.
 
Don't finish the poem. Not for nothing
is it a snake
that eats her tail
and means eternity. What's a few verses worth
anyway? Everyone knows
poetry doesn't sell. Don't you ever feel
like you're just
a story someone is telling
about someone like you?
                  I get that. I get you. You and me
we could fit
inside each other. It’s not nihilism
if there's really no point to anything.
 
I have a secret
down in the deep of my dark.
All those other kids who wanted me
to call them paladins,
warriors, saints, whose swords had names,
whose bodies were perfect
as moonlight
      they've set up a township near my liver
had babies with the maidens they didn't save
      invented electric lightbulbs
      thought up new holidays.
                              You can have my body
                              just like you wanted.
Or you can keep on fighting dragons
writing dragons
fighting dragons
re-staging that same old Cretaceous deathmatch
you mammals
always win.
                  But hey, hush, come on.
Quit now.
You'll never fix
that line.
                  I have a forgiveness in me
                  the size of eons
                  and if a dragon's body is big enough
                  it just looks like the world.
                             
                              Did you know
the earth used to have two moons?

--Catherynne M. Valente


"And all the stories had, somewhere, the witch. The wicked old witch.

"And Tiffany had thought, Where's the evidence?

"The stories never said why she was wicked. It was enough to be an old woman, enough to be all alone, enough to look strange because you had no teeth. It was enough to be called a witch.

"If it came to that, the book never gave you the evidence of anything. It talked about 'a handsome prince'...was he really, or was it just because he was a prince that people called him handsome? As for 'a girl who was as beautiful as the day was long'...well, which day? In midwinter it hardly ever got light! the stories didn't want you to think, they just wanted you to believe what you were told..."
--Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Me


"Look, words are like the air: they belong to everybody. Words are not the problem; it's the tone, the context, where those words are aimed, and in whose company they are uttered. Of course murderers and victims use the same words, but I never read the words utopia, or beauty, or tenderness in police descriptions. Do you know that the Argentinean dictatorship burnt The Little Prince? And I think they were right to do so, not because I do not love The Little Prince, but because the book is so full of tenderness that it would harm any dictatorship."
--Juan Gelman


"Blackberries"
They left my hands like a printer's
Or thief's before a police blotter
& pulled me into early morning's
Terrestrial sweetness, so thick
The damp ground was consecrated
Where they fell among a garland of thorns.

Although I could smell old lime-covered
History, at ten I'd still hold out my hands
& berries fell into them. Eating from one
& filling a half gallon with the other,
I ate the mythology & dreamt
Of pies & cobbler, almost

Needful as forgiveness. My bird dog Spot
Eyed blue jays & thrashers. The mud frogs
In rich blackness, hid from daylight.
An hour later, beside City Limits Road
I balanced a gleaming can in each hand,
Limboed between worlds, repeating one dollar.

The big blue car made me sweat.
Wintertime crawled out of the windows.
When I leaned closer I saw the boy
& girl my age, in the wide back seat
Smirking, & it was then I remembered my fingers
Burning with thorns among berries too ripe to touch.
--Yusef Komunyakaa


"Men Loved Wholly beyond Wisdom"
Men loved wholly beyond wisdom
Have the staff without the banner.
Like a fire in a dry thicket
Rising within women's eyes
Is the love men must return.
Heart, so subtle now, and trembling,
What a marvel to be wise,
To love never in this manner!
To be quiet in the fern
Like a thing gone dead and still,
Listening to the prisoned cricket
Shake its terrible dissembling
Music in the granite hill.
--Louise Bogan


" 'Well,' I said, if someone was tired of hearing about white folks, do you think they should say, 'Forget white folks,' or 'Forget what white folks think'?'

"Grandma looked at me harder. 'I think the fool probably ought to ask himself why and what it is they want to forget. [...]' "
--Kiese Laymon, Long Division


"Embarrassed, I understood on that stage, was just another way of saying I felt alone."
--Kiese Laymon


"Past, present, and future exist within you and you change them by changing the way you live your life."
--Kiese Laymon


" 'I'd be an ellipsis.'

" 'What's that?'

" 'That's the dot-dot-dot you were talking about.' She let go of my hand and sat up while leaning on both hands. 'The ellipsis always knows something more came before it and something more is coming after it.' "
--Kiese Laymon


" 'What does Jesus say is the difference between the fiction in your head and the real life you live? You know what I mean? It's like there's two of everybody, the one in fiction and the one in real life. But what's the difference?'

"She squeezed my hand tighter and looked me right in the eyes. 'Really, it ain't no difference, City,' she said. 'Because unless you use both of them the right way, they just as bad or just as good as you want them to be. But you lead both of them,' she whispered in my ear. 'And don't take no ass-whupping or no disrespect from no one in your own house or your own dreams, you hear me? Do whatever it takes to protect you and yours,' she said. 'Especially in your dreams. Especially in your dreams, because you never know who else is watching.' "
--Kiese Laymon


"The Hand"
The teacher asks a question.
You know the answer, you suspect
you are the only one in the classroom
who knows the answer, because the person
in question is yourself, and on that
you are the greatest living authority,
but you don't raise your hand.
You raise the top of your desk
and take out an apple.
You look out the window.
You don't raise your hand and there is
some essential beauty in your fingers,
which aren't even drumming, but lie
flat and peaceful.
The teacher repeats the question.
Outside the window, on an overhanging branch,
a robin is ruffling its feathers
and spring is in the air.
--Mary Ruefle
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"The taste for quotations (and for the juxtaposition of incongruous quotations) is a Surrealist taste."
--Susan Sontag, On Photography


"The contingency of photographs confirms that everything is perishable; the arbitrariness of photographic evidence indicates that reality is fundamentally unclassifiable. Reality is summed up in an array of casual fragments--an endlessly alluring, poignantly reductive way of dealing with the world. Illustrating that partly jubilant, partly condescending relation to reality that is the rallying point of Surrealism, the photographer's insistence that everything is real also implies that the real is not enough. By proclaiming a fundamental discontent with reality, Surrealism bespeaks a posture of alienation which has now become a general attitude in those parts of the world which are politically powerful, industrialized, and camera-wielding. Why else would reality ever be thought of as insufficient, flat, overordered, shallowly rational? In the past, a discontent with reality expressed itself as a longing for another world. In modern society, a discontent with reality expresses itself forcefully and most hauntingly by the longing to reproduce this one. As if only by looking at reality in the form of an object--through the fix of the photograph--is it really real, that is, surreal."
--Susan Sontag


"Freed from the necessity of having to make narrow choices (as painters did) about what images were worth contemplating, because of the rapidity with which cameras recorded anything, photographs made seeing into a new kind of project: as if seeing itself, pursued with sufficient avidity and single-mindedness, could indeed reconcile the claims of truth and the need to find the world beautiful. Once an object of wonder because of its capacity to render reality faithfully as well as despised at first for its base accuracy, the camera has ended by effecting a tremendous promotion of the value of appearances. Appearances as the camera records them. Photographs do not simply render reality--realistically. It is reality which is scrutinized, and evaluated, for its fidelity to photographs."
--Susan Sontag


"Insofar as photography does peel away the dry wrappers of habitual seeing, it creates another habit of seeing: both intense and cool, solicitous and detached; charmed by the insignificant detail, addicted to incongruity. But photographic seeing has to be constantly renewed with new shocks, whether of subject matter or technique, so as to produce the impression of violating ordinary vision."
--Susan Sontag


"As photographers describe it, picture-taking is both a limitless technique for appropriating the objective world and an unavoidably solipsistic expression of the singular self. Photographs depict realities that already exist, though only the camera can disclose them. And they depict an individual temperament, discovering itself through the camera's cropping of reality. For Moholy-Nagy the genius of photography lies in its ability to render 'an objective portrait: the individual to be photographed so that the photographic result shall not be encumbered with subjective intention.' For Lange every portrait of another person is a 'self-portrait' of the photographer, as for Minor White--promoting 'self-discovery through a camera'--landscape photographs are really 'inner landscapes.' The two ideals are antithetical. Insofar as photography is (or should be) about the world, the photographer counts for little, but insofar as it is the instrument of intrepid, questing subjectivity, the photographer is all."
--Susan Sontag


"Such images are indeed able to usurp reality because first of all a photograph is not only an image (as a painting is an image), an interpretation of the real; it is also a trace, something directly stenciled off the real, like a footprint or a death mask. While a painting, even one that meets photographic standards of resemblance, is never more than the stating of an interpretation, a photograph is never less than the registering of an emanation (light waves reflected by objects)--a material vestige of its subject in a way that no painting can be. Between two fantasy alternatives, that Holbein the Younger had lived long enough to have painted Shakespeare or that a prototype of the camera had been invented early enough to have photographed him, most Bardolators would choose the photograph. This is not just because it would presumably show what Shakespeare really looked like, for even if the hypothetical photograph were faded, barely legible, a brownish shadow, we would probably still prefer it to another glorious Holbein. Having a photograph of Shakespeare would be like having a nail from the True Cross.

"Most contemporary expressions of concern that an image-world is replacing the real one continue to echo, as Feuerbach did, the Platonic depreciation of the image: true insofar as it resembles something real, sham because it is no more than a resemblance. But this venerable naive realism is somewhat beside the point in the era of photographic images, for its blunt contrast between the image ('copy') and the thing depicted ('original')--which Plato repeatedly illustrates with the example of a painting--does not fit a photograph in so simple a way. Neither does the contrast help in understanding image-making as its origins, when it was a practical, magical activity, a means of appropriating or gaining power over something. The further back we go in history, as E.H. Gombrich has observed, the less sharp is the distinction between images and real things; in primitive societies, the thing and its image were simply two different, that is, physically distinct, manifestations of the same energy or spirit. Hence, the supposed efficacy of images in propitiating and gaining control over powerful presences. Those powers, those presences were present in them.

"For defenders of the real from Plato to Feuerbach to equate image with mere appearance--that is, to presume that the image is absolutely distinct from the object depicted--is part of that process of desacralization which separates us irrevocably from the world of sacred times and places in which an image was taken to participate in the reality of the object depicted. What defines the originality of photography is that, at the very moment in the long, increasingly secular history of painting when secularism is entirely triumphant, it revives--in wholly secular terms--something like the primitive status of images. Our irrepressible feeling that the photographic process is something magical has a genuine basis. No one takes an easel painting to be in any sense co-substantial with its subject; it only represents or refers. But a photograph is not only like its subject, a homage to the subject. It is part of, an extension of that subject; and a potent means of acquiring it, of gaining control over it."
--Susan Sontag


"Photographs are a way of imprisoning reality, understood as recalcitrant, inaccessible; of making it stand still. Or they enlarge a reality that is felt to be shrunk, hollowed out, perishable, remote. One can't possess reality, one can possess (and be possessed by) images--as, according to Proust, most ambitious of voluntary prisoners, one can't possess the present but one can possess the past. Nothing could be more unlike the self-sacrificial travail of an artist like Proust than the effortlessness of picture-taking, which must be the sole activity resulting in accredited works of art in which a single movement, a touch of the finger, produces a complete work. While the Proustian labors presuppose that reality is distant, photography implies instant access to the real. But the results of this practice of instant access are another way of creating distance. To possess the world in the form of images is, precisely, to reexperience the unreality and remoteness of the real.

"The strategy of Proust's realism presumes distance from what is normally experienced as real, the present, in order to reanimate what is usually available only in a remote and shadowy form, the past--which is where the present becomes in his sense real, that is, something that can be possessed. In this effort photographs were of no help. Whenever Proust mentions photographs, he does so disparagingly: as a synonym for a shallow, too exclusively visual, merely voluntary relation to the past, whose yield is insignificant compared with the deep discoveries to be made by responding to cues given by all the senses--the technique he called 'involuntary memory.' One can't imagine the Overture to Swann's Way ending with the narrator's coming across a snapshot of the parish church at Combray and the savoring of that visual crumb, instead of the taste of the humble madeleine dipped in tea, making an entire part of his past spring into view. But this is not because a photograph cannot evoke memories (it can, depending on the quality of the viewer rather than of the photograph) but because of what Proust makes clear about his own demands upon imaginative recall, that it be not just extensive and accurate but give the texture and essence of things. And by considering photographs only so far as he could use them, as an instrument of memory, Proust somewhat misconstrues what photographs are: not so much an instrument of memory as an invention of it or a replacement."
--Susan Sontag


"Photography, which has so many narcissistic uses, is also a powerful instrument for depersonalizing our relation to the world; and the two uses are complementary. Like a pair of binoculars with no right or wrong end, the camera makes exotic things near, intimate; and familiar things small, abstract, strange, much farther away. It offers, in one easy, habit-forming activity, both participation and alienation in our own lives and those of others--allowing us to participate, while confirming alienation. War and photography now seem inseparable, and plane crashes and other horrific accidents always attract people with cameras. A society which makes it normative to aspire never to experience privation, failure, misery, pain, dread disease, and in which death itself is regarded not as natural and inevitable but as a cruel, unmerited disaster, creates a tremendous curiosity about these events--a curiosity that is partly satisfied through picture-taking. The feeling of being exempt from calamity stimulates interest in looking at painful pictures, and looking at them suggests and strengthens the feeling that one is exempt. Partly it is because one is 'here,' not 'there,' and partly it is the character of inevitability that all events acquire when they are transmuted into images. In the real world, something is happening and no one knows what is going to happen. In the image-world, it has happened, and it will forever happen in that way."
--Susan Sontag


"Our unlimited use of photographic images not only reflects but gives shape to this society, one unified by the denial of conflict. Our very notion of the world--the capitalist twentieth century's 'one world'--is like a photographic overview. The world is 'one' not because it is united but because a tour of its diverse contents does not reveal conflict but only an even more astounding diversity. This spurious unity of the world is effected by translating its contents into images. Images are always compatible, or can be made compatible, even when the realities they depict are not."
--Susan Sontag


"A capitalist society requires a culture based on images. It needs to furnish vast amounts of entertainment in order to stimulate buying and anesthetize the injuries of class, race, and sex. And it needs to gather unlimited amounts of information, the better to exploit natural resources, increase productivity, keep order, make war, give jobs to bureaucrats. The camera's twin capacities, to subjectivize reality and to objectify it, ideally serve these needs and strengthen them. Cameras define reality in the two ways essential to the workings of an advanced industrial society: as a spectacle (for masses) and as an object of surveillance (for rulers). The production of images also furnishes a ruling ideology. Social change is replaced by a change in images. The freedom to consume a plurality of images and goods is equated with freedom itself. The narrowing of free political choice to free economic consumption requires the unlimited production and consumption of images."
--Susan Sontag


"The final reason for the need to photograph everything lies in the very logic of consumption itself. To consume means to burn, to use up--and, therefore, to need to be replenished. As we make images and consume them, we need still more images; and still more. But images are not a treasure for which the world must be ransacked; they are precisely what is at hand wherever the eye falls. The possession of a camera can inspire something akin to lust. And like all credible forms of lust, it cannot be satisfied; first, because the possibilities of photography are infinite; and, second, because the project is finally self-devouring. The attempts by photographers to bolster up a depleted sense of reality contribute to the depletion. Our oppressive sense of the transience of everything is more acute since cameras gave us the means to 'fix' the fleeting moment. We consume images at an even faster rate and, as Balzac suspected cameras used up layers of the body, images consume reality. Cameras are the antidote and the disease, a means of appropriating reality and a means of making it obsolete."
--Susan Sontag


"Your photography is a record of our living, for anyone who really sees. You may see and be affected by other people's ways, you may even use them to find your own, but you will have eventually to free yourself of them. That is what Nietzsche meant when he said, 'I have just read Schopenhaur, now I have to get rid of him.' He knew how insidious other people's ways could be, particularly those which have the forcefulness of profound experience, if you let them get between you and your own vision."
--Paul Strand


"As I progressed further with my project, it became obvious that it was really unimportant where I chose to photograph. The particular place simply proved an excuse to produce work...you can only see what you are ready to see--what mirrors your mind at that particular time."
--George Tice


"In the spring of 1921, two automatic photographic machines, recently invented abroad, were installed in Prague, which reproduced six or ten or more exposures of the same person on a single print.

"When I took such a series of photographs to Kafka I said light-heartedly: 'For a couple of krone one can have oneself photographed from every angle. The apparatus is a mechanical Know-Thyself.'

" 'You mean to say, the Mistake-Thyself,' said Kafka, with a faint smile.

"I protested: 'What do you mean? The camera cannot lie!'

" 'Who told you that?' Kafka leaned his head toward his shoulder. Photography concentrates one's eye on the superficial. For that reason it obscures the hidden life which glimmers through the outlines of things like a play of light and shade. One can't catch that even with the sharpest lens. One has to grope for it by feeling...This automatic camera doesn't multiply men's eyes but only gives a fantastically simplified fly's eye view.' "
--from Gustav Janouch's Conversation with Kafka
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"I think people are often quite unaware of their inner selves, their other selves, their imaginative selves, the selves that aren't on show in the world. It's something you grow out of from childhood onwards, losing possession of yourself, really. I think literature is one of the best ways back into that. You are hypnotized as soon as you get into a book that particularly works for you, whether it's fiction or a poem. You find that your defenses drop, and as soon as that happens, an imaginative reality can take over because you are no longer censoring your own perceptions, your own awareness of the world."
--Jeanette Winterson


"Keeping Quiet"
Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth,
let's not speak in any language;
let's stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I'll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.
--Pablo Neruda, translated from the Spanish by Alastair Reid


"Visionary feminism is a wise and loving politics. It is rooted in the love of male and female being, refusing to privilege one over the other. The soul of feminist politics is the commitment to ending patriarchal domination of women and men, girls and boys. Love cannot exist in any relationship that is based on domination and coercion. Males cannot love themselves in patriarchal culture if their very self-definition relies on submission to patriarchal rules. When men embrace feminist thinking and practice, which emphasizes the value of mutual growth and self-actualization in all relationships, their emotional well-being will be enhanced. A genuine feminist politics always brings us from bondage to freedom, from lovelessness to loving."
--bell hooks


"Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand."
--George Orwell


"Because I'll Never Swim in Every Ocean"
Want is ten thousand blue feathers falling
all around me, and me unable to stomach
that I might catch five but never ten thousand.
So I drop my hands to my sides and wait
to be buried. I open a book and the words
spring and taunt. Flashes--motel, lapidary,
piranha--of every story, every poem I'll never
know well enough to conjure in sleep.
What's the point of words if I can't
own them all? I toss book after book
into my imaginary trashcan fire.
Or I think I'll learn piano. At the first lesson,
we're clapping whole and half notes
and this is childish, I'm better than this.
I'd like to leave playing Ravel. I'd like
to give a concerto on Saturday. So I quit.
I have standards. Then on Saturday,
I have a beer, watch a telethon. Or
we watch a documentary on Antarctica.
The interviewees are from Belarus, Lima, Berlin.
Everyone speaks English. Everyone names
a philosopher, an ethos. One man carries a raft
on his back at all times. I went to Nebraska once
and swore it was a great adventure. It was.
I think of how I'll never go to Antarctica,
mainly because I don't much want to. But
I should want to. I should be the girl
with a raft on her back. When I think
of all the mountains and monuments
and skyscapes I haven't seen, all the trains
I should take, all the camels and mopeds
and ferries I should ride, all the scorching
hikes I should nearly die on, I press
my body down, down into the vast green
couch. If I step out the door, the infinity
of what I've missed will zorro me across
the face with a big L for Lazy. Sometimes
I watch finches at the feeder, their wings small
suns, and have to grab the sill to steady myself.
Metaphorically, of course. I'm no loon.
Look--even my awestruck is half-assed.
But I'm so tired of the small steps--
the pentatonic scale, the frequent flyer
hoarding, the one exquisite sentence
in a forest of exquisite sentences.
There is a globe welling up inside of me.
Mountain ranges ridging my skin,
oceans filling my mouth. If I stay still
long enough, I could become my own world.
--Catherine Pierce


"To collect photographs is to collect the world. Movies and television programs light up walls, flicker, and go out; but with still photographs the image is also an object, light-weight, cheap to produce, easy to carry about, accumulate, store. In Godard's Les Carabiniers (1963), two sluggish lumpen-peasants are lured into joining the King's Army by the promise that they will be able to loot, rape, kill, or do whatever else they please to the enemy, and get rich. But the suitcase of booty that Michel-Ange and Ulysse triumphantly bring home, years later, to their wives turns out to contain only picture postcards, hundreds of them, of Monuments, Department Stores, Mammals, Wonders of Nature, Methods of Transport, Works of Art, and other classified treasures from around the globe. Godard's gag vividly parodies the equivocal magic of the photographic image. Photographs are perhaps the most mysterious of all the objects that make up, and thicken, the environment we recognize as modern. Photographs really are experience captured, and the camera is the ideal arm of consciousness in its acquisitive mood.

"To photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed. It means putting oneself into a certain relation to the world that feels like knowledge--and, therefore, like power. A now notorious first fall into alienation, habituating people to abstract the world into printed words, is supposed to have engendered that surplus of Faustian energy and psychic damage needed to build modern, inorganic societies. But print seems a less treacherous form of leaching out the world, of turning it into a mental object, than photographic images, which now provide most of the knowledge people have about the look of the past and the reach of the present. What is written about a person or an event is frankly an interpretation, as are handmade visual statements, like paintings and drawings. Photographed images do not seem to be statements about the world so much as pieces of it, miniatures of reality that anyone can make or acquire."
--Susan Sontag, On Photography


"A way of certifying experience, taking photographs is also a way of refusing it--by limiting experience to a search for the photogenic, by converting experience into an image, a souvenir."
--Susan Sontag


"Taking photographs has set up a chronic voyeuristic relation to the world which levels the meaning of all events."
--Susan Sontag


"Like a car, a camera is sold as a predatory weapon--one that's as automated as possible, ready to spring. Popular taste expects an easy, an invisible technology. Manufacturers reassure their customers that taking pictures demands no skill or expert knowledge, that the machine is all-knowing, and responds to the slightest pressure of the will. It's as simple as turning the ignition key or pulling the trigger.

"Like guns and cars, cameras are fantasy-machines whose use is addictive. However, despite the extravagances of ordinary language and advertising, they are not lethal. In the hyperbole that markets cars like guns, there is at least this much truth: except in wartime, cars kill more people than guns do. The camera/gun does not kill, so the ominous metaphor seems to be all bluff--like a man's fantasy of having a gun, knife, or tool between his legs. Still, there is something predatory in the act of taking a picture. To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed. Just as the camera is a sublimation of the gun, to photograph someone is a sublimated murder--a soft murder, appropriate to a sad, frightened time.

"Eventually, people might learn to act out more of their aggressions with cameras and fewer with guns, with the price being an even more image-choked world. One situation where people are switching from bullets to film is the photographic safari that is replacing the gun safari in East Africa. The hunters have Hasselblads instead of Winchesters; instead of looking through a telescopic sight to aim a rifle, they look through a viewfinder to frame a picture. In end-of-the-century London, Samuel Butler complained that 'there is a photographer in every bush, going about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.' The photographer is now charging real beasts, beleaguered and too rare to kill. Guns have metamorphosed into cameras in this earnest comedy, the ecology safari, because nature has ceased to be what it always had been--what people needed protection from. Now nature--tamed, endangered, mortal--needs to be protected from people. When we are afraid, we shoot. But when we are nostalgic, we take pictures.

"It is a nostalgic time right now, and photographs actively promote nostalgia. Photography is an elegiac art, a twilight art. Most subjects photographed are, just by virtue of being photographed, touched with pathos. An ugly or grotesque subject may be moving because it has been dignified by the attention of the photographer. A beautiful subject can be the object of rueful feelings, because it has aged or decayed or no longer exists. All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person's (or thing's) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time's relentless melt."
--Susan Sontag


"A photograph is both a pseudo-presence and a token of absence. Like a wood fire in a room, photographs--especially those of people, of distant landscapes and faraway cities, of the vanished past--are incitements to reverie. The sense of the unattainable that can be evoked by photographs feeds directly into the erotic feelings of those for whom desirability is enhanced by distance. The lover's photograph hidden in a married women's wallet, the poster photograph of a rock star tacked up over an adolescent's bed, the campaign-button image of a politician's face pinned on a voter's coat, the snapshots of a cabdriver's children clipped to the visor--all such talismanic uses of photographs express a feeling both sentimental and implicitly magical: they are attempts to contact or lay claim to another reality."
--Susan Sontag


"One's first encounter with the photographic inventory of ultimate horror is a kind of revelation, the prototypically modern revelation: a negative epiphany. For me, it was photographs of Bergen-Belsen and Dachau which I came across by chance in a bookstore in Santa Monica in July 1945. Nothing I have seen--in photographs or in real life--ever cut me as sharply, deeply, instantaneously. Indeed, it seems plausible to me to divide my life into two parts, before I saw those photographs (I was twelve) and after, though it was several years before I understood fully what they were about. What good was served by seeing them? They were only photographs--of an event I had scarcely heard of and could do nothing to relieve. When I looked at those photographs, something broke. Some limit had been reached, and not only that of horror; I felt irrevocably grieved, wounded, but a part of my feelings started to tighten; something went dead; something is still crying.

"To suffer is one thing: another thing is living with the photographed images of suffering, which does not necessarily strengthen conscience and the ability to be compassionate. It can also corrupt them. Once one has seen such images, one has started down the road of seeing more--and more. Images transfix. Images anesthetize. An event known through photographs certainly becomes more real than it would have been if one had never seen the photographs--think of the Vietnam War. (For a counter-example, think of the Gulag Archipelago, of which we have no photographs.) But after repeated exposure to images it also becomes less real."
--Susan Sontag


"Photographs, which cannot themselves explain anything, are inexhaustible invitations to deduction, speculation, and fantasy.

"Photography implies that we know about the world if we accept it as the camera records it. But this is the opposite of understanding, which starts from not accepting the world as it looks. All possibility of understanding is rooted in the ability to say no. Strictly speaking, one never understands anything from a photograph. Of course, photographs fill in blanks in our mental pictures of the present and the past: for example, Jacob Riis's images of New York squalor in the 1880s are sharply instructive to those unaware that urban poverty in late-nineteenth-century America was really that Dickensian. Nevertheless, the camera's rendering of reality must always hide more than it discloses. As Brecht points out, a photograph of the Krupp works reveals virtually nothing about that organization. In contrast to the amorous relation, which is based on how something looks, understanding is based on how it functions. And functioning takes place in time, and must be explained in time. Only that which narrates can make us understand."
--Susan Sontag


"Steichen's choice of photographs assumes a human condition or a human nature shared by everybody. By purporting to show that individuals are born, work, laugh, and die everywhere in the same way, 'The Family of Man' denies the determining weight of history--of genuine and historically embedded differences, injustices, and conflicts. Arbus's photographs undercut politics just as decisively, by suggesting a world in which everybody is an alien, hopelessly isolated, immobilized in mechanical, crippled identities and relationships. The pious uplift of Steichen's photograph anthology and the cool dejection of the Arbus retrospective both render history and politics irrelevant. One does so by universalizing the human condition, into joy; the other by atomizing it, into horror."
--Susan Sontag


"The photographer is always trying to colonize new experiences or find new ways to look at familiar subjects--to fight against boredom. For boredom is just the reverse side of fascination: both depend on being outside rather than inside a situation, and one leads to the other."
--Susan Sontag


"The photographer both loots and preserves, denounces and consecrates. Photography expresses the American impatience with reality, the taste for activities whose instrumentality is a machine. 'Speed is at the bottom of it all,' as Hart Crane said (writing about Stieglitz in 1923), 'the hundredth of a second caught so precisely that the motion is continued from the picture indefinitely: the moment made eternal.' Faced with the awesome spread and alienness of a newly settled continent, people wielded cameras as a way of taking possession of the places they visited. Kodak put signs at the entrances of many towns listing what to photograph. Signs marked the places in national parks where visitors should stand with their cameras.

"Sander is at home in his country. American photographers are often on the road, overcome with disrespectful wonder at what their country offers in the way of surreal surprises. Moralists and conscienceless despoilers, children and foreigners in their own land, they will get something down that is disappearing--and, often, hasten its disappearance by photographing it. To take, like Sander, specimen after specimen, seeking an ideally complete inventory, presupposes that society can be envisaged as a comprehensible totality. European photographers have assumed that society has something of the stability of nature. Nature in America has always been suspect, on the defensive, cannibalized by progress. In America, every specimen becomes a relic.

"The American landscape has always seemed too varied, immense, mysterious, fugitive to lend itself to scientism. 'He doesn't know, he can't say, before the facts,' Henry James wrote in The American Scene (1907),

" 'and he doesn't even want to know or to say; the faces themselves loom, before the understanding, in too large a mass for a mere mouthful: it is as if the syllables were too numerous to make a legible word. The illegible word, accordingly, the great inscrutable answer to questions, hangs in the vast American sky, to his imagination, as something fantastic and abracadabrant, belonging to no known language, and it is under this convenient ensign that he he travels and considers and contemplates, and, to the best of his ability, enjoys.'

"Americans feel the reality of their country to be so stupendous, and mutable, that it would be the rankest presumption to approach it in a classifying, scientific way. One could get at it indirectly, by subterfuge--breaking it off into strange fragments that could somehow, by synecdoche, be taken for the whole."
--Susan Sontag

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