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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

I am on
            leaving it, no
                         longer to be

designated human or
            corpse: cadaver
                         it will be,

nameless patient
           stored in
                        the deep hold

of the hospital
           as in the storage
                       of a ghost ship

run aground —
          the secret in it
                       that will,

perhaps, stir again
          the wind that
                       failed. It

will be preserved,
          kept like larva,
                       like a bullet

sealed gleaming
          in its chamber.
                       They will gather

around it,
          probe and sample,
                        argue — then

return it
          to its between-
                        world, remove

their aprons
          and gloves
                        and stroll, some evenings,

a city block
           for a beer,
                        a glass of chilled

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

what they
           glean from beneath
                        the narrative

of scars, surgical
           cavities, the
                        wondrous

mess it became
           before I left it
                        to them

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

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

---Claudia Emerson


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


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

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

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

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

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

I cannot tell—

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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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


"Why we don't die"

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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

Act II, Scene I

Open, A girl in a garden.

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

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

Act II, Scene II

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

Act III, Scene I

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

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

Epilogue

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


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

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

*

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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

---Claude McKay


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


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

---Katie Ford


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


"I have a little talk I give sometimes about windows and mirrors, that children—and humans, everybody—all need both windows and mirrors in their lives: mirrors through which you can see yourself and windows through which you can see the world."
---Lucille Clifton, qtd. by Marci Vogel in "Line of Sight: Lineage as Vision"
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Tavern"
I'll keep a little tavern
Below the high hill's crest,
Wherein all grey-eyed people
May set them down and rest.

There shall be plates a-plenty,
And mugs to melt the chill
Of all the grey-eyed people
Who happen up the hill.

There sound will sleep the traveller,
And dream his journey's end,
But I will rouse at midnight
The falling fire to tend.

Aye, 'tis a curious fancy--
But all the good I know
Was taught me out of two grey eyes
A long time ago.
--Edna St. Vincent Millay


"I Shall Not Care"
When I am dead and over me bright April
Shakes out her rain-drenched hair,
Tho' you should lean above me broken-hearted,
I shall not care.

I shall have peace, as leafy trees are peaceful
When rain bends down the bough,
And I shall be more silent and cold-hearted
Than you are now.
--Sara Teasdale


"On Angels"
All was taken away from you: white dresses,
wings, even existence.
Yet I believe you,
messengers.

There, where the world is turned inside out,
a heavy fabric embroidered with stars and beasts,
you stroll, inspecting the trustworthy seems.

Short is your stay here:
now and then at a matinal hour, if the sky is clear,
in a melody repeated by a bird,
or in the smell of apples at close of day
when the light makes the orchards magic.

They say somebody has invented you
but to me this does not sound convincing
for the humans invented themselves as well.

The voice--no doubt it is a valid proof,
as it can belong only to radiant creatures,
weightless and winged (after all, why not?),
girdled with the lightening.

I have heard that voice many a time when asleep
and, what is strange, I understood more or less
an order or an appeal in an unearthly tongue:

day draw near
another one
do what you can.
--Czesław Miłosz


"In a certain faraway land the cold is so intense that words freeze as soon as they are uttered, and after some time then thaw and become audible so that words spoken in winter go unheard until the next summer."
--Plutarch, Moralia, translator unknown


"Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can't go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does."
--Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad


"We don't need lists of rights and wrong, do's and don'ts: We need books, time, silence. 'Thou shalt not' is soon forgotten, but 'Once upon a time' lasts forever."
--Philip Pullman


"In the novel or the journal you get the journey. In a poem you get the arrival."
--May Sarton, "The Paris Review: The Art of Poetry No. 32"


"Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge. Whether it is obscuring state language or the faux-language of mindless media; whether it is the proud but calcified language of the academy or the commodity driven language of science; whether it is the malign language of law-without-ethics, or language designed for the estrangement of minorities, hiding its racist plunder in its literary cheek--it must be rejected, altered and exposed. It is the language that drinks blood, laps vulnerabilities, tucks its fascist boots under crinolines of respectability and patriotism as it moves relentlessly toward the bottom line and the bottomed-out mind. Sexist language, racist language, theistic language--all are typical of the policing languages of mastery, and cannot, do not permit new knowledge or encourage the mutual exchange of ideas."
--Toni Morrison


"Kyrie"
At times my life suddenly opens its eyes in the dark.
A feeling of masses of people pushing blindly
through the streets, excitedly, toward some miracle,
while I remain here and no one sees me.

It is like the child who falls asleep in terror
listening to the heavy thumps of his heart.
For a long, long time till morning puts his light in the locks
and the doors of darkness open.
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robert Bly


"As soon as we put something into words, we devalue it in a strange way. We think we have plunged into the depths of the abyss, and when we return to the surface the drop of water on our pale fingertips no longer resembles the sea from which it comes. We delude ourselves that we have discovered a wonderful treasure trove, and when we return to the light of day we find that we have brought back only false stones and shards of glass; and yet the treasure goes on glimmering in the dark, unaltered."
--Maurice Maeterlinck, The Treasure of the Humble
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Anger is better. There is a sense of being in anger. A reality and presence. An awareness of worth. It is a lovely surging."
--Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

[...]

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

*

Pointing to herself:

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

the blue rotunda
lifted over
the flat street--

and then, after a silence:

*

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

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

*

It is not finally
interesting to remember.
The damage

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

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

*

I have to imagine
everything
she said

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

when you were a child--

*

And then:

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

distorted it--

*

I want she said
a theory that explains
everything

in the mother's eye
the invisible
splinter of foil

the blue ice
locked in the iris--

*

Then:

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

*

Blue sky, blue ice,
street like a frozen river


you're talking
about my life
she said

*

except
she said
you have to fix it

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

*

a black space
showing
where the word ends

like a crossword saying
you should take a breath now

the black space meaning
when you were a child--

*

And then:

the ice
was there for your own protection

to teach you
not to feel--

the truth
she said

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

the center--

*

Cold light filling the room.

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

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

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

*

Just think
the sun was there, in that bare place

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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

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


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


"Some people--and I am one of them--hate happy endings. We feel cheated. Harm is the norm. Doom should not jam. The avalanche stopping in its tracks a few feet above the cowering village behaves not only unnaturally but unethically."
--Vladimir Nabokov, Pnin
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"The fact is that poetry is not the books in the library...Poetry is the encounter of the reader with the book, the discovery of the book."
--Jorge Luis Borges, Poetry


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

--Octavio Paz


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


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


"We Are Hard on Each Other"
i

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

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

ii

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

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

iii

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


"At the Beginning Stop Suffering"
I am mercy; I have no understanding of who I am;
though, with my thousand arms, I have written of my own
nature since writing began. I inhabit you and you write about me again.
There is always the sound or color or feeling in which I can arrive.
Lying in bed suffering from loneliness or anger the woman
with eyes closed sees me bending over here, a many-armed figure
wearing a rayed disk hat. Not a clear image, but made of the blue and red
brocade beneath the eyelids. Yes you were right, you contain all
the qualities and possibilities, all the gods--I'm here inside when
you need me; I can come to you when you've forgotten my
name; a voice of yours, hidden to you, calls for mercy and mercy always comes.
--Alice Notley, Culture of One
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"The purpose of literature is to turn blood into ink."
--T. S. Eliot


"self-exam (my body is a cage)"
Do this: take two fingers, place them on
the spot behind your ear, either

ear, the spot where your skull drops off

into that valley of muscle
& nerve--that is the muscle that holds up

the skull, that turns the dumb bone
this way & that, that nods your face up &

down when you think you
get it--press deeper, touch the little bundle of

nerves buried there, buried in
the gristle--the nerves that make you blink

when the light bewilders you, that make your tongue
slide in & out when you think you're in

love, when you think you need a drink, touch
that spot as if you have an itch, close your eyes &

listen, please, close
your eyes—can you hear it? We think our souls live

in boxes, we think someone sits behind our eyes,
lording in his little throne, steering the fork to

the mouth, the mouth to the tit, we think
hungry children live in our bellies & run out with their

empty bowls as the food rains
down, we sometimes think we are those

hungry children, we think
we can think anything & it won't

matter, we think we can think cut out her tongue,
& then ask her to sing.
--Nick Flynn


"You remember too much,
my mother said to me recently.
Why hold onto all that?

And I said,
Where do I put it down?"
--Anne Carson, "The Glass Essay"


"raving: i"
Once I wrote a poem larger than any man, even Jesus.
So tall the furrow of hair couldn't be tousled,
feet large as lakes. I titled it Personification so it
would live, Godzilla in parenthesis so it would kill.

There was blood. Testicles lay in the streets
like confetti post-parade. I was glad: Diana
after Actaeon's own salivating pack consumed him--
limb by limb licked, tendons trailing.

I rode the shoulder of my poem, wanting to see
their faces, none specific, all malevolent, calling out
last moments in ridiculous language--love, affection,
Tender,
one screamed. Not loudly enough and too late.

I wore red paint, salvaging neither plated breast,
nor firm mouth. Not once was I tender.
I wanted them wasted--him, him, him, him, him
--CM Burroughs


"I tell my students, 'When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game."
--Toni Morrison


"I said that the world is absurd, but I was too hasty. This world in itself is not reasonable, that is all that can be said. But what is absurd is the confrontation of this irrational and the wild longing for clarity whose call echoes in the human heart."
--Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus


"Nobody is as powerful as we make them out to be."
--Alice Walker


"Books are meat and medicine
and flame and flight and flower
steel, stitch, cloud and clout,
and drumbeats on the air."
--Gwendolyn Brooks


"The best way to keep a prisoner from escaping is to make sure he never knows he's in prison."
--Fyodor Dostoyevsky

"Nothing I accept about myself can be used against me to diminish me. I am who I am, doing what I came to do, acting upon you like a drug or a chisel to remind you of your me-ness, as I discover you in myself."
--Audre Lorde, "Eye to Eye"


"The bed was warm and ordinary and perfect, and it had been such a long, long day. Probably the longest day of my life. I felt like I had proof that not all days are the same length, not all time has the same weight. Proof that there are worlds and worlds and worlds on top of worlds, if you want them to be there."
--Carol Rifka Brunt, Tell the Wolves I'm Home


"Night and Sleep"
At the time of night-prayer, as the sun slides down,
the route the senses walk on closes, the route to the invisible opens.
The angel of sleep then gathers and drives along the spirits;
just as the mountain keeper gathers his sheep on a slope.
And what amazing sights he offers to the descending sheep!
Cities with sparkling streets, hyacinth gardens, emerald pastures!
The spirit sees astounding beings, turtles turned to men,
men turned to angels, when sleep erases the banal.
I think one could say the spirit goes back to its old home:
it no longer remembers where it lives, and loses its fatigue.
It carries around in life so many griefs and loads
and trembles under their weight; but now they are gone,
and it is all well.
--Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks and Robert Bly


"An Appendix to the Vision of Peace"
Don't stop after beating the swords
Into ploughshares, don't stop! Go on beating
And make musical instruments out of them.
Whoever wants to make war again
Will have to turn them into ploughshares first.
--Yehuda Amichai, translated by Glenda Abramson and Tudor Parfitt


"The Task Never Completed"
No task is ever completed,
only abandoned or pressed into use.
Tinkering can be a form of prayer.

Twenty-six botched worlds preceded
Genesis we are told in ancient commentary,
and ha-Shem said not only,
of this particular attempt,
It is good, but muttered,
if only it will hold.

Incomplete, becoming, the world
was given to us to fix, to complete
and we've almost worn it out.

My house was hastily built,
on the cheap. Leaks, rotting
sills, the floor a relief map of Idaho.

Whenever I get some money, I stove
up, repair, add on, replace.
This improvisation permits me to squat
here on the land that owns me.

We evolve through mistakes, wrong
genes, imitation gone wild.

Each night sleep unravels me into wool,
then into sheep and wolf. Walls and fire
pass through me. I birth stones.

Every dawn I stumble from the roaring
vat of dreams and make myself up
remembering and forgetting by halves.

Every dawn I choose to take a knife
to the world's flank or a sewing kit,
rough improvisation, but a start.
--Marge Piercy


"To the extent that it is possible you must live in the world today as you wish everyone to live in the world to come. That can be your contribution. Otherwise, the world you want will never be formed. Why? Because you are waiting for others to do what you are not doing; and they are waiting for you, and so on."
--Alice Walker, The Temple of My Familiar


"[Faith] means that, from the very roots of our being, we should always be prepared to live with this mystery as one being lives with another. Real faith means the ability to endure life in the face of this mystery."
--Martin Buber


"On the Death of a Parent"
Move to the front
of the line
a voice says, and suddenly
there is nobody
left standing between you
and the world, to take
the first blows
on their shoulders.
This is the place in books
where part one ends, and
part two begins,
and there is no part three.
The slate is wiped
not clean but like a canvas
painted over in white
so that a whole new landscape
must be started,
bits of the old
still showing underneath--
those colors sadness lends
to a certain hour of evening.
Now the line of light
at the horizon
is the hinge between earth
and heaven, only visible
a few moments
as the sun drops
its rusted padlock
into place.
--Linda Pastan


"Every October it becomes important, no, necessary to see the leaves turning, to be surrounded by leaves turning...You'll be driving along depressed when suddenly a cloud will move and the sun will muscle through and ignite the hills. It may not last. Probably won't last. But for a moment the whole world comes to. Wakes up. Proves it lives. It lives--red, yellow, orange, brown, russet, ocher, vermillion, gold. Flame and rust. Flame and rust, the permutations of burning. You're on fire. Your eyes are on fire.

"It won't last, you don't want it to last. You can't stand any more. But you don't want it to stop. It's what you've come for. It's what you'll come back for. It won't stay with you, but you'll remember that it felt like nothing else you've felt or something you've felt that also didn't last."
--Lloyd Schwartz


"A Short History of Judaic Thought in the Twentieth Century"
The rabbis wrote:
although it is forbidden
to touch a dying person,
nevertheless, if the house
catches fire
he must be removed
from the house.

Barbaric!
I say,
and whom may I touch then,
aren't we all
dying?

You smile
your old negotiator's smile
and ask:
but aren't all our houses
burning?
--Linda Pastan
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Nostos"
There was an apple tree in the yard--
this would have been
forty years ago--behind,
only meadows. Drifts
of crocus in the damp grass.
I stood at that window:
late April. Spring
flowers in the neighbor's yard.
How many times, really, did the tree
flower on my birthday,
the exact day, not
before, not after? Substitution
of the immutable
for the shifting, the evolving.
Substitution of the image
for relentless earth. What
do I know of this place,
the role of the tree for decades
taken by a bonsai, voices
rising from the tennis courts--
Fields. Smell of the tall grass, new cut.
As one expects of a lyric poet.
We look at the world once, in childhood.
The rest is memory.
--Louise Glück


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

time to unlock the cellar door,
time to remind ourselves

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


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


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


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


"Here's a wagon that's going a piece of the way. It will take you that far; backrolling now behind her a long monotonous succession of peaceful and undeviating changes from day to dark and dark to day again, through which she advanced in identical and anonymous and deliberate wagons as though through a succession of creakwheeled and limpeared avatars, like something moving forever and without progress across an urn."
--William Faulkner, Light in August
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"But most days, if you're aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she's not usually like this. Maybe she's been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it's also not impossible. It just depends what you want to consider. If you're automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won't consider possibilities that aren't annoying and miserable.

"But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.

"And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about in the great outside world of wanting and achieving. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

"That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing."
--David Foster Wallace, "This Is Water"


"We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there."
--Pascal Mercier, Night Train to Lisbon


"Archaic Torso of Apollo"
We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast's fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.
--Rainer Maria Rilke, translated from the German by Stephen Mitchell


"When I dare to be powerful--to use my strength in service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid."
--Audre Lorde


"Whitepeople believed that whatever the manners, under every dark skin was a jungle. Swift, unnavigable waters, swinging screaming baboons, sleeping snakes, red gums ready for their sweet white blood. In a way, he thought, they were right. The more coloredpeople spent their strength trying to convince them how gentle they were, how clever and loving, how human, the more they used themselves up to persuade whites of something Negroes believe could not be questioned, the deeper and more tangled the jungle grew inside. But it wasn’t the jungle black brought with them to this place from the other (livable) place. It was the jungle whitefolks planted in them. And it grew. It spread. In, through an after life, it spread, until it invaded whites who had made it. Touched them every one. Changed and altered them. Made them bloody, silly, worse than even they wanted to be, so scared were they of the jungle they had made. The screaming baboon lived under their own white skin; the red gums were their own."
--Toni Morrison, Beloved


"An exorcism of not necessarily his demon, but of his divine discontent."
--Harper Lee, on writing


October 27, 1948
There are so many thorns here--
brown thorns, yellow thorns
all along the length of the day, even into sleep.

When the nights jump the barbed wire
they leave tattered strips of skirt behind.

The words we once found beautiful
faded like an old man's vest in a trunk
like a sunset darkened on the windowpanes.

People here walk with their hands in their pockets
or might gesture as if swatting a fly
that returns again and again to the same place
on the rim of an empty glass or just inside
a spot as indefinite and persistent
as their refusal to acknowledge it.
--Yannis Ritsos, translated from the Greek by Karen Emmerich and Edmund Keeley, from Diaries of Exile


December 8
Quiet day. An empty table.
I see things as they are.

I have my hands in my pockets.
Who can I thank for this?

*

Under the lukewarm water of night I held
the hand of sleep and the sense of forgetting
the texture of the blanket and of the wall.
If you lift the sheet
you won't find me.
Try to find me--don't you understand?
I'm deeper in.

*

There were two glasses on the table
a stool in the corner
the shadow of a hand that might have picked flowers
a shadow split between bed and ceiling
I don't remember I wasn't quick enough to see
only the shadow of the window that didn't open
on the white wall
and the hand that didn't cut flowers
the hand that itself was cut in the first instant of moonlight
falling in the middle of the road in the muddy waters
beside the broken wheel of the mail truck.

*

A mandolin an angry angel
a glass of water a cigarette
the sounds that binds us together for a moment beyond our solitude
so we can part again without saying goodnight.

Later the eyes that open two holes in the wall.

*

I planted a tree. I'll raise it.
Whatever happens I'm not going back.
--Yannis Ritsos, translated from the Greek by Karen Emmerich and Edmund Keeley, from Diaries of Exile


December 11
The floor seems in a good mood today
as does the cane bench
I look at everyone the same way
it's quiet
I like it
I want to hold on to it.

And yet
a snuffed lamp in the morning
doesn't give you the slightest idea
of what night can be.
--Yannis Ritsos, translated from the Greek by Karen Emmerich and Edmund Keeley, from Diaries of Exile


December 24
Each morning flocks of wild geese
head south.
We watch them, unmoving.

You get tired of looking up.
Soon enough we lower our heads.
--Yannis Ritsos, translated from the Greek by Karen Emmerich and Edmund Keeley, from Diaries of Exile


January 18
Our house, you said. Which house?
Our house is over there
with the single bed
with the broom
with the unsuspecting poems
not yet torn.
--Yannis Ritsos, translated from the Greek by Karen Emmerich and Edmund Keeley, from Diaries of Exile


January 23
At last
the mirror shows you
your severed hands
though you have no hands to applaud
your victory.
--Yannis Ritsos, translated from the Greek by Karen Emmerich and Edmund Keeley, from Diaries of Exile


January 26
I want to compare a cloud
to a deer.
I can't.
Over time the good lies
grow few.
--Yannis Ritsos, translated from the Greek by Karen Emmerich and Edmund Keeley, from Diaries of Exile
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"At some point in life the world's beauty becomes enough. You don't need to photograph, paint or even remember it. It is enough. No record of it needs to be kept and you don't need someone to share it with or tell it to. When that happens--that letting go--you let go because you can."
--Toni Morrison, Tar Baby


"For the Mad"
you will be alone at last
in the sanity of your friends.

brilliance will fade away from you
and you will settle in dimmed light.

you will not remember how to mourn
your dying difference.

you will not be better but
they will say you are well.
--Lucille Clifton


"But then, it is the obvious which is so difficult to see most of the time. People say 'It's as plain as the nose on your face.' But how much of the nose on your face can you see, unless someone holds a mirror up to you?"
--Isaac Asimov, I, Robot


"Ars Poetica?"
I have always aspired to a more spacious form
that would be free from the claims of poetry or prose
and would let us understand each other without exposing
the author or reader to sublime agonies.

In the very essence of poetry there is something indecent:
a thing is brought forth which we didn’t know we had in us,
so we blink our eyes, as if a tiger had sprung out
and stood in the light, lashing his tail.

That's why poetry is rightly said to be dictated by a daimonion,
though it's an exaggeration to maintain that he must be an angel.
It's hard to guess where that pride of poets comes from,
when so often they're put to shame by the disclosure of their frailty.

What reasonable man would like to be a city of demons,
who behave as if they were at home, speak in many tongues,
and who, not satisfied with stealing his lips or hand,
work at changing his destiny for their convenience?

It's true that what is morbid is highly valued today,
and so you may think that I am only joking
or that I've devised just one more means
of praising Art with the help of irony.

There was a time when only wise books were read,
helping us to bear our pain and misery.
This, after all, is not quite the same
as leafing through a thousand works fresh from psychiatric clinics.

And yet the world is different from what it seems to be
and we are other than how we see ourselves in our ravings.
People therefore preserve silent integrity,
thus earning the respect of their relatives and neighbors.

The purpose of poetry is to remind us
how difficult it is to remain just one person,
for our house is open, there are no keys in the doors,
and invisible guests come in and out at will.

What I'm saying here is not, I agree, poetry,
as poems should be written rarely and reluctantly,
under unbearable duress and only with the hope
that good spirits, not evil ones, choose us for their instrument.
--Czesław Miłosz, translated from the Polish by Czesław Miłosz and Lillian Vallee


"People take on the shapes of the songs and the stories that surround them, especially if they don't have their own song."
--Neil Gaiman, Anansi Boys


"When I say something it immediately and finally loses its importance. When I write it down it loses it too, but sometimes gains a new one."
--Franz Kafka, Diaries


"See, people don't understand about death, but if you ever hear one of them coffin sounds you'd know. There ain't nothing like it. That coffin get to talking and you know that this here...this what we call life ain't nothing. You can blow it away with a blink on an eye. But death...you can't blow away death. It lasts forever. I didn't understand about it till my wife died. Before that it was just a job. Then when she died I come to understand it. You can live to be a hundred and fifty and you'll never have a greater moment than when you breathe your last breath. Ain't nothing you can do in life compared to it. See, right then you done something. You became a part of everything that come before."
--August Wilson, Two Trains Running


"So we took a little boat, she thought, beginning to tell herself a story of adventure about escaping from a sinking ship. But with the sea streaming through her fingers, a spray of seaweed vanishing behind them, she did not want to tell herself seriously a story; it was the sense of adventure and escape that she wanted, for she was thinking, as the boat sailed on, how her father's anger about the points of the compass, James's obstinacy about the compact, and her own anguish, all had slipped, all had passed, all had streamed away. What then came next? Where were they going? From her hand, ice cold, held deep in the sea, there spurted up a fountain of joy at the change, at the escape, at the adventure (that she should be alive, that she should be there). And the drops falling from this sudden and unthinking fountain of joy fell here and there on the dark, the slumbrous shapes in her mind; shapes of a world not realised but turning in their darkness, catching here and there, a spark of light; Greece, Rome, Constantinople. Small as it was, and shaped something like a leaf stood on its end with the gold-sprinkled waters flowing in and about it, it had, she supposed, a place in the universe--even that little island?"
--Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse


"But look! she said, looking at him. Look at him now. She looked at him reading the little book with his legs curled; the little book whose yellowish pages she knew, without knowing what was written on them. It was small; it was closely printed; on the fly-leaf, she knew, he had written that he had spent fifteen francs on dinner; the wine had been so much; he had given so much to the waiter; all was added up neatly at the bottom of the page. But what might be written in the book which had rounded its edges off in his pocket, she did not know. What he thought they none of them knew. But he was absorbed in it, so that when he looked up, as he did now for an instant, it was not to see anything; it was to pin down some thought more exactly. That done, his mind flew back again and he plunged into his reading. He read, she thought, as if he were guiding something, or wheedling a large flock of sheep, or pushing his way up and up a single narrow path; and sometimes he went fast and straight, and broke his way through the bramble, and sometimes it seemed a branch struck at him, a bramble blinded him, but he was not going to let himself be beaten by that; on he went, tossing over page after page. And she went on telling herself a story about escaping from a sinking ship, for she was safe, while he sat there; safe, as she felt herself when she crept in from the garden, and took a book down, and the old gentleman, lowering the paper book down, said something very brief over the top of it about the character of Napoleon.

"She gazed back over the sea, at the island. But the leaf was losing its sharpness. It was very small; it was very distant. The sea was more important now than the shore. Waves were all round them, tossing and sinking, with a log wallowing down one wave; a gull riding on another. About here, she thought, dabbling her fingers in the water, a ship had sunk, and she murmured, dreamily half asleep, how we perished, each alone."
--Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse


"It was all in keeping with this silence, this emptiness, and the unreality of the early morning hour. It was a way things had sometimes, she thought, lingering for a moment and looking at the long glittering windows and the plume of blue smoke; they became unreal. So coming back from a journey, or after an illness, before habits had spun themselves across the surface, one felt that same unreality, which was so startling; felt something emerge. Life was most vivid then."
--Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse


"But what she wished to get hold of was that very jar on the nerves, the thing itself before it had been made anything. Get that and start afresh; get that and start afresh; she said desperately, pitching herself firmly again before her easel. It was a miserable machine, an inefficient machine, she thought, the human apparatus for painting or for feeling; it always broke down at the critical moment; heroically, one must force it on. She stared, frowning. There was the hedge, sure enough. But one got nothing by soliciting urgently. One got only a glare in the eye from looking at the line of the wall, or from thinking--she wore a grey hat. She was astonishingly beautiful. Let it come, she thought, if it will come. For there are moments when one can neither think nor feel. And if one can neither think nor feel, she thought, where is one?"
--Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse


"Here sitting on the world, she thought, for she could not shake herself from the sense that everything this morning was happening for the first time, perhaps for the last time, as a traveller, even though he is half asleep, knows, looking out of the train window, that he must look now, for he will never see that town, or that mule-cart, or that woman at work in the fields, again. The lawn was the world; they were up here together, on this exalted station, she thought, looking at old Mr. Carmichael, who seemed (though they had not said a word all this time) to share her thoughts. And she would never see him again perhaps. He was growing old. Also, she remembered, smiling at the slipper that dangled from his foot, he was growing famous. People said that his poetry was 'so beautiful.' They went and published things he had written forty years ago. There was a famous man now called Carmichael, she smiled, thinking how many shapes one person might wear, how he was that in the newspapers, but here the same as he had always been. He looked the same--greyer, rather. Yes, he looked the same, but somebody had said, she recalled, that when he had heard of Andrew Ramsay's death (he was killed in a second by a shell; he should have been a great mathematician) Mr. Carmichael had 'lost all interest in life.' What did it mean--that? she wondered. Had he marched through Trafalgar Square grasping a big stick? Had he turned pages over and over, without reading them, sitting in his room in St. John's Wood alone? She did not know what he had done, when he heard that Andrew was killed, but she felt it in him all the same. They only mumbled at each other on staircases; they looked up at the sky and said it will be fine or it won't be fine. But this was one way of knowing people, she thought: to know the outline, not the detail, to sit in one's garden and look at the slopes of a hill running purple down into the distant heather. She knew him in that way. She knew that he had changed somehow. She had never read a line of his poetry."
--Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Like a lighthouse keeper drawn to his window to gaze once again at the sea, or a prisoner automatically searching out the sun as he steps into the yard for his hour of exercise, Ruth looked for the water mark several times during the day. She knew it was there, would always be there, but she needed to confirm its presence. Like the keeper of the lighthouse and the prisoner, she regarded it as a mooring, a checkpoint, some stable visual object that assured her that the world was still there; that this was life and not a dream. That she was alive somewhere, inside, which she acknowledged to be true only because a thing she knew intimately was out there, outside herself."
--Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon


"This far: alert, curious, more or less naked, without language, looking out over the green savannah. Now that was a leap, that's an outlook. You see an open space with trees whose branches spread out near the ground and bear fruit. You see a river or path that winds away out of sight, beyond the horizon. You see a few animals, you see changing clouds. You like what you see. Two hundred thousand years later you'll call this outlook 'beautiful' but the word's no use to you now.

"Time after time, in the field of evolutionary psychology, the children of today, from anywhere on earth, in test conditions, point to this picture, choose it over all others--forests, jungles, mountains, beaches, deserts--as the view most pleasing to them. What are they looking at? What are they really looking at?

"Well, evolutionary psychologists think they're looking at this: an open space (we can hunt) with trees (we can hide) whose branches spread out near the ground (we can escape) and bear fruit (we can eat). We see a river (we can drink, wash, eat) or path (we can travel) that winds away out of sight (we can learn), beyond the horizon (we can imagine). We see a few animals (we can eat more), we see changing clouds (rains will come again, we can tell one day from another), and, all in all, we like what we see. What evolutionary psychologists--and I--believe is that aesthetic preferences, those things we find beautiful, originate not in what renders life delightful or even endurable, but in what makes life possible."
--Glyn Maxwell, On Poetry


"Risa Takes a Look & Gives It Back"
trigger warning: self-harm )
--Rachel Eliza Griffiths


"Bessie: Drinking Desire"
trigger warning: sexual assault, addiction )
--Rachel Eliza Griffiths


"The Problem of Describing Mercy"
for Aisha & Aracelis

Consider the taste
of muscadines clinging
to a stem. That taste of color

a globe of water
opening your mouth's
power.

Teeth tear it, cursing
the tongue's work.

But mercy is not like that.

Beneath piano lids. Fingernails.
Some kind of filth.

How it might fit like a raspberry seed
along the wall of your molar.

Could you see it then? Without a telescope
from the windows of a moving train?

Why must the mule starve
to death in a field of sunflowers?

The mouth of a thing
that licks your wounds,
its teeth bared (just in case).

Consider the vows of hands
or the work of knuckles.

But mercy is not like that.

Epigraphs of sand pass through
at the waist. Breaking
the horizon of wire.

In a field of sunflowers
I saw a mule lie down.

And from its stall of bones
a shadow rose & covered
the length of the beast's cries.
But mercy is not like that.

I pressed my face against the window
of this train, fear running

a woman's mind upon the looping sutures
of grief. The apparition of light
settles dark animals into peace.

I fly apart inside an hourglass.
--Rachel Eliza Griffiths
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"The foolish reject what they see and not what they think; the wise reject what they think and not what they see."
--Huangbo Xiyun


"We have art so that we may not perish by the truth."
--Friedrich Nietzsche


"A writer keeps an interior map of bookstores, like a hungry person and soup kitchens. I remember where bookstores are. I like to go in them, just to be among books and the people who like them. I know who else will be there: needy people like me, who walk slowly along the shelves and touch the spines. People who pull out a volume and open it, read a little, just to remind themselves of how they love this volume, this writer. People who may buy a book they hadn't thought they needed. People who believe that this soup is important, who know how it fills us up and warms our bones."
--Roxana Robinson, "Phantom Bookstores" (here)


"Ice Palace"
Another ice palace. Another demi-
paradise where all desires
are named and thus created,
and then almost satisfied. Hotel
might be an accurate label.

Not made of glass and marzipan
and steel, and jewel-toned water,
and opal gelatin that glows
like phosphorescent deep-sea fish, as
you might think at first. But no,

it's only dreams, it's only
clouds of breath formed into
words: the heavenly bed, the all-
you-can-eat breakfast. Invisible hands
bring food, smooth down

the sheets, turn on the lights,
cause violins to lullaby
the sugared air, clean out the wad of hair
you left in the porcelain shower,
and place a rose on your pillow

when you're not there. Where
is the fearful beast who runs the show
and longs for kisses?
Where are the bodies that were once
attached to all those hands?

Backstage it's always carnage.
Red petals on the floor.
You hope they're petals. Don't unlock
the one forbidden door,
the one inscribed

Staff Only. Do not look
in the last and smallest room, oh
dearest, do not look.
--Margaret Atwood


"What is needed, rather than running away or controlling or suppressing or any other resistance, is understanding fear; that means, watch it, learn about it, come directly into contact with it. We are to learn about fear, not how to escape from it."
--Jiddu Krishnamurti


"Those Winter Sundays"
Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?
--Robert Hayden


"The Extinct"
Imagine I'm the last woman on earth,
the snowiest plover, the loneliest

deep-sea-swimming whale. It's not my fault, but
it might be. Should I keep changing until

I become something that has an other?
I've tried that. What else can I do for love?

Now not even the gray wolves listen to my
long litany of failures. They know I'm just

putting this self-sadness in my mouth--
a polar bear crunching seal bones between

her teeth--to get what little I can from it.
They still won't let me blame myself:

When I tell them my name isn't a song
to sing, they call it back to me again and again.
--Keetje Kuipers


"There is a loneliness that can be rocked. Arms crossed, knees drawn up; holding, holding on, this motion, unlike a ship's, smooths and contains the rocker. It's an inside kind--wrapped tight like skin. Then there is a loneliness that roams. No rocking can hold it down. It is alive, on its own. A dry and spreading thing that makes the sound of one's own feet going seem to come from a far-off place."
--Toni Morrison, Beloved


"First Poem for You"
I like to touch your tattoos in complete
darkness, when I can't see them. I'm sure of
where they are, know by heart the neat
lines of lightning pulsing just above
your nipple, can find, as if by instinct, the blue
swirls of water on your shoulder where a serpent
twists, facing a dragon. When I pull you

to me, taking you until we're spent
and quiet on the sheets, I love to kiss
the pictures in your skin. They'll last until
you're seared to ashes; whatever persists
or turns to pain between us, they will still
be there. Such permanence is terrifying.
So I touch them in the dark; but touch them, trying.
--Kim Addonizio


"The rage of the disesteemed is personally fruitless, but it is also absolutely inevitable; this rage, so generally discounted, even among the people whose daily bread it is, is one of the things that makes history. Rage can only with difficulty, and never entirely, be brought under the domination of the intelligence and is therefore not susceptible to any arguments whatever. [...] Also, rage cannot be hidden, it can only be dissembled. This dissembling deludes the thoughtless, and strengthens rage, and adds, to rage, contempt."
--James Baldwin, "A Stranger in the Village"


"Again, even when the worst has been said, to betray a belief is not by any means to put oneself beyond its power; the betrayal of a belief is not the same thing as ceasing to believe. If this were not so there would be no moral standards in the world at all. Yet one must also recognize that morality is based on ideas and ideas are dangerous--dangerous because ideas can only lead to action and where the action leads no man can say. And dangerous in this respect: that confronted with the impossibility of remaining faithful to one's beliefs, and the equal impossibility of becoming free of them, one can be driven to the most inhuman excesses."
--James Baldwin


"The cathedral at Chartres, I have said, says something to the people of this village which it cannot say to me; but it is important to understand that this cathedral says something to me which it cannot say to them. Perhaps they are struck by the power of the spires, the glory of the windows; but they have known God, after all, longer than I have known him, and in a different way, and I am terrified by the slippery bottomless well to be found in the crypt, down which heretics were hurled to death, and by the obscene, inescapable gargoyles jutting out of the stone and seeming to say that God and the devil can never be divorced. I doubt that the villagers think of the devil when they face a cathedral because they have never been identified with the devil. But I must accept the status which myth, if nothing else, gives me in the West before I can hope to change the myth."
--James Baldwin


"I do not think, for example, that it is too much to suggest that the American vision of the world--which allows so little reality, generally speaking, for any of the darker forces of human life, which tends until today to paint moral issues in glaring black and white--owes a great deal to the battle waged by Americans to maintain between themselves and black men a human separation that could not be bridged. It is only now beginning to be borne in on us--very faintly, it must be admitted, very slowly, and very much against our will--that this vision of the world is dangerously inaccurate, and perfectly useless. For it protects our moral high-mindedness at the terrible expense of weakening our grasp of reality. People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists in remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster."
--James Baldwin


I shall know why--when Time is over--
And I have ceased to wonder why--
Christ will explain each separate anguish
In the fair schoolroom of the sky--

He will tell me what "Peter" promised--
And I--for wonder at his woe--
I shall forget the drop of Anguish
That scalds me now--that scalds me now!
--Emily Dickinson


No, I wasn't meant to love and be loved.
If I'd lived longer, I would have waited longer.

Knowing you are faithless keeps me alive and hungry.
Knowing you faithful would kill me with joy.

Delicate are you, and your vows are delicate, too,
so easily do they break.

You are a laconic marksman. You leave me
not dead but perpetually dying.

I want my friends to heal me, succor me.
Instead, I get analysis.

Conflagrations that would make stones drip blood
are campfires compared to my anguish.

Two-headed, inescapable anguish!--
Love's anguish or the anguish of time.

Another dark, severing, incommunicable night.
Death would be fine, if I only died once.

I would have liked a solitary death,
not this lavish funeral, this grave anyone can visit.

You are mystical, Ghalib, and, also, you speak beautifully.
Are you a saint, or just drunk as usual?
--Mirza Ghalib, translated from the Urdu by Vijay Seshardi


"Sailing to Byzantium"
That is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
--Those dying generations--at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.
--W. B. Yeats


"Mid-Term Break"
I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close.
At two o'clock our neighbours drove me home.

In the porch I met my father crying--
He had always taken funerals in his stride--
And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.

The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram
When I came in, and I was embarrassed
By old men standing up to shake my hand

And tell me they were "sorry for my trouble."
Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest
Away at school, as my mother held my hand

In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.
At ten o'clock the ambulance arrived
With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurse.

Next morning I went up to the room. Snowdrops
And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him
For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,

Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,
He lay in the four foot box as in his cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.

A four foot box, a foot for every year.
--Seamus Heaney


"For the Union Dead"
"Relinquunt Omnia Servare Rem Publicam."

The old South Boston Aquarium stands
in a Sahara of snow now. Its broken windows are boarded.
The bronze weathervane cod has lost half its scales.
The airy tanks are dry.

Once my nose crawled like a snail on the glass;
my hand tingled
to burst the bubbles
drifting from the noses of the cowed, compliant fish.

My hand draws back. I often sigh still
for the dark downward and vegetating kingdom
of the fish and reptile. One morning last March,
I pressed against the new barbed and galvanized

fence on the Boston Common. Behind their cage,
yellow dinosaur steamshovels were grunting
as they cropped up tons of mush and grass
to gouge their underworld garage.

Parking spaces luxuriate like civic
sandpiles in the heart of Boston.
A girdle of orange, Puritan-pumpkin colored girders
braces the tingling Statehouse,

shaking over the excavations, as it faces Colonel Shaw
and his bell-cheeked Negro infantry
on St. Gardens' shaking Civil War relief,
propped by a plank splint against the garage's earthquake.

Two months after marching through Boston,
half the regiment was dead;
at the dedication,
William James could almost hear the bronze Negroes breathe.

Their monument sticks like a fishbone
in the city's throat.
Its Colonel is as lean
as a compass-needle.

He has an angry wrenlike vigilance,
a greyhound's gentle tautness;
he seems to wince at pleasure,
and suffocate for privacy.

He is out of bounds now. He rejoices in man's lovely,
peculiar power to choose life and die--
when he leads his black soldiers to death,
he cannot bend his back.

On a thousand small town New England greens,
the old white churches hold their air
of sparse, sincere rebellion; frayed flags
quilt the graveyards of the Grand Army of the Republic.

The stone statues of the abstract Union Soldier
grow slimmer and younger each year--
wasp-waisted, they doze over muskets
and muse through their sideburns...

Shaw's father wanted no monument
except the ditch,
where his son's body was thrown
and lost with his "niggers."

The ditch is nearer.
There are no statues for the last war here;
on Boylston Street, a commercial photograph
shows Hiroshima boiling

over a Mosler Safe, the "Rock of Ages"
that survived the blast. Space is nearer.
When I crouch to my television set,
the drained faces of Negro school-children rise like balloons.

Colonel Shaw
is riding on his bubble,
he waits
for the blessed break.

The Aquarium is gone. Everywhere,
giant finned cars nose forward like fish;
a savage servility
slides by on grease.
--Robert Lowell
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"If writing is thinking and discovery and selection and order and meaning, it is also awe and reverence and mystery and magic...Authors arrive at text and subtext in thousands of ways, learning each time they begin anew how to recognize a valuable idea and how to reader the texture that accompanies, reveals or displays it to its best advantage."
--Toni Morrison


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

Yet lend the passing moment words and wings.

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

ii
The way your face
unhinges and comes apart:

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

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

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

It's all right. This magic fails.

No use to be the sky,
bending and watching.

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

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

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

revealed word

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

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

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

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

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

fact with fact, accidents
that perhaps never occurred.

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

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

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

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

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

your own flesh. Now

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

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

to rise up living
--Margaret Atwood
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Don't ever think I fell for you, or fell over you. I didn't fall in love, I rose in it."
--Toni Morrison, Jazz


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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


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

then decently hanged himself,one afternoon.

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

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

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


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

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


"Ghalib"
Tonight, you recite Ghalib from memory;

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


Taking a sip from your glass after every couplet,

the scotch rhyming perfectly the melancholy on your tongue.


You cling to nostalgia like an empty mirror,

to the scent of this language that withers like flowers.


You gather pain the way the sky gathers,

pinprick by slow pinprick, the stars.


Somewhere between question and answer

the feeling dissolves. The need to sing becomes


the struggle not to fall. And you arrange

your ruins into one last gesture,


knowing the Beloved will not heed your call,

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

***

You write to me from Delhi,

speak of summer blackouts,


of how, disconnected from the machines,

you thought of Ghalib--


the bomb blast of his grief

leaving the city in ruins--


and how the history of loss

could be written on a feather.


When the power returned

you turned the lights off,


lit a candle to see

the darkness a little better,


and still the shadows

were not the same.

***


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

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


And I think of all the years we have spent

listening to these ghazals, the verses


falling from our lips like pieces of exquisite glass

from broken window frames;


shaping our mouths to his sadness,

unbuttoning our collars to let his words stain


the rubbed language of our songs.

What have we been hiding from,


my friend? What longing is this inside us

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


"Flower Dump"
Cannas shiny as slag,
Slug-soft stems,
Whole beds of bloom pitched on a pile,
Carnations, verbenas, cosmos,
Molds, weeds, dead leaves,
Turned-over roots
With bleached veins
Twined like fine hair,
Each clump in the shape of a pot;
Everything limp
But one tulip on top,
One swaggering head
Over the dying, the newly dead.
--Theodore Roethke
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"In this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don't love your eyes; they'd just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face 'cause they don't love that either. You got to love it, you! And no, they ain't in love with your mouth. Yonder, out there, they will see it broken and break it again. What you say out of it they will not heed. What you scream from it they do not hear. What you put into it to nourish your body they will snatch away and give you leavins instead. No, they don't love your mouth. You got to love it. This is flesh I'm talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms I'm telling you. And O my people, out yonder, hear me, they do not love your neck unnoosed and straight. So love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up. And all your inside parts that they'd just as soon slop for hogs, you got to love them. The dark, dark liver--love it, love it and the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than eyes or feet. More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart. For this is the prize."
--Toni Morrison, Beloved

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