[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"I don't subscribe to the notion that a poem is doing its job when people get angry, no. The idea of a poem 'doing its job' is a really foreign one to me. It's not a kitchen implement, that either works or doesn't. It's not a machine whose function is to manufacture human reaction, and if it manufactures enough of the right kind of reaction then it can be judged successful. It's a place that goes onto the map if people return and return to it over a long period of time. Its job is to be there, for the people who want to come to it."
--Patricia Lockwood


"Commander Vimes didn't like the phrase 'The innocent have nothing to fear', believing the innocent had everything to fear, mostly from the guilty but in the longer term even more from those who say things like 'The innocent have nothing to fear'."
--Terry Pratchett


"How odd I can have all this inside me and to you it's just words."
--David Foster Wallace, The Pale King


"Tell me the best fantasy lands aren't deep, deep conversations. The one you had when everyone else was asleep at a slumber party when you were nine years old on the basement floor covered by a green outdoor rug next to her brother's barbell stand. Or the one you had on the bus with that boy when you were fourteen who said girls didn't go out with him because he had a paunch and didn't play football. And you admitted a few things about yourself that didn't sound good. Or the one that kept you in the dining hall so you missed all your afternoon classes in college. Or the one that led you to elope. Or the one last week when you talked about how you felt about failing and failing again until one of the children came running in because you'd forgotten dinner. Tell me, aren't the best fantasies where you have those conversations you don't want to leave, like an island, ancient volcano, surrounded by jeweled waters, warm in the sunlight, icy in the shadow of its caves--a place you remember best for being rare, for being far in the middle of the sea, uninhabitable, or unbearably too inhabitable, left before we ruined it."
--Jimin Han


"Manifesto"
trigger warning: wartime violence )
--Catalina Ferro


"Missed Time"
My notebook has remained blank for months
thanks to the light you shower
around me. I have no use
for my pen, which lies
languorously without grief.

Nothing is better than to live
a storyless life that needs
no writing for meaning--
when I am gone, let others say
they lost a happy man,
though no one can tell how happy I was.
--Ha Jin


"I like people who dream or talk to themselves interminably; I like them, for they are double. They are here and elsewhere."
--Albert Camus
[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
"Memory is the seamstress, and a capricious one at that. Memory runs her needle in and out, up and down, hither and thither. We know not what comes next, or what follows after. Thus, the most ordinary movement in the world, such as sitting down at a table and pulling the inkstand towards one, may agitate a thousand odd, disconnected fragments, now bright, now dim, hanging and bobbing and dipping and flaunting, like the underlinen of a family of fourteen on a line in a gale of wind. Instead of being a single, downright, bluff piece of work of which no man need feel ashamed, our commonest deeds are set about with a fluttering and flickering of wings, a rising and falling of lights."
--Virginia Woolf


"The perspective of the Earth in space and time is something with enormous, not just educational, but moral and ethical force. When you look at it from space, I think it is immediately clear that it is a fragile, tiny world exquisitely sensitive to the depredations of its inhabitants. It's impossible not to look at that planet and think that what we are doing is foolish. We are spending a million million dollars every year, worldwide, on armaments. There are no national boundaries visible. They have been put there by humans. The planet is real. The life on it is real, and the political separations that have placed the planet in danger are of human manufacture. All the beings on this little world are mutually dependent. It's like living in a lifeboat. We breathe the air that Russians have breathed, and Zambians and Tasmanians and people all over the planet. Whatever the causes that divide us, it is clear that the Earth will be here a thousand or a million years from now. The question, the key question, the central question, is: will we?"
--Carl Sagan


"If someone told me to write a book on morality, it would have a hundred pages and ninety-nine of them would be blank. On the last page I would write, 'I recognize only one duty and that is to love.' And as far as everything else is concerned, I say no."
--Albert Camus


"Growing Old"
We'll fill a Provence bowl and pledge us deep
The memory of the far ones and between
The soothing pipes, in heavy-lidded sleep,
Perhaps we'll dream the things that once have been.
Tis only noon and still too soon to die,
Yet we are growing old, my heart and I.

A hundred books are ready in my head
To open out where Beauty bent a leaf.
What do we want with Beauty? We are wed
Like ancient Proserpine to dismal grief
And we are changing with the hours that fly,
And growing odd and old, my heart and I.

Across a bed of bells the river flows,
And roses dawn, but not for us; we want
The new thing ever as the old thing grows
Spectral and weary on the hills we haunt.
And that is why we feast, and that is why
We're growing odd and old, my heart and I.
--Francis Ledwidge


"A Rabbit as King of the Ghosts"
The difficulty to think at the end of the day,
When the shapeless shadow covers the sun
And nothing is left except light on your fur--

There was the cat slopping its milk all day,
Fat cat, red tongue, green mind, white milk
And August the most peaceful month.

To be, in the grass, in the peacefullest time,
Without that monument of cat,
The cat forgotten on the moon;

And to feel that the light is a rabbit-light
In which everything is meant for you
And nothing need be explained;

Then there is nothing to think of. It comes of itself;
And east rushes west and west rushes down,
No matter. The grass is full

And full of yourself. The trees around are for you,
The whole of the wideness of night is for you,
A self that touches all edges,

You become a self that fills the four corners of night.
The red cat hides away in the fur-light
And there you are humped high, humped up,

You are humped higher and higher, black as stone--
You sit with your head like a carving in space
And the little green cat is a bug in the grass.
--Wallace Stevens


"The Rabbit Catcher"
It was May. How had it started? What
Had bared our edges? What quirky twist
Of the moon's blade had set us, so early in the day,
Bleeding each other? What had I done? I had
Somehow misunderstood. Inaccessible
In your dybbuk fury, babies
Hurled into the car, you drove. We surely
Had been intending a day's outing,
Somewhere on the coast, an exploration--
So you started driving.

What I remember
Is thinking: She’ll do something crazy. And I ripped
The door open and jumped in beside you.
So we drove West. West. Cornish lanes
I remember, a simmering truce
As you stared, with iron in your face,
Into some remote thunderscape
Of some unworldly war. I simply
Trod accompaniment, carried babies,
Waited for you to come back to nature.
We tried to find the coast. You
Raged against our English private greed
Of fencing off all coastal approaches,
Hiding the sea from roads, from all inland.
You despised England's grubby edges when you got there.
The day belonged to the furies. I searched the map
To penetrate the farms and private kingdoms.
Finally a gateway. It was a fresh day,
Full May. Somewhere I'd brought food.
We crossed a field and came to the open
Blue push of sea-wind. A gorse cliff,
Brambly, oak-packed combes. We found
An eyrie hollow, just under the cliff-top.
It seemed perfect to me. Feeding babies,
Your Germanic scowl, edged like a helmet,
Would not translate itself. I sat baffled.
I was a fly outside on the window-pane.
Of my own domestic drama. You refused to lie there
Being indolent, you hated it.
That flat, draughty plate was not an ocean.
You had to be away and you went. And I
Trailed after like a dog, along the cliff-top field-edge,
Over a wind-matted oak-wood--
And I found a snare.
Copper-wire gleam, brown cord, human contrivance,
Sitting new-set. Without a word
You tore it up and threw it into the trees.

I was aghast. Faithful
To my country gods--I saw
The sanctity of a trapline desecrated.
You saw blunt fingers, blood in the cuticles,
Clamped around a blue mug. I saw
Country poverty raising a penny,
Filling a Sunday stewpot. You saw baby-eyed
Strangled innocents, I saw sacred
Ancient custom. You saw snare after snare
And went ahead, riving them from their roots
And flinging them down the wood. I saw you
Ripping up precarious, precious saplings
Of my heritage, hard-won concessions
From the hangings and transportations
To live off the land. You cried: 'Murderers!'
You were weeping with a rage
That cared nothing for rabbits. You were locked
Into some chamber gasping for oxygen
Where I could not find you, or really hear you,
Let alone understand you.

In those snares
You'd caught something.
Had you caught something in me,
Nocturnal and unknown to me? Or was it
Your doomed self, your tortured, crying,
Suffocating self? Whichever,
Those terrible, hypersensitive
Fingers of your verse closed round it and
Felt it alive. The poems, like smoking entrails,
Came soft into your hands.
--Ted Hughes


"Nan Hardwicke Turns into a Hare"
I will tell you how it was. I slipped
into the hare like a nude foot
into a glorious slipper. Pushing her bones
to one side to make room for my shape
so I could settle myself like a child within her.
In the dark I groped for her freedom, gently teasing
it apart across my fingers to web across my palm.
Here is where our separation ends:
I tensed her legs with my arms, pushed my rhythm
down the stepping-stones of spine. An odd feeling this,
to hold another's soul in the mouth like an egg;
the aching jaw around her delicate self. Her mind
was simple, full of open space and weather.
I warmed myself on her frantic pulse and felt the draw
of gorse and grass, the distant slate line
at the edge of the moor. The air span diamonds
our of sea fret to catch across my tawny coat
as I began to fold the earth beneath my feet
and fly across the heath, the heather.
--Wendy Pratt


"The Rabbit Catcher"
It was a place of force--
The wind gagging my mouth with my own blown hair,
Tearing off my voice, and the sea
Blinding me with its lights, the lives of the dead
Unreeling in it, spreading like oil.

I tasted the malignity of the gorse,
Its black spikes,
The extreme unction of its yellow candle-flowers.
They had an efficiency, a great beauty,
And were extravagant, like torture.

There was only one place to get to.
Simmering, perfumed,
The paths narrowed into the hollow.
And the snares almost effaced themselves--
Zeroes, shutting on nothing.

Set close, like birth pangs.
The absence of shrieks
Made a hole in the hot day, a vacancy.
The glassy light was a clear wall,
The thickets quiet.

I felt a still busyness, an intent.
I felt hands round a tea mug, dull, blunt,
Ringing the white china.
How they awaited him, those little deaths!
They waited like sweethearts. They excited him.

And we, too, had a relationship--
Tight wires between us,
Pegs too deep to uproot, and a mind like a ring
Sliding shut on some quick thing,
The constriction killing me also.
--Sylvia Plath


"The Last Days of Summer before the First Frost"
Here at the wolf's throat, at the egress of the howl,
all along the avenue of deer-blink and salmon-kick
where the spider lets its microphone down
into the cave of the blackberry bush--earth echo,
absence of the human voice--wait here
with a bee on your wrist and a fly on your cheek,
the tiny sun and tiny eclipse.
It is time to be grateful for the breath
of what you could crush without thought,
a moth, a child's love, your own life.
There might never be another chance.
How did you find me, the astonished mother says
to her four-year-old boy who'd disappeared
in the crowds at the music festival.
I followed my heart, he shrugs,
so matter-of-fact you might not see
behind his words
(o hover and feed, but not too long)
the bee trails turning to ice as they’re flown.
--Tim Bowling


"The Remains"
I empty myself of the names of others. I empty my pockets.
I empty my shoes and leave them beside the road.
At night I turn back the clocks;
I open the family album and look at myself as a boy.

What good does it do? The hours have done their job.
I say my own name. I say goodbye.
The words follow each other downwind.
I love my wife but send her away.

My parents rise out of their thrones
into the milky rooms of clouds. How can I sing?
Time tells me what I am. I change and I am the same.
I empty myself of my life and my life remains.
--Mark Strand


trigger warning: abusive relationships )


"Kitchen Maid with Supper at Emmaus, or The Mulata"
--after the painting by Diego Velàzquez, ca. 1619

She is the vessels on the table before her:
the copper pot tipped toward us, the white pitcher
clutched in her hand, the black one edged in red
and upside down. Bent over, she is the mortar
and the pestle at rest in the mortar--still angled
in its posture of use. She is the stack of bowls
and the bulb of garlic beside it, the basket hung
by a nail on the wall and the white cloth bundled
in it, the rag in the foreground recalling her hand.
She's the stain on the wall the size of her shadow--
the color of blood, the shape of a thumb. She is echo
of Jesus at table, framed in the scene behind her:
his white corona, her white cap. Listening, she leans
into what she knows. Light falls on half her face.
--Natasha Trethewey


"Night Vision"
the girl fits her body in
to the space between the bed
and the wall. she is a stalk,
exhausted. she will do some
thing with this. she will
surround these bones with flesh,
she will cultivate night vision.
she will train her tongue
to lie still in her mouth and listen.
the girl slips into sleep.
her dream is red and raging.
she will remember
to build something human with it.
--Lucille Clifton
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can't build up my hopes on a foundation of consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again."
--Anne Frank

"Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate."
--Carl Jung

"Perhaps when we find ourselves wanting everything it is because we are dangerously near to wanting nothing. There are two opposing poles of wanting nothing: When one is so full and rich and has so many inner worlds that the outer world is not necessary for joy, because joy emanates from the inner core of one's being. When one is dead and rotten inside and there is nothing in the world: not all the woman, food, sun or mind-magic of others can reach the wormy core of one's gutted soul planet."
--Sylvia Plath

"Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure science."
--Edwin P. Hubble

"Cautiously, I allowed myself to feel good at times. I found moments of peace in cheap rooms just staring at the knobs of some dresser or listening to the rain in the dark. The less I needed, the better I felt."
--Charles Bukowski

"It is the job of thinking people not to be on the side of the executioners."
--Albert Camus
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"I've always been torn between my appetite for people, the vanity and the agitation, and the desire to make myself the equal of these seas of forgetfulness, these unlimited silences that are like enchantment of death. I have a taste for worldly vanities, my fellows, for faces but, out of step with this century, I have an example in myself which is the sea and anything in this world which resembles it. O sweetness of nights where all the starts sway and slide above the masts, and this silence in myself, this silence which finally frees me from everything."
--Albert Camus


"Seduction"
To see suddenly: among strangers' courtyards
and before the final cock's crow,
that you walk, and your shroud is frightening.
Are you mad--as you call out "Be well!"
to the dead? But you're alive among the dead.

How do you fare in that glacial land,
with--no tempests, no betrayals,
no dragonfly, no boats on the waves?...
Or did you think of me so often
that you tore through restraints and veils?

Or, in keeping with my skeptical opinion,
was it the seducer of weary christians,
who lie sleepless through the night gazing into
gloom, who was sent to me? But he
was forewarned--on rooftops and in cellars:

"We do not mould from common drama,
from loneliness, from dusk, from the brotherhood
of specters. We do not believe in their gifts.
To thieves we do not sing of Lazarus.
And we do not hunt our wandering dead
through courtyards after midnight."
--Olesya Nikolaeva


"Any Association with Death"
Any association with death is slightly obscene--
not unlike contact with your own body
at the point where the future gasps at the heat
and the present drops off as if orphaned.
Like how Eskimos rub noses when meeting--
restless flesh finds release in the morning.
And so you laze around in the sun,
languidly shuffling the deck at random.
You understand that you're stuck and
nothing can postpone, for a second,
a perfectly executed feint,
if we're to be brutally honest with each other,
languidly chanting hey! at different ends of the labyrinth.
Having transgressed the established rules,
an unwritten codex, dimly recollecting
past lives which you melted down
until all that remained is split like a cutlet--
content after some time with the sour vestige
of the past, with something concrete: a thigh, ankle,
nose, wrinkled into a kiss, a handful of barely
visible freckles beneath layers of powder...
Oblivious as to the skeletal guest right under your nose.
Unable to comprehend the magi.
--Viktor Kulle


"Freud and Korczak"
The worst thing about murder
Is not that friend or lover
Suddenly becomes your useless victim,
As he walks through prickly asters
And breaks the living stems, the bastard.
We can find another lover,
We can take up another friend.

The worst thing about murder
Is not that you steal after her,
And hide in the bushes, afraid to sneeze
As you follow her every move.
You take in the breath of a maniac,
The heavenly kiss of a sadist,
And you join as one with the soon-to-be shade.

And the worst thing about murder
Is not that it is utter blasphemy.
G-d has no place here, who cares where he has hidden
Like a maniac, in a premeditated ambush,
If he does exist, why allow his transgressions?
Why mindlessly caress him
Like a soldier touching the nipples of his scout?
This is not how despicable scum give it up.
We haven't seen such distances here,
Abuse and lies are not what makes us weep.

But that's not it. It's your neighbor by chance,
It's a half-bottle of vodka, a few hundred dollar bills,
Or a couple of shot glasses and a couple of ballads,
It's Cinderella, Sashka, cigarettes,
A billowing skirt, a meat grinder,
An eye-bolt, and the all-white carriage.

Here's what's truly horrible: a lightweight screwdriver,
Or a heavyweight chisel,
Easy to use, simple, even splendid,
Supple in use, agile
(Unless a half-wit's hand
picks it up along with soap and rope.)
It removes layer after layer, step after step,
It gets the petal-like tendon behind
Facial muscles, as if in a theater
Designed for an anatomy show,
As if someone were leafing through
A velvety atlas slowly, lovingly
Separating the sheets of fine, costly paper

A splendid and useful instrument
Suddenly smashes to bits the dismayed teeth
And exposes the iron cavities

Why War? It's before the war,
So one extremely bold Jew asks
Another poor Jew a question,
He's a stoic, a relativist, a rigorous type,
He's slowly lost his students, his little daughters,
And forever left his little sisters
There, where no one demands an entire table
Even when they're flush with money and have the time,
Whatever happened to that uptight Pole,
An irrational and paranoid man
--Elena Fanailova


"Long Lines to Stave off Suicide"
One can live without having survived
Carolyn Forché

or
I could keep having children which helps a little (hurts
a lot) because everything for a long time is so
keep-the-baby-alive, or I
could keep more to myself gathering
daily facts inwards in towards but this makes for
less interior space
if the line's
too short
drown--
too long--I'm not the first to be beguiled by and not the first to feel
there's something [--hang--] I've swallowed that won't go down--

on Thursday at pre-K
I make pancakes with Abram's class and he asks Ami
and the teacher chose Luna and Derek cried and cried and I
let him measure flour because he kept saying,
that's your mom? your mom? I love your mom! it was weird
so I gave him butter and a blunt knife, hoped the teacher
wouldn't mind and later found out Derek's mom
died in the towers

I couldn't breathe when I heard it or believe what a good mother
I've been just by staying alive

do you think? Joan asks, it's better to die now or back when they were babies
and didn't know better?
I almost say better to have died when they were babies
but. not true. every good night book. spoon of puréed pear. banana
after brush-your-teeth time. how I held him (restrained in a hospital sheet)
while the idiot doctor who didn't want to dirty his dress shirt
stitched the busted lip. and when I weaned him off the binky and the boob
and the floaties and from biting and kicking and unbuttoning my shirt
in public and from climbing out of the crib and from standing up on the subway
without holding on--better, I say, to
die now


or,

when he reaches an age
(what age?) and I find I can finally swallow it down--will I?

loosen?

perhaps if I can get the color just right in my study I will not need to stand
in the back of the synagogue and miss the shofar again this year
but it's not right, too light, like springtime, gray-green not gray
or green. not yellow. not blue. it will not do have I done this
on purpose? picked the color of the inside of a seed I should never have opened?

...where is my breath is...

can barely hear above the clicking of my thinking why
am I so obsessed with paint color and the properties of seasons
material objects I'm crazy so lazy and driven, relentless, no one could stand this
they call it cyclical negative thinking the constant self-checking
am I okay now? now? now? worse? better? now?
above the well-deserved charge of narcissism, above the thrum
of how many people alive now and now how many dead. I've not read
the New York Times for four years and one month but it hasn't helped.

or would I be
worse?

every touch too much but imperceptible perhaps a fever somewhere? and
people dying faster than I can write poems.

when my students want to write poems
I want to say wait for everyone to die.

instead I say: the poem must have a surprise and needs images
and where are the
things? the real world matters. one fish
in a barrel of fish. one bird in a flock of birds.

was it a bass?
a blue jay?

oh, for fuck's sake, there's no difference between "stones" and "rocks" in Virginia's
frock. down, down, down into the world of objects

which the students haven't got
has nearly killed me.

my son has a dream. cries. is afraid to tell me.
later he says that many, many people
came into his room at night all missing
something: an eye, an arm, a leg, a head
he knew them by their voices instead
and did not like what they were saying

I have everything. even a job.
a child. a child. notebooks I cannot quite
get down.

why, asks my son on the subway, should you
say something if you see something?
pointing at the poster of an abandoned black
duffel on a subway platform. I am trying
to breathe but he's asking and pointing. I say,
birds don't have teeth and need to eat
small rocks, stones, sand to break down food.
he
nods, pats my hand.

I'm trying so hard not to show him
my worldview I can barely breathe. gave him
a brother want to give him another and never
tell him there are things
and things that explode and no easy way to know
the difference. I drop him off at school, go to class
where the students say something and say
something and rarely see anything.

I wonder,
what if the black bag is filled with not-bombs? filled with
long, smooth seeds surprisingly soft to the touch
each containing a human baby? shall I swallow one
down?

This morning, alone,
I'm listening to music so as not to hear
the explosion
if there is one certainly eventually will be one
(today an alert)
every moment is not yet
exploded or gaseous or biological,
not yet infectious. should I
not ride the subway? I ask. the husband:
you've felt pretty low lately
anyway.
we both laugh.

In class a student says, living in a metropolis is good because it helps you have an
open mind which is good so you're not ignorant.


so here I am with 8,168,388 people.

Good morning, I don't say to anyone, I'm experiencing panic. And
depression. No, actually, nothing's wrong but thanks for the Kleenex. Sometimes
the subway sets it off. Or the bus. Elevator. Small spaces. The vacuum
cleaner. Ambient radio. Things inside other things as if myself a Russian doll or
that everyone has masks my unmedicated eye can't help but notice--

I like short lines, says a student.
I like poems without images, says a student.
I wanted everything to sound very superficial, says a student.
You never said it had to be interesting, says a student.

I want someone to ask me if I like my job.

I want someone to explain why I put a large duffel bag of explosives
into my mouth and tried to swallow it down when I was just
trying to stay alive, terrified my sons could see my missings, and how it is the cops
don't stop me and my open-minded subway neighbors smile sweetly
as we hurtle along and I tell my jostling boys, no, no you must hold on, hold on,
any moment it could stop, suddenly, stop
short, I must
hold on.
--Rachel Zucker
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Everybody knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world; yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky. There have been as many plagues as wars in history; yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.

"In fact, like our fellow citizens, Rieux was caught off his guard, and we should understand his hesitations in the light of this fact; and similarly understand how he was torn between conflicting fears and confidence. When a war breaks out, people say: 'It's too stupid; it can't last long.' But though a war may well be 'too stupid,' that doesn't prevent its lasting. Stupidity has a knack of getting its way; as we should see if we were not always so much wrapped up in ourselves.

"In this respect our townsfolk were like everybody else, wrapped up in themselves; in other words they were humanists: they disbelieved in pestilences. A pestilence isn't a thing made to man's measure; therefore we tell ourselves that pestilence is a mere bogy of the mind, a bad dream that will pass away. But it doesn't always pass away and, from one bad dream to another, it is men who pass away, and the humanists first of all, because they haven't taken their precautions. Our townsfolk were not more to blame than others; they forgot to be modest, that was all, and thought that everything was possible for them; which presupposed that pestilences were impossible. They went on doing business, arranged journeys, and formed views. How should they have given thought to anything like plague, which rules out any future, cancels journeys, silences the exchange of views. They fancied themselves free, and no on will ever be free so long as there are pestilences."
--Albert Camus, The Plague


" 'You'll be alright,' he says to me.

" 'No,' I tell him. 'I won't. I won't be okay just for the sake of it. Not anymore.'

"It's true.

"If I'm ever going to be okay, I'll have to earn it."
--Markus Zusak, I Am The Messenger
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Understanding the world for a man is reducing it to the human, stamping it with his seal. The cat's universe is not the universe of the anthill. The truism 'All thought is anthropomorphic' has no other meaning. Likewise, the mind that aims to understand reality can consider itself satisfied only by reducing it to terms of thought. If man realized that the universe like him can love and suffer, he would be reconciled."
--Albert Camus, translated from French by Justin O'Brien, "The Myth of Sisyphus"

"And here are trees and I know their gnarled surface, water and I feel its taste. These scents of grass and stars at night, certain evenings when the heart relaxes--how shall I negate this world whose power and strength I feel? Yet all the knowledge on earth will give me nothing to assure me that this world is mine. You describe it to me and you teach me to classify it. You enumerate its laws and in my thirst for knowledge I admit that they are true. You take apart its mechanism and my hope increases. At the final stage you teach me that this wondrous and multicolored universe can be reduced to the atom and that the atom itself can be reduced to the electron. All this is good and I wait for you to continue. But you tell me of an invisible planetary system in which electrons gravitate around a nucleus. You explain this world to me with an image. I realize then that you have been reduced to poetry: I shall never know. Have I the time to become indignant? You have already changed theories. So that science that was to teach me everything ends up in a hypothesis, that lucidity founders in metaphor, that uncertainty is resolved in a work of art. What need had I of so many efforts? The soft lines of these hills and the hand of evening on this troubled heart teach me much more. I have returned to my beginning. I realize that if through science I can seize phenomena and enumerate them, I cannot, for all that, apprehend the world. Were I to trace its entire relief with my finger, I should not know any more. And you give me the choice between a description that is sure but that teaches me nothing and hypotheses that claim to teach me but that are not sure. A stranger to myself and to the world, armed solely with a thought that negates itself as soon as it asserts, what is this condition in which I can have peace only be refusing to know and to live, in which the appetite for conquest bumps into walls that defy its assaults? To will is to stir up paradoxes."
--Albert Camus

"The rose petal, the milestone, or the human hand are as important as love, desire, or the laws of gravity. Thinking ceases to be unifying or making a semblance familiar in the guise of a major principle. Thinking is learning all over again to see, to be attentive, to focus consciousness; it is turning every idea and every image, in the manner of Proust, into a privileged moment. What justifies thought is its extreme consciousness."
--Albert Camus

"One of the only coherent philosophical positions is thus revolt. It is a constant confrontation between man and his own obscurity. It is an insistence upon an impossible transparency. It challenges the world anew every second. Just as danger provided man the unique opportunity of seizing awareness, so metaphysical revolt extends awareness to the whole of experience. It is that constant presence of man in his own eyes. It is not aspiration, for it is devoid of hope. That revolt is the certainty of a crushing fate, without the resignation that ought to accompany it."
--Albert Camus

"In its way, suicide settles the absurd. It engulfs the absurd in the same death. But I know that in order to keep alive, the absurd cannot be settled. It escapes suicide to the extent that it is simultaneously awareness and rejection of death. It is, at the extreme limit of the condemned man's last thought, that shoelace that despite everything he sees a few yards away, on the very brink of his dizzying fall. The contrary of suicide, in fact, is the man condemned to death."
--Albert Camus

"A mime of the ephemeral, the actor trains and perfects himself only in appearances. The theatrical convention is that the heart expresses itself and communicates itself only through gestures and in the body--or through the voice, which is as much of the soul as of the body. The rule of that art insists that everything be magnified and transcend into the flesh. If it were essential on the stage to love as people really love, to employ that irreplaceable voice of the heart, to look as people contemplate in life, our speech would be in code. But here silences must make themselves heard. Love speaks up louder, and immobility itself becomes spectacular. The body is king. Not everyone can be 'theatrical,' and this unjustly maligned word covers a whole aesthetic and a whole ethic. Half a man's life is spent in implying, in turning away, and in keeping silent. Here the actor is the intruder. He breaks the spell chaining that soul, and at last the passions can rush onto their stage. They speak in every gesture; they live only through shouts and cries. Thus the actor creates his characters for display. He outlines or sculptures them and slips into their imaginary form, transfusing his blood into their phantoms."
--Albert Camus

"Through an absurd miracle, it is the body that also brings knowledge. I should never really understand Iago unless I played his part. It is not enough to hear him, for I grasp him only at the moment when I see him. Of the absurd character the actor consequently has the monotony, that single, oppressive silhouette, simultaneously strange and familiar, that he carries about from hero to hero. There, too, the great dramatic work contributes to this unity of tone. This is where the actor contradicts himself: the same and yet so various, so many souls summed up in a single body. Yet it is the absurd contradiction itself, that individual who wants to achieve everything and live everything, that useless attempt, that ineffectual persistence. What always contradicts itself nevertheless joins in him. He is at that point where body and mind converge, where the mind, tired of its defeats, turns toward its most faithful ally. 'And blest are those,' says Hamlet, 'whose blood and judgment are so well commingled that they are not a pipe for fortune's finger to sound what stop she please.' "
--Albert Camus

"We have art in order not to die of the truth."
--Friedrich Nietzsche

"[The work of art] marks both the death of an experience and its multiplication. It is a sort of monotonous and passionate repetition of the themes already orchestrated by the world: the body, inexhaustible image on the pediment of temples, forms or colors, numbers or grief. It is therefore not indifferent, as a conclusion, to encounter once again the principal themes of this essay in the wonderful and childish world of the creator. It would be wrong to see a symbol in it and think that the work of art can be considered at last as a refuge for the absurd. It is itself an absurd phenomenon, and we are concerned merely with its description. It does not offer an escape for the intellectual ailment. Rather, it is one of the symptoms of that ailment which reflects it throughout a man's whole thought. But for the first time it makes the mind get outside of itself and places it in opposition to others, not for it to get lost but to show it clearly the blind path that all have entered upon. In the time of the absurd reasoning, creation follows indifference and discovery. It marks the point from which absurd passions spring and where the reasoning stops. Its place in this essay is justified in this way."
--Albert Camus

"To think is first of all to create a world."
--Albert Camus

"Art can never be so well served as by a negative thought. Its dark and humiliated proceedings are as necessary to the understanding of a great work as black is to white. To work and to create 'for nothing,' to sculpture in clay, to know that one's creation has no future, to see one's work destroyed in a day while being aware that fundamentally this has no more importance than building for centuries--this is the difficult wisdom that absurd thought sanctions. Performing these two tasks simultaneously, negating on the one hand and magnifying on the other, is the way open to the absurd creator. He must give the void its colors."
--Albert Camus

"There are words I have never really understood, such as 'sin.' Yet I believe these men have never sinned against life. For if there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life. These men have not cheated. Gods of summer they were at twenty by their enthusiasm for life, and they still are, deprived of all hope. I have seen two of them die. They were full of horror, but silent. It is better thus. From Pandora's box, where all the ills of humanity swarmed, the Greeks drew out hope after all the others, as the most dreadful of all. I know no more stirring symbol; for, contrary to the general belief, hope equals resignation. And to live is not to resign oneself."
--Albert Camus, "Summer in Algiers"

"Presumption, regression of progress."
--Heraclitus
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Nothing is more despicable than respect based on fear. And, from this point of view, death is no more worthy of respect than Nero or the inspector at my local police station."
--Albert Camus

"A consistent thinker is a thoughtless person, because he conforms to a pattern; he repeats phrases and thinks in a groove."
--Jiddu Krishnamurti
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"The truth is that every intelligent man, as you know, dreams of being a gangster and of ruling over society by force alone. As it is not so easy as the detective novels might lead one to believe, one generally relies on politics and joins the cruelest party. What does it matter, after all, if by humiliating one's mind one succeeds in dominating everyone? I discovered in myself sweet dreams of oppression."
--Albert Camus, The Fall
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake."
--Jeanette Rankin


"If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it."
--Albert Einstein


"I'm not afraid to die. I just don't want to be there when it happens."
--Woody Allen


"Like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a life that made sense from things she found in gift shops.

"And the crucifix went up on the wall of Billy Pilgrim."
--Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five


"What disturbs our peace is what the West calls 'development.' "
--Jose Mencio Molintas


"Death is a stripping away of all that is not you. The secret of life is to 'die before you die'--and find that there is no death."
--Eckhart Tolle


"To know that one life has breathed easier because I have lived. This is to have succeeded."
--Ralph Waldo Emerson


"The boy shrugs. 'A poet's work,' he answers. 'To name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it from going to sleep. And if rivers of blood flow from the cuts his verses inflict, then they will nourish him. He is the satirist.' "
--Salman Rushdie


"No matter that patriotism is too often the refuge of the scoundrels. Dissent, rebellion, and all-around hell-raising remain the true duty of patriots."
--Barbara Ehrenreich


"Man's inhumanity to man will continue as long as man loves God more than he loves his fellow man."
--Joseph Lewis


"Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats."
--Howard Aiken


"The Earth is the cradle of the mind. But we cannot live forever in a cradle."
--Konstantin Tsiolkovsky


"In this world
we walk on the roof of Hell
gazing at flowers"
--Kobayashi Issa


"Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing."
--Arundhati Roy


"Monotheism"

All this time, the scriptures have endured
in the songs. We are made human this way,
by insisting so, the words rising into the music.

I imagine God tone-deaf but still listening,
unaffected by peripheral noises. Like if I walk
into a garden somewhere with no one

in attendance but the dead rocks, grass stirring
wordlessly, that dull humming of stones,
that I am really there, poisoned and aware

of the new music, the wind working with notes
that sway this way and that, splitting the body
and pushing everything away: out of that garden,

far from His vision, God left behind still
listening to some lonely tune, waving his fingers
as if keeping a beat, hearing everything.
--Joel Toledo


"Pastel Dresses"

Like a dream, when one
becomes conscious of it
becomes a confusion, so her name
slipped between the vacancies.

As little more than a child
I hurried among a phalanx
of rowdy boys across a dance floor--
such a cluttering of black shoes.

Before us sat a row of girls
in pastel dresses waiting.
One sat to the right. I uttered
some clumsy grouping of sounds.

She glanced up to where I stood
and the brightness of her eyes
made small explosions within me.
That's all that's left.

I imagine music, an evening,
a complete story, but truly
there is only her smile and my response--
warm fingerprints crowding my chest.

A single look like an inch of canvas
cut from a painting: the shy complicity,
the expectation of pleasure, the eager
pushing forward into the mystery.

Maybe I was fourteen. Pressed
to the windows, night blossomed
in the alleyways and our futures
rushed off like shafts of light.

My hand against the small of a back,
the feel of a dress, that touch
of the starched fabric, its damp warmth--
was that her or some other girl?

Scattered fragments, scattered faces--
the way a breeze at morning
disperses mist across a pond,
so the letters of her name

return to the alphabet. Her eyes,
were they gray? How can we not love
this world for what it gives us? How
can we not hate it for what it takes away?
--Stephen Dobyns


"If you want to create, you have to sacrifice superficiality, some security, and often your desire to be liked, to draw up your most intense insights, your most far-reaching visions."
--Clarissa Pinkola Estés


"Art evokes the mystery without which the world would not exist."
--Rene Magritte


"Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal."
--Albert Camus


"One Need Not Be a Chamber to be Haunted"

One need not be a chamber to be haunted,
One need not be a house;
The brain has corridors surpassing
Material place.

Far safer, of a midnight meeting
External ghost,
Than an interior confronting
That whiter host.

Far safer through an Abbey gallop,
The stones achase,
Than, moonless, one's own self encounter
In lonesome place.

Ourself, behind ourself concealed,
Should startle most;
Assassin, hid in our apartments,
Be horror's least.

The prudent carries a revolver,
He bolts the door,
O'erlooking a superior spectre
More near.
--Emily Dickinson
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Better is the enemy of good."
--Voltaire


"Black spring! Pick up your pen, and weeping,
Of February, in sobs and ink,
Write poems, while the slush in thunder
Is burning in the black of spring.

Through clanking wheels, through church bells ringing
A hired cab will take you where
The town has ended, where the showers
Are louder still than ink and tears.

Where rooks, like charmed pears, from the branches
In thousands break away, and sweep
Into the melting snow, instilling
Dry sadness into eyes that weep.

Beneath--the earth is black in puddles,
The wind with croaking screeches throbs,
And--the more randomly, the surer
Poems are forming out of sobs."
--Boris Pasternak


"I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it."
--Maya Angelou


"Most of you have been where I am tonight. The crash site of unrequited love. You ask yourself, How did I get here? What was it about? Was it her smile? Was it the way she crossed her legs, the turn of her ankle, the poignant vulnerability of her slender wrists? What are these elusive and ephemeral things that ignite passion in the human heart? That's an age-old question. It's perfect food for thought on a bright midsummer's night."
--Martin Sage and Sybil Adelman, Northern Exposure, The Bumpy Road to Love


"Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair."
--Kahlil Gibran


"Absence extinguishes small passions and increases great ones, as the wind blows out a candle, and blows in a fire."
--De La Rochefoucauld


"In the end, our society will be defined not only by what we create but by what we refuse to destroy."
--John C. Sawhill


"To knock a thing down, especially if it is cocked at an arrogant angle, is a deep delight of the blood."
--George Santayana


"But in the end one needs more courage to live than to kill himself."
--Albert Camus


"The poet judges not as a judge judges but as the sun falling around a helpless thing."
--Walt Whitman


"There is nothing worse than aggressive stupidity."
--Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


"Now I know that our world is no more permanent than a wave rising on the ocean."
--Arthur Golden


"That corpse you planted last year in your garden, has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?"
--T.S. Eliot


"Anyone who can appease a man's conscience can take his freedom away from him."
--The X-Files


"The most important things are the hardest to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them--words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they're brought out...And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you've said at all, or why you thought it was so important you almost cried while you were saying it. That's the worst--the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller but for want of an understanding ear."
--Stephen King


"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise."
--F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Crack-up


"No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear."
--C.S. Lewis


"What if this weren't a hypothetical question?"
--unknown
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"The painter should paint not only what he has in front of him, but also what he sees inside himself. If he sees nothing within, then he should stop painting what is in front of him."
--Caspar David Friedrich

"When I grew up, I wanted to be a book."
--Amos Oz

"I don't want to end up simply having visited this world."
--Mary Oliver

"I love my country too much to be a nationalist."
--Albert Camus

"Free love is too expensive."
--Bernadette Devlin

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