[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
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
"There was one of his lonelinesses coming, one of those times when he walked the streets or sat, aimless and depressed, biting a pencil at his desk. It was a self-absorption with no comfort, a demand for expression with no outlet, a sense of time rushing by, ceaselessly and wastefully--assuaged only by that conviction that there was nothing to waste, because all efforts and attainments were equally valueless."
--F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned

"Lonely people have enthusiasms which cannot always be explained. When something strikes them as funny, the intensity and length of their laughter mirrors the depth of their loneliness, and they are capable of laughing like hyenas. When something touches their emotions, it runs through them like Paul Revere, awakening feelings that gather into great armies."
--Mark Helprin, Winter's Tale

"It is the phenomenon sometimes called 'alienation from self.' in its advanced stages, we no longer answer the telephone, because someone might want something; that we could say no without drowning in self-reproach is an idea alien to this game. Every encounter demands too much, tears the nerves, drains the will, and the specter of something as small as an unanswered letter arouses such disproportionate guilt that answering it becomes out of the question. To assign unanswered letters their proper weight, to free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves--there lies the great, the singular power of self-respect. Without it, one eventually discovers the final turn of the screw: one runs away to find oneself, and finds no one at home."
--Joan Didion, "On Self-Respect"

"When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It's like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can't stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship."
--Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

"Life Parallels Life"
It was mid-July when
that salivating coon came
staggering in from those
brittle, summer-scorched
rows of corn and limped
onto my back porch where
it prowled and pranced
like a newly caged puma,
until it saw its own re-
flection, grinning against
the French door's glaring
glass; it took to pecking
at those panes with fierce
anger, until it fell into a
rolling blot of fur and blood.
I couldn't hit it upon its
rabid head as I had intended
to with my hoe. Soon
its dazed eyes became epi-
leptic-like, grey black with gloss
from its own claws, self-
inflicted, as it was doing
to itself what I didn’t
have in my heart to do.
It was dying, the way an
old friend of mine did one
night, when drinking had
become just short of enough.
--Willie James King

"If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we would die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence."
--George Eliot, Middlemarch

"And once the novelist has brought us to that state, in which, as in all purely mental states, every emotion is multiplied tenfold, into which his book comes to disturb us as might a dream, but a dream more lucid, and of a more lasting impression than those which come to us in sleep; why, then, for the space of an hour he sets free within us all the joys and sorrows in the world, a few of which, only, we should have to spend years of our actual life in getting to know, and the keenest, the most intense of which would never have been revealed to us because the slow course of their development stops our perception of them. It is the same in life; the heart changes, and that is our worst misfortune; but we learn of it only from reading or by imagination; for in reality its alteration, like that of certain natural phenomena, is so gradual that, even if we are able to distinguish, successively, each of its different states, we are still spared the actual sensation of change."
--Marcel Proust, Swann's Way

"The voices of the ill are easy to ignore, because these voices are often faltering in tone and mixed in message...These voices bespeak conditions...that most of us would rather forget our vulnerability to. Listening is hard, but it is also a fundamentally moral act...In listening for the other, we listen for ourselves. The moment of witness in the story crystallizes a mutuality of need, when each is for the other."
--Arthur Frank, The Wounded Storyteller

"Snow White hears a knock and she thinks she knows what's up, thinks she knows to turn away whatever's rapping. But she's not ready and she could never be. Out the window stands her mother. Not Mrs. H. No, this is Gun That Sings. Older, grey in the pomp, face carved like someone meant to write something there and never finished. But it's her. Snow White sees her own face. Her dark eyes. Her mouth red as feeding. Her hurt laid out like leather. It's not a fair fight. Not even a whiff. Some things a girl has in her to say no to and some things cut her down before she knows she's gone. Sure, some twiggy, thorny snap in her says: no, this is awry, this is a bent thing, in that place that tells her to belly up to the floor before anyone's even shadowed the doorframe. But it don't matter. You can't ask why she did it, when she was warned, when she was told. The plum truth is you would too, if everything impossible stood out there saying you could be loved so perfect the past would go up like a firecracker and shatter across the dark."
--Catherynne M. Valente, Six-Gun Snow White

"He did not like her, she knew that; but partly for that very reason she respected him, and looking at him, drinking soup, very large and calm in the failing light, and monumental, and contemplative, she wondered what he did feel then, and why he was always content and dignified; and she thought how devoted he was to Andrew, and would call him into his room and, Andrew said, 'show him things.' And there he would lie all day long on the lawn brooding presumably over his poetry, till he reminded one of a cat watching birds, and then he clapped his paws together when he had found the word, and her husband said, 'Poor old Augustus--he's a true poet,' which was high praise from her husband.

"Now eight candles were stood down the table, and after the first scoop the flames stood upright and drew with them into visibility the long table entire, and in the middle a yellow and purple dish of fruit. What had she done with it, Mrs. Ramsay wondered, for Rose's arrangement of the grapes and pears, of the horny pink-lined shell, of the bananas, made her think of a trophy fetched from the bottom of the sea, of Neptune's banquet, of the bunch that hangs with vine leaves over the shoulder of Bacchus (in some picture), among the leopard skins and the torches lolloping red and gold...Thus brought up suddenly into the light it seemed possessed of great size and depth, was like a world in which one could take one's staff and climb hills, she thought, and go down into valleys, and to her pleasure (for it brought them into sympathy momentarily) she saw that Augustus too feasted his eyes on the same plate of fruit, plunged in, broke off a bloom there, a tassel here, and returned, after feasting, to his hive. That was his way of looking, different from hers. But looking together united them.

"Now all the candles were lit up, and the faces on both sides of the table were brought nearer by the candlelight, and composed, as they had not been in the twilight, into a party round a table, for the night was now shut off by panes of glass, which, far from giving any accurate view of the outside world, rippled it so strangely that here, inside the room, seemed to be order and dry land; there, outside, a reflection in which things wavered and vanished, waterily."
--Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

"It could not last, she knew, but at the moment her eyes were so clear that they seemed to go round the table unveiling each of these people, and their thoughts and their feelings, without effort like a light stealing under water so that its ripples and the reeds in it and the minnows balancing themselves, and the sudden silent trout are all lit up hanging, trembling. So she saw them; she heard them; but whatever they said had also this quality, as if what they said was like the movement of a trout when, at the same time, one can see the ripple and the gravel, something to the right, something to the left; and the whole is held together; for whereas in active life she would be netting and separating one thing from another; she would be saying she liked the Waverley novels or had not read them; she would be urging herself forward; now she said nothing. For the moment, she hung suspended."
--Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

"The words (she was looking at the window) sounded as if they were floating like flowers on water out there, cut off from them all, as if no one had said them, but they had come into existence of themselves.

" 'And all the lives we ever lived and all the lives to be are full of trees and changing leaves.' She did not know what they meant, but, like music, the words seemed to be spoken by her own voice, outside her self, saying quite easily and naturally what had been in her mind the whole evening while she said different things."
--Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

"And it struck her, this was tragedy--not palls, dust, and the shroud; but children coerced, their spirits subdued."
--Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

"[...]she took her hand and she raised her brush. For a moment it stayed trembling in a painful but exciting ecstasy in the air. Where to begin?--that was the question at what point to make the first mark? One line placed on the canvas committed her to innumerable risks, to frequent and irrevocable decisions. All that in idea seemed simple became in practice immediately complex; as the waves shape themselves symmetrically from the cliff top, but to the swimmer among them are divided by steep gulfs, and foaming crests. Still the risk must be run; the mark made.

"With a curious physical sensation, as if she were urged forward and at the same time must hold herself back, she made her first quick decisive stroke. The brush descended. It flickered brown over the white canvas; it left a running mark. A second time she did it--a third time. And so pausing and so flickering, she attained a dancing rhythmical movement, as if the pauses were one part of the rhythm and the strokes another, and all were related; and so, lightly and swiftly pausing, striking, she scored her canvas with brown running nervous lines which had no sooner settled there than they enclosed (she felt it looming out at her) a space. Down in the hollow of one wave she saw the next wave towering higher and higher above her. For what could be more formidable than that space? Here she was again, she thought, stepping back to look at it, drawn out of the presence of this formidable ancient enemy of hers--this other thing, this truth, this reality, which suddenly laid hands on her, emerged stark at the back of appearances and commanded her attention. She was half unwilling, half reluctant. Why always be drawn out and haled away? Why not left in peace, to talk to Mr. Carmichael on the lawn? It was an exacting form of intercourse anyhow. Other worshipful objects were content with worship; men, women, God, all let one kneel prostrate; but this form, were it only the shape of a white lamp-shade looming on a wicker table, roused one to perpetual combat, challenged one to a fight in which one was bound to be worsted. Always (it was in her nature, or in her sex, she did not know which) before she exchanged the fluidity of life for the concentration of painting she had a few moments of nakedness when she seemed like an unborn soul, a soul reft of body, hesitating on some windy pinnacle and exposed without protection to all the blasts of doubt. Why then did she do it? She looked at the canvas, lightly scored with running lines. It would be hung in the servants' bedrooms. It would be rolled up and stuffed under a sofa. What was the good of doing it then, and she heard some voice saying she couldn't paint, saying she couldn't create, as if she were caught up in one of those habitual currents in which after a certain time experience forms in the mind, so that one repeats words without being aware any longer who originally spoke them.

"Can't paint, can't write, she murmured monotonously, anxiously considering what her plan of attack should be. For the mass loomed before her; it protruded; she felt it pressing on her eyeballs. Then, as if some juice necessary for the lubrication of her faculties were spontaneously squirted, she began precariously dipping among the blues and umbers, moving her brush hither and thither, but it was now heavier and went slower, as if it had fallen in with some rhythm which was dictated to her (she kept looking at the hedge, at the canvas) by what she saw, so that while her hand quivered with life, this rhythm was strong enough to bear her along with it on its current. Certainly she was losing consciousness of outer things. And as she lost consciousness of outer things, and her name and personality and her appearance, and whether Mr. Carmichael was there or not, her mind kept throwing up from its depths, scenes, and names, and sayings, and memories and ideas, like a fountain spurting over that glaring, hideously difficult white space, while she modelled it with greens and blues."
--Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"You want tangible, social benefits to writing fiction? There are people walking around today because other people wrote words that spoke to them. That'll do."
--Warren Ellis

"He loved her, of course, but better than that, he chose her, day after day. Choice: that was the thing."
--Sherman Alexie, The Toughest Indian in the World

2. How I Would Paint Happiness
Something sudden, a windfall,
a meteor shower. No--
a flowering tree releasing
all its blossoms at once,
and the one standing beneath it
unexpectedly robed in bloom,
transformed into a stranger
too beautiful to touch.
--Lisel Mueller, from "Imaginary Paintings"

If my voice is not reaching you
add to it the echo--
echo of ancient epics

And to that--
a princess

And to the princess--your beauty

And to your beauty--
a lover's heart

And in the lover's heart
a dagger
--Afzal Ahmed Syed

"War and drink are the two things man is never too poor to buy."
--William Faulkner

"First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you."
--F. Scott Fitzgerald

"The Story"
trigger warning: gruesome wartime violence, civilian death )
--Kim Addonizio

"There is no shame in not knowing; the shame lies in not finding out."
--Russian Proverb

Homage to Claudius Ptolemy

I am a man: little do I last
and the night is enormous.
But I look up:
the stars write.
Unknowing I understand:
I too am written,
and at this very moment
someone spells me out.
--Octavio Paz

"To walk inside yourself and meet no one for hours--that is what you must be able to attain. To be solitary as you were when you were a child, when the grownups walked around involved with matters that seemed large and important because they looked so busy and because you didn't understand a thing about what they were doing."
--Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Observe the wonders as they occur around you.
Don't claim them.
Feel the artistry moving through and be silent.

"[...]this sound, which had lasted now half an hour and had taken its place soothingly in the scale of sounds pressing on top of her, such as the tap of balls upon bats, the sharp, sudden bark now and then, 'How's that? How's that?' of the children playing cricket, had ceased; so that the monotonous fall of the waves on the beach, which for the most part beat a measured and soothing tattoo to her thoughts and seemed consolingly to repeat over and over again as she sat with the children the words of some old cradle song, murmured by nature, 'I am guarding you--I am your support,' but at other times suddenly and unexpectedly, especially when her mind raised itself slightly from the task actually in hand, had no such kindly meaning, but like a ghostly roll of drums remorselessly beat the measure of life, made one think of the destruction of the island and its engulfment in the sea, and warned her whose day had slipped past in one quick doing after another that it was all ephemeral as a rainbow--this sound which had been obscured and concealed under the other sounds suddenly thundered hollow in her ears and made her look up with an impulse of terror."
--Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

"Then beneath the colour there was the shape. She could see it all so clearly, so commandingly, when she looked: it was when she took her brush in hand that the whole thing changed. It was in that moment's flight between the picture and her canvas that the demons set on her that often brought her to the verge of tears and made this passage from conception to work as dreadful as any down a dark passage for a child. Such she often felt herself--struggling against terrific odds to maintain her courage; to say: 'But this is what I see; this is what I see,' and so to clasp some miserable remnant of her vision to her breast, which a thousand forces did their best to pluck from her. And it was then too, in that chill and windy way, as she began to paint, that there forced upon her other things, her own inadequacy, her insignificance, keeping house for her father off the Brompton Road, and had much ado to control her impulse to fling herself (thank Heaven she had always resisted so far) at Mrs. Ramsay's knee and say to her--but what could one say to her? 'I'm in love with you?' No, that was not true. 'I'm in love with this all,' waving her hand at the hedge, at the house, at the children. It was absurd, it was impossible."
--Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
Now there is a slit in the blue fabric of air.
His house spins faster. He holds down books,
chairs; his life and its objects fly upward:
vanishing black specks in the indifferent sky.

The sky is a torn piece of blue paper.
He tries to repair it, but the memory
of death is like paste on his fingers
and certain days stick like dead flies.

Say the sky goes back to being the sky
and the sun continues as always. Now,
knowing what you know, how can you not see
thin cracks in the fragile blue vaults of air.

My friend, what can I give you or darkness
lift from you but fragments of language,
fragments of blue sky. You had three
beautiful daughters and one has died.
--Stephen Dobyns

"To save a man who does not want to be saved is as good as murdering him."
--Horace, translator unknown

"The Tao of Touch"
What magic does touch create
that we crave it so. That babies
do not thrive without it. That
the nurse who cuts tough nails
and sands calluses on the elderly
tells me sometimes men weep
as she rubs lotion on their feet.

Yet the touch of a stranger
the bumping or predatory thrust
in the subway is like a slap.
We long for the familiar, the open
palm of love, its tender fingers.
It is our hands that tamed cats
into pets, not our food.

The widow looks in the mirror
thinking, no one will ever touch
me again, never. Not hold me.
Not caress the softness of my
breasts, my inner thighs, the swell
of my belly. Do I still live
if no one knows my body?

We touch each other so many
ways, in curiosity, in anger,
to command attention, to soothe,
to quiet, to rouse, to cure.
Touch is our first language
and often, our last as the breath
ebbs and a hand closes our eyes.
--Marge Piercy

"How the Earth and All the Planets Were Created"
I went to find the grave of my grandmother
who died before my time. And hers.

I searched among marsh grass and granite
and single headstones
and smashed lettering
and archangel wings and found none.

For once I said
I will face this landscape
and look at it as she was looked upon:

Unloved because unknown.
Unknown because un-named.

Glass Pistol Castle disappeared,
Baltray and then Clogher Head.

To the west the estuary of the Boyne -
stripped of its battles and history -
became only willow-trees and distances.

I drove back in the half-light
of late summer on
anonymous roads on my journey home
as the constellations rose overhead,
some of them twisted into women:

pinioned and winged
and single-handedly holding high the dome
and curve and horizons of today and tomorrow,

All the ships looking up to them.
All the compasses made true by them.
All the night skies named for their sorrow.
--Eavan Boland

"In the White Sky"
Many things in the world have
already happened. You can
go back and tell about them.
They are part of what we
own as we speed along
through the white sky.

But many things in the world
haven't yet happened. You help
them by thinking and writing and acting.
Where they begin, you greet them
or stop them. You come along
and sustain the new things.

Once, in the white sky there was
a beginning, and I happened to notice
and almost glimpsed what to do.
But now I have come far
to here, and it is away back there.
Some days, I think about it.
--William Stafford

"Last-Minute Message for a Time Capsule"
I have to tell you this, whoever you are:
that on one summer morning here, the ocean
pounded in on tumbledown breakers,
a south wind, bustling along the shore,
whipped the froth into little rainbows,
and a reckless gull swept down the beach
as if to fly were everything it needed.
I thought of your hovering saucers,
looking for clues, and I wanted to write this down,
so it wouldn't be lost forever--
that once upon a time we had
meadows here, and astonishing things,
swans and frogs and luna moths
and blue skies that could stagger your heart.
We could have had them still,
and welcomed you to earth, but
we also had the righteous ones
who worshipped the True Faith, and Holy War.
When you go home to your shining galaxy,
say that what you learned
from this dead and barren place is
to beware the righteous ones.
--Philip Appleman

"What is a saint? A saint is someone who has achieved a remote human possibility. It is impossible to say what that possibility is. I think it has something to do with the energy of love. Contact with this energy results in the exercise of a kind of balance in the chaos of existence. A saint does not dissolve the chaos; if he did the world would have changed long ago. I do not think that a saint dissolves the chaos even for himself, for there is something arrogant and warlike in the notion of a man setting the universe in order. It is a kind of balance that is his glory. He rides the drifts like an escaped ski. His course is a caress of the hill. His track is a drawing of the snow in a moment of its particular arrangement with wind and rock. Something in him so loves the world that he gives himself to the laws of gravity and chance. Far from flying with the angels, he traces with the fidelity of a seismograph needle the state of the solid bloody landscape. His house is dangerous and finite, but he is at home in the world. He can love the shapes of human beings, the fine and twisted shapes of the heart. It is good to have among us such men, such balancing monsters of love. It makes me think that the numbers in the bag actually correspond to the numbers on the raffles we have bought so dearly, and so the prize is not an illusion."
--Leonard Cohen, Beautiful Losers

"There was a kindliness about intoxication--there was that indescribable gloss and glamour it gave, like the memories of ephemeral and faded evenings. After a few high-balls there was magic in the tall glowing Arabian night of the Bush Terminal Building--its summit a peak of sheer grandeur, gold and dreaming against the inaccessible sky. And Wall Street, the crass, the banal--again it was the triumph of gold, a gorgeous sentient spectacle; it was where the great kings kept the money for their wars...

...The fruit of youth or of the grape, the transitory magic of the brief passage from darkness to darkness—the old illusion that truth and beauty were in some way entwined."
--F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and the Damned

Back when the earth was new
and heaven just a whisper,
back when the names of things
hadn't had time to stick;

back when the smallest breezes
melted summer into autumn,
when all the poplars quivered
sweetly in rank and file...

the world called, and I answered.
Each glance ignited to a gaze.
I caught my breath and called that life,
swooned between spoonfuls of lemon sorbet.

I was pirouette and flourish,
I was filigree and flame.
How could I count my blessings
when I didn't know their names?

Back when everything was still to come,
luck leaked out everywhere.
I gave my promise to the world,
and the world followed me here.
--Rita Dove

"Fat Is Not a Fairy Tale"
I am thinking of a fairy tale,
Cinder Elephant,
Sleeping Tubby,
Snow Weight,
where the princess is not
anorexic, wasp-waisted,
flinging herself down the stairs.

I am thinking of a fairy tale,
Hansel and Great,
Bounty and the Beast,
where the beauty
has a pillowed breast,
and fingers plump as sausage.

I am thinking of a fairy tale
that is not yet written,
for a teller not yet born,
for a listener not yet conceived,
for a world not yet won,
where everything round is good:
the sun, wheels, cookies, and the princess.
--Jane Yolen

"Sex without Love"
How do they do it, the ones who make love
without love? Beautiful as dancers,
gliding over each other like ice-skaters
over the ice, fingers hooked
inside each other's bodies, faces
red as steak, wine, wet as the
children at birth whose mothers are going to
give them away. How do they come to the
come to the come to the God come to the
still waters, and not love
the one who came there with them, light
rising slowly as steam off their joined
skin? These are the true religious,
the purists, the pros, the ones who will not
accept a false Messiah, love the
priest instead of the God. They do not
mistake the lover for their own pleasure,
they are like great runners: they know they are alone
with the road surface, the cold, the wind,
the fit of their shoes, their over-all cardio-
vascular health--just factors, like the partner
in the bed, and not the truth, which is the
single body alone in the universe
against its own best time.
--Sharon Olds

"The Triumph of Achilles"
In the story of Patroclus
no one survives, not even Achilles
who was nearly a god.
Patroclus resembled him; they wore
the same armor.

Always in these friendships
one serves the other, one is less than the other:
the hierarchy
is always apparent, though the legends
cannot be trusted--
their source is the survivor,
the one who has been abandoned.

What were the Greek ships on fire
compared to this loss?

In his tent, Achilles
grieved with his whole being
and the gods saw
he was a man already dead, a victim
of the part that loved,
the part that was mortal.
--Louise Glück

"Meditations in an Emergency"
Now I am quietly waiting for
the catastrophe of my personality
to seem beautiful again,
and interesting, and modern.

The country is grey and
brown and white in trees,
snows and skies of laughter
always diminishing, less funny
not just darker, not just grey.

It may be the coldest day of
the year, what does he think of
that? I mean, what do I? And if I do,
perhaps I am myself again.
--Frank O'Hara

The moon plays horn, leaning on the shoulder of the dark universe
to the infinite glitter of chance. Tonight I watched Bird kill himself,

larger than real life. I've always had a theory that some of us
are born with nerve endings longer than our bodies. Out to here,

father than his convoluted scales could reach. Those nights he
played did he climb the stairway of forgetfulness, with his horn,

a woman who is always beautiful to strangers? All poets
understand the final uselessness of words. We are chords to

other chords to other chords, if we're lucky, to melody. The moon
is brighter than anything I can see when I come out of the theater,

than music, than memory of music, or any mere poem. At least
I can dance to "Ornithology" or sweet-talk beside "Charlie's Blues,"

but inside this poem I can't play a horn, hijack a plane to
somewhere where music is the place those nerve endings dangle.

Each rhapsody embodies counterpoint, and pain stuns the woman
in high heels, the man behind the horn, sings the heart.

To survive is sometimes a leap into madness. The fingers of
saints are still hot from miracles, but can they save themselves?

Where is the dimension a god lives who will take Bird home?
I want to see it, I said to the Catalinas, to the Rincons,

to anyone listening in the dark. I said, Let me hear you
by any means: by horn, by fever, by night, even by some poem

attempting flight home.
--Joy Harjo
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you're proud of. If you find that you're not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again."
--F. Scott Fitzgerald

"The Bright Field"
I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
the treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.
--R. S. Thomas

"It Is Marvellous to Wake up Together"
It is marvellous to wake up together
At the same minute; marvellous to hear
The rain begin suddenly all over the roof,
To feel the air suddenly clear
As if electricity had passed through it
From a black mesh of wires in the sky.
All over the roof the rain hisses,
And below, the light falling of kisses.
An electrical storm is coming or moving away;
It is the prickling air that wakes us up.
If lightning struck the house now, it would run
From the four blue china balls on top
Down the roof and down the rods all around us,
And we imagine dreamily
How the whole house caught in a bird-cage of lightning
Would be quite delightful rather than frightening;
And from the same simplified point of view
Of night and lying flat on one's back
All things might change equally easily,
Since always to warn us there must be these black
Electrical wires dangling. Without surprise
The world might change to something quite different,
As the air changes or the lightning comes without our blinking,
Change as the kisses are changing without our thinking.
--Elizabeth Bishop

Eenee Menee Mainee Mo!
--Rudyard Kipling, "A Counting-out Song," in
Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides, 1923

The woman with cheerleading legs
has been left for dead. She hot paces a roof,
four days, three nights, her leaping fingers,
helium arms rise & fall, pulling at the week-
old baby in the bassinet, pointing to the eighty-
two-year-old grandmother, fanning & raspy
in the New Orleans Saints folding chair.

Eenee Menee Mainee Mo!

Three times a day the helicopter flies
by in a low crawl. The grandmother insists on
not being helpless, so she waves a white hand-
kerchief that she puts on and takes off her head
toward the cameraman and the pilot who
remembers well the art of his mirror-eyed
posture in his low-flying helicopter: Bong Son,
Dong Ha, Pleiku, Chu Lai. He makes a slow
Vietcong dip & dive, a move known in Rescue
as the Observation Pass.

The roof is surrounded by broken-levee
water. The people are dark but not broken. Starv-
ing, abandoned, dehydrated, brown & cumulous,
but not broken. The four-hundred-year-old
anniversary of observation begins, again--

Eenee Menee Mainee Mo!
Catch a--

The woman with pom-pom legs waves
her uneven homemade sign:

Pleas Help Pleas

and even if the e has been left off the Pleas e

do you know simply
by looking at her
that it has been left off
because she can't spell
(and therefore is not worth saving)
or was it because the water was rising so fast
there wasn't time?

Eenee Menee Mainee Mo!
Catch a--a--

The low-flying helicopter does not know
the answer. It catches all of this on patriotic tape,
but does not land, and does not drop dictionary,
or ladder.

Regulations require an e be at the end
of any Pleas e before any national response
can be taken.

Therefore, it takes four days before
the national council of observers will consider
dropping one bottle of water, or one case
of dehydrated baby formula, on the roof
where the e has rolled off into the flood,

(but obviously not splashed
loud enough)

where four days later not the mother,
not the baby girl,
but the determined hanky waver,
whom they were both named for,
(and after) has now been covered up
with a green plastic window awning,
pushed over to the side
right where the missing e was last seen.

My mother said to pick
The very best one!

What else would you call it,
Mr. Every-Child-Left-Behind.

Anyone you know
ever left off or put on
an e by mistake?

Potato Po tato e

In the future observation helicopters
will leave the well-observed South and fly
n Kanye-West-Was-Finally-Right formation.
They will arrive over burning San Diego.

The fires there will be put out so well.
The people there will wait in a civilized manner.
And they will receive foie gras and free massage
for all their trouble, while their houses don't
flood, but instead burn calmly to the ground.

The grandmothers were right
about everything.

People who outlived bullwhips & Bull
Connor, historically afraid of water and routinely
fed to crocodiles, left in the sun on the sticky tar-
heat of roofs to roast like pigs, surrounded by
forty feet of churning water, in the summer
of 2005, while the richest country in the world
played the old observation game, studied
the situation: wondered by committee what to do;
counted, in private, by long historical division;
speculated whether or not some people are surely
born ready, accustomed to flood, famine, fear.

My mother said to pick
The very best one
And you are not it!

After all, it was only po' New Orleans,
old bastard city of funny spellers. Nonswimmers
with squeeze-box accordion accents. Who would
be left alive to care?
--Nikky Finney

"Concerto no. 11: Condoleezza and the Chickering"
[In Italian, con dolcezza means "with sweetness"]

Angelena Rice, mother, second-generation piano master.
Music is deliberate, lush, summer-alive in the hot
Birmingham air. She is drawn to riff and scat, in the
tradition of the feet of fleeing slaves. Improvisation
darts like Ghanian goldfish in her blood.

Angelena Rice has chops.

She works all day.
She can't teach the girl every little thing.

Mattie Ray, grandmother, first-generation piano master,
the after-school-neighborhood-piano-teacher
of Black girls, on Dynamite Hill, of Condoleezza.

Mattie Ray knows her way to and from the woodshed,
but for Condoleezza, the stride piano is put away:

Practice. Practice. Practice.
Steer your bright mind to Vulcan's torch--
high atop Red Mountain.
He alone will show you how to hammer
out your notes into Roman thunder.

When she is a girl she learns to play to the Italian
in her blood. She is third-generation Black girl with
sensual, graceful, doing fingers. No other Black girl
in Bombingham, with the sound of music emerald
set so deep in her heart, has ever been told over
Sunday dinner, while the gravy is still passing through
the air, King is crazy.

In the future, when she plays Secretary of State on the
world stage, the black keys will always be a stretch.

She will refuse to ever leave the Brahms-etched pages
that she has always counted on being open and before
her. Peter the Great, begging to commence.

When she is at her Watergate window, practicing
at her Chickering, she will, in the tradition of other
deposed heads, refuse to imagination grace notes &
half counts. She won't, not even when no one is
looking, sideslip or walk the white keys with only
the fingers of her left hand.

She will never ever close her eyes to a full spontaneous
pause nor understand the opium sweet of interlude
or diminished scale. The pleasure of imagining a
world outside of Mussorgsky's Khovanshchina
will elude her for the rest of her life. No one inside
her inner circle will suggest how else the dawning
new day might sound, if she would only--just this
once--take her eyes off the score.
--Nikky Finney

"Thunderbolt of Jove"
The width of the lightning bolt is only about as wide as a pencil.
--The Weather Channel

The first saffron sheet breaks, two cumulous tin cans spill
a wide powder keg of gunpowder gray. Coiled thunder sparks
the inky nigrescent sky, rinds of one hundred oranges peel,
infuse, are slung. The mother goes flying. The daughter
takes to the glass.

Pots are topped. A stove shut down. The tiny kitchen stage
abandoned. The mother slips from flamingo to fleeing barn
owl. She spills: one widemouthed mason jar of liquid fear.
Her wild turning head is beak & breast pointed south,
toward the farther-further, darker, backside of the house.
She will only give herself to any windowless den, any
camouflage of cover: lavender snow quilt, moth-eaten
polka-dot coverlet, camphor woolens lost in the dark rib
of the closet, anything brother to lead, sister to opacity.

The only daughter stands at the sizzling window. As brown
moth, brazen & mesmerized, heedless, her nose wood-
peckered into the whirling world of the storm, thirsty
to call at the lightning, ambitious to burn, while the mother
throws her last warning out into the pitchfork of sky:

Lightning can come through any open
door, Girl. Can walk straight through
glass at any angle. Can take down
a little thing like you--just like that!

Out of view the mother freely dives. Prayer is the last light
spray of tongue-talk easing her safely down. Underneath
waves of mercerized cotton she will wait out the pageantry
of flashing orange light.

The girl is willing to be turned into the roar of rock, the float
of ash, just to feel its flashy fingers strike, to watch the fiery
sky pull at the tingling tips of her hands grazing the skin of
the glass. Her lips so close to self-suffocation, soon she is
choked back alive, the sky a fusillade of booms; air: florid,
tangerine jagged lines of corn-colored bombs.

At the weatherproof double panes her childhood lifts away
to the dusty locust field. Her fists, ripe with electricity, open
& close, her eyes are sweetly singed. The flutter-beat of her
lashes returns her to the softening sky, to the sight of her
self, on the other side of the kitchen glass, wet, staring back.

She begins shaking herself, back down from sky to earth.
Her stubborn lashes are two honey-drunk bumblebees still
tumbled on their backs. She has been fire-fed, rude. A girl
in levitation with the mad & thundering Jove. Going forward,
she is willing to go blind, lose her obeying-girl tongue, her
momentary sight, for any hot lemony tremble of the long
pencil's flash ever again.

The glass shows respect, staying warm for the mother's
return: She Stagolee-fumbles back into her kitchen. Sleepy
cotton stuck to her cheeks and hair. Her messy bonnet
needs to be retucked. But her eyes know a miracle
when they see one:

The girl is still there, still breathing, still camped out
at the unbroken glass, with a toothpick-size shadow
of resistance balanced in the flush of her lips. Done.
Nothing more to warn the girl against now. Now the long
solemncholy wait, for the twisting out all the way. The final
life & turn, the wax and rock of childbirth evenly sculpted,
the early pollinated melancholy, this sandy, burnished,
smoldering lead of lanky Old Maid-to-be.
--Nikky Finney

"The Four Temperaments"
The probing eye turns the sun's rays into police batons.
And in the evening: the hubbub from a party in the room below
sprouts up through the floor like unreal flowers.

Driving on the plain. Darkness. The coach seemed stuck on the spot.
An anti-bird screeched in starry emptiness.
The albino sun stood over tossing dark seas.


A man like an uprooted tree with croaking foliage
and lightning at attention saw the beast-smelling
sun rise up among pattering wings on the world's

rocky island surging ahead behind banners of foam through night
and day with white sea birds howling
on the deck and all with a ticket to Chaos.


You need only close your eyes to hear plainly
the gulls' faint Sunday over the sea's endless parish.
A guitar begins twanging in the thicket and the cloud dawdles

slowly as the green sledge of late spring
--with the whinnying light in the shafts--
comes gliding on the ice.


Woke with my girl's heels clopping in the dream
and outside two snowdrifts like winter's abandoned gloves
while leaflets from the sun cascaded over the city.

The road never comes to an end. The horizon rushes ahead.
The birds shake in the tree. The dust whirls around the wheels.
All the rolling wheels that contradict death!
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton

In Syros harbor leftover cargo steamers lay waiting.
Prow by prow by prow. Moored many years since:
CAPE RION, Monrovia.
KRITOS, Andros.
SCOTIA, Panama.

Dark pictures on the water, they have been hung away.

Like toys from our childhood that have grown to giants
and accuse us
of what we never became.

The sea has read them through.

But the first time we came to Syros, it was at night,
we saw prow by prow by prow in the moonlight and thought:
What a mighty fleet, magnificent connections.
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton

"In the Nile Delta"
The young wife wept over her food
in the hotel after a day in the city
where she saw the sick creep and huddle
and children bound to die of want.

She and her husband went to their room.
Sprinkled water to settle the dirt.
Lay on their separate beds with few words.
She fell in a deep sleep. He lay awake.

Out in the darkness a great noise ran past.
Murmurs, tramping, cries, carts, songs.
All in want. Never came to a stop.
And he sank in sleep curled in a No.

A dream came. He was on a voyage.
In the grey water a movement swirled
and a voice said: "There is one who is good.
There is one who can see all without hating."
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton

He laid aside his pen.
It rests still on the table.
It rests still in the empty room.
He laid aside his pen.

Too much that can neither be written nor kept silent!
He is paralyzed by something happening far away
although the wonderful traveling bag throbs like a heart.

Outside it is early summer.
Whistlings from the greenery--men or birds?
And cherry trees in bloom embrace the trucks that have come home.

Weeks go by.
Night comes slowly.
The moths settle on the windowpane:
small pale telegrams from the world.
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton

"A Winter Night"
The storm puts its mouth to the house
and blows to produce a note.
I sleep uneasily, turn, with shut eyes
read the storm's text.

But the child's eyes are large in the dark
and for the child the storm howls.
Both are fond of lamps that swing.
Both are halfway toward speech.

The storm has childish hands and wings.
The Caravan bolts toward Lapland.
And the house feels its own constellation of nails
holding the walls together.

The night is calm over our floor
(where all expired footsteps
rest like sunk leaves in a pond)
but outside the night is wild.

Over the world goes a graver storm.
It sets its mouth to our soul
and blows to produce a note. We dread
the storm will blow us empty.
--Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Things are sweeter when they're lost. I know--because once I wanted something and got it. It was the only thing I ever wanted badly, Dot, and when I got it it turned to dust in my hand."
--F. Scott Fitzgerald

"There's no beauty without poignancy and there's no poignancy without the feeling that it's going, men, names, books, houses--bound for dust--mortal--"
--F. Scott Fitzgerald

"First one gives off his best picture, the bright and finished product mended with bluff and falsehood and humor. Then more details are required and one paints a second portrait, and third--before long the best lines cancel out--and the secret is exposed at last; the planes of the picture have intermingled and given us away, and though we paint and paint we can no longer sell a picture. We must be satisfied with hoping such fatuous accounts of ourselves as we make to our wives and children and business associates are accepted as true."
--F. Scott Fitzgerald
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"But his heart was in a constant, turbulent riot. The most grotesque and fantastic conceits haunted him in his bed at night. A universe of ineffable gaudiness spun itself out in his brain while the clock ticked on the washstand and the moon soaked with wet light his tangled clothes upon the floor. Each night he added to the pattern of his fancies until drowsiness closed down upon some vivid scene with an oblivious embrace. For a while these reveries provided an outlet for his imagination; they were a satisfactory hint of the unreality of reality, a promise that the rock of the world was founded securely on a fairy's wing."
--F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, pg. 99

"Daisy began to sing with the music in a husky, rhythmic whisper, bringing out a meaning in each word that it had never had before and would never have again. When the melody rose, her voice broke up sweetly, following it, in a way contralto voices have, and each change tipped out a little of her warm human magic upon the air."
--F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, pg. 108
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Morrie talked about his most fearful moments, when he felt his chest locked in heaving surges or when he wasn't sure where his next breath would come from. These were horrifying times, he said, and his first emotions were horror, fear, anxiety. But once he recognized the feel of those emotions, their texture, their moisture, the shiver down the back, the quick flash of heat that crosses your brain--then he was able to say, 'Okay. This is fear. Step away from it. Step away.'

"I thought about how often this was needed in everyday life. How we feel lonely, sometimes to the point of tears, but we don't let those tears come because we are not supposed to cry. Or how we feel a surge of love for a partner but we don't say anything because we're frozen with the fear of what those words might do to the relationship.

"Morrie's approach was exactly the opposite. Turn on the faucet. Wash yourself with the emotion. It won't hurt you. It will only help. If you will let the fear inside, if you put it on like a familiar shirt, then you can say to yourself, 'All right, it's just fear, I don't have to let it control me. I see it for what it is.'

"Same for loneliness: you let go, let the tears flow, feel it completely--but eventually be able to say, 'All right, that was my moment with loneliness. I'm not afraid of being lonely, but now I'm going to put that loneliness aside and know that there are other emotions in the world, and I'm going to experience them as well.'

" 'Detach,' Morrie said again."
--Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie

"Actually he was a pessimist, and like all pessimists, a ridiculously unobservant man."
--Vladimir Nabokov, An Affair of Honor

"My happiness has a sad face, so sad that for years I took it for my unhappiness and drove it away."
--Iris Murdoch, Under the Net

"Human beings pass me on the street, and I want to reach out and strum them as if they were guitars. Sometimes all humanity strikes me as lonely. I just want to reach out and stroke someone, and say There, there, it's all right, honey. There, there, there."
--Sandra Cisneros, "Never Marry a Mexican"

"At both ends of life men needed nourishment: a breast--a shrine."
--F. Scott Fitzgerald

"I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks,--who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering: which word is beautifully derived from 'idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going a la Saint Terre,' to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, 'There goes a Sainte-Terrer,' a Saunterer,--a Holy-Lander. They who never go to the Holy Land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds; but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean. Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre, without land or a home, which therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere. For this is the secret to successful sauntering."
--Henry David Thoreau

"I am human; nothing human is strange to me."
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Better is the enemy of good."

"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?"


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November 2015



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