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"The pale stars were sliding into their places. The whispering of the leaves was almost hushed. All about them it was still and shadowy and sweet. It was that wonderful moment when, for lack of a visible horizon, the not yet darkened world seems infinitely greater—a moment when anything can happen, anything be believed in."
---Olivia Howard Dunbar, The Shell of Sense


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


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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

---Sara Teasdale


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

---Jane Kenyon


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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


"Meditation"

"Is anything central?"
John Ashbery


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

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

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


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

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


"Planets and Words

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

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

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


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

---Rachel Eliza Griffiths


"The Testing-Tree"
1

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

 
2

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

 
3

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

4

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

---Stanley Kunitz


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

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


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


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


Because the story of our life
becomes our life

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

and none of us tells it
the same way twice

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

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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

still breathing. Believe me.

---Ocean Vuong


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

I am what I am
told. Good red meat

gone necrotic. A spot of black
spread out to ruin

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

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

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

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

rancid in my memory.
Another day, another

dress the day lays out
before me. I grow older

if I’m lucky.
And I’m lucky.

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

against the weather. Limp and prone
to empty.

What came before this.
I can’t remember.

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

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

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


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

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

---Charles Wright, "Scar Tissue II"


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


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


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

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


"For Phil"
in memory of Philip Levine

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

---Jane Kenyon
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Neither love nor terror makes one blind: indifference makes one blind."
---James Baldwin, If Beale Street Could Talk


"To believe in the immortality of a poem would be to believe in the immortality of language. We must bow to the evidence: languages are born and die; any meaning will one day cease to have meaning. And isn't this ceasing to have meaning the meaning of meaning? We must bow to the evidence …"
---Octavio Paz, "Recapitulations"


Why does tragedy exist?

Because you are full of rage.

Why are you full of rage?

Because you are full of grief.
---Anne Carson, Grief Lessons: Four Plays by Euripides


There is a kind of depression that empties the soul.
The eyes stay bright,
                             the mind stays clear as Canada on an autumn day
Just after the rain.
But the soul hangs loose as a plastic bag in a tree
When the wind has died.
                                        It is that drained.
And overcast. The little jack-weeds
That line its edges exhale,
And everything falls to a still, uneasy remove.
It stirs when the wind shifts,
                                             and seasons tumble and stall.
It stirs, but it doesn't disappear.
Though weeds re-up and the clouds relent,
                                                                     it doesn't disappear.

---Charles Wright, Littlefoot


"I see now that keen interest can illuminate anything, and that anything, moreover, has something worth illuminating in it, and that without that interest gates carved by Benvenuto Cellini from two diamonds would merely look chilly."
---Lord Dunsany


"The crucial thing in any work of any kind is that it must be a gift---the reader must possess it even more than the person who wrote it. It must be given completely."
---Jesse Ball


"Empathy isn't just something that happens to us---a meteor shower of synapses firing across the brain---it's also a choice we make: to pay attention, to extend ourselves. It's made of exertion, that dowdier cousin of impulse. Sometimes we care for another because we know we should, or because it's asked for, but this doesn't make our caring hollow. The act of choosing simply means we've committed ourselves to a set of behaviors greater than the sum of our individual inclinations: I will listen to his sadness, even when I'm deep in my own. To say 'going through the motions'---this isn't reduction so much as acknowledgment of the effort---the labor, the motions, the dance---of getting inside another person's state of heart or mind.

"This confession of effort chafes against the notion that empathy should always arise unbidden, that genuine means the same thing as unwilled, that intentionality is the enemy of love. But I believe in intention and I believe in work. I believe in waking up in the middle of the night and packing our bags and leaving our worst selves for our better ones."
---Leslie Jamison, The Empathy Exams


"Investigation"
This much is known:
the thread you never
let go of
guided you back.
And when you emerged,
years later, light
hurt your eyes.
Blood on your rusted
blade was dry.

But what happened
in the labyrinth?
In deepest dark
you grappled,
felt its breath
on your face,
stabbed,
and fled.

                A monster?
Wouldn't anything
cry like that,
pierced to the heart?

---Gregory Orr


"Poetry is a shared social space."
---Mary Jo Bang


"There's no absence, if there remains even the memory of absence. Memory dies unless it's given a use. Or as Athos might have said: If one no longer has land but has the memory of land, then one can make a map."
---Anne Michaels, "The Drowned City, Part I"


desire,
a huge fish I drag with me
through the wilderness:
I love its glint among the dust and stones."
---Gregory Orr, "Leaving the Asylum"


"Gwendolyn Brooks Park, Topeka"
They carved the letters yellow,
and painted
the wood around the letters green,
chained a picnic table to the grass
out near where the roof of the dead
mall directs a crack
of sunset to radiate the Burger King sign gold.
Last place open after midnight:
then apartment windows hold
stars and satellites in the cold.
A creek runs like a paper fold
from one corner of park to other,
twenty or thirty blocks from where
she took her first breaths of infancy
in the only city I know of
with the letters for poet
that does not also carry
a port or a point in its name.
---Ed Skoog


"A poem, if thrown at a pane of glass, should break the glass."
---Daniil Kharms


"A few nights ago, I felt the same pull I felt the day I turned on a television, years ago, and watched the beginning of a nation sinking into something called terrorism. Daily the news would play these wars out live & daily I'd watch this new reality television this easing of violence into our consciousness muting this thing called violence numbing us to this thing once called violence now called protection. I killed my television soon after."
---Metta Sáma, "Silence: a Retreat a Meditation"


"Rain Moving In"
The blackboard is erased in the attic
And the wind turns up the light of the stars,
Sinewy now. Someone will find out, someone will know.
And if somewhere in this great planet
The truth is discovered, a patch of it, dried, glazed by the sun,
It will just hang on, in its own infamy, humility. No one
Will be better for it, but things can't get any worse.
Just keep playing, mastering as you do the step
Into disorder this one meant. Don't you see
It's all we can do? Meanwhile, great fires
Arise, as of haystacks aflame. The dial had been set
And that's ominous, but all your graciousness in living
Conspires with it, now that this is our home:
A place to be from, and have people ask about.
---John Ashbery


"I feel like all the work is collaborative work, it's just that it comes out under an individual name so the other people you’re in collaboration with are subordinated in a certain kind of way to one's own name, even though all of those voices are constantly with you and in your head. There's a customarily solitary practice of orchestrating or organizing all those voices in a particular way, but I think now what I'd like to do is just not even be involved in that solitary practice of composing, or arranging. I mean there's always an element, however illusory, of working by yourself, which takes the form of practicing in that sense that, you know, a piano player would practice alone, but then the actual practice that you're practicing for, so to speak, is in the ensemble, in the encounter."
---Fred Moten
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Fiction gives us empathy: it puts us inside the minds of other people, gives us the gift of seeing the world through their eyes. Fiction is a lie that tells us true things, over and over."
--Neil Gaiman, Fahrenheit 451 introduction


"For the first time he perceived that if you want to keep a secret you must also hide it from yourself."
--George Orwell, 1984


"Art has to be a kind of confession. I don't mean a true confession in the sense of that dreary magazine. The effort it seems to me, is: if you can examine and face your life, you can discover the terms with which you are connected to other lives, and they can discover them, too--the terms with which they are connected to other people. This has happened to every one of us, I'm sure. You read something which you thought only happened to you, and you discovered it happened 100 years ago to Dostoyevsky. This is a very great liberation for the suffering, struggling person, who always thinks that they are alone. This is why art is important. Art would not be important if life were not important, and life is important. Most of us, no matter what we say, are walking in the dark, whistling in the dark. Nobody knows what is going to happen to them from one moment to the next, or how one will bear it. This is irreducible. And it's true for everybody. Now, it is true that the nature of society is to create, among its citizens, an illusion of safety; but it is also absolutely true that the safety is always necessarily an illusion. Artists are here to disturb the peace. They have to disturb the peace. Otherwise, chaos."
--James Baldwin


"Larch"
short-sleeves in Vermont late November the leaves long gone
only evergreens the white birch bark and our feral black cat
not sheltering prowling improbably in her thickened coat
one more free-range lunch one more of her nine lives
put back into reserve unlike the year's fresh deaths

as for me I keep my votive candles burning as the larches burned
on the hillside their needles yellow deciduous like the leaves
and now sloughed in the yard beneath the small larch
bent double cascading like a willow weeping is the proper name for it
also for the cherry tree in the yard of the house where my parents' friend
shot an intruder it was his wife their tree

might as well be here with all my other lost trees childhood mimosas
magnolias the willow oak blown down in a storm surviving in my head
beside the friend the murdered wife the subsequent wife
my parents too and now Peter with his lazy eye and glamorous
doom-ridden Rynn and Carol who had her own reprieves

who used them up I confess the weather matters more and more to me
diurnal is a lovely word another is circadian
--Ellen Bryant Voigt


"Storm"
one minute a slender pine indistinguishable from the others
the next its trunk horizontal still green the jagged stump
a nest for the flickers
                       one minute high wind and rain the skies
lit up the next a few bright winking stars the lashing of the brook

one minute an exaltation in the apple trees the shadblow trees
the next white trash on the ground new birds
or the same birds crowding the feeder
one minute the children were sleeping in their beds

you got sick you got well you got sick

the lilac bush we planted is a tree the cat creeps past
with something in her mouth she's hurrying down to where

the culvert overflowed one minute bright yellow
marsh marigolds springing up the next
the farmer sweeps them into his bales of hay

--Ellen Bryant Voigt


I could recite the grass on a hill and memorize
the moon. I know the cloud forms of love by
heart and have brought tears to the eye of a
storm. My memory banks vaults of autumn
forests and Amazon River banks. I've screamed
them into sunsets that echo in earthquakes.
Shadows have been my spotlight as I monologue
the night and dialogue with days. Soliloquies of
wind and breeze applauded by sunrays.

We put language in zoos to observe caged
thought and tossed peanuts and P-Funk at
intellect. And MTHRFKRs think these are
metaphors. I speak what I see. All words
and worlds are metaphors of me. My life
is authored by the moon. Footprints written
in soil. The fountain pen of Martian men
novelling human toil.

And, yes, the soil speaks highly of me, when
earth seeds root me poet-tree. And we forest
forever through recitation.
--Saul Williams, The Dead Emcee Scrolls: The Lost Teachings of Hip-hop
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Anger is better. There is a sense of being in anger. A reality and presence. An awareness of worth. It is a lovely surging."
--Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

[...]

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

*

Pointing to herself:

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

the blue rotunda
lifted over
the flat street--

and then, after a silence:

*

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

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

*

It is not finally
interesting to remember.
The damage

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

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

*

I have to imagine
everything
she said

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

when you were a child--

*

And then:

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

distorted it--

*

I want she said
a theory that explains
everything

in the mother's eye
the invisible
splinter of foil

the blue ice
locked in the iris--

*

Then:

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

*

Blue sky, blue ice,
street like a frozen river


you're talking
about my life
she said

*

except
she said
you have to fix it

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

*

a black space
showing
where the word ends

like a crossword saying
you should take a breath now

the black space meaning
when you were a child--

*

And then:

the ice
was there for your own protection

to teach you
not to feel--

the truth
she said

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

the center--

*

Cold light filling the room.

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

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

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

*

Just think
the sun was there, in that bare place

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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

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


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


"Some people--and I am one of them--hate happy endings. We feel cheated. Harm is the norm. Doom should not jam. The avalanche stopping in its tracks a few feet above the cowering village behaves not only unnaturally but unethically."
--Vladimir Nabokov, Pnin
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Art, to be sure, has its roots in the lives of human beings: the weakness, the strength, the absurdity. I doubt that it is limited to our comrades; since we have discovered that art does not belong to what was once the aristocracy, it does not therefore follow that it has become the exclusive property of the common man--which abstraction, by the way, I have yet to meet. Rather, since it is involved with all of us, it belongs to all of us, and this includes our foes, who are as desperate and as vicious and as blind as we are and who can only be as evil as we are ourselves."
--James Baldwin


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


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

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


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

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

--Catherynne M. Valente


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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


" 'I'd be an ellipsis.'

" 'What's that?'

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


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

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


"The Hand"
The teacher asks a question.
You know the answer, you suspect
you are the only one in the classroom
who knows the answer, because the person
in question is yourself, and on that
you are the greatest living authority,
but you don't raise your hand.
You raise the top of your desk
and take out an apple.
You look out the window.
You don't raise your hand and there is
some essential beauty in your fingers,
which aren't even drumming, but lie
flat and peaceful.
The teacher repeats the question.
Outside the window, on an overhanging branch,
a robin is ruffling its feathers
and spring is in the air.
--Mary Ruefle
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Sentimentality, the ostentatious parading of excessive and spurious emotion, is the mark of dishonesty, the inability to feel; the wet eyes of the sentimentalist betray his aversion to experience, his fear of life, his arid heart; and it is always, therefore, the signal of secret and violent inhumanity, the mask of cruelty."
--James Baldwin, "Everybody's Protest Novel"


"The punctuation of anniversaries is terrible, like the closing of doors, one after another between you and what you want to hold on to."
--Anne Morrow Lindbergh, diary entry on the first anniversary of the kidnapping and death of her son; later published in Locked Rooms and Open Doors


"One can never pay in gratitude; one can only pay 'in kind' somewhere else in life."
--Anne Morrow Lindbergh, North to the Orient


"Only in growth, reform, and change, paradoxically enough, is true security to be found."
--Anne Morrow Lindbergh, The Wave of the Future


"I must write it all out, at any cost. Writing is thinking. It is more than living, for it is being conscious of living."
--Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Locked Rooms and Open Doors


"So dazzling was the spread of constellations that it had the impact of a vision, of some hidden insight. I drove home saying to myself: The dead, too, are like this, blazing within us--invisibly."
--Anne Morrow Lindbergh, as quoted in No More Words: A Journal of My Mother, Anne Morrow Lindbergh


"People don't want to be understood--I mean not completely. It's too destructive. Then they haven't anything left."
--Anne Morrow Lindbergh


"Don't wish me happiness--I don't expect to be happy; it's gotten beyond that, somehow. Wish me courage and strength and a sense of humor--I will need them all."
--Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in a letter to Corliss Lamont on her engagement


"Revision in My Wife's Powder Room"
-It has been said that James Audubon once slaughtered a mangrove of birds in order to find the right specimen for a painting.

I'll need more salt than this. A loose feather
sticks pink to the edge of the bathtub
and slides down to my fist. Her mouth
music boxes shut: its wish against human knowledge.
Inside her stomach--stones and sand and concept.
I can't ask questions in that language. What if
my strings of English reveal the man I want to be?
My tongue waters at every lagoon, every disjointed
flamingo: the mistakes of God. There are
thousands of them and I will need thousands of them.
When the bird steps forward, her legs bow back,
behind her, toward the man she doesn't know
will fit her to this canvas. Bend her to the
face of God. Grace I'll need more strength than this.
--Lauren Berry


"This is what love does: It makes you want to rewrite the world. It makes you want to choose the characters, build the scenery, guide the plot. The person you love sits across from you, and you want to do everything in your power to make it possible, endlessly possible. And when it's just the two of you, alone in a room, you can pretend that this is how it is, this is how it will be."
--David Levithan, Every Day


"For the person who follows with trust and forgiveness what occurs to him, the world remains always ready and deep, an inexhaustible environment, with the combined vividness of an actuality and flexibility of a dream. Working back and forth between experience and thought, writers have more than space and time can offer. They have the whole unexplored realm of human vision."
--William Stafford, "A Way of Writing"


"As I walked in the dark through the tunnels and tunnels of books, I could not help being overcome by a sense of sadness. I couldn't help thinking that if I, by pure chance, had found a whole universe in a single unknown book, buried in that endless necropolis, tens of thousands more would remain unexplored, forgotten forever. I felt myself surrounded by millions of abandoned pages, by worlds and souls without an owner sinking in an ocean of darkness, while the world that throbbed outside the library seemed to be losing its memory, day after day, unknowingly, feeling all the wiser the more it forgot."
--Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind


"Death: Baron Samedi"
First your dog dies and you pray
for the Holy Spirit to raise the inept
lump in the sack, but Jesus' name
is no magic charm; sunsets and the
flies are gathering. That is how faith
dies. By dawn you know death;
the way it arrives and then grows
silent. Death wins. So you walk
out to the tangle of thorny weeds behind
the barn; and you coax a black
cat to your fingers. You let it lick
milk and spit from your hand before
you squeeze its neck until it messes
itself, it claws tearing your skin,
its eyes growing into saucers.
A dead cat is light as a live
one and not stiff, not yet. You
grab its tail and fling it as
far as you can. The crows find
it first; by then the stench
of the hog pens hides the canker
of death. Now you know the power
of death, that you have it,
that you can take life in a second
and wake the same the next day.
This is why you can't fear death.
You have seen the broken neck
of a man in a well, you know who
pushed him over the lip of the well,
tumbling down; you know all about
blood on the ground. You know that
a dead dog is a dead cat is a dead
man. Now you look a white man
in the face, talk to him about
cotton prices and the cost of land,
laugh your wide open mouthed laugh
in his face, and he knows one thing
about you: that you know the power
of death, and you will die as easily
as live. This is how a man seizes
what he wants, how a man
turns the world over in dreams,
eats a solid meal and waits
for death to come like nothing,
like the open sky, like light
at early morning. Like a man
in a red pin striped trousers, a black
top hat, a yellow scarf
and a kerchief dipped in eau
de cologne to cut through
the stench coming from his mouth.
--Kwame Dawes
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Nostos"
There was an apple tree in the yard--
this would have been
forty years ago--behind,
only meadows. Drifts
of crocus in the damp grass.
I stood at that window:
late April. Spring
flowers in the neighbor's yard.
How many times, really, did the tree
flower on my birthday,
the exact day, not
before, not after? Substitution
of the immutable
for the shifting, the evolving.
Substitution of the image
for relentless earth. What
do I know of this place,
the role of the tree for decades
taken by a bonsai, voices
rising from the tennis courts--
Fields. Smell of the tall grass, new cut.
As one expects of a lyric poet.
We look at the world once, in childhood.
The rest is memory.
--Louise Glück


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

time to unlock the cellar door,
time to remind ourselves

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


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


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


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


"Here's a wagon that's going a piece of the way. It will take you that far; backrolling now behind her a long monotonous succession of peaceful and undeviating changes from day to dark and dark to day again, through which she advanced in identical and anonymous and deliberate wagons as though through a succession of creakwheeled and limpeared avatars, like something moving forever and without progress across an urn."
--William Faulkner, Light in August
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
" 'Please tell a story about a girl who gets away.'

"I would, even if I had to adapt one, even if I had to make one up just for her. 'Gets away from what, though?'

" 'From her fairy godmother. From the happy ending that isn't really happy at all. Please have her get out and run off the page altogether, to somewhere secret where words like 'happy' and 'good' will never find her.'

" 'You don’t want her to be happy and good?'

" 'I'm not sure what's really meant by happy and good. I would like her to be free. Now. Please begin.' "
--Helen Oyeyemi, White Is for Witching


"Holy places are dark places. It is life and strength, not knowledge and words, that we get in them. Holy wisdom is not clear and thin like water, but thick and dark like blood."
--C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces


"The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story."
--Ursula K. Le Guin


"All profound distraction opens certain doors. You have to allow yourself to be distracted when you are unable to concentrate."
--Julio Cortázar, Around the Day in Eighty Worlds


"Summer Silence"
Eruptive lightnings flutter to and fro
Above the heights of immemorial hills;
Thirst-stricken air, dumb-throated, in its woe
Limply down-sagging, its limp body spills
Upon the earth. A panting silence fills
The empty vault of Night with shimmering bars
Of sullen silver, where the lake distils
Its misered bounty.--Hark! No whisper mars
The utter silence of the untranslated stars.
--e. e. cummings


"Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within."
--James Baldwin


"American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it."
--James Baldwin


"Birds were what became of dinosaurs. Those mountains of flesh whose petrified bones were on display at the Museum of Natural History had done some brilliant retooling over the ages and could now be found living in the form of orioles in the sycamores across the street. As solutions to the problem of earthly existence, the dinosaurs had been pretty great, but blue-headed vireos and yellow warblers and white-throated sparrows, feather-light, hollow-boned, full of song, were even greater. Birds were like dinosaurs' better selves. They had short lives and long summers. We all should be so lucky as to leave behind such heirs."
--Jonathan Franzen, The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History


"There's really no such thing as the 'voiceless.' There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard."
--Arundhati Roy


"Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind."
--Henry James


Before your late night face, passing
solitary
between
nights that reshaped me too,
something came to stand there
that was already with us once before, un-
moved by thought.

*

Numbers, in league
with the undoing of images
and the un-
undoing.

Skull clapped over them,
on whose
insomniac temples a chimer-
ical hammer
sings it all
to the world's
beat.

*

Paths into the shadow-rut
of your hand.

From the four-finger-furrow
I root out
petrified blessing.

*

The shipwrecks of heaven sail on--
masts
sung earthward.

You sink your teeth
into this wooden
song--

You are--the song-lashed
colors.

*

Once,
I heard him there,
he was washing the world,
unseen, all night,
really.

One, and unending,
annihilated,
I-
hilated.

There was light. Salvation.
--Paul Celan, from Breathturn, translator unknown


"Unfortunate Coincidence"
By the time you swear you're his,
Shivering and sighing,
And he vows his passion is
Infinite, undying--
Lady, make a note of this:
One of you is lying.
--Dorothy Parker


"No writing is wasted. Did you know that sourdough from San Francisco is leavened partly by a bacteria called lactobacillus sanfrancisensis? It is native to the soil there, and does not do well elsewhere. But any kitchen can become an ecosystem. If you bake a lot, your kitchen will become a happy home to wild yeasts, and all your bread will taste better. Even a failed loaf is not wasted. Likewise, cheese makers wash the dairy floor with whey. Tomato gardeners compost with rotten tomatoes. No writing is wasted: the words you can't put in your book can wash the floor, live in the soil, lurk around in the air. They will make the next words better."
--Erin Bow


" 'All our messianic wars,' Leo explained, realizing that the word imperialism and the citations from American history were having a misleading effect, 'have been fiascoes. We have mistaken our role. We cannot carry democracy abroad with military expeditions or food shipments. We can only receive it here, when it comes to us for entrance. America is ideally a harbor, a state of the utmost receptivity. It is not our role to lead, but to be open. America, I imagine, if this plan can be put into effect, will disappear, at least as we know it. America is only a vessel, waiting to be filled, a preparation for something that has not yet happened. That is what we all have been sensing in the air, ever since we were children, a restless, bemused expectancy of an event that will come to stay with us, like a visitor. I remember,' he went on, 'those summer afternoons on a lake in New Jersey, with a still haze floating over everything and a phonograph playing somewhere, and a row boat drifting in the water, as if time itself were pausing, just on the edge of the incredible. I express myself very badly,' he interpolated, slipping into a more ordinary voice."
--Mary McCarthy, The Oasis


"Let the world burn through you. Throw the prism light, white hot, on paper."
--Ray Bradbury


"No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone."
--Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House


February 7
Shadows loaded with stones
the barbed wire
you forgot the proper pronunciation
of your name.
A black cat runs
with the moon tied to its tail.
Strange.
Such great silence
and nobody wakes.
--Yannis Ritsos, from Diaries of Exile, translated from the Greek by Karen Emmerich and Edmund Keeley


May 14
We've gotten used to the gulls
they bring no message
they open and close their wings
as if opening and closing the shutters
in an empty house.

We've gotten used to the sleepless nights
to sleep shattered like broken windowpanes
to the cripples with their crutches
the filth on the beach
the bread ration thrown into the sea
the potato peelings stuck on the rocks
like gutted intestines
the shadow of a cloud over Sounio across the way
the sound of the chain falling into the water at night
we've gotten used to people forgetting us.

And that statue without arms
was beautiful
you didn't know where it was pointing
or if it was.
--Yannis Ritsos, from Diaries of Exile, translated from the Greek by Karen Emmerich and Edmund Keeley


May 15
The guard sits behind the barbed wire
the lapels of his trench coat raised.
The other day I noticed his arms
they are thick and strong
he would have carried the flag in one of our parades.

Now he sits behind his rifle
as if behind a wall.
Behind the wall sits spring--
he can't see it.
I see it and smile
and I'm sad
that he can't see it.
He's bound the shadow of his rifle around my eyes
as if it were a black handkerchief,
but I want him to see spring and smile.
--Yannis Ritsos, from Diaries of Exile, translated from the Greek by Karen Emmerich and Edmund Keeley


May 17
The hospital boat mirrored in the water
white with an apricot stripe way up high
is beautiful
in the bowl of morning quietness
like an old sorrow in a new poem.
--Yannis Ritsos, from Diaries of Exile, translated from the Greek by Karen Emmerich and Edmund Keeley
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"The Bars"
After work I'd go to the little bars
along the bright green river, Chloe's Lounge,
Cloverleaf, Barleycorn, it was like dying
to sit at five p.m. with a Bud so cold
it had no taste, it stung my hand,
when I returned home I missed my keys
and rang until my wife's delicate head
emerged in her high window and retreated
like a snail tucked in a luminous shell--
I couldn't find my wallet, or my paycheck,
though I drank nothing, only a few sips
that tasted like night air, a ginger ale,
nevertheless a dozen years passed, a century,
always I teetered on that high stool
while the Schlitz globe revolved so slowly,
disclosing Africa, Asia, Antarctica,
unfathomable oceans, radiant poles,
until I was a child, they would not serve me,
they handed me a red hissing balloon
but for spite I let it go, for the joy
of watching it climb past Newton Tool & Die,
for fear of cherishing it, for the pang
of watching it vanish and knowing myself
both cause and consequence.
--D. Nurkse

"No one is more dangerous than he who imagines himself pure in heart: for his purity, by definition, is unassailable."
--James Baldwin, Nobody Knows My Name

"The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it."
--Margaret Atwood

"Reality is the apparent absence of contradiction. The marvelous is the eruption of contradiction within the real."
--Louis Aragon, translator unknown
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"I'm a person far out at sea, and the poem is a raft made of whatever floats past in the water. Those almost accidental rescuing pieces are words, rhythms, musics, ideas, the memory that is mine and the memory that is all of ours and the memory that is held in language itself."
--Jane Hirshfield


"The Weeds"
The weeds aren't troubled
by the whirlwind's temper: It's good
to be close to the ground.
--Willie James King


"You have had many sadnesses, large ones, which passed. And you say that even this passing was difficult and upsetting for you. But please, ask yourself whether these large sadnesses haven't rather gone right through you. Perhaps many things inside you have been transformed; perhaps somewhere, deep inside your being, you have undergone important changes while you were sad. The only sadnesses that are dangerous and unhealthy are the ones that we carry around in public in order to drown them out with the noise; like diseases that are treated superficially and foolishly, they just withdraw and after a short interval break out again all the more terribly; and gather inside us and are life, are life that is unlived, rejected, lost, life that we can die of. If only it were possible for us to see farther than our knowledge reaches, and even a little beyond the outworks of our presentiment, perhaps we would bear our sadnesses with greater trust than we have in our joys. For they are the moments when something new has entered us, something unknown; our feelings grow mute in shy embarrassment, everything in us withdraws, a silence arises, and the new experience, which no one knows, stands in the midst of it all and says nothing.

"It seems to me that almost all our sadnesses are moments of tension, which we feel as paralysis because we no longer hear our astonished emotions living. Because we are alone with the unfamiliar presence that has entered us; because everything we trust and are used to is for a moment taken away from us; because we stand in the midst of a transition where we cannot remain standing. That is why the sadness passes: the new presence inside us, the presence that has been added, has entered our heart, has gone into its innermost chamber and is no longer even there,--is already in our bloodstream. And we don't know what it was. We could easily be made to believe that nothing happened, and yet we have changed, as a house that a guest has entered changes. We can't say who has come, perhaps we will never know, but many signs indicate that the future enters us in this way in order to be transformed in us, long before it happens. And that is why it is so important to be solitary and attentive when one is sad: because the seemingly uneventful and motionless moment when our future steps into us is so much closer to life than that loud and accidental point of time when it happens to us as if from outside. The quieter we are, the more patient and open we are in our sadnesses, the more deeply and serenely the new presence can enter us, and the more we can make it our own, the more it becomes our fate.

"Do you remember how that life yearned out of childhood toward the 'great thing'? I see that it is now yearning forth beyond the great thing toward the greater one. That is why it does not cease to be difficult, but that is why it will not cease to grow."
--Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet


"The poet or the revolutionary is there to articulate the necessity, but until the people themselves apprehend it, nothing can happen...Perhaps it can't be done without the poet, but it certainly can't be done without the people. The poet and the people get on generally very badly, and yet they need each other. The poet knows it sooner than the people do. The people usually know it after the poet is dead; but that's all right. The point is to get your work done, and your work is to change the world."
--James Baldwin


"Rituals before the Poem"
Before the poem comes like a word from a brazen sky
the poet must lie on his side for a year
eating only dry bread and measured bowls of water.

The poet must pour sand over grass and build
the walls of his city. The poet must surround
the walls with the offence of guns; and for days
upon days starve the city of all its music.

The poet's tongue will grow heavy and his
limbs will be bound with cords so he cannot
move. He will quarrel with God about
the meaning of poetry. The poet will beg for mercy,
lying on his other side for a hundred and ninety days,
his body scarred with the wounds he inflicts on his family.

All this a poet does before a poem so that
when he walks out in mid-winter, his face
will be smooth, his eyes will have the quiet resignation
we call peace and his satchel will be full
of whimsical lyrics about the color green
and the sounds a whore makes in her dreams.
--Kwame Dawes


"They became part of that unreal but penetrating and exciting universe which is the world seen through the eyes of love. The sky stuck to them; the birds sang through them. And, what was even more exciting, she felt, too, as she saw Mrs. Ramsay sitting with James in the window and the cloud moving and the tree bending, how life, from being made up of little separate incidents which one lived one by one, became curled and whole like a wave which bore one up with it and threw one down with it, there, with a dash on the beach."
--Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse


"But into what sanctuary had one penetrated? Lily Briscoe had looked up at last, and there was Mrs. Ramsay, unwitting entirely what had caused her laughter, still presiding, but now with every trace of wilfulness abolished, and in its stead, something clear as the space which the clouds at last uncover--the little space of sky which sleeps beside the moon.

"Was it wisdom? Was it knowledge? Was it, once more, the deceptiveness of beauty, so that all of one's perceptions, half way to truth, were tangled in a golden mesh? or did she lock up within her some secret which certainly Lily Briscoe believed people must have for the world to go on at all? Every one could not be as helter skelter, hand to mouth as she was. But if they knew, could they tell one what they knew? Sitting on the floor with her arms round Mrs Ramsay's knees, close as she could get, smiling to think that Mrs Ramsay would never know the reason of that pressure, she imagined how in the chambers of the mind and heart of the woman who was, physically, touching her, were stood, like the treasures in the tombs of kings, tablets bearing sacred inscriptions, which if one could spell them out, would teach one everything, but they would never be offered openly, never made public. What art was there, known to love or cunning, by which one pressed through into those secret chambers? What device for becoming, like waters poured into one jar, inextricably the same, one with the object one adored? Could the body achieve, or the mind, subtly mingling in the intricate passages of the brain? or the heart? Could loving, as people called it, make her and Mrs. Ramsay one? for it was not knowledge but unity that she desired, not inscriptions on tablets, nothing that could be written in any language known to men, but intimacy itself, which is knowledge, she had thought, leaning her head on Mrs. Ramsay's knee."
--Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse


"She could be herself, by herself. And that was what now she often felt the need of--to think; well, not even to think. To be silent; to be alone. All the being and the doing, expansive, glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others. Although she continued to knit, and sat upright, it was thus that she felt herself; and this self having shed its attachments was free for the strangest adventures. When life sank down for a moment, the range of experience seemed limitless. And to everybody there was always this sense of unlimited resources, she supposed; one after another, she, Lily, Augustus Carmichael, must feel, our apparitions, the things you know us by, are simply childish. Beneath it is all dark, it is all spreading, it is unfathomably deep; but now and again we rise to the surface and that is what you see us by. Her horizon seemed to her limitless. There were all the places she had not seen; the Indian plains; she felt herself pushing aside the thick leather curtain of a church in Rome. This core of darkness could go anywhere, for no one saw it. They could not stop it, she thought, exulting. There was freedom, there was peace, there was, most welcome of all, a summoning together, a resting on a platform of stability. Not as oneself did one find rest ever, in her experience (she accomplished here something dexterous with her needles) but as a wedge of darkness. Losing personality, one lost the fret, the hurry, the stir; and there rose to her lips always some exclamation of triumph over life when things came together in this peace, this rest, this eternity; and pausing there she looked out to meet that stroke of the Lighthouse, the long steady stroke, the last of the three, which was her stroke, for watching them in this mood always at this hour one could not help attaching oneself to one thing especially of the things one saw; and this thing, the long steady stroke, was her stroke. Often she found herself sitting and looking, sitting and looking, with her work in her hands until she became the thing she looked at--that light, for example."
--Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse


"Everything about him had that meagre fixity, that bare unloveliness. But nevertheless, the fact remained, it was almost impossible to dislike any one if one looked at them. She liked his eyes; they were blue, deep set, frightening."
--Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse


"Then why did she mind what he said? Women can't write, women can't paint--what did that matter coming from him, since clearly it was not true to him but for some reason helpful to him, and that was why he said it? Why did her whole being bow, like corn under a wind, and erect itself again from this abasement only with a great and rather painful effort? She must make it once more. There's the sprig on the table-cloth; there's my painting; I must move the tree to the middle; that matters--nothing else. Could she not hold fast to that, she asked herself, and not lose her temper, and not argue; and if she wanted revenge take it by laughing at him?"
--Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"The foolish reject what they see and not what they think; the wise reject what they think and not what they see."
--Huangbo Xiyun


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Aquarium is gone. Everywhere,
giant finned cars nose forward like fish;
a savage servility
slides by on grease.
--Robert Lowell
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"A Night in Brooklyn"
We undid a button,
turned out the light,
and in that narrow bed
we built the great city--
water towers, cisterns,
hot asphalt roofs, parks,
septic tanks, arterial roads,
Canarsie, the intricate channels,
the seacoast, underwater mountains,
bluffs, islands, the next continent,
using only the palms of our hands
and the tips of our tongues, next
we made darkness itself, by then
it was time for dawn
and we closed our eyes
and counted to ourselves
until the sun rose
and we had to take it all to pieces
for there could be only one Brooklyn.
--D. Nurkse


"The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives."
--Albert Einstein


"Precisely at the point when you begin to develop a conscience you must find yourself at war with your society."
--James Baldwin


"Small gestures
are like smoke, a slight breeze causes a drifting
and we are bare again...uneternal."
--Michael McClure


"The true focus of revolutionary change is never merely the oppressive situations that we seek to escape, but that piece of the oppressor which is planted deep within each of us."
--Audre Lorde


"Where words come from, into consciousness, baffles me. Speaking or writing, the words bounce instantaneously into their context, and I am victimized by them, rather than controlling them. They do not wait for my selection; they volunteer."
--William Stafford, Writing the Australian Crawl: Views on the Writer's Vocation


"Report from a Far Place"
Making these word things to
step on across the world, I
could call them snowshoes.

They creak, sag, bend, but
hold, over the great deep cold,
and they turn up at the toes.

In war or city or camp
they could save your life;
you can muse them by the fire.

Be careful, though: they
burn, or don't burn, in their own
strange way, when you say them.
--William Stafford


"The Promise"
Stay, I said
to the cut flowers.
They bowed
their heads lower.

Stay, I said to the spider,
who fled.

Stay, leaf.
It reddened,
embarrassed for me and itself.

Stay, I said to my body.
It sat as a dog does,
obedient for a moment,
soon starting to tremble.

Stay, to the earth
of riverine valley meadows,
of fossiled escarpments,
of limestone and sandstone.
It looked back
with a changing expression, in silence.

Stay, I said to my loves.
Each answered,
Always.
--Jane Hirshfield


"I thought at the time that I couldn't be horrified anymore, or wounded. I suppose that's a common conceit, that you've already been so damaged that damage itself, in its totality, makes you safe."
--Lionel Shriver, We Need to Talk about Kevin


"The Mermaid"
A mermaid found a swimming lad,
Picked him for her own,
Pressed her body to his body,
Laughed; and plunging down
Forgot in cruel happiness
That even lovers drown.
--W. B. Yeats


" 'A bad investment,' the Jew tells him, 'is like a spoiled puppy that requires even more attention than a baby. You learn to love it all the more.' "
--Charles Bernstein, "The Jew"


"A tear graces Jesus's cheeks as he suffers on the cross. 'The tear is not for his own pain,' says the Jew, 'but his pity for those who condemn any man to death, regardless of what he has done.' "
--Charles Bernstein, "The Jew"


"That Everything's Inevitable"
That everything's inevitable.
That fate is whatever has already happened.
The brain, which is as elemental, as sane, as the rest of the processing universe is.
In this world, I am the surest thing.
Scrunched-up arms, folded legs, lovely destitute eyes.
Please insert your spare coins.
I am filling them up.
Please insert your spare vision, your vigor, your vim.
But yet, I am a vatic one.
As vatic as the Vatican.
In the temper and the tantrum, in the well-kept arboretum
I am waiting, like an animal,
For poetry.
--Katy Lederer


"Snow"
Low clouds hang on the mountain.
The forest is filled with fog.
A short distance away the
Giant trees recede and grow
Dim. Two hundred paces and
They are invisible. All
Day the fog curdles and drifts.
The cries of the birds are loud.
They sound frightened and cold. Hour
By hour it grows colder.
Just before sunset the clouds
Drop down the mountainside. Long
Shreds and tatters of fog flow
Swiftly away between the
Trees. Now the valley below
Is filled with clouds like clotted
Cream and over them the sun
Sets, yellow in a sky full
Of purple feathers. After dark
A wind rises and breaks branches
From the trees and howls in the
Treetops and then suddenly
Is still. Late at night I wake
And look out of the tent. The
Clouds are rushing across the
Sky and through them is tumbling
The thin waning moon. Later
All is quiet except for
A faint whispering. I look
Out. Great flakes of wet snow are
Falling. Snowflakes are falling
Into the dark flames of the
Dying fire. In the morning the
Pine boughs are sagging with snow,
And the dogwood blossoms are
Frozen, and the tender young
Purple and citron oak leaves.
--Kenneth Rexroth


4. Our Sister of Perfect Solitude
In the Cathedral of Oaxaca, the usual women: three or four black shawls worn
To the iridescence of flies, the quaint agony of their prayers resembling
The buzzing of flies, &, on the sills, flies, & the emptiness of the flies,

And the empty name rising upward in those prayers. Earlier,

At a cafe table, I saw a woman I once knew. She was wearing the same white silk
Skirt slit up the side, & was beginning to get drunk while her companion,
A boy of fourteen, the son of a weaver, was kissing her, & then, after a while,

Caressing her until soon a frank & unembarrassed tint of rose flushed her cheeks,
And a waiter glared at them both, then turned away, the white towel perfectly
Adjusted on his arm, before he spat, just once, into the street.

If you look at anything long enough, it turns into style.

*

One of my pastimes then was savoring the casual emptiness of names, any name,
Even the name of that stranger I said over & over in bed until her name
Slipped itself from all moorings, & her body became like wind stirring itself,

Until, free finally of its name, it would do anything.
And the next time I called her by another name, deliberately, just to see...
And repeated the name over & over until her body belonged to no one, to neither
One of us. It came to the same thing: without a name, the body could be anyone's.

Open to any suggestion.

This was the petty blasphemy I flirted with, the wind gusting over the empty tables.
I was learning how Guilt, feeding on the Body of Its Host, grows finally wise.
Which is another way of saying it grows terrified of anything as unscrupulous

As Itself, & then is simply mute, the shore of a lake clouding over.

Then it is best to go home.

*

But home is the form of the dream, & not the dream.

When you knock, the sill of tiny flowers trembles; no one's there; the woods
Around the cottage seem immense, as if they had grown in your absence, or were
A larger form of it, taking your place, their shade fallen forever, & colder. So,

To travel alone, to pick up & leave a town, to cling, for a moment, like dust; to
Collect as dust collects; is to move in the frank style of what passes.
But what remains, indwelling like a name not yours nor another's, persists

In the recurring dream of an animal, which loves you, which you cannot name.
Is it something that had a name before it could be given one?
Was the task of saying it a task assigned in childhood, its window sunlit & empty?

But the dream ends; the animal vanishes.

And the father, free finally of all fatherhood, stares out at an empty field
And wonders: is it dust, or ice? And is the spider its emissary, striding over
The freckled skin of an apple, & pausing there, harmless & brown & still,

A moment too long? And the apple itself? Is it dust or ice inside?

And the dream, with the work it cannot say?

And the sunlight's pressure on the empty window?

*

To go home is to take back a name. And to take a name back you must descend,
Even though you believe in no one; & even though the descent is into a woman, into
The empty hull of her myth, her body's vacancy after death, her perfect solitude--

Which is, & is not, this Church, the blood on the statue of Christ applied with
A bright red nail polish; & hands together, as, with luck, they will be in the end;
Or without luck they might be also, involuntarily, as in a prayer said backward,

To no one, to the crowd in the fitful shell game of all names, to the empty hush
Of the sun--cuffed & passing beneath it--painful when you move,

Painful when you do not move.

*

But what I did then was kneel & pray, &, after a while, lost track of the words
Or who it was for because somewhere in its sonorous repetitions I began hearing
The sound of trapped flies buzzing on the sill beneath stained glass...

And remembered a harness gall, some gnats hovering over it, on the withers

Of a horse, all its ribs showing as it hauled firewood on a towpath of lingering snowmelt.
In the summer its owner shot it through a graying left temple with a .22, for glue &
Tallow. And how it fell! Straight, fast, into a dry ditch

And onto the white, spreading sail of a canvas in which they wrapped & hoisted it,
Sail-like, the opaque, unreflecting yellow marble of its hooves hooked & tied--&
A last, faint odor, like a dignity, still clinging to its coat, a light wind riffling it just once.

And as the winch took hold & lifted it, the head loosened abruptly from its one dream; a glassy,
Piebald eye stared out at me, as if that stare could catch a world & put an end
To it, or set it afire. Dust & ice & a confetti of ashes. As if a horse could care! But then

The flies, swarming familiarly over its muzzle, nostrils, & eyes, might as well
Have closed that eyelid, closed that eye as large as truth--which isn't all that
Large, or even truthful, & like that eye is often blue-gray, parti-colored or partly

Cloudy, & not necessarily human.

5. "Coney Island Baby"
But there is a place that will not change, a place that is rooted in dream;
It rots & rejoices; it flowers from nothing; it turns a deaf ear to millionaires:
You are seven, & the smell of raisins drying on a wicker tray is indescribable, & though the word home

Has a bomb ticking inside it, in its dream all objects slide back beneath their names again: shoe,
Hammer, rain, tea, delicate collarbones, paper, freckles, swan eyes, good-bye;
And later the last whirr & hush of a child's skate beneath the stars, & also

The moment after, cooling, which sounds like starlight. A street as simple as
A moon, & clothed in moonlight. Nude as moonlight. American styles. Dark leaf;
Light leaf; a girl in the loveliness of her name, the screen door banging once
Behind her as she runs out, & a stranger's impeccable wrists floating over a keyboard:

*

What does it mean, American?

It means, mostly, to go unnoticed, to watch the streets filling with crowds, & then
To step into the crowd, to be it suddenly, to type behind a desk all day where no one
Sees you. To conceal all that you are. To perform your whole life in a silence

As deep as any girlhood is; to brim over like a black pond in summer, & say nothing about it.
Sometimes it is too much & so you drift into unfamiliar streets, drift as hair drifts along
A cheekbone, accentuating loss, a look of defeat in the eyes as you finger a dress

On a rack, but you have no money. Your lips purse. It is 1931; it is 1931 again.

And suddenly this isn't about style anymore; this is something final like beauty.

Friends, I'm going to stop right here because it is 1931 in her apartment & no one's
Home. No one is coming home, either. After a while, I stop making inquiries.

After all, beauty has only three possible endings, & only one of them is bearable.

The unthawed snow along the street is 1931; the screen door, banging, is 1931.

*

What does it mean but you? A wisp of hair below your ear, a little of 1931
In 1970, lost & unemployed. It means you just heard, from the open window
Of an apartment overhead, twelve bars, "Autumn Leaves," as played by someone noble,

Untiring, explosive, & extinct. And suddenly the raw light above the arms of snow
Outstretched upon the street is bearable, you think, & will be bearable. For
Another two hours it might be bearable to walk beside it, as if beside a companion

Who's always there, who's always disappearing into light, which is to say,
Into Himself. Who leaves you the afternoon & the tavern's darkness where you hope
To find work. The funny sayings along the wall are not so funny, once you

Think about them, & up at one end, a tiny stage, & always the two or three
Regular drinkers with their silence as if their silence were a rare & precious thing,
Inviolate & white despite its bruises, as if, at night a thing inside themselves

Had beaten them past all recognition, as if, above the cold pews of a church,
Above that body which sails yet holds quite still, each one had seen, set deep
Into the hacked, carved, crucified wooden face, too large & too obscene to match

The half-closed other, a piebald horse's eye. And each had turned away.

*

And this? This is the most unscrupulous thing of all. These scratchings all night,
These inquiries because you are not there, have become, simply, you, white paper
Desiring the darkening effects of ink until, late at night, it is black trees,

White snow. A winter landscape, & the hush when I come back to it as bitter & serene
As coffee, solitude, the first snow grazing the streets. It is pure, the way cruelty is pure.

I swear I'd give the whole thing up for you.
--Larry Levis, from "The Perfection of Solitude: A Sequence"
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Las Ruinas del Corazon"
Juana the Mad married the handsomest man in Spain
and that was the end of it, because when you marry a man

more beautiful than you, they said you pretty much lost control
of the situation. Did she ever listen? No. When he was away

annexing more kingdoms, she had horrible dreams
of him being cut and blown apart, or spread on the rack,

or sleeping with exotic women. She prayed to the twin guardians
of the Alhambra, Saint Ursula and Saint Susana, to send him home

and make him stay forever. And they answered her prayers
and killed Philip the Handsome at twenty-eight.

Juana the Mad was beside herself with grief, and she wrapped
his body in oil and lavender, and laid him out in a casket of lead,

and built a marble effigy of the young monarch in sleep,
and beside it her own dead figure, so he would never think

he was alone. And she kept his body beside her, and every day
for the next twenty years, as pungent potions filled the rooms,

she peeked into his coffin like a chef peeks into his pot,
and memories of his young body woke her adamant desire.

She wanted to possess him entirely, and since not even death
may oppose the queen, she found a way to merge death and life

by eating a piece of him, slowly, lovingly, until he was entirely
in her being. She cut a finger and chewed the fragrant skin,

then sliced a thick portion of his once ruddy cheeks. Then she ate
an ear, the side of a thigh, the solid muscles of his chest,

then lunged for an eye, a kidney, part of the large intestine.
Then she diced his penis and his pebble-like testicles

and washed everything down with sweet jerez.
Then she decided she was ready to die.

But before she did, she asked the poets to record these moments
in song, and the architects to carve the song in marble,

and the marble to be selected from the most secret veins
of the earth and placed where no man could see it,

because that is the nature of love, because one walks alone
through the ruins of the heart, because the young must sleep

with their eyes open, because the angels tremble
from so much beauty, because memory moves in orbits

of absence, because she holds her hands out in the rain,
and rain remembers nothing, not even how it became itself.
--Eric Gamalinda


"I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain."
--James Baldwin


"The jostling of young minds against each other has this wonderful attribute, that one can never foresee the spark, nor predict the flash. What will spring up in a moment? Nobody knows."
--Victor Hugo, Les Misérables


"Each from Different Heights"
That time I thought I was in love
and calmly said so
was not much different from the time
I was truly in love
and slept poorly and spoke out loud
to the wall
and discovered the hidden genius
of my hands
And the times I felt less in love,
less than someone,
were, to be honest, not so different
either.
Each was ridiculous in its own way
and each was tender, yes,
sometimes even the false is tender.
I am astonished
by the various kisses we’re capable of.
Each from different heights
diminished, which is simply the law.
And the big bruise
from the long fall looked perfectly white
in a few years.
That astounded me most of all.
--Stephen Dunn


"Bounty"
Make much of something small.
The pouring-out of tea,
a drying flower's shadow on the wall
from last week's sad bouquet.
A fact: it isn't summer any more.

Say that December sun
is pitiless, but crystalline
and strikes like a bell.
Say it plays colours like a glockenspiel.
It shows the dust as well,

the elemental sediment
your broom has missed,
and lights each grain of sugar spilled
upon the tabletop, beside
pistachio shells, peel of a clementine.

Slippers and morning papers on the floor,
and wafts of iron heat from rumbling radiators,
can this be all? No, look--here comes the cat,
with one ear inside out.
Make much of something small.
--Robyn Sarah


"I Keep Trying to Leave but the Sex Just Gets Better and Better"
This is not what the door's for--slamming
you up against, opening
your legs with my knee. And it isn't
leaving, the thing I keep doing
with my shoes still on, or in the car
in the driveway in broad
daylight after waving
goodbye to your neighbors
again. But my body's a bad
dog, all dumb tongue
and hunger, down
on all fours again, tied up
outside again, coming
when called but then always refusing
to stay. I know what I'm trying
to say, but it isn't
talking, the thing that I do with my mouth
to your ear, even though
we got the orifices right. To leave
I would have to put clothes on,
and they'd have to fit better
than all of this skin. To leave
I would have to know where to begin:
like this, pressed up
against the half-open window? Like
this, with my foot on the gas? If seeing
is believing then why isn't touching
knowing for sure? I just want my nerves
to do the work for me, I don't want
to have to decide. There's blood in my hands
for fight and blood in my legs
for flight and nowhere
a sign. Believe me, I'll leave if you just
let me touch you again for the last
last time.
--Ali Shapiro


trigger warning: rape, suicide, violence, abortion )


"White Space"
All day snow fell on the river like thistledown,
sowing its spiked seeds into the trough
between the bank where a crow stopped squawking
and the bank where there was silence,
and the wind in the middle moaning like a low fire.
how to say it? How to get it in edgewise?
I walked out hours later under a night sky clouds
were fading from like breath from a lens,
its ground and polished depth becoming
visible, and there, low at the treeline, a squinting,
yellow eye, not answering but watching.
--Davis McCombs


"Forgiveness, I finally decide, is not the death of amnesia, nor is it a form of madness, as Derrida claims. For the one who forgives, it is simply a death, a dying down in the heart, the position of the already dead. It is in the end the living through, the understanding that this has happened, is happening, happens. Period. It is a feeling of nothingness that cannot be communicated to another, an absence, a bottomless vacancy held by the living, beyond all that is hated or loved."
--Claudia Rankine, Don't Let Me Be Lonely


"Sometimes I think it is sentimental, or excessive, certainly not intellectual, or perhaps too naive, too self-wounded to value each life like that, to feel loss to the point of being bent over each time. There is no innovating loss. It was never invented, it happened as something physical, something physically experienced. It is not something an 'I' discusses socially. Though Myung Mi Kim did say that the poem is really a responsibility to everyone in a social space. She did say it was okay to cramp, to clog, to fold over at the gut, to have to put hand to flesh, to have to hold the pain, and then to translate it here. She did say, in so many words, that what alerts, alters."
--Claudia Rankine


"Then all life is a form of waiting, but it is the waiting of loneliness. One waits to recognize the other, to see the other as one sees the self. Levinas writes, 'The subject who speaks is situated in relation to the other. This privilege of the other ceases to be incomprehensible once we admit that the first face of existence is neither being in itself nor being for itself but being for the other, in other words, that human existence is a creature. By offering a word, the subject putting himself forward lays himself open and, in a sense, prays.' "
--Claudia Rankine


"Sometimes you read something and a thought that was floating around in your veins organizes itself into the sentence that reflects it. This might also be a form of dreaming."
--Claudia Rankine


"Or Paul Celan said that the poem was no different from a handshake. I cannot see any basic difference between a handshake and a poem--is how Rosemary Waldrop translated his German. The handshake is our decided ritual of both asserting (I am here) and handing over (here) a self to another. Hence the poem is that--Here, I am here. This conflation of the solidity of presence with the offering of this same presence perhaps has everything to do with being alive."
--Claudia Rankine
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"People who treat other people as less than human must not be surprised when the bread they have cast on the waters comes floating back to them, poisoned."
--James Baldwin


"I did not know what to say to him. I felt awkward and blundering. I did not know how I could reach him, where I could overtake him and go on hand in hand with him once more. It is such a secret place, the land of tears."
--Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince


"The U.S.-Mexican border es una herida abierta where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds. And before a scab forms it hemorrhages again, the lifeblood of two worlds merging to form a third country--a border culture. Borders are set up to define the places that are safe and unsafe, to distinguish us from them. A border is a dividing live, a narrow strip along a steep edge. A borderland is a vague and undetermined place created by the emotional residue of an unnatural boundary. It is in a constant state of transition. The prohibited and forbidden are its inhabitants. Los atravesados live here: the squint-eyed, the perverse, the queer, the troublesome, the mongrel, the mulato, the half-breed, the half dead; in short, those who cross over, pass over, or go through the confines of the 'normal.' Gringos in the U.S. Southwest consider the inhabitants of the borderlands transgressors, aliens--whether they possess documents or not, whether they're Chicanos, Indians, or Blacks. Do not enter, trespassers will be raped, maimed, strangled, gassed, shot. The only 'legitimate' inhabitants are those in power, the whites and those who align themselves with whites. Tension grips the inhabitants of the borderlands like a virus. Ambivalence and unrest reside there and death is no stranger."
--Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera


"I think I mean that beauty, which you say sometimes I achieve, is only got by failure to get it; by grinding all the flints together, by facing what must be humiliation--the things one can't do--To aim at beauty deliberately, without this apparently insensate struggle, would result, I think, in little daisies and forget-me-nots--simpering sweetness--true love knots. But I agree that one must renounce finally the achievement of the greater beauty: the beauty which comes from completeness."
--Virgina Woolf


"Merlin"
O Merlin in your crystal cave
Deep in the diamond of the day,
Will there ever be a singer
Whose music will smooth away
The furrow drawn by Adam's finger
Across the memory and the wave?
Or a runner who'll outrun
Man's long shadow driving on,
Break through the gate of memory
And hang the apple on the tree?
Will your magic ever show
The sleeping bride shut in her bower,
The day wreathed in its mound of snow
and Time locked in his tower?
--Edwin Muir


"A Wind Has Blown the Rain Away and Blown"
a wind has blown the rain away and blown
the sky away and all the leaves away,
and the trees stand. I think i too have known
autumn too long

(and what have you to say,
wind wind wind--did you love somebody
and have you the petal of somewhere in your heart
pinched from dumb summer?
O crazy daddy
of death dance cruelly for us and start

the last leaf whirling in the final brain
of air!)Let us as we have seen see
doom's integration………a wind has blown the rain

away and the leaves and the sky and the
trees stand:
the trees stand. The trees,
suddenly wait against the moon's face.
--e. e. cummings


"A Letter in October"
Dawn comes later and later now,
and I, who only a month ago
could sit with coffee every morning
watching the light walk down the hill
to the edge of the pond and place
a doe there, shyly drinking,

then see the light step out upon
the water, sowing reflections
to either side--a garden
of trees that grew as if by magic--
now see no more than my face,
mirrored by darkness, pale and odd,

startled by time. While I slept,
night in its thick winter jacket
bridled the doe with a twist
of wet leaves and led her away,
then brought its black horse with harness
that creaked like a cricket, and turned

the water garden under. I woke,
and at the waiting window found
the curtains open to my open face;
beyond me, darkness. And I,
who only wished to keep looking out,
must now keep looking in.
--Ted Kooser


"Scary Movies"
Today the cloud shapes are terrifying,
and I keep expecting some enormous
black-and-white B-movie Cyclops
to appear at the edge of the horizon,

to come striding over the ocean
and drag me from my kitchen
to the deep cave that flickered
into my young brain one Saturday

at the Baronet Theater where I sat helpless
between my older brothers, pumped up
on candy and horror--that cave,
the litter of human bones

gnawed on and flung toward the entrance,
I can smell their stench as clearly
as the bacon fat from breakfast. This
is how it feels to lose it--

not sanity, I mean, but whatever it is
that helps you get up in the morning
and actually leave the house
on those days when it seems like death

in his brown uniform
is cruising his panel truck
of packages through your neighborhood.
I think of a friend's voice

on her answering machine--
Hi, I'm not here--
the morning of her funeral,
the calls filling up the tape

and the mail still arriving,
and I feel as afraid as I was
after all those vampire movies
when I'd come home and lie awake

all night, rigid in my bed,
unable to get up
even to pee because the undead
were waiting underneath it;

if I so much as stuck a bare
foot out there in the unprotected air
they'd grab me by the ankle and pull me
under. And my parents said there was

nothing there, when I was older
I would know better, and now
they're dead, and I'm older,
and I know better.
--Kim Addonizio


"Steps"
How funny you are today New York
like Ginger Rogers in Swingtime
and St. Bridget's steeple leaning a little to the left

here I have just jumped out of a bed full of V-days
(I got tired of D-days) and blue you there still
accepts me foolish and free
all I want is a room up there
and you in it
and even the traffic halt so thick is a way
for people to rub up against each other
and when their surgical appliances lock
they stay together
for the rest of the day (what a day)
I go by to check a slide and I say
that painting's not so blue

where's Lana Turner
she's out eating
and Garbo's backstage at the Met
everyone's taking their coat off
so they can show a rib-cage to the rib-watchers
and the park's full of dancers with their tights and shoes
in little bags
who are often mistaken for worker-outers at the West Side Y
why not
the Pittsburgh Pirates shout because they won
and in a sense we're all winning
we're alive

the apartment was vacated by a gay couple
who moved to the country for fun
they moved a day too soon
even the stabbings are helping the population explosion
though in the wrong country
and all those liars have left the UN
the Seagram Building's no longer rivalled in interest
not that we need liquor (we just like it)

and the little box is out on the sidewalk
next to the delicatessen
so the old man can sit on it and drink beer
and get knocked off it by his wife later in the day
while the sun is still shining

oh god it's wonderful
to get out of bed
and drink too much coffee
and smoke too many cigarettes
and love you so much
--Frank O'Hara


"The Vacation"
Once there was a man who filmed his vacation.
He went flying down the river in his boat
with his video camera to his eye, making
a moving picture of the moving river
upon which his sleek boat moved swiftly
toward the end of his vacation. He showed
his vacation to his camera, which pictured it,
preserving it forever: the river, the trees,
the sky, the light, the bow of his rushing boat
behind which he stood with his camera
preserving his vacation even as he was living it
so that after he had had it he would still
have it. It would be there. With a flick
of a switch, there it would be. But he
would not be in it. He would never be in it.
--Wendell Berry


"Pericardium"
Am I not alone, as I thought I was, as I thought
The day was, the hour I walked into, morning
When I felt night fly from my chest where prospect had
Slackened, and close itself off, understanding, as I thought I did,
That the ground would resist my legs and not let them
Break nor let them be released into air as my heart, in its
Muscle, might be released from the body that surrounds it,
Like someone who, placing a hand on a shoulder's
Blade, felt a life move inside an hour and a day
Break from the day the hour meant something more than weakness,
More than fear, and flew forward into the depths of
Prospect, your arms, where you'd been, before me, waiting
For me, the way the body has always been waiting for the heart to sense
It is housed, it is needed, it will not be harmed.
--Joanna Klink


"Slur"
The problem with boundaries: in the blink of an eye a dozen crows
lose their individuality and become a flock. Same as now:
frayed seconds disappear into quarters
that transfer their worth into the afternoon's account.
Time flows but space isn’t any worse:
the flock of crows cuts the sky diagonally.
It's as if a new continent were emerging
to greet halfway the nascent cartographers
and their dreams. Sooner or later the flock will break up
into birds. The sea will crumble into waves.
The waves into drops. A delicate afternoon will be calculable
like harvested grain. The room will resemble
a clock without hands.
--Jacek Gutorow


"Why I Believed, as a Child, that People Had Sex in Bathrooms"
Because they loved one another, I guessed.
Because they had seven kids and there wasn't
a door in that house that was ever locked--
except for the bathroom door, that door
with the devil's face, two horns like flame
flaring up in the grain of the wood
(or did we only imagine that shape?)
which meant the devil could watch you pee,
the devil could see you naked.
Because that's where people took off their clothes
and you had to undress for sex, I'd heard,
whatever sex was--lots of kissing and other stuff
I wasn't sure I wanted to know.
Because at night, when I was scared, I just
climbed into my parents' bed. Sometimes
other kids were there, too, and we slept
in a tangle of sheets and bodies, breath;
a full ashtray on the nightstand; our father's
work clothes hung over a chair; our mother's
damp cotton nightgown twisted around her legs.
Because when I heard babies were made from sex
and sex was something that happened in bed,
I thought: No, the babies are already there
in the bed. And more babies came.
Because the only door that was ever locked
was the bathroom door--those two inside
in the steam of his bath, her hairspray's mist,
because sometimes I knocked and was let in.
And my father lay in the tub, his whole dark body
under water, like some beautiful statue I'd seen.
And my mother stood at the mirror, fixing her hair,
or she'd put down the lid of the toilet
and perched there, talking to him.
Because maybe this was their refuge from us--
though they never tried to keep us away.
Because my mother told me once
that every time they came home from the hospital
with a brand new baby, they laughed
and fell in love all over again
and couldn't wait to start making more.
Should this have confused me? It did not.
Because I saw how he kissed the back of her neck
and pulled her, giggling, into his lap;
how she tucked her chin and looked up at him
through her eyelashes, smiling, sly.
So I reasoned whatever sex they had, they had
in the bathroom--those steamy hours
when we heard them singing to one another
then whispering, and the door stayed locked.
Because I can still picture them, languid, there,
and beautiful and young--though I had no idea
how young they were--my mother
soaping my father's back; her dark hair
slipping out of its pins.
Because what was sex, after that? I didn't know
he would ever die, this god in a body, strong as god,
or that she would one day hang her head
over the bathroom sink to weep. I was a child,
only one of their children. Love was clean.
Babies came from singing. The devil was wood
and had no eyes.
--Cecilia Woloch


"Beware of False Friends"
It's autumn in the capital.
The neighbors' chickens have lost their charm.

Sometimes I think my only problem
is that I don't have anyone to talk to
who doesn't also have to listen to me.

In German, the word "gift" means poison.

How long can the one lie I tell
in every poem be
the palm that pins the angel's neck?

I lied when I said
I would only lie once.

And I hope we can meet in person someday
so you can tell me what you think of
what little you remember of this.

It will give us something
to talk about on the way home.

This and the fact that George Washington's dentures
weren't made of wood,
they were constructed from his slaves' teeth.
No one ever saw him smile,
but from deep in the forest
his whistle could be heard for miles.
--Dobby Gibson


"The Citizens"
We change the river's name to make it ours.
We wall the city off and call it fate.
We husband our estate of ash,
For what we have we hold, and this
Is what is meant by history.
We have no love for one another, only uses
We can make of the defeated.
--And meanwhile you have disappeared
Like smoke across a frozen field.

What language? You had no language.
Stirring bone soup with a bone, we sip
From the cup of the skull. This is culture.
All we want to do is live forever,
To which end we make you bow down to our gods
In the midday square's Apollonian light
Before we ship you to the furnaces
And sow you in the fields like salt.

We fear that the fields of blue air at the world's end
Will be the only court we face.
We fear that when we reach the gate alone
There will be neither words nor deeds
To answer with. Therefore, we say, let us
Speak not of murder but of sacrifice,
And out of sacrifice make duty,
And out of duty love,
Whose name, in our language, means death.
--Sean O'Brien


"Text"
I tend the mobile now
like an injured bird

We text, text, text
our significant words.

I re-read your first,
your second, your third,

look for your small xx,
feeling absurd.

The codes we send
arrive with a broken chord.

I try to picture your hands,
their image is blurred.

Nothing my thumbs press
will ever be heard.
--Carol Ann Duffy


"they're always curious"
they're always curious about what you eat as if you were
some strange breed still unclassified by darwin & whether
you cook every night & wouldn't it be easier for you to
buy frozen dinners but i am quick to point out that my intra-
venous tubing has been taken out & they back up saying i
could never cook for one person but i tell them it's
the same exactly the same as for two except half


but more they're curious about what you do when the urge
is on & if you use a coke bottle or some psychedelic dildo
or electric vibrator or just the good old finger or whole
hand & do you mannippppulllaaatttte yourself into a clit
orgasm or just kind of keep digging away at yourself & if
you mind it & when you have affairs doesn't it hurt when it's
over & it certainly must be lonely to go back to the old finger


& they always cluck over the amount of space you require
& certainly the extra bedroom seems unnecessary & i try to
explain that i like to move around & that i get antsy when
i get the urge so that it's nice to have an extra place
to go when you're lonely & after all it seems small compen-
sation for using the good old finger & they're surprised be-
cause they never thought of it that way & it does seem reason-
able come to think of it


& they kind of probe about your future & if you have a will or
why you bother to accumulate all that stuff or what you plan
to do with your old age & aren't you scared about being put
away somewhere or found on your bathroom floor dead after
your downstairs neighbor has smelled you out but then of course
you know couples live longer for they have something to live
for & i try to explain i live for myself even when in love but
it's a hard concept to explain when you feel lonely
--Irena Klepfisz
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"For I am--or I was--one of those people who pride themselves on their willpower, on their ability to make a decision and carry it through. This virtue, like most virtues, is ambiguity itself. People who believe that they are strong-willed and the masters of their destiny can only continue to believe this by becoming specialists in self-deception. Their decisions are not really decisions at all--a real decision makes one humble, one knows that it is at the mercy of more things than can be named--but elaborate systems of evasion, of illusion, designed to make themselves and the world appear to be what they and the world are not."
--James Baldwin, Giovanni's Room

"Perhaps everybody has a garden of Eden, I don't know; but they have scarcely seen their garden before they see the flaming sword. Then, perhaps, life only offers the choice of remembering the garden or forgetting it. Either, or: it takes strength to remember, it takes another kind of strength to forget, it takes a hero to do both. People who remember court madness through pain, the pain of the perpetually recurring death of their innocence; people who forget court another kind of madness, the madness of the denial of pain and the hatred of innocence; and the world is mostly divided between madmen who remember and madmen who forget. Heroes are rare."
--James Baldwin, Giovanni's Room

"Any real change implies the breakup of the world as one has always known it, the loss of all that gave one an identity, the end of safety."
--James Baldwin, as quoted by Adrienne Rich in "Blood, Bread, and Poetry: The Location of the Poet"

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