[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"We need not stride resolutely into catastrophe, merely because those are the marching orders."
--Noam Chomsky


"A Home in Dark Grass"
In the deep fall, the body awakes,
And we find lions on the seashore--
Nothing to fear.
The wind rises, the water is born,
Spreading white tomb-clothes on a rocky shore,
Drawing us up
From the bed of the land.

We did not come to remain whole.
We came to lose our leaves like the trees,
The trees that are broken
And start again, drawing up on great roots;
Like mad poets captured by the Moors,
Men who live out
A second life.

That we should learn of poverty and rags,
That we should taste the weed of Dillinger,
And swim in the sea,
Not always walking on dry land,
And, dancing, find in the trees a saviour,
A home in the dark grass,
And nourishment in death.
--Robert Bly


"The best moments in reading are when you come across something--a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things--which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours."
--Alan Bennett, The History Boys


"Suicide Song"
But now I am afraid I know too much to kill myself
Though I would still like to jump off a high bridge

At midnight, or paddle a kayak out to sea
Until I turn into a speck, or wear a necktie made of knotted rope

But people would squirm, it would hurt them in some way,
And I am too knowledgeable now to hurt people imprecisely.

No longer do I live by the law of me,
No longer having the excuse of youth or craziness,

And dying you know shows a serious ingratitude
For sunsets and beehive hairdos and the precious green corrugated

Pickles they place at the edge of your plate.
Killing yourself is wasteful, like spilling oil

At sea or not recycling all the kisses you've been given,
And anyway, who has clothes nice enough to be caught dead in?

Not me. You stay alive you stupid asshole
Because you haven't been excused,

You haven't finished though it takes a mulish stubbornness
To chew this food.

It is a stone, it is an inconvenience, it is an innocence,
And I turn against it like a record

Turns against the needle
That makes it play.
--Tony Hoagland


III. Usk
Do not suddenly break the branch, or
Hope to find
The white hart over the white well.
Glance aside, not for lance, do not spell
Old enchantments. Let them sleep.
'Gently dip, but not too deep',
Lift your eyes
Where the roads dip and where the roads rise
Seek only there
Where the grey light meets the green air
The Hermit's chapel, the pilgrim's prayer.
--T. S. Eliot, from "Landscapes"


"The First Straw"
I used to think love was two people sucking
on the same straw to see whose thirst was stronger,

but then I whiffed the crushed walnuts of your nape,
traced jackals in the snow-covered tombstones of your teeth.

I used to think love was a non-stop saxophone solo
in the lungs, till I hung with you like a pair of sneakers

from a phone line, and you promised to always smell
the rose in my kerosene. I used to think love was terminal

pelvic ballet, till you let me jog beside while you pedaled
all over hell on the menstrual bicycle, your tongue

ripping through my prairie like a tornado of paper cuts.
I used to think love was an old man smashing a mirror

over his knee, till you helped me carry the barbell
of my spirit back up the stairs after my car pirouetted

in the desert. You are my history book. I used to not believe
in fairy tales till I played the dunce in sheep's clothing

and felt how perfectly your foot fit in the glass slipper

of my ass. But then duty wrapped its phone cord

around my ankle and yanked me across the continent.
And now there are three thousand miles between the u

and the s in esophagus. And being without you is like standing
at a cement-filled well with a roll of Yugoslavian nickels

and making a wish. Some days I miss you so much
I'd jump off the roof of your office building

just to catch a glimpse of you on the way down. I wish
we could trade left eyeballs, so we could always see

what the others see. But you're here, I'm there,
and we have only words, a nightly phone call--one chance

to mix feelings into syllables and pour into the receiver,
hope they don’t disassemble in that calculus of wire.

And lately--with this whole war thing--the language machine
supporting it--I feel betrayed by the alphabet, like they're

injecting strychnine into my vowels, infecting my consonants,
naming attack helicopters after shattered Indian tribes:

Apache, Blackhawk; and West Bank colonizers are settlers,
so Sharon is Davey Crockett, and Arafat: Geronimo,

and it's the Wild West all over again. And I imagine Picasso
looking in a mirror, decorating his face in war paint,

washing his brushes in venom, and I think of Jenin
in all that rubble, and I feel like a Cyclops with two eyes,

like an anorexic with three mouths, like a scuba diver
in quicksand, like a shark with plastic vampire teeth,

like I'm the executioner's fingernail trying to reason
with the hand. And I don't know how to speak love

when the heart is a busted cup filling with spit and paste,
and the only sexual fantasy I have is busting

into the Pentagon with a bazooka-sized pen and blowing
open the minds of generals. And I comfort myself

with the thought that we'll name our first child Jenin,
and her middle name will be Terezin, and we'll teach her

how to glow in the dark, and how to swallow firecrackers,
and to never neglect the first straw, because no one

ever talks about the first straw, it's always the last straw
that gets all the attention, but by then it's way too late.
--Jeffery McDaniel


"After Love"
He is watching the music with his eyes closed.
Hearing the piano like a man moving
through the woods thinking by feeling.
The orchestra up in the trees, the heart below,
step by step. The music hurrying sometimes,
but always returning to quiet, like the man
remembering and hoping. It is a thing in us,
mostly unnoticed. There is somehow a pleasure
in the loss. In the yearning. The pain
going this way and that. Never again.
Never bodied again. Again the never.
Slowly. No undergrowth. Almost leaving.
A humming beauty in the silence.
The having been. Having had. And the man
knowing all of him would come to an end.
--Jack Gilbert


"The Dragon and the Undying"
All night the flares go up; the Dragon sings
And beats upon the dark with furious wings;
And, stung to rage by his own darting fires,
Reaches with grappling coils from town to town;
He lusts to break the loveliness of spires,
And hurls their martyred music toppling down.

Yet, though the slain are homeless as the breeze,
Vocal are they, like storm-bewilder'd seas.
Their faces are the fair, unshrouded night,
And planets are their eyes, their ageless dreams.
Tenderly stooping earthward from their height,
They wander in the dusk with chanting streams,
And they are dawn-lit trees, with arms up-flung,
To hail the burning heavens they left unsung.
--Siegried Sassoon


In Europe you can see cathedrals
from far away. As you drive toward them
across the country they are visible--stony
and roosted on the land--even before the towns
that surround them. In New York you come
upon them with no warning, turn a corner
and there one is: on 5th Avenue St. Patrick's,
spiny and white as a shell in a gift shop; dark
St. Agnes lost near a canal and some housing
projects in Brooklyn; or St. John the Divine,
listed in every guidebook yet seeming always
like a momentary vision on Amsterdam
Avenue, with its ragged halo of trees, wide stone
steps ascending directly out of traffic.
--Anne Pierson Weise, from "Everything but God"


"Black Sea"
One clear night while the others slept, I climbed
the stairs to the roof of the house and under a sky
strewn with stars I gazed at the sea, at the spread of it,
the rolling crests of it raked by the wind, becoming
like bits of lace tossed in the air. I stood in the long,
whispering night, waiting for something, a sign, the approach
of a distant light, and I imagined you coming closer,
the dark waves of your hair mingling with the sea,
and the dark became desire, and desire the arriving light.
The nearness, the momentary warmth of you as I stood
on that lonely height watching the slow swells of the sea
break on the shore and turn briefly into glass and disappear...
Why did I believe you would come out of nowhere? Why with all
that the world offers would you come only because I was here?
--Mark Strand


"The City's Oldest Known Survivor of the Great War"
marches in uniform down the traffic stripe
at the center of the street, counts time
to the unseen web that has rearranged
the air around him, his left hand
stiff as a leather strap along his side,
the other saluting right through the decades
as if they weren't there, as if everyone under ninety
were pervasive fog the morning would dispel
in its own good time, as if the high school band
all flapping thighs and cuffs behind him
were as ghostly as the tumbleweed on every road
dead-ended in the present, all the ancient infantry
shoulder right, through a skein of bone, presenting arms
across the drift, nothing but empty graves now
to round off another century,
the sweet honey of the old cadence, the streets
going by at attention, the banners glistening with dew,
the wives and children blowing kisses.
--James Doyle


"I will come to a time in my backwards trip when November eleventh, accidentally my birthday, was a sacred day called Armistice Day. When I was a boy, and when Dwayne Hoover was a boy, all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

"It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.

"Armistice Day has become Veterans' Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans' Day is not.

"So I will throw Veterans' Day over my shoulder. Armistice Day I will keep. I don't want to throw away any sacred things.

"What else is sacred? Oh, Romeo and Juliet, for instance.

"And all music is."
--Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Learning is constant open-mindedness, to assess and reassess, to make connections with what you already know and find ways that they are related--or not. It is to be fully receptive to everything you come into contact with, to have a kind of playfulness with the various senses. It is to allow for expansion. Learning can also mean deep self-analysis, to be an observer of your thoughts, to understand why you feel certain emotions, to underpin the reasons why you react or respond to different external stimuli and situations. It means to be open to change and to allow your future to open up new possibilities. Learning means you are a student, not only in class, but also in the real world where things, events, and people can present lessons, or shades of experience which you can consider applying into your own life. Learning means to not be attached to a single ideal. It means creating something new, something fresh, something that you can say is your own. And the ultimate learning, is to learn how to be yourself, comfortably, without judging yourself. To learn how to be you--fully."
--unknown


"Openness"
Here we are, naked lovers,
beautiful to each other--and that's enough.
The leaves of our eyelids our only covers,
we're lying amidst deep night.

But they know about us, they know,
the four corners, and the chairs nearby us.
Discerning shadows also know,
and even the table keeps quiet.

Our teacups know full well
why the tea is getting cold.
And old Swift can surely tell
that his book's been put on hold.

Even the birds are in the know:
I saw them writing in the sky
brazenly and openly
the very name I call you by.

The trees? Could you explain to me
their unrelenting whispering?
The wind may know, you say to me,
but how is just a mystery.

A moth surprised us through the blinds,
its wings in fuzzy flutter.
Its silent path--see how it winds
in a stubborn holding pattern.

Maybe it sees where our eyes fail
with an insect's inborn sharpness.
I never sensed, nor could you tell
that our hearts were aglow in the darkness.
--Wislawa Szymborska


"Coming to This"
We have done what we wanted.
We have discarded dreams, preferring the heavy industry
of each other, and we have welcomed grief
and called ruin the impossible habit to break.

And now we are here.
The dinner is ready and we cannot eat.
The meat sits in the white lake of its dish.
The wine waits.

Coming to this
has its rewards: nothing is promised, nothing is taken away.
We have no heart or saving grace,
no place to go, no reason to remain.
--Mark Strand


"Midsummer"
On nights like this we used to swim in the quarry,
the boys making up games requiring them to tear off  the girls’ clothes
and the girls cooperating, because they had new bodies since last summer
and they wanted to exhibit them, the brave ones
leaping off  the high rocks --bodies crowding the water.

The nights were humid, still. The stone was cool and wet,
marble for  graveyards, for buildings that we never saw,
buildings in cities far away.

On cloudy nights, you were blind. Those nights the rocks were dangerous,
but in another way it was all dangerous, that was what we were after.
The summer started. Then the boys and girls began to pair off
but always there were a few left at the end -- sometimes they'd keep watch,
sometimes they'd pretend to go off  with each other like the rest,
but what could they do there, in the woods? No one wanted to be them.
But they'd show up anyway, as though some night their luck would change,
fate would be a different fate.

At the beginning and at the end, though, we were all together.
After the evening chores, after the smaller children were in bed,
then we were free. Nobody said anything, but we knew the nights we'd meet
and the nights we wouldn't. Once or twice, at the end of summer,
we could see a baby was going to come out of all that kissing.

And for those two, it was terrible, as terrible as being alone.
The game was over. We'd sit on the rocks smoking cigarettes,
worrying about the ones who weren’t there.

And then finally walk home through the fields,
because there was always work the next day.
And the next day, we were kids again, sitting on the front steps in the morning,
eating a peach.  Just that, but it seemed an honor to have a mouth.
And then going to work, which meant helping out in the fields.
One boy worked for an old lady, building shelves.
The house was very old, maybe built when the mountain was built.

And then the day faded. We were dreaming, waiting for night.
Standing at the front door at twilight, watching the shadows lengthen.
And a voice in the kitchen was always complaining about the heat,
wanting the heat to break.

Then the heat broke, the night was clear.
And you thought of  the boy or girl you’d be meeting later.
And you thought of  walking into the woods and lying down,
practicing all those things you were learning in the water.
And though sometimes you couldn't see the person you were with,
there was no substitute for that person.

The summer night glowed; in the field, fireflies were glinting.
And for those who understood such things, the stars were sending messages:
You will leave the village where you were born
and in another country you’ll become very rich, very powerful,
but always you will mourn something you left behind, even though
you can't say what it was,
and eventually you will return to seek it.
--Louise Glück


"Blue"
It sings they say, and so it does: something like the note
that fractures glass or gets so far below
the range of human hearing that it shakes your heart;

and the glass it breaks is blue, and that's a blue note for sure
from the guy on the alto sax in the basement dive,
which is where they're bound to meet up in the classic noir,

the private eye, the girl with a shadowy past, the old-style cop,
and it's nigh--on certain she'll have to take a bullet
or we'll see her in prison blue as they lead her to the drop.

The fragments of glass were part of it too, that's plain,
though no one noticed, just as they failed to spot
how the crucifix in her bedroom made sense of the subtle stain

on her cocktail dress. And in this, the director's cut,
the dive is deeper, the saxophone sadder, the cop
bent as a dog's hind leg, the girl a scheming slut,

and the gumshoe comes in late with the one and only clue
that would finally set things straight, though its true
meaning is hidden from him, and lost on you.
--David Harsent


"The Hurricane"
The tree lay down
on the garage roof
and stretched, You
have your heaven,
it said, go to it.
--William Carlos Williams


"There had been a lot of death in the newspapers lately. [...] and then before Christmas that Pan Am Flight 103 ripping open like a rotten melon five miles above Scotland and dropping all these bodies and flaming wreckage all over the golf course and the streets of this little town like Glockamorra, what was its real name, Lockerbie. Imagine sitting there in your seat being lulled by the hum of the big Rolls-Royce engines and the stewardesses bringing the clinking drinks caddy and the feeling of having caught the plane and nothing to do now but relax and then with a roar and a giant ripping noise and scattered screams this whole cozy world dropping away and nothing under you but black space and your chest squeezed by the terrible unbreathable cold, that cold you can scarcely believe is there but that you sometimes actually feel still packed into the suitcases, stored in the unpressurised hold, when you unpack your clothes, the dirty underwear and beach towels with the merciless chill of death from outer space still in them. [...] Those bodies with hearts pumping tumbling down in the dark. How much did they know as they fell, through air dense like tepid water, tepid gray like this terminal where people blow through like dust in an air duct, to the airline we're all just numbers on the computer, one more or less, who cares? A blip on the screen, then no blip on the screen. Those bodies tumbling down like wet melon seeds."
--John Updike, "Rabbit at Rest"


"An Irish Airman Foresees His Death"
I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;
My county is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan's poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.
--W. B. Yeats
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Memory is the seamstress, and a capricious one at that. Memory runs her needle in and out, up and down, hither and thither. We know not what comes next, or what follows after. Thus, the most ordinary movement in the world, such as sitting down at a table and pulling the inkstand towards one, may agitate a thousand odd, disconnected fragments, now bright, now dim, hanging and bobbing and dipping and flaunting, like the underlinen of a family of fourteen on a line in a gale of wind. Instead of being a single, downright, bluff piece of work of which no man need feel ashamed, our commonest deeds are set about with a fluttering and flickering of wings, a rising and falling of lights."
--Virginia Woolf


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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


trigger warning: abusive relationships )


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

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


"Night Vision"
the girl fits her body in
to the space between the bed
and the wall. she is a stalk,
exhausted. she will do some
thing with this. she will
surround these bones with flesh,
she will cultivate night vision.
she will train her tongue
to lie still in her mouth and listen.
the girl slips into sleep.
her dream is red and raging.
she will remember
to build something human with it.
--Lucille Clifton
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Every face, every shop, bedroom window, public-house, and dark square is a picture feverishly turned--in search of what? It is the same with books. What do we seek through millions of pages?"
--Virginia Woolf, Jacob's Room


"To watch a leaf quivering in the rush of air was an exquisite joy. Up in the sky swallows swooping, swerving, flinging themselves in and out, round and round, yet always with perfect control as if elastics held them; and the flies rising and falling; and the sun spotting now this leaf, now that, in mockery, dazzling it with soft gold in pure good temper; and now and again some chime (it might be a motor horn) tinkling divinely on the grass stalks--all of this, calm and reasonable as it was, made out of ordinary things as it was, was the truth now; beauty, that was the truth now. Beauty was everywhere."
--Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway


"Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird"
I
Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.

II
I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.

III
The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.

IV
A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.

V
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

VI
Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
The mood
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.

VII
O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?

VIII
I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.

IX
When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.

X
At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.

XI
He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
For blackbirds.

XII
The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.

XIII
It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.
--Wallace Stevens


"North"
I returned to a long strand,
the hammered curve of a bay,
and found only the secular
powers of the Atlantic thundering.

I faced the unmagical
invitations of Iceland,
the pathetic colonies
of Greenland, and suddenly

those fabulous raiders,
those lying in Orkney and Dublin
measured against
their long swords rusting,

those in the solid
belly of stone ships,
those hacked and glinting
in the gravel of thawed streams

were ocean-deafened voices
warning me, lifted again
in violence and epiphany.
The longship's swimming tongue

was buoyant with hindsight--
it said Thor's hammer swung
to geography and trade,
thick-witted couplings and revenges,

the hatreds and behind-backs
of the althing, lies and women,
exhaustions nominated peace,
memory incubating the spilled blood.

It said, 'Lie down
in the word-hoard, burrow
the coil and gleam
of your furrowed brain.

Compose in darkness.
Expect aurora borealis
in the long foray
but no cascade of light.

Keep your eye clear
as the bleb of the icicle,
trust the feel of what nubbed treasure
your hands have known.'
--Seamus Heaney


"Are they remedial measures--trances in which the most galling memories, events that seem likely to cripple life for ever, are brushed with a dark wing which rubs their harshness off and gilds them, even the ugliest, and basest, with a lustre, and incandescence? Has the finger of death to be laid on the tumult of life from time to time lest it rend us asunder? Are we so made that we have to take death in small doses daily or we could not go on with the business of living?"
--Virginia Woolf, Orlando


"Bog Queen"
I lay waiting
Between turf-face and demesne wall,
Between Heathery levels
And glass-toothed stone.

My body was Braille
For the creeping influences:
Dawn suns groped over my head
And cooled at my feet,

Through my fabrics and skins
The seeps of winter
Digested me,
The illiterate roots

Pondered and died
In the cavings
Of stomack and socket.
I lay waiting

On the gravel bottom,
My brain darkening,
A jar of spawn
Fermenting underground

Dreams of Baltic amber.
Bruised berries under my nails,
The vital hoard reducing
In the crock of the pelvis.

My diadem grew carious,
Gemstones dropped
In the peat floe
Like the bearings of history.

My sash was a black glacier
Wrinkling, dyed weaves
And phoenician stichwork
Retted on my brests'

Soft moraines.
I knew winter cold
Like the nuzzle of fjords
At my thighs -

The soaked fledge, the heavy
Swaddle of hides.
my skull hibernated
in the wet nest of my hair.

Which they robbed.
I was barbered
And stripped
By a turfcutter's spade

Who veiled me again
And packed coomb softly
Between the stone jambs
At my head and my feet.

Till a peer's wife bribed him.
The plait of my hair,
A slimy birth-cord
Of bog had been cut

And I rose from the dark,
Hacked bone, skull-ware,
Frayed stitches, tufts,
Small gleams on the bank.
--Seamus Heaney


"Penis Envy"
I envy men who can yearn
with infinite emptiness
toward the body of a woman,

hoping that the yearning
will make a child,
that the emptiness itself
will fertilize the darkness.

Women have no illusions about this,
being at once
houses, tunnels,
cups & cupbearers,
knowing emptiness as a temporary state
between two fullnesses,
& seeing no romance in it.

If I were a man
doomed to that infinite emptiness,
& having no choice in the matter,
I would, like the rest, no doubt,
find a woman
& christen her moonbelly,
madonna, gold-haired goddess
& make her the tent of my longing,
the silk parachute of my lust,
the blue-eyed icon of my sacred sexual itch,
the mother of my hunger.

But since I am a woman,
I must not only inspire the poem
but also type it,
not only conceive the child
but also bear it,
not only bear the child
but also bathe it,
not only bathe the child
but also feed it,
not only feed the child
but also carry it
everywhere, everywhere...

while men write poems
on the mysteries of motherhood.

I envy men who can yearn
with infinite emptiness
--Erica Jong


"Sojourn in the Whale"
Trying to open locked doors with a sword, threading
the points of needles, planting shade trees
upside down; swallowed by the opaqueness of one whom the seas

love better than they love you, Ireland--

you have lived and lived on every kind of shortage.
You have been compelled by hags to spin
gold thread from straw and have heard men say:
"There is a feminine temperament in direct contrast to ours,

which makes her do these things. Circumscribed by a
heritage of blindness and native
incompetence, she will become wise and will be forced to give in.
Compelled by experience, she will turn back;

water seeks its own level":
and you have smiled. "Water in motion is far
from level." You have seen it, when obstacles happened to bar
the path, rise automatically.
--Marianne Moore


"Sky News from the Garden of Eden"
(Iraq – 10th April 2003)

Soldiers break
through a hotel lounge
fingering death.

A girl sits with her family--
Innocents.

Her dress is thin
as this paper;
her terror as white.

She holds up her hands
like wheat to the scythe.
This gesture says:

We are nothing, spare us.
We will live unseen
beneath the body of a tank,
claim no sunlight,
drink rain, eat insects.

Not even her eyes have fire enough
to touch those terrible gods.

Within this year
her dress will be rags,
she will grow old,
while others gather silk
around their bellies,
deal in gold.

Perhaps she's already dead,
in camouflage of dust,
owning no grief--no grave,

no mark but this frail surrender
on my screen.

I switch off:
my tears leave nothing but salt.
--Gerard Rochford


"If You Forget Me"
I want you to know
one thing.

You know how this is:
if I look
at the crystal moon, at the red branch
of the slow autumn at my window,
if I touch
near the fire
the impalpable ash
or the wrinkled body of the log,
everything carries me to you,
as if everything that exists,
aromas, light, metals,
were little boats
that sail
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.

Well, now,
if little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you little by little.

If suddenly
you forget me
do not look for me,
for I shall already have forgotten you.

If you think it long and mad,
the wind of banners
that passes through my life,
and you decide
to leave me at the shore
of the heart where I have roots,
remember
that on that day,
at that hour,
I shall lift my arms
and my roots will set off
to seek another land.

But
if each day,
each hour,
you feel that you are destined for me
with implacable sweetness,
if each day a flower
climbs up to your lips to seek me,
ah my love, ah my own,
in me all that fire is repeated,
in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten,
my love feeds on your love, beloved,
and as long as you live it will be in your arms
without leaving mine.
--Pablo Neruda


"A Pity, We Were Such a Good Invention"
They amputated
Your thighs off my hips.
As far as I'm concerned
They are all surgeons. All of them.

They dismantled us
Each from the other.
As far as I'm concerned
They are all engineers. All of them.

A pity. We were such a good
And loving invention.
An aeroplane made from a man and wife.
Wings and everything.
We hovered a little above the earth.

We even flew a little.
--Yehuda Amichai


"Nativity"
In the dark, a child might ask, What is the world?
just to hear his sister
promise, An unfinished wing of heaven,
just to hear his brother say,
A house inside a house,
but most of all to hear his mother answer,
One more song, then you go to sleep.

How could anyone in that bed guess
the question finds its beginning
in the answer long growing
inside the one who asked, that restless boy,
the night's darling?

Later, a man lying awake,
he might ask it again,
just to hear the silence
charge him, This night
arching over your sleepless wondering,

this night, the near ground
every reaching-out-to overreaches,


just to remind himself
out of what little earth and duration,
out of what immense good-bye,
each must make a safe place of his heart,
before so strange and wild a guest
as God approaches.
--Li-Young Lee


"Long Afternoons"
Those were the long afternoons when poetry left me.
The river flowed patiently, nudging lazy boats to sea.
Long afternoons, the coast of ivory.
Shadows lounged in the streets, haughty manikins in shopfronts
stared at me with bold and hostile eyes.

Professors left their schools with vacant faces,
as if the Iliad had finally done them in.
Evening papers brought disturbing news,
but nothing happened, no one hurried.
There was no one in the windows, you weren’t there;
even nuns seemed ashamed of their lives.

Those were the long afternoons when poetry vanished
and I was left with the city’s opaque demon,
like a poor traveler stranded outside the Gare du Nord
with his bulging suitcase wrapped in twine
and September’s black rain falling.

Oh, tell me how to cure myself of irony, the gaze
that sees but doesn’t penetrate; tell me how to cure myself
of silence.
--Adam Zagajewski


"Keeping Things Whole"
In a field
I am the absence
of field.
This is
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.

When I walk
I part the air
and always
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body's been.

We all have reasons
for moving.
I move
to keep things whole.
--Mark Strand


"True Love"
In the middle of the night, when we get up
after making love, we look at each other in
complete friendship, we know so fully
what the other has been doing. Bound to each other
like mountaineers coming down from the mountain,
bound with the tie of the delivery-room,
we wander down the hall to the bathroom, I can
hardly walk, I wobble through the granular
shadowless air, I know where you are
with my eyes closed, we are bound to each other
with huge invisible threads, our sexes
muted, exhausted, crushed, the whole
body a sex--surely this
is the most blessed time of my life,
our children asleep their beds, each fate
like a vein of abiding mineral
not discovered yet. I sit
on the toilet in the night, you are somewhere in the room,
I open the window and snow has fallen in a
steep drift, against the pane, I
look up, into it,
a wall of cold crystals, silent
and glistening, I quietly call to you
and you come and hold my hand and I say
I cannot see beyond it, I cannot see beyond it.
--Sharon Olds


"Rendezvous"
Not for these lovely blooms that prank your chambers did
I come. Indeed,
I could have loved you better in the dark;
That is to say, in rooms less bright with roses, rooms more
casual, less aware
Of History in the wings about to enter with benevolent air
On ponderous tiptoe, at the cue "Proceed."
Not that I like the ash-trays over-crowded and the place
in a mess,
Or the monastic cubicle too unctuously austere and stark,
But partly that these formal garlands for our Eighth Street
Aphrodite are a bit too Greek,
And partly that to make the poor walls rich with our un-
aided loveliness
Would have been more chic.

Yet here I am, having told you of my quarrel with the taxi-
driver over a line of Milton, and you laugh; and you
are you, none other.
Your laughter pelts my skin with small delicious blows.
But I am perverse: I wish you had not scrubbed—with
pumice, I suppose--
The tobacco stains from your beautiful fingers. And I
wish I did not feel like your mother.
--Edna St. Vincent Millay


"So it wasn't just memory. Memory was just half of it, it wasn't enough. But it must be somewhere, he thought. There's the waste. Not just me. At least I think I don't mean just me. Hope I don't mean just me. Let it be anyone, thinking of, remembering, the body, the broad thighs and the hands that liked bitching and making things. It seemed so little, so little to want, to ask. With all the old graveward-creeping, the old wrinkled withered defeated clinging not even to the defeat but just to an old habit; accepting the defeat even to be allowed to cling to the habit--the wheezing lungs, the troublesome guts incapable of pleasure. But after all memory could live in the old wheezing entrails: and now it did stand to his hand, incontrovertible and plain, serene, the palm clashing and murmuring, dry and wild and faint in the night, but he could face it, thinking, Not could. Will. I want to. So it is the old meat after all, no matter how old. Because if memory exists outside of the flesh it won't be memory because it won't know what it remembers so when she became not then half of memory became not and if I become not then all of remembering will cease to be.--Yes, he thought, between grief and nothing I will take grief."
--William Faulkner, The Wild Palms
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Crying"
Crying only a little bit
is no use. You must cry
until your pillow is soaked!
Then you can get up and laugh.
Then you can jump in the shower
and splash-splash-splash!
Then you can throw open your window
and, "Ha ha! ha ha!"
And if people say, "Hey,
what's going on up there?"
"Ha ha!" sing back, "Happiness
was hiding in the last tear!
I wept it! Ha ha!"
--Galway Kinnell


cut for child abuse triggers )


"Poetry for Supper"
'Listen, now, verse should be as natural
As the small tuber that feeds on muck
And grows slowly from obtuse soil
To the white flower of immortal beauty.'

'Natural, hell! What was it Chaucer
Said once about the long toil
That goes like blood to the poem's making?
Leave it to nature and the verse sprawls,
Limp as bindweed, if it break at all
Life's iron crust. Man, you must sweat
And rhyme your guts taut, if you'd build
Your verse a ladder.'
'You speak as though
No sunlight ever surprised the mind
Groping on its cloudy path.'

'Sunlight's a thing that needs a window
Before it enter a dark room.
Windows don't happen.'
So two old poets,
Hunched at their beer in the low haze
Of an inn parlour, while the talk ran
Noisily by them, glib with prose.
--R. S. Thomas


"Paradise"
What you wanted was simple:
a house with a fence and a kind of gulled
light arching up from it to shake in the poplars
or some other brand of European tree
(or was it American?) you'd plant
just for the birds to nest in and so
the crows who'd settle there
could settle like pilgrims.
Darling, all day I've watched the garden make its way
down the road. It stops at the houses
where the lights are on and the hose reel is tidy
and climbs to the windows to look inside
like a child with its eyes of flared rhododendrons
and sunflowers that shutter the wind like bombs
so buttered and brave the sweet peas gallop
and the undergrowths fizz through the fences
and pause at some to shake into asters and weep.
The garden is a mythical beast and a pilgrim.
And when the houses stroll out it eats up
their papers and screens their evangelical dogs.
Barbeque eater,
yankee doodle,
if the garden should leave
where would we age
and park our poodle?
"This is paradise," you said,
a young expansive American saint.
And widened your arms to take it in,
that suburb, spread, with seas in it.
--Emma Jones


"Parents"
What it must be like to be an angel
or a squirrel, we can imagine sooner.

The last time we go to bed good,
they are there, lying about darkness.

They dandle us once too often,
these friends who become our enemies.

Suddenly one day, their juniors
are as old as we yearn to be.

They get wrinkles where it is better
smooth, odd coughs, and smells.

It is grotesque how they go on
loving us, we go on loving them

The effrontery, barely imaginable,
of having caused us. And of how.

Their lives: surely
we can do better than that.

This goes on for a long time. Everything
they do is wrong, and the worst thing,

they all do it, is to die,
taking with them the last explanation,

how we came out of the wet sea
or wherever they got us from,

taking the last link
of that chain with them.

Father, mother, we cry, wrinkling,
to our uncomprehending children and grandchildren.
--William Meredith


"XLIII"
if there are any heavens my mother will (all by herself) have
one. It will not be a pansy heaven nor
a fragile heaven of lilies-of-the-valley but
it will be a heaven of blackred roses

my father will be (deep like a rose
tall like a rose)

standing near my

(swaying over her
silent)
with eyes which are really petals and see

nothing with the face of a poet really which
is a flower and not a face with
hands
which whisper
This is my beloved my

(suddenly in sunlight

he will bow,

& the whole garden will bow)
--e. e. cummings


"The New Year"
It is winter and the new year.
Nobody knows you.
Away from the stars, from the rain of light,
you lie under the weather of stones.
There is no thread to lead you back.
Your friends doze in the dark
of pleasure and cannot remember.
Nobody knows you. You are the neighbor of nothing.
You do not see the rain falling and the man walking away,
the soiled wind blowing its ashes across the city.
You do not see the sun dragging the moon like an echo.
You do not see the bruised heart go up in flames,
the skulls of the innocent turn into smoke.
You do not see the scars of plenty, the eyes without light.
It is over. It is winter and the new year.
The meek are hauling their skins into heaven.
The hopeless are suffereing the cold with those who have nothing to hide.
It is over and nobody knows you.
There is starlight drifting on the black water.
There are stones in the sea no one has seen.
There is a shore and people are waiting.
And nothing comes back.
Because it is over.
Because there is silence instead of a name.
Because it is winter and the new year.
--Mark Strand


"Disappear"
1. Three Shadows

What is a shadow? It is the self without a face or a name, all outline and no feature, the self on the verge of being erased. It is the incidental child of matter and light. Look how it spreads itself on the ground, weary but weightless, unable to leave a trace.

Another one of those days when we're standing by the side of a road with our mothers, sweating in our Sunday dresses, waiting for the bus home. You stand in the puddle of your mother's shadow, twisting your body so your own vanishes inside the darkness. I'm invisible, you shout, counting the three shadows left, then blowing me a stiff kiss. It's cooler here too.

Is it possible for this not to be a story of disappearance?

2. After Hours

Your voice from a phone booth on a sidewalk, in the rain, outside a diner with an unreadable sign. Your voice speaking in code, coming to me in bits and pieces, syllable by syllable. Your voice doubled, echoing, bouncing off a stained glass dome, traveling through a dark tunnel where a train is about to pass. The lilt in your voice betrays you as you pretend to sell me potato peelers and non-stick frying pans. Your voice from another time zone, competing with the waves of the sea. In a letter with no return address, your voice cracks jokes and says "my feet hurt" in another language. Your voice in the tired words on my computer screen, hidden somewhere in the identical towns of postcards. Your voice like a shadow on a road.

3. Landscape

When we were children, you didn't care for words, you only filled pages with vertical lines. Beyond the page, the bite marks at the tip of your pencil, bare knees, a scrawny cat sleeping at your feet. We lived in the city and I thought you drew lampposts, telephone lines, the long, rusty rods scattered in construction sites. Your voice insisting, no, no, these are trees.

4. No Rain

I walk one block and pass a series of testaments to failure--the skeleton of a building, a half-built bridge already breaking down. On the dusty metal fence hangs a sign that promises a highway.

You were in love, you wanted out of a city that screamed abandonment.

5. Another Routine

A new mayor, a new name for this road. The man selling sweet corn at the corner makes it a point to recite all the names to every customer in need of directions. I don't listen to him as I make my way to this place, known to me now only as the road where you last stood. I stare at its slender body, following the shape of a tree that has fallen down, beaten endlessly by the weight of buses and trucks.

6. Inside the dark

I fall into a puddle on my way to catch a bus, and unlike a dog, I can't sit around and lick my wounds, I have to walk away like nothing has happened. The face of Jesus looms on a billboard, but where is the comfort that can be bought? Let me watch the blind men by the terminal massage commuters for a fee, let me listen to karaoke music and stare at the stall selling cheap umbrellas, let me stand under the shadow of a lamppost as is my habit, though it is evening, the weather is cool, and you are gone. If I keep still enough inside this shadow, it is as if I am not here. If I keep still enough, there is no proof you are not here with me.
--Conchitina Cruz


"Dead Butterfly"
For months my daughter carried
a dead monarch in a quart mason jar.
To and from school in her backpack,
to her only friend's house. At the dinner table
it sat like a guest alongside the pot roast.
She took it to bed, propped by her pillow.

Was it the year her brother was born?
Was this her own too-fragile baby
that had lived--so briefly--in its glassed world?
Or the year she refused to go to her father's house?
Was this the holding-her-breath girl she became there?

This plump child in her rolled-down socks
I sometimes wanted to haul back inside me
and carry safe again. What was her fierce
commitment? I never understood.
We just lived with the dead winged thing
as part of her, as part of us,
weightless in its heavy jar.
--Ellen Bass


"Try to Praise the Mutilated World"
Remember June's long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You've seen the refugees heading nowhere,
you've heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth's scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.
-—Adam Zagajewski, translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh.


"Choices"
I go to the mountain side
of the house to cut saplings,
and clear a view to snow
on the mountain. But when I look up,
saw in hand, I see a nest clutched in
the uppermost branches.
I don't cut that one.
I don't cut the others either.
Suddenly, in every tree,
an unseen nest
where a mountain
would be.

for Drago Štambuk
--Tess Gallagher


"Nearly a Valediction"
You happened to me. I was happened to
like an abandoned building by a bull-
dozer, like the van that missed my skull
happened a two-inch gash across my chin.
You were as deep down as I've ever been.
You were inside me like my pulse. A new-
born flailing toward maternal heartbeat through
the shock of cold and glare: when you were gone,
swaddled in strange air I was that alone
again, inventing life left after you.

I don't want to remember you as that
four o'clock in the morning eight months long
after you happened to me like a wrong
number at midnight that blew up the phone
bill to an astronomical unknown
quantity in a foreign currency.
The U.S. dollar dived since you happened to me.
You've grown into your skin since then; you've grown
into the space you measure with someone
you can love back without a caveat.

While I love somebody I learn to live
with through the downpulled winter days' routine
wakings and sleepings, half-and-half caffeine-
assisted mornings, laundry, stock-pots, dust-
balls in the hallway, lists instead of longing, trust
that what comes next comes after what came first.
She'll never be a story I make up.
You were the one I didn't know where to stop.
If I had blamed you, now I could forgive
you, but what made my cold hand, back in prox-
imity to your hair, your mouth, your mind,
want where it no way ought to be, defined
by where it was, and was and was until
the whole globed swelling liquefied and spilled
through one cheek's nap, a syllable, a tear,
was never blame, whatever I wished it were.
You were the weather in my neighborhood.
You were the epic in the episode.
You were the year poised on the equinox.
--Marilyn Hacker


"How to Make Love to a Trans Person"
Forget the images you've learned to attach
To words like cock and clit,
Chest and breasts.
Break those words open
Like a paramedic cracking ribs
To pump blood through a failing heart.
Push your hands inside.
Get them messy.
Scratch new definitions on the bones.

Get rid of the old words altogether.
Make up new words.
Call it a click or a ditto.
Call it the sound he makes
When you brush your hand against it through his jeans,
When you can hear his heart knocking on the back of his teeth
And every cell in his body is breathing.
Make the arch of her back a language
Name the hollows of each of her vertebrae
When they catch pools of sweat
Like rainwater in a row of paper cups
Align your teeth with this alphabet of her spine
So every word is weighted with the salt of her.

When you peel layers of clothing from his skin
Do not act as though you are changing dressings on a trauma patient
Even though it's highly likely that you are.
Do not ask if she's "had the surgery."
Do not tell him that the needlepoint bruises on his thighs look like they hurt
If you are being offered a body
That has already been laid upon an altar of surgical steel
A sacrifice to whatever gods govern bodies
That come with some assembly required
Whatever you do,
Do not say that the carefully sculpted landscape
Bordered by rocky ridges of scar tissue
Looks almost natural.

If she offers you breastbone
Aching to carve soft fruit from its branches
Though there may be more tissue in the lining of her bra
Than the flesh that rises to meet it
Let her ripen in your hands.
Imagine if she'd lost those swells to cancer,
Diabetes,
A car accident instead of an accident of genetics
Would you think of her as less a woman then?
Then think of her as no less one now.

If he offers you a thumb-sized sprout of muscle
Reaching toward you when you kiss him
Like it wants to go deep enough inside you
To scratch his name on the bottom of your heart
Hold it as if it can-
In your hand, in your mouth
Inside the nest of your pelvic bones.
Though his skin may hardly do more than brush yours,
You will feel him deeper than you think.

Realize that bodies are only a fraction of who we are
They're just oddly-shaped vessels for hearts
And honestly, they can barely contain us
We strain at their seams with every breath we take
We are all pulse and sweat,
Tissue and nerve ending
We are programmed to grope and fumble until we get it right.
Bodies have been learning each other forever.
It's what bodies do.
They are grab bags of parts
And half the fun is figuring out
All the different ways we can fit them together;
All the different uses for hipbones and hands,
Tongues and teeth;
All the ways to car-crash our bodies beautiful.
But we could never forget how to use our hearts
Even if we tried.
That's the important part.
Don't worry about the bodies.
They've got this.
--Gabe Moses
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Though boys throw stones at frogs in sport, the frogs do not die in sport, but in earnest."
--Bion


"Always"
Always so late in the day
In their rumpled clothes, sitting
Around a table lit by a single bulb,
The great forgetters were hard at work.
They tilted their heads to one side, closing their eyes.
Then a house disappeared, and a man in his yard
With all his flowers in a row.
The great forgetters wrinkled their brows.
Then Florida went and San Francisco
Where tugs and barges leave
Small gleaming scars across the Bay.
One of the great forgetters struck a match.
Gone were the harps of beaded lights
That vault the rivers of New York.
Another filled his glass
And that was it for crowds at evening
Under sulfur-yellow streetlamps coming on.
And then afterward Bulgaria was gone, and then Japan.
"Where will it stop?" one of them said.
"Such difficult work, pursuing the fate
Of everything known," said another.
"Down to the last stone," said a third,
"And only the cold zero of perfection
Left for the imagination." And gone
Were North and South America,
And gone as well the moon.
Another yawned, another gazed at the window:
No grass, no trees...
The blaze of promise everywhere.
--Mark Strand


"XXXV"
The sickness of angels is nothing new.
I have seen them crawling like bees,
Flightless, chewing their tongues, not singing.

Down by the bus terminal, hanging out,
Showing their legs, hiding their wings,
Carrying on for their brief term on earth,

No longer smiling; asleep in the shade of each other
They drift into the arms of strangers who step
Into their light, which is the mascara of Eden,

Offering more than invisible love,
Intangible comforts, offering the taste,
The pure erotic glory of death without echoes,

The feel of kisses blown out of heaven,
Melting the moment they land.
--Mark Strand


"XXXVI"
I cannot decide whether or not to stroll
Through the somber garden where the grass in the shade
Is silver and frozen and where the general green

Of the rest of the garden is dark except
For the luminous patch made by the light of a window.
I cannot decide, and because it is autumn

When the sadness of gardens is greatest, I believe
That someone is already there and is waiting
For the pale appearance of another. She sits

On one of the benches, breathing the sweet
Rotten odor of leaves trapped under the trees, and feels
The sudden cold, a seasonal chill, the distant breath

Of coming rain. So many silent battles are waged
By those who sit alone and wait, and by those who delay.
By the time I arrive the snow has whitened my hair,

And placed on my shoulders two glittering, tiny
Epaulettes. I could be a major in Napoleon's army,
Which might be the reason she asks me:

Why would someone invade a poor country
Like this, a garden near the end of its life
With a woman inside it, unless he was lonely

And would do what he must to stave off the long
Campaigns of unhappiness that level everything,
Making rebuilding impossible, especially in winter?
--Mark Strand


"XLIV"
I recall that I stood before the breaking waves,
Afraid not of the water so much as the noise,
That I covered my ears and ran to my mother

And waited to be taken away to the house in town
Where it was quiet, with no sound of the sea anywhere near.
Yet the sea itself, the sight of it, the way it spread

As far as we could see, was thrilling.
Only its roar was frightening. And now years later
It is the sound as well as its size that I love.

And miss in my inland exile among the mountains
That do not change except for the light
That colors them or the snows that make them remote

Or the clouds that lift them, so they appear much higher
Than they are. They are acted upon and have none
Of the mystery of the sea that generates its own changes.

Encounters with each are bound to differ,
Yet if I had to choose I would look at the sea
And lose myself in its sounds which so frightened me once.

But in those days what did I know of the pleasures of loss,
Of the edge of the abyss coming close with its hisses
And storms, a great watery animal breaking itself on the rocks,

Sending up stars of salt, loud clouds of spume.
--Mark Strand


"Old Man Leaves Party"
It was clear when I left the party
That though I was over eighty I still had
A beautiful body. The moon shone down as it will
On moments of deep introspection. The wind held its breath.
And look, somebody left a mirror leaning against a tree.
Making sure that I was alone, I took off my shirt.
The flowers of bear grass nodded their moonwashed heads.
I took off my pants and the magpies circled the redwoods.
Down in the valley the creaking river was flowing once more.
How strange that I should stand in the wilds alone with my body.
I know what you are thinking. I was like you once. But now
With so much before me, so many emerald trees, and
Weed-whitened fields, mountains and lakes, how could I not
Be only myself, this dream of flesh, from moment to moment?
--Mark Strand


"A Piece of the Storm"
for Sharon Horvath

From the shadow of domes in the city of domes,
A snowflake, a blizzard of one, weightless, entered your room
And made its way to the arm of the chair where you, looking up
From your book, saw it the moment it landed. That's all
There was to it. No more than a solemn waking
To brevity, to the lifting and falling away of attention, swiftly,
A time between times, a flowerless funeral. No more than that
Except for the feeling that this piece of the storm,
Which turned into nothing before your eyes, would come back,
That someone years hence, sitting as you are now, might say:
It's time. The air is ready. The sky has an opening.
--Mark Strand


"The King"
I went to the middle of the room and called out,
"I know you're here," then noticed him in the corner,
looking tiny in his jeweled crown and his cape
with ermine trim. "I have lost my desire to rule,"
he said. "My kingdom is empty except for you,
and all you do is ask for me." "But Your Majesty--"
"Don't 'Your Majesty' me," he said, and tilted his head
to one side and closed his eyes. "There," he whispered,
"that's more like it," and he entered his dream
like a mouse vanishing into its hole.
--Mark Strand


"Moon"
Open the book of evening to the page
where the moon, always the moon, appears

between two clouds, moving so slowly that hours
will seem to have passed before you reach the next page

where the moon, now brighter, lowers a path
to lead you away from what you have known

into those places where what you had wished for happens,
its lone syllable like a sentence poised

at the edge of sense, waiting for you to say its name
once more as you lift your eyes from the page

and close the book, still feeling what it was like
to dwell in that light, that sudden paradise of sound.
--Mark Strand


"Poem after the Seven Last Words"
1

The story of the end, of the last word
of the end, when told, is a story that never ends.
We tell it and retell it--one word, then another
until it seems that no last word is possible,
that none would be bearable. Thus, when the hero
of the story says to himself, as if to someone far away,
"Forgive them, for they know not what they do,"
we may feel that he is pleading for us, that we are
the secret life of the story and, as long as his plea
is not answered, we shall be spared. So the story
continues. So we continue. And the end, once more,
becomes the next, and the next after that.

2
There is an island in the dark, a dreamt-of place
where the muttering wind shifts over the white lawns
and riffles the leaves of trees, the high trees
that are streaked with gold and line the walkways there;
and those already arrived are happy to be the silken
remains of something they were but cannot recall;
they move to the sound of stars, which is also imagined,
but who cares about that; the polished columns they see
may be no more than shafts of sunlight, but for those
who live on and on in the radiance of their remains
this is of little importance. There is an island
in the dark and you will be there, I promise you, you
shall be with me in paradise, in the single season of being,
in the place of forever, you shall find yourself. And there
the leaves will turn and never fall, there the wind
will sing and be your voice as if for the first time.

3

Someday someone will write a story telling
among other things of a parting between mother
and son, of how she wandered off, of how he vanished
in air. But before that happens, it will describe
how their faces shone with a feeble light and how
the son was moved to say, "Woman, look at your son,"
then to a friend nearby, "Son, look at your mother."
At which point the writer will put down his pen
and imagine that while those words were spoken
something else happened, something unusual like
a purpose revealed, a secret exchanged, a truth
to which they, mother and son, would be bound,
but what it was no one would know. Not even the writer.

4

These are the days of spring when the sky is filled
with the odor of lilac, when darkness becomes desire,
and there is nothing that does not wish to be born;
days when the fate of the present is a breezy fullness,
when the world's great gift for fiction gilds even
the dirt we walk on, and we feel we could live forever
while knowing of course that we can't. Such is our plight.
The master of weather and everything else, if he wants,
can bring forth a dark of a different kind, one hidden
by darkness so deep it cannot be seen. No one escapes.
Not even the man who believed he was chosen to do so,
for when the dark came down he cried out, "Father, Father,
why have you forsaken me?" To which no answer came.

5

To be thirsty. To say, "I thirst."
To close one's eyes and see the giant world
that is born each time the eyes are closed.
To see one's death. To see the darkening clouds
as the tragic cloth of a day of mourning. To be the one
mourned. To open the dictionary of the Beyond and discover
what one suspected, that the only word in it
is nothing. To try to open one's eyes, but not to be
able to. To feel the mouth burn. To feel the sudden
presence of what, again and again, was not said.
To translate it and have it remain unsaid. To know
at last that nothing is more real than nothing.

6

"It is finished," he said. You could hear him say it,
the words almost a whisper, then not even that,
but an echo so faint it seemed no longer to come
from him, but from elsewhere. This was his moment,
his final moment. "It is finished," he said into a vastness
that led to an even greater vastness, and yet all of it
within him. He contained it all. That was the miracle,
to be both large and small in the same instant, to be
like us, but more so, then finally to give up the ghost,
which is what happened. And from the storm that swirled
in his wake a formal nakedness took shape, the truth
of disguise and the mask of belief were joined forever.

7

Back down these stairs in the same scene,
to the moon, the stars, the night wind. Hours pass
and only the harp off in the distance and the wind
moving through it. And soon the sun's gray disk,
darkened by clouds, sailing above. And beyond,
as always, the sea of endless transparence, of utmost
calm, a place of constant beginning that has within it
what no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, what no hand
has touched, what has not arisen in the human heart.
To that place, to the keeper of that place, I commit myself.
--Mark Strand
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"The Whole Story"
--I'd rather you didn't feel it necessary to tell him, "That's a fire. And what's more, we can't do anything about it, because we're on this train, see?"

How it should happen this way
I am not sure, but you
Are sitting next to me,
Minding your own business
When all of a sudden I see
A fire out the window.

I nudge you and say,
"That's a fire. And what's more,
We can't do anything about it,
Because we're on this train, see?"
You give me an odd look
As though I had said too much.

But for all you know I may
Have a passion for fires,
And travel by train to keep
From having to put them out.
It may be that trains
Can kindle a love of fire.

I might even suspect
That you are a fireman
In disguise. And then again
I might be wrong. Maybe
You are the one
Who loves a good fire. Who knows?

Perhaps you are elsewhere,
Deciding that with no place
To go you should not
Take a train. And I,
Seeing my own face in the window,
May have lied about the fire.
--Mark Strand


"The Man in the Mirror"
for Decio de Souza

I walk down the narrow,
carpeted hall.
The house is set.
The carnation in my buttonhole

precedes me like a small
continuous explosion.
The mirror
is in the living room.

You are there.
Your face is white, unsmiling, swollen.
The fallen body of your hair
is dull and out of place.

Buried in the darkness of your pockets,
your hands are motionless.
You do not seem awake.
Your skin sleeps

and your eyes lie in the deep
blue of their sockets,
impossible to reach.
How long will all this take?

I remember how we used to stand
wishing the glass
would dissolve between us,
and how we watched our words
cloud that bland,
innocent surface,
and when our faces blurred
how scared we were.

But that was another life.
One day you turned away
and left me here
to founder in the stillness of your wake.

Your suit floating, your hair
moving like eel grass
in a shallow bay, you drifted
out of the mirror's room, through the hall,

and into the open air.
You seemed to rise and fall
with the wind, the sway
taking you always farther away, farther away.

Darkness filled your sleeves.
The stars moved through you.
The vague music of your shrieking
blossomed in my ears.

I tried forgetting what I saw;
I got down on the floor,
pretending to be dead.
It did not work.

My heart bunched in my rib-cage like a bat,
blind and cowardly,
beating in and out,
a solemn, irreducible black.

The things you drove me to!
I walked in the calm of the house,
calling you back.
You did not answer.

I sat in a chair
and stared across the room.
The walls were bare.
The mirror was nothing without you.

I lay down on the couch
and closed my eyes.
My thoughts rose in the dark
like faint balloons,

and I would turn them over
one by one and watch them shiver.
I always fell into a deep
and arid sleep.

Then out of nowhere late one night
you reappeared,
a huge vegetable moon,
a bruise coated with light.

You stood before me,
dreamlike and obscene,
your face lost
under layers of heavy skin,

your body sunk in a green
and wrinkled sea of clothing.
I tried to help you
but you refused.

Days passed
and I would rest
my cheek against the glass,
wanting nothing but the old you.

I sang so sadly
that the neighbors wept
and dogs whined with pity.
Some things I wish I could forget.

You didn't care,
standing still while flies
collected in your hair
and dust fell like a screen before your eyes.

You never spoke
or tried to come up close.
Why did I want so badly
to get through to you?

It still goes on.
I go into the living room and you are there.
You drift in a pool
of silver air

where wounds and dreams of wounds
rise from the deep
humus of sleep
to bloom like flowers against the glass.

I look at you
and see myself
under the surface.
A dark and private weather

settles down on everything.
It is colder
and the dreams wither away.
You stand

like a shade
in the painless glass,
frail, distant, older
than ever.

It will always be this way.
I stand here scared
that you will disappear,
scared that you will stay.
--Mark Strand


"The New Poetry Handbook"
for Greg Orr and Greg Simon

1 If a man understands a poem,
he shall have troubles.

2 If a man lives with a poem,
he shall die lonely.

3 If a man lives with two poems,
he shall be unfaithful to one.

4 If a man conceives of a poem,
he shall have one less child.

5 If a man conceives of two poems,
he shall have two children less.

6 If a man wears a crown on his head as he writes,
he shall be found out.

7 If a man wears no crown on his head as he writes,
he shall deceive no one but himself.

8 If a man gets angry at a poem,
he shall be scorned by men.

9 If a man continues to be angry at a poem,
he shall be scorned by women.

10 If a man publicly denounces poetry,
his shoes will fill with urine.

11 If a man gives up poetry for power,
he shall have lots of power.

12 If a man brags about his poems,
he shall be loved by fools.

13 If a man brags about his poems and loves fools,
he shall write no more.

14 If a man craves attention because of his poems,
he shall be like a jackass in moonlight.

15 If a man writes a poem and praises the poem of a fellow overly,
he shall drive his mistress away.

16 If a man claims the poem of another,
his heart shall double in size.

17 If a man lets his poems go naked,
he shall fear death.

18 If a man fears death,
he shall be saved by his poems.

19 If a man does not fear death,
he may or may not be saved by his poems.

20 If a man finishes a poem,
he shall bathe in the blank wake of his passion and be kissed by white paper.
--Mark Strand


"In Celebration"
You sit in a chair, touched by nothing, feeling
the old self become the older self, imagining
only the patience of water, the boredom of stone.
You think that silence is the extra page,
you think that nothing is good or bad, not even
the darkness that fills this house while you sit watching
it happen. You've seen it happen before. Your friends
move past the window, their faces soiled with regret.
You want to wave but cannot raise your hand.
You sit in a chair. You turn to the nightshade spreading
a poisonous net around the house. It is the same wherever
you are, the same if the voice rots before
the body, or the body rots before the voice.
You know that desire leads only to sorrow, that sorrow
leads to achievement which leads to emptiness.
You know that this is different, that this
is the celebration, the only celebration,
that by giving yourself over to nothing,
you shall be healed. You know there is joy in feeling
your lungs prepare themselves for an ashen future,
so you wait, you stare and you wait, and the dust settles
and the miraculous hours of childhood wander in darkness.
--Mark Strand
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Eating Poetry"
Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.

The librarian does not believe what she sees.
Her eyes are sad
and she walks with her hands in her dress.

The poems are gone.
The light is dim.
The dogs are on the basement stairs and coming up.

Their eyeballs roll,
their blond legs burn like brush.
The poor librarian begins to stamp her feet and weep.

She does not understand.
When I get on my knees and lick her hand,
she screams.

I am a new man.
I snarl at her and bark.
I romp with joy in the bookish dark.
--Mark Strand


"The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars..."
--Jack Kerouac


"So Much Happiness"
It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness.
With sadness there is something to rub against,
a wound to tend with lotion and cloth.
When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to pick up,
something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs or change.

But happiness floats.
It doesn't need you to hold it down.
It doesn't need anything.
Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing,
and disappears when it wants to.
You are happy either way.
Even the fact that you once lived in a peaceful tree house
and now live over a quarry of noise and dust
cannot make you unhappy.
Everything has a life of its own,
it too could wake up filled with possibilities
of coffee cake and ripe peaches,
and love even the floor which needs to be swept,
the soiled linens and scratched records...

Since there is no place large enough
to contain so much happiness,
you shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you
into everything you touch. You are not responsible.
You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit
for the moon, but continues to hold it, and share it,
and in that way, be known.
--Naomi Shihab Nye
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"My Name"
Once when the lawn was a golden green
and the marbled moonlit trees rose like fresh memorials
in the scented air, and the whole countryside pulsed
with the chirr and murmur of insects, I lay in the grass,
feeling the great distances open above me, and wondered
what I would become and where I would find myself,
and though I barely existed, I felt for an instant
that the vast star-clustered sky was mine, and I heard
my name as if for the first time, heard it the way
one hears the wind or the rain, but faint and far off
as though it belonged not to me but to the silence
from which it had come and to which it would go.
--Mark Strand


"You Reading This, Be Ready"
Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life--

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?
--William Stafford

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