[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"You want tangible, social benefits to writing fiction? There are people walking around today because other people wrote words that spoke to them. That'll do."
--Warren Ellis

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

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

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

And to that--
a princess

And to the princess--your beauty

And to your beauty--
a lover's heart

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

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

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

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

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

Homage to Claudius Ptolemy

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

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

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

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

"Then beneath the colour there was the shape. She could see it all so clearly, so commandingly, when she looked: it was when she took her brush in hand that the whole thing changed. It was in that moment's flight between the picture and her canvas that the demons set on her that often brought her to the verge of tears and made this passage from conception to work as dreadful as any down a dark passage for a child. Such she often felt herself--struggling against terrific odds to maintain her courage; to say: 'But this is what I see; this is what I see,' and so to clasp some miserable remnant of her vision to her breast, which a thousand forces did their best to pluck from her. And it was then too, in that chill and windy way, as she began to paint, that there forced upon her other things, her own inadequacy, her insignificance, keeping house for her father off the Brompton Road, and had much ado to control her impulse to fling herself (thank Heaven she had always resisted so far) at Mrs. Ramsay's knee and say to her--but what could one say to her? 'I'm in love with you?' No, that was not true. 'I'm in love with this all,' waving her hand at the hedge, at the house, at the children. It was absurd, it was impossible."
--Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Activity of mind, I think, is the only thing that keeps one's life going, unless one has a larger emotional activity of some other kind. One's mind that's like a restless steamer paddle urging the ship along, tho' the wind is non-existent and the sea is as still as glass. What a force a human being is! There are worse solitudes than drift ice, and yet this eternal throbbing heat and energy of one's mind thaws a pathway through; and open sea and land shall come in time. Think though, what man is midst fields and woods. A solitary creature dependent on winds and tides, and yet somehow suppressing the might of a spark in his brain. What nonsense to write!"
--Virginia Woolf, The Early Journals, 1897 - 1909

"A library in the middle of a community is a cross between an emergency exit, a life raft and a festival. They are cathedrals of the mind; hospitals of the soul; theme parks of the imagination.

"On a cold, rainy island, they are the only sheltered public spaces where you are not a consumer, but a citizen, instead. A human with a brain and a heart and a desire to be uplifted, rather than a customer with a credit card and an inchoate 'need' for 'stuff.' A mall--the shops--are places where your money makes the wealthy wealthier. But a library is where the wealthy's taxes pay for you to become a little more extraordinary, instead. A satisfying reversal. A balancing of the power."
--Caitlin Moran, "Libraries: Cathedrals of Our Souls"

"Reality Demands"
Reality demands
that we also mention this:
Life goes on.
It continues at Cannae and Borodino,
at Kosovo Polje and Guernica.

There's a gas station
on a little square in Jericho,
and wet paint
on park benches in Bila Hora.
Letters fly back and forth
between Pearl Harbor and Hastings,
a moving van passes
beneath the eye of the lion at Chaeronea,
and the blooming orchards near Verdun
cannot escape
the approaching atmospheric front.

There is so much Everything
that Nothing is hidden quite nicely.
Music pours
from the yachts moored at Actium
and couples dance on the sunlit decks.

So much is always going on,
that it must be going on all over.
Where not a stone still stands,
you see the Ice Cream Man
besieged by children.
Where Hiroshima had been
Hiroshima is again,
producing many products
for everyday use.
This terrifying world is not devoid of charms,
of the mornings
that make waking up worthwhile.

The grass is green
on Maciejowice's fields,
and it is studded with dew,
as is normal grass.

Perhaps all fields are battlefields,
those we remember
and those that are forgotten:
the birch forests and the cedar forests,
the snow and the sand, the iridescent swamps
and the canyons of black defeat,
where now, when the need strikes, you don't cower
under a bush but squat behind it.

What moral flows from this? Probably none.
Only that blood flows, drying quickly,
and, as always, a few rivers, a few clouds.

On tragic mountain passes
the wind rips hats from unwitting heads
and we can't help
laughing at that.
--Wisława Szymborska, translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

"For Mohammed Zeid of Gaza, Age 15"
There is no stray bullet, sirs.
No bullet like a worried cat
crouching under a bush,
no half-hairless puppy bullet
dodging midnight streets.
The bullet could not be a pecan
plunking the tin roof,
not hardly, no fluff of pollen
on October's breath,
no humble pebble at our feet.

So don't gentle it, please.

We live among stray thoughts,
tasks abandoned midstream.
Our fickle hearts are fat
with stray devotions, we feel at home
among bits and pieces,
all the wandering ways of words.

But this bullet had no innocence, did not
wish anyone well, you can't tell us otherwise
by naming it mildly, this bullet was never the friend
of life, should not be granted immunity
by soft saying--friendly fire, straying death-eye,
why have we given the wrong weight to what we do?

Mohammed, Mohammed, deserves the truth.
This bullet had no secret happy hopes,
it was not singing to itself with eyes closed
under the bridge.
--Naomi Shihab Nye

"As usual, Junko thought about Jack London's 'To Build a Fire.' It was the story of a man traveling alone through the snowy Alaskan interior and his attempts to light a fire. He would freeze to death unless he could make it catch. The sun was going down. Junko hadn't read much fiction, but that one short story she had read again and again, ever since her teacher had assigned it as an essay topic during summer vacation of her first year in high school. The scene of the story would always come vividly to mind as she read. She could feel the man's fear and hope and despair as if they were her own; she could sense the very pounding of his heart as he hovered on the brink of death. Most important of all, though, was the fact that the man was fundamentally longing for death. She knew that for sure. She couldn't explain how she knew, but she knew it from the start. Death was really what he wanted. He knew that it was the right ending for him. And yet he had to go on fighting with all his might. He had to fight against an overwhelming adversary in order to survive. What most shook Junko was this deep-rooted contradiction.

"The teacher ridiculed her view. 'Death is really what he wanted? That's a new one for me! And strange! Quite 'original,' I'd have to say.' He read her conclusion aloud before the class, and everybody laughed.

"But Junko knew. All of them were wrong. Otherwise how could the ending of the story be so quiet and beautiful?"
--Haruki Murakami, "landscape with flatiron"

" 'That's the duty of the old,' said the librarian. 'To be anxious on behalf of the young. And the duty of the young is to scorn the anxiety of the old.'

"They sat for a while longer, and then parted, for it was late, and they were old and anxious."
--Phillip Pullman, The Golden Compass

"Sex in Motel Rooms"

Because I need music
I press my ear to the wall

and listen to the lovers
in the next room

as they undress each other
as they undress each other.

The glorious

of one shirt, two shirts
clanging to the floor.


After she came
she rolled away

and fell off the edge
of the twin bed.


As I drive home
to the reservation

I pass by the motel
where a white girl I loved

during high school
lost her virginity
to a white boy
after the goddamn prom.


On the first night of our honeymoon
we lie in bed, too exhausted for sex

or conversation. Instead, we listen
to the surf, wave after wave after wave.


On the couch, X wants Y
to take off her pants

but she refuses
because her friend, Z

is naked in bed
on the other side

of the room
with X's best friend, A

who is desperately
in love with Y.


O, the lonely country!
O, the lonely city!
O, the lonely motel!
O, the lonely bed!
O, the lonely man!


There are two beds in the room. Of course
we make love in one, fall asleep in the other.


Listen, she says, I always wanted
to watch a pornographic movie

in a hotel room, so my boyfriend
and I ordered one, pay-per-view

but it wasn't real porn. I mean
they didn't show any penetration.

It was just a bunch of shots
of sweaty bellies and profiles,

really tame, generic stuff,
and it barely aroused us

so we just sort of kissed
and fondled each other

then fell asleep, still
wearing most of our clothes.


In the darkness, her dark body grows darker
until I am making love to her and her shadow.


In Santa Monica, over
the course of three nights

the woman in the next room
sleeps with three different men.

I watch them all arrive
through the security peephole

in my door. One of the men
is beautiful, one is ugly

and the third is a waiter
from the restaurant downstairs.


Scientists recently examined a hotel room comforter
and discovered 412 different samples of sperm.


Okay, he says, I'm not one of those guys
who sleeps with anything that moves

but the threat of AIDS prevented me
from even thinking

about becoming one of those guys.
AIDS is a shitty deal for everybody

but it's a really shitty deal for sex in general.
After all, our parents got to fuck

and fuck and fuck and fuck
without the fear of death.

I mean, I think all the liberalism
and progressive social change

during the sixties happened
because everybody was fucking

like crazy. And I think we elected
and re-elected that right-wing Reagan asshole

because nobody was fucking.
That's right, sex and politics

are linked. Tight as tight.
If it was up to me, I’d set up this motel

where sex was happening
in every room. Sex and food.

I mean, the mini-bars would be filled
with cheese and crackers and fruit.

Room service would be complimentary.
Good coffee machines.

Sex and jobs, too.
I mean, in order to participate

you'd have to work at the motel,
janitor, maid, waiter, something.

Sex and love, of course
I mean, if you wanted to, you could

just have sex with one person.
That would be permitted

maybe even encouraged.
Everybody would have enough sex

everybody would have enough food
and everybody would have a job.


Home with her
we get ready for bed

brush our teeth, wash our faces
all of those small ceremonies

and then we're beneath
the down comforter

on a cold Seattle night
and I'm almost asleep

when she moves close
kisses my ear and asks me

to pretend we're in the last
vacant motel room in the world.
--Sherman Alexie

"Irish Music"
Now in middle age, my blood like a thief who
Got away, unslain, & the trees hung again in the grim,
Cheap embroidery of leaves, I come back to the white roads,
The intersections in their sleeves of dust,
And vines like woodwinds twisted into shapes
For playing different kinds of silence.
Just when my hearing was getting perfect, singular
As an orphan's shard of mirror, they
Change the music into something I
No longer follow.
But how like them to welcome me home this way:
The house with its doorstop finally rotted away,
And carted off for a stranger's firewood,
And yet, behind the window there,
A woman bent over a map of her childhood, but still
A real map, that shows her people's
Ireland like a bonnet for the mad on top of
Plenty of ocean.
Hunger kept those poor relations traveling until
They almost touched the sea again,
And settled.
And there have been changes, even here.
In Parlier, California,
The band in the park still plays the same song,
But with a fresher strain of hopelessness.
This, too, will pass.
There is that message, always, of its threadbare refrain,
The message, too, of what one chooses to forget
About this place: the Swedish tailgunner who,
After twenty missions in the Pacific, chopped off
His own left hand
To get back home. No one thinks of him;
Not even I believe he found another reason, maybe,
For all left hands. So memory sires
Oblivion--this settlement of sheds, & weeds,
Where the lat exile which the bloodstream always sang
Comes down to a matter of a few sparrows hopping
On & off a broken rain gutter, or downspout, & behind them,
A barn set up on a hill & meant to stay there,
Ignoring the sky
With the certainty they bolted into the crossbeams--
The whole thing
Towering over the long silent
Farmer & his wife; & that still house
Where their fingers have remembered, for fifty years,
Just where to touch the bannister; & then the steps,
That, one day, led up to me. Come home,
Say the blackened, still standing chimneys, & the missing bell
Above the three-room schoolhouse--
You've inherited all there is: the ironic,
Rueful smile of a peasant who's extinct,
Who nods, understanding, too well, the traveler,
And who orders another shot of schnapps
While his wife, pregnant, angry, puts both hands
Under her chin, & waits up.

And always, I pack the car, I answer no....
When my own son was next to nothing,
He, too, would wait up with us,
Awake with hands already wholly formed,
And no larger than twin question marks in the book I closed,
One day, in a meadow,
When I reached for her--above the silent town,
Above the gray, decaying smoke of the vineyards.

A stranger who saw us there might have said:
I saw two people naked on your land.
But afterward, our pulses
Already lulling & growing singular, my eyes
Closed on that hill, I saw
A playground, mothers chatting; water falling because
It was right to be falling, over a cliff; & the way
Time & the lights of all home towns grew still
In that tense shape of water just before it fell...
I watched it a long time ago,
And, for no reason I could name, turned away from it,
To take that frail path along a mountainside--
Then passed through alder, spruce, & stunted pine,
Stone & a cold wind,
Up to the empty summit.
--Larry Levis

"Though His Name Is Infinite, My Father Is Asleep"
When my father disappeared,
He did not go into hiding.
In old age, he was infinite,
So where could he hide? No,
He went into his name,
He went into his name, & into
The way two words keep house,
Each syllable swept clean
Again when you say them;
That's how my father left,
And that's how my father went
Out of his house, forever.
Imagine a house without words,
The family speechless for once
At the kitchen table, & all night
A hard wind ruining
The mottled skin of plums
In the orchard, & no one
Lifting a finger to stop it.
But imagine no word for "house,"
Or wind in a bare place always,
And soon it will all disappear--
Brick, & stone, & wood--all three
Are wind when you can't say
"House," & know, anymore, what it is.
Say Father, then, to no one,
Or say my father was, himself,
A house, or say each word's a house,
Some lit & some abandoned.
Then go one step further,
And say a name is a home,
As remote & as intimate.
Say home, then, or say, "I'll
Never go home again," or say,
Years later, with that baffled,
Ironic smile, "I'm on my way
Home," or say, as he did not,
"I'm going into my name."
Go further; take a chance, & say
A name is intimate. Repeat all
The names you know, all
The names you've ever heard,
The living & the dead, the precise
Light snow of their syllables.
Say your own name, or say
A last name, say mine, say his,
Say a name so old & frayed
By common use it's lost
All meaning now, & sounds
Like a house being swept out,
Like wind where there's no house.
Say finally there is no way
To document this, or describe
The passing of a father, that
Faint scent of time, or how
He swore delicately, quickly
Against it without ever appearing
To hurry the ceremony of swearing.
And say, too, how you disliked
And loved him, how he stays up
All night now in two words,
How his worn out, infinite name
Outwits death when you say it.
And say finally how the things
He had to do for you
Humiliated him until
He could not get his breath, & say
How much they mattered, how
Necessary he was. And then,
Before sleep, admit, also,
That his name is nothing,
Light as three syllables,
Lighter than pain or art, lighter
Than history, & tell how two words,
That mean nothing to anyone
Else, once meant a world
To you; how sometimes, even you,
In the sweep of those syllables,
Wind, crushed bone, & ashes--
Begin to live again.
--Larry Levis

I say we had better look our nation searchingly
in the face, like a physician diagnosing some deep disease.
--Democratic Vistas

Look for me under your bootsoles.

On Long Island, they moved my clapboard house
Across a turnpike, & then felt so guilty they
Named a shopping mall center after me!

Now that I'm required reading in your high schools,
Teenagers call me a fool.
Now what I sang stops breathing.

And yet
It was only when everyone stopped believing in me
That I began to live again--
First in the thin whine of Montana fence wire,
Then in the transparent, cast-off garments hung
In the windows of the poorest families,
Then in the glad music of Charlie Parker.
At times now,
I even come back to watch you
From the eyes of a taciturn boy at Malibu.
Across the counter at the beach concession stand,
I sell you hot dogs, Pepsis, cigarettes--
My blond hair long, greasy, & swept back
In a vain old ducktail, deliciously
Out of style.
And no one notices.
Once, I even came back as me,
An aging homosexual who ran the Tilt-a-Whirl
At county fairs, the chilled paint on each gondola
Changing color as it picked up speed,
And a Mardi Gras tattoo on my left shoulder.
A few of you must have seen my photographs,
For when you looked back,
I thought you caught the meaning of my stare:

Still water,

A Kosmos. One of the roughs.

And Charlie Parker's grave outside Kansas City
Covered with weeds.

Leave me alone.
A father who's outlived his only child.

To find me now will cost you everything.
--Larry Levis
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"You're spending your life talking, writing things, getting bills through, missing what seems natural. Still, there's the mind of the widow--the affections; those you leave untouched. But you waste your own. I would point out that a human being is not a set of compartments, but an organism. Imagination, Miss; use your imagination; that's where you fail. Conceive the world as a whole."
--Virginia Woolf

"Sonnet LXV"
Matilde, where are you? Down there I noticed,
under my necktie and just above the heart,
a certain pang of grief between the ribs,
you were gone that quickly.

I needed the light of your energy,
I looked around, devouring hope.
I watched the void without you that is like a house,
nothing left but tragic windows.

Out of sheer taciturnity the ceiling listens
to the fall of the ancient leafless rain,
to feathers, to whatever the night imprisoned:

so I wait for you like a lonely house
till you will see me again and live in me.
Till then my windows ache.
--Pablo Neruda

"You cannot save people. You can only love them."
--Anaïs Nin

"Motion Sickness"
Rain in New Jersey devouring the landscape
like those mythic dragons of another time,
another country. The train window frames it

like ink scrolls of brooding masters,
and now the shingle-roofed towns unroll
one after the other, panoramas

of domestic assurances, warm rooms,
nights with beer and TV. I'm only looking in,
and fictive homes are turning on their lamps,

and I remember mother taking me on the train
out of Manila-–I was four or five, and we sat
at the station and she said you could hear it coming,

first the thunder and then the charged heat
and full stop to stillness. We were running away
but never too far nor too long, because each time

there was nowhere far enough to go.
Her face was purple with bruises, which she hid
with paste the color of early sky. In a day or two

father would be weeping in her arms,
then we'd be home watching TV. Here you feel
the pull of perpetual motion, the blunt gunmetal

of the tracks and the empty stations, the fierce
rush towards and away from absence.
In Eliseo Subiela's Hombre Mirando al Sudeste

an alien has chosen to come to an asylum
to study the earth, and wonders why so much beauty
leaves us emptier, more solitary. And when he finds

no answers, he dies like humans do,
numb with morphine, unable to dissect
the filaments of love. Mother and I always came back

on the same train: the same fake leather seats,
the smell of condiments and rotten produce,
the landscape unreeling backwards. Thirty years later

I am still watching tracks, I try not to look back
too much, I believe beauty is a hint of storm
but it could be anything, the way the alien found it

everywhere, in Beethoven or a frozen brain–
dawn, the perfect ink of it, the nervous arrival
of familiars, and the stillness recurring without fail.
--Eric Gamalinda

"Something Bright, Then Holes"
I used to do this, the self I was
used to do this

the selves I no longer am
nor understand.

Something bright, then holes
is how a girl, newly-sighted, once

described a hand. I reread
your letters, and remember

correctly: you wanted to eat
through me. Then fall asleep

with your tongue against
an organ, quiet enough

to hear it kick. Learn everything
there is to know

about loving someone
then walk away, coolly

I'm not ashamed
Love is large and monstrous

Never again will I be so blind, so ungenerous
O bright snatches of flesh, blue

and pink, then four dark furrows, four
funnels, leading into a infinite ditch

The heart, too, is porous;
I lost the water you poured into it
--Maggie Nelson

"It suck to be poor, and it sucks to feel that you somehow deserve to be poor. You start believing that you're poor because you're stupid and ugly. And then you start believing that you're stupid and ugly because you're Indian. And because you're Indian you start believing you're destined to be poor. It's an ugly circle and there's nothing you can do about it.

"Poverty doesn't give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor."
--Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

" 'Listen,' he said one afternoon in the library. 'You have to read a book three times before you know it. The first time you read it for the story. The plot. The movement from scene to scene that gives the book its momentum, its rhythm. It's like riding a raft down a river. You're just paying attention to the currents. Do you understand that?'

" 'Not at all,' I said.

" 'Yes, you do,' he said.

" 'Okay, I do,' I said. I really didn't, but Gordy believed in me. He wouldn't let me give up.

" 'The second time you read a book, you read it for its history. For its knowledge of history. You think about the meaning of each word, and where that word came from. I mean, you read a novel that has the word 'spam' in it, and you know where that word comes from, right?'

" 'Spam is junk e-mail,' I said.

" 'Yes, that's what it is, but who invented the word, who first used it, and how has the meaning of the word changed since it was first used?'

" 'I don't know,' I said.

" 'Well, you have to look all that up. If you don't treat each word that seriously then you're not treating the novel seriously.'

"I thought about my sister in Montana. Maybe romance novels were absolutely serious business. My sister certainly thought they were. I suddenly understood that if every moment of a book should be taken seriously, then every moment of a life should be taken seriously as well.

" 'I draw cartoons,' I said.

" 'What's your point?' Gordy asked.

" 'I take them seriously. I use them to understand the world. I use them to make fun of the world. To make fun of people. And sometimes I draw people because they're my friends and family. And I want to honor them.'

" 'So you take your cartoons as seriously as you take books?'

" 'Yeah, I do,' I said. 'That's kind of pathetic, isn't it?'

" 'No, not at all,' Gordy said. 'If you're good at it, and you love it, and it helps you navigate the river of the world, then it can't be wrong.'

"Wow, this dude was a poet. My cartoons weren't just good for giggles; they were also good for poetry. Funny poetry, but poetry nonetheless. It was seriously funny stuff.

" 'But don't take anything too seriously, either,' Gordy said.

"The little dork could read minds, too. He was like some kind of Star Wars alien creature with invisible tentacles that sucked your thoughts out of your brain.

" 'You read a book for the story, for each of its words,' Gordy said, 'and you draw your cartoons for the story, for each of the words and images. And, yeah, you need to take that seriously, but you should also read and draw because really good books and cartoons give you a boner.'

"I was shocked:

" 'Did you just say books should give me a boner?'

" 'Yes, I did.'

" 'Are you serious?'

" 'Yeah...Don't you get excited about books?'

" 'I don't think you're supposed to get that excited about books.'

" 'You should get a boner! You have to get a boner!' Gordy shouted. 'Come on!'

"We ran into the Reardan High School Library.

" 'Look at all these books,' he said.

" 'There aren't that many,' I said. It was a small library in a small high school in a small town.

" 'There are three hundred four thousand and twelve books here,' Gordy said. 'I know that because I counted them.'

" 'Okay, now you're officially a freak,' I said.

" 'Yes, it's a small library. It's a tiny one. But if you read one of these books a day, it would still take you almost ten years to finish.'

" 'What's your point?'

" 'The world, even the smallest parts of it, is filled with things you don't know.'

"Wow. That was a huge idea.

"Any town, even one as small as Reardan, was a place of mystery. And that meant that Wellpinit, that smaller, Indian town, was also a place of mystery.

" 'Okay, so it's like each of these books is a mystery. Every book is a mystery. And if you read all the books ever written, it's like you've read one giant mystery. And no matter how much you learn, you just keep on learning there is so much more you need to learn.'

" 'Yes, yes, yes, yes,' Gordy said. 'Now doesn't that give you a boner?'

" 'I am rock hard,' I said.

"Gordy blushed.

" 'Well, I don't mean boner in the sexual sense,' Gordy said. 'I don't think you should run through life with a real erect penis. But you should approach each book--you should approach life--with the real possibility that you might get a metaphorical boner at any point.'

" 'A metaphorical boner!' I shouted. 'What the heck is a metaphorical boner?'

"Gordy laughed.

" 'When I say boner, I really mean joy,' he said.

" 'Then why didn't you say joy? You didn't have to say boner. Whenever I think about boners, I get confused.'

" 'Boner is funnier. And more joyful.' "
--Sherman Alexie

"When anybody, no matter how old they are, loses a parent, I think it hurts the same as if you were only five years old, you know? I think all of us are always five years old in the presence and absence of our parents."
--Sherman Alexie

" 'You can do it,' Coach said.

" 'I can do it.'

" 'You can do it.'

" 'I can do it.'

"Do you understand how amazing it is to hear that from an adult? Do you know how amazing it is to hear that from anybody? It's one of the simplest sentences in the world, just four words, but they're the four hugest words in the world when they're put together."
--Sherman Alexie

"Acts of Disappearance"
It was a world where a moose
could pull a squirrel out of his hat,

children disappeared down holes,
and the lake outside your window

could suddenly go missing.
You sip your coffee and ponder:

abduction, subduction...


Freud said, when we look at the sea,
something like the sea opens in us--

which might explain Scully
drowning in himself or the night

Bobby didn't make it home, and why
I feel like a slick of mud.

Freud was talking about God,
not wax-winged punks shooting up

in a three-story walk-up, not a boy
building a fort--the hammer, the needle,

the report driven hellward.


It was a trick no one showed you--
how one could turn a lung into a lake,

a boy into air, carp on their sides,
the prevalence of sinkholes.

They keep asking for more;

the sea, of course, is not endless,
it only feels that way.
--James Hoch

Like nights we knelt on the dirt floor
of a dugout, leaned our heads back,
eyes twitching gone, and popped nitrous

canisters into the communion shapes
of our mouths, slipped inside where
everything seemed to be falling snow,

ice, the time split between chasing flies
through a darkened park and sprawling
in a sycamore bark--how clean that abyss

we drifted in, like dew, more like pollen,
on our skins; and, beneath, a want
for touch, a kiss, a return. Like nothing,

back then, to break an arm latching on
to the bumper of an Impala, or settling back
as the car took us as far as the salted bridge,

before letting the ride go with a mitten
caught behind the chrome waving
from the other side of the river. Like this,

you said, sliding a needle, watching
dope plunge, the body's rush and tow
until you felt something like an angel

hovering above, but it was only pigeon
feathers deviling the air. Those friends
are gone: some dead, dying, locked up

or jailed in themselves; and when I see
some kids running in the heat of a taillight
swirling behind them, I remember we

wanted only to quiet our bodies, their
unnatural hum, a vague pull inward,
some thin furrows gliding over the snow.
--James Hoch

"Problems with Windows"
Leave them closed, clear of curtains,
inevitably a sparrow ends itself

on the glass. You must imagine
how sudden everything is

for the sparrow keening away from a jay:
There's somewhere to go,

rectangle of light, glint, reflection,
then nothing. The bird

doesn't hear the thud of its skull,
twitch of its neck; that's for the air.


Leave them open long enough,
sparrows simply fly in. This one

must've tired of the heat beneath
the elms where young couples

grope in the shade under each
other's shirts before it shuttled

through the museum window hexed
with iron bars, and perched on

a light above Caravaggio's boy
holding a fruit basket, the way he looks

alone, almost burdened.


We had windows like that in a kitchen
I once worked, above a table

where we boned and skinned cases
of chickens that bobbed and thawed

in a sink, floating there, headless, wingless,
as if the birds had never been birds.

Shit can fly in, Franky would say, closing
the window, heat, and chickens in on us.


Franky, who was skinny but dangerous,
who lived by the river, had a knack for it

and, like Caravaggio, a penchant for blades.
You see, you had to break them open,

yank out the sternum, knife between
rib and tendon, leave no shard, then mallet

the meat until you could make out
the grain of wood beneath.


Nothing catastrophic happened.
The sparrow didn't crap on the painting

nor try to end itself in the shaft of light
behind the boy's head. It shuttled

room to room, passed Bernini's Apollo,
above the armless statues in the portico,

and out a window at the other end,
though such a rush, it felt torn;

which is to say, it filled me with memory.


Sometimes I look at a painting and forget
what to live for: the histories

perpetuated in the face of the boy,
or for the aloneness, the jitteringly nervous

suspension of a bird. I don't know
if Franky ended the way everyone thought.

The thing I remember is his eyes:
if they looked at you, shit was going down,

and if he stood still long enough,
they trembled like two dark pools.


And I imagine if you looked in the eye
of that sparrow, you would see the same

and a window of blue reflected
and curved and vulnerable

over its surface. Of course, to do so,
you'd first have to capture it, learn how to

hold a thing without crushing it.
--James Hoch

In the museum of the perverse,
in Mütter's turn-of-the-century

collection of elephantic scrotums,
cumuli of colon, gray hearts

conjoined and floating in jars,
they have a child drying

in an exhibit case, strung by
wire, drawn by wrist, like

he's levitating. What wasted
him was not clear, for years,

only that he grew rapidly old,
but tacked and splayed as if

being converted or slaughtered,
arms flung like that, how could

Christ or Icarus not come to mind;
yet cured, aged thin, the grain of bone

seems carved, Etruscan or, older,
the size of ones sunk in bogs,

woven in glaciers; though posed
like the dead in the tombs of Fayum,

you have to face them, have to
wait for a pure gaze, a figment

of soul, an image exact enough
the next world will know him.

Somehow the body keeps us
looking beyond form, keeps us

marveling over its hollows: empty
skull, depressed sockets--absences

we tend to, as we tend to narrative:
ash, grind, leaf, until he's only

a child again, selfsame--Look,
he's riding a bicycle, no-hands.

No, he's trying to hug the air.

--James Hoch

"Painting of a Cart"
It's like some ancient machine brought from storage, another age,
and if it weren't selling imported flowers, you'd think the cart was
something you'd throw a few bodies on and haul through town,
regular enough its wheels warn of pestilence, poverty, reliable
as a church tower; and if you close your eyes and forgive the blossoms
the old stench might come wafting back, like a distant field feculent
and Dutch, spreading as the cart makes its way down the rancid
alleys, an odor thick as myrrh, slowly rising to a window, a kitchen
where you imagine you are chopping parsley, obliterating the leaves
into a stain of green; how you say to yourself, the wood, the knife knock,
the delinquent kids dragging a cart, clobbering the stones smooth with
their tiny hooves, how could this have ever been so lovely?
--James Hoch

"All Things End in Fragrance"
Out the window, starlings
fidget in the wasted eaves

of a bar burned down last summer.
They pilfer, figure,

charred wire, booth cushion,
anything light enough

to haul by beak, wedge high
between blackened 2 x 4.

A nest,
a bed for the dying
or just born--
The birds shuttle,

their feathers taking on
what they inhabit,

the way, Dear Witness, the silk
in your shirts took asafetida,

mustard oil burning
in a skillet, as this letter

makeshift and late
the leaden face of broken type,

a shape which, for now, says
Stay. Live here awhile

before rising into some other sorrow.
--James Hoch
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Don't ever think I fell for you, or fell over you. I didn't fall in love, I rose in it."
--Toni Morrison, Jazz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As though touching her
might make him known to himself

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

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

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

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

then decently hanged himself,one afternoon.

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

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

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

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

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

Tonight, you recite Ghalib from memory;

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

Taking a sip from your glass after every couplet,

the scotch rhyming perfectly the melancholy on your tongue.

You cling to nostalgia like an empty mirror,

to the scent of this language that withers like flowers.

You gather pain the way the sky gathers,

pinprick by slow pinprick, the stars.

Somewhere between question and answer

the feeling dissolves. The need to sing becomes

the struggle not to fall. And you arrange

your ruins into one last gesture,

knowing the Beloved will not heed your call,

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


You write to me from Delhi,

speak of summer blackouts,

of how, disconnected from the machines,

you thought of Ghalib--

the bomb blast of his grief

leaving the city in ruins--

and how the history of loss

could be written on a feather.

When the power returned

you turned the lights off,

lit a candle to see

the darkness a little better,

and still the shadows

were not the same.


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

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

And I think of all the years we have spent

listening to these ghazals, the verses

falling from our lips like pieces of exquisite glass

from broken window frames;

shaping our mouths to his sadness,

unbuttoning our collars to let his words stain

the rubbed language of our songs.

What have we been hiding from,

my friend? What longing is this inside us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Flower Dump"
Cannas shiny as slag,
Slug-soft stems,
Whole beds of bloom pitched on a pile,
Carnations, verbenas, cosmos,
Molds, weeds, dead leaves,
Turned-over roots
With bleached veins
Twined like fine hair,
Each clump in the shape of a pot;
Everything limp
But one tulip on top,
One swaggering head
Over the dying, the newly dead.
--Theodore Roethke
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Opinions aren't special unique ideas each special unique individual concocted all specially and uniquely by themselves; opinions are influenced and often straight-up constructed by society. Opinions can be wrong and opinions can be oppressive and opinions can be destructive, and when you get upset that people don't want to listen to you repeat the 400th version of why they don't deserve to be seen as human, because you've tied these opinions to your sense of special unique self and care more about that than about other people's experiences--you have no one to blame but yourself."

"[W]hen I read Meghan Cox Gurdon's complaints about the 'depravity' and 'hideously distorted portrayals' of contemporary young adult literature, I laughed at her condescension.

"Does Ms. Gurdon honestly believe that a sexually explicit YA novel might somehow traumatize a teen mother? Does she believe that a YA novel about murder and rape will somehow shock a teenager whose life has been damaged by murder and rape? Does she believe a dystopian novel will frighten a kid who already lives in hell?

"When some cultural critics fret about the 'ever-more-appalling' YA books, they aren't trying to protect African-American teens forced to walk through metal detectors on their way into school. Or Mexican-American teens enduring the culturally schizophrenic life of being American citizens and the children of illegal immigrants. Or Native American teens growing up on Third World reservations. Or poor white kids trying to survive the meth-hazed trailer parks. They aren't trying to protect the poor from poverty. Or victims from rapists.

"No, they are simply trying to protect their privileged notions of what literature is and should be. They are trying to protect privileged children. Or the seemingly privileged.

"[...]And there are millions of teens who read because they are sad and lonely and enraged. They read because they live in an often-terrible world. They read because they believe, despite the callow protestations of certain adults, that books--especially the dark and dangerous ones--will save them.

"[...]As a child, I read because books--violent and not, blasphemous and not, terrifying and not--were the most loving and trustworthy things in my life. I read widely, and loved plenty of the classics so, yes, I recognized the domestic terrors faced by Louisa May Alcott's March sisters. But I became the kid chased by werewolves, vampires, and evil clowns in Stephen King's books. I read books about monsters and monstrous things, often written with monstrous language, because they taught me how to battle the real monsters in my life.

"And now I write books for teenagers because I vividly remember what it felt like to be a teen facing everyday and epic dangers. I don't write to protect them. It's far too late for that. I write to give them weapons--in the form of words and ideas--that will help them fight their monsters. I write in blood because I remember what it felt like to bleed."
--Sherman Alexie, "Why the Best Kids Books Are Written in Blood" (here)

"It is not easy to see how the more extreme forms of nationalism can long survive when men have seen the Earth in its true perspective as a single small globe against the stars."
--Arthur C. Clarke
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns."
--Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

"I know why there is no glass in front of the watercolor picture of blue irises, and why the window only opens partly and why the glass in it is shatterproof. It isn't running away they're afraid of. We wouldn't get far. It's those other escapes, the ones you can open in yourself, given a cutting edge."
--Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale

"And sometimes a euphemism just isn't. Sometimes a euphemism is more true than what it's supposed to hide.

"And this really wasn't about sex."
--Chuck Palahniuk, Choke

"What did you New Agers expect? You think magic is so easy to explain? You come running to the reservations, to all these places you've decided are sacred. Jeez, don't you know that every place is sacred? You want your sacred land in warm places with pretty views. You want the sacred places to be near malls and 7-Elevens, too."
--Sherman Alexie

"The stories in books hate the stories in newspapers, David's mother would say. Newspaper stories were like newly caught fish, worthy for attention only for as long as they remained fresh, which was not very long at all. They were like the street urchins hawking the evening editions, all shouty and insistent, while stories--real stories, proper made-up stories--were like stern but helpful librarians in a well-stocked library. Newspaper stories were as insubstantial as smoke, as long-lived as mayflies. They did not take root but were instead like weeds that crawled along the ground, stealing sunlight from more deserving tales."
--John Connolly, The Book of Lost Things

" 'Because death is in the air,' he said gently. 'It is liberating suppressed material. It is getting us closer to things we haven't learned about ourselves. Most of us have probably already seen our own death but haven't known how to make the material surface. Maybe when we die, the first thing we'll say is, 'I know this feeling. I was here before.' "
--Don DeLillo, White Noise
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"As I was riding the Q recently to meet a friend, I idly pulled my ponytail out and ran my fingers through my hair.

"A man behind me leaned around and said, 'Your hair looks just fine. It looks good.'

"I laughed and said, 'Thank you; your hair looks good, too.'

"We chatted a bit and he eventually asked me very politely, 'Are you married?' I said no.

" 'How is that? A fine lady like you?'

" 'It just happens that way sometimes.'

" 'No man got lucky enough, huh?' I laughed again.

" 'So would I be able to get hold of you?' He had been polite, so I politely answered, 'I'm not interested in being gotten hold of just now.'

" 'You're not interested in a relationship at this point in your life?'

" 'Nope.'

"He seemed to understand and turned back around.

"After a minute he turned to me again: 'Well, can I have a dollar?' "
--Kim Hewitt, "The Metropolitan Diary," The New York Times

"A good essay must have this permanent quality about it; it must draw its curtain 'round us, but it must be a curtain that shuts us in, not out."
--Virginia Woolf

"Talent hits a target no one else can hit; genius hits a target no one else can see."
--Arthur Schopenhauer


Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.
--Max Ehrmann

"I took a turn to myself
And I was surprised because I saw everyone who ever I had loved
I felt a whole lot better after that"
--Belle and Sebastian, "We Are the Sleepyheads"

"At an early age I decided that living a life of pious misery in the hope of going to heaven when it's over is a lot like keeping your eyes shut all through a movie in the hope of getting your money back at the end."
--A. Whitney Brown

"If you expect to find people who will understand you, you will grow murderous with disappointment. The best you'll ever do is to understand yourself, know what it is that you want, and not let the cattle stand in your way."
--Janet Fitch

"My memory is strange that way. I often remember people I've never met and places I've never been. I don't think I'm some mystical bastard. I just think I pay attention to the details."
--Sherman Alexie

"You gain power by pretending to be weak. By contrast, you make people feel strong. You save people by letting them save you. All you have to do is be fragile and grateful."
--Chuck Palahniuk

"Helen of Troy Does Contertop Dancing"

The world is full of women
who'd tell me I should be ashamed of myself
if they had the chance. Quit dancing.
Get some self-respect
and a day job.
Right. And minimum wage,
and varicose veins, just standing
in one place for eight hours
behind a glass counter
bundled up to the neck, instead of
naked as a meat sandwich.
Selling gloves, or something.
Instead of what I do sell.
You have to have talent
to peddle a thing so nebulous
and without material form.
Exploited, they'd say. Yes, any way
you cut it, but I've a choice
of how, and I'll take the money.

I do give value.
Like preachers, I sell vision,
like perfume ads, desire
or its facsimile. Like jokes
or war, it's all in the timing.
I sell men back their worst suspicions:
that everything's for sale,
and piecemeal. They gaze at me and see
a chain-saw murder just before it happens,
when thigh, ass, inkblot, crevice, tit, and nipple
are still connected.
Such hatred leaps in them,
my beery worshipers! That, or a bleary
hopeless love. Seeing the rows of heads
and upturned eyes, imploring
but ready to snap at my ankles,
I understand floods and earthquakes, and the urge
to step on ants. I keep the beat,
and dance for them because
they can't. The music smells like foxes,
crisp and heated metal
searing the nostrils
or humid as August, hazy and languorous
as a looted city the day after,
when all the rape's been done
already, and the killing,
and the survivors wander around
looking for garbage
to eat, and there's only a bleak exhaustion.
Speaking of which, it's the smiling
that tires me out the most.
This, and the pretense
that I can't hear them.
And I can't, because I'm after all
a foreigner to them.
The speech here is all warty gutturals,
obvious as a slab of ham,
but I come from the province of the gods
where meanings are lilting and oblique.
I don't let on to everyone,
but lean close, and I'll whisper:
My mother was raped by a holy swan.
You believe that? You can take me out to dinner.
That's what we tell all the husbands.
There sure are a lot of dangerous birds around.

Not that anyone here
but you would understand.
The rest of them would like to watch me
and feel nothing. Reduce me to components
as in a clock factory or abattoir.
Crush out the mystery.
Wall me up alive
in my own body.
They'd like to see through me,
but nothing is more opaque
than absolute transparency.
Look--my feet don't hit the marble!
Like breath or a balloon, I'm rising,
I hover six inches in the air
in my blazing swan-egg of light.
You think I'm not a goddess?
Try me.
This is a torch song.
Touch me and you'll burn.
--Margaret Atwood


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November 2015



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