[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"It's odd how those who dismiss the peace movement as utopian don’t hesitate to proffer the most absurdly dreamy reasons to go to war: to stamp out terrorism, install democracy, eliminate fascism, and most entertainingly, to 'rid the world of evil do-ers.' "
--Arundhati Roy


"Whenever I experience evil, and it is not, unfortunately uncommon to experience it in these times, my deepest feeling is disappointment. I have learned to accept the fact that we risk disappointment, even despair, every time we act. Every time we decided to trust others to be as noble as we think they are. And that there may be years during which our grief is equal to, or evener greater than, our hope. The alternative, however, not to act, and therefore to miss experiencing other people at their best, reaching out toward their fullness, has never appealed to me."
--Alice Walker, Anything We Love Can Be Saved: A Writer's Activism


"Happiness is excitement that has found a settling down place, but there is always a little corner that keeps flapping around."
--E. L. Konigsburg


"Glass"
In every bar there's someone sitting alone and absolutely absorbed
by whatever he's seeing in the glass in front of him,
a glass that looks ordinary, with something clear or dark
inside it, something partially drunk but never completely gone.
Everything's there: all the plans that came to nothing,
the stupid love affairs, and the terrifying ones, the ones where actual happiness
opened like a hole beneath his feet and he fell in, then lay helpless
while the dirt rained down a little at a time to bury him.
And his friends are there, cracking open six-packs, raising the bottles,
the click of their meeting like the sound of a pool cue
nicking a ball, the wrong ball, that now edges, black and shining,
toward the waiting pocket. But it stops short, and at the bar the lone drinker
signals for another. Now the relatives are floating up
with their failures, with cancer, with plateloads of guilt
and a little laughter, too, and even beauty—some afternoon from childhood,
a lake, a ball game, a book of stories, a few flurries of snow
that thicken and gradually cover the earth until the whole
world's gone white and quiet, until there's hardly a world
at all, no traffic, no money or butchery or sex,
just a blessed peace that seems final but isn't. And finally
the glass that contains and spills this stuff continually
while the drinker hunches before it, while the bartender gathers
up empties, gives back the drinker's own face. Who knows what it looks like;
who cares whether or not it was young once, or ever lovely,
who gives a shit about some drunk rising to stagger toward
the bathroom, some man or woman or even lost
angel who recklessly threw it all over--heaven, the ether,
the celestial works--and said, Fuck it, I want to be human?
Who believes in angels, anyway? Who has time for anything
but their own pleasures and sorrows, for the few good people
they've managed to gather around them against the uncertainty,
against afternoons of sitting alone in some bar
with a name like the Embers or the Ninth Inning or the Wishing Well?
Forget that loser. Just tell me who's buying, who's paying;
Christ but I'm thirsty, and I want to tell you something,
come close I want to whisper it, to pour
the words burning into you, the same words for each one of you,
listen, it's simple, I'm saying it now, while I'm still sober,
while I'm not about to weep bitterly into my own glass,
while you're still here--don't go yet, stay, stay,
give me your shoulder to lean against, steady me, don't let me drop,
I'm so in love with you I can't stand up.
--Kim Addonizio


"Letter"
January 1998

I am not acquainted with anyone
there, if they spoke to me
I would not know what to do.
But so far nobody has, I know
I certainly wouldn't.
I don't participate, I'm not allowed;
I just listen, and every morning
have a moment of such happiness, I breathe
and breathe until the terror returns. About the time
when they are supposed to greet one another
two people actually look into each other's eyes
and hold hands a moment, but
the church is so big and the few who are there
are seated far apart. So this presents no real problem.
I keep my eyes fixed on the great naked corpse, the vertical corpse
who is said to be love
and who spoke the world
into being, before coming here
to be tortured and executed by it.
I don't know what I am doing there. I do
notice the more I lose touch
with what I previously saw as my life
the more real my spot in the dark winter pew becomes--
it is infinite. What we experience
as space, the sky
that is, the sun, the stars
is intimate and rather small by comparison.
When I step outside the ugliness is so shattering
it has become dear to me, like a retarded
child, precious to me.
If only I could tell someone.
The humiliation I go through
when I think of my past
can only be described as grace.
We are created by being destroyed.
--Franz Wright


"This is the treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain. If you can't lick 'em, join 'em. If it hurts, repeat it. But to praise despair is to condemn delight, to embrace violence is to lose hold of everything else. We have almost lost hold; we can no longer describe a happy man, nor make any celebration of joy."
--Ursula K. Le Guin


"I am reading six books at once, the only way of reading; since, as you will agree, one book is only a single unaccompanied note, and to get the full sound, one needs ten others at the same time."
--Virginia Woolf, The Letters of Virginia Woolf: Volume Three, 1923-1928


"To be running breathlessly, but not yet arrived, is itself delightful, a suspended moment of living hope."
--Anne Carson, Eros: The Bittersweet


"Asking for Directions"
We could have been mistaken for a married couple
riding on the train from Manhattan to Chicago
that last time we were together. I remember
looking out the window and praising the beauty
of the ordinary: the in-between places, the world
with its back turned to us, the small neglected
stations of our history. I slept across your
chest and stomach without asking permission
because they were the last hours. There was
a smell to the sheepskin lining of your new
Chinese vest that I didn't recognize. I felt
it deliberately. I woke early and asked you
to come with me for coffee. You said, sleep more,
and I said we only had one hour and you came.
We didn’t say much after that. In the station,
you took your things and handed me the vest,
then left as we had planned. So you would have
ten minutes to meet your family and leave.
I stood by the seat dazed by exhaustion
and the absoluteness of the end, so still I was
aware of myself breathing. I put on the vest
and my coat, got my bag and, turning, saw you
through the dirty window standing outside looking
up at me. We looked at each other without any
expression at all. Invisible, unnoticed, still.
That moment is what I will tell of as proof
that you loved me permanently. After that I was
a woman alone carrying her bag, asking a worker
which direction to walk to find a taxi.
--Linda Gregg


If you'd lived as I've lived
You would leave off living.
You would hunger for horizons--
Crack east and crack west
Like the smoke-smeared faces
Of factories breaking
The bones of the sky.
--Vladimir Mayakovsky


"Thoughts are the shadows of our feelings--always darker, emptier, and simpler."
--Friedrich Nietzsche


"The American Dream Visits While I Clean"
It wasn't part of me, only something I listened to,
like radio music or dialogue on the evening news.

I was cleaning the bathroom. I thought of nothing,
really, while I watched my hands move. It spoke

from the paint peeling on the bathroom ceiling
and the moisture on the windows turning

the wood black. It spoke through the stains
I couldn't clear and caulk loosening at the tub's edge.

It sat on the edge of the tub and recalled my past:
a broken down car that couldn't get me home

and meals of hot dogs every night of the week.
Sunlight sharpened the room and revealed

spots on the fixtures. A cat waltzed in
and threw the light back on itself, his hair

clinging to the wet tub. The dream didn't
notice that I wiped the surface clean again.

It stayed where it was and talked of nothing,
really, like dreams do.
--Julie Brooks Barbour


"won't you celebrate with me"
won't you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.
--Lucille Clifton


"More than just a physical space, he explained, a city is a set of cultural norms. 'It's kind of a shared dream.' Stop dreaming, stop continually making decisions to maintain it, and ivy creeps up the walls."
--Jason Fagone


"Poem for People That Are Understandably Too Busy to Read Poetry"
Relax. This won't last long.
Or if it does, or if the lines
make you sleepy or bored,
give in to sleep, turn on
the T.V., deal the cards.
This poem is built to withstand
such things. Its feelings
cannot be hurt. They exist
somewhere in the poet,
and I am far away.
Pick it up anytime. Start it
in the middle if you wish.
It is as approachable as melodrama,
and can offer you violence
if it is violence you like. Look,
there's a man on a sidewalk;
the way his leg is quivering
he'll never be the same again.
This is your poem
and I know you're busy at the office
or the kids are into your last nerve.
Maybe it's sex you've always wanted.
Well, they lie together
like the party's unbuttoned coats,
slumped on the bed
waiting for drunken arms to move them.
I don’t think you want me to go on;
everyone has his expectations, but this
is a poem for the entire family.
Right now, Budweiser
is dripping from a waterfall,
deodorants are hissing into armpits
of people you resemble,
and the two lovers are dressing now,
saying farewell.
I don't know what music this poem
can come up with, but clearly
it's needed. For it's apparent
they will never see each other again
and we need music for this
because there was never music when he or she
left you standing on the corner.
You see, I want this poem to be nicer
than life. I want you to look at it
when anxiety zigzags your stomach
and the last tranquilizer is gone
and you need someone to tell you
I'll be here when you want me
like the sound inside a shell.
The poem is saying that to you now.
But don't give anything for this poem.
It doesn't expect much. It will never say more
than listening can explain.
Just keep it in your attache case
or in your house. And if you're not asleep
by now, or bored beyond sense,
the poem wants you to laugh. Laugh at
yourself, laugh at this poem, at all poetry.
Come on:

Good. Now here's what poetry can do.

Imagine yourself a caterpillar.
There's an awful shrug and, suddenly,
You're beautiful for as long as you live.
--Stephen Dunn


"Society is the most powerful concoction in the world and society has no existence whatsoever."
--Virginia Woolf, Orlando


"Maggid"
The courage to let go of the door, the handle.
The courage to shed the familiar walls whose very
stains and leaks are comfortable as the little moles
of the upper arm; stains that recall a feast,
a child's naughtiness, a loud blistering storm
that slapped the roof hard, pouring through.

The courage to abandon the graves dug into the hill,
the small bones of children and the brittle bones
of the old whose marrow hunger had stolen;
the courage to desert the tree planted and only
begun to bear; the riverside where promises were
shaped; the street where the empty pots were broken.

The courage to leave the place whose language you learned
as early as your own, whose customs however
dangerous or demeaning, bind you like a halter
you have learned to pull inside, to move your load;
the land fertile with the blood spilled on it;
the roads mapped and annotated for survival.

The courage to walk out of the pain that is known
into the pain that cannot be imagined,
mapless, walking into the wilderness, going
barefoot with a canteen into the desert;
stuffed in the stinking hold of a rotting ship
sailing off the map into dragons' mouths.

Cathay, India, Serbia, goldeneh medina,
leaving bodies by the way like abandoned treasure.
So they walked out of Egypt. So they bribed their way
out of Russia under loaves of straw; so they steamed
out of the bloody smoking charnelhouse of Europe
on overloaded freighters forbidden all ports--

out of pain into death or freedom or a different
painful dignity, into squalor and politics.
We Jews are all born of wanderers, with shoes
under our pillows and a memory of blood that is ours
raining down. We honor only those Jews who changed
tonight, those who chose the desert over bondage,

who walked into the strange and became strangers
and gave birth to children who could look down
on them standing on their shoulders for having
been slaves. We honor those who let go of everything
but freedom, who ran, who revolted, who fought,
who became other by saving themselves.
--Marge Piercy


"The Resemblance between Your Life and a Dog"
I never intended to have this life, believe me--
It just happened. You know how dogs turn up
At a farm, and they wag but can't explain.

It's good if you can accept your life--you'll notice
Your face has become deranged trying to adjust
To it. Your face thought your life would look

Like your bedroom mirror when you were ten.
That was a clear river touched by mountain wind.
Even your parents can't believe how much you've changed.

Sparrows in winter, if you've ever held one, all feathers,
Burst out of your hand with a fiery glee.
You see them later in hedges. Teachers praise you,

But you can't quite get back to the winter sparrow.
Your life is a dog. He's been hungry for miles,
Doesn't particularly like you, but gives up, and comes in.
--Robert Bly


"[...]the things of night cannot be explained in the day, because they do not then exist..."
--Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms


"Never think yourself singular, never think your own case much harder than other people's. Once you begin to take yourself seriously as a leader or as a follower, then you become a self-conscious, biting, and scratching little animal whose work is not of the slightest value or importance to anybody. Think of yourself rather as something much humbler and less spectacular, but to my mind, far more interesting--a poet in whom live all the poets of the past, from whom all poets in time to come will spring."
--Virginia Woolf, "A Letter to a Young Poet"


"I got out this diary and read, as one always does read one’s own writing, with a kind of guilty intensity. I confess that the rough and random style of it, often so ungrammatical, and crying for a word altered, afflicted me somewhat. I am trying to tell whichever self it is that reads this hereafter that I can write very much better; and take no time over this; and forbid her to let the eye of man behold it. And now I may add my little compliment to the effect that it has a slapdash and vigour and sometimes hits an unexpected bull’s eye. But what is more to the point is my belief that the habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practice. It loosens the ligaments. Never mind the misses and the stumbles. Going at such a pace as I do I must make the most direct and instant shots at my object, and thus have to lay hands on words, choose them and shoot them with no more pause than is needed to put my pen in the ink. I believe that during the past year I can trace some increase of ease in my professional writing which I attribute to my casual half hours after tea. Moreover there looms ahead of me the shadow of some kind of form which a diary might attain to. I might in the course of time learn what it is that one can make of this loose, drifting material of life; finding another use for it than the use I put it to, so much more consciously and scrupulously, in fiction. What sort of diary should I like mine to be? Something loose knit and yet not slovenly, so elastic that it will embrace anything, solemn, slight or beautiful that comes into my mind. I should like it to resemble some deep old desk, or capacious hold-all, in which one flings a mass of odds and ends without looking them through. I should like to come back, after a year or two, and find that the collection had sorted itself and refined itself and coalesced, as such deposits so mysteriously do, into a mould, transparent enough to reflect the light of our life, and yet steady, tranquil compounds with the aloofness of a work of art. The main requisite, I think on re-reading my old volumes, is not to play the part of censor, but to write as the mood comes or of anything whatever; since I was curious to find how I went for things put in haphazard, and found the significance to lie where I never saw it at the time. But looseness quickly becomes slovenly. A little effort is needed to face a character or an incident which needs to be recorded. Nor can one let the pen write without guidance; for fear of becoming slack and untidy."
--Virginia Woolf


"Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter."
--Chinua Achebe


"People create stories create people; or rather, stories create people create stories."
--Chinua Achebe


"I have realized that the past and future are real illusions, that they exist in the present, which is what there is and all there is."
--Alan Watts


"We cannot trample upon the humanity of others without devaluing our own. The Igbo, always practical, put it concretely in their proverb Onye ji onye n’ani ji onwe ya: 'He who will hold another down in the mud must stay in the mud to keep him down.' "
--Chinua Achebe


"When suffering knocks at your door and you say there is no seat for him, he tells you not to worry because he has brought his own stool."
--Chinua Achebe


"While we do our good works let us not forget that the real solution lies in a world in which charity will have become unnecessary."
--Chinua Achebe


"It is the storyteller who makes us what we are, who creates history. The storyteller creates the memory that the survivors must have--otherwise their surviving would have no meaning."
--Chinua Achebe


"That we are surrounded by deep mysteries is known to all but the incurably ignorant."
--Chinua Achebe


"Postscript"
Even as the sun rises,
the darkness approaches.
You are the monster of your own campfire story,
and the telling of it
has been your life's noblest deed.

You can't bear to be alone,
but this is the best evidence you have
that you're still here.

In a charming café a thousand miles away,
a couple sits across from one another
and reads the news in silence.
It's up to you to choose
what happens next--it always has been--
and it's okay to choose not much.
Some ice snaps in a glass.
How still the world is.
--Dobby Gibson


"We often refuse to accept an idea merely because the tone of voice in which it has been expressed is unsympathetic to us."
--Friedrich Nietzsche


"At times it seems to me that I am living my life backwards, and that at the approach of old age my real youth will begin. My soul was born covered with wrinkles--wrinkles my ancestors and parents most assiduously put there and that I had the greatest trouble removing."
--André Gide
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Song of Childhood"
When the child was a child
It walked with its arms swinging,
wanted the brook to be a river,
the river to be a torrent,
and this puddle to be the sea.

When the child was a child,
it didn’t know that it was a child,
everything was soulful,
and all souls were one.

When the child was a child,
it had no opinion about anything,
had no habits,
it often sat cross-legged,
took off running,
had a cowlick in its hair,
and made no faces when photographed.

When the child was a child,
It was the time for these questions:
Why am I me, and why not you?
Why am I here, and why not there?
When did time begin, and where does space end?
Is life under the sun not just a dream?
Is what I see and hear and smell
not just an illusion of a world before the world?
Given the facts of evil and people.
does evil really exist?
How can it be that I, who I am,
didn’t exist before I came to be,
and that, someday, I, who I am,
will no longer be who I am?

When the child was a child,
It choked on spinach, on peas, on rice pudding,
and on steamed cauliflower,
and eats all of those now, and not just because it has to.

When the child was a child,
it awoke once in a strange bed,
and now does so again and again.
Many people, then, seemed beautiful,
and now only a few do, by sheer luck.

It had visualized a clear image of Paradise,
and now can at most guess,
could not conceive of nothingness,
and shudders today at the thought.

When the child was a child,
It played with enthusiasm,
and, now, has just as much excitement as then,
but only when it concerns its work.

When the child was a child,
It was enough for it to eat an apple, … bread,
And so it is even now.

When the child was a child,
Berries filled its hand as only berries do,
and do even now,
Fresh walnuts made its tongue raw,
and do even now,
it had, on every mountaintop,
the longing for a higher mountain yet,
and in every city,
the longing for an even greater city,
and that is still so,
It reached for cherries in topmost branches of trees
with an elation it still has today,
has a shyness in front of strangers,
and has that even now.
It awaited the first snow,
And waits that way even now.

When the child was a child,
It threw a stick like a lance against a tree,
And it quivers there still today.
--Peter Handke, translated from the German


"Peach Farm"
I'm thinking it's time to go back
to the peach farm or rather
the peach farm seems to be wanting me back
even though the work of picking, sorting,
the sticky perils and sudden swarms are done.
Okay, full disclosure, I've never
been on a peach farm, just glimpsed
from a car squat trees I assumed
were peach and knew a couple in school
who went off one summer, so they said,
to work on a peach farm. She was pregnant,
he didn't have much intention, canvases
of crushed lightbulbs and screws in paste.
He'd gotten fired from the lunch counter
for putting too much meat
on the sandwiches of his friends
then ended up in Macy's in New York
selling caviar and she went home
I think to Scranton, two more versions
of never hearing from someone again.
I'd like to say the most important fruits
are within but that's the very sort of bullshit
one goes to the peach farm to avoid,
not just flight from quadratic equations,
waiting for the plumber,
finding out your insurance won't pay.
Everyone wants out of the spider's stomach.
Everyone wants to be part of some harvest
and stop coughing to death and cursing
at nothing and waking up nowhere near
an orchard. Look at these baskets,
bashed about, nearly ruined with good employ.
Often, after you've spent a day on a ladder,
you dream of angels, the one with the trumpet
and free subscriptions to the New Yorker
or the archer, the oink angel, angel
of ten dollar bills found in the dryer
or the one who welcomes you in work gloves
and says if you're caught eating a single peach,
even windfall, you'll be executed.
Then laughs. It's okay, kiddo,
long as you're here, you're one of us.
--Dean Young


"Your Invitation to a Modest Breakfast"
It's too cold to smoke outside, but if you come over,
I'll keep my hands to myself, or won't I.
I would like to tell you about the wall eaten up

by the climbing plant--it was so beautiful.
Various things have been happening to me,
all of them sexual. The man on the bus

took off his pants so I could see him better.
Another man said, "Ignore him darlin'.
Just sit on my lap." But I'm not one of those

who's hungriest in the morning,
unlike the man at the bakery
who eats egg after egg after egg.

Listen. Come over: the cold has already eaten
the summer. I need another pair of ears:
from the kitchen I can't tell if I'm hearing wind chimes

or some gray woman with failing arms
dropping a pan full of onions and potatoes.
This morning I need four hands--

two to wash the greens, one to lift a teakettle,
one to pour the milk. This morning, one little mouth
will not do. We could play a game

where we crouch on the tiles, two yellow dogs
drinking coffee from bowls. We could play a game
where we let the breakfast burn.

Outside there's a world where every love scene
begins with a man in a doorway;
he walks over to the woman and says, "Open your mouth."
--Hannah Gamble


"In science, my dear, there is no such thing as good or evil. The death instinct is part of our biology. You're familiar with chromatolysis--the natural process by which cells die? Every one of our cells brings about its own destruction at its allotted time. That's the death instinct in operation. Now if a cell fails to die, what happens? It keeps dividing, reproducing, endlessly, unnaturally. It becomes a cancer. That's what cancer is, after all--cells afflicted with the loss of their will to die. The death instinct is not evil, Miss Rousseau. In its proper place it's every bit as essential to our well-being as its opposite."
--Jed Rubenfeld, The Death Instinct


"The Vanishings"
One day it will vanish,
how you felt when you were overwhelmed
by her, soaping each other in the shower,
or when you heard the news
of his death, there in the T-Bone diner
on Queens Boulevard amid the shouts
of short-order cooks, Armenian, oblivious.
One day one thing and then a dear other
will blur and though they won't be lost
they won't mean as much,
that motorcycle ride on the dirt road
to the deserted beach near Cadiz,
the Guardia mistaking you for a drug-runner,
his machine gun in your belly--
already history now, merely your history,
which means everything to you.
You strain to bring back
your mother's face and full body
before her illness, the arc and tenor
of family dinners, the mysteries
of radio, and Charlie Collins,
eight years old, inviting you
to his house to see the largest turd
that had ever come from him, unflushed.
One day there'll be almost nothing
except what you've written down,
then only what you've written down well,
then little of that.
The march on Washington in '68
where you hoped to change the world
and meet beautiful, sensitive women
is choreography now, cops on horses,
everyone backing off, stepping forward.
The exam you stole and put back unseen
has become one of your stories,
overtold, tainted with charm.
All of it, anyway, will go the way of icebergs
come summer, the small chunks floating
in the Adriatic until they're only water,
pure, and someone taking sad pride
that he can swim in it, numbly.
For you, though, loss, almost painless,
that Senior Prom at the Latin Quarter--
Count Basie and Sarah Vaughan, and you
just interested in your date's cleavage
and staying out all night at Jones Beach,
the small dune fires fueled by driftwood.
You can't remember a riff or a song,
and your date's a woman now, married,
has had sex as you have
some few thousand times, good sex
and forgettable sex, even boring sex,
oh you never could have imagined
back then with the waves crashing
what the body could erase.
It's vanishing as you speak, the soul-grit,
the story-fodder,
everything you retrieve is your past,
everything you let go
goes to memory's out-box, open on all sides,
in cahoots with thin air.
The jobs you didn't get vanish like scabs.
Her good-bye, causing the phone to slip
from your hand, doesn't hurt anymore,
too much doesn't hurt anymore,
not even that hint of your father, ghost-thumping
on your roof in Spain, hurts anymore.
You understand and therefore hate
because you hate the passivity of understanding
that your worst rage and finest
private gesture will flatten and collapse
into history, become invisible
like defeats inside houses. Then something happens
(it is happening) which won't vanish fast enough,
your voice fails, chokes to silence;
hurt (how could you have forgotten?) hurts.
Every other truth in the world, out of respect,
slides over, makes room for its superior.
--Stephen Dunn


"Musée des Beaux Arts"
About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
--W. H. Auden


"Gerontion"
Thou hast nor youth nor age
But as it were an after dinner sleep
Dreaming of both.


Here I am, an old man in a dry month,
Being read to by a boy, waiting for rain.
I was neither at the hot gates
Nor fought in the warm rain
Nor knee deep in the salt marsh, heaving a cutlass,
Bitten by flies, fought.
My house is a decayed house,
And the Jew squats on the window sill, the owner,
Spawned in some estaminet of Antwerp,
Blistered in Brussels, patched and peeled in London.
The goat coughs at night in the field overhead;
Rocks, moss, stonecrop, iron, merds.
The woman keeps the kitchen, makes tea.
Sneezes at evening, poking the peevish gutter.
I an old man,
A dull head among windy spaces.

Signs are taken for wonders. 'We would see a sign!'
The word within a word, unable to speak a word,
Swaddled with darkness. In the juvescence of the year
Came Christ the tiger

In depraved May, dogwood and chestnut, flowering judas,
To be eaten, to be divided, to be drunk
Among whispers; by Mr. Silvero
With caressing hands, at Limoges
Who walked all night in the next room;

By Hakagawa, bowing among the Titians;
By Madame de Tornquist, in the dark room
Shifting the candles; Fräulein von Kulp
Who turned in the hall, one hand on the door. Vacant shuttles
Weave the wind. I have no ghosts,
An old man in a draughty house.
Under a windy knob.

After such knowledge, what forgiveness? Think now
History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors
And issues, deceives with whispering ambitions,
Guides us by vanities. Think now
She gives when our attention is distracted
And what she gives, gives with such supple confusions
That the giving famishes the craving. Gives too late
What's not believed in, or if still believed,
In memory only, reconsidered passion. Gives too soon
Into weak hands, what's thought can be dispensed with
Till the refusal propagates a fear. Think
Neither fear nor courage saves us. Unnatural vices
Are fathered by our heroism. Virtues
Are forced upon us by our impudent crimes.
These tears are shaken from the wrath-bearing tree.

The tiger springs in the new year. Us he devours. Think at last
We have not reached conclusion, when I
Stiffen in a rented house. Think at last
I have not made this show purposelessly
And it is not by any concitation
Of the backward devils.
I would meet you upon this honestly.
I that was near your heart was removed therefrom
To lose beauty in terror, terror in inquisition.
I have lost my passion: why should I need to keep it
Since what is kept must be adulterated?
I have lost my sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch:
How should I use them for your closer contact?

These with a thousand small deliberations
Protract the profit of their chilled delirium,
Excite the membrane, when the sense has cooled,
With pungent sauces, multiply variety
In a wilderness of mirrors. What will the spider do,
Suspend its operations, will the weevil
Delay? De Bailhache, Fresca, Mrs. Cammel, whirled
Beyond the circuit of the shuddering Bear
In fractured atoms. Gull against the wind, in the windy straits
Of Belle Isle, or running on the Horn.
White feathers in the snow, the Gulf claims,
And an old man driven by the Trades
To a sleepy corner.

Tenants of the house,
Thoughts of a dry brain in a dry season.
--T. S. Eliot
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Las Ruinas del Corazon"
Juana the Mad married the handsomest man in Spain
and that was the end of it, because when you marry a man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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


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


trigger warning: rape, suicide, violence, abortion )


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


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


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


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


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


"Or Paul Celan said that the poem was no different from a handshake. I cannot see any basic difference between a handshake and a poem--is how Rosemary Waldrop translated his German. The handshake is our decided ritual of both asserting (I am here) and handing over (here) a self to another. Hence the poem is that--Here, I am here. This conflation of the solidity of presence with the offering of this same presence perhaps has everything to do with being alive."
--Claudia Rankine
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"There is another world, but it is inside this one."
--Paul Éluard


"We Were Emergencies"
We can stick anything into the fog and make it look like a ghost.
But tonight let us not become tragedies.
We are not funeral homes
with propane tanks in our windows
lookin' like cemeteries.
Cemeteries are just the Earth's way of not letting go.
Let go.
Tonight, poets, let's turn our wrists so far backwards
the razor blades in our pencil tips
can't get a good angle on all that beauty inside.
Step into this.
With your airplane parts.
Move forward.
And repeat after me with your heart:
I no longer need you to fuck me as hard as I hated myself.
Make love to me
like you know I am better than the worst thing I ever did.
Go slow.
I'm new to this,
but I have seen nearly every city from a rooftop
without jumping.
I have realized that the moon
did not have to be full for us to love it.
That we are not tragedies
stranded here beneath it.
That if our hearts
really broke
every time we fell from love
I'd be able to offer you confetti by now.
But hearts don't break, y'all,
they bruise and get better.
We were never tragedies.
We were emergencies.
You call 9 – 1 – 1.
Tell them I'm havin' a fantastic time.
--Buddy Wakefield


"If you are looking for hell,
ask the artist where it is.
If you cannot find an artist,
then you are already in hell."
--Avigdor Pawsner


"A Palmful of Universe"
Eternity isn't much when you hold it
like a moon between your fingertips.

Hey.
Let's drink an ocean on the rocks tonight.
A toast to the east coast, to sea glass and paper cuts
and hearing your heart beat in every place he touches you.

And I say this now
knowing fully well that you've heard it all before,
drunk one night, hanging your feet off the edge
of the world, you must've told the person beside you
how small you felt,
how small you were
underneath an ocean of
falling tinsel.

But listen.
We've been living this conversation
since before the ages of watches and sun disks
and asterisks, in a time before people like me
could ever ruin the moon for us all.

So let's call them ancient feelings.

The two of us, sitting looking at the same moon
that Neruda has seen, that Fitzpatrick has seen,
and when I say Fitzpatrick
I mean my middle school principal, not the man who wrote that one book
about the sad upper-class of Long Island.

Because I'm flossing my teeth with latitude lines
and I'll never understand time zones or how
days even exist when the sun never meets a dead end
to make a U-turn.

I had a dream once that a love and I carved our names into tree bark.

The same night, a birch woke up shivering and wept--
its leaves falling onto the floor beneath it--
and he whispered to the woodpecker that he dreamt his roots almost
touched another's.
And his blossoms wilted underneath a colder moon.
--Shinji Moon


"How terribly sad it is that people are made in such a way that they get used to something as extraordinary as living."
--Jostein Gaarder


"Please Understand (A Bachelor's Valentine)"
When, next day, I found one of your earrings,
slightly chipped, on the steps leading up to
but also away from my house,

I couldn't decide if I should return it to you
or keep it for myself in this copper box.
Then I remembered there's always another choice

and pushed it with my foot into the begonias.
If you're the kind who desires fragile mementos
of these perilous journeys we take,

that's where you'll find it. But don't knock
on my door. I'll probably be sucking the pit
out of an apricot, or speaking long distance

to myself. Best we can hope for on days like this
is that the thunder and dark clouds will veer elsewhere,
and the unsolicited sun will break through

just before it sets, a beautiful dullness to it.
Please understand. I've never been able to tell
what's worth more—what I want or what I have.
--Stephen Dunn


"Tear It Down"
We find out the heart only by dismantling what
the heart knows. By redefining the morning,
we find a morning that comes just after darkness.
We can break through marriage into marriage.
By insisting on love we spoil it, get beyond
affection and wade mouth-deep into love.
We must unlearn the constellations to see the stars.
But going back toward childhood will not help.
The village is not better than Pittsburgh.
Only Pittsburgh is more than Pittsburgh.
Rome is better than Rome in the same way the sound
of racoon tongues licking the inside walls
of the garbage tub is more than the stir
of them in the muck of the garbage. Love is not
enough. We die and are put into the earth forever.
We should insist while there is still time. We must
eat through the wildness of her sweet body already
in our bed to reach the body within the body.
--Jack Gilbert


"Home Is So Sad"
Home is so sad. It stays as it was left,
Shaped to the comfort of the last to go
As if to win them back. Instead, bereft
Of anyone to please, it withers so,
Having no heart to put aside the theft

And turn again to what it started as,
A joyous shot at how things ought to be,
Long fallen wide. You can see how it was:
Look at the pictures and the cutlery.
The music in the piano stool. That vase.
--Philip Larkin


"Making the Move"
When Ulysses braved the wine-dark sea
He left his bow with Penelope,
Who would bend for no one but himself.
I edge along the book-shelf,
Past bad Lord Byron, Raymond Chandler,
Howard Hughes; The Hidden Years,
Past Blaise Pascal, who, bound in hide,
Divined the void to his left side:
Such books as one may think one owns
Unloose themselves like stones
And clatter down into this wider gulf
Between myself and my good wife;
A primus stove, a sleeping bag,
The bow I bought through a catalogue
When I was thirteen or fourteen
That would bend, and break, for anyone,
Its boyish length of maple upon maple
Unseasoned and unsupple.
Were I embarking on that wine-dark sea
I would bring my bow along with me.
--Paul Muldoon


"To Return to the Urges Unconscious of Their Beginning"
I want to return to the first urges, those urges that seemed so unconscious of their beginnings.
Urges that were eager to admire the first pen in my life my mother brought me when I was a child.
Urges that were the radiant new shirt of days in my poor village.
I want to return to those urges so unconscious of their beginnings.
Urges that were my astonishment at seeing the first feeding breast and the 1001st nostalgia that seemed almost too much to bear.
Urges that were the first naive and truthful song a soldier of the 308th division taught me in his loving arm.
Urges that were my first sensations at seeing my poems in print. How happy and anxious my heart that moment seeing the small creatures of handwriting incarnated into the dragons of type.
Urges that were the first insult about my poems that I heard from the mouth of one who didn't know me.
I want to return to those first urges so unconscious of their origins.
So I need no longer know which urges are introverted and which are extroverted.
So I need no longer know which poetry must be connected to policy and which must be away from policy.
So I need no longer know which poetry must be in established patterns as in "North of the River," or must be in free fashion as in "Cochinchina."
And last, so I need no longer know, can poems be sold, and can they be sold at a profit.
--Pham Tien Duat, translated from the Vietnamese by Ngo Vinh Hai and Kevin Bowen


"I'll Give You Red"
I'll give you red,
the color the Russians loved
so much they used it to make
their word for beautiful:
krasniy.
I'll give you scarlet
from the epaulets of blackbirds.
Or cardinal
from the spirits threading
through a steamy green
Midwestern afternoon.
I'll give you crimson
from the feathers the parrot
hides in his tail
and only lets us see
when he is furious.
Here is your cerise
the sad, shameful stain of cherries.
And vermilion
the bright sash of yesterday
that lingers on the horizon.
I'll give you ruby
the color of lies
that lovers tell themselves,
the flame at the prism's
deepest heart.
But I will keep this red
the drunken sweet damp scent
of the breeze that sweeps
over strawberry fields
in June.
--Tamara Madison


"Lipstick"
(Based on observations in Bosnia and Afghanistan by war photographer Jenny Matthews.
Confirmed by the Max Factor catalogue 1945.)


In war time women turn to red
swivel-up scarlet and carmine
not in solidarity with spilt blood
but as a badge of beating hearts.

This crimson is the shade of poets
silenced for speaking against torture,
this vermillion is art
surviving solitary confinement,

this cerise defies the falling bombs
the snipers taking aim at bread-queues,
this ruby's the resilience of girls
who tango in the pale-lipped face of death.
--Maggie Butt


"The Rescued Year"
Take a model of the world so big
it is the world again, pass your hand,
press back that area in the west where no one lived,
the place only your mind explores. On your thumb
that smudge becomes my ignorance, a badge
the size of Colorado: toward that state by train
we crossed our state like birds and lodged--
the year my sister gracefully
grew up--against the western boundary
where my father had a job.

Time should go the way it went
that year: we weren't at war; we had
each day a treasured unimportance;
the sky existed, so did our town;
the library had books we hadn't read;
every day at school we learned and sang,
or at least hummed and walked in the hall.

In church I heard the preacher; he said
"Honor!" with a sound like empty silos
repeating the lesson. For a minute I held
Kansas Christian all along the Santa Fe.
My father's mean attention, though, was busy--this
I knew--and going home his wonderfully level gaze
would hold the stare I liked, where little happened
and much was understood. I watched my father's finger
mark off huge eye-scans of what happened in the creed.

Like him, I tried. I still try,
send my sight like a million pickpockets
up rich people's drives; it is time
when I pass for every place I go to be alive.
Around any corner my sight is a river,
and I let it arrive: rich by those brooks
his thought poured for hours
into my hand. His creed: the greater ownership
of all is to glance around and understand.

That Christmas Mother made paper
presents; we colored them with crayons
and hung up a tumbleweed for a tree.
A man from Hugoton brought my sister
a present (his farm was tilted near oil
wells; his car ignored the little
bumps along our drive: nothing
came of all this--it was just part of the year).

I walked out where a girl I knew would be;
we crossed the plank over the ditch
to her house. There was popcorn on the stove,
and her mother recalled the old days, inviting me back.
When I walked home in the cold evening,
snow that blessed the wheat had roved
along the highway seeking furrows,
and all the houses had their lights--
oh, that year did not escape me: I rubbed
the wonderful old lamp of our dull town.

That spring we crossed the state again,
my father soothing us with stories:
the river lost in Utah, underground--
"They've explored only the ones they've found!"--
and that old man who spent his life knowing,
unable to tell how he knew--
"I've been sure by smoke, persuaded
by mist, or a cloud, or a name:
once the truth was ready"--my father smiled
at this--"it didn't care how it came."

In all his ways I hold that rescued year--
comes that smoke like love into the broken
coal, that forms to chunks again and lies
in the earth again in its dim folds, and comes a sound,
then shapes to make a whistle fade,
and in the quiet I hold no need, no hurry:
any day the dust will move, maybe settle;
the train that left will roll back into our station,
the name carved on the platform unfill with rain,
and the sound that followed the couplings back
will ripple forward and hold the train.
--William Stafford


"Aunt Mabel"
This town is haunted by some good deed
that reappears like a country cousin, or truth
when language falters these days trying to lie,
because Aunt Mabel, an old lady gone now, would
accost even strangers to give bright flowers
away, quick as a striking snake. It's deeds like this
have weakened me, shaken by intermittent trust,
stricken with friendliness.

Our Senator talked like war, and Aunt Mabel
said, "He's a brilliant man,
but we didn't elect him that much."

Everyone's resolve weakens toward evening
or in a flash when a face melds--a stranger's, even--
reminded for an instant between menace and fear:
There are Aunt Mabels all over the world,
or their graves in the rain.
--William Stafford


"Our City Is Guarded by Automatic Rockets"
1
Breaking every law except the one
for Go, rolling its porpoise way, the rocket
staggers on its course; its feelers lock
a stranglehold ahead; and--rocking--finders
whispering "Target, Target," back and forth,
relocating all its meaning in the dark,
it freezes on the final stage. I know
that lift and pour, the flick out of the sky
and then the power. Power is not enough.

2
Bough touching bough, touching...till the shore,
a lake, an undecided river, and a lake again
saddling the divide: a world that won't be wise
and let alone, but instead is found outside
by little channels, linked by chance, not stern;
and then when once we're sure we hear a guide
it fades away toward the opposite end of the road
from home--the world goes wrong in order to have revenge.
Our lives are an amnesty given us.

3
There is a place behind our hill so real
it makes me turn my head, no matter. There
in the last thicket lies the cornered cat
saved by its claws, now ready to spend
all there is left of the wilderness, embracing
its blood. And that is the way that I will spit
life, at the end of any trail where I smell any hunter,
because I think our story should not end--
or go on in the dark with nobody listening.
--William Stafford


"The Epitaph Ending in And"
In the last storm, when hawks
blast upward and a dove is
driven into the grass, its broken wings
a delicate design, the air between
wracked thin where it stretched before,
a clear spring bent close too often
(that Earth should ever have such wings
burnt on in blind color!), this will be
good as an epitaph:

Doves did not know where to fly, and
--William Stafford


"At This Point on the Page"
Frightened at the slant of the writing, I looked up
at the student who shared it with me--
such pain was in the crossing of each t,
and a heart that skipped--lurched--in the loop of the y.
Sorrowing for the huddled lines my eyes had seen--
the terror of the o's and a's, and those draggled g's,
I looked up at her face,
not wanting to read farther, at least by prose:
the hand shook that wrote that far on the page,
and what weight formed each word, God knows.
--William Stafford


"Near"
Walking along in this not quite prose way
we both know it is not quite prose we speak,
and it is time to notice this intolerable snow
innumerably touching, before we sink.

It is time to notice, I say, the freezing snow
hesitating toward us from its gray heaven;
listen--it is falling not quite silently
and under it still you and I are walking.

Maybe there are trumpets in the house we pass
and a redbird watching from an evergreen--
but nothing will happen until we pause
to flame what we know, before any signal's given.
--William Stafford


"The Animal That Drank up Sound"
1
One day across the lake where echoes come now
an animal that needed sound came down. He gazed
enormously, and instead of making any, he took
away from, sound: the lake and all the land
went dumb. A fish that jumped went back like a knife,
and the water died. In all the wilderness around he
drained the rustle from the leaves into the mountainside
and folded a quilt over the rocks, getting ready
to store everything the place had known; he buried--
thousands of autumns deep--the noise that used to come there.

Then that animal wandered on and began to drink
the sound out of all the valleys--the croak of toads,
and all the little shiny noise grass blades make.
He drank till winter, and then looked out one night
at the stilled places guaranteed around by frozen
peaks and held in the shallow pools of starlight.
It was finally tall and still, and he stopped on the highest
ridge, just where the cold sky fell away
like a perpetual curve, and from there he walked on silently,
and began to starve.

When the moon drifted over the night the whole world lay
just like the moon, shining back that still
silver, and the moon saw its own animal dead
on the snow, its dark absorbing paws and quiet
muzzle, and thick, velvet, deep fur.

2
After the animal that drank sound died, the world
lay still and cold for months, and the moon yearned
and explored, letting its dead light float down
the west walls of canyons and then climb its delighted
soundless way up the east side. The moon
owned the earth its animal had faithfully explored.
The sun disregarded the life it used to warm.

But on the north side of a mountain, deep in some rocks,
a cricket slept. It had been hiding when that animal
passed, and as spring came again this cricket waited,
afraid to crawl out into the heavy stillness.
Think how deep the cricket felt, lost there
in such a silence--the grass, the leaves, the water,
the stilled animals all depending on such a little
thing. But softly it tried--"Cricket!"--and back like a river
from that one act flowed the kind of world we know,
first whisperings, then moves in the grass and leaves;
the water splashed, and a big night bird screamed.

It all returned, our precious world with its life and sound,
where sometimes loud over the hill the moon,
wild again, looks for its animal to roam, still,
down out of the hills, any time.
But somewhere a cricket waits.

It listens now, and practices at night.
--William Stafford


"Freedom"
Freedom is not following a river.
Freedom is following a river,
though, if you want to.
It is deciding now by what happens now.
It is knowing that luck makes a difference.

No leader is free; no follower is free--
the rest of us can often be free.
Most of the world are living by
creeds too odd, chancy, and habit-forming
to be worth arguing about by reason.

If you are oppressed, wake up about
four in the morning: most places,
you can usually be free some of the time
if you wake up before other people.
--William Stafford
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Sweetness"
Just when it has seemed I couldn't bear
one more friend
waking with a tumor, one more maniac

with a perfect reason, often a sweetness
has come
and changed nothing in the world

except the way I stumbled through it,
for a while lost
in the ignorance of loving

someone or something, the world shrunk
to mouth-size,
hand-size, and never seeming small.

I acknowledge there is no sweetness
that doesn't leave a stain,
no sweetness that's ever sufficiently sweet ....

Tonight a friend called to say his lover
was killed in a car
he was driving. His voice was low

and guttural, he repeated what he needed
to repeat, and I repeated
the one or two words we have for such grief

until we were speaking only in tones.
Often a sweetness comes
as if on loan, stays just long enough

to make sense of what it means to be alive,
then returns to its dark
source. As for me, I don't care

where it's been, or what bitter road
it's traveled
to come so far, to taste so good.
--Stephen Dunn


"Vermilion"
Pierre Bonnard would enter
the museum with a tube of paint
in his pocket and a sable brush.
Then violating the sanctity
of one of his own frames
he'd add a stroke of vermilion
to the skin of a flower.
Just so I stopped you
at the door this morning
and licking my index finger, removed
an invisible crumb
from your vermilion mouth. As if
at the ritual moment of departure
I had to show you still belonged to me.
As if revision were
the purest form of love.
--Linda Pastan
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"The Mutterings of Old Snow"
The night Sibelius died, a flock of swans
flew over his house.

When I was ten, I thought death
was the silence of a pail-trapped frog.

What will leap over my house when I die?
How many days are etched on my table?

I walk outside, converse with a drift,
the mutterings of old snow;

the tan of dry oak leaves,
rising on the wind in wildest speech.
--Allan Cooper


"It is spring again. The earth is like a child that knows poems by heart."
--Rainer Maria Rilke


"I'm frightened of people who believe in just one story. The advantage of studying literature is that you learn many stories, philosophy, history, etc. You learn that we have commonalities of strangeness and secrets with our fellow humans. Because of many stories, we are that much more open to otherness."
--Stephen Dunn


"A human being is primarily a bag for putting food into; the other functions and faculties may be more godlike, but in point of time they come afterwards. A man dies and is buried, and all his words and actions are forgotten, but the food he has eaten lives after him in the sound or rotten bones of his children. I think it could be plausibly argued that changes of diet are more important than changes of dynasty or even of religion...Yet it is curious how seldom the all-importance of food is recognized. You see statues everywhere to politicians, poets, bishops, but none to cooks or bacon-curers or market gardeners."
--George Orwell
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"There's a certain Slant of light"
There's a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons--
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes--

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us--
We can find no scar,
But internal difference,
Where the Meanings, are--

None may teach it--Any--
'Tis the Seal Despair--
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air--

When it comes, the Landscape listens--
Shadows--hold their breath--
When it goes, 'tis like the Distance
On the look of Death--
--Emily Dickinson


"Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball;
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life.
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run."
--Andrew Marvell, "To His Coy Mistress"


"Traveling"
If you travel alone, hitchhiking,
sleeping in woods,
make a cathedral of the moonlight
that reaches you, and lie down in it.
Shake a box of nails
at the night sounds
for there is comfort in your own noise.
And say out loud:
somebody at sunrise be distraught
for love of me,
somebody at sunset call my name.
There will soon be company.
But if the moon clouds over
you have to live with disapproval.
You are a traveler,
you know the open, hostile smiles
of those stuck in their lives.
Make a fire.
If the Devil sits down, offer companionship,
tell her you've always admired
her magnificent, false moves.
Then recite the list
of what you've learned to do without.
It is stronger than prayer.
--Stephen Dunn


"A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London"
Never until the mankind making
Bird beast and flower
Fathering and all humbling darkness
Tells with silence the last light breaking
And the still hour
Is come of the sea tumbling in harness

And I must enter again the round
Zion of the water bead
And the synagogue of the ear of corn
Shall I let pray the shadow of a sound
Or sow my salt seed
In the least valley of sackcloth to mourn

The majesty and burning of the child's death.
I shall not murder
The mankind of her going with a grave truth
Nor blaspheme down the stations of the breath
With any further
Elegy of innocence and youth.

Deep with the first dead lies London's daughter,
Robed in the long friends,
The grains beyond age, the dark veins of her mother,
Secret by the unmourning water
Of the riding Thames.
After the first death, there is no other.
--Dylan Thomas


"The White Room"
The obvious is difficult
To prove. Many prefer
The hidden. I did, too.
I listened to the trees.

They had a secret
Which they were about to
Make known to me,
And then didn't.

Summer came. Each tree
On my street had its own
Scheherazade. My nights
Were a part of their wild

Storytelling. We were
Entering dark houses,
More and more dark houses
Hushed and abandoned.

There was someone with eyes closed
On the upper floors.
The thought of it, and the wonder,
Kept me sleepless.

The truth is bald and cold,
Said the woman
Who always wore white.
She didn't leave her room much.

The sun pointed to one or two
Things that had survived
The long night intact,
The simplest things,

Difficult in their obviousness.
They made no noise.
It was the kind of day
People describe as "perfect."

Gods disguising themselves
As black hairpins? A hand-mirror?
A comb with a tooth missing?
No! That wasn't it.

Just things as they are,
Unblinking, lying mute
In that bright light,
And the trees waiting for the night.
--Charles Simic


"A Prayer That Will Be Answered"
Lord let me suffer a lot

and then let me die



Allow me to walk through silence

Let nothing not even fear linger after me



Make the world go on as it always has

let the sea continue to kiss the shore



Let grass still remain green

so a little frog could find shelter in it



and someone could bury his face

and weep his heart out



Make a day dawn so bright

it seems there is no more suffering



And let my poem be transparent as a windowpane

against which a straying bee hits its head
--Anna Kamieńska, translator unknown.


"I Shall Be Loved As Quiet Things"
I shall be loved as quiet things
Are loved--white pigeons in the sun,
Curled yellow leaves that whisper down
One after one;

The silver reticence of smoke
That tells no secret of its birth
Among the fiery agonies
That turn the earth;

Cloud-islands; reaching arms of trees;
The frayed and eager little moon
That strays unheeded through a high
Blue afternoon.

The thunder of my heart must go
Under the muffling of the dust--
As my gray dress has guarded it
The grasses must;

For it has hammered loud enough,
Clamored enough, when all is said:
Only its quiet part shall live
When I am dead.
--Karle Wilson Baker


"Corona"
Autumn eats its leaf out of my hand: we are friends.
From the nuts we shell time and we teach it to walk:
then time returns to the shell.

In the mirror it's Sunday,
in dream there is room for sleeping,
our mouths speak the truth.

My eye moves down to the sex of my loved one:
we look at each other,
we exchange dark words,
we love each other like poppy and recollection,
we sleep like wine in the conches,
like the sea in the moon's blood ray.

We stand by the window embracing, and people
look up from the street:
it is time they knew!
It is time the stone made an effort to flower,
time unrest had a beating heart.
It is time it were time.

It is time.
--Paul Celan, translated from the German by Michael Hamburger.


" 'They don't kill you unless you light them,' he said as Mom arrived on the curb. 'And I've never lit one. It's a metaphor, see: You put the killing thing between your teeth, but you don't give it the power to do its killing.' "
--John Green, The Fault in Our Stars


"And then the line was quiet but not dead. I almost felt like he was there in my room with me, but in a way it was better, like I was not in my room and he was not in his, but instead we were together in some invisible and tenuous third space that could only be visited on the phone."
--John Green


" 'You know what I believe? I remember in college I was taking this math class, this really great math class taught by this tiny old woman. She was talking about fast Fourier transforms and she stopped midsentence and said, 'Sometimes it seems the universe wants to be noticed.'

" 'That's what I believe. I believe the universe wants to be noticed. I think the universe is improbably biased toward consciousness, that it rewards intelligence in part because the universe enjoys its elegance being observed. And who am I, living in the middle of history, to tell the universe that it--or my observation of it--is temporary?' "
--John Green


"You could hear the wind in the leaves, and on that wind traveled the screams of the kids on the playground in the distance, the little kids figuring out how to be alive, how to navigate a world that was not built for them by navigating a playground that was. Dad saw me watching the kids and said, 'You miss running around like that?'

" 'Sometimes, I guess.' But that wasn't what I was thinking. I was just trying to notice everything: the light on the ruined Ruins, this little kid who could barely walk discovering a stick at the corner of the playground, my indefatigable mother zigzagging mustard across her turkey sandwich, my dad patting his handheld in his pocket and resisting the urge to check it, a guy throwing a Frisbee that his dog kept running under and catching and returning to him.

"Who am I to say that these things might not be forever? Who is Peter Van Houten to assert as fact the conjecture that our labor is temporary? All I know of heaven and all I know of death is in this park: an elegant universe in ceaseless motion, teeming with ruined ruins and screaming children."
--John Green


"Almost everyone is obsessed with leaving a mark upon the world. Bequeathing a legacy. Outlasting death. We all want to be remembered. I do, too. That's what bothers me most, is being another unremembered casualty in the ancient and inglorious war against disease.

"I want to leave a mark.

"But Van Houten: The marks humans leave are too often scars. You build a hideous minimall or start a coup or try to become a rock star, and you think, 'They'll remember me now,' but (a) they don't remember you, and (b) all you leave behind are more scars. Your coup becomes a dictatorship. Your mimimall becomes a lesion.

[...]

"We are like a bunch of dogs squirting on fire hydrants. We poison the groundwater with our toxic piss, marking everything MINE in a ridiculous attempt to survive our deaths. I can't stop pissing on fire hydrants. I know it's silly and useless--epically useless in my current state--but I am an animal like any other.

"Hazel is different. She walks lightly, old man. She walks lightly upon the earth. Hazel knows the truth: We're as likely to hurt the universe as we are to help it, and we're not likely to do either.

"People will say it's sad that she leaves a lesser scar, that fewer remember her, that she was loved deeply but not widely. But it's not sad, Van Houten. It's triumphant. It's heroic. Isn't that the real heroism? Like the doctors say: First, do no harm.

"The real heroes anyway aren't the people doing things; the real heroes are the people NOTICING things, paying attention. The guy who invented the smallpox vaccine didn't actually invent anything. He just noticed that people with cowpox didn't get smallpox."
--John Green
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"At the Smithville Methodist Church"
It was supposed to be Arts & Crafts for a week,
but when she came home
with the "Jesus Saves" button, we knew what art
was up, what ancient craft.

She liked her little friends. She liked the songs
they sang when they weren't
twisting and folding paper into dolls.
What could be so bad?

Jesus had been a good man, and putting faith
in good men was what
we had to do to stay this side of cynicism,
that other sadness.

OK, we said, One week. But when she came home
singing "Jesus loves me,
the Bible tells me so," it was time to talk.
Could we say Jesus

doesn't love you? Could I tell her the Bible
is a great book certain people use
to make you feel bad? We sent her back
without a word.

It had been so long since we believed, so long
since we needed Jesus
as our nemesis and friend, that we thought he was
sufficiently dead,

that our children would think of him like Lincoln
or Thomas Jefferson.
Soon it became clear to us: you can't teach disbelief
to a child,

only wonderful stories, and we hadn't a story
nearly as good.
On parents' night there were the Arts & Crafts
all spread out

like appetizers. Then we took our seats
in the church
and the children sang a song about the Ark,
and Hallelujah

and one in which they had to jump up and down
for Jesus.
I can't remember ever feeling so uncertain
about what's comic, what's serious.

Evolution is magical but devoid of heroes.
You can't say to your child
"Evolution loves you." The story stinks
of extinction and nothing

exciting happens for centuries. I didn't have
a wonderful story for my child
and she was beaming. All the way home in the car
she sang the songs,

occasionally standing up for Jesus.
There was nothing to do
but drive, ride it out, sing along
in silence.
--Stephen Dunn
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Patrick actually used to be popular before Sam bought him some good music."
--Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower


"Any man who would change the world in a significant way must have showmanship, a genial willingness to shed other people's blood, and a plausible new religion to introduce during the brief period of repentance and horror that usually follows bloodshed."
--Kurt Vonnegut, The Sirens of Titan


"One Kashmiri morning in the early spring of 1915, my grandfather Aadam Aziz hit his nose against a frost-hardened tussock of earth while attempting to pray. Three drops of blood plopped out of his left nostril, hardened instantly in the brittle air and lay before his eyes on the prayer-mat, transformed into rubies. Lurching back until he knelt with his head once more upright, he found that the tears which had sprung to his eyes had solidified, too; and at that moment, as he brushed diamonds contemptuously from his lashes, he resolved never again to kiss earth for any god or man."
--Salman Rushdie, Midnight's Children


"Overlay"
I was tired of the shouting and the celery,
the ignitions and navels and telephones.
I moved to a country where everything happened abstractly.

I had heard about this place in some translated poems:
a country filled with suffering and death and hope
and politics, and minds to ponder them constantly.

But I was shocked by the new place, which proved to have many actual things:
mating turtles, good cheap bread, homeless four-year-olds walking the streets,
a museum filled with gold objects worth more than all the governments of South America,
and clouds that offered fog four months per year, though never rain.

I learned that the translators were not there,
but back in my own country amid sofas and taxis and loud music
and slaughtered chickens, wishing for the misery and chance
this other country's poets might provide by turning
dusty shoes to sorrow, potatoes to faith,
loud music to notes that would lay over ours--
doubling our worlds or canceling them out.
--Stephen Corey


"Tenderness"
Back then when so much was clear
and I hadn't learned
young men learn from women

what it feels like to feel just right,
I was twenty-three,
she thirty-four, two children, and husband

in prison for breaking someone's head.
Yelled at, slapped
around, all she knew of tenderness

was how much she wanted it, and all
I knew
were backseats and a night or two

in a sleeping bag in the furtive dark.
We worked
in the same office, banter and loneliness

leading to the shared secret
that to help
National Biscuit sell biscuits

was wildly comic, which lead to my body
existing with hers
like rain that's found its way underground

to water it naturally joins.
I can't remember
ever saying the word, tenderness,

though she did. It's a word I see now
you must be older to use,
you must have experienced the absence of it

often enough to know what silk and deep balm
it is
when at last it comes. I think it was terror

at first that drove me to touch her
so softly,
then selfishness, the clear benefit

of doing something that would come back
to me twofold,
and finally, sometime later, it became

reflective and motiveless in the high
ignorance of love.
Oh abstractions are just abstract

until they have an ache in them. I met
a woman never touched
gently, and when it ended between us

I had new hands and new sorrow,
everything it means
to be a man changed, unheroic, floating.
--Stephen Dunn
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"Decorum"
She wrote, "They were making love
up against a gymnasium wall,"
and another young woman in class,
serious enough to smile, said

"No, that's fucking, they must
have been fucking," to which many
agreed, pleased to have the proper fit
of word with act.

But an older woman, a wife, a mother,
famous in class for confusing grace
with decorum and carriage,
said the F-word would distract

the reader, sensationalize the poem.
"Why can't what they were doing
just as easily be called making love?"
It was an intelligent complaint,

and the class proceeded to debate
what's fucking, what's making love,
and the importance of the context, tact,
the bon mot. I leaned toward those

who favored fucking; they were funnier
and seemed to have more experience
with the happy varieties of their subject.
But then a young man said, now believing

he had permission, "What's the difference,
you fuck 'em and you call it making love;
you tell 'em what they want to hear."
The class jeered, and another man said

"You're the kind of guy who gives fucking
a bad name," and I remembered how fuck
gets dirty as it moves reptilian
out of certain minds, certain mouths.

The young woman whose poem it was,
small-boned and small-voiced,
said she had no objection to fucking,
but these people were making love, it was

her poem and she herself up against
that gymnasium wall, and it felt like love,
and the hell with all of us.
There was silence. The class turned

to me, their teacher, who they hoped
could clarify, perhaps ease things.
I told them I disliked the word fucking
in a poem, but that fucking

might be right in this instance, yet
I was unsure now, I couldn't decide.
A tear formed and moved down
the poet's cheek. I said I was sure

only of "gymnasium," sure it was
the wrong choice, making the act seem
too public, more vulgar than she wished.
How about "boat house?" I asked.
--Stephen Dunn

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