my commonplace book; mostly poems, because they're so efficient
[pics don't 'go with' words; at least, not on purpose]
Copyrights to text and images on this page are held by their respective owners. If you hold the rights to any material and would like me to remove it, please email "orangejeepmail AT gmail.com," and I will do so promptly.
"… this is another instance of my inclination to believe in something I can’t understand or talk about very well, or at all. That’s the way it is with the things of God. If you could understand them and articulate them, if these things were reasonable and easily grasped, what good would they be? What kind of power would they have? Wouldn’t they be, by definition, more earthly than heavenly? More mundane than divine? As Christians have affirmed through the ages, the things of God are not things you can ever grasp; instead, these are things that grasp you."
Sometimes the notes are ferocious, skirmishes against the author raging along the borders of every page in tiny black script. If I could just get my hands on you, Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O'Brien, they seem to say, I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head. Other comments are more offhand, dismissive – "Nonsense." "Please!" "HA!!" – that kind of thing. I remember once looking up from my reading, my thumb as a bookmark, trying to imagine what the person must look like who wrote "Don’t be a ninny" alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson. Students are more modest needing to leave only their splayed footprints along the shore of the page. One scrawls "Metaphor" next to a stanza of Eliot's. Another notes the presence of "Irony" fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal. Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers, hands cupped around their mouths. "Absolutely," they shout to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin. "Yes." "Bull’s-eye." "My man!" Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points rain down along the sidelines. And if you have managed to graduate from college without ever having written "Man vs. Nature" in a margin, perhaps now is the time to take one step forward. We have all seized the white perimeter as our own and reached for a pen if only to show we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages; we pressed a thought into the wayside, planted an impression along the verge. Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria jotted along the borders of the Gospels brief asides about the pains of copying, a bird singing near their window, or the sunlight that illuminated their page— anonymous men catching a ride into the future on a vessel more lasting than themselves. And you have not read Joshua Reynolds, they say, until you have read him enwreathed with Blake's furious scribbling. Yet the one I think of most often, the one that dangles from me like a locket, was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye I borrowed from the local library one slow, hot summer. I was just beginning high school then, reading books on a davenport in my parents' living room, and I cannot tell you how vastly my loneliness was deepened, how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed, when I found on one page a few greasy looking smears and next to them, written in soft pencil– by a beautiful girl, I could tell, whom I would never meet– "Pardon the egg salad stains, but I’m in love."
Will you, sometime, who have sought so long, and seek Still in the slowly darkening searching-ground, Catch sight some ordinary month or week Of that rare prize you hardly thought you sought— The gatherer gathered and the finder found, The buyer who would buy all himself well bought— And perch in pride in the buyer's hand, at home, And there, the prize, in freedom rest and roam?
Ah, grief, I should not treat you like a homeless dog who comes to the back door for a crust, for a meatless bone. I should trust you. I should coax you into the house and give you your own corner, a worn mat to lie on, your own water dish. You think I don’t know you’ve been living under my porch. You long for your real place to be readied before winter comes. You need your name, your collar and tag. You need the right to warn off intruders, to consider my house your own and me your person and yourself my own dog.
My son, an expert by overexposure, recognizes the song before I do, the best one of the year about how sex is good for everybody. This large man who was a boy a year ago cranks up the radio till the car is a bulging capsule of sound, heavy on the bass. As he drives, he sings every word loudly, with cellular belief. He will have it all, give it all in his time, probably soon. My heart begins to vibrate dangerously at the lowest frequencies. Tonight I feel old enough to be mother to a man. I mime my fear to him, My hand on my chest, my eyes wide. I can feel it in my chest, I scream. He stops singing long enough to nod, Delighted that I have noticed. It gets better, he yells.
I can imagine someone who found these fields unbearable, who climbed the hillside in the heat, cursing the dust, cracking the brittle weeds underfoot, wishing a few more trees for shade. An Easterner especially, who would scorn the meagerness of summer, the dry twisted shapes of black elm, scrub oak, and chaparral, a landscape August has already drained of green. One who would hurry over the clinging thistle, foxtail, golden poppy, knowing everything was just a weed, unable to conceive that these trees and sparse brown bushes were alive. And hate the bright stillness of the noon without wind, without motion, the only other living thing a hawk, hungry for prey, suspended in the blinding, sunlit blue. And yet how gentle it seems to someone raised in a landscape short of rain – the skyline of a hill broken by no more trees than one can count, the grass, the empty sky, the wish for water.
They throw in Drummer Hodge, to rest Uncoffined,--just as found: His landmark is a kopje-crest That breaks the veldt around; And foreign constellations west Each night above his mound. II Young Hodge the Drummer never knew-- Fresh from his Wessex home-- The meaning of the broad Karoo, The Bush, the dusty loam, And why uprose to nightly view Strange stars amid the gloam. III Yet portion of that unknown plain Will Hodge for ever be; His homely Northern breast and brain Grow to some Southern tree, And strange-eyed constellations reign His stars eternally.
Some people ascend out of our life, some people enter our life, uninvited and sit down, some people calmly walk by, some people give you a rose, or buy you a new car, some people stand so close to you, some people, you've entirely forgotten some people, some people are actually you, some people you've never seen at all, some people eat asparagus, some people are children, some people climb up on the roof, sit down at table, lie around in hammocks, take walks with their red umbrella, some people look at you, some people have never noticed you at all, some people want to take your hand, some people die during the night, some people are other people, some people are you, some people don't exist, some people do.
All we need is fourteen lines, well, thirteen now, and after this one just a dozen to launch a little ship on love's storm-tossed seas, then only ten more left like rows of beans. How easily it goes unless you get Elizabethan and insist the iambic bongos must be played and rhymes positioned at the ends of lines, one for every station of the cross. But hang on here while we make the turn into the final six where all will be resolved, where longing and heartache will find an end, where Laura will tell Petrarch to put down his pen, take off those crazy medieval tights, blow out the lights, and come at last to bed.
of a life that's as complicated as everyone else's, struggling for balance, juggling time. The mantle clock that was my grandfather's has stopped at 9:20; we haven't had time to get it repaired. The brass pendulum is still, the chimes don't ring. One day you look out the window, green summer, the next, and the leaves have already fallen, and a grey sky lowers the horizon. Our children almost grown, our parents gone, it happened so fast. Each day, we must learn again how to love, between morning's quick coffee and evening's slow return. Steam from a pot of soup rises, mixing with the yeasty smell of baking bread. Our bodies twine, and the big black dog pushes his great head between; his tail is a metronome, 3/4 time. We'll never get there, Time is always ahead of us, running down the beach, urging us on faster, faster, but sometimes we take off our watches, sometimes we lie in the hammock, caught between the mesh of rope and the net of stars, suspended, tangled up in love, running out of time.
You are like the stem Of a young beech-tree, Straight and swaying, Breaking out in golden leaves. Your walk is like the blowing of a beech-tree On a hill. Your voice is like leaves Softly struck upon by a South wind. Your shadow is no shadow, but a scattered sunshine; And at night you pull the sky down to you And hood yourself in stars. But I am like a great oak under a cloudy sky, Watching a stripling beech grow up at my feet.
Prostratus, Alba, Severn Sea, good memory you bequeath. And to the woman who wears you on her head, a man who will be true. It has been said when Mary on her flight to Egypt laid her cloak on you, your stunned white blossoms turned suddenly blue.
going east there ought to be a kind of customs stop where you are instructed to call to mind all the songs you know and sing them right into something sturdy. Imagine that place: "Here, Bobby, here's a candy wrapper, and, Sue, here's a little extra room in a suitcase. Dad can have all the empty pop bottles because he knows a lot of songs." (And some folks, the ones who are poor and aren't toting much, will be convinced to hum right into a paper bag, or up their shirt sleeve, or into a shoe). Imagine a Ranger grabbing Grandma by the ankles, shaking all the tunes loose. "We'd better not hear you singing out loud until you at least hit Alpine. We can't take your radios but we'll be listening if you sing along . . ." Heading back south and east into the Rio Grande the Big Bend doesn't tolerate much talking. It's too big a place, too set in silence, and all the people who have been here before have tried to fill it up. But the Rangers say they can't tolerate any more nights where the hot, humid wind carries pieces of old, foolish, brave voices and impales them on the claws of the ocotillo and lechuguilla, leaving torn shreds of songs that weep and shriek and drift from cactus to mesquite, from bush to thorny bush.
She is going back, these days, to the great stories That charmed her younger mind. A shaded light Shines on the nape half-shadowed by her curls, And a page turns now with a scuffing sound. Onward they come again, the orphans reaching For a first handhold in a stony world, The young provincials who at last look down On the city's maze, and will descend into it, The serious girl, once more, who would live nobly, The sly one who aspires to marry so, The young man bent on glory, and that other Who seeks a burden. Knowing as she does What will become of them in bloody field Or Tuscan garden, it may be that at times She sees their first and final selves at once, As a god might to whom all time is now. Or, having lived so much herself, perhaps She meets them this time with a wiser eye, Noting that Julien's calculating head Is from the first too severed from his heart. But the true wonder of it is that she, For all that she may know of consequences, Still turns enchanted to the next bright page Like some Natasha in the ballroom door— Caught in the flow of things wherever bound, The blind delight of being, ready still To enter life on life and see them through.
Before the days of self service, when you never had to pump your own gas, I was the one who did it for you, the girl who stepped out at the sound of a bell with a blue rag in my hand, my hair pulled back in a straight, unlovely ponytail. This was before automatic shut-offs and vapor seals, and once, while filling a tank, I hit a bubble of trapped air and the gas backed up, came arcing out of the hole in a bright gold wave and soaked me—face, breasts, belly and legs. And I had to hurry back to the booth, the small employee bathroom with the broken lock, to change my uniform, peel the gas-soaked cloth from my skin and wash myself in the sink. Light-headed, scrubbed raw, I felt pure and amazed—the way the amber gas glazed my flesh, the searing, subterranean pain of it, how my skin shimmered and ached, glowed like rainbowed oil on the pavement. I was twenty. In a few weeks I would fall, for the first time, in love, that man waiting patiently in my future like a red leaf on the sidewalk, the kind of beauty that asks to be noticed. How was I to know it would begin this way: every cell of my body burning with a dangerous beauty, the air around me a nimbus of light that would carry me through the days, how when he found me, weeks later, he would find me like that, an ordinary woman who could rise in flame, all he would have to do is come close and touch me.
1. Achy girl, sweet Scout, Scuttles hind legs on bare floors, Waits; then flops and sleeps. 2. Garden in August, Punched in her gut by hard heat. What will autumn bring?
I went into the Maverick Bar In Farmington, New Mexico. And drank double shots of bourbon backed with beer. My long hair was tucked up under a cap I’d left the earring in the car. Two cowboys did horseplay by the pool tables, A waitress asked us where are you from? a country-and-western band began to play “We don’t smoke Marijuana in Muskokie” And with the next song, a couple began to dance. They held each other like in High School dances in the fifties; I recalled when I worked in the woods and the bars of Madras, Oregon. That short-haired joy and roughness— America—your stupidity. I could almost love you again. We left—onto the freeway shoulders— under the tough old stars— In the shadow of bluffs I came back to myself, To the real work, to “What is to be done.”
Yet the noble despair of the poets Is nothing of the sort; it is silly To refuse the tasks of time And, overlooking our lives, Cry — “Miserable wicked me, How interesting I am.” We would rather be ruined than changed, We would rather die in our dread Than climb the cross of the moment And let our illusions die.
They have been light and distance, and backward time—gone but still bright. They have been fixity and direction, animals, memorials, monsters, large objects, gods. Tonight they are windows in a house set back from the road. A man steps out with his two running dogs. Now the stars are stray sheep. They move toward the fold as he tosses white grain. Despite the bleats and the crowd, this is a feat of welcome return. Stars fly out from the arc of his hand. They land among mouths and are eaten by day.
Here, then, are two radically different forces and realities. On one hand, a fractal world, a centrifugal world, an always-almost-falling-apart world. On the other, a world in constant process of fixing and reinvention, reconfiguring and reassembling into new combinations and new possibilities—a topic of both hope and concern. It is a world of pain and possibility, creativity and destruction, innovation, and the worst excesses of leftover habit and power.
The fulcrum of these two worlds is repair: the subtle acts of care by which order and meaning in complex sociotechnical systems are maintained and transformed, human value is preserved and extended, and the complicated work of fitting to the varied circumstances of organizations, systems, and lives is accomplished.
A culture comprises unfinished intellectual and emotional journeyings, expeditions now abandoned but known to us in the tattered maps left behind by the explorers; it is composed of light-hearted adventures, of relationships invented and explored in exploit or in drama, of myths and stories and poems expressing fragments of human self-understanding, of gods worshipped, of responses to the mutability of the world and of encounters with death. And it reaches us, as it reached generations before ours, neither as long-ago terminated specimens of human adventure, nor as an accumulation of human achievements we are called upon to accept, but as a manifold of invitations to look, to listen and to reflect.
THOMASINA: Oh, Septimus! -- can you bear it? All the lost plays of the Athenians! Two hundred at least by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides -- thousands of poems -- Aristotle's own library!... How can we sleep for grief?
SEPTIMUS: By counting our stock. Seven plays from Aeschylus, seven from Sophocles, nineteen from Euripides, my lady! You should no more grieve for the rest than for a buckle lost from your first shoe, or for your lesson book which will be lost when you are old. We shed as we pick up, like travellers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind. The procession is very long and life is very short. We die on the march. But there is nothing outside the march so nothing can be lost to it. The missing plays of Sophocles will turn up piece by piece, or be written again in another language. Ancient cures for diseases will reveal themselves once more. Mathematical discoveries glimpsed and lost to view will have their time again. You do not suppose, my lady, that if all of Archimedes had been hiding in the great library of Alexandria, we would be at a loss for a corkscrew?
One of the most horrible things at that time was to listen on the wireless to the speeches of Hitler — the savage and insane ravings of a vindictive underdog who suddenly saw himself to be all-powerful. We were in Rodmell during the late summer of 1939, and I used to listen to those ranting, raving speeches. One afternoon I was planting in the orchard under an apple-tree iris reticulata, those lovely violet flowers. … Suddenly I heard Virginia’s voice calling to me from the sitting room window: “Hitler is making a speech.” I shouted back, “I shan’t come. I’m planting iris and they will be flowering long after he is dead.”
On average, bad things happen fast and good things happen slow.
to love life, to love it even when you have no stomach for it and everything you’ve held dear crumbles like burnt paper in your hands, your throat filled with the silt of it. When grief sits with you, its tropical heat thickening the air, heavy as water more fit for gills than lungs; when grief weights you down like your own flesh only more of it, an obesity of grief, you think, How can a body withstand this? Then you hold life like a face between your palms, a plain face, no charming smile, no violet eyes, and you say, yes, I will take you I will love you, again.
Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer utters itself. So, a woman will lift her head from the sieve of her hands and stare at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift. Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth enters our hearts, that small familiar pain; then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth in the distant Latin chanting of a train. Pray for us now. Grade 1 piano scales console the lodger looking out across a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls a child’s name as though they named their loss. Darkness outside. Inside, the radio’s prayer - Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.
O Lord, support us all the day long, until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then in thy mercy, grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last. Amen.
“There are very few things mankind cannot live without. For centuries we survived without compact disks, without automated bank tellers, iceberg lettuce, and bubblegum- flavored toothpaste, to say nothing of the internal combustion engine. But life as we know it would be unimaginable without the tomato.”
Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak Whispers the o’er-fraught heart and bids it break.
Sometimes everything seems so oh, I don't know.
I am not the girl in the picture. I am not the smell of hyacinths. I might be the boy. I am off the record. I am not a view from the island, not the sound of waves breaking, not parasols scattered on sand. I am closed for the season. I’m fingerprints on windows that look out on rain. I am rain that rains harder. I’m not the new fashion, not hands on a clock. I don’t spring forward. Cannot turn back.
There must be a spice of mischief and wilfulness thrown into the cup of our existence to give it its sharp taste and sparkling colour.
The river is famous to the fish. The loud voice is famous to silence, which knew it would inherit the earth before anybody said so. The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds watching him from the birdhouse. The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek. The idea you carry close to your bosom is famous to your bosom. The boot is famous to the earth, more famous than the dress shoe, which is famous only to floors. The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it and not at all famous to the one who is pictured. I want to be famous to shuffling men who smile while crossing streets, sticky children in grocery lines, famous as the one who smiled back. I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous, or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular, but because it never forgot what it could do.
Modernity looks forward and never up.
The structure of a human heart is just as much of a reality as any other in this universe, neither more nor less of a reality than the trajectory of a planet. […] If justice is inerasable from the heart of Man, it must have a reality in this world.
The elk of Orick wait patiently to cross the road and my husband of six months, who thinks he's St. Francis, climbs out of the car to assist. Ghost of St. Francis, his t-shirt flapping, steps tenderly onto the tarmack and they begin their trek, heads lifted, nostrils flared, each footfall a testament to stalled momentum, gracefully hesitant, as a brace of semis, lined up, humming, adjust the air in their brakes. They cross the fourlane like a coronation, slow as a Greek freize, river wind riffling the wheat grass of their rumps. But my husband stays on, to talk to the one who won't budge, oblivious to her sisters, a long stalk of fennel gyrating between her teeth. Go on, he beseeches, Get going, but the lone Elk only stares back, their noses less than a yard apart. One stubborn creature staring down another. This is how I know the marriage will last.
Sunday in late December calls for one, with a celery stalk and faint taste of Worcestershire, to be sipped while eating poached egg and corned beef hash, in a hotel dining room with someone you love. Touch the hairs at his wrist as the warmth endorses all bed-lingering, non-churchgoing. It's the solstice, remember, when your frugal father would hand around dollar bills so the day would last longer. Stir ice into the rich red and consider such Celtic rituals, as you watch, beyond the tall windows, pilgrims traveling the paths past snow-fringed trees in the park.
The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was Spawning snow and pink roses against it Soundlessly collateral and incompatible: World is suddener than we fancy it. World is crazier and more of it than we think, Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion A tangerine and spit the pips and feel The drunkenness of things being various. And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes— On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one's hands— There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.
How reassuring To discover them In the greenroom. Here, Relaxing, they drop The patronymics By which we had come To know them. The cross Are no longer cross, The old dance, nor have The young sacrificed Their advantages. In this it is like A kind of heaven They rise to simply By being themselves. The sound of the axe Biting the wood is Rewound on the tape. What is this green for If not renewal?
Quick now, come now to where the veil grows thin, where the border between real and more real—so real we can't bear it—shimmers like ghosts going silently into moonlit mist, to enfolding fog, a cloud of silvered saints hovering over the waters.
So long as that woman from the Rijksmuseum in painted quiet and concentration keeps pouring milk day after day from the pitcher to the bowl the World hasn't earned the world's end.
Who can guess the luna's sadness who lives so briefly? Who can guess the impatience of stone longing to be ground down, to be part again of something livelier? Who can imagine in what heaviness the rivers remember their original clarity? Strange questions, yet I have spent worthwhile time with them. And I suggest them to you also, that your spirit grow in curiosity, that your life be richer than it is, that you bow to the earth as you feel how it actually is, that we—so clever, and ambitious, and selfish, and unrestrained—are only one design of the moving, the vivacious many.
"If during a decade a man does not change his mind on some things and develop new points of view, it is a pretty good sign that his mind is petrified and need no longer be accounted among the living."
“I’ve now reached the stage of being in two minds about whether one ought to be in two minds about things or not; and an infinite regress beckons.”
Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew. It's the same when love comes to an end, or the marriage fails and people say they knew it was a mistake, that everybody said it would never work. That she was old enough to know better. But anything worth doing is worth doing badly. Like being there by that summer ocean on the other side of the island while love was fading out of her, the stars burning so extravagantly those nights that anyone could tell you they would never last. Every morning she was asleep in my bed like a visitation, the gentleness in her like antelope standing in the dawn mist. Each afternoon I watched her coming back through the hot stony field after swimming, the sea light behind her and the huge sky on the other side of that. Listened to her while we ate lunch. How can they say the marriage failed? Like the people who came back from Provence (when it was Provence) and said it was pretty but the food was greasy. I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell, but just coming to the end of his triumph.
There are many ways to the recognition of truth, and Burgundy is one of them.
I He disappeared in the dead of winter: The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted, And snow disfigured the public statues; The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day. What instruments we have agree The day of his death was a dark cold day. Far from his illness The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests, The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays; By mourning tongues The death of the poet was kept from his poems. But for him it was his last afternoon as himself, An afternoon of nurses and rumours; The provinces of his body revolted, The squares of his mind were empty, Silence invaded the suburbs, The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers. Now he is scattered among a hundred cities And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections, To find his happiness in another kind of wood And be punished under a foreign code of conscience. The words of a dead man Are modified in the guts of the living. But in the importance and noise of to-morrow When the brokers are roaring like beasts on the floor of the bourse, And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly accustomed And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his freedom A few thousand will think of this day As one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual. What instruments we have agree The day of his death was a dark cold day. II You were silly like us; your gift survived it all: The parish of rich women, physical decay, Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry. Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still, For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives In the valley of its making where executives Would never want to tamper, flows on south From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs, Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives, A way of happening, a mouth. III Earth, receive an honoured guest: William Yeats is laid to rest. Let the Irish vessel lie Emptied of its poetry. In the nightmare of the dark All the dogs of Europe bark, And the living nations wait, Each sequestered in its hate; Intellectual disgrace Stares from every human face, And the seas of pity lie Locked and frozen in each eye. Follow, poet, follow right To the bottom of the night, With your unconstraining voice Still persuade us to rejoice; With the farming of a verse Make a vineyard of the curse, Sing of human unsuccess In a rapture of distress; In the deserts of the heart Let the healing fountain start, In the prison of his days Teach the free man how to praise.
There is joy in all: in the hair I brush each morning, in the Cannon towel, newly washed, that I rub my body with each morning, in the chapel of eggs I cook each morning, in the outcry from the kettle that heats my coffee each morning, in the spoon and the chair that cry “hello there, Anne” each morning, in the godhead of the table that I set my silver, plate, cup upon each morning. All this is God, right here in my pea-green house each morning and I mean, though often forget, to give thanks, to faint down by the kitchen table in a prayer of rejoicing as the holy birds at the kitchen window peck into their marriage of seeds. So while I think of it, let me paint a thank-you on my palm for this God, this laughter of the morning, lest it go unspoken. The Joy that isn’t shared, I’ve heard, dies young.
During the weeks when we all believed my mother was likely to die she began to plan her funeral and she wanted us, her children, to consider the music we would play there. We remembered the soundtrack of my mother’s life: the years when she swept the floors to the tunes of an eight track cassette called Feelings, the Christmas when she bought a Bing Crosby album about a Bright Hawaiian Christmas Day. She got Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring stuck in the tape deck of her car and for months each errand was accompanied by some kind of dramatic movement. After my brother was born, there was a period during which she wore a muumuu and devoted herself to King Sunny Ade and his African beats. She ironed and wept to Evita, painted to Italian opera. Then, older and heavier, she refused to fasten her seatbelt and there was the music of an automated bell going off every few minutes, which annoyed the rest of us but did not seem to matter to my mother who ignored its relentless disapproval, its insistence that someone was unsafe.
The Iliad of peace began when this girl agreed. Now goats in trees, fish in the valley suddenly feel vivid. Swallows flit in the stable as if a hatching of their kind, turned human, cried in the manger showing the hunger-diamond. Cattle are content that this calf must come in human form. Spiders discern a water-walker. Even humans will sense the lamb, He who frees from the old poem turtle-dove and snake, who gets death forgiven who puts the apple back. Dogs, less enslaved but as starving as the poorest human there, crouch, agog at a crux of presence remembered as a star.
And we talk. We talk with our voices, and we talk with our bodies. And behind what we say, the ocean's dark shoulders rise and fall all night
I saw tonight that he is on my side, the lion. For the first time, I saw it. And by God all the furniture got up and danced (that hulking desk a creditable tango) and I, though not much on my feet, waltzed through Judah like a Crazy-priest. Sometimes joy is like that, coming quick as dandelions springing to attention while the sun shudders still—a little—from the melting winter. Anyway here I was with lions to account for and that desk and questionable antics all along (indignities of sun and dandelions while our bones still creak with Lent) and I thought God, what now, until again I heard the music of the dance again I waltzed through Judah. “I something fear my father’s wrath” no more.
You were made for enjoyment, and the world was filled with things which you will enjoy, unless you are too proud to be pleased by them, or too grasping to care for what you cannot turn to other account than mere delight.
They, looking back, all the eastern side beheld Of Paradise, so late their happy seat, Waved over by that flaming brand, the gate With dreadful faces thronged and fiery arms: Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon; The world was all before them, where to choose Their place of rest, and Providence their guide; They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow, Through Eden took their solitary way.
For a long time I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life—namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself.
Although the wind blows terribly here, the moonlight also leaks between the roof planks of this ruined house.
In the yellow morning, Her water broke; it was a shock. A call into the doctor, Then the drive down Walnut Hill. Next, the dark cave of the Presbyterian garage; Blue fluorescents in admitting; Ice chips, the labor room, the bed; Wires taped to her belly. A monitor drew contractions on its screen, And your heart-rate jumped at every squeeze. My own heart raced and rushed with yours Each time her muscles clenched. You took a long time; You were in no hurry. But at the end, you came on fast! The bed rolled out on great fat wheels, Smooth and silent, like an ocean liner or a limo, down the hall and through some doors I could not pass. They handed me a paper gown and hat and shoes, And kept me in that hall for way too long. I thought you’d come before they’d call me. But at last they brought me to delivery. And your mother was so beautiful and strong. She pushed. She breathed. We saw your head. And then your shoulder. One more push, And here you were. At that moment, When you slipped into the world, My new life began as well.
(for Lincoln Kirstein)
Towards the end he sailed into an extraordinary mildness, And anchored in his home and reached his wife And rode within the harbour of her hand, And went each morning to an office As though his occupation were another island. Goodness existed: that was the new knowledge. His terror had to blow itself quite out To let him see it; but it was the gale had blown him Past the Cape Horn of sensible success Which cries: "This rock is Eden. Shipwreck here." But deafened him with thunder and confused with lightning: --The maniac hero hunting like a jewel The rare ambiguous monster that had maimed his sex, The unexplained survivor breaking off the nightmare-- All that was intricate and false; the truth was simple. Evil is unspectacular and always human, And shares our bed and eats at our own table, And we are introduced to Goodness every day, Even in drawing-rooms among a crowd of faults; He has a name like Billy and is almost perfect, But wears a stammer like a decoration: And every time they meet the same thing has to happen; It is the Evil that is helpless like a lover And has to pick a quarrel and succeeds, And both are openly destroyed before our eyes. For now he was awake and knew No one is ever spared except in dreams; But there was something else the nightmare had distorted-- Even the punishment was human and a form of love: The howling storm had been his father's presence And all the time he had been carried on his father's breast. Who now had set him gently down and left him. He stood upon the narrow balcony and listened: And all the stars above him sang as in his childhood "All, all is vanity," but it was not the same; For now the words descended like the calm of mountains-- --Nathaniel had been shy because his love was selfish-- Reborn, he cried in exultation and surrender "The Godhead is broken like bread. We are the pieces." And sat down at his desk and wrote a story.
When you come, as you soon must, to the streets of our city, Mad-eyed from stating the obvious, Not proclaiming our fall but begging us In God’s name to have self-pity, Spare us all word of the weapons, their force and range, The long numbers that rocket the mind; Our slow, unreckoning hearts will be left behind, Unable to fear what is too strange. Nor shall you scare us with talk of the death of the race. How should we dream of this place without us?— The sun mere fire, the leaves untroubled about us, A stone look on the stone’s face? Speak of the world’s own change. Though we cannot conceive Of an undreamt thing, we know to our cost How the dreamt cloud crumbles, the vines are blackened by frost, How the view alters. We could believe, If you told us so, that the white-tailed deer will slip Into perfect shade, grown perfectly shy, The lark avoid the reaches of our eye, The jack-pine lose its knuckled grip On the cold ledge, and every torrent burn As Xanthus once, its gliding trout Stunned in a twinkling. What should we be without The dolphin’s arc, the dove’s return, These things in which we have seen ourselves and spoken? Ask us, prophet, how we shall call Our natures forth when that live tongue is all Dispelled, that glass obscured or broken In which we have said the rose of our love and the clean Horse of our courage, in which beheld The singing locust of the soul unshelled, And all we mean or wish to mean. Ask us, ask us whether with the worldless rose Our hearts shall fail us; come demanding Whether there shall be lofty or long standing When the bronze annals of the oak-tree close.
... the doctrine we maintain... concedes the liberty of error, and places it and truth on the footing of equality before the civil authority...
We do not in this assert the indifference of truth and error... Truth cannot tolerate even so much as the semblance of error... Nor do we with Milton and Jefferson maintain that error is harmless where truth is free to combat it. Error makes the circuit of the globe while Truth is pulling on her boots, and no error ever is or ever can be harmless. What we assert is not what is called theological tolerance but what is called civil tolerance. Error has no rights, but the man who errs has equal rights with him who errs not.
... But to apprehend The point of intersection of the timeless With time, is an occupation for the saint— No occupation either, but something given And taken, in a lifetime's death in love, Ardour and selflessness and self-surrender. For most of us, there is only the unattended Moment, the moment in and out of time, The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight, The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply That it is not heard at all, but you are the music While the music lasts. These are only hints and guesses, Hints followed by guesses; and the rest Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action. The hint half guessed, the gift half understood, is Incarnation. Here the impossible union Of spheres of existence is actual, Here the past and future Are conquered, and reconciled ...
They are all gone into the world of light! And I alone sit ling’ring here; Their very memory is fair and bright, And my sad thoughts doth clear. It glows and glitters in my cloudy breast, Like stars upon some gloomy grove, Or those faint beams in which this hill is drest, After the sun’s remove. I see them walking in an air of glory, Whose light doth trample on my days: My days, which are at best but dull and hoary, Mere glimmering and decays. O holy Hope! and high Humility, High as the heavens above! These are your walks, and you have show’d them me To kindle my cold love. Dear, beauteous Death! the jewel of the just, Shining nowhere, but in the dark; What mysteries do lie beyond thy dust Could man outlook that mark! He that hath found some fledg’d bird’s nest, may know At first sight, if the bird be flown; But what fair well or grove he sings in now, That is to him unknown. And yet as angels in some brighter dreams Call to the soul, when man doth sleep: So some strange thoughts transcend our wonted themes And into glory peep. If a star were confin’d into a tomb, Her captive flames must needs burn there; But when the hand that lock’d her up, gives room, She’ll shine through all the sphere. O Father of eternal life, and all Created glories under thee! Resume thy spirit from this world of thrall Into true liberty. Either disperse these mists, which blot and fill My perspective still as they pass, Or else remove me hence unto that hill, Where I shall need no glass.
The first time I walked With a girl, I was twelve, Cold, and weighted down With two oranges in my jacket. December. Frost cracking Beneath my steps, my breath Before me, then gone, As I walked toward Her house, the one whose Porch light burned yellow Night and day, in any weather. A dog barked at me, until She came out pulling At her gloves, face bright With rouge. I smiled, Touched her shoulder, and led Her down the street, across A used car lot and a line Of newly planted trees, Until we were breathing Before a drugstore. We Entered, the tiny bell Bringing a saleslady Down a narrow aisle of goods. I turned to the candies Tiered like bleachers, And asked what she wanted - Light in her eyes, a smile Starting at the corners Of her mouth. I fingered A nickle in my pocket, And when she lifted a chocolate That cost a dime, I didn’t say anything. I took the nickle from My pocket, then an orange, And set them quietly on The counter. When I looked up, The lady's eyes met mine, And held them, knowing Very well what it was all About. Outside, A few cars hissing past, Fog hanging like old Coats between the trees. I took my girl's hand In mine for two blocks, Then released it to let Her unwrap the chocolate. I peeled my orange That was so bright against The gray of December That, from some distance, Someone might have thought I was making a fire in my hands.
Not the one who takes up his bed and walks But the ones who have known him all along And carry him in— Their shoulders numb, the ache and stoop deeplocked In their backs, the stretcher handles Slippery with sweat. And no let-up Until he’s strapped on tight, made tiltable And raised to the tiled roof, then lowered for healing. Be mindful of them as they stand and wait For the burn of the paid-out ropes to cool, Their slight lightheadedness and incredulity To pass, those ones who had known him all along.
I. In my beginning is my end. In succession Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended, Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass. Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires, Old fires to ashes, and ashes to the earth Which is already flesh, fur, and faeces, Bone of man and beast, cornstalk and leaf. Houses live and die: there is a time for building And a time for living and for generation And a time for the wind to break the loosened pane And to shake the wainscot where the field mouse trots And to shake the tattered arras woven with a silent motto. In my beginning is my end. Now the light falls Across the open field, leaving the deep lane Shuttered with branches, dark in the afternoon, Where you lean against a bank while a van passes, And the deep lane insists on the direction Into the village, in the electric heat Hypnotized. In a warm haze the sultry light Is absorbed, not reflected, by grey stone. The dahlias sleep in the empty silence. Wait for the early owl. In that open field If you do not come too close, if you do not come too close, On a summer midnight, you can hear the music Of the weak pipe and the little drum And see them dancing around the bonfire The association of man and woman In daunsinge, signifying matrimonie— A dignified and commodiois sacrament. Two and two, necessarye coniunction, Holding eche other by the hand or the arm Whiche betokeneth concorde. Round and round the fire Leaping through the flames, or joined in circles, Rustically solemn or in rustic laughter Lifting heavy feet in clumsy shoes, Earth feet, loam feet, lifted in country mirth Mirth of those long since under earth Nourishing the corn. Keeping time, Keeping the rhythm in their dancing As in their living in the living seasons The time of the seasons and the constellations The time of milking and the time of harvest The time of the coupling of man and woman And that of beasts. Feet rising and falling. Eating and drinking. Dung and death. Dawn points, and another day Prepares for heat and silence. Out at sea the dawn wind Wrinkles and slides. I am here Or there, or elsewhere. In my beginning.
Where Creatures Bathe
Through slits in the plantain leaf, Celestial surge! The fabulous old Goat Extends nightlong Ancien régime Propositions. Stick with him And you'll be wearing diamonds . . . Barely relenting You of the cool breast Unclasp the rivière. Facets reassembled Pulse and scatter. The courts of heaven In sparkling shambles Struggle against you Like a shack on poles. I can't compete. Giving of my very Self, I've seen you Clouded by the gift. You want diversions Deeply pure, is that it? Trust me. I keep trying Not to break down. I know the hoof Imprinted on my clay, His bulk and poise Who drinks you, enters you; And hold you close, Too close to make the best Of that recurrently Real beast in you. At dawn asleep In fairness take these colors. Do not sweep me Downstream with the stars.
“You see,” the learned astronomer said to us, “When instruments first came into the world, Map, globe, chart, astrolabe and orrery, And after them the planetarium Projecting as from inside the brain and through the eye, They brought along with them out of the earlier earth A grand consortium of remaindered gods With their associated nymphs and satyrs, Centaurs and giants, which only slowly faded. When that chimaeric thereomorphic chorus Ceased from their song and presently disappeared, The telescopes worked just as well, the maps Still better, without the ornaments of fancy, And we were left alone with nameless mind Projecting its immense geometries At the speed of light, the limiting speed of time, To the great improvement of our understanding.” He said; and stood. When we stayed up to see (but was it seeing, or seeing's opposite?) A second darkness move across the night, We saw exactly what he said we should: The transit of the Earth with Sun and Moon Casting a shadow intercepted and cupped (a small vanilla scoop in a cone of shade) As by a golf ball sitting on a tee So big as to conceal it from the ground Till it fell off the other side and life Resumed its course. But at totality We saw that we were seeing nothing, black On black, the absent Moon. We saw it with Our depth-perceiving and single-power eyes.
More and more I have come to admire resilience. Not the simple resistance of a pillow, whose foam returns over and over to the same shape, but the sinuous tenacity of a tree: finding the light newly blocked on one side, it turns in another. A blind intelligence, true. But out of such persistence arose turtles, rivers, mitochondria, figs — all this resinous, unretractable earth.
My husband is watching me iron. Steam reassures him. The hiss of starch The probing slide around each button of his shirt Speaks to him of Solway Street in Pittsburgh. As for me, the wicker basket is a reproach. There is last summer's nightgown, And several awkward tablecloths Which refuse to lie flat. My house specializes in these challenges. Bags of mail I did not ask to receive choke the floor of my linen closet. A photograph of me, holding a baby on a beach. But which beach and, for that matter, which baby? A Japanese chest whose bottom drawer has irresponsibly locked itself, And who can remember where I put the key? That night, waiting for sleep, I whisper, I did only trivial things today. And he asks, Why aren't you painting?
I see them running, running, running, From the Spanish caballadas to be free, From the mustanger's rope and rifle to keep free, Over seas of pristine grass, like fire-dancers on a mountain, Like lightning playing against the unapproachable horizon. I see them standing, standing, standing, Sentinels of alertness in eye and nostril, Every toss of maned neck a Grecian grace, Every high snort bugling out the pride of the free. I see them vanishing, vanishing, vanished, The seas of grass shriveled to pens of barbwired property, The wind-racers and wind-drinkers bred into property also. But winds still blow free and grass still greens, And the core of that something which men live on believing Is always freedom. So sometimes yet, in the realities of silence and solitude, For a few people unhampered a while by things, The mustangs walk out with dawn, stand high, then Sweep away, wild with sheer life, and free, free, free Free of all confines of time and flesh.
Now I understand that there are two melodies playing, one below the other, one easier to hear, the other lower, steady, perhaps more faithful for being less heard yet always present. When all other things seem lively and real, this one fades. Yet the notes of it touch as gently as fingertips, as the sound of the names laid over each child at birth. I want to stay in that music without striving or cover. If the truth of our lives is what it is playing, the telling is so soft that this mortal time, this irrevocable change, becomes beautiful. I stop and stop again to hear the second music. I hear the children in the yard, a train, then birds. All this is in it and will be gone. I set my ear to it as I would to a heart.
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought I summon up remembrance of things past, I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought, And with old woes new wail my dear time's waste: Then can I drown an eye, unus'd to flow, For precious friends hid in death's dateless night, And weep afresh love's long since cancell'd woe, And moan th' expense of many a vanish'd sight; Then can I grieve at grievances foregone, And heavily from woe to woe tell o'er The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan, Which I new pay as if not paid before. But if the while I think on thee, dear friend, All losses are restor'd, and sorrows end.
She must have been kicked unseen or brushed by a car. Too young to know much, she was beginning to learn To use the newspapers spread on the kitchen floor And to win, wetting there, the words, "Good dog! Good dog!" We thought her shy malaise was a shot reaction. The autopsy disclosed a rupture in her liver. As we teased her with play, blood was filling her skin And her heart was learning to lie down forever. Monday morning, as the children were noisily fed And sent to school, she crawled beneath the youngest's bed. We found her twisted and limp but still alive. In the car to the vet's, on my lap, she tried To bite my hand and died. I stroked her warm fur And my wife called in a voice imperious with tears. Though surrounded by love that would have upheld her, Nevertheless she sank and, stiffening, disappeared. Back home, we found that in the night her frame, Drawing near to dissolution, had endured the shame Of diarrhoea and had dragged across the floor To a newspaper carelessly left there. Good dog.
Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota, Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass. And the eyes of those two Indian ponies Darken with kindness. They have come gladly out of the willows To welcome my friend and me. We step over the barbed wire into the pasture Where they have been grazing all day, alone. They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness That we have come. They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other. There is no loneliness like theirs. At home once more, They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness. I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms, For she has walked over to me And nuzzled my left hand. She is black and white, Her mane falls wild on her forehead, And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist. Suddenly I realize That if I stepped out of my body I would break Into blossom.
Up north, the dashboard lights of the family car gleam in memory, the radio plays to itself as I drive my father plied the highways while my mother talked, she tried to hide that low lilt, that Finnish brogue, in the back seat, my sisters and I our eyes always tied to the Big Dipper I watch it still on summer evenings, as the fireflies stream above the ditches and moths smack into the windshield and the wildlife's red eyes bore out from the dark forests we flew by, then scattered like the last bit of star light years before. It's like a different country, the past we made wishes on unnamed falling stars that I've forgotten, that maybe were granted because I wished for love.
Certainly, the family farm was a source of endless and intensifying social conflict of all kinds. Still, we cannot deny it one thing: it was rooted in the nature of its place, appropriate, harmonious, personally tested by generations of farmers and certified by the results of their husbandry. It also displayed a kind of optimal mutual proportionality in extent and kind of all that belonged to it; fields, meadows, boundaries, woods, cattle, domestic animals, water, roads, and so on. For centuries no farmer made it the topic of a scientific study. Nevertheless, it constituted a generally satisfactory economic and ecological system, within which everything was bound together by a thousand threads of mutual and meaningful connection, guaranteeing its stability as well as the stability of the product of the farmer's husbandry.
Lifting her arms to soap her hair Her pretty breasts respond—and there The movement of that buoyant pair Is like a spell to make me swear Thirty-odd years have turned to air; Now she's the girl I didn't dare Approach, ask out, much less declare My love to, mired in young despair. Childbearing, rows, domestic care— All the prosaic wear and tear That constitute the life we share— Slip from her beautiful and bare Bright body as, made half aware Of my quick surreptitious stare, She wrings the water from her hair And turning smiles to see me there.
To Christ our Lord I CAUGHT this morning morning’s minion, king- dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing, As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of; the mastery of the thing! Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier! No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear, Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion
When everyone had gone I sat in the library With the small silent tree, She and I alone. How softly she shone! And for the first time then For the first time this year, I felt reborn again, I knew love's presence near. Love distant, love detached And strangely without weight, Was with me in the night When everyone had gone And the garland of pure light Stayed on, stayed on.
to a young child
Márgarét, áre you gríeving Over Goldengrove unleaving? Leáves like the things of man, you With your fresh thoughts care for, can you? Ah! ás the heart grows older It will come to such sights colder By and by, nor spare a sigh Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie; And yet you wíll weep and know why. Now no matter, child, the name: Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same. Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed What heart heard of, ghost guessed: It ís the blight man was born for, It is Margaret you mourn for.
Jenny kissed me when we met, Jumping from the chair she sat in; Time, you thief, who love to get Sweets into your list, put that in! Say I'm weary, say I'm sad, Say that health and wealth have missed me, Say I'm growing old, but add, Jenny kissed me.
Pale gold of the walls, gold of the centers of daisies, yellow roses pressing from a clear bowl. All day we lay on the bed, my hand stroking the deep gold of your thighs and your back. We slept and woke entering the golden room together, lay down in it breathing quickly, then slowly again, caressing and dozing, your hand sleepily touching my hair now. We made in those days tiny identical rooms inside our bodies which the men who uncover our graves will find in a thousand years, shining and whole.
My dear Telemachus,
The Trojan War is over now; I don't recall who won it. The Greeks, no doubt, for only they would leave so many dead so far from their own homeland. But still, my homeward way has proved too long. While we were wasting time there, old Poseidon, it almost seems, stretched and extended space. I don't know where I am or what this place can be. It would appear some filthy island, with bushes, buildings, and great grunting pigs. A garden choked with weeds; some queen or other. Grass and huge stones . . . Telemachus, my son! To a wanderer the faces of all islands resemble one another. And the mind trips, numbering waves; eyes, sore from sea horizons, run; and the flesh of water stuffs the ears. I can't remember how the war came out; even how old you are—I can't remember. Grow up, then, my Telemachus, grow strong. Only the gods know if we'll see each other again. You've long since ceased to be that babe before whom I reined in the plowing bullocks. Had it not been for Palamedes' trick we two would still be living in one household. But maybe he was right; away from me you are quite safe from all Oedipal passions, and your dreams, my Telemachus, are blameless.
Masons, when they start upon a building, Are careful to test out the scaffolding; Make sure that planks won't slip at busy points, Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints. And yet all this comes down when the job's done Showing off walls of sure and solid stone. So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be Old bridges breaking between you and me Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall Confident that we have built our wall.
Snow fell in the night. At five-fifteen I woke to a bluish mounded softness where the Honda was. Cat fed and coffee made, I broomed snow off the car and drove to the Kearsarge Mini-Mart before Amy opened to yank my Globe out of the bundle. Back, I set my cup of coffee beside Jane, still half-asleep, murmuring stuporous thanks in the aquamarine morning. Then I sat in my blue chair with blueberry bagels and strong black coffee reading news, the obits, the comics, and the sports. Carrying my cup twenty feet, I sat myself at the desk for this day's lifelong engagement with the one task and desire.
Let the light of late afternoon shine through chinks in the barn, moving up the bales as the sun moves down. Let the cricket take up chafing as a woman takes up her needles and her yarn. Let evening come. Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned in long grass. Let the stars appear and the moon disclose her silver horn. Let the fox go back to its sandy den. Let the wind die down. Let the shed go black inside. Let evening come. To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop in the oats, to air in the lung let evening come. Let it come, as it will, and don't be afraid. God does not leave us comfortless, so let evening come.
When my third snail died, I said, 'I'm through with snails.' But I didn't mean it.
This is my dream, It is my own dream, I dreamt it. I dreamt that my hair was kempt. Then I dreamt that my true love unkempt it.
Weigh me the fire; or canst thou find A way to measure out the wind? Distinguish all those floods that are Mixed in that wat'ry theater, And taste thou them as saltless there, As in their channel first they were. Tell me the people that do keep Within the kingdoms of the deep; Or fetch me back that cloud again, Beshivered into seeds of rain. Tell me the motes, dust, sands, and spears Of corn, when summer shakes his ears; Show me that world of stars, and whence They noiseless spill their influence. This if thou canst; then show me Him That rides the glorious cherubim.
Praise the spells and bless the charms, I found April in my arms. April golden, April cloudy, Gracious, cruel, tender, rowdy; April soft in flowered languor, April cold with sudden anger, Ever changing, ever true – I love April, I love you.
Slow for the sake of flowers as they turn Toward sunlight, graceful as a line of sail Coming into the wind. Slow for the mill- Wheel's heft and plummet, for the chug and churn Of water as it gathers, for the frail Half-life of spraylets as they toss and spill. For all that lags and eases, all that shows The winding-downward and diminished scale Of days declining to a twilit chill, Breathe quietly, release into repose: Be still.
Glory be to God for dappled things– For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow; For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim; Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings; Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough; And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim. All things counter, original, spare, strange; Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?) With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim; He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise him.
He seems to me equal to gods that man whoever he is who opposite you sits and listens close to your sweet speaking and lovely laughing – oh it puts the heart in my chest on wings for when I look at you, even a moment, no speaking is left in me no: tongue breaks and thin fire is racing under skin and in eyes no sight and drumming fills ears and cold sweat holds me and shaking grips me all, greener than grass I am and dead – or almost I seem to me. But all is to be dared, because even a person of poverty
I loved him most when he came home from work, his fingers still curled from fitting pipe, his denim shirt ringed with sweat and smelling of salt, the drying weeds of the ocean. I'd go to where he sat on the edge of the bed, his forehead anointed with grease, his cracked hands jammed between his thighs, and unlace the steel-toed boots, stroke his ankles and calves, the pads and bones of his feet. Then I'd open his clothes and take the whole day inside me – the ship's gray sides, the miles of copper pipe, the voice of the foreman clanging off the hull's silver ribs. Spark of lead kissing metal. The clamp, the winch, the white fire of the torch, the whistle, and the long drive home.
In her room at the prow of the house Where the light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden, My daughter is writing a story. I pause in the stairwell, hearing From her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keys Like a chain hauled over a gunwale. Young as she is, the stuff Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy: I wish her a lucky passage. But now it is she who pauses, As if to reject my thought and its easy figure. A stillness greatens, in which The whole house seems to be thinking, And then she is at it again with a bunched clamor Of strokes, and again is silent. I remember the dazed starling Which was trapped in that very room, two years ago; How we stole in, lifted a sash And retreated, not to affright it; And how for a helpless hour, through the crack of the door, We watched the sleek, wild, dark And iridescent creature Batter against the brilliance, drop like a glove To the hard floor, or the desk-top, And wait then, humped and bloody, For the wits to try it again; and how our spirits Rose when, suddenly sure, It lifted off from a chair-back, Beating a smooth course for the right window And clearing the sill of the world. It is always a matter, my darling, Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish What I wished you before, but harder.
While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead I played about the front gate, pulling flowers. You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse, You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums. And we went on living in the village of Chokan: Two small people, without dislike or suspicion. At fourteen I married My Lord you. I never laughed, being bashful. Lowering my head, I looked at the wall. Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back. At fifteen I stopped scowling, I desired my dust to be mingled with yours Forever and forever and forever. Why should I climb the look out? At sixteen you departed, You went into far Ku-to-en, by the river of swirling eddies, And you have been gone five months. The monkeys make sorrowful noise overhead. You dragged your feet when you went out. By the gate now, the moss is grown, the different mosses, Too deep to clear them away! The leaves fall early this autumn, in wind. The paired butterflies are already yellow with August Over the grass in the West garden; They hurt me. I grow older. If you are coming down through the narrows of the river Kiang, Please let me know beforehand, And I will come out to meet you As far as Cho-fu-Sa.
We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time. Through the unknown, unremembered gate When the last of earth left to discover Is that which was the beginning; At the source of the longest river The voice of the hidden waterfall And the children in the apple-tree Not known, because not looked for But heard, half-heard, in the stillness Between two waves of the sea. Quick now, here, now, always – A condition of complete simplicity (Costing not less than everything) And all shall be well and All manner of thing shall be well When the tongues of flame are in-folded Into the crowned knot of fire And the fire and the rose are one.
Let other mornings honor the miraculous. Eternity has festivals enough. This is the feast of our mortality, The most mundane and human holiday. On other days we misinterpret time, Pretending that we live the present moment. But can this blur, this smudgy in-between, This tiny fissure where the future drips Into the past, this flyspeck we call now Be our true habitat? The present is The leaky palm of water that we skim From the swift, silent river slipping by. The new year always brings us what we want Simply by bringing us along—to see A calendar with every day uncrossed, A field of snow without a single footprint.
Was there a Garden or was the Garden a dream? Amid the fleeting light, I have slowed myself and queried, Almost for consolation, if the bygone period Over which this Adam, wretched now, once reigned supreme, Might not have been just a magical illusion Of that God I dreamed. Already it's imprecise In my memory, the clear Paradise, But I know it exists, in flower and profusion, Although not for me. My punishment for life Is the stubborn earth with the incestuous strife Of Cains and Abels and their brood; I await no pardon. Yet, it's much to have loved, to have known true joy, To have had – if only for just one day – The experience of touching the living Garden.
To relearn how to drive in the rain— slippery saliva on the city’s tongue in slate. A song propels despite the radio, & I wonder how many people listening have to pull their cars off the road because it’s so beautiful. When it’s over, a dedication: To my late wife, Betty— this is how I felt about my life with you. From this distance, we are becoming ever- softening echoes of each other. Our landscape was one rock piled on top of another. No, not piled, the guide in Arizona corrected, but a fissure made more of a fissure over time—unlike how my mouth fell into my hands: a brutal swipe of coral onto my thumb, then the entire scream in my palm, the color of the South Rim with its yellows & aubergines. I’ve tried to carve away this nothingness with the spoon of my car, as I pass a trailer hauling cows with fluorescent pink numbers scrawled across their lazy haunches, another truck with several windshields filed in its bed, my careless tailgate of blood & glass. Like you, the rain is more hologram than tear, more sugar than skull. I can almost feel it between my toes, almost gently enough to want you through.
During Lent, season of discipline, I drag myself early out of bed, ride to Mass with Mom and Mrs. Crivello, warm in the front seat between their woolen coats, soothed by familiar perfume. Headlights carve the ebony darkness. The women talk in low tones about people I don’t know, the thrum of their voices reassuring. I doze for seconds that seem like minutes. In the half-acre lot, we park among a small band of cars huddled near the entrance of St. Monica’s. Inside, stained glass windows, a feast of color in daylight, are black. The church is barn-cold. Candles burn, bells ring, prayers are murmured, songs sung. The church warms slowly. I sit, stand, kneel between the two women, rituals washing over me like soft waves on Lake Michigan in August. Later, I carry the sacred mood out on my route, dispensing papers like Communion to my neighbors.
And the days are not full enough And the nights are not full enough And life slips by like a field mouse Not shaking the grass.
That Whitsun, I was late getting away: Not till about One-twenty on the sunlit Saturday Did my three-quarters-empty train pull out, All windows down, all cushions hot, all sense Of being in a hurry gone. We ran Behind the backs of houses, crossed a street Of blinding windscreens, smelt the fish-dock; thence The river's level drifting breadth began, Where sky and Lincolnshire and water meet. All afternoon, through the tall heat that slept For miles inland, A slow and stopping curve southwards we kept. Wide farms went by, short-shadowed cattle, and Canals with floatings of industrial froth; A hothouse flashed uniquely: hedges dipped And rose: and now and then a smell of grass Displaced the reek of buttoned carriage-cloth Until the next town, new and nondescript, Approached with acres of dismantled cars. At first, I didn't notice what a noise The weddings made Each station that we stopped at: sun destroys The interest of what's happening in the shade, And down the long cool platforms whoops and skirls I took for porters larking with the mails, And went on reading. Once we started, though, We passed them, grinning and pomaded, girls In parodies of fashion, heels and veils, All posed irresolutely, watching us go, As if out on the end of an event Waving goodbye To something that survived it. Struck, I leant More promptly out next time, more curiously, And saw it all again in different terms: The fathers with broad belts under their suits And seamy foreheads; mothers loud and fat; An uncle shouting smut; and then the perms, The nylon gloves and jewellery-substitutes, The lemons, mauves, and olive-ochres that Marked off the girls unreally from the rest. Yes, from cafés And banquet-halls up yards, and bunting-dressed Coach-party annexes, the wedding-days Were coming to an end. All down the line Fresh couples climbed aboard: the rest stood round; The last confetti and advice were thrown, And, as we moved, each face seemed to define Just what it saw departing: children frowned At something dull; fathers had never known Success so huge and wholly farcical; The women shared The secret like a happy funeral; While girls, gripping their handbags tighter, stared At a religious wounding. Free at last, And loaded with the sum of all they saw, We hurried towards London, shuffling gouts of steam. Now fields were building-plots, and poplars cast Long shadows over major roads, and for Some fifty minutes, that in time would seem Just long enough to settle hats and say I nearly died, A dozen marriages got under way. They watched the landscape, sitting side by side – An Odeon went past, a cooling tower, And someone running up to bowl – and none Thought of the others they would never meet Or how their lives would all contain this hour. I thought of London spread out in the sun, Its postal districts packed like squares of wheat: There we were aimed. And as we raced across Bright knots of rail Past standing Pullmans, walls of blackened moss Came close, and it was nearly done, this frail Travelling coincidence; and what it held stood ready to be loosed with all the power That being changed can give. We slowed again, And as the tightened brakes took hold, there swelled A sense of falling, like an arrow-shower Sent out of sight, somewhere becoming rain.
Batter my heart, three person'd God; for, you As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend; That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow mee, and bend Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new. I, like an usurpt towne, to'another due, Labour to'admit you, but Oh, to no end, Reason your viceroy in mee, mee should defend, But is captiv'd, and proves weake or untrue. Yet dearely 'I love you,' and would be loved faine, But am betroth'd unto your enemie: Divorce mee, untie, or breake that knot againe; Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I Except you enthrall mee, never shall be free, Nor ever chaste, except you ravish mee.
If I were called in To construct a religion I should make use of water. Going to church Would entail a fording To dry, different clothes; My litany would employ Images of sousing, A furious devout drench, And I should raise in the east A glass of water Where any-angled light Would congregate endlessly.
Marrying left your maiden name disused. Its five light sounds no longer mean your face, Your voice, and all your variants of grace; For since you were so thankfully confused By law with someone else, you cannot be Semantically the same as that young beauty: It was of her that these two words were used. Now it's a phrase applicable to no one, Lying just where you left it, scattered through Old lists, old programmes, a school prize or two Packets of letters tied with tartan ribbon– Then is it scentless, weightless, strengthless, wholly Untruthful? Try whispering it slowly. No, it means you. Or, since you're past and gone, It means what we feel now about you then: How beautiful you were, and near, and young, So vivid, you might still be there among Those first few days, unfingermarked again. So your old name shelters our faithfulness, Instead of losing shape and meaning less With your depreciating luggage laden.
The tide rises, the tide falls, The twilight darkens, the curlew calls; Along the sea-sands damp and brown The traveler hastens toward the town, And the tide rises, the tide falls. Darkness settles on roofs and walls, But the sea, the sea in darkness calls; The little waves, with their soft, white hands Efface the footprints in the sands, And the tide rises, the tide falls. The morning breaks; the steeds in their stalls Stamp and neigh, as the hostler calls; The day returns, but nevermore Returns the traveler to the shore. And the tide rises, the tide falls.
After the clash of elevator gates And the long sinking, she emerges where, A slight thing in the morning’s crosstown glare, She looks up toward the window where he waits, Then in a fleeting taxi joins the rest Of the huge traffic bound forever west. On such grand scale do lovers say good-bye— Even this other pair whose high romance Had only the duration of a dance, And who, now taking leave with stricken eye, See each in each a whole new life forgone. For them, above the darkling clubhouse lawn, Bright Perseids flash and crumble; while for these Who part now on the dock, weighed down by grief And baggage, yet with something like relief, It takes three thousand miles of knitting seas To cancel out their crossing, and unmake The amorous rough and tumble of their wake. We are denied, my love, their fine tristesse And bittersweet regrets, and cannot share The frequent vistas of their large despair, Where love and all are swept to nothingness; Still, there’s a certain scope in that long love Which constant spirits are the keepers of, And which, though taken to be tame and staid, Is a wild sostenuto of the heart, A passion joined to courtesy and art Which has the quality of something made, Like a good fiddle, like the rose’s scent, Like a rose window or the firmament.
Words need thew and heft to move or melt the front that's spent or bruised since talk that's glib or small or slight can't prop or ease those hearts that hide Whereas, idle, relentless triviality with fitfull vacuum-filling spasms exasperate with careless conversing neither relieving nor compassing always congesting air's tranquility with informations, directions, impressions, descriptions, prattlings and rattlings, natterings or blabbings, pontifications or punditry without sensibility to ignorance or sympathy for privations. Agh! such want of balm, such waste of wind. Since spans of life get trimmed and hewn and time (too brief!) ekes breath and limb, why not rise to grant some salve or hint at dawn for souls' stretched night?
From blossoms comes this brown paper bag of peaches we bought from the boy at the bend in the road where we turned toward signs painted Peaches. From laden boughs, from hands, from sweet fellowship in the bins, comes nectar at the roadside, succulent peaches we devour, dusty skin and all, comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat. O, to take what we love inside, to carry within us an orchard, to eat not only the skin, but the shade, not only the sugar, but the days, to hold the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into the round jubilance of peach. There are days we live as if death were nowhere in the background; from joy to joy to joy, from wing to wing, from blossom to blossom to impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.
Before I left for camp, my mother sewed my name with a firm stitch into everything I owned. She even looped a string of nametapes through the scissors I keep to this day on my desk. She wanted to be sure, when she sent me into the woods, she'd get the right child back at summer's end, that I'd not be left in the laundry drum like an unmarked sock. Others— careless lazy mothers—favored marking pens, illegible black letters bleeding into stain. My mother knew nothing was permanent. She'd seen how fast a child could disappear: her two dead sisters with names like flowers: Lily, Rose, their summery smells, indelible voices. That's why she sewed my name so tight on all four sides, double-knotted the knots. So I wouldn't forget when she sent me off into the wet, the dark, the wild: I was hers.
Shine on, O moon of summer. Shine to the leaves of grass, catalpa and oak, All silver under your rain to-night. An Italian boy is sending songs to you to-night from an accordion. A Polish boy is out with his best girl; they marry next month; to-night they are throwing you kisses. An old man next door is dreaming over a sheen that sits in a cherry tree in his back yard. The clocks say I must go—I stay here sitting on the back porch drinking white thoughts you rain down. Shine on, O moon, Shake out more and more silver changes.
The axe rings in the wood And the children come, Laughing and wet from the river; And all goes on as it should. I hear the murmur and hum Of their morning, forever. The water ripples and slaps The white boat at the dock; The fire crackles and snaps. The little noise of the clock Goes on and on in my heart, Of my heart parcel and part. O happy early stir! A girl comes out on the porch, And the door slams after her. She sees the wind in the birch, And then the running day Catches her into its way.
It looks easy from a distance, easy and lazy, even, until you stand up to the plate and see the fastball sailing inside, an inch from your chin, or circle in the outfield straining to get a bead on a small black dot a city block or more high, a dark star that could fall on your head like a leaden meteor. The grass, the dirt, the deadly hops between your feet and overeager glove: football can be learned, and basketball finessed, but there is no hiding from baseball the fact that some are chosen and some are not—those whose mitts feel too left-handed, who are scared at third base of the pulled line drive, and at first base are scared of the shortstop's wild throw that stretches you out like a gutted deer. There is nowhere to hide when the ball's spotlight swivels your way, and the chatter around you falls still, and the mothers on the sidelines, your own among them, hold their breaths, and you whiff on a terrible pitch or in the infield achieve something with the ball so ridiculous you blush for years. It's easy to do. Baseball was invented in America, where beneath the good cheer and sly jazz the chance of failure is everybody's right, beginning with baseball.
As our daughter approaches graduation and puberty at the same time, at her own, calm, deliberate, serious rate, she begins to kick up her heels, jazz out her hands, thrust out her hipbones, chant I’m great! I’m great! She feels 8th grade coming open around her, a chrysalis cracking and letting her out, it falls behind her and joins the other husks on the ground, 7th grade, 6th grade, the magenta rind of 5th grade, the hard jacket of 4th when she had so much pain, 3rd grade, 2nd, the dim cocoon of 1st grade back there somewhere on the path, and kindergarten like a strip of thumb-suck blanket taken from the actual blanket they wrapped her in at birth. The whole school is coming off her shoulders like a cloak unclasped, and she dances forth in her jerky sexy child’s joke dance of self, self, her throat tight and a hard new song coming out of it, while her two dark eyes shine above her body like a good mother and a good father who look down and love everything their baby does, the way she lives their love.
Yes, the young mothers are beautiful, with all the self-acceptance of exhaustion, still dazed from their great outpouring, pushing their strollers along the public river walk. And the day is also beautiful—the replica 19th-century paddle-wheeler perpetually moored at the city wharf with its glassed-in bar and grill for the lunch-and-cocktail-seekers who come for the Mark Twain Happy Hour which lasts as long as the Mississippi. This is the kind of town where the rush hour traffic halts to let three wild turkeys cross the road, and when the high school music teacher retires after thirty years the movie marquee says, "Thanks Mr. Biddleman!" and the whole town comes to hear the tuba solos of old students. Summer, when the living is easy and we store up pleasure in our bodies like fat, like Eskimos, for the coming season of privation. All August the Ferris wheel will turn in the little amusement park, and screaming teenage girls will jump into the river with their clothes on, right next to the No Swimming sign. Trying to cool the heat inside the small towns of their bodies, for which they have no words; obedient to the voice inside which tells them, "Now. Steal Pleasure."
Poetry is not decorative, she writes in her notebook, but is chaste and desperate. It is an attempt to pare away lies, then find a core of lies that can’t be touched and are acknowledged as necessary. By turning toward the process, the poet tries not to get an ultimate, definable truth, but a sentence, a phrase, a picture, that is perhaps a little truer.
In Murray, Kentucky, I lay once On my side, the ghost-weight of a past life in my arms, A life not mine. I know she was there, Asking for nothing, heavy as bad luck, still waiting to rise. I know now and I lift her. Evening becomes us. I see myself in a tight dissolve, and answer to no one. Self-traitor, I smuggle in The spider love, undoer and rearranger of all things. Angel of Mercy, strip me down. This world is just a little place, Just red in the sky before the sun rises. Hold hands, hold hands That when the birds start, none of us is missing. Hold hands, hold hands.
Coffee, Coffee, Coffee, Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. Everyone shut up. Coffee.
When I see a couple of kids And guess he’s fucking her and she’s Taking pills or wearing a diaphragm, I know this is paradise Everyone old has dreamed of all their lives— Bonds and gestures pushed to one side Like an outdated combine harvester, And everyone young going down the long slide To happiness, endlessly. I wonder if Anyone looked at me, forty years back, And thought, That’ll be the life; No God any more, or sweating in the dark About hell and that, or having to hide What you think of the priest. He And his lot will all go down the long slide Like free bloody birds. And immediately Rather than words comes the thought of high windows: The sun-comprehending glass, And beyond it, the deep blue air, that shows Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless.
Time after time I came to your gate with raised hands, asking for more and yet more. You gave and gave, now in slow measure, now in sudden excess. I took some, and some things I let drop; some lay heavy on my hands; some I made into playthings and broke them when tired; till the wrecks and the hoard of your gifts grew immense, hiding you, and the ceaseless expectation wore my heart out. Take, oh take - has now become my cry. Shatter all from this beggar's bowl; put out the lamp of the importunate watcher; hold my hands, raise me from the still-gathering heap of your gifts into the bare infinity of your uncrowded presence.
For some time I thought there was time and that there would always be time for what I had a mind to do and what I could imagine going back to and finding it as I had found it the first time but by this time I do not know what I thought when I thought back then there is no time yet it grows less there is the sound of rain at night arriving unknown in the leaves once without before or after then I hear the thrush waking at daybreak singing the new song
Just when you’d begun to feel You could rely on the summer, That each morning would deliver The same mourning dove singing From his station on the phone pole, The same smell of bacon frying Somewhere in the neighborhood, The same sun burning off The coastal fog by noon, When you could reward yourself For a good morning’s work With lunch at the same little seaside cafe With its shaded deck and iced tea, The day’s routine finally down Like an old song with minor variations, There comes that morning when the light Tilts ever so slightly on its track, A cool gust out of nowhere Whirlwinds a litter of dead grass Across the sidewalk, the swimsuits Are piled on the sale table, And the back of your hand, Which you thought you knew, Has begun to look like an old leaf. Or the back of someone else’s hand.
What I know for sure is less and less: that a hot bath won’t cure loneliness. That bacon is the best bad thing to chew and what you love may kill you. The odd connection between perfection and foolishness, like the pelican diving for his fish. How silly sex is. How, having it, we glimpse our holiness. What I know is less and less. What I want is more and more: you against me— your ferocious tenderness— love like a star, once small and far, now huge, now near.
Paul Robeson stood on the northern border of the USA and sang into Canada where a vast audience sat on folding chairs waiting to hear him. He sang into Canada. His voice left the USA when his body was not allowed to cross that line. Remind us again, brave friend. What countries may we sing into? What lines should we all be crossing? What songs travel toward us from far away to deepen our days?
You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on. Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers. Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting over and over announcing your place in the family of things.
All day he’s shoveled green pine sawdust out of the trailer truck into the chute. From time to time he’s clambered down to even the pile. Now his hair is frosted with sawdust. Little rivers of sawdust pour out of his boots. I hope in the afterlife there’s none of this stuff he says, stripping nude in the late September sun while I broom off his jeans, his sweater flocked with granules, his immersed-in-sawdust socks. I hope there’s no bedding, no stalls, no barn no more repairs to the paddock gate the horses burst through when snow avalanches off the roof. Although the old broodmare, our first foal, is his, horses, he’s fond of saying, make divorces. Fifty years married, he’s safely facetious. No garden pump that’s airbound, no window a grouse flies into and shatters, no ancient tractor’s intractable problem with carburetor ignition or piston, no mowers and no chain saws that refuse to start, or start, misfire and quit. But after a Bloody Mary on the terrace already frost-heaved despite our heroic efforts to level the bricks a few years back, he says let’s walk up to the field and catch the sunset and off we go, a couple of aging fools. I hope, he says, on the other side there’s a lot less work, but just in case I’m bringing tools.
When people call this beast to mind, They marvel more and more At such a little tail behind, So large a trunk before.
I ne'er was struck before that hour With love so sudden and so sweet, Her face it bloomed like a sweet flower And stole my heart away complete. My face turned pale as deadly pale. My legs refused to walk away, And when she looked, what could I ail? My life and all seemed turned to clay. And then my blood rushed to my face And took my eyesight quite away, The trees and bushes round the place Seemed midnight at noonday. I could not see a single thing, Words from my eyes did start — They spoke as chords do from the string, And blood burnt round my heart. Are flowers the winter’s choice? Is love’s bed always snow? She seemed to hear my silent voice, Not love’s appeals to know. I never saw so sweet a face As that I stood before. My heart has left its dwelling-place And can return no more.
THE WHOLE PROCESS is a lie, unless, crowned by excess, it breaks forcefully, one way or another, from its confinement – or find a deeper well. Antony and Cleopatra were right; they have shown the way. I love you or I do not live at all. DAFFODIL TIME is past. This is summer, summer! the heart says, and not even the full of it. No doubts are permitted – though they will come and may before our time overwhelm us. We are only mortal but being mortal can defy our fate. We may by an outside chance even win! We do not look to see jonquils and violets come again but there are, still, the roses! ROMANCE HAS no part in it. The business of love is cruelty which, by our will, we transform to live together. It has its seasons, for and against, whatever the heart fumbles in the dark to assert toward the end of May. JUST AS THE nature of briars is to tear flesh, I have proceeded through them. Keep the briars out, they say. You cannot live and keep free of the briars. CHILDREN PICK flowers. Let them. Though having them in hand they have no further use for them but leave them crumpled at the curb’s edge. AT OUR AGE the imagination across the sorry facts lifts us to make roses stand before the thorns. Sure love is cruel and selfish and totally obtuse – at least, blinded by the light, young love is. But we are older, I to love and you to be loved, we have, no matter how, by our wills survived to keep the jewelled prize always at our finger tips. We will it so and so it is past all accident.
The day has gone slack, but not for the noisy grackles who darken my pear trees, who want what they want, nor for the sylphy single mom next door who thumps like a heart on her treadmill. Passion fails for most of us, that's the truth. But worse things happen in a life. Pre-teen daughters, left with a live-in, hug designer handbags, slight their cats, refuse my smiles. A boyfriend in Malibu, she told my husband, uncoiling from her Jaguar in tights and furs. Do I dare pass judgment in the Age of Whatever? It's the North Dallas way, molting lives like birds drop feathers, as long as you're happy the length of a marriage. If I said something other than have a good time, if I spoke like a nun, self- denial? Or foretold like a sibyl the woeful outcome? But I'm just an old neighbor on the wrong side of a rose-covered fence. And who can stand to see ahead the cost of her decisions? Evening after evening my grackles come back screeching, a babel of brute gesture so unlike the bird I can't name whose call begins with the pluck of a kiss but ends at once with a sigh, a not unwelcome release from the tight zero of desire. I've heard that bird, yes, I have, not in this place, but always at this hour.
Wilt Thou forgive that sin where I begun, Which was my sin, though it were done before? Wilt Thou forgive that sin through which I run, And do run still, though still I do deplore? When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done, For I have more. Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I have won Others to sin and made my sin their door? Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun A year, or two, but wallowed in a score? When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done, For I have more. I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun My last thread, I shall perish on the shore; Swear by thyself that at my death Thy Son Shall shine as He shines now, and heretofore; And having done that, Thou hast done, I fear no more.
The window frame catches a draft that smells of dead leaves and wet street, and I wrap arms around my knees, look down on these small breasts, so my spine forms a curve as perfect as the rim of the moon. I want to tell the man sleeping curled as a child beside me that this futon is a raft. The moon and tiny star we call sun are the parents who at last approve of us. For once, we haven’t borrowed more than we can return. Stars above our cement backyard are as sharp as those that shine far from Brooklyn, and we are not bound for anything worse than we can imagine, as long as we turn on the kitchen lamp and light a flame under the pot, as long as we sip coffee from beautiful China-blue cups and love the steam of the shower and thrusting our feet into trousers. As long as we walk down our street in sun that ignites red leaves on the maple, we will see faces on the subway and know we may take our places somewhere among them.
Grass grows in the night and early the mockingbirds begin their fleet courtships over puddles, upon wires, in the new green of the Spanish limes. Their white-striped wings flash as they flirt and dive. Wind in the chimes pulls music from the air, the sky’s cleared of its vast complications. In the pause before summer, the wild sprouting of absolutely everything: hair, nails, the mango’s pale rose pennants, tongues of birds singing daylong. Words, even, and sudden embraces, surprising dreams and things I’d never imagined, in all these years of living, one more astonished awakening.
Dearest, I never knew such loving. There in that glass tower in the alien city, alone, we found what somewhere I had always known exists and must exist, this fervent care, this lust of tenderness. Two were aware how in hot seizure, bone pressed to bone and liquid flesh to flesh, each separate moan was pleasure, yes, but most in the other's share. Companions and discoverers, equal and free, so deep in love we adventured and so far that we became perhaps more than we are, and now being home is hardship. Therefore are we diminished? No. We are of the world again but still augmented, more than we've ever been.
Nests in the eaves stir in the dawn Ephemeral as our peace Morning prayer Grace before food I understand The endless sky the small earth The shadow cone Your shining Lips and eyes Your thighs drenched with the sea A telescope full of fireflies Innumerable nebulae all departing Ten billion years before we ever met
While we are gone, our neighbor finds a long-dead buck in our shed, steeped in snow and wood. A broken leg took him down and he found refuge. The deer that had wandered the hills, had run in front of a car. This is the story we make up to understand how he got there. It’s sad, the part about dying. It scares us, we want to turn our faces away, drag the deer back to the forest. But there is something else we should look at— a small gladness that he found shelter close to our house, that he came out of the wind and snow to curl up near the wood pile. All deer die. This one is a testament.
At eleven, my granddaughter looks like my daughter did, that slender body, that thin face, the grace with which she moves. When she visits, she sits with my daughter; they have hot chocolate together and talk. The way my granddaughter moves her hands, the concentration with which she does everything, knocks me back to the time when I sat with my daughter at this table and we talked and I watched the grace with which she moved her hands, the delicate way she lifted the heavy hair back behind her ear. My daughter is grown now, married in a fairy-tale wedding, divorced, something inside her broken, healing slowly. I look at my granddaughter and I want to save her, as I was not able to save my daughter. Nothing is that simple, all our plans, carefully made, thrown into a cracked pile by the way love betrays us.
In the spelling bee my daughter wore a good brown dress and kept her hands folded. There were twelve children speaking into a microphone that was taller than they were. Each time it was her turn I could barely look. It wasn't that I wanted her to win but I hoped she would be happy with herself. The words were too hard for me; I would have missed chemical, thermos, and dessert. Each time she spelled one correctly my heart became a bird. She once fluttered so restlessly beneath my skin and, on the morning of her arrival, her little red hands held nothing. Her life since has been a surprise: she can sew; she can draw; she can read. She hates raisins but loves science. All the parents must feel this, watching from the cheap folding chairs. Somewhere inside them love took shape and now it stands at the microphone, spelling.
By June our brook's run out of song and speed. Sought for much after that, it will be found Either to have gone groping underground (And taken with it all the Hyla breed That shouted in the mist a month ago, Like ghost of sleigh-bells in a ghost of snow)— Or flourished and come up in jewel-weed, Weak foliage that is blown upon and bent Even against the way its waters went. Its bed is left a faded paper sheet Of dead leaves stuck together by the heat— A brook to none but who remember long. This as it will be seen is other far Than with brooks taken otherwhere in song. We love the things we love for what they are.
When my cows no longer care to go Out to their pasture far or near But stand close in the last warm sun Around the place, I'll know that fall is here And when the corn goes into dint Across the fields like old men appear And we pick it and store it all away Around the place, I'll know that fall is here When the limbs of the apple and the pear Lean down with their fruit so near And my children go a'gathering Around the place, I'll know that fall is here And when the hunters come from town Seeking the pheasant and the deer With their dogs in front to point the game Around the place, I'll know that fall is here When the hay and straw are in the barn Stacked to the roof, tier on tier Smelling like a summer come and gone Around the place, I'll know that fall is here Around the place, I'll know that fall is here When the evenings come early and the mornings are clear Over all the fields I've worked this year Around the place, I'll know that fall is here
Those nights the fireflies love best— windless and a little humid— when they are current in the pasture, busy in their greeny traffic, signaling beneath the stars ("Like a nightclub's marquee," she says, remembering Fifty-Second Street), then I think pleasure is like this, accomplished in a perfect silence undeceived by loneliness. And in the morning on the lawn, seedpods of Eastern cottonwood lie scattered open, white and brilliant, as if true to some child's account of what pleasure becomes with daylight.
We stood on the rented patio While the party went on inside. You knew the groom from college. I was a friend of the bride. We hugged the brownstone wall behind us To keep our dress clothes dry And watched the sudden summer storm Floodlit against the sky. The rain was like a waterfall Of brilliant beaded light, Cool and silent as the stars The storm hid from the night. To my surprise, you took my arm – A gesture you didn't explain – And we spoke in whispers, as if we two Might imitate the rain. Then suddenly the storm receded As swiftly as it came. The doors behind us opened up. The hostess called your name. I watched you merge into the group, Aloof and yet polite. We didn't speak another word Except to say goodnight. Why does that evening's memory Return with this night's storm – A party twenty years ago, Its disappointments warm? There are so many might have beens, What ifs that won't stay buried, Other cities, other jobs, Strangers we might have married. And memory insists on pining For places it never went, As if life would be happier Just by being different.
|Mike:||Is that for me?|
|Dexter:||It's for Sam. You want one?|
|Mike:||You know how I feel about my grandmother, but I'd sell her for a drink.|
|Dexter:||Uncle Willie's in the pantry doing weird and wonderful things with healing waters. Tell him you'd like one of the same.|
|Mike:||Can I ask for two?|
|Dexter:||Keep going till you run out of grandmothers.|
Summer is a day. The whole world is autumn. Leaves are falling, the river’s flowing by Dimpled with tiny insects. They swarm in clouds, Clusters undulating. The last student, the pupil (someone moistens The eyes and lips) dilates, does not stop down At the sharp beam of the penlight. Nothing moves. I tell myself Do not welcome the dark though your life Has changed. Rather, behold the heaven Of flying things, trout rising, worlds, Japanese lanterns in the trees.
Love is not blind. That is the last thing that it is. Love is bound; and the more it is bound the less it is blind.
Driving the Garden State Parkway to New York, I pointed out two crows to a woman who believed crows always travel in threes. And later just one crow eating the carcass of a squirrel. "The others are nearby," she said, "hidden in trees." She was sure. Now and then she'd say "See!" and a clear dark trinity of crows would be standing on the grass. I told her she was wrong to under- or overestimate crows, and wondered out loud if three crows together made any evolutionary sense. I was almost getting serious now. Near Forked River, we saw five. "There's three," she said, "and two others with a friend in a tree." I looked to see if she was smiling. She wasn't. Or she was. "Men like you," she said, "need it written down, notarized, and signed."
Why Brownlee left, and where he went, Is a mystery even now. For if a man should have been content It was him; two acres of barley, One of potatoes, four bullocks, A milker, a slated farmhouse. He was last seen going out to plough On a March morning, bright and early. By noon Brownlee was famous; They had found all abandoned, with The last rig unbroken, his pair of black Horses, like man and wife, Shifting their weight from foot to Foot, and gazing into the future.
You're always giving, my therapist said.
You have to learn how to take. Whenever
you meet a woman, the first thing you do
is lend her your books. You think she'll
have to see you again in order to return them.
But what happens is, she doesn't have the time
to read them & she's afraid if she sees you again
you'll expect her to talk about them, & will
want to lend her even more. So she
cancels the date. You end up losing
a lot of books. You should borrow hers.
If I might be so bold, there are two types of education that must be pursued at the same time. In the first, we have to look to making a living. This is not an ignoble task, and it usually requires some such relatively dull enterprise as going to law school or figuring out the stock market or passing the foreign service examination. The second is of quite a different nature. For this we need what Aristotle called leisure—space and time for questions that have little directly to do with business or keeping alive. . . . For this latter, we want friends, and we want to know what others, mostly before our era, have held. This does not simply mean having a lot of books to cart about, but it means having some good ones, ones we have read, marked, and read again, and ones we intend to keep.
I'm going to New York! (what a lark! what a song!) where the tough Rocky's eaves hit the sea. Where th'Acro- polis is functional, the trains that run and shout! the books that have trousers and sleeves! I'm going to New York! (quel voyage! jamais plus!) far from Ypsilanti and Flint! where Goodman rules the Empire and the sunlight's eschato- logy upon the wizard's bridges and the galleries of print! I'm going to New York! (to my friends! mes semblables!) I suppose I'll walk back West. But for now I'm gone forever! the city's hung with flashlights! the Ferry's unbuttoning its vest!
I go, you stay; two autumns.
My father taught me how to eat breakfast those mornings when it was my turn to help him milk the cows. I loved rising up from the darkness and coming quietly down the stairs while the others were still sleeping. I'd take a bowl from the cupboard, a spoon from the drawer, and slip into the pantry where he was already eating spoonfuls of cornflakes covered with mashed strawberries from our own strawberry fields forever. Didn't talk much—except to mention how good the strawberries tasted or the way those clouds hung over the hay barn roof. Simple—that's how we started up the day.
Don't run any more. Quiet. How softly it rains On the roofs of the city. How perfect All things are. Now, for the two of you Waking up in a royal bed by a garret window. For a man and a woman. For one plant divided Into masculine and feminine which longed for each other. Yes, this is my gift to you. Above ashes On a bitter, bitter earth. Above the subterranean Echo of clamorings and vows. So that now at dawn You must be attentive: the tilt of a head, A hand with a comb, two faces in a mirror Are only forever once, even if unremembered, So that you watch what it is, though it fades away, And are grateful every moment for your being. Let that little park with greenish marble busts In the pearl-gray light, under a summer drizzle, Remain as it was when you opened the gate. And the street of tall peeling porticos Which this love of yours suddenly transformed.
Not a red rose or a satin heart. I give you an onion. It is a moon wrapped in brown paper. It promises light like the careful undressing of love. Here. It will blind you with tears like a lover. It will make your reflection a wobbling photo of grief. I am trying to be truthful. Not a cute card or a kissogram. I give you an onion. Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips, possessive and faithful as we are, for as long as we are. Take it. Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding-ring, if you like. Lethal. Its scent will cling to your fingers, cling to your knife.
In the highlands, in the country places, Where the old plain men have rosy faces, And the young fair maidens Quiet eyes; Where essential silence cheers and blesses, And for ever in the hill-recesses Her more lovely music Broods and dies– O to mount again where erst I haunted; Where the old red hills are bird-enchanted, And the low green meadows Bright with sward; And when even dies, the million-tinted, And the night has come, and planets glinted, Lo, the valley hollow Lamp-bestarr'd! O to dream, O to awake and wander There, and with delight to take and render, Through the trance of silence, Quiet breath! Lo! for there, among the flowers and grasses, Only the mightier movement sounds and passes; Only winds and rivers, Life and death.
|THOMASINA:||Septimus, what is carnal embrace?|
|SEPTIMUS:||Carnal embrace is the practice of throwing one's arms around a side of beef.|
The plane of the water is like the page on which Phrases and even sentences are written, But because of the breeze, and the turning of the year, And the sense that this lake water, as it is being Experienced on a particular day, comes from Some source somewhere, beneath, within, itself, Or from somewhere else, nearby, a spring, a brook, Its pure origination somewhere else It is like an idea for a poem not yet written And maybe never to be completed, because The surface of the page is like lake water, That takes back what is written on its surface, And all my language about the lake and its Emotions or its sweet obliviousness, Or even its being like an origination, Is all erased with the changing of the breeze Or because of the heedless passing of a cloud. When, moments after she died, I looked into her face, It was as untelling as something natural, A lake, say, the surface of it unreadable, Its sources of meaning unfindable anymore. Her mouth was open as if she had something to say; But maybe my saying so is a figure of speech.
She makes her way through the dark trees Down to the lake to be alone. Following their voices on the breeze, She makes her way. Through the dark trees The distant stars are all she sees. They cannot light the way she's gone. She makes her way through the dark trees Down to the lake to be alone. The night reflected on the lake, The fire of stars changed into water. She cannot see the winds that break The night reflected on the lake But knows they motion for her sake. These are the choices they have brought her: The night reflected on the lake, The fire of stars changed into water.
It's not just the people who live in the city who've lost the thread that ties them to the woven world of stones and earth, fields alive with pollen and wings. Who among us understands how oceans rise and fall, currents swirling around the planet with messages in bottles floating on the water. When the tide is out we can go to the shore dig clay with our bare hands and make something beautiful from it, a vessel with thin walls that holds a canyon. In both hands, like an offering, we can hold the memory of eroded stones and earth, eons contained in this empty bowl. We can fill it with water that reflects the sky that has witnessed everything since time began, we can drink and be blessed, clouds gathering over us.
It's all I have to bring today – This, and my heart beside – This, and my heart, and all the fields – And all the meadows wide – Be sure you count – should I forget Some one the sum could tell – This, and my heart, and all the Bees Which in the Clover dwell.
I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability—to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It's like this...
When you're going to have a baby, it's like planning a fabulous vacation trip - to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, "Welcome to Holland."
"Holland?!?" you say. "What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I'm supposed to be in Italy. All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy."
But there's been a change in the flight plan. They've landed in Holland and there you must stay.
The important thing is that they haven't taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It's just a different place.
So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.
It's just a different place. It's slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you've been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around... and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills... and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy... and they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say "Yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned."
And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away... because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.
But... if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things... about Holland.
It's like so many other things in life to which you must say no or yes. So you take your car to the new mechanic. Sometimes the best thing to do is trust. The package left with the disreputable-looking clerk, the check gulped by the night deposit, the envelope passed by dozens of strangers? all show up at their intended destinations. The theft that could have happened doesn't. Wind finally gets where it was going through the snowy trees, and the river, even when frozen, arrives at the right place. And sometimes you sense how faithfully your life is delivered, even though you can't read the address.
Now sleeps the crimson petal, now the white; Nor waves the cypress in the palace walk; Nor winks the gold fin in the porphyry font: The firefly wakens: waken thou with me. Now droops the milkwhite peacock like a ghost, And like a ghost she glimmers on to me. Now lies the Earth all Danaë to the stars, And all thy heart lies open unto me. Now slides the silent meteor on, and leaves A shining furrow, as thy thoughts in me. Now folds the lily all her sweetness up, And slips into the bosom of the lake: So fold thyself, my dearest, thou, and slip Into my bosom and be lost in me.
It's nineteen years today since he last held A drink in his hand or held his breath while smoke Filled as much of him as he could stand Till, letting it out, he sought oblivion Of the trace of memory or anticipation, And his life fell into a death spiral. Since then He's been around folks like him. When he's been asked, And sometimes, eager, when he hasn't been, He talks to the ones who are not even sure They want to learn how to stop killing themselves. That feeling still seems close to him some days. Right now he's okay, and that's enough, right now.
As the bruises fade, the lightning aches. Last week, making love, you bit me. Now the blue and dark have gone and yellow bruises grow toward pale daffodils, then paler to become until my body is all my own and what that ever got me.
|Boswell:||Sir Alexander Dick tells me he remembers having a thousand people in a year to dine at his house.|
|Johnson:||That, sir, that is about three a day.|
|Boswell:||How your statement lessens the idea!|
|Johnson:||That, sir, is the good of counting. It brings everything to a certainty which before floated in the mind indefinitely.|
...not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.
I am talking about all of us. We had all become used to the totalitarian system and accepted it as an unchangeable fact and thus helped to perpetuate it. In other words, we are all - though naturally to differing extents - responsible for the operation of the totalitarian machinery. None of us is just its victim. We are all also its cocreators.
Why do I say this? It would be very unreasonable to understand the sad legacy of the last forty years as something alien, which some distant relative bequeathed to us. On the contrary, we have to accept this legacy as a sin we committed against ourselves. If we accept it as such, we will understand that it is up to us all, and up to us alone to do something about it. We cannot blame the previous rulers for everything, not only because it would be untrue, but also because it would blunt the duty that each of us faces today: namely, the obligation to act independently, freely, reasonably and quickly. Let us not be mistaken: the best government in the world, the best parliament and the best president, cannot achieve much on their own. And it would be wrong to expect a general remedy from them alone. Freedom and democracy include participation and therefore responsibility from us all.
She begins, and my grandmother joins her. Mother and daughter sing like young girls. If my father were alive, he would play his accordion and sway like a boat. I've never been in Peking, or the Summer Palace, nor stood on the great Stone Boat to watch the rain begin on Kuen Ming Lake, the picnickers running away in the grass. But I love to hear it sung; how the waterlilies fill with rain until they overturn, spilling water into water, then rock back, and fill with more, Both women have begun to cry. But neither stops her song.
It was May before my attention came to spring and my word I said to the southern slopes I've missed it, it came and went before I got right to see: don't worry, said the mountain, try the later northern slopes or if you can climb, climb into spring: but said the mountain it's not that way with all things, some that go are gone
Today when persimmons ripen Today when fox-kits come out of their den into snow Today when the spotted egg releases its wren song Today when the maple sets down its red leaves Today when windows keep their promise to open Today when fire keeps its promise to warm Today when someone you love has died or someone you never met has died Today when someone you love has been born or someone you will not meet has been born Today when rain leaps to the waiting of roots in their dryness Today when starlight bends to the roofs of the hungry and tired Today when someone sits long inside his last sorrow Today when someone steps into the heat of her first embrace Today, let this light bless you With these friends let it bless you With snow-scent and lavender bless you Let the vow of this day keep itself wildly and wholly Spoken and silent, surprise you inside your ears Sleeping and waking, unfold itself inside your eyes Let its fierceness and tenderness hold you Let its vastness be undisguised in all your days
Side by side, their faces blurred, The earl and countess lie in stone, Their proper habits vaguely shown As jointed armour, stiffened pleat, And that faint hint of the absurd - The little dogs under their feet. Such plainness of the pre-baroque Hardly involves the eye, until It meets his left-hand gauntlet, still Clasped empty in the other; and One sees, with a sharp tender shock, His hand withdrawn, holding her hand. They would not think to lie so long. Such faithfulness in effigy Was just a detail friends would see: A sculptor's sweet commissioned grace Thrown off in helping to prolong The Latin names around the base. They would not guess how early in Their supine stationary voyage The air would change to soundless damage, Turn the old tenantry away; How soon succeeding eyes begin To look, not read. Rigidly, they Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light Each summer thronged the glass. A bright Litter of birdcalls strewed the same Bone-riddled ground. And up the paths The endless altered people came, Washing at their identity. Now, helpless in the hollow of An unarmorial age, a trough Of smoke in slow suspended skeins Above their scrap of history, Only an attitude remains: Time has transfigured them into Untruth. The stone fidelity They hardly meant has come to be Their final blazon, and to prove Our almost-instinct almost true: What will survive of us is love.
Tonight I lingered over your name, the delicate assembly of vowels a voice inside my head. You were sleeping when I arrived. I stood by your bed and watched the sheets rise gently. I knew what slant of light would make you turn over. It was then I felt the highways slide out of my hands. I remembered the old men in the west side cafe, dealing dominoes like magical charms. It was then I knew, like a woman looking backward, I could not leave you, or find anyone I loved more.
If our lives are dominated by a search for happiness, then perhaps few activities reveal as much about the dynamics of this quest - in all its ardour and paradoxes - than our travels. They express, however inarticulately, an understanding of what life might be about, outside the constraints of work and the struggle for survival.
Miller's Dale for Tideswell ... Kirby Muxloe ... Mow Cop and Scholar Green ... No more will I go to Blandford Forum and Mortehoe On the slow train from Midsomer Norton and Mumby Road. No churns, no porter, no cat on a seat At Chorlton-cum-Hardy or Chester-le-Street. We won't be meeting again On the Slow Train. I'll travel no more from Littleton Badsey to Openshaw. At Long Stanton I'll stand well clear of the doors no more. No whitewashed pebbles, no Up and no Down From Formby Four Crosses to Dunstable Town. I won't be going again On the Slow Train. On the Main Line and the Goods Siding The grass grows high At Dog Dyke, Tumby Woodside And Trouble House Halt. The Sleepers sleep at Audlem and Ambergate. No passenger waits on Chittening platform or Cheslyn Hay. No one departs, no one arrives From Selby to Goole, from St Erth to St Ives. They've all passed out of our lives On the Slow Train, on the Slow Train. Cockermouth for Buttermere ... on the Slow Train, Armley Moor Arram ... Pye Hill and Somercotes ... on the Slow Train, Windmill End.
Most like an arch—an entrance which upholds and shores the stone-crush up the air like lace. Mass made idea, and idea held in place. A lock in time. Inside half-heaven unfolds. Most like an arch—two weaknesses that lean into a strength. Two fallings become firm. Two joined abeyances become a term naming the fact that teaches fact to mean. Not quite that? Not much less. World as it is, what's strong and separate falters. All I do at piling stone on stone apart from you is roofless around nothing. Till we kiss I am no more than upright and unset. It is by falling in and in we make the all-bearing point, for one another's sake, in faultless failing, raised by our own weight.
From their back room they sold you if they knew you and you called ahead to this one family Auto Supply gefilte fish they worked up themselves in big pots on a stove behind a curtain like Prohibition. My mother for the holidays would go there around the corner across under the El from Sunnyside Garden where my father took me to the fights fifty for the winner a watch for the loser. Their recipe was so delicious the mothers said big carp and pike boulders spiked with carrot pebbles shuddering in a pond of pale yellow jelly they sold on the sly smelling against front-of-the-store new rubber and sunny precious oils enough to grease every Polo Grounds seat. When mothers asked for it they winked but never gave away their recipe.
There was a time her door was never closed. Her music box played "Für Elise" in plinks. Her crib new-bought: I drew her sleeping there. The little drawing sits beside my chair. These days, she ornaments her hands with rings. She's seventeen. Her door is one I knock. There was a time I daily brushed her hair By window light; I bathed her, in the sink In sunny water, in the kitchen, there. I've bought her several thousand things to wear, And now this boy buys her silver rings. He goes inside her room and shuts the door. Those days, to rock her was a form of prayer. She'd gaze at me, and blink, and I would sing Of bees and horses, in the pasture, there. The drawing sits as still as nap-time air. Her curled-up hand, that precious line, her cheek... Next year her door will stand, again, ajar But she herself will not be living there.
St. John tells how, at Cana's wedding feast, The water-pots poured wine in such amount That by his sober count There were a hundred gallons at the least. It made no earthly sense, unless to show How whatsoever love elects to bless Brims to a sweet excess That can without depletion overflow. Which is to say that what love sees is true; That this world's fullness is not made but found. Life hungers to abound And pour its plenty out for such as you. Now, if your loves will lend an ear to mine, I toast you both, good son and dear new daughter. May you not lack for water, And may that water smack of Cana's wine.
In recent decades it has become customary, and right, I guess, and easy enough with hindsight, to damn the ancestral frame of mind that ravaged the world so fully and so soon. What I myself seem to damn mainly though, is just not having seen it. Without any virtuous hindsight I would likely have helped in the ravaging as did even most of those who loved it best.
But God! To have viewed it entire, the soul and guts of what we had and gone forever now, except in books and such poignant remnants as small swift birds that journey to and from the distant Argentine, and call at night in the sky.
(Dom Christian de Chergé, prior of the monastery Notre-Dame de l'Atlas in Algeria, was one of the monastery's seven monks assassinated by terrorists in 1996.)
If it should happen one day—and it could be today—that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to engulf all the foreigners living in Algeria, I would like my community, my Church and my family to remember that my life was GIVEN to God and to this country.
I ask them to accept the fact that the One Master of all life was not a stranger to this brutal departure. I would ask them to pray for me: for how could I be found worthy of such an offering?
I ask them to associate this death with so many other equally violent ones which are forgotten through indifference or anonymity. My life has no more value than any other. Nor any less value.
In any case, it has not the innocence of childhood. I have lived long enough to know that I am an accomplice in the evil which seems to prevail so terribly in the world, even in the evil which might blindly strike me down. I should like, when the time comes, to have a moment of spiritual clarity which would allow me to beg forgiveness of God and of my fellow human beings, and at the same time forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down.
I could not desire such a death. It seems to me important to state this. I do not see, in fact, how I could rejoice if the people I love were indiscriminately accused of my murder. It would be too high a price to pay for what will perhaps be called, the "grace of martyrdom" to owe it to an Algerian, whoever he might be, especially if he says he is acting in fidelity to what he believes to be Islam.
I am aware of the scorn which can be heaped on the Algerians indiscriminately. I am also aware of the caricatures of Islam which a certain Islamism fosters. It is too easy to soothe one's conscience by identifying this religious way with the fundamentalist ideology of its extremists.
For me, Algeria and Islam are something different: it is a body and a soul. I have proclaimed this often enough, I think, in the light of what I have received from it. I so often find there that true strand of the Gospel which I learned at my mother's knee, my very first Church, precisely in Algeria, and already inspired with respect for Muslim believers. Obviously, my death will appear to confirm those who hastily judged me naïve or idealistic: "Let him tell us now what he thinks of his ideals!"
But these persons should know that finally my most avid curiosity will be set free. This is what I shall be able to do, God willing: immerse my gaze in that of the Father to contemplate with him His children of Islam just as He sees them, all shining with the glory of Christ, the fruit of His Passion, filled with the Gift of the Spirit whose secret joy will always be to establish communion and restore the likeness, playing with the differences.
For this life lost, totally mine and totally theirs, I thank God, who seems to have willed it entirely for the sake of that JOY in everything and in spite of everything. In this THANK YOU, which is said for everything in my life from now on, I certainly include you, friends of yesterday and today, and you, my friends of this place, along with my mother and father, my sisters and brothers and their families. You are the hundredfold granted as was promised!
And also you, my last-minute friend, who will not have known what you were doing: Yes, I want this THANK YOU and this GOODBYE to be a "GOD-BLESS" for you, too, because in God's face I see yours.
May we meet again as happy thieves in Paradise, if it please God, the Father of us both.
... Be joyful though you have considered all the facts. * * * Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction. Practice resurrection.
There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared; it is itself the great venture and can never be safe. Peace is the opposite of security. To demand guarantees is to want to protect oneself. Peace means giving oneself completely to God's commandment, wanting no security, but in faith and obedience laying the destiny of the nations in the hand of Almighty God, not trying to direct it for selfish purposes. Battles are won, not with weapons, but with God. They are won when the way leads to the cross. -- August, 1934
Sometimes things don't go, after all, from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don't fail, sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well. A people sometimes step back from war; elect an honest man; decide they care enough, that they can't leave some stranger poor. Some men become what they were born for. Sometimes our best efforts do not go amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to. The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow that seemed hard frozen: may it happen to you.
Where does this tenderness come from? These are not the – first curls I have stroked slowly – and lips I have known are – darker than yours as stars rise often and go out again (where does this tenderness come from?) so many eyes have risen and died out in front of these eyes of mine. and yet no such song have I heard in the darkness of night before, (where does this tenderness come from?): here, on the ribs of the singer. Where does this tenderness come from? And what shall I do with it, young sly singer, just passing by? Your lashes are – longer than anyone's.
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in my heart)i am never without it(anywhere i go you go, my dear;and whatever is done by only me is your doing,my darling) i fear no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true) and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant and whatever a sun will always sing is you here is the deepest secret nobody knows (here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows higher than soul can hope or mind can hide) and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart i carry your heart with me(i carry it in my heart)
A neighbourhood. At dusk. Things are getting ready to happen out of sight. Stars and moths. And rinds slanting around fruit. But not yet. One tree is black. One window is yellow as butter. A woman leans down to catch a child who has run into her arms this moment. Stars rise. Moths flutter. Apples sweeten in the dark.
I know that I shall meet my fate Somewhere among the clouds above; Those that I fight I do not hate, Those that I guard I do not love; My country is Kiltartan Cross, My countrymen Kiltartan's poor, No likely end could bring them loss Or leave them happier than before. Nor law, nor duty bade me fight, Nor public men, nor cheering crowds, A lonely impulse of delight Drove to this tumult in the clouds; I balanced all, brought all to mind, The years to come seemed waste of breath, A waste of breath the years behind In balance with this life, this death.
Give me a kiss, and to that kiss a score; Then to that twenty, add a hundred more: A thousand to that hundred: so kiss on, To make that thousand up a million. Treble that million, and when that is done, Let's kiss afresh, as when we first begun.
Is it so small a thing To have enjoyed the sun, To have lived light in the spring, To have loved, to have thought, to have done; To have advanced true friends, and beat down baffling foes?
The night before valentines are due, I take you to the movie about Vincent whose paintings you love. Too late I realize it's a mistake. You knew about his ear and you know the definition of prostitute, but neither one of us was ready to see him cut himself until he bled, see him in the brothel with his rotten teeth and his real women. On the way home in the starry night we hold hands, wonder what his parents must have been like, what cruelty may have happened to him, and you show me the belt of Orion, clean and shining and always in place. Remember this forever, then: I cannot imagine not loving you, even when this body is gone. So if I ever die, look up into the dark and find me hundreds of times there, each place you can faintly imagine a line tracing the shape of a valentine.
when an ir - re - sis - ti - ble force, such as you, meets an old im - mov - a - ble ob - ject like me, you can bet as sure as you live, something's gotta give, something's gotta give, something's gotta give! when an ir - re - pres - si - ble smile, such as yours, warms an old im - plac - a - ble heart, such as mine, don't say no because i insist. somewhere, somehow, someone's gonna be kissed. so en garde! who knows what the fates have in store from their vast mysterious sky? i'll try hard ignoring those lips i adore but how long can anyone try? fight, fight, fight, fight, fight it with all of our might, chances are some heav - en - ly star span - gled night we'll find out as sure as we live something's gotta give, something's gotta give, something's gotta give!
Someone spoke to me last night, told me the truth. Just a few words, but I recognized it. I knew I should make myself get up, write it down, but it was late, and I was exhausted from working all day in the garden, moving rocks. Now, I remember only the flavor— not like food, sweet or sharp. More like a fine powder, like dust. And I wasn't elated or frightened, but simply rapt, aware. That's how it is sometimes— God comes to your window, all bright light and black wings, and you're just too tired to open it.
Sit, drink your coffee here; your work can wait awhile. You're twenty-six, and still have some life ahead. No need for wit; just talk vacuities, and I'll Reciprocate in kind, or laugh at you instead. The world is too opaque, distressing and profound. This twenty minutes' rendezvous will make my day: To sit here in the sun, with grackles all around, Staring with beady eyes, and you two feet away.
How agreeable it is not to be touring Italy this summer, wandering her cities and ascending her torrid hilltowns. How much better to cruise these local, familiar streets, fully grasping the meaning of every roadsign and billboard and all the sudden hand gestures of my compatriots. There are no abbeys here, no crumbling frescoes or famous domes and there is no need to memorize a succession of kings or tour the dripping corners of a dungeon. No need to stand around a sarcophagus, see Napoleon's little bed on Elba, or view the bones of a saint under glass. How much better to command the simple precinct of home than be dwarfed by pillar, arch, and basilica. Why hide my head in phrase books and wrinkled maps? Why feed scenery into a hungry, one-eyed camera eager to eat the world one monument at a time? Instead of slouching in a café ignorant of the word for ice, I will head down to the coffee shop and the waitress known as Dot. I will slide into the flow of the morning paper, all language barriers down, rivers of idiom running freely, eggs over easy on the way. And after breakfast, I will not have to find someone willing to photograph me with my arm around the owner. I will not puzzle over the bill or record in a journal what I had to eat and how the sun came in the window. It is enough to climb back into the car as if it were the great car of English itself and sounding my loud vernacular horn, speed off down a road that will never lead to Rome, not even Bologna.
What is our innocence, what is our guilt? All are naked, none is safe. And whence is courage: the unanswered question, the resolute doubt,— dumbly calling, deafly listening—that in misfortune, even death, encourages others and in its defeat, stirs the soul to be strong? He sees deep and is glad, who accedes to mortality and in his imprisonment, rises upon himself as the sea in a chasm, struggling to be free and unable to be, in its surrendering finds its continuing. So he who strongly feels, behaves. The very bird, grown taller as he sings, steels his form straight up. Though he is captive, his mighty singing says, satisfaction is a lowly thing, how pure a thing is joy. This is mortality, This is eternity.
from The Beauty of the Husband: a fictional essay in 29 tangos
You want to see how things were going from the husband's point of view— let's go round the back, there stands the wife gripping herself at the elbows and facing the husband. Not tears he is saying, not tears again. But still they fall. She is watching him. I'm sorry he says. Do you believe me. Watching. I never wanted to harm you. Watching. This is banal. It's like Beckett. Say something! I believe your taxi is here she said. He looked down at the street. She was right. It stung him, the pathos of her keen hearing. There she stood a person with particular traits, a certain heart, life beating on its way in her. He signals to the driver, five minutes. Now her tears have stopped. What will she do after I go? he wonders. Her evening. It closed his breath. Her strange evening. Well he said. Do you know she began. What. If I could kill you I would then have to make another exactly like you. Why. To tell it to. Perfection rested on them for a moment like calm on a lake. Pain rested. Beauty does not rest. The husband touched his wife's temple and turned and ran down the stairs.
isolates a person
Once a certain
there is so little
others can do:
lend a hand
and not stand
Christ has been done to death in the cold reaches of northern Europe a thousand thousand times. Suddenly bread and cheese appear on a plate beside a gleaming pewter beaker of beer. Now tell me that the Holy Ghost does not reside in the play of light on cutlery! A woman makes lace, with a moist-eyed spaniel lying at her small shapely feet. Even the maid with the chamber pot is here; the naughty, red-cheeked girl... And the merchant's wife, still in her yellow dressing gown at noon, dips her quill into India ink with an air of cautious pleasure.
You are so beautiful and I am a fool
to be in love with you
is a theme that keeps coming up
in songs and poems.
There seems to be no room for variation.
I have never heard anyone sing
I am so beautiful
and you are a fool to be in love with me,
even though this notion has surely
crossed the minds of women and men alike.
You are so beautiful, too bad you are a fool
is another one you don't hear.
Or, you are a fool to consider me beautiful.
That one you will never hear, guaranteed.
For no particular reason this afternoon
I am listening to Johnny Hartman
whose dark voice can curl around
the concepts on love, beauty, and foolishness
like no one else's can.
It feels like smoke curling up from a cigarette
someone left burning on a baby grand piano
around three o'clock in the morning;
smoke that billows up into the bright lights
while out there in the darkness
some of the beautiful fools have gathered
around little tables to listen,
some with their eyes closed,
others leaning forward into the music
as if it were holding them up,
or twirling the loose ice in a glass,
slipping by degrees into a rhythmic dream.
Yes, there is all this foolish beauty,
borne beyond midnight,
that has no desire to go home,
especially now when everyone in the room
is watching the large man with the tenor sax
that hangs from his neck like a golden fish.
He moves forward to the edge of the stage
and hands the instrument down to me
and nods that I should play.
So I put the mouthpiece to my lips
and blow into it with all my living breath.
We are all so foolish,
my long bebop solo begins by saying,
so damn foolish
we have become beautiful without even knowing it.
i thank You God for most this amazing day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes (i who have died am alive again today, and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay great happening illimitably earth) how should tasting touching hearing seeing breathing any – lifted from the no of all nothing – human merely being doubt unimaginable You? (now the ears of my ears awake and now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
All afternoon my brothers and I have worked in the orchard, Digging this hole, laying you into it, carefully packing the soil. Rain blackened the horizon, but cold winds kept it over the Pacific, And the sky above us stayed the dull gray Of an old year coming to an end. In Sicily a father plants a tree to celebrate his first son's birth – An olive or a fig tree – a sign that the earth has one more life to bear. I would have done the same, proudly laying new stock into my father's orchard, A green sapling rising among the twisted apple boughs, A promise of new fruit in other autumns. But today we kneel in the cold planting you, our native giant, Defying the practical custom of our fathers, Wrapping in your roots a lock of hair, a piece of an infant's birth cord, All that remains above earth of a first-born son, A few stray atoms brought back to the elements. We will give you what we can – our labor and our soil, Water drawn from the earth when the skies fail, Nights scented with the ocean fog, days softened by the circuit of bees. We plant you in the corner of the grove, bathed in western light, A slender shoot against the sunset. And when our family is no more, all of his unborn brothers dead, Every niece and nephew scattered, the house torn down, His mother's beauty ashes in the air, I want you to stand among strangers, all young and ephemeral to you, Silently keeping the secret of your birth.
Sparrows were feeding in a freezing drizzle That while you watched turned into pieces of snow Riding a gradient invisible From silver aslant to random, white, and slow. There came a moment that you couldn't tell. And then they clearly flew instead of fell.
When the shoe strings break On both your shoes And you're in a hurry– That's the blues. When you go to buy a candy bar And you've lost the dime you had– Slipped through a hole in your pocket somewhere– That's the blues, too, and bad!
I sat all morning in the college sick bay Counting bells knelling classes to a close. At two o'clock our neighbors drove me home. In the porch I met my father crying – He had always taken funerals in his stride – And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow. The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram When I came in, and I was embarrassed By old men standing up to shake my hand And tell me they were "sorry for my trouble," Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest, Away at school, as my mother held my hand In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs. At ten o'clock the ambulance arrived With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses. Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him For the first time in six weeks. Paler now, Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple, He lay in the four foot box as in his cot. No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear. A four foot box, a foot for every year.
A poem should be palpable and mute As a globed fruit, Dumb As old medallions to the thumb, Silent as the sleeve-worn stone Of casement ledges where the moss has grown – A poem should be wordless As the flight of birds. * A poem should be motionless in time As the moon climbs, Leaving, as the moon releases Twig by twig the night-entangled trees, Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves, Memory by memory the mind – A poem should be motionless in time As the moon climbs. * A poem should be equal to: Not true. For all the history of grief An empty doorway and a maple leaf. For love The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea – A poem should not mean But be.
That was enough for me to forgive you. To spirit a tiger from its cell. Called me corazón in that instant before I let go the phone back to its cradle. Your voice small. Heat of your eyes, how I would've placed my mouth on each. Said corazón and the word blazed like a branch of jacaranda.
Love, we must part now: do not let it be Calamitious and bitter. In the past There has been too much moonlight and self-pity; Let us have done with it, for now at last Never has sun more boldly paced the sky, Never were hearts more eager to be free, To kick down worlds, lash forests; you and I No longer hold them; we are husks, that see The grain going forward to a different use. There is regret. Always, there is regret But it is better that our lives unloose As two tall ships, wind-mastered, wet with light Break from an estuary with their courses set And waving part, and waving drop from sight.
At ten A.M. the young housewife moves about in negligee behind the wooden walls of her husband's house. I pass solitary in my car. Then again she comes to the curb to call the ice-man, fish-man, and stands shy, uncorseted, tucking in stray ends of hair, and I compare her to a fallen leaf. The noiseless wheels of my car rush with a crackling sound over dried leaves as I bow and pass smiling.
The cool that came off the sheets just off the line Made me think the damp must still be in them But when I took my corners of the linen And pulled against her, first straight down the hem And then diagonally, then flapped and shook The fabric like a sail in a cross-wind, They made a dried-out undulating thwack. So we'd stretch and fold and end up hand to hand For a split second as if nothing had happened For nothing had that had not always happened Beforehand, day by day, just touch and go, Coming close again by holding back In moves where I was x and she was o Inscribed in sheets she'd sewn from ripped-out flour sacks.
As late as yesterday ice preoccupied the pond—dark, half-melted, waterlogged. Then it sank in the night, one piece, taking winter with it. And afterward everything seems simple and good. All afternoon I lifted oak leaves from the flowerbeds, and greeted like friends the green-white crowns of perennials. They have the tender, unnerving beauty of a baby's head. How I hated to come in! I've left the windows open to hear the peepers' wildly disproportionate cries. Dinner is over, no one stirs. The dog sighs, sneezes, and closes his eyes.
Let it go on; let the love of this hour be poured out till all the answers are made, the last dollar spent and the last blood gone.
Time runs with an ax and a hammer, time slides down the hallways with a pass-key and a master-key, and time gets by, time wins.
Let the love of this hour go on; let all the oaths and children and people of this love be clean as a washed stone under a waterfall in the sun.
Time is a young man with ballplayer legs, time runs a winning race against life and the clocks, time tickles with rust and spots.
Let love go on; the heartbeats are measured out with a measuring glass, so many apiece to gamble with, to use and spend and reckon; let love go on.