Tuesday, December 28, 2010
the wrong way on the wall of my childhood
house as I rewind the Christmas video. It’s over
twenty years ago. My young mother’s head
—sped up—jerks on the screen. Brunette
in a blue velour day robe. Rewound
her coffee mug fills a dark inch
each time she sips. The Maine Coon uncurls
from our peach couch, leaps to the window
in reverse. My grandfather’s scarred thumb
nudges into view—only once—and I pause
that second. Black shadow: he’s behind
the camera. He can’t stop
focusing the lens on me. I sit at the green wire
feet of the plastic tree. I smooth shut
the wrapping paper, re-secret the objects, seal
all the ripped seams. The stripes of winter
and the smoke from my grandfather’s cigar
ciphers back into leaves.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
and restless driven waves, I keep looking, I keep looking,
I keep looking at the waves swaying in the wind
like a metronome, wired for the sound of a sleeping heart,
and I keep looking with the silence of the sun
on the windowpane, and I keep looking and do not stop
looking deeper into waves as if into the middle
of a woman's body, where the soul and spirit
have no human bonds, and I begin never to turn away
from looking though I am frightened but keep looking
beyond what I know until I can hardly think or breathe
because I have arrived, with the need to be me disappearing
into the beautiful waves, reflecting no one, nothing, no one.
Friday, December 10, 2010
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself--
inside the dome of dark
or under the cracking white
of the moon’s gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.
Monday, December 6, 2010
And its corresponding Q&A: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poemcomment.html?id=240814
In Schumann’s Violin Concerto, the last movement is marked “Lebhaft, doch nicht schnell” (lively, but not fast), and if there’s anything that violinists want in the last movements of violin concerti, it’s something fast and flashy, which will open up the heavens and bring down the house. Schumann’s piece has a very odd final movement, a slowish polonaise, like someone dancing with lead weights in his shoes. Very few musicians have wanted to play it because it’s not showy, but the recording I have, by Gidon Kremer, has a performance in which it’s played at the marked metronome speed, which gives the music exactly the really weird feeling-tone that it deserves—like a birthday party seen underwater.
Also lovely: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poem.html?id=240816
The relationship between our actual, moment-by-moment, and fundamentally unknowable life and our sense of a fate (some declarable, nameable accounting) is a subject to which it seems I keep coming back. “Fate” is a summarizing idea, a constructed story. Its abstraction lives several elevator floors above the ground level of actual events. We have experiences, we make choices, they matter. But they do not add up to one sum. Summary is not the point of a life, nor are the stories we en-self ourselves by. Something closer to relationship is, and a full response (and responsibility) to the question each moment asks, as it runs through us.
We’ve all had the experience of lifting some fantastic stone out of a streambed or off a wet beach, and then finding it later, dry on the shelf, quite plain and dull. “Why is this here?” you wonder, when it catches your eye at all. Some experiences are like that. Their full inhabitance requires the moment in which they lived.
Real beauty, for me, is never a distraction. If it were, then it’s not beauty—it’s prettiness, or decor. If some sting of death-knowledge or transience is not present, beauty turns saccharine, or simplistic, and is no longer beauty. Wallace Stevens put it unsurpassably well: “Death is the mother of beauty.”
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
I look down at the table,
see our hands and the hook
of the umbrella's handle,
bent to form a question mark,
a set place to hold on to.
I turn away not wanting to notice
the frailness of collective fingers,
the unanimous pleas to be touched.
For one moment all four hands seem brilliant
as stones that live in sea water--
our wrists exposed, calling
like an empty beach.
It's over so quickly
I can't tell if you've seen
me watching, trying to decipher
if our hands could reach--
clasp themselves dangerously
inside each other.
Or should the palms' imbedded heart lines
vote against contact,
choose to remain uncharted,
resplendent as the separate bodies
at this restaurant tonight;
the umbrella swaying on the table's edge,
waiting to comply with the weather.
How they open wider as he leans forward,
holding the ice cream treat--his Its-It
in two plump swelling hands;
his short thick fingers curving to catch the drips.
He hunches his shoulders
and his square neck disappears--
all of his face falling deep into vanilla cream.
I am moved by my seat mate;
the way he flosses his teeth
in front of me. I'd like to
shoot this man, his veined and hairy
legs, his right arm exploding
over to my side of the seat.
I hear kissing noises
as he cleans his mouth with Listerine,
spits it into a paper cup.
He sports a stained multicolored jacket
on our flight from Boston to St. Paul.
How can I hate so readily
a man I don't even know?
Despise the elbow that jabs me regularly,
loathe the cloying way he keeps attempting conversation,
alternately talking to himself and then,
the video screen above our heads.
He wipes his mouth with a magazine,
seems to enjoy the friction it creates.
And by now I am fascinated with his ways.
How he pushes silver aviator glasses
up the slide of his nose. Hums as if
he's almost happy. And what is it he sees
sitting next to him? A woman in leather jacket
and jeans scratching notes in judgment of a stranger?
What does it mean to hate so readily? To burn with it?
The crumbs in his crotch, the bright pink skin,
a gold plated medallion and matching ring.
Is there any way to love
his body, to shift my shoulder on to the center
armrest, lean into his sleeve and say
"So where did you start today? Connecticut?
Vermont?" Our conversation would wander
until I could meet his gaze
unrevulsed. I'd smile into his blue-gray eyes,
touch his salt and pepper hair,
and put everything else behind us, clear away.
But I can't. Instead, I am silent as we cross
mountains, wheat fields, waterways. While Warren Beatty
tangos Annette Benning on some Technicolor island.
And when we de-plane I pray he's not headed for gate C3.
I move purposefully, knowing it is pitiful to be elated;
so pathetic to think I'm free.
open the back seat window and lift my chin to the wind.
My life shone with petroleum products:
paint thinner, shoe polish, amber jars of shellac.
High test my father would order
and while we checked the mileage chart
fumes would enter our bodies, the lightness
burnishing our capillaries,
investing us with longing
for Rhode Island, Maine, Vermont.
For my birthday I asked for a sky blue bottle
of cologne, Eau de Esso;
but instead he brought me smoky gray glasses,
oven-ware plastic tubs, the limited time offer of nostalgia.
What I needed was a burning sense across my skin,
gas stains on my scarf.
In Gaza City, I found excuses
to frequent the "Gas Palace," the chrome pillars
rinsed in florescent greens and shades of blue.
I loved to watch the arched pumps with their reckless
slot machine eyes, their loaded guns.
My friend Amjad would fill the tank and sing a little to himself--
greet the employees smoking cigarettes
and fixing cars; men who worked extra hours,
their bodies like scraps of metal
taking their place among the stars.
I sent my father postcards edged in lighter fluid,
Greetings from Gaza no Quaker State, no bars.
Why mythologize bitter coffee
and squalid rest rooms?
BP for Niger, Senegal, and Mail.
I'd ride my mobilette up to the island,
uncap the tank. And more often times
than not, the sweet liquid would overflow
onto the body of my bike, splash
the braceleted knobs of my wrists,
and give the attendant and me
a soft rag of conversation.
A filling station. A place to to
to get filled up.
I miss the flying horse,
the nether worlds of Gulf and Texaco.
I miss the road maps, key chains, Rubbermaid cups;
the belief blossoming behind the words fill 'er up.
My father's world is gone now,
his body returning to the oil fields underground.
And to conjure him I breathe in
the dangerous, clock the miles to the gallon
before the needle stops traveling backward--falls
unencumbered, empty, lost.
Monday, November 22, 2010
with a touch
made less by half,
reduced as much
again by a second
fold--so the wish
to press our designs
what we hold.
But by your hand's
how this unleaving
makes of what's before
and finally more.
--David Yezzi here
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
miles above the brown, dimpled water
of the St. Mary's River, miles above my pocketful
of unspent escudos, the contrail
of a west-bound jet, tinted a very artificial-looking
orange by the setting sun, dissolves in the pink sky
almost as soon as it appears, like
and their faraway piece of the world's best candy.
--Michael Derrick Hudson here
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
with matter. In some cases, as in Monet's
Seine, the objects vanish
before that shimmering. No poplars, no
water but a density stuck before them.
It's what I wished for:
that something would intervene between
my friend and her dying. My error was
in confusing ground with figure: the fog, gauze,
little dark spots I was distracted by
were her dying, not some overlay.
The way the poplars were the light.
--Ann Keniston here
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
What do I want? Well, I want to get better.
BLISS AND GRIEF
No one is here right now.
And a neat transcript: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/entertainment/july-dec09/artbeat_11-30.html
Saturday, October 30, 2010
The sun that silvers all the buildings here
Has slid behind a cloud, and left the once bright air
Something less than blue. Yet everything is clear.
Across the road, some dead plants dangle down from rooms
Unoccupied for months, two empty streets converge
On a central square, and on a nearby hill some tombs,
Half buried in a drift of wild grass, appear to merge
With houses at the edge of town. A breeze
Stirs up some dust, turns up a page or two, then dies.
All the boulevards are lined with leafless trees.
There are no dogs nosing around, no birds, no buzzing flies.
Dust gathers everywhere--on stools and bottles in the bars,
On shelves and racks of clothing in department stores,
On the blistered dashboards of abandoned cars.
Within the church, whose massive, rotting doors
Stay open, it is cool, so if a visitor should wander in
He could easily relax, kneel and pray,
Or watch the dirty light pour through the baldachin,
Or think about the heat outside that does not go away,
Which might be why there are no people there--who knows--
Or about the dragon that he saw when he arrived,
Curled up before its cave in saurian repose,
And about how good it is to be survived.
Is there something down by the water keeping itself from us,
Some shy event, some secret of the light that falls upon the deep,
Some source of sorrow that does not wish to be discovered yet?
Why should we care? Doesn’t desire cast its
rainbows over the coarse porcelain
Of the world’s skin and with its measures fill the
air? Why look for more?
And now, while the advocates of awfulness and sorrow
Push their dripping barge up and down the beach, let’s eat
Our brill, and sip this beautiful white Beaune.
True, the light is artificial, and we are not well-dressed.
So what. We like it here. We like the bullocks in the field next door,
We like the sound of wind passing over grass. The way you speak,
In that low voice, our late night disclosures . . . why live
For anything else? Our masterpiece is the private life.
Standing on the quay between the Roving Swan and the Star Immaculate,
Breathing the night air as the moment of pleasure taken
In pleasure vanishing seems to grow, its self-soiling
Beauty, which can only be what it was, sustaining itself
A little longer in its going, I think of our own smooth passage
Through the graded partitions, the crises that bleed
Into the ordinary, leaving us a little more tired each time,
A little more distant from the experiences, which, in the old days,
Held us captive for hours. The drive along the winding road
Back to the house, the sea pounding against the cliffs,
The glass of whiskey on the table, the open book, the questions,
All the day’s rewards waiting at the doors of sleep . . .
Thursday, October 28, 2010
And this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TluXqMY1K-A
as hard as we can
at our strongest
how will we sense
the shape of our losses
or know what sustains
us longest or name
what change costs us,
saying how strange
it is that one sector
of the self can step in
for another in trouble,
how loss activates
a latent double, how
we can feed
as upon nectar
Who hasn't seen
a plain ordinary
steel needle float serene
on water as if lying on a pillow?
The water cuddles up like Jell-O.
It's a treat to see water
so rubbery, a needle
so peaceful, the point encased
in the tenderest dimple.
It seems so simple
when things or people
have modified each other's qualities
we almost forget the oddity
a dominant handedness
behind the randomness
of loss? Does a skew
insinuate into the
visual plane; do
the avenues begin to
strain for the diagonal?
Maybe there is always
this lean, this slight
slant. Maybe always
a little pressure
on the same rein,
a bias cut to everything,
a certain cant
it's better not to name.
It is at the edges
that time thins.
Time which had been
dense and viscous
as amber suspending
intentions like bees
unseizes them. A
from stacks of
put-off things or
just in back. A
racket of claims now,
as time flattens. A
glittering fan of things
competing to happen,
brilliant and urgent
as fish when seas
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Nobody sees it happening, but the architecture of our time
Is becoming the architecture of the next time. And the dazzle
Of light upon the waters is as nothing beside the changes
Wrought therein, just as our waywardness means
Nothing against the steady pull of things over the edge.
Nobody can stop the flow, but nobody can start it either.
Time slips by; our sorrows do not turn into poems,
And what is invisible stays that way. Desire has fled,
Leaving only a trace of perfume in its wake,
And so many people we loved have gone,
And no voice comes from outer space, from the folds
Of dust and carpets of wind to tell us that this
Is the way it was meant to happen, that if only we knew
How long the ruins would last we would never complain.
Perfection is out of the question for people like us,
So why plug away at the same old self when the landscape
Has opened its arms and given us marvelous shrines
To flock towards? The great motels to the west are waiting,
In somebody’s yard a pristine dog is hoping that we’ll drive by,
And on the rubber surface of a lake people bobbing up and down
Will wave. The highway comes right to the door, so let’s
Take off before the world out there burns up. Life should be more
Than the body’s weight working itself from room to room.
A turn through the forest will do us good, so will a spin
Among the farms. Just think of the chickens strutting,
The cows swinging their udders, and flicking their tails at flies.
And one can imagine prisms of summer light breaking against
The silent, haze-filled sleep of the farmer and his wife.
It could have been another story, the one that was meant
Instead of the one that happened. Living like this,
Hoping to revise what has been false or rendered unreadable
Is not what we wanted. Believing that the intended story
Would have been like a day in the west when everything
Is tirelessly present—the mountains casting their long shadow
Over the valley where the wind sings its circular tune
And trees respond with a dry clapping of leaves—was overly
Simple no doubt, and short-sighted. For soon the leaves,
Having gone black, would fall, and the annulling snow
Would pillow the walk, and we, with shovels in hand, would meet,
Bow, and scrape the sidewalk clean. What else would there be
This late in the day for us but desire to make amends
And start again, the sun’s compassion as it disappears.
clouds. They are always chattering, they
are always cold. Look directly at the
buzzing blur and you'll see twitter, hear
flicker—that's how much they ignore the
roadblocks. They're rabid with doubt.
When a strong sunbeam hits the cloud,
the heat in their bones lends them a
temporary gravity and they sink to the
ground. Their little thudding footsteps
sound like "Testing, testing, 1 2 3" from a
far-away galaxy. Like pitter and its petite
echo, patter. On land, they scatter into
gutters and alleyways, pressing their
noses into open Coke cans, transmitting
their secrets to the silver circle at the
bottom of the can. Of course we've wired
their confessionals and hired a translator.
We know that when they call us Walkie
Talkies they mean it scornfully, that they
disdain our in and outboxes, our tests of
true or false.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
"My employer had made good on the promise of a proper desk. It turned out to be an ideal spot in which to do some work, for it rendered the idea of writing so unlikely as to make it possible again. Objectively good places to work rarely end up being so; in their faultlessness, quiet and well-equipped studies have a habit of rendering the fear of failure overwhelming. Original thoughts are like shy animals. We sometimes have to look the other way--towards a busy street or terminal--before they run out of their burrows."
--Alain de Botton
Monday, October 18, 2010
"I think literature is best when it's voicing what we would prefer not to talk about. ... In my style, the idea is that it's more ornate because that's what consciousness is. To the extent that it hurtles, that it's circular and hurtling, it's because that's how I feel consciousness is, that's what it's like to be a person. You don't have these perfectly transparent, simple thoughts. You have thoughts that are all cluttered up, like overused bookshelves. Do I think there's content that's important and even essential in those sentences? Absolutely I do."
--Rick Moody here
Friday, October 15, 2010
"My poems are more my silence than my speech. Just as music is a kind of quiet. Sounds are needed only to unveil the various layers of silence."
"Anxiety is creative. Confusion is not creative."
"From the start I had a great desire to change the language, for example, to replace the word 'grace' with something else. I was annoyed by the word 'humility' and many other words, which I hadn't used in a long while. It seemed to me that 'faith' was also a matter for the dictionary. Of course, language is a system of metaphors and contains the whole experience of farming communities, migrant peoples, various social orders, monarchy, slavery, serfdom. We've grown used to many words, forgetting that they're only metaphors, though in their own time they were actively metaphoric, new discoveries. I thought that ceaseless linguistic invention was required even in the realm of faith. Thinkers must be poets. ... I'm slowly relinquishing my claims in linguistic matters, though, and I humbly return to faith and to humility, since these are word-vessels so saturated with content through ages of thought and use that to abandon them would be the act of a heedless parvenu."
--Anna Kamienska in Poetry
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
"I object to strict definitions of what a poet is or should be, because they usually are thought up by people with an axe to grind--by those who care less about poetry than they do about some cause. We're living in a time when individuality is threatened by a kind of mechanizing anonymity, and by regimentation. In order to be free, you must submit to tyranny, to ideological slavery, in the name of freedom. And obviously, this is the enemy of the artist; it stultifies anything creative... Poetry, all art, it seems to me, is ultimately religious in the broadest sense of the term. It grows out of, reflects, illuminates our inmost selves, and so on. It doesn't have to be sectarian or denominational." --Hayden
"I think that today when so often one gets the feeling that everything is going downhill, that we're really on the brink of the abyss and what good is anything, I find myself sustained in my attempts to be a poet and my endeavor to write because I have the assurance of my faith that this is of spiritual value and it is a way of performing some kind of service." --Hayden
Monday, October 11, 2010
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine and fifty swans.
The nineteenth Autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.
I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All's changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.
Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold,
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.
But now they drift on the still water,
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake's edge or pool
Delight men's eyes, when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?
Sunday, October 10, 2010
I sadly missed an on-time arrival (underestimated the Brooklyn-Newark commute/first time taking PATH--drat), which would’ve allowed me to attend the presumably great session "I Only Laugh When It Hurts: Wit and Humor in Poetry" (I did get there in time to hear Collins read “Litany,” which was niiice); then there was the botched “me w/ Billy Collins” photo opp (girl whose name I didn’t get: my camera’s not complicated! sigh), but hey.
Also, I like Newark! The little I saw of it, and on crisp sunny days, seems. Only non-airport time I’ve spent there…
Anyway, wanted to share some words I found particularly inspiring--
“Poetry has to have a cadence; otherwise it’s just prose chopped up.” --Mark Strand
“What’s mysterious is why you are the way you are. What about you leads you to write the way you do. … It takes a long time to sound like yourself. It takes a long time to be yourself.” --Mark Strand, on finding/settling into one’s writing voice
“I think you think clearest when you’re not overly excited. … I’m trying to create [in composing a given poem] a written artifact that will allow other people to feel. … I don’t have a concrete notion of the feeling I’m transmitting [though poetry].” --Mark Strand, on writing while not in the midst of some emotional experience/grief/distraction (Related/paraphrased: As poets, we get to revisit misery--the memory of it--while avoiding the actual experience of misery.)
“Where a poem leads you should be both surprising and inevitable.” --Mark Strand
“I think of a house as a great big skull to roam around in.” --Kay Ryan, on describing her ideal writing environment: a big empty house (Related: Ryan often begins writing sessions by spending ten or so minutes reading high-minded/intellectual stuff--nothing “gluey,” in her words. She mentioned Joseph Brodsky’s and Milan Kundera’s essays.)
“I think it’s important to begin w/ very little.” --Kay Ryan, on the value of breaking big material down into smaller/manageable components, then writing about these
“Our writing is always better than we are.” --Kay Ryan, quoting… Kundera?
“As soon as you write a word, that word has friends (rhymes, metaphors, etc.).” --Kay Ryan
“For me, rhyme is extremely bewitching. … Rhyme started happening to me, just as writing started happening to me. … Rhyme makes language cohere to itself.” --Kay Ryan
“Strike while the iron is iron. --Kay Ryan, on doing it now, today, because tomorrow iron may not be iron/things will be different
“I think you always have to kindof go off half-cocked.” --Kay Ryan, on the value of writing about something before you know everything/most things about it
“Be as clear as you possibly can be.” --Kay Ryan, addressing young poets in particular; value of not obscuring intention out of fear/desire to follow some trend
“I think I fear that we can never see anything--never get enough information.” --Kay Ryan
“Nobody can ever go back and tell you how something was made, which I think is kindof great.” --Kay Ryan, on the temporal-ness of creating
“We struggle to ‘get’ them, and then they strangle us.” --Kay Ryan, re: ways of creating that work for us, until they become a sortof tyranny
“I had a visceral reaction to any sortof guidance. … I think it’s important to allow a lot of space for yourself [in creating].” --Kay Ryan
“Being a poet is about valuing the periphery.” --Billy Collins
“You have to come to the realization that no one cares about what you say or think. … [Poetry] is about getting strangers to love you. … Readers don’t care about the poet; they care about the poetry.” --Billy Collins
“If we really, really focus--try to be accurate about what we’re seeing. Accuracy, accuracy.” --Sharon Olds, on the importance of clarity in poetry
“When I can put my pen down. When it no longer calls me back.” --Sharon Olds, on knowing a poem is done
“Verbal rhythm: you either have it or you don’t. It’s hard to teach.” --Billy Collins, on whether/not poetry can be taught
“Either you’re thrilled by your ability to connect two disparate things, or you’re not.” --Billy Collins, on metaphor
Ultimate takeaway from the day: value of fearlessness in one’s writing practice. Beauty (and maturity) in clarity, as this is the only way one will be heard.
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
"It is an ironic habit of human beings to run faster when we have lost our way." --Rollo May
"As I get older, my mind gets clearer. When I was your age, my dear young man, I greatly feared that when I got to be in my fifties--and now, you see, I'm in my sixties--that it would be curtains, curtains, Jack. There wouldn't be anything left, you know? But I am delighted to discover that I have more ideas. Say sunrise and I can fill up pages." --Robert Hayden
"Being human cannot be borne alone. We need other presences. We need soft night noises--a mother speaking downstairs. ... We need the little clicks and sighs of a sustaining otherness. We need the gods." --John Updike
"Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving us wordy evidence of the fact." (ha!) --George Eliot
"God's first language is silence. Everything else is a translation." --Thomas Keating
Sunday, October 3, 2010
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
To-morrow's wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
To-morrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow,
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know;
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away;
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
For the grapes' sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—
For the grapes' sake along the wall.
Monday, September 27, 2010
when I arrived here in the rain,
whipped out and alone.
How we shared the aloneness
and quiet of this house.
And the doubt that held me
from fingers to toes
as I took you out
of your cellophane wrapping
and ate you, meditatively,
at the kitchen table
that first night with cheese,
and mushroom soup. Now,
a month later to the day,
an important part of us
is still here. I'm fine.
And you—I'm proud of you, too.
You're even getting remarked
on in print! Every soda cracker
should be so lucky.
We've done all right for
ourselves. Listen to me.
I never thought
I could go on like this
about soda crackers.
But I tell you
the clear sunshiny
days are here, at last.
if I can believe my
senses this is not just
another distraction dear
I am tied up still
in the same old skin
the pure ideas and ambitious yearnings
the clean and healthy cock
at all costs
but my feet are beginning
to tell me things about
about their new relationship to
my hands heart hair and eyes
Something is happening to me
if I could I would ask you
have you ever felt anything similar
but you are already so far
away tonight I do not think
you would hear besides
my voice has also been affected
Something is happening to me
do not be surprised if
walking someday soon in this bright
Mediterranean sun you look
across at me and discover
a woman in my place
a strange whitehaired man
writing a poem
one who can no longer form words
who is simply moving his lips
to tell you something
--Ray Carver (yet again! hee)
of the sycamore leaves
have returned to earth.
Wind clears the sky of clouds.
What's left here? Grouse, silver salmon,
and the struck pine not far from the house.
A tree hit by lightning. But even now
beginning to live again. A few shoots
Stephen Foster's "Maggie by My Side"
plays on the radio.
I listen with my eyes far away.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Fog lifted early. I worked in the garden.
Hummingbirds were stopping over the honeysuckle flowers.
There was no thing on earth I wanted to possess.
I knew no one worth my envying him.
Whatever evil I had suffered, I forgot.
To think that once I was the same man did not embarrass me.
In my body I felt no pain.
When straightening up, I saw blue sea and sails.
Snow began falling late last night. Wet flakes
dropping past windows, snow covering
the skylights. We watched for a time, surprised
and happy. glad to be here, and nowhere else.
I loaded up the wood stove. Adjusted the flue.
We went to bed, where I closed my eyes at once.
But for some reason, before falling asleep,
I recalled the scene at the airport
in Buenos Aires the evening we left.
How still and deserted the place seemed!
Dead quiet except the sound of our engines
as we backed away from the gate and
taxied slowly down the runway in a light snow.
The windows in the terminal building dark.
No one in evidence, not even a ground crew. “It’s as if
the whole place is mourning,” you said.
I opened my eyes. Your breathing said
you were fast asleep. I covered you with an arm
and went on from Argentina to recall a place
I lives in once in Palo Alto. No snow in Palo Alto.
But I had a room and two windows looking onto the Bayshore Freeway.
They refrigerator stood next to the bed.
When I became dehydrated in the middle of the night,
all I had to do to slake that thirst was reach out
and open the door. The light inside showed the way
to a bottle of cold water. A hot plate
sat in the bathroom close to the sink.
When I shaved, the pan of water bubbled
on the coil next to the jar of coffee granules.
I sat on the bed one morning, dressed, clean-shaven,
drinking coffee, putting off what I’d decided to do. Finally
dialed Jim Houston’s number in Santa Cruz.
And asked for 75 dollars. He said he didn’t have it.
His wife had gone to Mexico for a week.
He simply didn’t have it. He was coming up short
this month. “It’s okay,” I said, “I understand.”
And I did. We talked a little
more, then hung up. He didn’t hate it.
I finished the coffee, more or less, just as the plane
lifted off the runway into the sunset.
I turned in the seat for one last look
at the lights of Buenos Aires. Then closed my eyes
for the long trip back.
This morning there’s snow everywhere. We remark on it.
You tell me you didn’t sleep well. I say
I didn’t either. You had a terrible night. “Me too.”
We’re extraordinarily calm and tender with each other
as if sensing the other’s rickety state of mind.
As if we knew what the other was feeling. We don’t,
of course. We never do. No matter.
It’s the tenderness I care about. That’s the gift
this morning that moves and holds me.
Same as every morning.
(Good grief that last stanza's a stunner.)
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
I flourished here all spring. Sweet light
began to fill my chest. I pulled up
a chair. Sat for hours in front of the sea.
Listened to the buoy and learned
to tell the difference between a bell,
and the sound of a bell. I wanted
everything behind me. I even wanted
to become inhuman. And I did that.
I know I did. (She'll back me up on this.)
I remember the morning I closed the lid
on memory and turned the handle.
Locking it away forever.
Nobody knows what happened to me
out here, sea. Only you and I know.
At night, clouds form in front of the moon.
By morning they're gone. And that sweet light
I spoke of? That's gone too.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
You are twenty-one - gold and purple
should stand sturdy in your garden.
break off all healing lustral howls
and welcome wintry frost upon your page
with steep-pinched, hard-shored resignations,
wisdoms ceded by the blooms who died.
Count quick shadows, enigmas,
make of them your inventory.
Enhance your boldness, your despair
of wanting everything, even what isn't there.
--Justin Vicari in Fugue
Sunday, September 12, 2010
it is less an art of folding
than of unfolding,
an intricate process through negation.
2. as you fold the first edge, in upon itself,
or press your finger's nail to a crease
you must know this will all be undone,
that the goal of such movement, is not
to be left as is, but rather to create a line--
a reference, so one's next step might be more clear.
3. as you reach the final folds
& form a wing or delicate neck
consider what you've heard of trees
whose seeds will root only in ash.
consider the attention,
undivided, as each one blooms.
--Britton Shurley in Bateau
Friday, September 3, 2010
in the oceanic, rectilinear plains,
twenty or thirty blocks, compact, but with
everything needed visibility in place—
the high-school playing fields, the swatch of park
along the crooked river, the feeder highways,
the main drag like a zipper, outlying malls
sliced from dirt-colored cakes of plowed farmland.
Small lives, we think—pat, flat—in such tight grids.
But, much like brains with every crease CAT-scanned,
these cities keep their secrets: vagaries
of the spirit, groundwater that floods
the nearby quarries and turns them skyey blue,
dewdrops of longing, jewels boxed in these blocks.
Thursday, September 2, 2010
If you close one eye, you can gaze
at the side of your nose, but that's it.
Is that why when looking at group photographs,
it's yourself you stare at the longest?
Sometimes you're mistaken for someone else,
And you want to meet her, see for yourself yourself,
but even if you met a gang of doppelgangers,
you will continue searching in hubcaps, sauce pans,
toasters, the backs of spoons, the bases of lamps,
in sunglasses, in another person's eyes,
and if that person is standing in just the right light,
there you are, trying to get closer.
Monday, August 23, 2010
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
deep under the covers.
I tiptoe to the kitchen,
lift bowls from the shelf,
mix cream cheese and butter.
Flour dusts my fingers
as I roll dough into a circle,
spread blackberry jam
with the back of a spoon
the way Mama taught me.
I work quickly, leaning over,
sprinkling nuts and raisins
on top, my hands
shaping ovals, folding,
Lights sifts through the windows
And I think of Mama, coming
home after so many months,
how we baked before dawn,
I, barefoot, she in nightgown
and slippers. Now I slide
the tray into the oven
and glide through the quiet
to wait for the raising.
Monday, August 9, 2010
Friday, August 6, 2010
a blue glazed cup
where the wood
is slightly whitened.
Here, I lay down
two bright spoons,
our breakfast saucers, napkins
white and smooth as milk.
I am stirring at the sink,
I am stirring
the amount of dew
you can gather in two hands,
folding it into the fragile
quiet of the house.
Before the eggs,
before the coffee
heaving like a warm cat,
I step out to the feeder-
one foot, then the other,
alive on wet blades.
Air lifts my gown – I might fly –
This thistle seed I pour
is for the tiny birds.
for all things frail
Wings surround me, frothing
the air. I am struck
by what becomes holy.
who lost her teenage child
to an illness without mercy,
said that at the end, her daughter
sat up in her hospital bed
What should I do?
What should I do?
Into a white enamel bath
I lower four brown eggs.
You fill the door frame,
warm and rumpled, kiss
the crown of my head.
I know how the topmost leaves
of dusty trees
feel at the advent
of the monsoon rains.
I carry the woman with the lost child
in my pocket, where she murmurs
her love song without end:
Just this, each day:
Bear yourself up on small wings
to receive what is given.
Feed one another
with such tenderness,
it could almost be an answer.
--Marcia F. Brown
Monday, August 2, 2010
and freckled knees and took me all the way
to Memphis after work for barbecue.
We moaned and grunted over plates of ribs
and sweet iced tea, even in a room of strangers,
gnawing the hickory char, the slow
smoked meat peeling off the bones,
and finally the bones. We slurped
grease and dry-rub spice from our fingers,
then finished with blackberry cobbler
that stained her lips and tongue.
All the trees were throwing fireworks
of blossom, the air was thick
with pollen and the brand-new smell of leaves.
We drove back roads in the watermelon dusk,
then tangled around each other, delirious
as honeybees working wisteria.
I could blame it all on cinnamon hair,
or the sap rising, the overflow of spring,
but it was those ribs that started everything.
"Cinnamon hair"--love that, especially in a poem like this one.
Saturday, July 31, 2010
RC's first collection (pamphlet) of poems, published clear back in 1968.
I'm working my way through his newish brick of a bio, which I'm completely engrossed in. Just read about Near Klamath; apparently an autographed copy was going for $7,500 two years ago.
Okay--back to fantasizing about stumbling upon a copy in some dusty old bookstore in a town w/ a name like Caribou...
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
This morning was something. A little snow
lay on the ground. The sun floated in a clear
blue sky. The sea was blue, and blue-green,
as far as the eye could see.
Scarcely a ripple. Calm. I dressed and went
for a walk--determined not to return
until I took in what Nature had to offer.
I passed close to some old, bent-over trees.
Crossed a field strewn with rocks
where snow had drifted. Kept going
until I reached the bluff.
Where I gazed at the sea, and the sky, and
the gulls wheeling over the white beach
far below. All lovely. All bathed in a pure
cold light. But, as usual, my thoughts
began to wander. I had to will
myself to see what I was seeing
and nothing else. I had to tell myself this is what
mattered, not the other. (And I did see it,
for a minute or two!) For a minute or two
it crowded out the usual musings on
what was right, and what was wrong--duty,
tender memories, thoughts of death, how I should treat
with my former wife. All the things
I hoped would go away this morning.
The stuff I live with every day. What
I've trampled on in order to stay alive.
But for a minute or two I did forget
myself and everything else. I know I did.
For when I turned back I didn't know
where I was. Until some birds rose up
from the gnarled trees. And flew
in the direction I needed to be going.
This is the time you'd like to stay.
Not a leaf stirs. There is no sound.
The fireflies lift light from the ground.
You've shed the vanities of when
And how and why, for now. And then
The phone rings. You are called away.
I know for a while again
the health of self-forgetfulness,
looking out at the sky through
a notch in the valley side,
the black woods wintry on
the hills, small clouds at sunset
passing across. And I know
that this is one of the thresholds
between Earth and Heaven,
from which even I may step
forth from my self and be free.
I love the central message in these three poems--the acknowledged value, the rarity, the beauty, in climbing outside one's head long enough to really experience. To truly exist *in the moment*, if only for a minute. Tough, that.
Sunday, July 25, 2010
Can I see the buds that are swelling
in the woods on the slopes
on the far side of the valley? I can't,
of course, nor can I see
the twinleafs and anemones
that are blooming over there
bright-scattered above the dead
leaves. But the swelling buds
and little blossoms make
a new softness in the light
that is visible all the way here.
The trees, the hills that were stark
in the old cold become now
tender, and the light changes.
This poem is so great. I've experienced that left-out-of-nature feeling. I love Berry's way of seeing.
The dust motes float
and swerve in the sunbeam,
as lively as worlds,
and I remember my brother
when we were boys:
"We may be living on an atom
in somebody's wallpaper."
Why all the embarrassment
about being happy?
Sometimes I'm as happy
as a sleeping dog,
and for the same reasons,
and for others.
What is one to make of a life given
to putting things into words,
saying them, writing them down?
Is there a world beyond words?
There is. But don't start, don't
go on about the tree unqualified,
standing in light that shines
to time's end beyond its summoning
name. Don't praise the speechless
starlight, the unspeakable dawn.
Well, we can stop
for a while, if we try hard enough,
if we are lucky. We can sit still,
keep silent, let the phoebe, the sycamore,
the river, the stone call themselves
by whatever they call themselves, their own
sounds, their own silence, and thus
may know for a moment the nearness
of the world, its vastness,
its vast variousness, far and near,
which only silence knows. And then
we must call all things by name
out of the silence again to be with us,
or die of namelessness.
Given the solemn river,
given the trees along the banks,
given the summer warmth,
the evening light--what
could have foretold the sudden
apparition of these two
speeding by as if late
for the world's end, their engine
shaking the air, breaking
the water's mirrors?
The trees and the sky hush
with dismay, and then,
upon the return of reflection,
with sorrow. How many years
of labor to become completely
What a consolation it is, after
the explanations and the predictions
of further explanations still
to come, to return unpersuaded
to the woods, entering again
the presence of the blessed trees.
A tree forms itself in answer
to its place and to the light.
Explain it how you will, the only
thing explainable will be
your explanation. There is
in the woods on a summer's
morning, birdsong all around
from guess where, nowhere
that rigid measure which predicts
only humankind's demise.
We travelers, walking to the sun, can't see
Ahead, but looking back the very light
That blinded us shows us the way we came,
Along which blessings now appear, risen
As if from sightlessness to sight, and we,
By blessing brighly lit, keep going toward
That blessed light that yet to us is dark.
The cherries turn ripe, ripe,
and the birds come: red-headed
and red-bellied woodpeckers,
blue jays, cedar waxwings,
robins--beautiful, hungry, wild
in our domestic tree. I pick
with the birds, gathering the red
cherries alight among the dark
leaves, my hands so sticky
with juice the fruit will hardly
drop from them into the pail.
The birds pick as I pick, all
of us delighted in the weighty heights
--the fruit red ripe, the green leaves,
the blue sky and white clouds,
all tending to flight--making
the most of this sweetness against
the time when there will be none.
SOME FURTHER WORDS
Let me be plain with you, dear reader.
I am an old-fashioned man. I like
the world of nature despite its mortal
dangers. I like the domestic world
of humans, so long as it pays its debts
to the natural world, and keeps its bounds.
I like the promise of Heaven. My purpose
is a language that can repay just thanks
and honor for those gifts, a tongue
set free from fashionable lies.
Neither this world nor any of its places
is an "environment." And a house
for sale is not a "home." Economics
is not "science," nor "information" knowledge.
A knave with a degree is a knave. A fool
in a public office is not a "leader."
A rich thief is a thief. And the ghost
of Arthur Moore, who taught me Chaucer,
returns in the night to say again:
"Let me tell you something, boy.
An intellectual whore is a whore."
The world is babbled to pieces after
the divorce of things from their names.
Ceaseless preparation for war
is not peace. Health is not procured
by sale of medication, or purity
by the addition of poison. Science
at the bidding of the corporations
is knowledge reduced to merchandise;
it is a whoredom of the mind,
and so is the art that calls this "progress."
So is the cowardice that calls it "inevitable."
I think the issues of "identity" mostly
are poppycock. We are what we have done,
which includes our promises, includes
our hopes, but promises first. I know
a "fetus" is a human child.
I loved my children from the time
they were conceived, having loved
their mother, who loved them
from the time they were conceived
and before. Who are we to say
the world did not begin in love?
I would like to die in love as I was born,
and as myself of life impoverished go
into the love all flesh begins
and ends in. I don't like machines,
which are neither mortal nor immortal,
though I am constrained to use them.
(Thus the age perfects its clench.)
Some day they will be gone, and that
will be a glad and a holy day.
I mean the dire machines that run
by burning the world's body and
its breath. When I see an airplane
fuming through the once-pure sky
or a vehicle of the outer space
with its little inner space
imitating a star at night, I say,
"Get out of there!" as I would speak
to a fox or a thief in the henhouse.
When I hear the stock market has fallen,
I say, "Long live gravity! Long live
stupidity, error, and greed in the palaces
of fantasy capitalism!" I think
an economy should be based on thrift,
on taking care of things, not on theft,
usury, seduction, waste, and ruin.
My purpose is a language that can make us whole,
though mortal, ignorant, and small.
The world is whole beyond human knowing.
The body's life is its own, untouched
by the little clockwork of explanation.
I approve of death, when it comes in time
to the old. I don't want to five
on mortal terms forever, or survive
an hour as a cooling stew of pieces
of other people. I don't believe that life
or knowledge can be given by machines.
The machine economy has set afire
the household of the human soul,
and all the creatures are burning within it
"Intellectual property" names
the deed by which the mind is bought
and sold, the world enslaved. We
who do not own ourselves, being free,
own by theft what belongs to God,
to the living world, and equally
to us all. Or how can we own a part
of what we only can possess
entirely? Life is a gift we have
only by giving it back again.
Let us agree: "the laborer is worthy
of his hire," but he cannot own what he knows,
which must be freely told, or labor
dies with the laborer. The farmer
is worthy of the harvest made
in time, but he must leave the light
by which he planted, grew, and reaped,
the seed immortal in mortality,
freely to the time to come. The land
too he keeps by giving it up,
as the thinker receives and gives a thought,
as the singer sings in the common air.
I don't believe that "scientific genius"
in its naive assertions of power
is equal either to nature or
to human culture. Its thoughtless invasions
of the nuclei of atoms and cells
and this world's every habitation
have not brought us to the light
but sent us wandering farther through
the dark. Nor do I believe
.artistic genius" is the possession
of any artist. No one has made
the art by which one makes the works
of art. Each one who speaks speaks
as a convocation. We live as councils
of ghosts. It is not "human genius"
that makes us human, but an old love,
an old intelligence of the heart
we gather to us from the world,
from the creatures, from the angels
of inspiration, from the dead--
an intelligence merely nonexistent
to those who do not have it, but --
to those who have it more dear than life.
And just as tenderly to be known
are the affections that make a woman and a man
their household and their homeland one.
These too, though known, cannot be told
to those who do not know them, and fewer
of us learn them, year by year.
These affections are leaving the world
like the colors of extinct birds,
like the songs of a dead language.
Think of the genius of the animals,
every one truly what it is:
gnat, fox, minnow, swallow, each made
of light and luminous within itself.
They know (better than we do) how
to live in the places where they live.
And so I would like to be a true
human being, dear reader-a choice
not altogether possible now.
But this is what I'm for, the side
I'm on. And this is what you should
expect of me, as I expect it of
myself, though for realization we
may wait a thousand or a million years.
Monday, July 19, 2010
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.
We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother's countenance
Could not unfrown itself.
The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.
You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.
Monday, July 12, 2010
to stand beneath the shower of its brilliance
and have absolutely nothing in your pocket
except maybe, pocket lint or the few pennies
you've managed to collect off the cold concrete,
hoping because they're heads up something
about your life might change irreversibly,
& how enough of those pennies might buy
you something, or nothing, an air-conditioned
bus ride into the next town where men and women
pass you by while pressing their coats against their bodies,
as if you were nothing more than a cold breeze,
how if you stood beneath the moon it might convince you
there's just not enough beauty in the world to go around.
Does seem a tad excessive.
“But I gotta tell you, I just think to look across the room and automatically assume that somebody else is less aware than me, or that somehow their interior life is less rich, and complicated, and acutely perceived than mine, makes me not as good a writer. Because that means I’m going to be performing for a faceless audience, instead of trying to have a conversation with a person"
--from this book.
I've thought of it often since initial-read. Good stuff.
Sunday, July 11, 2010
You have always been
Even when you thought
you were climbing
you had already arrived.
Even when you were
you were at rest.
Even then it was clear
you were there.
Not in our nature
to know what
is journey and what
Even if we knew
we would not admit.
Even if we lived
we would think
we were just
To live is to be
at the end.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
despite what the writer tells you.
Behind the sword is no quivering
hand worn into life's hilt, no arm
swaying the wind in dying movement.
There is only the word, sword.
Outside, the trees live without language
and tip toward whatever sun manages
through a thinning atmosphere of dust,
ice, and vapor. The life of each branch
balances on what the tree affords it. The soil
holds the tree without language or pity.
But there is no tree in this poem, only
the word, tree. There is no speaker who
entreats you to imagine the tree standing
solitary in a green field, specked with clover
rising up in tufts of almost transparent cream.
There is no field. There is no clover, no green.
But you listen, anyway. Hear her voice
follow you into the afternoon, imagine language
crosses a clearing, the stark way a thing reveals
when thinned clouds expose better light. You
are the tree, tip toward words as they overcome
absence, bring outward your inner forms.
--Ruth Ellen Kocher
"The word, sword," "live without language," "soil holds the tree without language or pity," "tip toward" (both references), and that conclusion...
Swoon. Such music.
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Monday, July 5, 2010
M and I went to skoo together. As wee lasses. Way back. Jefferson Elementary School-back.
There are many things to love about NoPoMo: M's voice, her creative output, the wise quotes she notes, her take on all things health & nutrition...
A recent post reminded me of another blog I also adore, for its attention to things old/neglected/storied...
So much out there to be inspired by right now. Thankful.
Friday, July 2, 2010
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
No echo of omniscience
escapes to wind or metaphor.
A cottage holds three bowls,
earthen and chipped, on a table
made of planks smoothed by the surf.
One holds buttermilk;
another, tomatoes pale as moons;
the third, eggs the color of sand.
On the sill you would place a globe
of ivory roses to echo
the dolphin skull beyond the pane,
and think how sonorous, how bold,
this science of solitude.
Thursday, July 1, 2010
"Some of you probably remember the weirdness of long roadtrips. You loaded up in a rumbling old sedan. Once you left the precincts of your town you quickly found yourself on an old highway. The pavement was everywhere cracked and frequently pocked with potholes. As you jostled over the uneven surface, you didn’t think about grading the asphalt with fresh blacktop. Instead, you were mesmerized by those leaning and crazed-looking establishments on the road’s shoulder. You wondered what on earth could be in those buildings with chipping paint and rusty doors. You at least knew that it would be a little dark inside and that you would probably smell old burlap sacks and the faint odor of tar. You could definitely get some strange-shaped rock candy and maybe some cold chocolate milk. Behind the counter was probably a shadowy man smelling of wintergreen. Beyond those probable things, you had no idea what was inside that gas station or that tourist shop of that diner. You might find anything—pig’s feet or painted chicks or the skulls of cows or bullwhips or tough jerky or comics from forgotten wars or posters of Roy Rogers or a dried-up bat. You might recoil from these strange elements, but you would never forget them, not in a lifetime. You would also recall the melancholy atmospheres of those places, redolent of musty decay."
"Melancholia is the profane ground out of which springs the sacred. Our hope that this claim is valid is what keeps most of us tenderly disposed toward the sadness of others, no matter how indulgent, and the gloom of our own hearts, regardless of the pain. We have a faith that the dejection will lead to affirmation. If we go on living without this embrace of the darkness, then we are left with the most horrific of situations: suffering is meaningless. If this were true, we likely could not long persist. We need to believe that our shadows generate the light. We must hold to this position. It is consent to the given, a graceful grasp of gravity, a yea to the thunderous no.
Creating doesn’t make us unhappy; unhappiness makes us creative. To create is to live, and in living, we want only to create more, to set our foundations deeper and reach higher toward the sky. If sadness is what makes us creative, then sadness is nothing else but life. Frowning is flourishing. The grouch is the 'ought,' the impetus to vigor. Plumb down into your interiors. There find the sullen ruler of the underworld. On his face is an ambiguous grimace. It is possibly a clenched product of the somber darkness. But it is more likely a squinting before the amber glow growing before his eyes."
"Through the years, I have learned that there is no harm in charging oneself up w/ delusions between moments of valid inspiration."
"What if there were no punch lines? ... What if I created tension and never released it? What if I headed for a climax, but all I delivered was an anticlimax? What would the audience do w/ all that tension? Theoretically, it would have to come out sometime. But if I kept denying them the formality of a punch line, the audience would eventually pick out their own place to laugh, essentially out of desperation. This type of laugh seemed stronger to me, as they would be laughing at something they chose, rather than being told exactly when to laugh."
"Finally, I understood the cummings quote I had puzzled over in college: 'Like the burlesque comedian, I am abnormally fond of that precision which creates movement.' Precision was moving the plot forward, was filling every moment w/ content, was keeping the audience engaged."
"On the road, the daylight hours moved slowly, filled w/ aimless wandering through malls and museums. But at night, onstage, every second mattered. Every gesture mattered. The few hours I spent in the clubs and coffeehouses seemed like a full existence.
When I had new material to try, I would break it down into its smallest elements, literally a gesture or a few words, then sneak it into the act in its shortest form, being careful not to disrupt the flow of the show. If it worked, the next night I would add the next discreet packet until the bit either filled out or died. I can remember bailing out of a bit because I didn’t want to be trapped in it for the next five minutes. The easiest way was to pretend I’d gotten distracted by something and then completely change tack."
"... The secret strength of its etymology floods the word with another light and gives it a broader meaning: to have compassion (co-feeling) means not only to be able to live with the other's misfortune but also to feel with him any emotion—joy, anxiety, happiness, pain. This kind of compassion therefore signifies the maximal capacity of affective imagination, the art of emotional telepathy. In the hierarchy of sentiments, then, it is supreme."
"There is nothing heavier than compassion. Not even one's own pain weighs so heavy as the pain one feels w/ someone, for someone, a pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echoes."
in the crowd of oncoming parents, I strained
forward, like a gazehound held back on a leash,
then I raced toward her. I remember her being
much bigger than I, her smile of the highest
wattage, a little stiff, sparkling
with consciousness of her prettiness—I
pitied the other girls for having mothers
who looked like mothers, who did not blush.
sometimes she would have braids around her head like a
goddess or an advertisement for California raisins—
I worshipped her cleanliness, her transfixing
irises, sometimes I thought she could
sense a few genes of hers
dotted here and there in my body
like bits of undissolved sugar
in a recipe that did not quite work out.
For years, when I thought of her, I thought
of the long souring of her life, but on Parents’ Day
my heart would bang and my lungs swell so I could
feel the tucks and puckers of embroidered
smocking on my chest press into my ribs,
my washboard front vibrate like scraped
tin to see that woman arriving
and to know she was mine.
Yes, I think I'll do that. 'Cause, frankly, I've missed blogging (used to lay it down here), though picking up where I left off just has failed to make sense in the months since.
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
During winter, there aren’t enough resources for photosynthesis. In fall, the trees begin shutting down their food-making factories and the chlorophyll—the stuff that makes them green, remember—goes away from the leaves. As the bright-green fades, colors like yellow and orange appear, and actually, traces of these colors have been in the leaves the whole time. We’re just not able to see them in the summer months, because they’re masked by the green chlorophyll.
“Made bright by the absence of something.” She spoke out loud, laughing in a particular way over how easily the words had come and wondering why she didn’t slip into this sort of thing more often.
Rolling an empty Coke can on its side and taking a seat at the table, Laura thought more about the trees, trees that predated her little family’s arrival to their Whidbey Island home by decades. They were old and fat, though not old and fat like the sugar maples of her Northeastern childhood. Those trees, thick and sticky and a hundred years strong, they were true kings. And whatever was going on around them, they were in all likelihood still there. Thinking this was a small comfort to her.
Squinting past the leaves, she saw anatomical maps, brain anatomy maps, in the branches, and she was back in the exam room with Mom—two weeks earlier; Lake Union stretching glassily below, the better portion of its body captured in the neat square of the top-floor window. But those maps, they’d been the primary objects of Laura’s attention—a show of twists and turns and folds with a blend of predictability and intricacy that stunned; her breath had caught momentarily, inexplicably (why now?)—trumping even the words of the doctor, which, considering it was the third time in, didn’t require a whole lot on the part of the listener. “I hate to break it to you, but.” Ritual words, she’d thought.
She spied a flash of color beyond a dense clutch of pines—there, gone. She guessed it was her husband Ben, or maybe just more leaves, stirred by the wind. Ben was out there somewhere, she knew, with Macy their retriever, chopping wood or clearing brush or something else. Something, somewhere she wasn’t.
She considered going out to see if it was him. She could bring him some coffee, or a beer. Two years before, she would’ve thought about putting together an entire meal to take him—fruit salad, squiggly straws, checkered tablecloth tucked into a picnic basket, everything.
But she stayed put, lacking the energy it would take for one such multi-step, non-required action. She decided to call her friend Stephanie instead. Steph, whose trademark curls were fresh in Laura’s mind following their joint visit to the hospital the day before.
As she waited for an answer, Laura saw that it was definitely Ben on the other side of the glass. He’d almost cleared the trees, and the sleeves of his bright flannel were streaked with dirt and bunched at the elbows. Evidence of work done; proof he knew how.
“Hey, Steph. So listen, I wanted to talk to you about my cousin. Steven. I know he’s not the type of guy you usually go for, but I talked to him on the way home from the hospital yesterday and he told me he’d really like the chance to do some city stuff with you. He mentioned meeting you in Seattle for art shows and concerts and interesting food and all the other things you like to do.”
Laura was talking fast. She was keenly aware of this, and the sped-up words sounded strange to her, tight. But she continued.
“And you know, he’d love to take you on hikes and scenic drives up the mountain. He even talked about teaching you to fish, if you’d just give him a chance. He said he had a really good time the other night.”
She struggled to contain her irritation as Steph protested this latest. “Fishing? He said that, that he wants to teach me to fish? Oh, Laura.”
“Steph, please, just give him a chance, let him take you out next weekend. Think about it—it’s not like you’re seeing anyone else right now. What’s there to lose? If you go out a few more times and decide it’s just not there, then you’re no worse off. If you just give it another date or two, I promise I’ll drop it. I wouldn’t be pushing this if I didn’t think you guys could really have something.”
A few minutes later Laura hung up. She was frustrated at Stephanie’s resistance. Steven was a good guy, and she didn’t want to have to turn around and tell him Steph wasn’t interested in a second date. Especially when she’d already suggested otherwise.
Then Ben was at the door, shaking off his gloves, preparing to join her inside. She thought again of trees. Trees as static, silent, unreadable.
Her husband kissed her on the forehead, gave her side a squeeze, and walked toward the fridge. Seconds later he’d be on the couch with a beer and the paper. As he had always done. As if nothing were different, everything well enough.
Where was his response? Stephanie stared at her phone, expecting a beep, a text from Clayton. He’d called off their relationship three months before but the texting marathons were still routine.
It rang instead. And it wasn’t Clayton.
Kari, her best friend since grade school, when it had been Kari, Laura, and Stephanie—all the time, everywhere. Kari had left Seattle at the beginning of the year, following the boyfriend to Florida where he was soon to start school. The two of them, she and Kari, had done a decent job of staying in touch over the years. All three of them had, in fact, even with Laura’s straight-out-of-college domesticity: the husband, the house, the kids.
“I’m okay. You?”
Still nothing from Clayton. Stephanie thought about texting again.
“So, I visited Laura’s mom yesterday,” she said, falling back on her bed, hitting pillow. “The surgery went as well as they could’ve hoped, and Ruth actually looks better than I’d expected—more rested than Laura, who’s been at the hospital every hour she’s not at work or running the kids around. I told her she should take a day off.”
Even lying down as she was, Stephanie’s head felt tired and heavy, like a burden. Following words of agreement from Kari, she continued.
“Laura’s dad and brother were also there. We all grabbed lunch at the cafeteria: Laura and I and the two of them. And, um, Laura’s dad ate all my French fries. It was weird. I asked if he wanted some, and you know, I assumed he’d take two or three. But he grabbed a handful, put them on his plate, then when he was finished he started helping himself to more. He was eating straight off my plate. Sometimes that family’s so weird. I’m sorry, they just are.
Stephanie looked down at her stomach. Was it flatter than usual? She thought maybe it was.
“That reminds me, Laura’s trying to get me to go out with her cousin again. She refuses to let this go. But the thing is, I feel weird saying no, because of her mom. I just feel… bad.”
As she said goodbye to Kari, Stephanie continued to watch her stomach, to cautiously admire it. No Clayton-text, but at least there was this.
Laura pulled into the driveway of The Little Gym, where her four-year-old daughter had started tumbling classes a month earlier. Grant was at the kids’ daycare, so it was just the two of them, mother and daughter. Lila, decked out in her new purple leotard, jumped excitedly out of the car, anxious to greet the giant trampoline she’d been talking about nonstop. Once inside, Laura chose a comfortable-enough chair near the balance beam and pulled out a magazine.
Minutes later: “Mommy, look! Watch me!” Laura glanced up to see Lila poised on the long red mat for a cartwheel, right arm up and out, little brow intent. She looked like Ben when she made that face, Laura thought, smiling faintly.
After a while, the kids, about a dozen in all, retreated to the back of the gym, away from the beam and where Laura was sitting, where they watched as the instructor demonstrated the day’s routine. Heavy on the somersaults, Laura noted.
As she flipped through an issue of Child, her thoughts drifted back to Saturday morning, to the hospital, to her mom, her mom’s brain cancer—
The surgery, the latest of three, and all in the last two years, had gone reasonably well, Mom’s doctor had explained. They’d gotten all they could of the tumor given how close it was to the tissue required for speech comprehension. Next: looking at Mom, looking for a sign, a “this is it, no more fiddling, in the clear once and for all” indication. But Laura hadn’t found anything of the sort, receiving instead the impression of a woman—her goddamn point of origin—whose patchy hair and heavy eyelids mocked Laura’s memories of girthy, glossy ponytails and clear blue prisms. Her mother’s. Mom’s. She’d put on a happy face, of course, insisting she felt “worlds better” than she had after the last surgery—“just a run-of-the-mill headache, honey”—but the escalated dose of pain meds she’d furtively requested of a nurse told a different story.
At home later that same night, Laura had sat with Ben on the couch while two-year-old Grant, who on seeing his grandmother’s shaved head had burst into tears, which had given way to a complete meltdown in the hallway outside the hospital-room door, lay sleeping in front of the TV, his rosy little half-naked body draped across the family dog, also sleeping. How she wished for her son’s capacity to forget. Out of sight, out of mind. Not in any kind of lasting sense; just long enough to get a decent night’s sleep. To repair.
“Mom’s doctor sounds optimistic,” Laura had told Ben. “He says that if Mom can just stay dedicated through the rehab process, there’s no reason she can’t regain at least some of her agility. And I really do feel good about this new hospital.”
“Yeah. That sounds good.”
Ben had been rubbing her back, and the pleasant shivery feeling partially countered Laura’s annoyance at his choice of words. That sounds good?
“How did your dad seem?”
“You know Dad—he’s still keeping up the whole denial thing. Stephanie was there, and suddenly he starts talking to her about how much he’s looking forward to their trip to Ocean Shores next month. Next month! You’ve seen Mom—she can hardly swing a trip to the bathroom, let alone the goddamn coast. Unbelievable.”
“Yeah. I guess he just doesn’t want to think about it.”
At this point, the back rub had stopped feeling good. Or, more accurately, her husband’s hand firm on her low back had felt as good as her heart and head felt bad, which only confused Laura, and scared her even more.
Back in the moment, the gym: Why did he offer so little? So the man she’d fallen for back in college hadn’t come with a great degree of emotional transparency, but didn’t her mom’s situation warrant words with more heart than banalities like “that sounds good”? Still flipping pages, she reached “Inside a Colic Clinic: The new thinking on how to treat babies who cry (and cry and cry).” She was afraid that if Ben didn’t come through soon, her whole idea of him would irrevocably shift, completing the turn that had started around the time of her mom’s diagnosis. If this happened, she didn’t know what she would do. They had kids.
The oldest of whom had resumed screaming her name—”Mommy! Mommy!”—as she was launched repeatedly by her beloved trampoline into the air.
Such sweetness, Laura thought, clapping at, and vaguely jealous of, such easy happiness. Lila’s grinning face looked positively radiant, her cheeks a full pink, her forehead wet, shiny near her delicate hairline. The abundance Laura saw there on her daughter made her ache from somewhere deep.
Her phone was ringing. It was Kari.
“Hi, you. … The surgery? Yes, it went alright. Mom’s just resting up now. She’ll be in the hospital a couple more days before she’s moved back to the rehab facility.”
Kari started talking about a friend of hers, a friend whose dad had gone through “something similar” the year before. Laura, though, wanted out of this line. She cut in—
“Hey, Kari, so has Steph said anything to you about my cousin? You know I’ve been trying to get them together. They went out once and it sounded to me like it went well.”
Lila was still bouncing away, landing on her back, her side, rarely her feet. She was giggling, and it seemed to Laura like she’d never stop.
“Yeah, well, I’m not giving up. They’re both single and they’re lonely and it can work.”
Around her, a few parents had begun standing up and pulling on coats. It was almost time to go, though Lila, whose face had grown so bright as to evoke in Laura a strange, low-level nervousness, appeared nowhere near finished.
The next thing she knew, Laura, who wanted to get in a quick trip to the hospital on the way home, was feeling her chest constrict with a thick shot of panic. She sprung up and strode fast towards her daughter, not caring that her pronounced action had drawn the stares of several parents. The only thing she cared about, the only thing she was even really aware of besides Lila and the need to get going, was a word—two words as one, really—that had emerged low and chant-like behind her eyes. Timecap.
Later that evening, Ben and the kids in bed, Laura sat with a glass of wine in her favorite chair—a worn-out rocker from her own childhood. One of her earliest memories was of this chair, of her mom (“let’s pretend we’re in a little boat in the middle of the ocean, just the two of us”), her mom’s arms securely around her, a certain Johnny Mathis song crackling through the record player. Even today, she knew the composition less by its actual name than as, simply, “the Laura and Mommy song.”
Ben had disappeared into his workroom immediately after dinner, as he’d done most nights recently. He’d mentioned an especially busy week at the office—a field office of the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife where he’d worked for three years as a biologist, researching and implementing habitat restoration policies. She could hear him typing in there, an irregular clacking of keys.
Tipping the chair gently back and forth, Laura thought about that old song and wondered how it would be to listen to it again, so many years later. Closing her eyes, she thought about—she felt—her mom’s hand in her own. Hours earlier. Quick trip, way home. Breathless on arrival, she’d found things as usual, as she’d last left them: Mom, Mom drained, mustered smiles. Laura had squeezed that hand for everything, immediately overcome with guilt at the sheer volume she’d extracted over the years. Feeling utterly exposed, she’d squeezed a second time, squeezed for everything in reverse, squeezed against premonition, against a daughter’s knowing.
Then, remembering the laundry, she stood up and left the chair to rock itself.
“Hey Kari. Listen, I need some advice.”
Stephanie was at the grocery store, phone wedged between ear and shoulder as she sifted through overripe bananas. The store was crowded and she wasn’t in the mood.
“Laura called me last night, and the only thing she wanted to talk about was her damn cousin. She just kept pushing, talking about how we should hang out as friends at least. I wanted to say I didn’t want to be his friend, but she sounded like she was getting choked up, and I sort of panicked and said I had to go.”
Narrowly dodging a cart manned by a person half its height, Stephanie wondered if she might get away with cracking open one of the nice chilled beers in her own cart.
“That wasn’t even the end of it. I got an email from her this morning, and she actually asked me to call Steven and tell him I don’t want to date. Because she doesn’t want to be the middle man. I mean, what the hell? This whole thing makes no sense. Should I just call him? For all I know, she could’ve told him I had the time of my life the other week.”
She grabbed the remaining items on her list and headed toward the checkout. Kari was saying something about displaced emotion—“mom so sick... frustration with Ben... setting you guys up... wanted to birth something successful and new”—and there was a moment of recognition before Stephanie’s attention was drawn back outward, to a familiar striped pattern on a shirt up ahead. Sure enough, it was Clayton, and his arm was slung casually around some girl’s waist.
“Oh, shit. Kari? I’ve gotta go. I’ll talk to you tomorrow, okay?”
The call came three days later, while Laura’s third graders were tracing around their hands in pursuit of paper turkeys.
It was her dad: her mom was dead.
He kept talking, but his voice was strange and wispy, and she had to step out of the classroom to be able to hear. Even then, she wasn’t getting it all. “Internal bleeding... complication of the surgery... too much, too fast...”
As she leaned against the wall of the empty hallway, phone at her ear, Laura closed her eyes. Timecap. Time, capped.
She felt a vacancy in her own looping hallways, her interior dim and scooped, nothing to land on. Next lesson, class: “Made dark by an absence of something.” What’s that, too easy?
She called Ben; she called the school principal. Then she got in her car and drove home.
She heard the music faintly from their front stoop as she fiddled with her keys. The water in her eyes was making everything slosh and it was hard to see what she was doing. But this was okay, because as if on cue, the door opened, the music clearly audible. Her purse was taken from her and she was led inside, the door closing behind her.
The tears had started running down her face and she still wasn’t seeing clearly, but it didn’t matter. The arms around her were warm and permanent, and the combination of this and the breaking feeling inside her and the song, wherever it was coming from, worked.
Predictable: the clock kept ticking. Minutes gave way to hours, hours to days, days to weeks. And one of these weeks, days, hours, minutes, Laura’s husband, whose compassion in the wake of her mother’s death had revealed itself quietly, cautiously, uniquely, led her into his workroom. There was something he wanted to show her, he said.
They stood in front of the old drafting table in the center of the far wall, where Ben would sit and replicate whole ecosystems, mapping vegetation, animal life, all kinds of ecological data… Though it was what he did for work, Laura had always found the results beautiful and she used to wander in routinely as he drew, commenting on the careful attention he’d given a particular eddy or sediment cross-sectional. It was art pure and simple, she’d told him; he could sell it if he wanted. And how full her heart would feel, looking at those detailed renderings, watching him at work, his hand as it slid across the faintly gridded paper.
But here now, what awaited her was different. Not replicated but created. New-world plans, she saw, Ben giving her a chance to survey his handiwork before starting in with an explanation.
There were trees—three of them, forming an obtuse triangle and recognizable as trees behind the woodshed in their backyard.
What wasn’t familiar, what wasn’t possible to recognize, was the thing drawn within them. It was a house, and it had curved walls and a four-sided roof and two porthole-like windows like the kind seen on old ships. It had Dutch doors fastened with four hinges, and it had a circular deck and a rope ladder and a firemen’s pole. It was colored red. It was as pretty a house as any she’d seen.
“Remember how, just after Lila was born and we’d only been here a few months, we talked about a treehouse, about how perfect a spot those three old maples afforded?”
Ben was standing behind her, their clasped hands held tight at Laura’s sides. Her head was at his chest, and she liked the way his front felt against her back. She closed her eyes, opened them.
“I remember that.”
“Well, I figured, why not now? She’s old enough, and Grant’s not long away, and the neighbor kids…
“Anyway, I found this great website, and I picked up a few books on treehouse construction, and this is my first draft. Pretty preliminary; I’ll obviously need to sit down and hammer out the finer logistical points, but I think I can make it come out pretty close to what you’re looking at here. I was even thinking, you know Lila’s pirate obsession? Well, one of the books details a sort of trap door feature that looks easy enough to pull off.”
Laura heard the confidence in her husband’s voice and felt buoyed by it. Still amazed at what he’d created, and moved by the love behind it, she admired the acuity of the bark on the trees, in her head seeing him late at night—it was clearly what he’d been up to in recent past—hunched over his desk, with his mechanical pencil tracing the most negligible of lines, lines like veins. Next, a vision of Ben’s confidence as resin: tooth-strong and binding each of the five years they’d been together—life sap flowing, fixing, root to crown. Rhythmically, events spanning their relationship flashed through Laura’s mind, and they were events of no particular significance, just things that had happened. Markers. And as she stood there, looking, leaning, she let something go, and it was like nothing and everything at once.