Why this?

The occasional poem of my own and a generous helping of work by others that I find inspiring. Site is named for a beloved book by one of my favorite writers, Italo Calvino, whose fanciful work lights--and delights--my soul.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Jelly Beans

Three jelly beans remain in the bowl:
white, yellow, orange.
Glazed like tile, they shine in the lamplight,
the white one slightly apart,
bland and apologetic.
A full bowl was a transient temptation,
was at least an amusement.

I feel sad suddenly.
It's such a big, deep bowl,
like a reservoir drained of everything
but three little turtles.
I remember what my daughter said
as she practiced her long division:
Don't you kind of feel sorry for the remainders?

I should eat them, I know.
They haven't moved in days.
Winter is failing, but spring is weak, too,
Easter past, the ham bone bare.
Always there is some useless reminder
of better times, something absently picked up
and quietly laid back down.


[I remember what my daughter said / as she practiced her long division: / Don't you kind of feel sorry for the remainders? = favorite poem lines in recent memory. :)]

Coloring Book

Each picture is heartbreakingly banal,
a kitten and a ball of yarn,
a dog and bone.
The paper is cheap, easily torn.
A coloring book's authority is derived
from its heavy black lines
as unalterable as the ten commandments
within which minor decisions are possible:
the dog black and white,
the kitten gray.
Under the picture we find a few words,
a title, perhaps a narrative,
a psalm or sermon.
But nowhere do we come upon
a blank page where we might justify
the careless way we scribbled
when we were tired and sad
and could bear no more.

Musical Chairs

The music, quavering and faint,
had somehow kept order among us.
But when it stopped,
everyone rushed toward the lifeboats
where seats were scandalously insufficient.

Why had our parents given birth to so many of us?
They expected us to share, perhaps,
or they couldn’t imagine science failing in the end,
unsinkable science, the laboratory of miracles
where mice lived as quietly as they could.

Perhaps the sea would take us all finally,
perhaps the earth. Meanwhile
a tranquilizing waltz began
and we left the safety of our seats. The line of us,
that was really a circle, began to inch forward.

--Connie Wanek

Comb

This comb has been here since my son left home.
When I run my thumb across its teeth
it makes a rough hum.
Stamped in gold are these words:
GENUINE ACE HARD RUBBER.
That's not much to go on, and really,
I don't care whence it came,
what wind blew it in. What concerns me
is how long I should keep it,
whether he might ever need it, miss it,
whether he has any memory of its parting
his hair on one side, then the other,
as he stood exactly here
before the mirror in the morning light
untangling the night.

Everything Free

The lake and sky were quarreling along the horizon:
late September. Whose fault was that?
The birches unburdened themselves
of the thinnest leaves in memory.

Where an old man had lived alone in quiet squalor
the yard was filled with boxes
and a sign: EVERYTHING FREE.
He’d finally done as he’d promised;

he’d gone to Arizona to pan for gold.
People milled about, curious and disgusted,
and when every box had been overturned,
the shredded, chipped, tarnished, water-soaked, and smelly

goods determined to be irredeemable,
someone finally called the police.
The supply of clouds was inexhaustible, and the lake
had the sheen of titanium.

These were our riches.
There were gentler places to be poor.
People said he lived as he did because he was lazy
or lonely, but I believe

we all end up with what we really want.
Look around. You wanted this.
And I wanted one thing to remember him by
and took the sign.

--Connie Wanek

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Noel

When snow is shaken
From the balsam trees
And they're cut down
And brought into our houses

When clustered sparks
Of many-colored fire
Appear at night
In ordinary windows

We hear and sing
The customary carols

They bring us ragged miracles
And hay and candles
And flowering weeds of poetry
That are loved all the more
Because they are so common

But there are carols
That carry phrases
Of the haunting music
Of the other world
A music wild and dangerous
As a prophet's message

Or the fresh truth of children
Who though they come to us
From our own bodies
Are altogether new
With their small limbs
And birdlike voices

They look at us
With their clear eyes
And ask the piercing questions
God alone can answer.

--Anne Porter

The Mahogany Tree

Christmas is here;
Winds whistle shrill,
Icy and chill,
Little care we;
Little we fear
Weather without,
Shelter’d about
The Mahogany Tree.

Once on the boughs
Birds of rare plume
Sang, in its bloom;
Night birds are we;
Here we carouse,
Singing, like them,
Perch’d round the stem
Of the jolly old tree.

Here let us sport,
Boys, as we sit—
Laughter and wit
Flashing so free.
Life is but short—
When we are gone,
Let them sing on,
Round the old tree.

Evenings we knew,
Happy as this;
Faces we miss,
Pleasant to see.
Kind hearts and true,
Gentle and just,
Peace to your dust!
We sing round the tree.

Care, like a dun,
Lurks at the gate:
Let the dog wait;
Happy we ’ll be!
Drink every one;
Pile up the coals,
Fill the red bowls,
Round the old tree.

Drain we the cup.—
Friend, art afraid?
Spirits are laid
In the Red Sea.
Mantle it up;
Empty it yet;
Let us forget,
Round the old tree.

Sorrows, begone!
Life and its ills,
Duns and their bills,
Bid we to flee.
Come with the dawn,
Blue-devil sprite,
Leave us to-night,
Round the old tree.

--William Thackeray

The Mystic's Christmas

"All hail!" the bells of Christmas rang,
"All hail!" the monks at Christmas sang,
The merry monks who kept with cheer
The gladdest day of all their year.

But still apart, unmoved thereat,
A pious elder brother sat
Silent, in his accustomed place,
With God's sweet peace upon his face.

"Why sitt'st thou thus?" his brethren cried,
"It is the blessed Christmas-tide;
The Christmas lights are all aglow,
The sacred lilies bud and blow.

"Above our heads the joy-bells ring,
Without the happy children sing,
And all God's creatures hail the morn
On which the holy Christ was born.

"Rejoice with us; no more rebuke
Our gladness with thy quiet look."
The gray monk answered, "Keep, I pray,
Even as ye list, the Lord's birthday.

"Let heathen Yule fires flicker red
Where thronged refectory feasts are spread;
With mystery-play and masque and mime
And wait-songs speed the holy time!

"The blindest faith may haply save;
The Lord accepts the things we have;
And reverence, howsoe'er it strays,
May find at last the shining ways.

"They needs must grope who cannot see,
The blade before the ear must be;
As ye are feeling I have felt,
And where ye dwell I too have dwelt.

"But now, beyond the things of sense,
Beyond occasions and events,
I know, through God's exceeding grace,
Release from form and time and space.

"I listen, from no mortal tongue,
To hear the song the angels sung;
And wait within myself to know
The Christmas lilies bud and blow.

"The outward symbols disappear
From him whose inward sight is clear;
And small must be the choice of days
To him who fills them all with praise!

"Keep while you need it, brothers mine,
With honest seal your Christmas sign,
But judge not him who every morn
Feels in his heart the Lord Christ born!"

--John Greenleaf Whittier

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Talk

My body is
A little
Green sea.

Bears bathe
In it
Then go to

Sleep in the
Basement.
A four-wheeler

Slams past,
And then the
Sea splashes

Around and
Around.
O little sea,

O my body,
Sit here with me
While I just talk.

--Noelle Kocot

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Without having asked

"Sometimes there is a force of life like the spring which mysteriously takes shape without your even having asked it to take shape, and this is frightening, it is terribly frightening. ... Being a poet sometimes puts you at the mercy of life, and life is not always merciful." --James Wright

Friday, December 9, 2011

Faith

And into my doubt
the bells rang--

mourning doves and,
later, voices in song.

The dim breath
that left my body, the sliding

away of love,

scattered hairs
on the white sheets--

bodies are used
like weapons

it is what
they are meant for.

But the door, the door
is in the mind....

You can step out of
violence and into

sky.

There Are So Many Rooms in this House

In a dream I heard him say "egrets"

but as a verb, as in "sound egrets through space"

a mild soaring

*

In another dream, he corrects himself: what I mean to say

is egress,

pretty abandon

*

Some nights we recognize the latch in our hands
as something simple, like a daisy

other nights it is the reason we fail to love
or organize sound into the meat of our failure.

*

To hear yourself dreaming in someone else's
mouth--that is, a mind (your own, others) brought

to bear in blind, quiet garden. Lay here. Listen.
The throat of your voice on wings.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Writing:Running

"Like writing, running is so much about mind over matter. There are times when you have to override the discomfort and keep pushing. That capacity to endure and then prevail is just amazing." --Susan Orlean, author and New Yorker staff writer

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Poetry of Creatures

"I think that anything in our world now that slows us down is to be valued. And maybe is a gift and maybe even a calling from God."

Listen.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Chorus

The wet bamboo clacking in the night rain
crying in the darkness whimpering softly
as the hollow columns touch and slide
along each other swaying with the empty
air these are sounds from before there were voices
gestures older than grief from before there was
pain as we know it the impossibly tall
stems are reaching out groping and waving
before longing as we think of it or loss
as we are acquainted with it or feelings
able to recognize the syllables
that might be their own calling out to them
like names in the dark telling them nothing
about loss or about longing nothing
ever about all that has yet to answer

--W.S. Merwin

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Image of light

"For many years I would make a light in my heart while in meditation. I did variations on this, too. I would go and sit in the sunlight and imagine myself surrounded by sunlight... I made the image of light in my heart as an image of God's love. The only way I can describe what happened is that it stopped being an image. Something asserted itself through that image as if it were love." --Robert Corin Morris

Hard

"It's hard to be religious when certain people are never incinerated by bolts of lightning." --Bill Watterson

Simple

"God is a metaphor for that which transcends all levels of intellectual thought. It's as simple as that." --Joseph Campbell

In either case

"Sometimes I think we're alone. Sometimes I think we're not. In either case, the thought is staggering." --R. Buckminster Fuller

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Balance

Balance is noticed most when almost failed of-

in an elephant's delicate wavering
on her circus stool, for instance,
or that moment
when a ladder starts to tip but steadies back.

There are, too, its mysterious departures.

Hours after the dishes are washed and stacked,
a metal bowl clangs to the floor,
the weight of drying water all that altered;
a painting vertical for years
one morning-why?-requires a restoring tap.

You have felt it disappearing
from your own capricious heart-
a restlessness enters, the smallest leaning begins.

Already then inevitable,
the full collision,
the life you will describe afterwards always as "after."

--Jane Hirshfield

Moments as enough

"As a culture we're coming to face our spiritual poverty, which is an important first step, as it would be for any seeker. But we tend to look at religion the way we look at football--we want our side to win! Even atheists want science to win over God. I'm all for scientific atheism in the sense that it encourages people to question the egoistic content of religion, but we don't need to throw out God so much as we need a new concept of God: a concept that's free of myth, superstition, and fear, and that brings us into real presence with each other. When that happens, it transforms everything, at least for a moment." --Jacob Needleman

...and shorter still

"Human reason has this peculiar fate that in one species of its knowledge it is burdened by questions which, as prescribed by the very nature of reason itself, it is not able to ignore, but which, as transcending all its powers, it is also not able to answer." --Immanuel Kant

The mind falls short

"Why is it so difficult for us to accept total love and forgiveness? In the course of ordinary life we can find in ourselves a kind of acceptance of our flaws and peccadilloes, although that often involves some ignorance or denial of our bigger problems. But complete acceptance of the totality of our being is actually impossible at the level of our mind. It has to come from a higher level, from a consciousness that's both within us and far beyond us at the same time." --Jacob Needleman

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Drop Dead

You spat it out like venom
at your playground enemy
and it felt so good to say
Drop dead! Late in life

it becomes a sweet mercy
to imagine: one minute
you're treading the earth
as ever, the next you're gone!

No hospitals, MRIs, CAT scans,
surgery, no loved ones
standing around wondering
if you're still breathing

and what to do with you
in case you are. And though
I'll never be ready for you to go,
as long as it is your wish

to leave this way, it is mine.
And may it happen on a day
when you are singing with friends,
laughing at a joke, dancing

in your living room.
May it come to you before
you know it and you'll find
yourself flying, a balloon

cut loose, taking one last glance
at this fond world that you have loved.
Though it will feel so cold to us,
this world without you, still

with all my heart here is my wish
for you dear friend, mother,
kindred soul: when the time comes,
Drop dead!

--Tamara Madison

Simply Lit

Often toward evening,
after another day, after
another year of days,
in the half dark on the way home
I stop at the food store
and waiting in line I begin
to wonder about people—I wonder
if they also wonder about how
strange it is that we
are here on the earth.
And how in order to live
we all must sleep.
And how we have beds for this
(unless we are without)
and entire rooms where we go
at the end of the day to collapse.
And I think how even the most
lively people are desolate
when they are alone
because they too must sleep
and sooner or later die.
We are always looking to acquire
more food for more great meals.
We have to have great meals.
Isn't it enough to be a person buying
a carton of milk? A simple
package of butter and a loaf
of whole wheat bread?
Isn't it enough to stand here
while the sweet middle-aged cashier
rings up the purchases?
I look outside,
but I can't see much out there
because now it is dark except
for a single vermilion neon sign
floating above the gas station
like a miniature temple simply lit
against the night.

--Malena Morling

Monday, November 7, 2011

Dogs

Looking foolish next to the tree in a one o'clock rain:
umbrella aloft, the leash in my other hand—
I wanted my late-coming neighbor to understand
that dogs are worth the expense, inconvenience, and pain;

their tails are truthful, no coiled rebellion beneath
a loving look; they are quick to kiss you, and quick
to fetch for you, and should you raise a stick
threateningly—they are quick to show their teeth;

and better still (but this I never revealed),
when you bring downfall home, the death of a hope,
their nonchalant manner does more for you than a drink;
and best of all, when triumph's to be unsealed,
such lack of respect they show for the envelope,
—your fingers halt, the brain cools, and you think.

After Ritsos

You know that moment in the summer dusk
when the sunbathers have all gone home to mix drinks
and you are alone on the beach

when the waves begin to nibble
on the abandoned sand castles—
And further out, over the erupted face

of the water stained almost pink
there are a few clouds that hold
entire rooms inside of them—rooms where no one lives—

in the hair
of the light that soon will go
grey and then black. It is the moment

when even the man who mops the floor
in the execution room of the prison
stops to look up into the silence

that grows like smoke or the dusk itself.
And your mind becomes almost visible
and you know there is nothing

that is not mysterious. And that no moment
is less important than this moment.
And that imprisonment is not possible.

Skipping

A carburetor skips, and rocks
will skip along the surface of
a pond. A fugitive will skip
the country if he can, and crooks
will skip the payment of their debts.
And one can walk content or run
with joy across a summer field.
But why omitting steps is such
a sign of pleasure's hard to say,
as if the gap and shift, the quick
eliding interruption of
a stride, reflects the shiver jolt,
releasing dance; accentuates,
as heart is said to skip a beat,
the lift, arrhythmic, breathless gasp
and rush and reach of crossing first
one threshold then another in
the vivid hop from foot to foot,
the hurrying toward and with delight.

Monday, October 31, 2011

More than I have done

"I am in full possession of accumulated resources--I have only to use them, to insist, to persist, to do something more--to do much more--than I have done. The way to do it... is to strike as many notes, deep, full, and rapid as one can... Go on, my boy, and strike hard... Try everything, do everything, render everything--be an artist, be distinguished, to the last." --Henry James

Re: rejection

"This is an eventual--and for me, unforeseen--peril of getting published in the first place, and throws light on a paradox about the life of a writer: Whereas the private undertaking of our art requires us to cultivate high sensitivity--a dependably thin skin--the public art of producing and marketing that art requires a hide of bovine thickness." --M. Allen Cunningham

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Elia

"The real challenge is not simply to survive. Hell, anyone can do that. It's to survive as yourself, undiminished." --Elia Kazan

Continuation

"If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people." --Thich Nhat Hanh

No loss

"The great thing about getting older is that you don't lose all the other ages you've been." --Madeleine L'Engle

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Macaroni on a paper plate

It's the birthday of poet and essayist Robert Pinsky, born in Long Branch, New Jersey (1940), who said, "I grew up in a disorderly, unpredictable household, jangling alternations of comedy and history, insanity and idealism, doubt and head injury, music and anger, loss and wit." He's the author of 19 books, including his poetry collections Jersey Rain (2000), Samurai Song (2001), and Gulf Music: Poems (2007). Recent works include Thousands of Broadways: Dreams and Nightmares of the American Small Town (2009), a collection of essays; and Death and the Powers, a libretto for composer Tod Machover.

He's been asked many times how he got started as a poet, and has variously answered: "Imitating Yeats, Allen Ginsberg, Frost, Eliot"; "Reading the dictionary and daydreaming about the sounds of words when I was a kid"; "Liking entertaining people when playing the saxophone as a teenager." And another time: "Whatever makes a child want to glue macaroni on a paper plate and paint the assemblage and see it on the refrigerator — that has always been strong in me."

Bus Boy

O teenage bus boy of the summer dusk!
Lugging your gray tub of swill,
bathed in slop and ooze and bits of spaghetti
in the alley behind the Applebee's—
hate me if you will,

as I pass by in my tennis shorts and Obama t-shirt
with a vibrant, dark-haired woman,
on my way to watch game three
of the NBA finals at our local microbrewery.

Hate me, but you cannot know
that I once labored as you do now, at a Big Boy
in Riverside, California, elbow deep
in the very same lumpish goop and ooze.

Like you, I was of the slime of alleys,
of the same immemorial cigarette butts
and rotting cottage cheese.
And like you,

I dreamed of a certain waitress,
and of driving a fork into the forehead
of the night manager,
and of spitting in the soup
of plump, complacent, well-dressed diners
who snapped their fingers at me.

But most of all I dreamed of being clean,
and cool, and never, ever again
slogging through the world's filth and stink,

which is something I have achieved,
as must be perfectly obvious to you.

Prow

They pull at me, these ropes
wound around the ribs I can feel.

It's down to hacksaw or the end of me.
Those rung lowest I might wiggle off.

The tie on the top right has frayed;
I've bullied it with fingernails,

scaling knives, razor blades.
Its bone is tender, but it will go.

What is this ship I draw?
What are these hulls and sails,

ballast and crew besides?
Sever my salt-beaten cords; let me

plunge into the black, make home
among the wrecked and wonderful.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Get into an Unfamiliar Position and Write a Poem

I’m stationed under the kitchen table,
blankets draped, dropped sheer to floor.
Midday sun pricks the patterned holes
of a crocheted throw.

Here I seem to write in faster spurts,
observation I shelve for later consideration.
For now I’m drawn to this table’s underside,
its flawless presentation absent dust
or other indication of years spent put-upon.

When we’re little, nothing is let settle.
It’s how it always is beyond margins.
Nature uncharges the usual particles
and we explode unoccupied.

--me

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Beauty

When the medication she was taking
caused tiny vessels in her face to break,
leaving faint but permanent blue stitches in her cheeks,
my sister said she knew she would
never be beautiful again.

After all those years
of watching her reflection in the mirror,
sucking in her stomach and standing straight,
she said it was a relief,
being done with beauty,

but I could see her pause inside that moment
as the knowledge spread across her face
with a fine distress, sucking
the peach out of her lips,
making her cute nose seem, for the first time,
a little knobby.

I’m probably the only one in the whole world
who actually remembers the year in high school
she perfected the art
of being a dumb blond,

spending recess on the breezeway by the physics lab,
tossing her hair and laughing that canary trill
which was her specialty,

while some football player named Johnny
with a pained expression in his eyes
wrapped his thick finger over and over again
in the bedspring of one of those pale curls.

Or how she spent the next decade of her life
auditioning a series of tall men,
looking for just one with the kind
of attention span she could count on.

Then one day her time of prettiness
was over, done, finito,
and all those other beautiful women
in the magazines and on the streets
just kept on being beautiful
everywhere you looked,

walking in that kind of elegant, disinterested trance
in which you sense they always seem to have one hand
touching the secret place
that keeps their beauty safe,
inhaling and exhaling the perfume of it—

It was spring. Season when the young
buttercups and daisies climb up on the
mulched bodies of their forebears
to wave their flags in the parade.

My sister just stood still for thirty seconds,
amazed by what was happening,
then shrugged and tossed her shaggy head
as if she was throwing something out,

something she had carried a long ways,
but had no use for anymore,
now that it had no use for her.
That, too, was beautiful.

Well-established weakness

Beauty. (Tony Hoagland's "Dickhead")

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Diplomacy

If some geometer would just square
the circle, we might have it easier.
The new model, no longer impossible,
could help us factor all kinds of equations:
conversations with difficult relatives,
negotiations between pegs and holes.
Yes, we’d become better table setters—
actually use the china once in a while,
stop placing steak knives beside everything.

We might in time challenge other laws—
go with the easy flow of rivers,
shape-shift as sand across breakfast.

--me

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Trajectory

"Poetry begins in delight and ends in wisdom."

--Robert Frost

Will not stay still

Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still.

--from T.S. Eliot's "Burnt Norton"

Poetry's Inutility

I am dismayed when I hear questions about the utility of poetry. How do you use poetry, and what is it good for? This is odd. Poetry is song. No one asks, What use is song? What use are birds? Poetry has no use. It matters because of its inutility.

"Poetry is not a form of entertainment," wrote Brodsky, "and in a certain sense not even a form of art, but our anthropological, genetic goal, our linguistic, evolutionary beacon."

People go out of their way to ignore this beacon today, but they do so at their own peril. "By failing to listen or read to poets," Brodsky wrote in "An Immodest Proposal," "a society dooms itself to inferior modes of articulation--of the politician, or the salesman, or the charlatan--in short, to its own."

Monday, October 3, 2011

Polarity

Alone, I’m rarely happier
than when caught in the clutches
of a new poem. The world
concentrates, dilates,
and the infinite options
I’m afforded don’t paralyze
but mobilize, leaving me
dizzy and practical
with possibility.

--me

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Promiscuous

"Mixes easily," dictionaries
used to say, a straight shot from the Latin.
Chemists applied the term to matter's
amiability.

But the Random House Dictionary
(1980) gives as its prime meaning:
"characterized
by frequent and indiscriminate

changes of one's sexual partners." Sounds
like a long way
to say "slut," that glob of blame we once threw
equally at men and women, all who slurred,

slavered, slobbered,
slumped, slept or lapsed, slunk or relapsed, slackened
(loose lips sink ships) or slubbed, or slovened, But soon
a slut was female. A much-bedded male.

got called a ladies' man; he never slept
with sluts. How sluts
got to be sluts is thus a mystery,
except the language knows what we may

have forgot. "Depression" began its career
in English in 1656, says
the OED,
and meant (science jargon) the opposite

of elevation—a hole or a rut,
perhaps, or, later, "the angular
distance of a celestial object
below the horizon,"

as Webster's Third (1963)
has it. There's ample record of our self-
deceit: language,
the furious river, carries on its foamed

and sinewed back all we thought we'd shucked off.
Of course it's all
pell-mell, head over heels, snickers and grief,
love notes and libel, fire and ice. In short:

promiscuous.

--William Matthews

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Mother Carey's Hen

There are days I don’t think about the sea;
weeks wash by in fact,
then a shearwater—or some such—flutters by
on the salt flats fanning out in my mind’s eye,
reflected there, a shimmering reverie,
recalling the pact

I once made (and renew today) to hold
to a higher altitude.
But note the difference between this bird
and me: a slight disruption or harsh word
and I crash, folded seaward, letting cold
life intrude;

whereas the petrel, mindless of such height,
scales each watery hill
that rises up, adapting to the shape
of each impediment, each low escape
instinct in it, the scope of its flight
fitted to its will.

--David Yezzi in this fantastic collection

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Ducks

A pair of fat, iridescent ducks
struggling to lift
from the green-grey surface of a lake
upon the dentist's office wall
reminds you of the anywhere you'd rather be

as he keeps bringing you back
into the world of gravity
and shrill, bone-corroding drills,
making you pay for all those years
you wasted thinking about

things less real than tooth decay.
In the thin, fluorescent light the ducks
look like an endangered species,
with their heavy, satin bellies
slung low above the pointy waves--

but still, their plumage glows,
and you can see that this is the essential
confrontation--pain and beauty
braced against each other
like a pair of teeth,

a tug of war
in which the prize is you
and whether you will swallow or spit out
this contradictory life.

So you relax, lean back, and open wide,
letting science pave the inside of your mouth
with painkillers and gold.
But you keep looking at the ducks--

long necks outthrust, intent
on their ascent
towards some distant patch of sky
which won't exist
until they get to it.

Like you, they have a motive,
they have an opportunity.

(for Jack Myers)

--TH

Expensive Hotel

When the middle-class black family in the carpeted hall
passes the immigrant housekeeper from Belize, oh
that is an interesting moment. One pair of eyes is lowered.

That's how you know you are part
of a master race--when someone
humbles themselves without even having to be asked.

And in that moment trembling
from the stress of its creation,
we feel the illness underneath our skin--

the unquenchable wish to be thought well of
wilting and dying a little
while trying to squeeze by

the cart piled high with fresh towels and sheets,
small bars of soap and bottles
of bright green shampoo,

which are provided for guests to steal.

--TH

The Situation

When the pain was fresh,
for a while the problem got very clear

and the clarity constituted a kind of relief
as if the problem had withdrawn
to watch what you would do.

But after a while the clarity began to fade,
and three days later you couldn't have articulated
precisely what the problem was,

and three days after that you forgot
that there even was a problem,
and your old way of thinking resumed.

You're just a citizen
of your own familiarity
who can't remember himself in a different way.

You go along and every now and then
the path jumps out from under you.
And you have learned to expect this upheaval,

as much as that is possible.
One might say it is with a kind of fidelity
that you keep making your mistakes,

and then renewing them,
as if you were following a sign that says,

This Way to Freshness.

--TH

Plastic

One could probably explain the whole world in terms of Plastic: the plastic
used for almost everything--the little ivory forks at picnics
and green toy dinosaurs in playrooms everywhere;

the rooks and pawns of cheap $4.95 chess sets made in the People's
Republic of China

and those Tupperware containers that open with a perfect quiet pop
to yield the tuna fish sandwich
about to enter the mouth of the secretary on his lunch break.

You could talk about how the big molecules were bound in chains
by chemical reactions, then liquefied and poured like soup

into intricate factory molds
for toy soldiers and backscratchers, airsick bags and high-tech Teflon
roof racks;

you could mull over the ethics of enslaving matter
even while feeling admiration for the genius it takes

to persuade a molecule to become part of casserole container.

And what about plastic that has dear to you?
Personal plastic?
--the toothbrush and the flip-flops,

the hollow plastic Easter egg that held jellybeans inside,
the twelve-inch vinyl disk that in 1976 brought you Copacetic Brown and
the Attorneys of Cool?

Plastic companions into which the lonely heart was poured,
which gave it color and a shape?

--Or in another case, the blur polyethylene water bottle
sitting on a table in the park on Saturday

between two people having a talk about their relationship

--which I could tell was probably near its end
since the various lubrications
usually coating the human voice

were all worn away, leaving just the rough, gritty surfaces
of need and fear
exposed and rubbing on each other.

I wonder if it would have done any good then
if I had walked over and explained a few things to them

about Plastic?
About how it is so much easier to stretch than
human nature,

which accounts for some of the strain imposed on
the late 20th-century self,
occasionally causing what has been called Interpersonal Adhesive
Malfunction.

They might have been relieved to know
that science has a name
for their feelings at that precise moment of modern living,

which may be why each of them kept reaching out
to seize the plastic water bottle

and suck from it
in fierce little hydraulic gulps,

as if the water was helping them to wash down something hard to ingest;
or the bottle was a life vest keeping them afloat on open sea--

though their pink elastic lips, wrapped around the stem of the container
were so much more beautiful than plastic

and the smooth ripple
of their flexible muscular throats

made the only sound audible
above the tough, indifferent silence
starting to stretch over everything.

--TH

Hard Rain

After I heard It’s a Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall
played softly by an accordion quartet
through the ceiling speakers at the Springdale Shopping Mall,
I understood there’s nothing
we can’t pluck the stinger from,

nothing we can’t turn into a soft drink flavor or a t-shirt.
Even serenity can become something horrible
if you make a commercial about it
using smiling, white-haired people

quoting Thoreau to sell retirement homes
in the Everglades, where the swamp has been
drained and bulldozed into a nineteen-hole golf course
with electrified alligator barriers.

You can’t keep beating yourself up, Billy
I heard the therapist say on television
to the teenage murderer,
About all those people you killed—
You just have to be the best person you can be,

one day at a time—

and everybody in the audience claps and weeps a little,
because the level of deep feeling has been touched,
and they want to believe that
the power of Forgiveness is greater
than the power of Consequence, or History.

Dear Abby:
My father is a businessman who travels.
Each time he returns from one of his trips,
his shoes and trousers
are covered with blood-
but he never forgets to bring me a nice present;
Should I say something?
Signed, America.

I used to think I was not part of this,
that I could mind my own business and get along,

but that was just another song
that had been taught to me since birth—

whose words I was humming under my breath,
as I was walking through the Springdale Mall.

--Tony Hoagland here

Food Court

If you want to talk about America, why not just mention
Jimmy’s Wok and Roll American-Chinese Gourmet Emporium?—
the cloud of steam rising from the bean sprouts and shredded cabbage

when the oil is sprayed on from a giant plastic bottle
wielded by Ramon, Jimmy’s main employee,
who hates having to wear the sanitary hair net

and who thinks the food smells shitty?
And the secretaries from the law firm
drifting in from work at noon
to fill the tables of the foodcourt,
in their cotton skirts and oddly sexy running shoes?

Why not mention the little grove of palm trees
maintained by the mall corporation
and the splashing fountain beside it

and the faint smell of dope-smoke drifting from the men’s room
where two boys from the suburbs
dropped off by their moms

with their baggy ghetto pants and skateboards
are getting ready to pronounce their first sentences
in African-American?

Oh yes, everything
all chopped up and stirred together
in the big steel pan
held over a medium-high blue flame

while Jimmy watches
with his practical black eyes.

--Tony Hoagland here

Safeway

Even after an hour in her room
with eye shadow and rouge,
moisture whip, lip gloss, and perfume
my mother still looked like she was dying

unexotically,
still looked like a person
trying to impersonate a person
going somewhere other than the grave,

though she was only going to the store,
after weeks of living
horizontally
while her blood was scoured by detergents
bleached by blasts of subatomic light.

Riding on her bony little head,
the glossy auburn wig
looked like something stolen,
the lame hip pulled her to one side
like the stuck wheel of the shopping cart we pushed

past pyramids of fruit,
down mile long corridors of breakfast food
where cartoon animals shot sugar stars
over an infinity of bowls,

--a landscape which seemed,
in the brightness and abundance of its goods,
like somebody’s idea
of paradise--

and the bright, continual ringing of the registers
was like the sound of happiness
for sale.

I was angry, dutiful, and seventeen,
afraid she was going to read her obituary
in the faces of the shoppers;

frightened they would stop and stare
at the black cloud hovering above our heads
as we moved slow as history
up and down the aisles.

Maybe months of sickness had burned away my mother’s shame
and left in her dry mouth
a taste for irony, maybe she wanted
to show the populace

what death looked like in person
or maybe it was simply her last chance
to make small talk with the neighbors
who stopped to say hello--

Mrs. Johnson, Mrs. Green,
whose kindness I imagined, then despised,
caught awkwardly among them as I was,
between the living and the dead.

But looking back across the years,
the scene looks different to me now. I see
a little group of people, halted
in the midst of life,
their carts jammed up
against the lettuce and the tangerines.

There is no gallows standing there,
no spectral executioner fingering his blade.

And I seem sweet at seventeen, innocent
even in my rage--
trying to protect
what didn’t need protecting
from what couldn’t be saved.

--Tony Hoagland here

Emigration

Try being sick for a year,
then having that year turn into two,
until the memory of your health is like an island
going out of sight behind you

and you sail on in twilight.
with the sound of waves.
It's not a dream. You pass
through waiting rooms and clinics

until the very sky seems pharmaceutical,
and the faces of the doctors are your stars
whose smile or frown
means to hurry and get well

or die.
And because illness feels like punishment,
an enormous effort to be good
comes out of you--
like the good behavior of a child

desperate to appease
the invisible parents of this world.
And when that fails,
there is an orb of anger

rising like the sun above
the mind afraid of death,
and then a lake of grief, staining everything below,
and then a holding action of neurotic vigilance

and then a recitation of the history
of second chances.
And the illusions keep on coming.
and fading out, and coming on again

while your skin turns yellow from the medicine.
your ankles swell like dough above your shoes,
and you stop wanting to make love
because there is no love in you,

only a desire to be done.
But you're not done.
Your bags are packed
and you are travelling.

--Tony Hoagland here

Second Nature

I must be enjoying my sixth of seventh life by now,
watching the orange, early morning sun
gleam thickly through the fabric of an evergreen

as the smoke churns dark and sap-like up,
then wafts away from the chimneyspout.
In the past , when I heard people talk about

how a place becomes a part of you,
I always thought that they were being metaphorical,
but right now I can feel this orange and tender light

taking a position inside of me--
painting a stripe of phosphorescent,
pumpkin-colored warmth along one wall

of the inside of my skull. I can feel
the washed-out scarlet of these winter fields
becoming an ingredient

of my personality,
the way that in the noisy urban center
of every molecule of chlorophyll,

one atom of magnesium resides,
as quiet and essential as a church.
Seated in appreciation of this calm,

in the easy chair of my appreciation,
I have a view of what has brought me here--
not just the landscapes I’ve survived,

not just the blind motion of the waves,
but what I grasped and made a part of what I am--
a second nature, scavenged from those things

I chose to love or fear.
There was a sycamore in Arizona I cared
enough about to take into my heart, and now

I hear the wind moving through its branches
just below my clavicle. There was a kiss
that changed the history of my mouth--kiss

that was a courtship, marriage and divorce
sandwiched in the thirty-second intersection
of her lips and mine. When I look

at all the odds and ends I’m made of,
I think some kind of
irrationally-proportioned

Frankenstein,
on pilgrimage to god knows where,
humming a song as he lumbers through the forest

of the middle of his life.
His left eye still remembers
a sunset that it saw in 1964; his right

beholds the snow upon a branch
with so much childish love
it threatens continually to break

the rockpile of his heart.
But he keeps going on,
half-thrilled and half-appalled

by his own strangeness--wondering what god
he could be fashioned in the image of?
What handiwork of what mad scientist?

--Tony Hoagland here

Oh Mercy

Only the billionth person
to glance up at the moon tonight
which looks bald, high-browed and professorial to me,

the kind of face I always shook my fist at
when I was seventeen
and every stopsign was a figure of authority

that had it in for me
and every bottle of cold beer
had a little picture of my father on the label

for smashing down in parking lots
at 2 AM, when things devolved
into the dance of who was craziest.

That year, if we could have reached the moon,
if we could have shoplifted the paint and telescoping ladders,
we would have scribbled FUCK YOU

on its massive yellow cheek,
thrilled about the opportunity
to offend three billion people

in a single night.
But the moon stayed out of reach,
imperturbable, polite.

It kept on varnishing the seas,
overseeing the development of grapes in Italy,
putting the midwest to bed

in white pajamas.
It's seen my kind
a million times before

upon this parapet of loneliness and fear
and how we come around in time
to lifting up our heads,

looking for the kindness
that would make revenge unnecessary.

--Tony Hoagland* here (Isn't that a great cover?)

*TH is totally my current fav poet.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Reluctance

Out through the fields and the woods
And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
And looked at the world and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
And lo, it is ended.

The leaves are all dead on the ground,
Save those that the oak is keeping
To ravel them one by one
And let them go scraping and creeping
Out over the crusted snow,
When others are sleeping.

And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
No longer blown hither and thither;
The last lone aster is gone;
The flowers of the witch-hazel wither;
The heart is still aching to seek,
But the feet question 'Whither?'

Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,

And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?

--Robert Frost here

The Word

Down near the bottom
of the crossed-out list
of things you have to do today,

between "green thread"
and "broccoli," you find
that you have penciled "sunlight."

Resting on the page, the word
is beautiful. It touches you
as if you had a friend

and sunlight were a present
he had sent from someplace distant
as this morning--to cheer you up,

and to remind you that,
among your duties, pleasure
is a thing

that also needs accomplishing.
Do you remember?
that time and light are kinds

of love, and love
is no less practical
than a coffee grinder

or a safe spare tire?
Tomorrow you may be utterly
without a clue,

but today you get a telegram
from the heart in exile,
proclaiming that the kingdom

still exists,
the king and queen alive,
still speaking to their children,

--to any one among them
who can find the time
to sit out in the sun and listen.

--Tony Hoagland* here

*God I love this poet.

Heaven

It will be the past
and we'll live there together.

Not as it was to live
but as it is remembered.

It will be the past.
We'll all go back together.

Everyone we ever loved,
and lost, and must remember.

It will be the past.
And it will last forever.

--Patrick Phillips here

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Sun = source of infinitely quotable quotes

"We've arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements ... profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces." --Carl Sagan

"The notion of saving the planet has nothing to do with intellectual honesty or science. The fact is that the planet was here long before us and will be here long after us. The planet is running fine. What people are talking about is saving themselves and saving their cash flow." --Lynn Margulis

"It may be necessary temporarily to accept a lesser evil, but one must never label a necessary evil as good." --Margaret Mead

"God isn't interested in technology. He cares nothing for the microchip or the silicon revolution. Look how he spends his time: Forty-three species of parrots! Nipples for men!" --Evil, in the movie Time Bandits

Friday, September 9, 2011

Quatrain 511

The clear bead at the center changes everything.
There are no edges to my loving now.

I've heard it said there's a window that opens
from one mind to another,

but if there's no wall, there's no need
for fitting the window, or the latch.

--Rumi

Good Morning, Crisis

To see the feather on the filthy mat beneath the gas pedal is infinite sadness.
No more opposite a place for a feather to be, no worse way
for it to get there than how it must have come,
on the bottom of a shoe.
I'd like to think it floated through a window like some answered prayer,
but it's winter and the windows haven't been open in months.
I keep holding my hands to the heater as if waiting for someone
to throw me a ball I'm supposed to catch.
When I see the steam rise from a cup of tea, I imagine the souls of the leaves
have been released.
No earthly reason to feel lonely for feathers, each bird having so many.
One can go unmissed. And yet I think of my wife's finches, how naked they looked
when they hatched. They came out of their eggs and for weeks did nothing
but open their mouths to the sky.

--Eric Anderson here*

*Blogger's not letting me format as intended/originally published. Boo.

Please Don't

tell the flowers — they think
the sun loves them.
The grass is under the same
simple-minded impression

about the rain, the fog, the dew
— and when the wind blows,
it feels so good
they lose control of themselves

and swobtoggle wildly
around, bumping accidentally into their
slender neighbors.
Forgetful little lotus-eaters,

solar-powered
hydroholics, drawing nourishment up
through stems into their
thin green skin,

high on the expensive
chemistry of mitochondrial explosion,
believing that the dirt
loves them, the night, the stars —

reaching down a little deeper
with their pale albino roots,
all dizzy
Gillespie with the utter
sufficiency of everything

— they don’t imagine lawn
mowers, the four stomachs
of the cow, or human beings with boots
who stop to marvel

at their exquisite
flexibility and color.
They persist in their softheaded

hallucination of happiness.
But please don’t mention it.
Not yet. So what

if they are wrong? So what
if you are right?

--Tony Hoagland here

At Night, in November, Trying Not to Think of Asphodel

I’m no use for parties, for the idle language
which is all how hellish are the days
and dark or where did I find
that thread count or what do I think must be
done about et cetera. So I smile
and nod and never say much,
happy to be thought impaired
or mute and when asked
to name what I couldn’t live without
were I marooned on a desert island,
I say viable organs. Not a book and its pages
slipping from cheap binding
and not an album
that’s not an album
but summer’s totem forever
and not one deft lover
and not the red ringlets
of her hair let down in a grotto beside the sea.
To be consigned there,
to that island, that home
to the fetish of consolation,
is nothing I ever want
to want. To be stripped of desire
as if it were a bandage.
But here in the night made of alarms,
a train shambles
through the dark
and it’s hard to hear the trees speaking
the language we made
for them. Or I did,
thinking of you
who taught me regret.
There are nights when I dream
of stolen oranges.
How we ran away with the sun in our arms.
And there are nights
when I can’t speak,
not even to the wind
in the strange tongue of the dark pine trees.

--Paul Guest here

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Conscience Ambassador

"Contrary to a generally held view, poetry is a very powerful tool because poetry is the conscience of a society. [...] No individual poem can stop a war — that's what diplomacy is supposed to do. But poetry is an independent ambassador for conscience: It answers to no one, it crosses borders without a passport, and it speaks the truth. That's why ... it is one of the most powerful of the arts." —Ellen Hinsey in a 2003 interview w/ Poetry

Friday, September 2, 2011

Piano

Her wattled fingers can’t
stroke the keys with much
grace or assurance anymore,
and the tempo is always
rubato, halting, but still
that sound—notes quivering
and clear in their singularity,
filing down the hallway—
aches with pure intention, the
melody somehow prettier
as a remnant than
whatever it used to be.

--Dan Howell here

Draw Near

προσέλθετε

For near is where you’ll meet what you have wandered
far to find. And near is where you’ll very likely see
how far the near obtains. In the dark katholikon
the lighted candles lent their gold to give the eye
a more than common sense of what lay flickering
just beyond the ken, and lent the mind a likely
swoon just shy of apprehension. It was then
that time’s neat artifice fell in and made for us
a figure for when time would slip free altogether.
I have no sense of what this means to you, so little
sense of what to make of it myself, save one lit glimpse
of how we live and move, a more expansive sense in Whom.

--Scott Cairns here

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Support the Troops!

I'm sorry I will not be able to support any soldiers
at this time. I have a family and a house with slanting floors.

There is a merciless dampness in the basement,
a broken toilet, and several of the windows are painted shut.

I do not pretend my dread is anything like the dread
of men at war. Had I smaller feet, I would have gladly enlisted

myself. In fact, I come from a long line of military men.
My grandfather died heroically in 1965, though his medals have been

lost. I try to serve my country by killing houseflies. I am fully
aware of their usefulness, especially in matters of decay.
Napoleon's surgeon general, Baron Dominique Larrey,

reported during France's 1829 campaign
in Syria that certain species of fly only consumed

what was already dead and had a generally positive effect on wounds.
I bet when my grandfather was found,

his corpse shimmered in maggots, free of disease. As you can
tell, I know a little something about civilization.

I realize that when you said "Freedom," you were talking
about the meat we kill for, the head of the enemy leaking

in the bushes, how all of it makes peace possible.
Without firearms I know most violence would be impractical.

I thank you, nonetheless, for mentioning how soldiers
exist to defend my way of life. I am sure

any one of them would be an excellent guardian of my
house. I admit I have no capacity for rifles or gadgetry.

I cannot use rulers accurately. I realize
the common fly, like the soldier, is what makes us civilized.

And I admit my awe looking on the marine with a talent
for making the eagle tattooed across his back rear its talons.

I realize were it not for the sacrifices of these young boys,
America would no longer have its source

of power. I have given considerable thought to your
offer, but I simply am unable to offer my support.

--Terrance Hayes, also here

God is an American

I still love words. When we make love in the morning,
your skin damp from a shower, the day calms.
Shadenfreude may be the best way to name the covering
of adulthood, the powdered sugar on a black shirt. I am

alone now on the top floor pulled by obsession, the ink
on my fingers. And sometimes it is a difficult name.
Sometimes it is like the world before America, the kin-
ship of fools and hunters, the children, the dazed dream

of mothers with no style. A word can be the boot print
in a square of fresh cement and the glaze of morning.
Your response to my kiss is I have a cavity. I am in
love with incompletion. I am clinging to your moorings.

Yes, I have a pretty good idea what beauty is. It survives
alright. It aches like an open book. It makes it difficult to live.

--Terrance Hayes here

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Calling Disciples Man

At cocktail parties, perhaps because
his tie usually matched his socks, the man
would often find himself trapped
by tellers of insidious tales,
unsewn and waiting for the flesh
of coherence that never forms.
How, the man's shaking head wondered,
could these fragments lava forth
from contented lips on such flushed
and pitied faces, until he could no longer say
"O my" again. Like any other mantra'd thing,
this one too dimmed from meaning.
And so the man, incapable at last of mercy
for the boring who never get bored,
hobbled to the restroom mirror
and was startled to see his left eyelid
close by itself, without another muscle moving
on this cleaved face, and was rewarded
in his calm when he could do this again
and again, with one eye then the other,
petal gentle, each lid catching a leaf's breeze,
and the two pages of his face now seemed
spined by a new way to escape the fervent
familiars. He ventured out, armed
with his new mitosis, to corner
those who cornered and stare
into their sponging rant. At the right moment
the man closed one eye,
then the other, and the words stopped
and watched to see if the man's eyes took
their freedom seriously, their minds now
the baskets of a secret they were
unsure of deeply wanting.

--Ricardo Pau-Llosa, also here

Axioms

We are parallel lines, an exponential bloom
where Zeno predicted your retreat;

and where I come through a, you come through b
--the two of us watching unyielding axioms

fill the space between us. One geometry says
we will meet, but each time I bend, you bend

toward a point beyond my reach. I want you
to be where I am, or I want to be where you are.

But a single truth has fixed us here,
and you are further for it.

--Barbara Perez here

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Without a Map

Because we could and no one stopped us
we rode to the top of the glittering world
bright and awake in that hotel lobby at 4 a.m.
to see what it looked like

and you said we could live like this
following one vague notion to the next
to see where we ended up
and for years we did

--Melissa Tuckey here

Monday, August 22, 2011

Wedders

Loved our photographer's sweet job and thought I'd share a sampling...



















Thursday, August 18, 2011

My Name

Once when the lawn was a golden green
and the marbled moonlit trees rose like fresh memorials
in the scented air, and the whole countryside pulsed
with the chirr and murmur of insects, I lay in the grass,
feeling the great distances open above me, and wondered
what I would become and where I would find myself,
and though I barely existed, I felt for an instant
that the vast star-clustered sky was mine, and I heard
my name as if for the first time, heard it the way
one hears the wind or the rain, but faint and far off
as though it belonged not to me but to the silence
from which it had come and to which it would go.

--Mark Strand

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Escape

The actions then become habits because we do them again and again because they were successful—we made it through the anxiety. —Nancy Elder, MD

A dark-haired woman sits on the subway
with the paper, brushing methodically,

almost furiously, with braid’s fringed end,
that hopeful space between nose and mouth.

I look on, entranced, and imagine she’s painting
a dream set away from the grit and grime

of cities, though still the energy: now in waterfalls,
sunsets, and wind-whipped tops of evergreens

reflected in a perfectly smooth lake—
pool of calm tirelessly sought.

I wonder if anyone has ever watched me, mine—
thumbnails probing, gentle yet persistent,

the beds of neighboring fingers—
imagining a garden tended, soil lovingly tapped.

--me

Friday, August 12, 2011

Unpacking the Boxes

Eventually, I no longer demanded that my poems explain themselves before they got written; I learned to trust the impetus, to ride the wave. The wave was feeling, expressed largely in long vowels. I worked by accepting an image compelled by rhythm and sound--without requiring that it explain its purpose.

*

Everyone who loves teaching has the same experience: Someone asks a question; it's something you never thought of, but the moment you hear the question you know that answer. Ninety percent of what you say is something you didn't know until you said it. ... I taught best when I did not prepare a lecture but trusted the flow of the moment. I read aloud to the students with excitement, and improvised explanations for my pleasure. I counted on my passion for the work, stimulated by the presence of the listening faces in front of me. Then I answered questions. If once in two years the enthusiasm did not flow, I would cancel class. My gift to students was not information but demonstration of engagement.

*

Eventually, the writing is not only for the writer's sake. A poem is nothing if it is not beautiful, a work of art that please the senses and resolves manyness into a whole shape. But a poem may be soul-comfort as well as body-comfort. ... The beauty of art is not only a first (albeit ineluctable) requirement. Poems may comfort the afflicted--by their beauty of sound, by humor, by intelligence or wisdom, by the pleasures of resolution, by exact rendering of emotion, and by the embrace of common feeling.

--Donald Hall, Unpacking the Boxes

Dream+action

Read a great, resonant interview this morning. Love Barasch's profound respect for dreams/our dreaming selves. Some lines that jumped out--

Dreams have certainly shown me that I am part of a greater universal wisdom. We all are. Jung referred to the capital-S Self." Dreams show us the refractions of that Self. There is a line from James Joyce: "We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love. But always meeting ourselves."

*

Dreams use a lot of hyperbole. ... they are like ancient Greek plays: the characters wear big costumes to make sure we see them. But if we are willing to find the truth in those exaggerations, our lives open up. We become more authentic and less the product of social constructs.

*

Sometimes dreams provide us with a way to accept something that is truly part of our life, though it may be difficult or painful. I am thinking of a woman who had been married for a long time and was considering leaving her partner. She had a dream in which her husband knew that she wanted to leave and offered her one last gift: a magnificent flowering pink dogwood tree whose branches spread throughout her entire kitchen. This woman loved dogwoods and woke from that dream knowing that, despite how her husband might seem on the outside, he had something lovely in his soul. She did stay with him, and her husband slowly began to open up. Transformation in her case was not about changing her life, but rather changing her perception.


Go, dreams!

Last night I was stirred deeply by my dreams, such that waking up felt nearly impossible. Just so caught up. One of them had me interacting, on great terms, with a girl I went to high school with--someone who, both then and now via good ol' Facebook--had/has the tendency to annoy me for reasons that aren't entirely clear. (Definitely something there to work through--just not yet sure what it is.) Anyhow, what I took from this dream was so positive and encouraging and uniting that I decided to act on it, reaching out, albeit in a very small way, to this woman in my waking life. Felt good! And man was it easy.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

And here are the readings we included :)

Habitation
Margaret Atwood

Marriage is not
a house, or even a tent

It is before that, and colder:

the edge of the forest, the edge
of the desert
the unpainted stairs
at the back, where we squat
outdoors, eating popcorn
where painfully and with wonder
at having survived
this far

we are learning to make fire.

--

Our Masterpiece Is the Private Life
Mark Strand

For Jules

I

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?

II

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.

III

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...

--

Love Songs in Late May
Ursula K. Le Guin

May 23

I have seen material light. It whirled
in beauty, entering and leaving
one of the caves of the sun.
The sun-cave brightens going in, hottens,
could consume the maker's hand
like a feather, leave a whiff of ash.
I watched the maker's delicate long hands
quick turning, smoothing, soothing
incandescence, watched her breathe
into the molten mass and saw
her breath turn into light.
Colors took place in air, and were.
She cut the new thing free and let it rest,
and shut the doors of the amazing cave
where salt dunes turn transparent
to see the sun through.
This love song is to the breath of the maker
and the hands of the maker of light.

--

O my Lord! O my Lord! These two bright orbs are wedded in Thy love, conjoined in servitude to Thy Holy Threshold, united in ministering to thy Cause. Make Thou this marriage to be as threading lights of Thine abounding grace, O my Lord, the All-Merciful, and luminous rays of Thy bestowals, O Thou the Beneficent, the Ever-Giving, that there may branch out from this great tree boughs that will grow green and flourishing through the gifts that rain down from Thy clouds of grace.

Verily, Thou art the Generous. Verily, Thou art the Compassionate, the All-Merciful. --‘Abdu’l-Bahá

--

"Our world is suffused with beauty. There are landscapes, oceans, paintings, and music whose beauty awakens in our hearts a sense of the eternal. Yet nowhere do we feel so deeply encountered as we do in the presence of another human being. There is something in another human presence that is equal to our longing and soul. The human heart is a theater of longing. One of our deepest longings is to find love and friendship. In the Celtic tradition there was the beautiful notion of the Anam-Cara. Anam is the Irish word for 'soul' and Cara is the word for 'friend.' In the Anam-Cara friendship, you were joined in an ancient way with the friend of your soul. This was a bond that neither space nor time could damage. The friendship awakened an eternal echo in the hearts of the friends; they entered into a circle of intimate belonging with each other. The Anam-Cara friendship afforded a spiritual space to all the other longings of the human heart." --John O'Donohue

I'm a wife!

Still an Elde, but, as of last Saturday, I am one with the Sylvester family as well. The weekend was sublime, affirming, and full of love and support, and before taking off for my & my love's brief honeymoon stint out in Montauk, I thought I'd acknowledge it in this here blog. Figured I'd also share how our ceremony, with my lovely and amazing friend Amy F. at the helm as our officiant, more or less unfolded. Here 'tis:

On behalf of Kristen and Ray, I'd like to welcome you and thank you for being here on this happy day.

Kristen and Ray, I think I speak for everyone present when I say we are honored to be here to share in your wedding and we thank you for including us.

The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote of marriage, "For one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation.”

Rilke wrote this about marriage between two people specifically, but I see room for all of us here, present today, to be included.

We, all of us, love Kristen and Ray. We are their family, their friends, their friends as family. We are all pieces that blend together to enhance who they are, just as they are integral parts of each of us. We are their Seattle selves, their DC selves, their New York City selves, and their Massachusetts selves. And today, through the beauty of their love for one another, we have been entrusted by them to come together, meet or re-meet, laugh and share stories, eat and drink, sing and dance and be present for, as Rilke says, the ultimate task, what Kristen and Ray have been working a lifetime in preparation for--their marriage, their expression of deep love and commitment.

As Rilke continued, "The point of marriage is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries. On the contrary, a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his or her solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust. Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.”

As I sat with Kristen and Ray to talk about the details of today, as I listened to their thoughts about marriage and love, as I watched them negotiate and navigate even the smallest of ideas, as I read their vows and began to find a deeper understanding of who they are as two people in love, I myself began to see their immense sky and all the possibilities that exist for them.

They speak to one another with care and appreciation. They trust in the importance of shared decision-making while honoring their own desires and self-worth. They laugh and touch and smile in adoration. Over the course of their relationship, they have valued openness and honesty, patience and devotion, both when the experiences were joyful and exhilarating and when they were painful and scary. They have guarded one another's solitude and allowed for their own timing, trusting in the moment. Kristen and Ray have already succeeded in loving the expanse between them, keeping it spacious and breezy and full of fresh air, cultivating that immense sky in which beauty and love can’t help but flourish.

We are witness to their guardianship of one another and the nourishing of their open sky. You were invited today because Kristen and Ray have always valued your support and encouragement. You have added beauty to their lives and, for that, you are their beloved guests. Kristen and Ray ask that you acknowledge your faith in them--as individuals, as guardians of one another, and as a married couple. Do you, honored guests, join me in recognizing and supporting the marriage of Kristen and Ray? [We do.]

Thank you.

The Irish poet, philosopher, and scholar John O’Donohue has written of the notion of Anam-Cara, part of the Celtic tradition and representative of the circle of belonging of which we’re all a part. I would like to ask Ray’s best man, Owen, to share some of O’Donohue’s words.

[Owen reads O’Donohue quote.]

Thank you, Owen.

As we gather today in this lush backyard, we’re easily reminded of the beauty and sacredness of nature, and its ability to inspire in us joy, calm, and thankfulness. In this vein, Kristen’s and Ray’s friend Tim will read a poem by Ursula Le Guin that reminds us of the wonder of creation, and the awe it can evoke regardless of one’s beliefs about its origin or its meaning.

[Tim reads Le Guin poem.]

Thanks, Tim.

Ray’s sister, Layli, will now share a marriage prayer from the writings of the Baha’i Faith. Although neither Kristen nor Ray professes a particular religion, Ray’s mother, father, sister, and grandmother are all Baha’i, and the Baha’i Faith was a formative element in Ray’s life. This prayer, in a way not entirely dissimilar from the poem we just heard, draws on the imagery of light to express the beauty and capacity for growth latent in the loving connection that Kristen and Ray share and nurture.

Thank you, Layli.

Many authors and philosophers have offered an interpretation of marriage--what it is or may be, what it can or should provide for those who have embraced this sacred bond. In the succinct and poignant poem “Habitation,” the writer Margaret Atwood suggests that marriage is both a haven and a space for growth, a place of learning and of warmth. I’d like to now ask Ray’s and Kristen’s friend Laila to share this piece with us.

Thank you, Laila.

Poet Mark Strand has described the private life of two soulmates as a true “masterpiece” of existence, underscoring the depth and meaning that true partnership can confer, through both the joys and the sorrows that two people may experience in their shared life. Kristen’s maid of honor, Erin, will now read this poem.

Thank you, Erin. And thank you, all, for those lovely readings.

VOWS

Kristen and Ray have prepared their own vows that they would like to share with each other in the company of all of you today. Kristen, will you now share your vows with Ray? [Yes.]

[Kristen’s vows]

And Ray, will you now share your vows with Kristen? [Yes.]

[Ray’s vows]

Now that you have shared these vows with one another, I ask that you confirm your commitment to one another:

Do you, Kristen, take Ray to be your husband from this day forward; do you promise to be faithful and honest, to be brave and kind, and to help him grow with compassion and awareness?

[Kristen: I do.]

And do you, Ray, take Kristen to be your wife from this day forward; do you promise to be faithful and honest, to be brave and kind, and to help her grow with compassion and awareness?

[Ray: I do.]

EXCHANGE OF RINGS

Kristen and Ray, I now ask that you seal this commitment that you have made by exchanging rings. Owen, may we have the rings?

[Owen hands the rings (on pillow) to Amy. Amy removes rings from pillow and hands Ray’s ring to Kristen, and Kristen’s ring to Ray.]

Kristen, please place the ring on Ray’s finger and repeat after me: This ring is a token of my love. I marry you with this ring, with all that I have and all that I am.

[Kristen repeats]

Ray, please place the ring on Kristen’s finger and repeat after me: This ring is a token of my love. I marry you with this ring, with all that I have and all that I am.

[Ray repeats]

By the power vested in me by the state of Massachusetts, I now pronounce you husband and wife. Please feel free to begin smooching.

SMOOCHING