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, 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