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.
In your next letter I wish you'd say where you are going and what you are doing; how are the plays, and after the plays what other pleasures you're pursuing: taking cabs in the middle of the night, driving as if to save your soul where the road goes round and round the park and the meter glares like a moral owl, and the trees look so queer and green standing alone in big black caves and suddenly you're in a different place where everything seems to happen in waves, and most of the jokes you just can't catch, like dirty words rubbed off a slate, and the songs are loud but somehow dim and it gets so terribly late, and coming out of the brownstone house to the gray sidewalk, the watered street, one side of the buildings rises with the sun like a glistening field of wheat. —Wheat, not oats, dear. I'm afraid if it's wheat it's none of your sowing, nevertheless I'd like to know what you are doing and where you are going. —Elizabeth Bishop
Cell by cell the baby made herself, the cells Made cells. That is to say The baby is made largely of milk. Lying in her father's arms, the little seed eyes Moving, trying to see, smiling for us To see, she will make a household To her need of these rooms--Sara, little seed, Little violent, diligent seed. Come let us look at the world Glittering: this seed will speak, Max, words! There will be no other words in the world But those our children speak. What will she make of a world Do you suppose, Max, of which she is made. --George Oppen
Perhaps the purpose of leaves is to conceal the verticality of trees which we notice in December as if for the first time: row after row of dark forms yearning upwards. And since we will be horizontal ourselves for so long, let us now honor the gods of the vertical: stalks of wheat which to the ant must seem as high as these trees do to us, silos and telephone poles, stalagmites and skyscrapers. But most of all these winter oaks, these soft-fleshed poplars, this birch whose bark is like roughened skin against which I lean my chilled head, not ready to lie down. --Linda Pastan
Leave the dishes. Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor. Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster. Throw the cracked bowl out and don't patch the cup. Don't patch anything. Don't mend. Buy safety pins. Don't even sew on a button. Let the wind have its way, then the earth that invades as dust and then the dead foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch. Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome. Don't keep all the pieces of the puzzles or the doll's tiny shoes in pairs, don't worry who uses whose toothbrush or if anything matches, at all. Except one word to another. Or a thought. Pursue the authentic—decide first what is authentic, then go after it with all your heart. Your heart, that place you don't even think of cleaning out. That closet stuffed with savage mementos. Don't sort the paper clips from screws from saved baby teeth or worry if we're all eating cereal for dinner again. Don't answer the telephone, ever, or weep over anything at all that breaks. Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life and talk to the dead who drift in through the screened windows, who collect patiently on the tops of food jars and books. Recycle the mail, don't read it, don't read anything except what destroys the insulation between yourself and your experience or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters this ruse you call necessity. --Louis Erdrich
The snow is falling in three directions at once against the sienna brick of the houses across, but the storm is mild, the light even, the erratic wind not harsh, and, tolling ten o'clock, the usually undistinguished bells of the Sixth Street cathedral assume an authoritative dignity, remarking with ponderous self-consciousness the holy singularities of this now uncommon day. How much the pleasant sense, in our sheltering rooms, of warmth, enclosure: an idle, languid taking in, with almost Georgian ease, voluptuous, reposeful, including titillations of the sin of well-being, the gentle adolescent tempest, which still can't make up its mind quite, can't dig in and bite, everything for show, flailing with a furious but futile animation wisps of white across the white. --C.K.Williams
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
An old-fashioned copy with a fine red face and a frosty blue eye leaned in toward me. "What's the matter with you, Mac, drunk?" he asked. "Officer, I've driven this thing all over the country--mountains, plains, deserts. And now I'm back in my own town, where I live--and I'm lost." He grinned happily. "Think nothing of it, Mac," he said. "I got lost in Brooklyn only Saturday. Now where is it you were wanting to go?" And that's how the traveller came home again.
I wait for the holiday crowd to clear the beach before stepping onto the first wave. Soon I am walking across the Atlantic thinking about Spain, checking for whales, waterspouts. I feel the water holding up my shifting weight. Tonight I will sleep on its rocking surface. But for now I try to imagine what this must look like to the fish below, the bottoms of my feet appearing, disappearing. --Billy Collins
After the illness a fruitful period of work began for me. A good many of my principal works were written only then. The insight I had had, or the vision of the end of all things, gave me the courage to undertake new formulations. I no longer attempted to put across my own opinion, but surrendered myself to the current of my thoughts. Thus one problem after the other revealed itself to me and took shape.
We turned our grief out to graze, gave over the year's tender greening across those slabbed hills, sharp haunches pressing down the field, what pain, what good taken down to its root, the root taken, each green spear until the year itself was consumed, driven back to the mud it had once been. When they turned with patient hunger towards us--these warm beasts, rib-hull, pine-hull-- it was their course we followed, their lead across the distance. Others chose philosophy, we heard, or prayer. But we were the only ones who lasted through the winter, we who offered up our homes and our crops and everything we had once dared to build. We knew it was the store and depth and cover from rain we had given our grief--how we had grown to love the damp heat above even what we remembered of each other-- that in turn fed us what little we could take. --Megan Snyder-Camp
when i cross the country to visit, my father squeezes meeting me into shopping trips and work appointments so his wife won't know he breaches her order to steer clear of the daughter who won't keep quiet. and i can't deny it hurts to skulk among aisles with my father instead of chatting on his couch or driving to visit grandma. yet, even this sham errand shelters the joy of being two or three and riding aloft his shoulders at the Fourth of July parade. there was the thrill of seeing everything for a me normally lost amid grown-up legs and the pride of being held high. that moment inhabits us like a ladyslipper among a few remaining trees. --Ann Tweedy
It is the lowered head that makes her seem less mobile than, say, a horse, or a deer surprised in the woods. More exactly, it is her lowered head and neck. As she stands still, the top of her head is level with her back, or even a little lower, and so she seems to be hanging her head in discouragement, embarrassment, or shame. There is at least a suggestion of humility and dullness about her. But all these suggestions are false. --Lydia Davis
[Wrote this poem a while back; thought I'd post as our move-date approaches and NYC recedes.] A man on the C train said every fellow needs a
girlfriend and one guy rolled his
The man, still chattering,
said fellows, love your lady
often or your car will stop
running; it will be headed for the
junkyard. One guy, surprise in his
eyes, may have rethought “that problem with the
cooling system”; though probably not. Others looked put upon.
The man, far from done (off-key Christmas carols
would follow), said love your lady often and
you will have nice flowers growing on
your table. The whole train appeared to
"There is no despair so absolute as that which comes with the first moments of our first great sorrow, when we have not yet known what it is to have suffered and be healed, to have despaired and recovered hope." --George Eliot
Little impulse, little nod, a little sweat drying on the brow. A woman's fingers strain to run through his hair like shy deer. He leans forward while she caresses the little coves where the hair recedes. Cells glide over cells, and all the other cells roar their approval. What more have they hoped for than this little dance, a little naked grace beyond the tug and bind of our stitches? All this for us, that we may sit close in moonlight, restless as two strangers, exchanging our wild gifts, my head in your hands. --Richard Newman
A slight implies if not an insult (real or imagined) at least something unpleasant-- a slight cold, a slight headache. No one ever says: "You make me slightly happy." Although this, in fact, is often the case. --Elaine Equi
I looked in the motel mirror and felt a rind on my face, my own face a stranger, furtive, my eyes blackened with fatigue from the pounding thruway, sick lines in the forehead, cheekbones showing like death. I looked at the vile black coffee streaming beside me at the counter, like a cup set down by another driver, myself, ages ago before he dropped a dime in the phone booth and listened to something in the cosmos that answered croaking before it dropped the phone. You'll not make it, a voice estimated inside my head. The speeds are eighty and the cops are faster. It's too long, I tell you, without sleep. Whereupon the fish spoke sideways from my mouth: "We made it to here, we made it crawling on fins that frayed out into feet, made it while cool wet scales turned black and shriveled in the desert air; this planet is something you make or don't make. Quit dropping dimes in the instrument, nothing you hear there, no address will be pleasant or give you the road ahead. Keep going, you just might make it," the fish said. I flapped the ends of my fins and left a tip on the counter. Ichthyostega, the old fish, has made it this far, maybe he even knows a way by the cops at the toll booth, maybe he has a word from the squawking phone. Maybe he knows, but I don't. I drive with fins on poisoned air through the night. I drive with claws on the wheel I don't dare look at. I drive hearing that voice in the engine, hearing the background noise of the thruway bucking the cosmos into shattered glass. I drive with fins, but why, why? I've forgotten. We've made it this far to the steaming coffee on the all-night counter. Don't touch the phone again, don't look in the mirror, no one will see what glove is drawn over your wrists. If the fish doesn't know the cops for sure don't. Drive till you feel this mind, this engine go out of control. Whoever said it had any, not in three hundred million years. Drive with fins, claws, hands, anything, but drive and don't listen to the phone or the sirens. Pass the toll gate skidding years from the dial. Count one million, count two million, five. Gulp your coffee, man, get going, get lost. Drive. --Loren Eiseley
For M.C., 1840-1918 Grandfather Corey in his dying years ruled a small room where braided sweet-corn hung among the rafters, seed that he husbanded and planted in the lot beside our house. Old master carpenter, on this own at twelve, was brimful with a Viking rage that fell on all around him, hated children-- they tracked the garden, I was one of them-- hated the jerry-built poor housing that came in during the First World War, loved only steel in planes and drawshaves made to fabricate ornate wall carvings that now came from factories and had not known the touch and care of hands. Hands, he had hands I have not seen again-- so gnarled with weather, splinters, two-by-fours. They were men's hands from another century, sailors', woodworkers' hands, concerned with knots, ropes, logs that had to be dragged and shaped by men and not machines. He took snuff from Copenhagen, sneezed into bandanna handkerchiefs, ate cod bought dried in boxes from the East, cursed if I stole his blackberries, cursed anyhow at all his dying world, mustachioed, blue-eyed, as if helmed with auroch horns upon a grounded ship. I was so scared I tiptoed by his door; in rages he smashed crockery, swept tables clean if food displeased him, challenged, challenged with that cold fighting stare that embraced all the world, grandchild, his kin. It was all one to him who had known open roads, mining towns, paths that led on. I hated him, he me, save once, and that made up for all the rest. Grandmother asked him if he would make a house, a birdhouse for my birthday. He rumbled like cyclone weather, spent two days considering, went at last below to his own bench, sawed, measured, planed and pounded for two more days, came up with a Victorian home, windows, porticoes and all. Placed it in my hands gruffly, turned away. God help me, it is gone with all my childhood now. I look at Burchfield paintings, stop my car before old houses lost in mining towns. I was too young to know his was the last Victorian house, the last grandfather ever built, the last time that the chest of tools was opened. "Take it," he said, thus giving me his life inarticulate, tangled with ropes and saws, violence of carpentering and old saloons. In hard times he had sold my mother's pictures there. "Take it," he said, and turned away, creative fire unquenchable, making me marvel, voiceless. Today I turn old books, live in a century not my own, try now to tell how Milo Corey lived and built, what rage surged in him and what tenderness, find it all useless, snap my pencils with blunt hands arthritic, lift them in the night, clasp them in pain as he did, have no way to give in frustrate fury sunsets or houses to my kind. Grandfather Corey, I am wordless, too. I cannot make one birdhouse speak as you. --Loren Eiseley