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.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

No Pegasus

It looked a lot like a poem; it had lines
that preached enjambment; it had rhymes, of sorts,
both approximate and exact. It stopped on dimes.
Then started up again. It had cohorts—

metaphor and imagery and such—
and liked to keep time by beating on its
chest, though some might have said it walked with a crutch
and took more liberties than most of its fellow sonnets.

But it wasn’t a poem, or at least it said it wasn’t.
For who would want to be so small a thing?
It wanted to be a novel, and who doesn’t?

It hid its horsy face, its tail, its wing,
under a cloak of prose. It stopped prancing.
But try as it might, it could not sing.

Words on the Wind

—Ford River Rouge

I’d walk up the hill through wild grasses
rich with milkweed and flags and make a nest
in the place I’d tamped down over the days
of decent weather. The view was something
terrifying and never the same:
on calm days the great plumes rose straight up
to insult the delicate nostrils of angels.
I was twenty-four and had no use
for the God of my fathers, no use for anything
spiritual. I believed in the deepest organs,
the liver, the kidneys, the heart, the lungs.
Nonetheless as I sat cross-legged drinking
chocolate milk words came on the wind.
Can you imagine God speaking to you
as you ate a little round store-bought pie
on a hilltop in Dearborn, where no Jews
were welcomed, where the wind came
in waves through the wild grasses
that had the guts to thrive? How I yearned
for the character of weeds and grass
that seemed more mysterious and grand
than the words the wind scattered through air
so fetid it was sweet. Noon, May 12,
1952. I wrote it on a calendar
at home and later threw the thing away.
You want those words, you who still believe,
who think the exact words are essential
to your salvation or whatever
it is you pray for? I’ll take you there
on a spring day of wind and low gray sky,
a Dearborn day. We’ll bring two quarts
of chocolate milk and little store-bought
pies—apple, cherry, or pineapple,
each worse than the other—and find the nest
of fifty years ago, and maybe we’ll smoke
as all young men did, and lean back
into the flattened grass, and rest our heads
on the cold ground while we add our own
exhalations to the exquisite chaos
of the air, and commune with whoever.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Letter to N.Y. (for Louise Craine)

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

Sara in Her Father's Arms

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 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Vertical

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

Advice to Myself

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

One Morning in Brooklyn

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

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

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

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Cat 'n' Mouse

Came across this old gem, clipped from that issue, the other day. So good.

End of Steinbeck's "Travels with Charley"

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.

Walking Across the Atlantic

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

From Jung's "Memories, Dreams, Reflections"

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.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Sonnetesque

I love its smallness: as though our whole town
were a picture postcard and our feelings
were on vacation: ourselves in mini-
ature, shopping at tiny sales, buying
the newspapers--small and pale and square
as sugar cubes--at the fragile, little curb.
The way the streetlight is really a table
lamp where now we sit and where real
night, (which is very tall and black and
at our backs), where for a moment
the night is forced to bend down and look
through these tiny windows, forced to come
closer and put its hand on our shoulder
and stoop over the book to read the fine print.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Figure on the Hill

When I saw the figure on the crown of the hill,
high above the city, standing perfectly still

against a sky so saturated with the late-
afternoon, late-summer Pacific light

that granules of it seemed to have come out
of solution, like a fine precipitate

of crystals hanging in the brightened air,
I thought whoever it was standing up there

must be experiencing some heightened state
of being, or thinking—or its opposite,

thoughtlessly enraptured by the view.
Or maybe, looking again, it was a statue

of Jesus or a saint, placed there to bestow
a ceaseless blessing on the city below.

Only after a good five minutes did I see
that the figure was actually a tree—

some kind of cypress, probably, or cedar.
I was both amused and let down by my error.

Not only had I made the tree a person,
but I'd also given it a vision,

which seemed to linger in the light-charged air
around the tree's green flame, then disappear.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Made Bed

Sometimes it’s the only thing right
with the world.

What we say is an excess
given to wrinkling,
crimps obscuring seams,
the way we act.
Nothing neat about that.

Now behold the power of
smoothed sheets, the reach
of a starched bed skirt draped
like Niagara airbrushed.
A small pillow rests dead center,
its perfect pintucks cooing
order, order.

--me

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Escaped Gorilla [I'm currently taking a poetry class w/ DW.]

When he walked out in the park that early evening
just before closing time, he didn't take
the nearest blonde in one arm and climb a tree
to wait for the camera crews. He didn't savage
anyone in uniform, upend cars
or beat his chest or scream, and nobody screamed
when they found him hiding behind the holly hedge
by the zoo office where he waited for someone

to take him by the hand and walk with him
around two corners and along a pathway
through the one door that wasn't supposed to be open
and back to the oblong place with the hard sky
where all of his unbreakable toys were waiting
to be broken, with the wall he could see through,
but not as far as the place he almost remembered,
which was too far away to be anywhere.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

In Trackless Woods

In trackless woods, it puzzled me to find
Four great rock maples seemingly aligned,
As if they had been set out in a row
Before some house a century ago,
To edge the property and lend some shade.
I looked to see if ancient wheels had made
Old ruts to which the trees ran parallel,
But there were none, so far as I could tell—
There'd been no roadway. Nor could I find the square
Depression of a cellar anywhere,
And so I tramped on further, to survey
Amazing patterns in a hornbeam spray
Or spirals in a pine cone, under trees
Not subject to our stiff geometries.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Pastoral

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

A Few Remaining Trees

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

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Hoses

I love the hoses of summer
hanging in their green coils
from the sides of houses,
or slithering through lawns
on their way to the cool
meditations of sprinklers.

I think of my father, scotch
in one hand, the dripping hose
in the other, probing the dusk
with water, the world
around him falling apart,
marriage crumbling, booze
running the show.
Still, he liked to walk out
after dinner and water the lawn,
fiddling with the nozzle,
misting this, showering that.

Sometimes, in the hot twilight,
my sisters and I would run
in our swimsuits through the yard
while he followed us
with a cold beam of water.

And once, when my mother
came out to watch, he turned
the hose on her, the two of them
laughing in a way we'd never heard,
a laughter that must have brought them
back to the beginning.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

On Moving Back to My Hometown

September 2012

I moved from one grand city to another 
city, smaller. Or so it’s felt, mostly—
this place minus millions, minus swarms
and quick hits, sweet roasted nuts,
infinite asphalt and towers above it.
This place, minus millions:
what to do with all that subtraction?

And yet, an opening:
On walking midday between neighborhoods,
eyes down (still the unwillingness
to acknowledge a new normal),
the scent of something so familiar,
so unmistakable—wrapped in pine air,
longing of lost school years;
hike to a high lake, dazzling crystal—
I caught. Just stood there, filling.
How that only felt more.

--me

Thursday, September 13, 2012

But all these suggestions are false

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 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Poem

Sometimes 
everything 
seems 
so 
oh, I don't know.

--Joe Brainard

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Unsolicited

[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 eyes.

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 soften.

--me 

Inside Out: A Culture Clash

[Wrote this poem a while back; thought I'd post as our move-date approaches and NYC recedes.] 

East Village, Manhattan

“For some reason, a lot of Norwegians
are coming in to the shop these days.”

The saleswoman speaks slowly,
articulating for the non-native couple
perusing her spring collection.

This husband and wife—
pale, middle aged, well coiffed—
volunteer a few tidy tips
for the saleswoman’s upcoming trip
to their homeland, and I smile to myself,
recalling a trip of my own.
That nice time in Oslo.

Later, I spot the same couple
on the sidewalk. They’re gawking
at one of my city’s estimable mounds
of stuffed black trash bags.
A taxi whizzes past,
its driver wags and shouts.
The woman braces herself:
they’re all so out.

--me

Finding Myrtle

[Wrote this poem years ago; thought I'd post as our move-date approaches and NYC recedes.] 

When I first saw you, you were shuffling
down the aisle of a crowded train,
pausing every few seats to check in—
“How do I get to Myrtle?”
“How do I get to Myrtle?”
“How do I…”

I’ll admit to feeling a prick of annoyance
(Not another one),
but it passed on realizing
your compromised condition—
a slight allover tremor, eyes milky with age.

You were lost, and without assistance.
When you got to where I was, it was time
to step out. Thinking fast—Myrtle…
Myrtle Avenue?—I said I could help you;
I reached for your arm, and you gave it to me.

As we stood together on the platform,
I asked you for more, for anything.
But all you could give was “Myrtle,”
plus a few extras like “want” and “need,”
conjuring an image of Myrtle not as place,
but as woman pined for.

I consulted a subway map anyway,
a matrix of colored strings to confuse
the spriest  of us. Pointing out
various neighborhoods Myrtle Avenue traverses,
I looked for signs—an affirming nod,
flicker of recognition: home.

None came. Instead, a new word,
faint but there: “Lewis, Lewis and Myrtle.”
Energized, I trailed a finger, inching east,
and… Lewis. Lewis Avenue: a mere
three complicated train transfers away.

Daunted on your behalf, I did my best to explain
the complexity of what awaited
should you attempt again the train,
next asking softly if you had money
for a cab home.

You were keeping up well enough,
Because you pulled out a billfold,
which you opened and held open for me,
revealing a brave sad emptiness.

I told you it was okay, I could pay for your ride,
and you followed me silently, slowly
up the stairs and out into the circus
that is downtown Brooklyn at rush hour.

As you waited somewhere at my back,
I watched cab after cab clear the intersection,
every last one taken.
An irrational desperation crept steadily in,
erasing relationship woes, that problem at work,
until the only thing left to care about
was getting you out of all this.

I chanced a quick look behind—your face,
that impossible read—and a second later
a yellow car was slowing at the curb.
I filled in the driver, paying in advance,
in approximate, and he gave you a kind smile,
understanding. “We’ll getcha there.”

You took some time getting situated,
organizing your tired bones in that backseat,
and I stood there wondering about so much…
Your solemn “thank you,” eye-sharp,
caught me unawares, struck deep,
though I don’t believe it changed
anything important.

Years out, certain evenings
when I’m feeling lost, lived up,
I take to Brooklyn’s quieter streets
and think of you and our exchange.
I hope you made it home alright,
home to your Myrtle.

--me

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Remember

"Remember that everyone you meet is afraid of something, loves something, and has lost something." --H. Jackson Brown Jr.

No despair so absolute

"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

All the props

"It's a good thing to have all the props pulled out from under us occasionally. It gives us some sense of what is rock under our feet, and what is sand." --Madeleine L'Engle

When Men Stopped Wearing Hats, When Women Stopped Wearing Gloves

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

Friday, August 10, 2012

Elegy for Smoking

It's not the drug I miss
but all those minutes
we used to steal
outside the library,
under restaurant awnings,
out on porches, by the quiet fields.

And how kind it used to make us
when we'd laugh
and throw our heads back
and watch the dragon's breath
float from our mouths,
all ravenous and doomed.

Which is why I quit, of course,
like almost everyone,
and stay inside these days
staring at my phone,
chewing toothpicks
and figuring the bill,

while out the window,
the smokers gather
in their same old constellations,
like memories of ourselves.

Or like the remnants 
of some decimated tribe,
come down out of the hills
to tell their stories
in the lightly-falling rain--

to be, for a moment, simply there
and nowhere else,
their faces glowing
each time someone lifts,
like a gift, the little flame.

Slight

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

Count That Day Lost

If you sit down at set of sun
And count the acts that you have done,
And, counting, find
One self-denying deed, one word
That eased the heart of him who heard,
One glance most kind
That fell like sunshine where it went—
Then you may count that day well spent.

But if, through all the livelong day,
You've cheered no heart, by yea or nay—
If, through it all
You've nothing done that you can trace
That brought the sunshine to one face—
No act most small
That helped some soul and nothing cost—
Then count that day as worse than lost.

Pass the Toll Gate Skidding

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

The Birdhouse

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

Writing Lives

For Leon Edel

Out of a life it is done
and without ever knowing
how things will turn out

or what a life is for that matter
any life at all
the leaf in the sunlight the voice in the day
the author in the words

and the invisible 
words themselves 
in whose lives we appear
and learn to speak
until what is said seems
to be almost everything
that can be known

one way with the words is to tell
the lives of others
using the distance as a lens

and another way
is when there is no distance 
so that water 
is looking at water

as when on a winter morning
as early as you can remember
while the plains were whitening
in the light before dawn
you saw your uncle--was it
your uncle?--reach
from the shadow and wash his face

to us it is clear
that if a single moment could be seen
complete it would disclose the whole

there is still that light in the water
before sunrise 
the untold day