Why this?

The occasional piece of my own and a generous helping of others' creations 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.

Thursday, May 31, 2012


Dear ghosts, dear presences, O my dear parents, 
Why were you so sad on porches, whispering? 
What great melancholies were loosed among our swings! 
As before a storm one hears the leaves whispering 
And marks each small change in the atmosphere, 
So was it then to overhear and to fear. 

But all things then were oracle and secret. 
Remember the night when, lost, returning, we turned back 
Confused, and our headlights singled out the fox? 
Our thoughts went with it then, turning and turning back 
With the same terror, into the deep thicket 
Beside the highway, at home in the dark thicket. 

I say the wood within is the dark wood, 
Or wound no torn shirt can entirely bandage, 
But the sad hand returns to it in secret 
Repeatedly, encouraging the bandage 
To speak of that other world we might have borne, 
The lost world buried before it could be born. 

Burchfield describes the pinched white souls of violets 
Frothing the mouth of a derelict old mine 
Just as an evil August night comes down, 
All umber, but for one smudge of dusky carmine. 
It is the sky of a peculiar sadness— 
The other side perhaps of some rare gladness. 

What is it to be happy, after all? Think 
Of the first small joys. Think of how our parents 
Would whistle as they packed for the long summers, 
Or, busy about the usual tasks of parents, 
Smile down at us suddenly for some secret reason, 
Or simply smile, not needing any reason. 

But even in the summers we remember 
The forest had its eyes, the sea its voices, 
And there were roads no map would ever master, 
Lost roads and moonless nights and ancient voices— 
And night crept down with an awful slowness toward the water; 
And there were lanterns once, doubled in the water. 

Sadness has its own beauty, of course. Toward dusk, 
Let us say, the river darkens and look bruised, 
And we stand looking out at it through rain. 
It is as if life itself were somehow bruised 
And tender at this hour; and a few tears commence. 
Not that they are but that they feel immense. 

--Donald Justice

Nostalgia of the Lakefronts

Cities burn behind us; the lake glitters. 
A tall loudspeaker is announcing prizes; 
Another, by the lake, the times of cruises. 
Childhood, once vast with terrors and surprises, 
Is fading to a landscape deep with distance— 
And always the sad piano in the distance, 

Faintly in the distance, a ghostly tinkling 
(O indecipherable blurred harmonies) 
Or some far horn repeating over water 
Its high lost note, cut loose from all harmonies. 
At such times, wakeful, a child will dream the world, 
And this is the world we run to from the world. 

Or the two worlds come together and are one 
On dark, sweet afternoons of storm and of rain, 
And stereopticons brought out and dusted, 
Stacks of old Geographics, or, through the rain, 
A mad wet dash to the local movie palace 
And the shriek, perhaps, of Kane’s white cockatoo. 
(Would this have been summer, 1942?) 

By June the city always seems neurotic. 
But lakes are good all summer for reflection, 
And ours is famed among painters for its blues, 
Yet not entirely sad, upon reflection. 
Why sad at all? Is their wish so unique— 
To anthropomorphize the inanimate 
With a love that masquerades as pure technique? 

O art and the child were innocent together! 
But landscapes grow abstract, like aging parents. 
Soon now the war will shutter the grand hotels, 
And we, when we come back, will come as parents. 
There are no lanterns now strung between pines— 
Only, like history, the stark bare northern pines. 

And after a time the lakefront disappears 
Into the stubborn verses of its exiles 
Or a few gifted sketches of old piers. 
It rains perhaps on the other side of the heart; 
Then we remember, whether we would or no. 
—Nostalgia comes with the smell of rain, you know. 

--Donald Justice

Thinking About the Past

Certain moments will never change, nor stop being—
My mother's face all smiles, all wrinkles soon;
The rock wall building, built, collapsed then, fallen;
Our upright loosening downward slowly out of tune—
All fixed into place now, all rhyming with each other.
That red—haired girl with wide mouth—Eleanor—
Forgotten thirty years—her freckled shoulders, hands.
The breast of Mary Something, freed from a white swimsuit,
Damp, sandy, warm; or Margery's, a small, caught bird—
Darkness they rise from, darkness they sink back toward.
O marvelous early cigarettes! O bitter smoke, Benton!
And Kenny in wartime whites, crisp, cocky,
Time a bow bent with his certain failure.
Dusks, dawns; waves; the ends of songs...

--Donald Justice

In the Attic

There’s a half hour toward dusk when flies,
Trapped by the summer screens, expire
Musically in the dust of sills;
And ceilings slope toward remembrance.

The same crimson afternoons expire
Over the same few rooftops repeatedly;
Only being stored up for remembrance,
They somehow escape the ordinary.

Childhood is like that, repeatedly
Lost in the very longueurs it redeems.
One forgets how small and ordinary
The world looked once by dusklight from above…

But not the moment which redeems
The drowsy arias of flies—
And the chin settles onto palms above
Numbed elbows propped up on rotting sills.

--Donald Justice

Sonnet to My Father

Father, since always now the death to come
Looks naked out from your eyes into mine,
Almost it seems the death to come is mine
And that I also shall be overcome,
Father, and call for breath when you succumb,
And struggle for your hand as you for mine
In hope of comfort that shall not be mine
Till for the last of me the angel come.
But, father, though with you in part I die
And glimpse beforehand that eternal place
Where we forgot the pain that brought up there,
Father, and though you go before me there,
Leaving this likeness only in your place,
Yet while I live, you do not wholly die.

--Donald Justice


Morning opened 
Like a rose, 
And the snow on the roof 
Rose-color took. 
Oh, how the street 
Toward light did leap! 
And the lamps went out. 
Brightness fell down 
From the steeple clock 
To the rows of shops 
And rippled the bricks 
Like the scales of a fish, 
And all that day 
Was a fairy tale 
Told once in a while 
To a good child.

--Donald Justice


First was not,
Became a spot,
Then through and in
Felt heart begin,
And learning size
Nor needed eyes,
Yet colors grew
(Began with blue),
Nor ears yet felt
The silence melt,
Till wanting room
Broke through the womb,
From one with Mother
Became Another,
Began to cry
Am I! Am I!

--Donald Justice

Still Life

I’m having trouble looking animals in the eye.
Their empty suits in outer space!
Monkeys injected with a virus to show off
Our eminent domain, the nervous system.
Teacup pigs we breed and obsessive mice  
Worrying themselves bald in a miniature opera.
For pleasures of the tongue we are
Winking cattle out of meadows
Slashing their throats and swiftly quartering them.
In riding habits with gold flame pins we ride horses
To hounds, chase a fennec fox until his red
Coat flares up against the extinction
Of light. Once in a circus we made
An elephant disappear and he did not mind.

--Kathy Nilsson

Patricia Smith on Gwendolyn Brooks


"True Love, Guaranteed"


Roll after roll of tape.
Multiples of gloss-gray duct,                            
dun-colored masking,
double sided for crafting.
So much; miles more
than what’s needed for attaching.
And batteries: every diameter’s here.
Slide fingers through drawer’s cache,
charged-candy clack,
potential to power my apartment
plus next door’s. Also
stores of Q-tips and cotton balls,
off-brand sanitary napkins,
vanilla lotions and hair products
to thicken; the disposable Daisies,
their pink faded to match my skin.

Faintly sad, the ease with which
some things slip the mind,
so innocuous as to compel repeat purchase,
copies common as air.
That so much of something
can mean so little; subtract even.
Yet still I hold on to these needling reminders,
their weird vows, earthly weight.

One day I’ll just toss it all,
lift off, tuck into some cloud—
no name, no gall.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Notes (my mother's) from a recent NW poetry conference

Tony Hoagland/Lorna Crozier/Ellen Bass: Poetry and Humor 

"When you become rigid the truth hasn't worked its way though you." --Hoagland 

"Poems are the closest art form to a joke, in terms of brevity and pacing; having a climax (punch) line; and all the words have to be in the right places." --Hoagland

Two ways Hoagland wants to be as a poet: "One is clear. The other is not so fucking serious!" 

"When people laugh, their muscles relax and then they can be penetrated by life." --Someone

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Something Very Big

I once witnessed this ecstatic process in a small human creature. I was at the beach, walking along the water's edge when a young child ran on very unsteady legs into the water. It was the infant's intensity that caught my attention. I looked for the mother. She was some distance away and seemed comfortable enough about her child's safety not to interfere with what was happening.

The child, a boy with wet sagging diapers, ran into the water with that half-weaving, half-stumbling motion of infants who have just learned to walk. I first thought he would fall, and then that he would not stop until he was in over his head. But this child knew when he was in deep enough. 

Seeing him with the Long Island Sound lapping against his chubby thighs, I realized that from his perspective these small waves were giants. He was with something VERY BIG.

His small body was intense with concentration. He was thrumming like an instrument, standing there in the water. Then he turned and, still deep in the experience, walked unsteadily out of the water and over the thin strip of pebbles at the water's edge. Then he made a kind of circle and went right back into the water up to his thighs for another experience of sea. He did this perhaps seven or eight times, as if verifying what this wet, cold living thing called water was to him.

I could feel the high excitement of his experience even yards away from him. Finally, fully satisfied, he stood in his wet diapers and began an unintelligible but eloquent speech to the water, to the gulls, to the sand, to the world. This baby was obviously not yet speaking with words, but he was certainly speaking with his heart. The sound was beautiful. He was tell-singing his experience with arms outflung. It was a deep burble--a joyful noise to the Lord!

Only after naming his experience in his own personal language did he notice me noticing him.

A shy look came over his face, and he did a fast exit out of the water, over the pebble strip--and then around back into the water, finishing with his speech gurgled at the top of his voice. The smile on his face and the sidelong look he gave me told me that he knew we both knew what all this felt like, including the joys of repetition. We were in this together!

--Gunilla Norris

Saturday, May 19, 2012


You can walk a long time
among oaks and pines
before you realize small animals
have been watching you
from their hideaways,
recording, for the good
of their species, how you move,
and what you might do next.

And it's rare when the wind
in the leaves reminds you
of the laughter you heard
one day, far off, the kind
you wanted to move toward,
so devoid of malice,
so clearly at no one's expense.

And even rarer—when out
looking for raspberries
to bring home to the woman
who loves them and you—
to come across a bra
on the ground, other articles
of clothing strewn about,

and be moved to turn
and go back to your car
with its tank full of supreme,
quite sure you don’t need
to disturb what’s sufficient
to imagine, at least not today

with so much desire
in the air, and this story
you’re readying to tell
that you know she’ll prefer
to raspberries, your empty hands


"The moment the artist is asked about his influences he of necessity flounders, I believe. Because it is not the nature of the artist to know what his true influences are, or what they have been, and I'm not by this statement saying that it remains for a third party to know. I think that the mystery of life will ring in the work, and when it rings most strongly, truly and honestly, it will ring with a sense of mystery." --Kenneth Patchen

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

My Daughter Informs Me

that we're having
"Cornish gang hens"
for supper

and sure enough
when I peek
into the oven

there they are
shoulder to shoulder
brandishing tiny fists

--Pete Lee

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Love in the Country

We live like this: no one but
some of the owls awake, and of them
only near ones really awake.

In the rain yesterday, puddles
on the walk to the barn sounded their
quick little drinks.

The edge of the haymow, all
soaked in moonlight,
dreams out there like silver music.

Are there farms like this where
no one likes to live?
And the sky going everywhere?

While the earth breaks the soft horizon
eastward, we study how to deserve
what has already been given us.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Languaging, laughing

Check it: http://architravepress.storenvy.com/products/329442-the-language-laughter-studio-by-kristen-elde

I'm quite pleased w/ how it all came out--the words, the pressing of letters, Jennifer's (editor's) perfectly apt description of my poem...

(It's nice to feel Gotten, wouldn't you agree?)

And be sure to read the others in the collection--strong stuff!