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.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

But One Mask of Many

I do not think, if someone finally twists the key successfully in the tiniest and most humble house of life, that many of these questions will be answered, or that the dark forces which create lights in the deep sea and living batteries in the waters of tropical swamps, or the dread cycles of parasites, or the most noble workings of the human brain, will be much if at all revealed. Rather, I would say that if "dead" matter has reared up this curious landscape of fiddling crickets, song sparrows, and wondering men, it must be plain even to the most devoted materialist that the matter of which he speaks contains amazing, if not dreadful powers, and may not impossibly be, as Hardy has suggested, "but one mask of many worn by the Great Face behind."


--Loren Eiseley, The Immense Journey

The Ultimate Chemical

I have come to suspect that this long descent down the ladder of life, beautiful and instructive though it may be, will not lead us to the final secret. In fact I have ceased to believe in the final brew or the ultimate chemical. There is, I know, a kind of heresy, a shocking negation of our confidence in blue-steel microtomes and men in white in making such a statement. I would not be understood to speak ill of scientific effort, for in simple truth I would not be alive today except for the microscopes and the blue steel. It is only that somewhere among these seeds and beetle shells and abandoned grasshopper legs I find something that is not accounted for very clearly in the dissections to the ultimate virus or crystal or protein particle. Even if the secret is contained in these things, in other words, I do not think it will yield to the kind of analysis our science is capable of making. 


--Loren Eiseley, The Immense Journey

Inconceivable Loneliness

In a universe whose size is beyond human imagining, where our world floats like a dust mote in the void of night, men have grown inconceivably lonely. We scan the time scale and the mechanisms of life itself for portents and signs of the invisible. As the only thinking mammals on the planet--perhaps the only thinking animals in the entire sidereal universe--the burden of consciousness has grown heavy upon us. We watch the stars, but the signs are uncertain. We uncover the bones of the past and seek for our origins. There is a path there, but it appears to wander. The vagaries of the road may have a meaning, however; it is thus we torture ourselves. 


Lights come and go in the night sky. Men, troubled at last by the things they build, may toss in their sleep and dream bad dreams, or lie awake while the meteors whisper greenly overhead. But nowhere in all space or on a thousand worlds will there be men to share our loneliness. There may be wisdom; there may be power; somewhere across space great instruments, handled by strange, manipulative organs, may stare vainly at our floating cloud wrack, their owners yearning as we yearn. Nevertheless, in the nature of life and in the principles of evolution we have had our answer. Of men elsewhere, and beyond, there will be none forever.


--Loren Eiseley, The Immense Journey

Through the Attics of the Forest Roof

Every creature alive is the product of a unique history. The statistical probability of its precise reduplication on another planet is so small as to be meaningless. Life, even cellular life, may exist out yonder in the dark. But high or low in nature, it will not wear the shape of man. That shape is the evolutionary product of a strange, long wandering through the attics of the forest roof, and so great are the chances of failure, that nothing precisely and identically human is likely to come that way again. 


--Loren Eiseley, The Immense Journey

High Roofs at Dawn

New York is not, on the whole, the best place to enjoy the downright miraculous nature of the planet. There are, I do not doubt, many remarkable stories to be heard there and many strange sights to be seen, but to grasp a marvel fully it must be savored from all aspects. This cannot be done while one is being jostled and hustled along a crowded street. Nevertheless, in any city there are true wildernesses where a man can be alone. It can happen in a hotel room, or on the high roofs at dawn.


--Loren Eiseley, The Immense Journey

Peculiar Errands

The world, I have come to believe, is a very queer place, but we have been part of this queerness for so long that we tend to take it for granted. We rush to and fro like Mad Hatters upon our peculiar errands, all the time imagining our surroundings to be dull and ourselves quite ordinary creatures. Actually, there is nothing in the world to encourage this idea, but such is the mind of man, and this is why he finds it necessary from time to time to send emissaries into the wilderness in the hope of learning of great events, or plans in store for him, that will resuscitate his waning taste for life.


--Loren Eiseley, The Immense Journey

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Ahhh

In the modern literature on space travel I have read about cabbage men and bird men; I have investigated the loves of the lizard men and the tree men, but in each case I have labored under no illusion. I have been reading about a man, Homo sapiens, that common earthling, clapped into an ill-fitting coat of feathers and retaining all his basic human attributes including an eye for the pretty girl who has just emerged from the space ship. His lechery and miscegenating proclivities have an oddly human ring, and if this is all we are going to find on other planets, I, for one, am going to be content to stay at home. There is quite enough of that sort of thing down here, without encouraging it throughout the starry systems.


--Loren Eiseley

Need Now

Those who contend that because of present human cranial size, and the limitations of the human pelvis, man's brain is no longer capable of further expansion, are mistaken. Cranial capacities of almost a third more than the modern average have been occasionally attained among the Boskop people and even in rare individuals  among other, less foetalized races. The secret does not lie in the size of the brain before birth; rather, as we have seen, it is contained in that strange spurt which in the first year of life carries man upward and outward into a social world from which his fellow beings are excluded. Whether that postnatal expansion is destined to be further enhanced in the long eras to come there is no telling, nor, perhaps, does it matter greatly. For in the creation of the social brain, nature, through man, has eluded the trap which has engulfed in one way or another every other form of life on the planet. Within the reasonable limits of the brain that now exists, she has placed the long continuity of civilized memory as it lies packed in the world's great libraries. The need is not really for more brains, the need is now for a gentler, a more tolerant people than those who won for us against the ice, the tiger, and the bear. The hand that hefted the ax, out of some old blind allegiance to the past fondles the machine gun as lovingly. It is a habit man will have to break to survive, but the roots go very deep.


--Loren Eiseley

On floating down the "curious stream" that is the Platte River as it leaves the Rockies and moves over the high plains toward the Missouri River

Once in a lifetime, perhaps, one escapes the actual confines of the flesh. Once in a lifetime, if one is lucky, one so merges with sunlight and air and running water that whole eons, the eons that mountains and deserts know, might pass in a single afternoon without discomfort. The mind has sunk away into its beginnings among old roots and the obscure tricklings and movings that stir inanimate things. Like the charmed fairy circle into which a man once stepped, and upon emergence learned that a whole century had passed in a single night, one can never quite define this secret; but it has something to do, I am sure, with common water. Its substance reaches everywhere; it touches the past and prepares the future; it moves under the poles and wanders thinly in the heights of air. It can assume forms of exquisite perfection in a snowflake, or strip the living to a single shining bone cast up by the sea.


Many years ago, in the course of some scientific investigations in a remote western county, I experienced, by chance, precisely the sort of curious absorption by water--the extension of shape by osmosis--at which I have been hinting. You have probably never experienced in yourself the meandering roots of a whole watershed or felt your outstretched fingers touching, by some kind of clairvoyant extension, the brooks of snow-line glaciers at the same time that you were flowing toward the Gulf over the eroded debris of worn-down mountains. ...


--Loren Eiseley (!)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Last to Blow [a day back from Iceland; a work in progress]

Iceland

There is no war
anymore. Just
spent rock and
sea and, somehow,
a lone tern colony
on what was
Grímsey. Also
a single goal
post in once-Höfn,
long gone to
rust and lichen.
A bird coasts
overhead while
beneath, the seed
of an argument
rattles, quickens.

--me 

It Is a Small Plant

It is a small plant
delicately branched and
tapering conically
to a point, each branch
and the peak a wire for
green pods, blind lanterns
starting upward from
the stalk each way to
a pair of prickly edged blue
flowerets: it is her regard,
a little plant without leaves,
a finished thing guarding
its secret. Blue eyes—
but there are twenty looks
in one, alike as forty flowers
on twenty stems—Blue eyes
a little closed upon a wish
achieved and half lost again,
stemming back, garlanded
with green sacks of
satisfaction gone to seed,
back to a straight stem—if
one looks into you, trumpets—!
No. It is the pale hollow of
desire itself counting
over and over the moneys of
a stale achievement. Three
small lavender imploring tips
below and above them two
slender colored arrows
of disdain with anthers
between them and
at the edge of the goblet
a white lip, to drink from—!
And summer lifts her look
forty times over, forty times
over—namelessly.


--William Carlos Williams

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Grace of Shadows

I've learned to value failed conversations, missed connections, confusions. What remains is what's unsaid, what's underneath. Understanding on another level of being. 


I have no talent. I'm not talking about the literary marketplace: I mean how I see myself. I write poems for myself, like these notebooks, to think things through, that's all.


The soul has two distinct layers. One is the "I"--capricious, fickle, uncertain, it hops from joy to despair. The other, the "soul," is steady, sure, unwavering, watchful, ready, aware.


I received the grace of shadows. The grace of remaining in the dark.


How to write so that the poem is as close as possible to silence? Zen--to play on the lute without strings. Simplicity--of course. But how? What kind?


Seneca: "To treat the days like separate lives."


Bruno Schultz: "To ripen into childhood."


I walk around disguised as an overweight old lady.


Never. Never. Never. I could fill a notebook with that word.


Letters of the condemned. Last words scratched on a cell's wall. To write like that.


From here