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.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Fetch

Here

Summer Dusk

I put in my goddamn hearing aid
in order to listen to a bird that sounds
like the side of a drinking glass
struck lightly by a fork

and try not to hate a life
that dips you in time like a teabag
over and over and pulls you up
each year a slightly different color.

Yet I like this hour when the air goes soft
and leaves stir with relief at the end
of their labor of being leaves.
“What a piece of work is man,” I say,

not knowing Hamlet said it first--
“how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties,
in form and moving how express; in apprehension how like an angel,
and yet, to me, the quintessence of dust!”

This hour of the evening
with a little infinity inside,
like an amnesty from the interminable
condition of being oneself.

This half-hour when you look out
and see that it is sweet.
Even in my deafness I can hear
the bird whose name I do not know

speaking to someone in the dusk.

--Tony Hoagland

The Social Life of Water

Here.

Misunderstandings

Here.

Crazy Motherfucker Weather

Here.

Little Champion

When I get hopeless about human life,
which, to be frank, is far too difficult for me,
I like to remember that in the desert there is
a little butterfly that lives by drinking urine

And when I have to take the bus to work on Saturday,
to spend an hour opening the mail,
deciding what to keep and throw away,
one piece at a time,

I think of the butterfly following its animal around,
through the morning and the night,
fluttering, weaving sideways through
the cactus and the rocks.

And when I have to meet all Tuesday afternoon
with the committee to discuss new by-laws,
or listen to the dinner guest exhaustively describe
his recipe for German beer,

or listen to the scholar tell, once more,
about her campaign to destroy, once and for all,
the vocabulary of heteronormativity,

I think of that tough little champion
with orange and black markings on its wings
resting in the shade beneath a ledge of rock
while its animal sleeps nearby;

and I see how the droplets hang and gleam among
the thorns and drab green leaves of desert plants
and how the butterfly alights and drinks from them
deeply, with a stillness of utter concentration.

--Tony Hoagland 

Friday, December 4, 2015

A Nearly Perfect Morning

It was a nearly perfect morning—bucolic, pastoral—
so I found myself cataloguing my past humiliations.
Really, there was no reason for it! I might as well have
looked for an ant hill to lie down on in a meadow
of goldenrod. I can’t explain it but perhaps I thought
that with the rising sun as my witness, with the catbirds
crows, and whizzing hummingbirds my soundtrack
that I could ameliorate them, neutralize their charges
against me by holding them up to the woods now in wait
for the light to balance on their individual leaves, on
the absorbing vastness of my fortune. The concentric rings
of the spider web have the wiry shine of guitar strings
there’s been so little wind it seems the trees have not
yet shook themselves awake, but we are moving around
this light at such a pace that by now the sun is nested
in the crook of two thin branches that could not hold
anything else. I was barely up to the third count
against my integrity when the whole lake turned white
but I decided it was not aghast, just trying to erase.

--Jessica Greenbaum

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Forbearance

Hast thou named all the birds without a gun?
Loved the wood-rose, and left it on its stalk?
At rich men’s tables eaten bread and pulse?
Unarmed, faced danger with a heart of trust?
And loved so well a high behavior,
In man or maid, that thou from speech refrained,
Nobility more nobly to repay?
O, be my friend, and teach me to be thine!

--Ralph Waldo Emerson

Poet of an Ordinary Heartbreak

Who hasn’t been tempted by the sharp edge of a knife?
An ordinary knife cutting ordinary tomatoes on
an ordinary slab of wood on an ordinary Wednesday.
The knife nicks, like a bite to the soul. A reminder
that what is contemplated is as real as the blood
sprouting from a finger. As real as a bruised eye.
Instead turn back to the meat stewing on the stove.
Scrape pulpy red flesh into the heat and turn.
Say: even this is a prayer. Even this.

--Chris Abani

Natural History

Tell me the world. Here comes light, unspoken.
Light hooks a claw on the horizon, pulls itself
into view. Here comes water, saline,
scattering single-celled organisms.
Land is a puppet. It climbs hydrothermal vents like stairs.
Lava congeals. Land rises. Here comes land,
hand-springing out of water. Wind is a comma,
pausing the day. At night, wind kicks its legs.
What about multi-celled life? What about invertebrates
and vertebrates? Tell me evolution.
Tell me old growth forests. Tell me a rainbow.
Tell me blue-tailed skinks. Here comes science,
explaining eyeballs. Look, here come the stars.
Here comes a commuter train, hopping the rails
and crashing into an empty sidewalk
at 2:30 in the morning. Here come sparklers.
Use them to trace letters of light in the darkness.
Here comes someone’s childhood cat. Here comes a paper
about George Washington, complete with colored
pencil illustrations of his many sets of false teeth.
Tell me bourgeois glass lanterns strung from a live oak.
Tell me a graveyard bigger than its town.
Please understand I mean no harm. Hold the phone.
Here comes Tina, hand-springing across the backyard.
Here comes a tent. Wind boxes its nylon sides,
scaring the children, their sleeping bags unfurled
and arranged like daisy petals. Tell me a flashlight.

--Rebecca Lehmann

Friday, November 20, 2015

Kindness

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. 
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

--Naomi Shihab Nye

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Altitude

I wonder
how it would be here with you,
where the wind
that has shaken off its dust in low valleys
touches one cleanly,
as with a new-washed hand,
and pain
is as the remote hunger of droning things,
and anger
but a little silence
sinking into the great silence.

--Lola Ridge

Advice to a Blue-Bird

Who can make a delicate adventure
Of walking on the ground?
Who can make grass-blades
Arcades for pertly careless straying?
You alone, who skim against these leaves,
Turning all desire into light whips
Moulded by your deep blue wing-tips,
You who shrill your unconcern
Into the sternly antique sky.
You to whom all things
Hold an equal kiss of touch.

Mincing, wanton blue-bird,
Grimace at the hoofs of passing men.
You alone can lose yourself
Within a sky, and rob it of its blue!

--Maxwell Bodenheim

Friday, November 6, 2015

Return from Antarctica

[Translated]

He can still hear it:
the glaciers rasping,
their ratcheting in the distance,
the snow-quiet.

And still he remembers
gulping unsullied freshness
to clarify his lungs,
the holy coldness blessing his skin.

He gave his heart
to that stinging brightness,
that taciturn redoubt,
that uncluttered country.

But no choice except a return
to dampness and home.
He had to turn
his back on blankness.

On so many nights
his wife asks him tentatively
to abandon the kitchen
and join her upstairs.

He loves the irregular loneliness
of each tap-drip
and it’s music to him
the refrigerator’s drone:

basso profundo
slow in the recital,
grinding sighs that call out
to his being’s every melting element.

--Ailbhe Ni Ghearbhuigh

Nuggets

Emptied, precious, querulous, frail,
a box of butter biscuits by the bedside,
dun pills in a pale plastic tray,
your grandmother lies in her tiny bones
and mumbles, mysterious, while you say nothing,
barely thirteen, blank as the day.

You were to keep an eye on her
breathing, her little bones heaving,
and your eyes scan figurines, mementos
on the windowsill — Little Bo Peep has lost
her head — and green fields through the window:
hay barns, small farms, a chicken battery shed.

Bwwaaakk! Buck-back-bock-buckaaaakk!
Rows upon rows of chickens.
There was a funnel hung from a gibbet
that swung like a big steel conical conundrum
above their dun feathers — the color
of your grandmother’s tights scrumpled on the floor.

Even a year before, she would have swooned
for shame at the sight of those tights half-trailed
under her bed, their crinkled wee ankles
jouking out, as if they had crawled under
and tipped their wrinkled cargo into the void — 
your grandmother in bed, waiting for the spoon.

Her weak breath does not reach heaven
but hazes among the chipped figurines,
the dull color television’s black screen,
fading flesh-colored flowers on the wall-
paper, dun as the wings of those dirt-crusted
rows upon rows of throbbing chickens.

When you dropped one into the funnel
its head pushed through that blood-rimmed O
to stare chicken-eyed at the other side,
blackened numbles and giblets
upon which it would soon stream
like warm port, its feet still in a fidget.

What gets passed on, through generations?
Your grandmother tries to speak. Her bony
fingers clutch your hand — and you bend
your head down. But you’d get more sense
from the sea in a seashell as your father
enters the room beaming, Well! Well?

--Alan Gillis

After my son was born

I’d a snip cut in his tongue.
Blood scissored down his chin.
At every squall I’d been unsnibbing
myself and starving him. He knocked
me so my nose coughed blood,
punched a finger through my cornea.
Blood blubbed on my nipple
where his gums met. On the radio
somebody was saying something about Syria.
My son jerked knots of hair from my head,
tears dashed off his fontanelle. He’d fixed
my hips so my clothes didn’t fit. I blundered
him once against the doorjamb:
blood. I’d bit his father
when we were younger, drinking harder,
made blood come then. Twice I tried to leave
him screaming, twenty minutes at a time,
but couldn’t keep schtum.
One breakfast I broke the mug that insisted
“Don’t Mess With Texas.”
Smashed it. And all the time
I smiled so much my teeth dried.
He made everything heavy.
Like they say the bomb did for a while,
so that Americans swam
through their homes, eyes peeled,
picking up everyday things and dropping them
as though they were violated with light and pain.
As though blood hadn’t always been there, waiting.

--Ailbhe Darcy

First

There is a holiness to exhaustion
is what I keep telling myself,
filling out the form so my TA gets paid
then making copies of it on the hot
and heaving machine, writing
Strong start! on a pretty bad poem.
And then the children: the baby’s
mouth opening, going for the breast,
the girl’s hair to wash tonight
and then comb so painstakingly
in the tub while conditioner drips
in slick globs onto her shoulders,
while her discipline chart flaps in the air
conditioner at school, taped
to a filing cabinet, longing for stickers.
My heart is so giant this evening,
like one of those moons so full
and beautiful and terrifying
if you see it when you’re getting out
of the car you have to go inside the house
and make someone else come out
and see it for themselves. I want every-
thing, I admit. I want yes of course
and I want it all the time. I want
a clean heart. I want the children
to sleep and the drought
to end. I want the rain to come
down—It’s supposed to monsoon
is what Naomi said, driving away
this morning, and she was right,
as usual. It’s monsooning. Still,
I want more. Even as the streets
are washed clean and then begin
to flood. Even though the man
came again today to check the rat traps
and said he bet we’d catch the rat
within 24 hours. We still haven’t caught
the rat, so I’m working at the table
with my legs folded up beneath me.
I want to know what is holy—
I do. But first I want the rat to die.
I am thirsty for that death
and will drink deeply of that victory,
the thwack of the trap’s hard plastic jaw,
I will rush to see the evidence no matter
how gruesome, leaning my body over
the washing machine to see the thing
crushed there, much smaller
than I’d imagined it’d be,
the strawberry large in its mouth.

--Carrie Fountain

Children Walk on Chairs to Cross a Flooded Schoolyard

Taytay, Rizal Province, Philippines
(based on the photo by Noel Celis)

Hardly anything holds the children up, each poised
mid-air, barely the ball of one small foot
kissing the chair’s wood, so
they don’t just step across, but pause
above the water. I look at that cotton mangle
of a sky, post-typhoon, and presume
it’s holding something back. In this country,
it’s the season of greedy gods
and the several hundred cathedrals
worth of water they spill onto little tropic villages
like this one, where a girl is likely to know
the name of the man who built
every chair in her school by hand,
six of which are now arranged
into a makeshift bridge so that she and her mates
can cross their flooded schoolyard.
Boys in royal blue shorts and red rain boots,
the girls brown and bare-toed
in starch white shirts and pleated skirts.
They hover like bells that can choose
to withhold their one clear, true
bronze note, until all this nonsense
of wind and drizzle dies down.
One boy even reaches forward
into the dark sudden pool below
toward someone we can’t see, and
at the same time, without looking, seems
to offer the tips of his fingers back to the smaller girl 
behind him. I want the children
ferried quickly across so they can get back
to slapping one another on the neck
and cheating each other at checkers.
I’ve said time and time again I don’t believe
in mystery, and then I’m reminded what it’s like
to be in America, to kneel beside
a six-year-old, to slide my left hand
beneath his back and my right under his knees, 
and then carry him up a long flight of stairs
to his bed. I can feel the fine bones,
the little ridges of the spine
with my palm, the tiny smooth stone
of the elbow. I remember I’ve lifted
a sleeping body so slight I thought
the whole catastrophic world could fall away.
I forget how disaster works, how it can turn
a child back into glistening butterfish
or finches. And then they’ll just do
what they do, which is teach the rest of us
how to move with such natural gravity.
Look at these two girls, center frame,
who hold out their arms
as if they’re finally remembering
they were made for other altitudes.
I love them for the peculiar joy
of returning to earth. Not an ounce
of impatience. This simple thrill
of touching ground. 

--Patrick Rosal

Monday, October 19, 2015

October

Bending above the spicy woods which blaze,
Arch skies so blue they flash, and hold the sun
Immeasurably far; the waters run
Too slow, so freighted are the river-ways
With gold of elms and birches from the maze
Of forests. Chestnuts, clicking one by one,
Escape from satin burs; her fringes done,
The gentian spreads them out in sunny days,
And, like late revelers at dawn, the chance
Of one sweet, mad, last hour, all things assail,
And conquering, flush and spin; while, to enhance
The spell, by sunset door, wrapped in a veil
Of red and purple mists, the summer, pale,
Steals back alone for one more song and dance.

--Helen Hunt Jackson

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Self-Portrait on the Street of an Unnamed Foreign City

The lettering on the shop window in which
you catch a glimpse of yourself is in Polish.

Behind you a man quickly walks by, nearly shouting
into his cell phone. Then a woman

at a dreamier pace, carrying a just-bought bouquet
upside-down. All on a street where pickpockets abound

along with the ubiquitous smell of something baking.
It is delicious to be anonymous on a foreign city street.

Who knew this could be a life, having languages
instead of relationships, struggling even then,

finding out what it means to be a woman
by watching the faces of men passing by.

I went to distant cities, it almost didn’t matter
which, so primed was I to be reverent.

All of them have the beautiful bridge
crossing a grey, near-sighted river,

one that massages the eyes, focuses
the swooping birds that skim the water’s surface.

The usual things I didn’t pine for earlier
because I didn’t know I wouldn’t have them.

I spent so much time alone, when I actually turned lonely
it was vertigo.

Myself estranged is how I understood the world.
My ignorance had saved me, my vices fueled me,

and then I turned forty. I who love to look and look
couldn’t see what others did.

Now I think about currencies, linguistic equivalents, how
    lop-sided they are, while
my reflection blurs in the shop windows.

Wanting to be as far away as possible exactly as much as still
    with you.
Shamelessly entering a Starbucks (free wifi) to write this.

--Jennifer Grotz

Self-Portrait at 36 with David

Barnegat Light, New Jersey—April 4, 2015

Because looking at myself w/ out you beside me is unnatural
& though the light is all wrong—your camera slung & up

the light feels right to me, warm & soft, your chest pressed
towards my back, both our heads angling towards the dock,

boat slips on the bay—all the scallops secure in the sea still,
their bone-less bodies soft. & our own getting softer each day.

Sometimes the mirror makes our features fun-house style
& we’re way more old age than the teen age we most times
    feel,

or the slight of shutter promises supple & smooth, where edge
& ravine & straight up wrinkle have arrived & settled in

like vulnerable house guests we don’t have the heart to kick
    out.
How comfortable they’ve become all over our fine faces

& my neck—how they’ve become familiar w/ our privacy. How
we’ve begun to cradle them. Stitch & loom. In the photograph

there we are—chins tilted towards one another, mouths closed

& turned up. A type of satisfaction dead in this middle we’re
    both in.

--Ellen Hagan

Sunday, August 30, 2015

August

No wind, no bird. The river flames like brass.
On either side, smitten as with a spell
Of silence, brood the fields. In the deep grass,
Edging the dusty roads, lie as they fell
Handfuls of shriveled leaves from tree and bush.
But ’long the orchard fence and at the gate,
Thrusting their saffron torches through the hush,
Wild lilies blaze, and bees hum soon and late.
Rust-colored the tall straggling briar, not one
Rose left. The spider sets its loom up there
Close to the roots, and spins out in the sun
A silken web from twig to twig. The air
Is full of hot rank scents. Upon the hill
Drifts the noon’s single cloud, white, glaring, still.

--Lizette Woodworth Reese

Friday, August 7, 2015

Only As the Day Is Long

Soon she will be no more than a passing thought,
a pang, a timpani of wind in the chimes, bent spoons
hung from the eaves on a first night in a new house
on a street where no dog sings, no cat visits
a neighbor cat in the middle of the street, winding
and rubbing fur against fur, throwing sparks. 

Her atoms are out there, circling the earth, minus
her happiness, minus her grief, only her body’s
water atoms, her hair and bone and teeth atoms,
her fleshy atoms, her boozy atoms, her saltines
and cheese and tea, but not her piano concerto
atoms, her atoms of laughter and cruelty, her atoms
of lies and lilies along the driveway and her slippers,
Lord her slippers, where are they now?

--Dorianne Laux

Summer Rain

All night our room was outer-walled with rain.
Drops fell and flattened on the tin roof,
And rang like little disks of metal.
Ping!—Ping!—and there was not a pin-point of silence between
    them.
The rain rattled and clashed,
And the slats of the shutters danced and glittered.
But to me the darkness was red-gold and crocus-colored
With your brightness,
And the words you whispered to me
Sprang up and flamed—orange torches against the rain.
Torches against the wall of cool, silver rain!

--Amy Lowell

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Bits from Kenneth Goldsmith in the April 2015 Poetry

Writers try too hard to express themselves. We're working with loaded material. How can language--any language--be anything but expressive?

Writing on an electronic platform is not only writing, but also doubles as archiving; the two processes are inseparable. 

Somehow during Christmastime in a small house crammed with extended family, reading the Sunday paper is acceptable, but reading a book is considered antisocial and rude. Many times I've been asked while reading, "Is everything alright?"

Poetry is an underutilized resource waiting to be exploited. Because it has no remunerative value, it’s liberated from the orthodoxies that constrain just about every other art form. It’s one of the great liberties of our field — perhaps one of the last artistic fields with this privilege. Poetry is akin to the position that conceptual art once held: radical in its production, distribution, and democratization. As such, it is obliged to take chances, to be as experimental as it can be. Since it’s got nothing to lose, it stirs up passions and emotions that, say, visual art hasn’t in half a century. There’s still a fight. Why would anyone play it safe in poetry?

More: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/article/250240

"These were the moments I lived for"



 --Louise Glück

"My story begins very simply"






Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Old Woman Leaves the Sea

I cut my hair, threw it at the desert sage.
My curl is natural; this picture is a cage.
I'm leaving it. I've had my time among
stones and water. I'm going to the garden.
I want black earth, bronze mud, yellow
daffodil, green grass. I want to ride a bicycle,
sing a cappella. I want to take the train to Rome.
I've put all my eggs in one basket. I'll get clothes
that fit. I've finished fasting. I'm definite. 

I lie back to stare at the sky. It's another day
in the life of my grief. There's water everywhere.
I'm not doing enough, just gathering stones,
sitting here by the sea. I'm not the only mother 
whose son has died. Why do I think I deserve 
to laze here after seven years? I move my leg
right, then left, against the sand, watch
for an opening between sky, water.

--Sharon Charde

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Moonrise

I awoke in the Midsummer not to call night, in the white and the 
walk of the morning:
The moon, dwindled and thinned to the fringe of a finger-nail 
held to the candle,
Or paring of paradisaïcal fruit, lovely in waning but lustreless,
Stepped from the stool, drew back from the barrow, of dark 
Maenefa the mountain;
A cusp still clasped him, a fluke yet fanged him, entangled him, 
not quit utterly.
This was the prized, the desirable sight, unsought, presented so 
easily,
Parted me leaf and leaf, divided me, eyelid and eyelid of slumber.

--Gerard Manley Hopkins

Friday, June 12, 2015

Poetry: cure for our pervasive skepticism about whether language works

I take it that our having to ask ourselves what poems and pop songs are for, and our compulsion to suggest answers, is a good thing—that it’s the fields that are certain of their purpose and their standing that lend themselves most to reified thinking. I mean principally the natural sciences, which shade now so easily into the most preposterous scientism. Evolutionary psychologists will tell you that the arts exist to—well, there’s only one reason any human endeavor exists, according to evolutionary psychology. Phillips suggests that it’s worth asking what poetry’s good for because science is always providing answers to the question of what science is good for—vaccines, Google, drone strikes, showrooms filled with fabulous prizes. And for Phillips, poetry—and pop, I’d add—provides a “cure for our pervasive skepticism about whether language works.” Whether, that is, the right words can, as psychoanalysis teaches, make us better off.

--Michael Robbins

At My Best

August is the cruelest month: never enough daylight, too much
heat, no holidays and nothing matters except September’s

dawning responsibilities, but the August of 1994 I was Holden
Caulfield, summer camp senior counselor for the junior trail

blazers, black and brown children two weeks shy of first, second,
and third grade. Nothing is as positive, as motivating a force within

one’s life as a school bus full of kids singing along to the local
radio station blazing hip-hop and R&B. (Imagine this cherubic

chorus riding upstate to Ini Kamoze’s “Here Comes the Hotstepper.”
[“Muuur-derah!”]) My workday is filled with hazards like chocolate

melted sticky swim trunk pockets, insistent sunburn, and the assorted
rah rah of parental unsupervision, but those bus rides back from

upstate water parks and pools were my favorite times working.
Have you ever ridden in a cheesebus with ashy children asleep

against you, staring at sudden trees — more numerous than project
windows — blurring along the highways like confusion giving way

to doubt, the heady smell of dried chlorine and musty towels
lulling you into the soft timbre of a Midwest falsetto? Tell me

what it is to fall in love with a lightskin girl covering the Isley
Brothers. I was not two weeks into 21 years old. I had yet

to wear a box cutter in my fifth pocket, or see a semi-automatic
aimed at my center mass, to feel its dumbness against my spine.

My life was uncertain, save for its unlikely length under my control,
like the pilot who falls short of what he says, what he says

he’s all about, all about. All my homeboys were still alive, just
like Aaliyah Dana Haughton, not yet an angel of the cruelest August,

begging a boy, who may not be in the mood to learn what he thinks
he knows, to look beyond his world and try to find a place for her.

--John Rodriguez

molemen beat tapes

were copped from Gramophone.
cassettes jammed into a factory-
issued stereo deck of the hoopty
i rolled around in. a bucket. bass
and drum looped with some string
sample, fixed. a sliver of perfect
adjusted. the scrapes of something
reconstituted. there was so much
space to fill. an invitation to utter.
Iqra- Allah said to the prophet
Muhammad (peace be upon Him).
a- to b-side and around again. a circle
a cipher. i’d drive down and back
in my mom’s Dodge for the latest
volumes of sound. i’d stutter
and stop and begin again. lonesome
and on fire. none. no one i knew
rapped. i’d recite alone on Clark St.
free, styling, shaping, my voice
a sapling, hatchling, rapping
my life, emerging in the dark
of an empty car.

                                              •

there was a time when hip-hop felt like a secret
society of wizards and wordsmiths. magicians
meant to find you or that you were meant to find
like rappers i listened to and memorized in history
class talked specifically to me, for me.

                                              •

& sometimes
you’d see a kid whisper to himself
in the corner of a bus seat & you
asked if he rhymed & traded a poem
a verse like a fur pelt/trapping.
some gold or food. this sustenance.
you didn’t have to ride solo anymore.

                                              •

Jonathan was the first kid i met who rapped. he was Black
from a prep school, wore ski goggles on top his head & listened
to Wu-Tang which meant he was always rhyming about science
and chess. his pops made him read Sun Tzu. his mans was Omega
a fat Puerto Rican who wrote graffiti and smoked bidis.

& they’d have friends
& the backseat would swell
& the word got passed/scooped like a ball
on the playground. you’d juggle however long
your mind could double Dutch. sometimes you’d take
what you were given/lift off like a trampoline
rocket launch. sometimes you’d trip & scrape
your knees. tongue-tied, not quick. words stuck
on loop, like like words, stuck, like that. but break
thru, mind, knife sharp, mind darts
polished & gleaming we’d ride
for the sake of rhyming. take the long way
home or wherever the fuck we were going
cruise down Lake Shore & back, blasting
blazing. polishing these gems.
trying to get our mind right.

--Kevin Coval

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Doors opening, closing on us

Maybe there is more of the magical
in the idea of a door than in the door
itself. It’s always a matter of going
through into something else. But

while some doors lead to cathedrals
arching up overhead like stormy skies
and some to sumptuous auditoriums
and some to caves of nuclear monsters

most just yield a bathroom or a closet.
Still, the image of a door is liminal,
passing from one place into another
one state to the other, boundaries

and promises and threats. Inside
to outside, light into dark, dark into
light, cold into warm, known into
strange, safe into terror, wind

into stillness, silence into noise
or music. We slice our life into
segments by rituals, each a door
to a presumed new phase. We see

ourselves progressing from room
to room perhaps dragging our toys
along until the last door opens
and we pass at last into was.

--Marge Piercy

Monday, May 4, 2015

Melancholy wonder / the blue of distance / the places inside matter as much as the ones outside

The world is blue at its edges and in its depths. This blue is the light that got lost. Light at the blue end of the spectrum does not travel the whole distance from the sun to us. It disperses among the molecules of the air, it scatters in water. Water is colorless, shallow water appears to be the color of whatever lies underneath it, but deep water is full of this scattered light, the purer the water the deeper the blue. The sky is blue for the same reason, but the blue at the horizon, the blue of land that seems to be dissolving into the sky, is a deeper, dreamier, melancholy blue, the blue at the farthest reaches of the places where you see for miles, the blue of distance. This light that does not touch us, does not travel the whole distance, the light that gets lost, gives us the beauty of the world, so much of which is in the color blue. 

For many years, I have been moved by the blue at the far edge of what can be seen, that color of horizons, of remote mountain ranges, of anything far away. The color of that distance is the color of an emotion, the color of solitude and of desire, the color of there seen from here, the color of where you are not. And the color of where you can never go. For the blue is not in the places those miles away at the horizon, but in the atmospheric distance between you and the mountains. "Longing," says the poet Robert Haas, "because desire is full of endless distances." Blue is the color of longing for the distances you never arrive in, for the blue world.


...


We treat desire as a problem to be solved, address what desire is for and focus on that something and how to acquire it rather than on the nature and the sensation of desire, though often it is the distance between us and the object of desire that fills the space in between with the blue of longing. I wonder sometimes whether with a slight adjustment of perspective it could be cherished as a sensation on its own terms, since it is as inherent to the human condition as blue is the distance? If you can look across the distance without wanting to close it up, if you can own your longing in the same way that you own the beauty of that blue that can never be possessed? For something of this longing will, like the blue of distance, only be relocated, not assuaged, by acquisition and arrival, just as the mountains cease to be blue when you arrive among them and blue instead tints the next beyond. Somewhere in this is the mystery of why tragedies are more beautiful than comedies and why we take a huge pleasure in the sadness of certain songs and stories. Something is always far away. 


...


For children, it's the distance that holds little interest. Gary Paul Nabhan writes about taking his children to the Grand Canyon, where he realized "how much time adults spend scanning the landscape for picturesque panoramas and scenic overlooks. While the kids were on their hands and knees, engaged with what was immediately before them, we adults traveled by abstraction." He adds that whenever they approached a promontory, his son and daughter would "abruptly release their hands from mine, to scour the ground for bones, pine cones, sparkly sandstone, feathers, or wildflowers." There is no distance in childhood: for a baby, a mother in the other room is gone forever, for a child the time until a birthday is endless. Whatever is absent is impossible, irretrievable, unreachable. Their mental landscape is like that of medieval paintings: a foreground full of vivid things and then a wall. The blue of distance comes with time, with the discovery of melancholy, of loss, the texture of longing, of the complexity of the terrain we traverse, and with the years of travel. If sorrow and beauty are all tied up together, then perhaps maturity brings with it not what Nabhan calls abstraction, but an aesthetic sense that partially redeems the losses time brings and finds beauty in the faraway.


...


Airplane flights are usually from city to city, but in between are the untrodden realms to which you can only give approximate labels--somewhere in Newfoundland, somewhere in Nebraska or the Dakotas. From miles up in the sky, the land looks like a map of itself, but without any of the points of reference that make maps make sense. The oxbows and mesas out the window are anonymous, unfathomable, a map without words. I've found out that the wish the plane would do an emergency landing in one of them is widespread among those who go from city to city on their work. These nameless places awaken a desire to be lost, to be far away, a desire for that melancholy wonder that is the blue of distance.


...


The mind can be imagined as a landscape, but only the minds of sages might resemble the short-grass prairie in which I played with getting lost and vanishing. The rest of us have caverns, glaciers, torrential rivers, heavy fogs, chasms that open up underfoot, even marauding wildlife bearing family names. It's a landscape in which getting lost is easy and some regions are terrifying to visit. 


...


The places in which any significant event occurred become embedded with some of that emotion, and so to recover the memory of the place is to recover the emotion, and sometimes to revisit the place uncovers the emotion. Every love has its landscape. Thus place, which is always spoken of as though it only counts when you're present, possesses you in its absence, takes on another life as a sense of place, a summoning in the imagination with all the atmospheric effect and association of a powerful emotion. The places inside matter as much as the ones outside. It is as though in the way places stay with you and that you long for them they become deities...


--Rebecca Solnit