A Taste of Darkness, Seasoned with Light

'Laugh-Out-Loud Cats #1121,' by Adam Koford on Flickr

[Image: “Laugh-Out-Loud Cats #1121,” by Adam Koford on Flickr.com. Used here under a Creative Commons license.]

From whiskey river (italicized portion):

Custom

There is a difference it used to make,
seeing three swans in this versus four in that
quadrant of sky. I am not imagining. It was very large, as its
effects were. Declarations of war, the timing fixed upon for a sea-
departure; or,
about love, a sudden decision not to, to pretend instead to a kind
of choice. It was dramatic, as it should be. Without drama,
what is ritual? I look for omens everywhere, because they are everywhere
to be found. They come to me like strays, like the damaged,
something that could know better, and should, therefore—but does not:
a form of faith, you’ve said. I call it sacrifice—an instinct for it, or a habit
at first, that
becomes required, the way art can become, eventually, all we have
of what was true. You shouldn’t look at me like that. Like one of those
saints
on whom the birds once settled freely

(Carl Phillips [source])

and (italicized portion):

White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field

Coming down
out of the freezing sky
with its depths of light,
like an angel,
or a buddha with wings,
it was beautiful,
and accurate,
striking the snow and whatever was there
with a force that left the imprint
of the tips of its wings—
five feet apart—and the grabbing thrust
of its feet,
and the indentation of what had been running
through the white valleys
of the snow—

and then it rose, gracefully,
and flew back to the frozen marshes
to lurk there,
like a little lighthouse,
in the blue shadows—
so I thought:
maybe death isn’t darkness, after all,
but so much light
wrapping itself around us—

as soft as feathers—
that we are instantly weary
of looking, and looking,
and shut our eyes,
not without amazement,

and let ourselves be carried,
as through the translucence of mica,
to the river
that is without the least dapple or shadow,

that is nothing but light—scalding, aortal light—
in which we are washed and washed
out of our bones.

(Mary Oliver [source])

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The Resonance of Things

'Resonance,' by user sky rim on Flickr

[Image: “resonance.,” by user skyrim (Ahmed Mahin Fayaz) on Flickr.com. (Used here under a Creative Commons license.)]

In lieu of my customary whiskey river Fridays post today — computer crisis last weekend, and other real-life obstacles (all pleasant) since — I thought for today I’d just direct your attention to the source itself.

Particularly, take a look at the excerpt from Jan Zwicky’s poem:

Practicing Bach

There is, said Pythagoras, a sound
the planet makes: a kind of music
just outside our hearing, the proportion
and the resonance of things — not
the clang of theory or the wuthering
of human speech, not even
the bright song of sex or hunger, but
the unrung ringing that
supports them all.

Is the cosmos
laughing at us? No. It’s saying

improvise. Everywhere you look
there’s beauty, and it’s rimed
with death. If you find injustice
you’ll find humans, and this means
that if you listen, you’ll find love.

(Jan Zwicky [source])

Not a bad note to round off (or to kick off) any week at all, hmm?

 

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The Other Side of Some World (Maybe This One)

'Antipodes' (detail of Sanborn sculpture); photo by user wanderingYew2 on Flickr

[Image: Detail of “Antipodes,” a sculpture by James Sanborn. (Photo by Flickr user wanderingYew2 used here under a Creative Commons license.) “Antipodes” is currently in the collection of the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC; it combines elements of two other — arguably more famous — encrypted sculptures by Sanborn: “Cyrillic Projector” (in the collection of the University of NC-Charlotte) and “Kryptos” (on the grounds of the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters).]

From whiskey river:

Looking Around
(excerpt)

It’s only in darkness you can see the light, only
From emptiness that things start to fill,
I read once in a dream, I read in a book
under the pink
Redundancies of the spring peach trees.
Old fires, old geographies.
In that case, make it old, I say, make it singular
In its next resurrection,
White violets like photographs on the tombstone of the yard.

Each year it happens this way, each year
Something dead comes back and lifts up its arms,
puts down its luggage
And says—in the same costume, down-at-heels, badly sewn—
I bring you good news from the other world.

(Charles Wright [source])

and:

Why ask art into a life at all, if not to be transformed and enlarged by its presence and mysterious means? Some hunger for more is in us — more range, more depth, more feeling; more associative freedom, more beauty. More perplexity and more friction of interest. More prismatic grief and unstunted delight, more longing, more darkness. More saturation and permeability in knowing our own existence as also the existence of others. More capacity to be astonished. Art adds to the sum of the lives we would have, were it possible to live without it. And by changing selves, one by one, art changes also the outer world that selves create and share.

(Jane Hirshfield [source])

and:

Design

I pour a coating of salt on the table
and make a circle in it with my finger.
This is the cycle of life
I say to no one.
This is the wheel of fortune,
the Arctic Circle.
This is the ring of Kerry
and the white rose of Tralee
I say to the ghosts of my family,
the dead fathers,
the aunt who drowned,
my unborn brothers and sisters,
my unborn children.
This is the sun with its glittering spokes
and the bitter moon.
This is the absolute circle of geometry
I say to the crack in the wall,
to the birds who cross the window.
This is the wheel I just invented
to roll through the rest of my life
I say
touching my finger to my tongue.

(Billy Collins [source])

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Perfectly Mistaken

'D1 / typo incident,' by Zoolette Des Bois on Flickr

[Image: “D1 / typo incident,” by Zoolette Des Bois on Flickr.com. Used under a Creative Commons license. Edit to add: the sign seems to be a marker at this location in London, on a particularly bad day I guess.]

From whiskey river (italicized portion):

if i have made, my lady, intricate

if i have made, my lady, intricate
imperfect various things chiefly which wrong
your eyes (frailer than most deep dreams are frail)
songs less firm than your body’s whitest song
upon my mind—if i have failed to snare
the glance too shy—if through my singing slips
the very skillful strangeness of your smile
the keen primeval silence of your hair

—let the world say “his most wise music stole
nothing from death”—
you will only create
(who are so perfectly alive) my shame:
lady whose profound and fragile lips
the sweet small clumsy feet of April came

into the ragged meadow of my soul.

(E.E. Cummings [source])

and:

Based on my experience of life, which I have not exactly hit out of the park, I tend to agree with that thing about, If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. And would go even further, to: Even if it is broke, leave it alone, you’ll probably make it worse.

(George Saunders [source])

and:

Descriptions of Heaven and Hell

The wave breaks
And I’m carried into it.
This is hell, I know,
Yet my father laughs,
Chest-deep, proving I’m wrong.
We’re safely rooted,
Rocked on his toes.

Nothing irked him more
Than asking, “What is there
Beyond death?”
His theory once was
That love greets you,
And the loveless
Don’t know what to say.

(Mark Jarman [source])

and:

Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self…

I wind my experiences around myself and cover myself with glory like bandages in order to make myself perceptible to myself and to the world, as if I were an invisible body that could only become visible when something visible covered its surface.

But there is no substance under the things with which I am clothed, I am hollow, and my structure of pleasures and ambitions has no foundation. I am objectified in them. But they are all destined by their contingency to be destroyed. And when they are gone there will be nothing left but my own nakedness and emptiness and hollowness, to tell me I am my own mistake.

(Thomas Merton [source])

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Midweek Music Break: Tedeschi Trucks Band, “Anyhow”

Tedeschi Trucks Band - photo by Mark Seliger

[Tedeschi Trucks Band. Photo by Mark Seliger.]

We first encountered the Tedeschi Trucks Band here just about four years ago, following the release of their first album, Revelator. They haven’t been sitting on their hands since then, not at all: “Anyhow” is the first single from their newest (third) album, Let Me Get By. [Lyrics here.]

Of today’s musical selection, No Depression writes:

On “Anyhow,” Tedeschi starts out moaning like a lost soul but ends up soaring, channeling the spirit and sound of Bonnie Raitt, while Derek conjures up Duane [Allman] behind her.

Yeah, that. I’m not 100% sure I buy the specific comparisons. But if any voice could match Derek Trucks’s guitar work for sheer forceful power, it’s Susan Tedeschi’s. The woman can flat-out sing — and soaring is dead-on.

I found a high-quality video of the band performing the song in their Swamp Raga Studio in Jacksonville. I have no idea if this specific recording made it onto the album. But what especially interested me is that from the audio alone, I’d never have guessed that almost everyone performing is sitting down. Tedeschi Trucks has a solid reputation as a live band (I myself have never seen them in concert); you might think, y’know, Boy, that group must really move when they’re alone and into their music. Not so, apparently. (Which doesn’t bother me, I hasten to mention; I think what we’re seeing in that video is discipline. “Things” happen in live performances, and they’re not all happy things: people can trip over wires, bump into microphones, get distracted by bees — certainly not the kinds of events you want to capture in a studio recording.)

This reminds me a little of a conversation I had with a guy I used to work with, back in 1990-91. At the time, I’d taken a leave of absence from my stable job in New Jersey, moving to Virginia to see if I could write and publish a book. (I could, as it happened.) On a visit back to Jersey, my friend John B asked me about my workday as a writer. He couldn’t picture the act of writing. (Back then, I didn’t do first drafts via computer, but via good old pencils and paper.) “What do you do — you just sit at a table and… and you, uh, write?” I wonder what I do look like when I write. Come to that, I wonder what any writer looks like when in the act? It feels to me as though there must be an awful lot of staring into space involved.

“Anyhow” is certainly soulful. At the other end of the energy — and danceability — spectrum, though, I could pick any of a handful of other songs from the album (which this time around, includes all original material). Let’s follow up “Anyhow” with… oh, say, with “Don’t Know What It Means.” I wonder if they all sat still in the studio for this perky bit of sheer funk?

[Lyrics]

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All of a Piece, a Piece of All

'Broken promises Project 365(3),' by Keith Williamson on Flickr

[Image: “Broken promises Project 365(3),” by Keith Williamson (user “elwillo”) on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons license.]

From whiskey river:

All good things are one thing. Sunsets, schools of philosophy, cathedrals, operas, mountains, horses, poems — all these are mainly disguises. One thing is always walking among us in fancy-dress, in the grey cloak of a church or the green cloak of a meadow.

(G. K. Chesterton [source])

and:

Where Is God?

It’s as if what is unbreakable—
the very pulse of life—waits for
everything else to be torn away,
and then in the bareness that
only silence and suffering and
great love can expose, it dares
to speak through us and to us.

It seems to say, if you want to last,
hold on to nothing. If you want
to know love, let in everything.
If you want to feel the presence
of everything, stop counting the
things that break along the way.

(Mark Nepo [source])

…and, from whiskey river’s commonplace book:

People Like Us
for James Wright

There are more like us. All over the world
There are confused people, who can’t remember
The name of their dog when they wake up, and people
Who love God but can’t remember where

He was when they went to sleep. It’s
All right. The world cleanses itself this way.
A wrong number occurs to you in the middle
Of the night, you dial it, it rings just in time

To save the house. And the second-story man
Gets the wrong address, where the insomniac lives,
And he’s lonely , and they talk, and the thief
Goes back to college. Even in graduate school,

You can wander into the wrong classroom,
And hear great poems lovingly spoken
By the wrong professor. And you find your soul
And greatness has a defender, and even in death you’re safe

(Robert Bly [source])

and:

Japanese Shape

The way it forces you to look
watching your step
so as not to turn your ankle
on a rock
or step into water nearby

The way it turns the torso
this way and that
view after view
spaces between spaces
and spaces between

The way it slows you down
step after step
no skipping between
there is no short cut
to the edge of this garden

The way it swirls the vision
into brown and black
and green and light with
sound in the air until
only a blanket remains

The way it stops the mind.

(Harry Palmer [no alternative source located])

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Come Back, Come Back

'coming back/remembering,' by Jane Cornwell on Flickr

[Image: “coming back/remembering,” by Jane Cornwell (on Flickr). As indicated, the quotation comes from Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, by Shunryu Suzuki.]

From whiskey river:

For a Friend Lying in Intensive Care Waiting for Her White Blood Cells to Rejuvenate After a Bone Marrow Transplant

The jonquils. They come back. They split the earth with
their green swords, bearing cups of light.
The forsythia comes back, spraying its thin whips with
blossom, one loud yellow shout.
The robins. They come back. They pull the sun on the
silver thread of their song.
The irises come back. They dance in the soft air in silken
gowns of midnight blue.
The lilacs come back. They trail their perfume like a scarf
of violet chiffon.
And the leaves come back, on every tree and bush, millions
and millions of small green hands applauding your return.

(Barbara Crooker [source])

and:

Our intention is to affirm this life, not to bring order out of chaos, nor to suggest improvements in creation, but simply to wake up to the very life we’re living, which is so excellent once one gets one’s mind and desires out of its way and lets it act of its own accord.

(John Cage [source])

and (in part; follow the link to read the rest):

Stalking the Poem

I

Only one word will do. It isn’t on the tip of your tongue, but you know it’s not far. It’s the one fish that won’t swim into your net, a figure that hides in a crowd of similar figures, a domino stone in the face-down pool. Your need to find it becomes an obsession, single-minded and relentless as lust. It’s a long time before you can free yourself, let it go. “Forget it,” you say, and think that you do. When the word is sure you have forgotten it, it comes out of hiding. But it isn’t taking any chances even now and has prepared its appearance with care. It surrounds itself with new and inconspicuous friends and faces you in a line up in which everyone looks equally innocent. Of course you know it instantly, the way Joan of Arc knew the Dauphin and Augustine knew God. You haven’t been so happy in weeks. You rush the word to your poem, which had died for lack of it, and it arises pink-cheeked as Lazarus. The two of you share the wine.

(Lisel Mueller [source])

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Stricken Conscious

[Interactive image: 3D printing, reimagining the Venus de Milo engaged in spinning thread, by Cosmo Wenman (with direction from Virginia Postrel). More info here.]

From whiskey river:

Perhaps the greatest faculty our minds possess is the ability to cope with pain. Classic thinking teaches us of the four doors of the mind, which everyone moves through according to their need.

First is the door of sleep. Sleep offers us a retreat from the world and all its pain. Sleep marks passing time, giving us distance from the things that have hurt us. When a person is wounded they will often fall unconscious. Similarly, someone who hears traumatic news will often swoon or faint. This is the mind’s way of protecting itself from pain by stepping through the first door.

Second is the door of forgetting. Some wounds are too deep to heal, or too deep to heal quickly. In addition, many memories are simply painful, and there is no healing to be done. The saying ‘time heals all wounds’ is false. Time heals most wounds. The rest are hidden behind this door.

Third is the door of madness. There are times when the mind is dealt such a blow it hides itself in insanity. While this may not seem beneficial, it is. There are times when reality is nothing but pain, and to escape that pain the mind must leave reality behind.

Last is the door of death. The final resort. Nothing can hurt us after we are dead, or so we have been told.

(Patrick Rothfuss [source])

and:

After

There is one thing certain.
Once you have stood
in the midst of that
searing flame,
been struck down
to earth
like a pilgrim
entered by light at last
and have lain there,
waiting,
not quite certain—

how can you ever know again
what it is
not to be blinded by the light,
never to have gone there
to the top of the snow hung peak
and felt that nameless something
descend onto your shoulders,
your breast,
even as you bent forward
in disbelief.

(Dorothy Walters [source])

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Things I Know: The (Election) Year of Living Dangerously

I’ve probably written about 5,000 words into this post’s editing screen since I began fussing with it over a month ago. And I’ve deleted about that many words, and started over, and over, and over…

Here’s the essence, though, presented at last as a bulleted list of Things I Know (or Imagine I Do):

  • Florida’s Presidential primary election is now less than a week just a day away, on Tuesday 3/15/2016. And no, I don’t know for whom I’m voting yet. I (early-)voted a couple days ago; obviously, I know for whom I voted, but it makes no difference to this post.
  • That said, it won’t be wasn’t for a Republican.
  • About the Democratic candidates:
    • It’s about damned time we had an opportunity to vote (or not to vote, as the case may be) for Hillary Clinton. If anybody has earned a seat in the party’s saddle, it’s her.
    • I sorta-kinda believe the conventional wisdom about the Clinton-vs.-Sanders choice: it presents us with a referendum on the world we have, vs. the world we want (or the world we might have, etc.).
  • About the state of the country and the world:
    • We have got a hell of a lot of stuff pressing in on us from all sides in 2016: climate change, economic inequalities, famine/plague/drought conditions, wars and more wars, religious extremism, all but the collapse of the public education and infrastructure systems, ignorance and superstition, criminal-justice nightmares, a growing dependence on energy just as energy resources are disappearing, the weight of history…
    • Solving all — solving any — of the crises cataloged in that previous bullet will require one thing (besides willpower, of course): money.
  • About the Democratic candidates in light of the state of the country and world:
    • Clinton can probably tackle any or all of it — and move us (maybe) a quarter-inch towards solutions. It may take her two terms to do it, but she can do that much.
    • Sanders is a complete cipher — an unknown along almost every dimension, at least in terms of executive skills.
    • And yet:
      • Everything is broken. It’s not just because of technology; it’s because of the urgency of the problems with which “business as usual” politics has presented us.
      • That — everything is broken — is the message voters are sending the two parties this year, and neither party is listening.
      • Much though I admire Clinton, I have great, great, nearly insurmountable difficulty imagining her prepared to upset “business as usual” politics. She’s a product of those politics, after all.
    • Remember Sarah Palin asking us, mockingly, “How’d that hopey-changey thing work out for ya?” — after hope and change had been Obama’s watchwords? It didn’t work out very well at all, in fact… because hope and change are the first victims of business-as-usual.
    • President Obama seemed, at first, to be the start of something big. Actually, I think, he was a fitting conclusion to all the something-little that had preceded him.
    • Boy — both parties are going to be in a shambles if they don’t wake the heck up between now and November (and afterwards, when it comes to actual, y’know, governing).

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An Infinity of Reflexive Trajectories

one view of a triple torus

[Image (courtesy of Wikipedia): one of numerous graphic representations of a mathematical (and perhaps physical) space called a 3-torus (also three-torus, or triple torus). For more information, see below.]

From whiskey river:

We are such inward secret creatures, that inwardness is the most amazing thing about us, even more amazing than our reason. But we cannot just walk into the cavern and look around. Most of what we think we know about our minds is pseudo-knowledge. We are all such shocking poseurs, so good at inflating the importance of what we think we value.

(Iris Murdoch [source])

…and:

Every person passing through this life will unknowingly leave something and take something away. Most of this “something” cannot be seen or heard or numbered or scientifically detected or counted. It’s what we leave in the minds of other people and what they leave in ours.

(Robert Fulghum [source])

…and:

Poem to My Daughter

The sky has, is, one exit, one excuse,
and if I’m dead now that I’m saying this,
I can’t vouch for my transition from life
as having been rough or even evident.
Have I tried turning it off and then on again?
Have I tried throwing it against the wall?
Getting to know you, getting to know all
about you getting the mirror to mean
not only me, and thinking I must look
dumber than I look — dumber, then, than prose —
I walk through the laundry room regretting
getting the weekend done this way, as if
backstage, and say the name of your birthplace
as if I’d lost a hundred dollars there,
which I may have … Dear, when nowhere, don’t do
as those of us in nowhere do — just go.

(Graham Foust [source])

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