That Could’ve Been Me

'When Thoughts Break'

[Image: “When Thoughts Break” (found at the site of Dharma Consulting)]

From whiskey river (highlighted portion):

Here and Now

for Barbara

There are words
I’ve had to save myself from,
like My Lord and Blessed Mother,
words I said and never meant,
though I admit a part of me misses
the ornamental stateliness
of High Mass, that smell

of incense. Heaven did exist,
I discovered, but was reciprocal
and momentary, like lust
felt at exactly the same time—
two mortals, say, on a resilient bed,
making a small case for themselves.

You and I became the words
I’d say before I’d lay me down to sleep,
and again when I’d wake—wishful
words, no belief in them yet.
It seemed you’d been put on earth
to distract me
from what was doctrinal and dry.
Electricity may start things,
but if they’re to last
I’ve come to understand
a steady, low-voltage hum

of affection
must be arrived at. How else to offset
the occasional slide
into neglect and ill temper?
I learned, in time, to let heaven
go its mythy way, to never again

be a supplicant
of any single idea. For you and me
it’s here and now from here on in.

Nothing can save us, nor do we wish
to be saved.

Let night come
with its austere grandeur,
ancient superstitions and fears.
It can do us no harm.
We’ll put some music on,
open the curtains, let things darken
as they will.

(Stephen Dunn [source])


The whole creation is one lunatic fringe. If creation had been left up to me, I’m sure I wouldn’t have had the imagination or courage to do more than shape a single, reasonably sized atom, smooth as a snowball, and let it go at that.

(Annie Dillard [source])

and (highlighted portion; these are excerpts from the full piece, from which is hard not to excerpt a lot more):

…I remember—I must have been eight or nine—wandering out to the ungrassed backyard of our newly constructed suburban house and seeing that the earth was dry and cracked in irregular squares and other shapes, and I felt I was looking at a map and I was completely overcome by this description, my first experience of making a metaphor, and I felt weird and shaky and went inside and wrote it down: the cracked earth is a map. Although it only takes a little time to tell it, and it is hardly interesting, it filled a big moment at the time, it was an enormous ever-expanding room of a moment, a chunk of time that has expanded ever since and that my whole life keeps fitting into.

I remember John Moore, another teacher, who did the damnedest thing. We were studying Yeats, and at the beginning of one class Mr. Moore asked us if we would like to see a picture of Yeats. We nodded, and he held up a photograph of Yeats taken when he was six months old, a baby dressed in a long white gown. Maybe he was even younger, maybe he was an infant. I thought it was the funniest thing anyone had ever done, the strangest, most ridiculous, absurd thing to have done. But nobody laughed and if Mr. Moore thought it was funny, you couldn’t tell by his face. I always liked him for that. The poems we were reading in class were not written by a baby. And yet whenever I think of Yeats, I see him as a tiny baby wearing a dress—that photograph is part of my conception of the great Irish poet. And I love that it is so. We are all so small.


I remember the day I stood in front of a great, famous sculpture by a great, famous sculptor and didn’t like it. Such a moment is a landmark in the life of any young artist. It begins in confusion and guilt and self-doubt and ends in a triumphant breakthrough: I see the world and I see that I am free before it, I am not at the mercy of historical opinion and what I want to turn away from, I turn away from, what I want to approach, I approach. Twenty-five years later I read an essay by John Berger on Rodin and in it Berger was able to articulate all that I felt on that afternoon, standing in front of a great Rodin. But by then I was old and vain and the pride of being vindicated was, I admit, just as exciting as Berger’s intellectual condemnation of Rodin’s desire toward dominance.

I remember thinking my feelings implicated me with Rodin and though now I liked him less than ever, my repulsion was braided with a profound sympathy inseparable from my feelings for myself. And that is a landmark in the life of an old artist looking at art: the realization that none of us can ever be free from ourselves.

I remember the first time I realized the world we are born into is not the one we leave.

(Mary Ruefle [source])

Not from whiskey river:

Winter Happiness

Pride, pride, pride, pride, pride,
pride and happiness. Winter
and empty fields and beyond the trees
the Aegean. The night sky
bright in the puddles of this lane.
Such dear loneliness. Going along
to no man’s clock. No one who knows
my middle name for a thousand miles.
Thinking back to childhood. Astonished
that I could find the way here.

(Jack Gilbert [source])


#1: Hold onto your memories, no matter how many or few you’ve got, no matter whether you’re gradually losing them or still acquiring new ones. Write them down if you have to; get a cheap voice-memo recorder and carry it around with you for later transcription. Whatever. The point is, nobody else will hold onto them for you, and not many more will actually care enough to try. They’ve got their own stock to tend to.

#12: Like the joke says, Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be. It never was, either.

#14: Eyewitness mis-identification has wrongly convicted more people than any other single cause. As an eyewitness to your own past, what makes you so so damned reliable?

#31: Old photographs are wonderful, and if you’re lucky enough to have old voice recordings, family movies or videos, then the gods of memory must indeed be smiling on you. If you want to taste something again, well, somebody, somewhere, has probably posted its recipe on the Web. And the echo may be faint, but you can always recapture the first moment you touched sandpaper just by touching it again. Unfortunately, though, no one’s ever gonna invent scent recordings. That wild-growing mint you stepped on in your grandparents’ back yard, suffusing your head with the sweet, astringent sting of green? Gone.

(JES, Maxims for Nostalgists)

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  1. The illustration perfectly fits the post I wrote today.

  2. I tried to post a comment here last night, but ReCaptcha wasn’t displaying for me. Not sure if that was because I was using Explorer rather than Chrome, or because operating without a VPN, or some other unfathomable reason (had only just resurrected my computer from the grave, so having to restore all the bells and whistles one by one – and boy, is it taking a long time!).

    I was saying that the Annie Dillard line reminded me of David Warner’s wonderful turn as The Evil One in Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits, when he rants about the shortcomings of The Creator (eventually to be revealed as a very dapper Sir Ralph Richardson). IMDB is still unavailable to me (not sure what’s up with that – how do amateur movie reviews threaten the security of the Chinese government?), but as I recall, it went something like this:
    “When I’m in charge, we’ll do things right: lasers and computers from Day One. I mean, look what He‘s given us. Thirty-seven species of parrot. Nipples for men! The Universe is in the hands of a madman.”

    You may remember that Sean Connery had an amusing cameo in this as the Greek king Agamemnon, first seen in full armour battling against a minotaur (a shameless splicing together of unrelated legends, but who cares?). I once saw an interview with Terry Jones (who co-wrote the script with his old Python partner Michael Palin) in which he claimed that an early draft of the screenplay had included the marvellous stage direction: Agamemnon slowly removes his helmet – to reveal Sean Connery! Or an actor of similar but cheaper stature.

    • Wikiquote offers this:

      Evil Genius: God is not interested in technology… He knows nothing of the potential of the micro-chip or the silicon revolution. He’s obsessed with making the grass grow and getting rainbows right… Look at what he spends his time on. 43 species of parrot! Nipples… for men!
      Robert: Slugs.
      Evil Genius: Slugs! HE created slugs! They can’t hear. They can’t speak. They can’t operate machinery. Are we not in the hands of a lunatic?

      And, separately:

      If I were creating the world I wouldn’t mess about with butterflies and daffodils. I would have started with lasers, eight o’clock, Day One! [zaps one of his minions accidentally, minion screams] Sorry.

      A very, very entertaining film. Satisfying to catch glimpses of every now and then, and to sit through when the occasion offers!

  3. I am stealing quote for Facebook.

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