Spirits Tossed, Lost, Messed Up, Redeemed

[Lyrics here; see additional notes at the foot of this post.]

From whiskey river (which seems to have had a rough week):

You fight your superficiality, your shallowness, so as to try to come at people without unreal expectations, without an overload of bias or hope or arrogance, as untanklike as you can be, sans cannon and machine guns and steel plating half a foot thick; you come at them unmenacingly on your own ten toes instead of tearing up the turf with your caterpillar treads, take them on with an open mind, as equals, man to man, as we used to say, and yet you never fail to get them wrong. You might as well have the brain of a tank. You get them wrong before you meet them, while you’re anticipating meeting them; you get them wrong while you’re with them; and then you go home to tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. Since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion empty of all perception, an astonishing farce of misperception. And yet what are we to do about this terribly significant business of other people, which gets bled of the significance we think it has and takes on instead a significance that is ludicrous, so ill-equipped are we all to envision one another’s interior workings and invisible aims? Is everyone to go off and lock the door and sit secluded like the lonely writers do, in a soundproof cell, summoning people out of words and then proposing that these word people are closer to the real thing than the real people that we mangle with our ignorance every day? The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It’s getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That’s how we know we’re alive: we’re wrong. Maybe the best thing would be to forget being right or wrong about people and just go along for the ride. But if you can do that — well, lucky you.

(Philip Roth [source])


Willow flowers, snowflakes, the same . . .
They’re feckless.

No matter whose garden they fall in,
They’ll always follow the wind away.

(Yuan Mei [source])


What does it feel like to be alive?

Living, you stand under a waterfall. You leave the sleeping shore deliberately; you shed your dusty clothes, pick your barefoot way over the high, slippery rocks, hold your breath, choose your footing, and step into the waterfall. The hard water pelts your skull, bangs in bits on your shoulders and arms. The strong water dashes down beside you and you feel it along your calves and thighs rising roughly back up, up to the roiling surface, full of bubbles that slide up your skin or break on you at full speed. Can you breathe here? Here where the force is the greatest and only the strength of your neck holds the river out of your face. Yes, you can breathe even here. You could learn to live like this. And you can, if you concentrate, even look out at the peaceful far bank where you try to raise your arms. What a racket in your ears, what a scattershot pummeling!

It is time pounding at you, time. Knowing you are alive is watching on every side your generation’s short time falling away as fast as rivers drop through air, and feeling it hit.

(Annie Dillard [source])

Not from whiskey river:

Twilight Comes

After Wang Wei

Twilight comes to the little farm
At winter’s end. The snowbanks
High as the eaves, which melted
And became pitted during the day,
Are freezing again, and crunch
Under the dog’s foot. The mountains
From their place behind our shoulders
Lean close a moment, as if for a
Final inspection, but with kindness,
A benediction as the darkness
Falls. It is my fiftieth year. Stars
Come out, one by one with a softer
Brightness, like the first flowers
Of spring. I hear the brook stirring,
Trying its music beneath the ice.
I hear — almost, I am not certain —
Remote tinklings; perhaps sheepbells
On the green side of a juniper hill
Or wineglasses on a summer night.
But no. My wife is at her work,
There behind yellow windows. Supper
Will be soon. I crunch the icy snow
And tilt my head to study the last

Silvery light of the western sky
In the pine boughs. I smile. Then
I smile again, just because I can.
I am not an old man. Not yet.

(Hayden Carruth [source])


High Windows

When I see a couple of kids
And guess he’s fucking her and she’s
Taking pills or wearing a diaphragm,
I know this is paradise

Everyone old has dreamed of all their lives—
Bonds and gestures pushed to one side
Like an outdated combine harvester,
And everyone young going down the long slide

To happiness, endlessly. I wonder if
Anyone looked at me, forty years back,
And thought, That’ll be the life;
No God any more, or sweating in the dark

About hell and that, or having to hide
What you think of the priest. He
And his lot will all go down the long slide
Like free bloody birds. And immediately

Rather than words comes the thought of high windows:
The sun-comprehending glass,
And beyond it, the deep blue air, that shows
Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless.

(Philip Larkin [source])


Woman at a French Door: Winter Sunrise

Do not presume to know what she means — you do not “take her meaning” (you take nothing), you do not “get it” (you get nothing, not even it, least of all her) — when the corners of her mouth twitch, her fingers curling lightly over the door handle, rosy-orange light slatting through Venetian blinds over her face and the wall behind her, the deck out there in burgeoning disrepair (boards springy, fuzzed with young woodrot), thin fog rising to disperse over Goose Pond and its ring of rooftops, alongside her a wheezing terrier dragging its behind on the carpet, in the bedroom the husband sleeping-in this morning (his tangled splaying hair once thick, dark, and fashionably long, now still long), and she mutters to herself, to the dog, to the sleeping husband, to herself, to Goose Pond, to the sun, the single syllable, ambiguous even to herself: God.



About the video: The New York-based indie/Americana band Hem found its lead vocalist quite by accident. Having advertised for a singer, they’d pretty much given up hope of finding one whose vocal feel matched the lyrics and melodies they’d been composing. Along came Sally Ellyson, who left them a demo recording on which she sang a capella lullabies, and, well… instant *click*.

Certainly when I first heard their newest single, I might have dubbed it lullaby pop. It sounds thin, light, and airy: non-serious. If Edward Lear were alive and writing music today, he might craft songs that sounded like this. And when I first saw the video, this impression only strengthened; colorful cut-out animals stroll around city streets, mimicking the behaviors of humans (wearing suits, dresses, and more casual garb, they talk on cell phones, walk babies, sip coffee and use laptops at sidewalk tables…). Pleasant? Of course. And a little, yes, silly.

But then I started to wonder about it. Why on earth would you give a name like “Tourniquet” to a lullaby? (For that matter, what did the rest of the lyrics say?) And that video, wow: for all the veneer of nursery-wall murals, some dark, dark stuff is roiling about in there…

So I dug around a little bit to find out the circumstances under which band member Dan Messé wrote and the band finally recorded “Tourniquet.” And things finally went *click* for me, too.

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  1. Part of that Roth quote was used in a TED Talk. Unfortunately I can’t remember which one. But it will probably come to me.

    I like the music and video. Lovely and sad, light and dark. Good combinations.

    And I’m glad I saw this post because I’m reminded again what a good writer you are. Yep. That’s right. Giving you a compliment because it’s true and because I can.

    • Thank you very much. They say not to give undue weight to feedback from friends but it’s still important to get that feedback sometimes: if we can’t please our friends then what chance do we have out in the larger, non-sympathetic world?

      Somebody ought to set up a writers’ swap meet or flea market where we could all drop in maybe even just once a year and share bits and pieces of stuff lying around on our hard drives and in our journals, piles of Post-Its and torn scraps of paper. In a heartbeat, you know, I’d trade a nice page or two of prose for a fragment of your talent at turning one plot development into another.

  2. Sweet cartoon.

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