The Awakening

[Video: magician Rob Zabrecky helps The 88 make a point about opening your eyes. Which is to say,
assume The 88 is making that point… ’cause I have no idea what the lyrics of this song are. People,
people — is it really that hard or copyright-threatening to make lyrics available when you release a
new song/video?]

From whiskey river:

The physical reinvention of the world is endless, relentless, fascinating, exhaustive; nothing that seems solid is. If you could stand at just a little distance in time, how fluid and shape-shifting physical reality would be, everything hurrying into some other form, even concrete, even stone.

(Mark Doty [source])

and (italicized paragraphs):

“The sense of justice is an enemy to prayer.”

I remember coming across this — what would you call it? — an assertion, an observation, a statement, thinking out loud, whatever it is that it should take up a whole page in Unattainable Earth, another later-career book by Milosz…

I have heard this line now so many times in my head that it has become something like a mantra. It turns me inside out and back into the world as it is and might be, and it does not cancel either justice or prayer but calmly evokes both. That is how I hear it now, today, at the moment I am writing this. As something I wish to hear. As something, in order to hear, I must say out loud in a way. Science now tells us that reading literally activates many of the same facial muscles that speaking does. Speaking and listening at once, each the same and ever the other — poetry can call both into being.

My favorite line of Whitman is from his long song of the earth “The Compost”:

Now I am terrified of the earth, it is that calm and patient.

As one ages, perhaps there is happiness only if, as Lowell puts it, there is a “terror in happiness…”

I now imagine I can hear some of that calm and patience, and even perhaps the terror, in the little bit of Milosz that takes up an entire page.

(William Olsen [source])

…and (from whiskey river’s commonplace book):

After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with color, bountiful with life. Within decades we must close our eyes again. Isn’t it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it? This is how I answer when I am asked — as I am surprisingly often — why I bother to get up in the mornings.

(Richard Dawkins [source])

Not from whiskey river:

The faith of early rising is that one has awakened aboveground, and that the night-damp and dreamy confusion will be baked solid by the rising sun. In English we use the word wake for such different realities: ceasing to sleep, holding a vigil or party beside someone who has died, a disturbance in the water after a ship passes, or the aftermath or consequence of anything. They all meet in a past nearly beyond imagining, in the Old Norse word vaka, “an opening in the ice.” That opening could lead to fish, hunting, travel, driftwood for ship repair, suicide, or just a badly needed escape from the cage of long winters.

…It’s telling, I suppose, that in English we name our bad dreams nightmares, as if they were female horses galloping out of control, or mares, the pockmarked craters of the Moon. Yet we haven’t needed a separate word for fabulous dreams, delicious dreams, dreams of blessed calm. The Bantu have, calling their blissful dreams bilita mpatshi (pronounced bee-LEE-tah mm-POT-she). We could also use an equivalent of Indonesian Kekau, the feeling of waking from a horrible nightmare, still slightly tippy but glad to step onto shore once again.

(Diane Ackerman [source])


Snowman opens his eyes, shuts them, opens them, keeps them open. He’s had a terrible night. He doesn’t know which is worse, a past he can’t regain or a present that will destroy him if he looks at it too closely. Then there’s the future. Sheer vertigo.

(Margaret Atwood [source])


The Death of Santa Claus

He’s had the chest pains for weeks,
but doctors don’t make house
calls to the North Pole,

he’s let his Blue Cross lapse,
blood tests make him faint,
hospital gown always flap

open, waiting rooms upset
his stomach, and it’s only
indigestion anyway, he thinks,

until, feeding the reindeer,
he feels as if a monster fist
has grabbed his heart and won’t

stop squeezing. He can’t
breathe, and the beautiful white
world he loves goes black,

and he drops on his jelly belly
in the snow and Mrs. Claus
tears out of the toy factory

wailing, and the elves wring
their little hands, and Rudolph’s
nose blinks like a sad ambulance

light, and in a tract house
in Houston, Texas, I’m 8,
telling my mom that stupid

kids at school say Santa’s a big
fake, and she sits with me
on our purple-flowered couch,

and takes my hand, tears
in her throat, the terrible
news rising in her eyes.

(Charles Harper Webb [source])

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  1. Oh, hell. That Webb poem got me.

    • Found it in the Writer’s Almanac e-newsletter this week. Over the summer, while Garrison Keillor and his staff (who assemble the thing) are out on a tour and cruise, they’ve turned over the task of selecting poems and historical tidbits to Billy Collins. I thought this Webb poem was a perfect Billy Collins-ish choice!

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