Little Figures, Big Contexts, and the Distance Between Them

[Video: Ariana Grande, “Tattooed Heart.” I’m probably making people sick of this performance.]

From whiskey river:

When we remember our former selves, there is always that little figure with its long shadow stopping like an uncertain belated visitor on a lighted threshold at the far end of an impeccably narrowing corridor.

(Vladimir Nabokov [source])


Why We Tell Stories

for Linda Nemec Foster


Because we used to have leaves
and on damp days
our muscles feel a tug,
painful now, from when roots
pulled us into the ground

and because our children believe
they can fly, an instinct retained
from when the bones in our arms
were shaped like zithers and broke
neatly under their feathers

and because before we had lungs
we knew how far it was to the bottom
as we floated open-eyed
like painted scarves through the scenery
of dreams, and because we awakened

and learned to speak

(Lisel Mueller [source])

Not from whiskey river:

Like the Small Hole by the Path-Side Something Lives in

Like the small hole by the path-side something lives in,
in me are lives I do not know the names of,

nor the fates of,
nor the hungers of or what they eat.

They eat of me.
Of small and blemished apples in low fields of me
whose rocky streams and droughts I do not drink.

And in my streets—the narrow ones,
unlabeled on the self-map—
they follow stairs down music ears can’t follow,

and in my tongue borrowed by darkness,
in hours uncounted by the self-clock,
they speak in restless syllables of other losses, other loves.

There too have been the hard extinctions,
missing birds once feasted on and feasting.

There too must be machines
like loud ideas with tungsten bits that grind the day.

A few escape. A mercy.

They leave behind
small holes that something unweighed by the self-scale lives in.

(Jane Hirshfield [source])


Cloud No Bigger than a Man’s Hand

It approaches from the sea, too small
For thunder and lightning
But ominous as a closed fist
And what it will bring

Nearing us, growing larger,
Is completely unknown.
Beware the leaves blowing, beware
The spot on the sun.
All is turned toward it. It rides
The brow of the mind.
Soon, it will shadow one cliff
And a small coastal shrine.

Beware the leaves blowing, beware
The spot on the sun.
Do your work well. Behold
The work yet to be done.

(Dick Allen [source, but also see this])


I’m frequently asked about my “great science background,” but I have no science background whatsoever. I majored in English Literature in college. We were required to take two languages and one science or two sciences and one language, so of course I took two languages and psychology. Part of my reluctance about science was that when I was in school, science was proud and arrogant. The scientists let us know that they thought they had everything pretty well figured out, and what they didn’t know about the nature of the universe, they were shortly going to find out. Science could answer all questions…

Many years later, after I was out of school, married and had children, the new sciences absolutely fascinated me. They were completely different from the pre-World War II sciences, which had answers for everything. The new sciences asked questions. There was much that was not explainable. For everything new that science discovered, vast areas of the unknown were opened. Sometimes contemporary physics sounds like something out of a fairy tale: there is a star known as a degenerate white dwarf and another known as a red giant sitting on the horizontal branch. Can’t you imagine the degenerate white dwarf trying to get the red giant off the horizontal branch?

(Madeleine L’Engle [source])


No idea what whiskey river is, or why I’m referring to it here?
This page may help.

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  1. Jill Reit says:

    Really LOVE
    Why We Tell Stories
    for Linda Nemec Foster

    Thanks for posting

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