Et Çe N’est Pas Bon, Ma

[Image taken from a full photographic composition by Brandon Voges of the Bruton Stroube studio; see the note at the bottom of this post for more information.]

From whiskey river (italicized portion):

Picnic, Lightning

My very photogenic mother died in a freak accident
(picnic, lightning) when I was three.

It is possible to be struck by a meteor
or a single-engine plane
while reading in a chair at home.
Safes drop from rooftops
and flatten the odd pedestrian
mostly within the panels of the comics,
but still, we know it is possible,
as well as the flash of summer lightning,
the thermos toppling over,
spilling out on the grass.

And we know the message
can be delivered from within.
The heart, no valentine,
decides to quit after lunch,
the power shut off like a switch,
or a tiny dark ship is unmoored
into the flow of the body’s rivers,
the brain a monastery,
defenseless on the shore.

This is what I think about
when I shovel compost
into a wheelbarrow,
and when I fill the long flower boxes,
then press into rows
the limp roots of red impatiens —
the instant hand of Death
always ready to burst forth
from the sleeve of his voluminous cloak.

Then the soil is full of marvels,
bits of leaf like flakes off a fresco,
red-brown pine needles, a beetle quick
to burrow back under the loam.
Then the wheelbarrow is a wilder blue,
the clouds a brighter white,

and all I hear is the rasp of the steel edge
against a round stone,
the small plants singing
with lifted faces, and the click
of the sundial
as one hour sweeps into the next.

(Billy Collins, from Sailing Alone Around the Room [source])


Expectations of goals and rewards (such as Enlightenment) are recognized for what they are: last-ditch attempts by the ghostly self to subvert the process to its own ends. The more we become conscious of the mysterious unfolding of life, the clearer it becomes that its purpose is not to fulfill the expectations of our ego. We can put into words only the question it poses. And then let go, listen, and wait.

(Stephen Batchelor, from Buddhism Without Beliefs [source])

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“What Time Is It?” “Time to Wish You Were in Prague.”

Per Eileen of Speak Coffee to Me, this awesome* video of a projection on the Prague Orloj, an “astronomical clock tower.” “The 600 Years” refers to the number of years since the clock was first built — years which pass by as you watch the video:

It’s the handiwork of a project known as The Macula, “dealing with the relationship between image, sound and audience.” If you follow that link to their site, be sure to nose around some to view more of their other work… including similar projection-on-buildings pieces.

The logistical problems they had to solve to make this overwhelm my brain. Just getting the perspective right had to be a matter of a lot of experimentation and calculation.


* The word is here no cliche.

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[For information about this image, see the note at the foot of this post.]

[Below, click Play button to begin The Happy Wanderer. While audio is playing, volume control appears at left — a row of little vertical bars. This clip is 3:17 long.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

The Missus and I have a favorite, half-kidding/half-serious theory about the modern world: that it’s set up to drive its denizens (especially us) crazy. Just in case you haven’t noticed: the pace of life never slows down, and there’s more and more stuff to fill every minute, and every bit of it is urgent and ever more resistant to prioritization. Music is louder and faster, TV commercials more obstreporous, money tighter, our friends and families both frailer and more distant, food and drink more dangerous, streets more crowded and more polluted (despite new regulations every year pretending to fight both traffic volume and air pollution), “communication” trivially easy and also easily trivial, civic discourse threatening to run off the rails at every nerve-jangling second…

Furthermore, of course, no one we know is getting any younger — a situation thorned with a thousand frustrations all its own. Speaking for myself, I am certain that gravity is much stronger than when I was a kid, and air resistance much weaker, and objects theoretically meant to be held in the hands seem aerodynamically designed these days to leap away and down to the floor almost as soon as I touch them.

And knowledge? Pfft! When it comes to knowledge, the situation really gets dire. Computers and networks grow ever more stubborn, refusing not only to play with one another but to play with me, dammit. I can download books tens of thousands of times faster than I can read their first chapters. Facts once gluey slither around in my head like greased marbles…

Note the peculiarly Baby-Boomer view of the world: if something hasn’t been set up to make life easier, it’s because we must be beset by enemies, entire wicked cabals of them, bent on keeping us from whatever we want at the moment. Because, you know, it’s all about us.

This crazy-makingness, I am convinced, is tied in somehow with the laws of thermodynamics. You know: matter and energy can neither be created nor destroyed, at best just turned into other forms of matter and energy. The total amount of matter (or energy) in the universe is a constant. All that. Because, see — so my theory goes — the total amount of information in the universe is a constant, too. When you move 150 pounds of information from a blog to Twitter, let’s say, it remains at 150 pounds total — just diffused and vaporous and spread out so no one can see the whole anymore, just the individual molecules…

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It Went Right By You

[Image: “Lodz, PL, 1994.” A photo by Mark Pimlott from his 2008 exhibit, All Things Pass,
at Stroom Den Haag, The Hague, Netherlands (click for original)]

From whiskey river:

Wild geese fly south, creaking like anguished hinges; along the riverbank the candles of the sumacs burn dull red. It’s the first week of October. Season of woolen garments taken out of mothballs; of nocturnal mists and dew and slippery front steps, and late-blooming slugs; of snapdragons having one last fling; of those frilly ornamental pink-and-purple cabbages that never used to exist, but are all over everywhere now.

(Margaret Atwood, from The Blind Assassin [source])


Transience is the force of time that makes a ghost of every experience. There was never a dawn, regardless how beautiful or promising, that did not grow into a noontime. There was never a noon that did not fall into afternoon. There was never an afternoon that did not fade toward evening. There never was a day yet that did not get buried in the graveyard of the night.

(John O’Donohue, from Anam Cara [source])



Can’t get clear of this dream,
can’t get sober.

Spring breeze chilly
on the flesh: me all alone.

My orphan sail
finds the bank
where reed flowers fall.

All night
the river sounds
the rain falling:

(Yuan Mei, from I Don’t Bow to Buddhas [source])

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When It’s Not Quite (Yet, Still) Light

[Image: “Zodiacal Light vs. Milky Way,” by Daniel López;
featured at
Astronomy Picture of the Day on March 20, 2010]

From whiskey river:

Incandescence at Dusk

(Homage to Dionysius the Areopagite)

There is fire in everything,
shining and hidden —

Or so the saint believed. And I believe the saint:
Nothing stays the same
in the shimmering heat
Of dusk during Indian summer in the country.

Out here it is possible to perceive
That those brilliant red welts
slashed into the horizon
Are like a drunken whip
whistling across a horse’s back,
And that round ball flaring in the trees
Is like a coal sizzling
in the mouth of a desert prophet.

Be careful.
Someone has called the orange leaves
sweeping off the branches
The colorful palmprints of God
brushing against our faces.
Someone has called the banked piles
of twigs and twisted veins
The handprints of the underworld
Gathering at our ankles and burning
through the soles of our feet.
We have to bear the sunset deep inside us.
I don’t believe in ultimate things.
I don’t believe in the inextinguishable light
of the other world.
I don’t believe that we will be lifted up
and transfixed by radiance.
One incandescent dusky world is all there is.

But I like this vigilant saint
Who stood by the river at nightfall
And saw the angels descending
as burnished mirrors and fiery wheels,
As living creatures of fire,
as streams of white flame….

1500 years in his wake,
I can almost imagine
his disappointment and joy
When the first cool wind
starts to rise on the prairie,
When the soothing blue rain begins
to fall out of the cerulean night.

(Edward Hirsch [source]; here‘s a good place to start learning about the mysterious figure whose name appears in the epigraph)


Do you wake up as I do, having forgotten what it is that hurts or where, until you move? There is a second of consciousness that is clean again. A second that is you, without memory or experience, the animal warm and waking into a brand new world. There is the sun dissolving the dark, and light as clear as music, filling the room where you sleep and the other rooms behind your eyes.

(Jeanette Winterson, from Gut Symmetries [source])


I have this strange feeling that I’m not myself anymore. It’s hard to put into words, but I guess it’s like I was fast asleep, and someone came, disassembled me, and hurriedly put me back together again. That sort of feeling.

(Haruki Murakami, from The Sputnik Sweetheart (translated by J. Philip Gabriel) [source])

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For Lack of Better Words

[Image: “Zip Your Lips,” from A New Me’s photostream at Flickr]

From whiskey river (italicized portion):

The Peninsula

When you have nothing more to say, just drive
For a day all around the peninsula
The sky is tall as over a runway,
The land without marks, so you will not arrive

But pass through, though always skirting landfall.
At dusk, horizons drink down sea and hill,
The ploughed field swallows the whitewashed gable
And you’re in the dark again. Now recall

The glazed foreshore and silhouetted log.
That rock where breakers shredded into rags,
The leggy birds stilted on their own legs,
Islands riding themselves out into the fog.

And then drive back home, still with nothing to say
Except that now you will uncode all landscapes
By this; things founded clean on their own shapes
Water and ground in their extremity.

(Seamus Heaney [source])


It’s impossible to say a thing exactly the way it was, because what you say can never be exact, you always have to leave something out, there are too many parts, sides, crosscurrents, nuances; too many gestures, which could mean this or that, too many shapes which can never be fully described, too many flavors, in the air or on the tongue, half-colors, too many.

(Margaret Atwood, from The Handmaid’s Tale [source])

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Right Looking

[Image of Fay Ray, by William Wegman (1988), found here, as well as elsewhere
on the Web (e.g., Style Me to the Moon)]

From whiskey river:

My Hand

See how the past is not finished
here in the present
it is awake the whole time
never waiting
it is my hand now but not what I held
it is not my hand but what I held
it is what I remember
but it never seems quite the same
no one else remembers it
a house long gone into air
the flutter of tires over a brick road
cool light in a vanished bedroom
the flash of the oriole
between one life and another
the river a child watched

(W. S. Merwin, The Shadow of Sirius)


And now here’s the thing. It takes a time like this for you to find out how sore your heart has been, and, moreover, all the while you thought you were going around idle terribly hard work was taking place. Hard, hard work, excavation and digging, mining, moiling through tunnels, heaving, pushing, moving rock, working, working, working, working, panting, hauling, hoisting. And none of this work is seen from the outside. It’s internally done. It happens because you are powerless and unable to get anywhere, to obtain justice or have requital, and therefore in yourself you labor, you wage and combat, settle scores, remember insults, fight, reply, deny, blab, denounce, triumph, outwit, overcome, vindicate, cry, persist, absolve, die and rise again. All by yourself? Where is everybody? Inside your breast and skin, the entire cast.

(Saul Bellow, The Adventures of Augie March [source])

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The Mysterious Clarities of Summer

From whiskey river (italicized portion below):

Mind Wanting More

Only a beige slat of sun
above the horizon, like a shade pulled
not quite down. Otherwise,
clouds. Sea rippled here and
there. Birds reluctant to fly.
The mind wants a shaft of sun to
stir the grey porridge of clouds,
an osprey to stitch the sea to sky
with its barred wings, some dramatic
music: a symphony, perhaps
a Chinese gong.

But the mind always
wants more than it has —
one more bright day of sun,
one more clear night in bed
with the moon; one more hour
to get the words right; one
more chance for the heart in hiding
to emerge from its thicket
in dried grasses — as if this quiet day
with its tentative light weren’t enough,
as if joy weren’t strewn all around.

(Holly Hughes [source])


The answer is never the answer. What’s really interesting is the mystery. If you seek the mystery instead of the answer, you’ll always be seeking. I’ve never seen anybody really find the answer — they think they have, so they stop thinking. But the job is to seek mystery, evoke mystery, plant a garden in which strange plants grow and mysteries bloom. The need for mystery is greater than the need for an answer.

(Ken Kesey, from “The Art of Fiction,” interview by Robert Faggen, The Paris Review)

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A Matter of Form

[See the note about this video at the bottom of the post.]

From whiskey river:

Any Morning

Just lying on the couch and being happy.
Only humming a little, the quiet sound in the head.
Trouble is busy elsewhere at the moment, it has
so much to do in the world.

People who might judge are mostly asleep; they can’t
monitor you all the time, and sometimes they forget.
When dawn flows over the hedge you can
get up and act busy.

Little corners like this, pieces of Heaven
left lying around, can be picked up and saved.
People won’t even see that you have them,
they are so light and easy to hide.

Later in the day you can act like the others.
You can shake your head. You can frown.

(William Stafford)

and (italicized portion only):

There’s a great deal to say about how we tend to see, and hear, only what has been pointed out to us… We are given words for those things that are pointed out to us. What about everything else? What are we missing? That’s one reason I like poetry, because it allows me to surmise, to question what may be beyond what we presently see and hear simply because it’s never been noticed.

(Pattiann Rogers [source])


For all my skepticism, some trace of irrational superstition did survive in me, the strange conviction, for example, that everything in life that happens to me also has a sense, that it means something, that life speaks to us about itself through its story, that it gradually reveals a secret, that it takes the form of a rebus whose message must be deciphered, that the stories we live compromise the mythology of our lives and in that mythology lies the key to truth and mystery. Is it an illusion? Possibly, even probably, but I can’t rid myself of the need continually to decipher my own life.

(Milan Kundera, from The Joke [source])

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Look Up! Look Up! (Or Is It Down?)

[Image: “Looking Up the Yosemite Valley,” by Alfred Bierstadt.
For more information, see the Haggin Museum site.]

Note: Here for Poetry Friday (hosted today at the impossibly appealing Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast)? Never before been here on a Friday? Just plain confused by what’s going on in this post? You might want to read about my “whiskey river Fridays” series, at its own “About” page.

From whiskey river:


I have had my dream — like others —
and it has come to nothing, so that
I remain now carelessly
with feet planted on the ground
and look up at the sky —
feeling my clothes about me,
the weight of my body in my shoes,
the rim of my hat, air passing in and out
at my nose — and decide to dream no more.

(William Carlos Williams [source])

…and, likewise (although whiskey river omits the first stanza):

A Blessing of Angels

May the Angels in their beauty bless you.
May they turn toward you streams of blessing.

May the Angel of Awakening stir your heart
to come alive to the eternal within you,
to all the invitations that quietly surround you.

May the Angel of Healing turn your wounds
into sources of refreshment.

May the Angel of Imagination enable you
to stand on the true thresholds,
at ease with your ambivalence
and drawn in new directions
through the glow of your contradictions.

May the Angel of Compassion open your eyes
to the unseen suffering around you.

May the Angel of Wildness disturb the places
where your life is domesticated and safe,
take you to the territories of true otherness
where all that is awkward in you
can fall into its own rhythm.

May the Angel of Eros introduce you
to the beauty of your senses
to celebrate your inheritance
as a temple of the holy spirit.

May the Angel of Justice disturb you
to take the side of the poor and the wronged.

May the Angel of Encouragement confirm you
in worth and self-respect,
that you may live with the dignity
that presides in your soul.

May the Angel of Death arrive only
when your life is complete
and you have brought every given gift
to the threshold where its infinity can shine.

May all the Angels be your sheltering
and joyful guardians.

(John O’Donohue [source])

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