Spirit Within Reach — Overlooked, Unrecognized, Disregarded

'Dryad's Saddle - Untouched Macro,' by user LasyDragonFlyCC on Flickr

[Image: “Dryad’s Saddle – Untouched Macro,” by “LadyDragonflyCC.” (Found on Flickr, and used here under a Creative Commons license: thank you!) Dryad’s saddle is a mushroom, scientific name Cerioporus squamosus; the photographer’s note on this photo says: “The mushroom’s shape and lateral stem make it look suitable for woodland spirits, the dryads of Greek mythology, to ride. I’ve found plenty of dryad’s saddle in the woods, but I’m still looking for the nymph!”]

From whiskey river:

You never hear people put it this way, and I don’t intend to start a trend, but when we consider the ever-evolving process of a person’s thinking, the way a person imagines and organizes the world, it could almost seem appropriate to ask each other from time to time, How’s your religion coming along? How’s it going? Born again, or the same old, same old? Did you successfully distinguish darkness from light in the course of your day? Is there a fever in your mind that won’t go away? Mind if I prescribe a poem?

(David Dark [source])

and:

I Have News for You

There are people who do not see a broken playground swing
as a symbol of ruined childhood

and there are people who don’t interpret the behavior
of a fly in a motel room as a mocking representation of their thought process.

There are people who don’t walk past an empty swimming pool
and think about past pleasures unrecoverable

and then stand there blocking the sidewalk for other pedestrians.
I have read about a town somewhere in California where human beings

do not send their sinuous feeder roots
deep into the potting soil of others’ emotional lives

as if they were greedy six-year-olds
sucking the last half-inch of milkshake up through a noisy straw;

and other persons in the Midwest who can kiss without
debating the imperialist baggage of heterosexuality.

Do you see that creamy, lemon-yellow moon?
There are some people, unlike me and you,

who do not yearn after fame or love or quantities of money as
unattainable as that moon;
thus, they do not later
have to waste more time
defaming the object of their former ardor.

Or consequently run and crucify themselves
in some solitary midnight Starbucks Golgotha.

I have news for you—
there are people who get up in the morning and cross a room

and open a window to let the sweet breeze in
and let it touch them all over their faces and bodies.

(Tony Hoagland [source])

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An Appetite for Meaning (Seasoned with Words)

'Mowing Word,' by user grob831 on Flickr

[Image: “Mowing Word,” by user grob831 on Flickr. (Used here under a Creative Commons license.) For more information, see the note at the foot of this post.]

From whiskey river:

Land of the Living
(excerpt)

Earlier tonight, a young monk, laughing,
splashed my face
with holy water. Then, just as unexpectedly,
he flew down a banister, and
for one millisecond
was an angel—robed,
without feet—
all irrepressible joy
and good news.

(Kathleen Norris [source])

…and:

If one day you become sick of words, as happens to us all, and you grow tired of hearing them, of saying them; if whichever you choose seems worn out, dull, disabled; if you feel nauseated when you hear “horrible” or “divine” for some everyday occurrence—you’ll not be cured, obviously, by alphabet soup.

You must do the following: cook a plate of al dente spaghetti dressed with the simplest seasoning—garlic, oil and chili. Over the pasta tossed in this mixture, grate a layer of Parmesan cheese. To the right of the deep plate full of the spaghetti thus prepared, place an open book. To the left, place an open book. In front of it a full glass of dry red wine. Any other company is not recommended. Turn the pages of each book at random, but they must both be poetry. Only good poets cure us of an overindulgence in words. Only simple essential food cures us of gluttony.

(Héctor Abad [source])

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Believing in What Cannot Be Believed

Image: from 'Elecktroschutz 132,' an album on Flickr by Bre Pettis

[Image: one of 30 Ways to Shock Yourself, a Flickr album by Bre Pettis (used here under a Creative Commons license). The images in this album apparently come from an old (1931) German book, Elecktroschutz in 132 Bildern; this was an illustrated guide to the hazards of electricity in everyday life. The illustrations all feature these curvy red lines and arrows, indicating the path the electricity takes and the dangerous points of contact which make the path possible. The caption on this one — one of the more fanciful images — might be, “Do not milk a cow with its tail wrapped around a light pole, especially if you may end up sitting in the milk you spill.” This does seem like sound advice.]

From whiskey river:

Credo

What good is poetry
if it doesn’t stand up
against the lies of government,
if it doesn’t rescue us
from the liars that mislead us?
What good is it
if it doesn’t speak out, denounce what’s going on?
It’s nothing
but harmless wordplay
to titillate and distract—
the government knows it,
and can always get rid of us if we step out of line.

That I believed in poetry,
even when I betrayed it,
that I came back to its central meaning
—to save the world—
this and only this
has been my salvation.

after C. Milosz

(Edward Field [source])

and:

Folk-lore means that the soul is sane, but that the universe is wild and full of marvels. Realism means that the world is dull and full of routine, but that the soul is sick and screaming. The problem of the fairy tale is—what will a healthy man do with a fantastic world? The problem of the modern novel is—what will a madman do with a dull world? In the fairy tales the cosmos goes mad; but the hero does not go mad. In the modern novels the hero is mad before the book begins, and suffers from the harsh steadiness and cruel sanity of the cosmos.

(G. K. Chesterton [source])

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Season of Marvels

'Le Petit Prince,' by Xava du on Flickr.com

[Image: “Le Petit Prince,” by user Xava du on Flickr. (Used here under a Creative Commons license.) The Spanish caption provided by the photographer: Cuando el misterio es demasiado impresionante, es imposible desobedecer; the English translation of this passage (originally in French) from Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince is usually rendered as When a mystery is too overpowering, one dare not disobey.]

From whiskey river:

All Hallows’ Eve

In the great silence of my favorite month,
October (the red of maples, the bronze of oaks,
A clear-yellow leaf here and there on birches),
I celebrated the standstill of time.

The vast country of the dead had its beginning everywhere:
At the turn of a tree-lined alley, across park lawns.
But I did not have to enter, I was not called yet.

Motorboats pulled up on the river bank, paths in pine needles.
It was getting dark early, no lights on the other side.

I was going to attend the ball of ghosts and witches.
A delegation would appear there in masks and wigs,
And dance, unrecognized, in the chorus of the living.

(Czesaw Milosz [source])

and:

Rain

As the falling rain
trickles among the stones
memories come bubbling out.
It’s as if the rain
had pierced my temples.
Streaming
streaming chaotically
come memories:
the reedy voice
of the servant
telling me tales
of ghosts.
They sat beside me
the ghosts
and the bed creaked
that purple-dark afternoon
when I learned you were leaving forever,
a gleaming pebble
from constant rubbing
becomes a comet.
Rain is falling
falling
and memories keep flooding by
they show me a senseless
world
a voracious
world—abyss
ambush
whirlwind
spur
but I keep loving it
because I do
because of my five senses
because of my amazement
because every morning,
because forever, I have loved it
without knowing why.

(Claribel Alegría, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden [source])

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Say Not Falling, But Released

'gotta match?,' by Laszlo Ilyes on Flicker

[Image: “gotta match?,” by Laszlo Ilyes; found on Flickr, and used here via a Creative Commons license.]

From whiskey river:

It was one of those sumptuous days when the world is full of autumn muskiness and tangy, crisp perfection: vivid blue sky, deep green fields, leaves in a thousand luminous hues. It is a truly astounding sight when every tree in a landscape becomes individual, when each winding back highway and plump hillside is suddenly and infinitely splashed with every sharp shade that nature can bestow — flaming scarlet, lustrous gold, throbbing vermilion, fiery orange.

(Bill Bryson [source])

and:

Every spirit passing through the world fingers the tangible and mars the mutable, and finally has come to look and not to buy. So shoes are worn and hassocks are sat upon and finally everything is left where it was and the spirit passes on, just as the wind in the orchard picks up the leaves from the ground as if there were no other pleasure in the world but brown leaves, as if it would deck, clothe, flesh itself in flourishes of dusty brown apple leaves, and then drops them all in a heap at the side of the house and goes on.

(Marilynne Robinson [source])

and (italicized lines):

Fall
(excerpt)

And every year there is a brief, startling moment
When we pause in the middle of a long walk home and
Suddenly feel something invisible and weightless
Touching our shoulders, sweeping down from the air:
It is the autumn wind pressing against our bodies;
It is the changing light of fall falling on us.

(Edward Hirsch [source])

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Deeper Roots than Reason

'Spirit of the Demon' (poster for 'Howl's Moving Castle'), by Edward J. Moran

[Image: “Spirit of the Demon,” poster by Edward J. Moran for the Studio Ghibli film Howl’s Moving Castle. (Found on DeviantArt.) The film — and other films from the mind of Hayao Miyazaki — rewards the viewer approximately in proportion to how little one thinks about what one is seeing.]

From whiskey river:

Such Silence

As deep as I ever went into the forest
I came upon an old stone bench, very, very old,
and around it a clearing, and beyond that
trees taller and older than I had ever seen.

Such silence!
It really wasn’t so far from a town, but it seemed
all the clocks in the world had stopped counting.
So it was hard to suppose the usual rules applied.

Sometimes there’s only a hint, a possibility.
What’s magical, sometimes, has deeper roots
than reason.
I hope everyone knows that.

I sat on the bench, waiting for something.
An angel, perhaps.
Or dancers with the legs of goats.

No, I didn’t see either. But only, I think, because
I didn’t stay long enough.

(Mary Oliver [source])

and:

A moral character is attached to autumnal scenes; the leaves falling like our years, the flowers fading like our hours, the clouds fleeting like our illusions, the light diminishing like our intelligence, the sun growing colder like our affections, the rivers becoming frozen like our lives — all bear secret relations to our destinies.

(François-René de Chateaubriand [source, in slightly different wording])

and:

’til soon

Even you, raw matter,
even you, lumber, mass and muscle,
vodka, liver and chuckle,
candlelight, paper, coal and cloud,
stone, avocado meat, falling rain,
nail, mountain, hot-press iron,
even you feel saudade,
first-degree burn,
a longing to return home?

Clay, sponge, marble, rubber,
cement, steel, glass, vapor, cloth and cartilage,
paint, ash, eggshell, grain of sand,
first day of autumn, the word spring,
number five, the slap in the face, a rich rhyme,
a new life, middle age, old strength,
even you, matter my dear,
remember when we were only a mere idea?

(Paulo Leminski, translated by Elisa Wouk Almino [source])

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The Voice, the Song, the Vision, the Light

[Video: 10,000 Maniacs and David Byrne (live), performing Iris Dement’s “Let the Mystery Be.” (Lyrics here.)]

From whiskey river:

Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity. The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. He has permitted the twilight. He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland. He has always left himself free to doubt his gods; but (unlike the agnostic of today) free also to believe in them. He has always cared more for truth than for consistency. If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them. His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight: he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that. Thus he has always believed that there was such a thing as fate, but such a thing as free will also.

(G. K. Chesterton [source])

and:

Old Man At Home Alone in the Morning

There are questions that I no longer ask
and others that I have not asked for a long time
that I return to and dust off and discover
that I’m smiling and the question
has always been me and that it is
no question at all but that it means
different things at the same time
yes I am old now and I am the child
I remember what are called the old days and there is
no one to ask how they became the old days
and if I ask myself there is no answer
so this is old and what I have become
and the answer is something I would come to
later when I was old but this morning
is not old and I am the morning
in which the autumn leaves have no question
as the breeze passes through them and is gone

(W. S. Merwin [source])

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Atmospherics

'Clam Chowder, Bouillon, & Biscuits,' by Professor Bop on Flickr

[Image: “Clam Chowder, Bouillon, & Biscuits,” by user Professor Bop on Flickr. (Used here under a Creative Commons license.) The building is unidentified, only noted as “in New York City’s Meatpacking District.” (Curious about the user name? The photographer’s profile page cites “Professor Bop,” by Babs Gonzales: “He can do it so can you / Take a song like Auld Lang Syne / Then you add a bebop line / Oop be dop la kloog a mop / Like Professor Bop.”)]

From whiskey river (italicized lines):

Wait for an Autumn Day
(from Ekelöf)

Wait for an autumn day, for a slightly
weary sun, for dusty air,
a pale day’s weather.

Wait for the maple’s rough, brown leaves,
etched like an old man’s hands,
for chestnuts and acorns,

for an evening when you sit in the garden
with a notebook and the bonfire’s smoke contains
the heady taste of ungettable wisdom.

Wait for afternoons shorter than an athlete’s breath,
for a truce among the clouds,
for the silence of trees,

for the moment when you reach absolute peace
and accept the thought that what you’ve lost
is gone for good.

Wait for the moment when you might not
even miss those you loved
who are no more.

Wait for a bright, high day,
for an hour without doubt or pain.
Wait for an autumn day.

(Adam Zagajewski [source])

and (italicized lines):

Halleluiah

Everyone should be born into this world happy
and loving everything.
But in truth it rarely works that way.
For myself, I have spent my life clamoring toward it.
Halleluiah, anyway I’m not where I started!

And have you too been trudging like that, sometimes
almost forgetting how wondrous the world is
and how miraculously kind some people can be?
And have you too decided that probably nothing important
is ever easy?
Not, say, for the first sixty years.

Halleluiah, I’m sixty now, and even a little more,
and some days I feel I have wings.

(Mary Oliver [source])

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Book Review: Night of the Animals, by Bill Broun

Cover: 'Night of the Animals,' by Bill BrounA couple reviews of Night of the Animals have alluded — unconvincingly, I think, despite superficial similarities — to Noah’s ark and/or more generally the Bible’s Book of Genesis.

Yes, it’s true: the novel’s mainspring is the saving of the world’s creatures; both the world’s destruction and its salvation are at stake. But if you hope and believe you’ll be getting a “retelling” of those Biblical stories, updated to a 21st-century landscape, you will be very surprised (maybe disappointed) by what you find in the book’s pages:

The genre, murky — a sort of near-future, dystopic science fiction/fantasy cast in prose perhaps a bit more “literary” than you’d expect; the time, about forty years from now, with numerous flashbacks to the 1960s; the setting, mostly London (and in the flashbacks, up in the Midlands region — the “waist” of the island). The dialogue is littered with dialect obscure enough to require clarifying footnotes.

But the biggest surprise among Night of the Animals’ conventional elements lies in its protagonist, Cuthbert Handley.

Sounds like the name of a stereotypically anal-retentive, mousey-in-stature librarian or clerk, eh? Maybe. But this Cuthbert Handley — well, no. He’s enormous in size, three (approaching four) hundred pounds of, well, fat. (Not that fat people cannot be heroes, but it defies convention.) He’s old (not that the aged cannot be heroes…): in a point in history where living to 120 years of age is common, Cuthbert himself is over 90, and held together not just by his own flesh and bones but by numerous artificial “BodyMods.” He belongs to a class referred to as the capital-I Indigent — all but homeless, rough-sleeping in parks and alleys, the lot.  Finally, he’s almost suicidally addicted to a hallucinogenic beverage called Flōt (not that penniless addicts cannot etc.); Flōt is apparently legal, and the book suggests that its use is both tacitly approved by the government and sneered at by the unaddicted upper class. (Not at all to suggest that they themselves don’t use it, but they — you know — have such better self-control, right?)

More deeply, Cuthbert lives in thrall to a specific childhood event: the drowning of his elder brother Drystan, while little Cuthbert could do nothing to save him. (Cuthbert himself nearly drowned in the same “adventure.”) Since Drystan’s body never turned up, Cuthbert has lived his entire life — while in a state of mental health declining to the point of near-madness — believing that Drystan never died: he was simply lost, waiting for Cuthbert to find him. Surely this is a delusion. Surely his Flōt addiction has compounded the problem.

That much is obvious to everyone Cuthbert has ever known, will ever know. And naturally, that much is obvious to the reader of Broun’s book…

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Layers of Often, of Seldom, of Never

'127/365,' by Tom Wachtel on Flickr

[Image: “127/365,” by Tom Wachtel. (Found on Flickr, used here under a Creative Commons license.) The caption provided by the photographer: “Yellow often shines in sparkling company. Red will almost never dance alone. Green is seldom seen behind the screen of might-have-been, pining softly for what words were meant to mean.” And yes: I found this image after coming up with the post’s title.]

From whiskey river:

Often times, a person will think they know you by piecing together tiny facts and arranging those pieces into a puzzle that makes sense to them. If we don’t know ourselves very well, we’ll mistakenly believe them, and drift toward where they tell us to swim, only to drown in our own confusion.

Here’s the truth: it’s important to take the necessary steps to find out who you are. Because you hold endless depths below the surface of a few facts and pieces and past decisions. You aren’t only the ripples others can see. You are made of oceans.

(Victoria Erickson [source])

and:

Often down here I have entered into a sanctuary; a nunnery; had a religious retreat; of great agony once; and always some terror; so afraid one is of loneliness; of seeing to the bottom of the vessel. That is one of the experiences I have had here in some Augusts; and got then to a consciousness of what I call “reality”: a thing I see before me: something abstract; but residing in the downs or sky; beside which nothing matters; in which I shall rest and continue to exist. Reality I call it. And I fancy sometimes this is the most necessary thing to me: that which I seek. But who knows—once one takes a pen and writes? How difficult not to go making “reality” this and that, whereas it is one thing. Now perhaps this is my gift: this perhaps is what distinguishes me from other people: I think it may be rare to have so acute a sense of something like that—but again, who knows? I would like to express it too.

(Virginia Woolf [source])

and:

All through our gliding journey, on this day as on so many others, a little song runs through my mind. I say a song because it passes musically, but it is really just words, a thought that is neither strange nor complex. In fact, how strange it would be not to think it—not to have such music inside one’s head and body, on such an afternoon. What does it mean, say the words, that the earth is so beautiful? And what shall I do about it? What is the gift that I should bring to the world? What is the life that I should live?

(Mary Oliver [source])

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