Your First Miracle

Image: 'Israel-05625 - Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend,' by Dennis Jarvis on Flickr

[Image: “Israel-05625 – Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend,” by Dennis Jarvis; found it on Flickr, of course, and use it here under a Creative Commons license (thank you!)]

From whiskey river:

We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here…

This is another respect in which we are lucky. The universe is older than a hundred million centuries. Within a comparable time the sun will swell to a red giant and engulf the earth. Every century of hundreds of millions has been in its time, or will be when its time comes, “the present century.” Interestingly, some physicists don’t like the idea of a “moving present,” regarding it as a subjective phenomenon for which they find no house room in their equations. But it is a subjective argument I am making. How it feels to me, and I guess to you as well, is that the present moves from the past to the future, like a tiny spotlight, inching its way along a gigantic ruler of time. Everything behind the spotlight is in darkness, the darkness of the dead past. Everything ahead of the spotlight is in the darkness of the unknown future. The odds of your century being the one in the spotlight are the same as the odds that a penny, tossed down at random, will land on a particular ant crawling somewhere along the road from New York to San Francisco. In other words, it is overwhelmingly probable that you are dead.

In spite of these odds, you will notice that you are, as a matter of fact, alive. People whom the spotlight has already passed over, and people whom the spotlight has not reached, are in no position to read a book… What I see as I write is that I am lucky to be alive and so are you.

(Richard Dawkins [source])

and:

Horses Explain Things to Me

Today is a crash course on moving gently.
How to take a gift from someone so gingerly
they believe they still have it. If you move
soft enough through the wind or woods,
they say the sun will make a space for you.
Some of your regrets might soften. I move
terribly. I crush twigs and spiders but the horses
say nothing of it; they let me pet their long manes.
I hop on and we walk out to the end of wanting.
What is God? I ask them. They tell me, Yes.

(Brett Elizabeth Jenkins [source])

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At the Fulcrum of All the Days

Image: 'Oncoming Rush,' by Christopher Octa on Flickr

[Image: “Oncoming Rush,” by Christopher Octa (user phrequency) on Flickr.com. (Used here under a Creative Commons license; thank you!)]

From whiskey river:

Foreseeing

Middle age refers more
to landscape than to time:
it’s as if you’d reached
the top of a hill
and could see all the way
to the end of your life,
so you know without a doubt
that it has an end—
not that it will have,
but that it does have,
if only in outline—
so for the first time
you can see your life whole,
beginning and end not far
from where you stand,
the horizon in the distance—
the view makes you weep,
but it also has the beauty
of symmetry, like the earth
seen from space: you can’t help
but admire it from afar,
especially now, while it’s simple
to re-enter whenever you choose,
lying down in your life,
waking up to it
just as you always have—
except that the details resonate
by virtue of being contained,
as your own words
coming back to you
define the landscape,
remind you that it won’t go on
like this forever.

(Sharon Bryan [source])

and:

Picture time less like a river than a book. Or a record. Something finished. Or a movie, with a beginning, middle, and end, but already done and complete.

Then picture time travel as nothing more than dropping your half-read book to the floor and losing your place. You pick up the book and open the pages to a scene too early or late, but never exactly where you’d been reading.

(Chuck Palahniuk [source])

…and:

Buffalo Yoga
(excerpt)

The world is a magic book, and we its sentences.
We read it and read ourselves.
We close it and turn the page down
And never come back,
Returned to what we once were before we became what we are.
This is the tale the world tells, this is the way it ends.

(Charles Wright [source])

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When Memory Rubs Up Against Imagination

[Video: a multimedia installation called Memory Lane, by artists Félix Luque and Iñigo Bilbao. You can read more about the installation here. But — vis-à-vis this post — I was most struck by this portion of the description (emphasis added): “The installation forms in this way a coherent unit: sand rock and landscape… are two aspects of the same investigation on memory and space, on [the] perception of reality and on the human capacity of generating fiction, either by means of a simple child’s game or of a complex technological process.”]

From whiskey river:

If only we could listen more carefully, look more closely… Someday something will happen, the inner reality will stand revealed. At the same time I realize that this sense of mystery, of secrets dwelling in these streets, in this park, is fleeting and hard to defend. If someone were to ask me ironically, “Mr. Zagajewski, what actual mystery do you have in mind?,” I’d be hard-pressed to answer. I also know that there are people, some of them highly intelligent, who can never be brought to acknowledge the postulate of a mystery hidden in a city, or a park, or a quiet street at dusk. No, they’d say, everything can be checked and measured, so and so many bird species make their home in the park, including two subspecies of woodpeckers, along with twelve squirrels, maybe two martens, and five bums. The policemen on duty might easily survey the park and write up an unbiased report conclusively proving that no secrets had been unearthed.

(Adam Zagajewski [source])

and (second stanza):

The Nail

Some dictator or other had gone into exile, and now reports were coming about his regime,
the usual crimes, torture, false imprisonment, cruelty and corruption, but then a detail:
that the way his henchmen had disposed of enemies was by hammering nails into their skulls.
Horror, then, what mind does after horror, after that first feeling that you’ll never catch your breath,
mind imagines—how not be annihilated by it?—the preliminary tap, feels it in the tendons of the hand,
feels the way you do with your nail when you’re fixing something, making something, shelves, a bed;
the first light tap to set the slant, and then the slightly harder tap, to em-bed the tip a little more…

No, no more: this should be happening in myth, in stone, or paint, not in reality, not here;
it should be an emblem of itself, not itself, something that would mean, not really have to happen,
something to go out, expand in implication from that unmoved mass of matter in the breast;
as in the image of an anguished face, in grief for us, not us as us, us as in a myth, a moral tale,
a way to tell the truth that grief is limitless, a way to tell us we must always understand
it’s we who do such things, we who set the slant, embed the tip, lift the sledge and drive the nail,
drive the nail which is the axis upon which turns the brutal human world upon the world.

(C. K. Williams [source])

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The Weight Deadens on Your Shoulders

Image: The Pooch, 12/26/2006-09/04/2017

[Image: The Pooch (12/26/2006-09/04/2017). Photo taken 8/21/2017. She was an unwilling photographic subject: if you held up a smartphone or camera in her direction — which you always wanted to do, you couldn’t help it — she’d turn her head aside, as here, while keeping a gimlet eye trained on you. She was a cute dog, often involved in cute activities, but the only way to document them was to shoot a bazillion shots and just pray that one would be suitable.]

No whiskey river Friday this week; I just cannot work up the enthusiasm.

The Pooch (that is to say, Sophie) died this past Monday morning, towards the tail end of a long weekend for all three of us. She was all right, and then she wasn’t.

Okay, true: she wasn’t “all right” healthwise — but then again, she never had been. Small dogs often have breathing problems of one sort or another. In The Pooch’s case, she had an issue called “collapsing trachea”: the windpipe over time slackens, just at a point where it bends. Eventually, it slackens enough to close up completely, with the expected results. One of the chief early symptoms of a collapsing trachea is occasional coughing, often in the form of so-called “reverse coughing”: it sounds sorta like a cough, sorta like a sneeze, and often has hints of a goose’s honk. So we knew, early on, that eventually the problem would take her.

(It’s not “treatable,” by the way. Oh, you can administer cover-ups like cough suppressants. Surgically, a couple of things can be done, to strengthen the trachea artificially. They all come with potential side-effects and, in some cases, the side-effects can be much, much worse than the condition itself. Even so, surgical options were out of the question for The Pooch: she was so small, and the risks bloomed proportionately.)

But knowing that something awful will happen seldom seems to fully prepare you for its, well, happening. The Missus and I have spent the week in a fog of crying jags triggered by nothing in particular except the weight of a new, awful, sudden vacancy. (I think today was the first time I’ve ever broken down while taking a shower, surrounded by nothing at all to remind me of her except, yes, that very vacancy.) We’ve lost other pets. And yes, we’ll come out of this grief eventually — but boy, this one has hit us hard.

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The Fourth, Revisited

Those of you who haven’t visited the site much probably won’t know about my two “big” Independence Day posts. I thought I’d reprise them today:

  • The first, from 2008, appeared just a few months after I’d started this blog. The subject, in those innocent times a few months before Barack Obama was elected: certain similarities between the political atmosphere then, and the counterpart in 1776… as represented by a selection from the Broadway musical, 1776. The song: “Cool, Cool Considerate Men.” (Just the few lyrics excerpts there should be enough to convince you that not a whole lot has changed since then — at least, not for the better.) On a trivia note: this was the first RAMH post to include a little audio-player thingumabob for embedding music in a blog entry.
  • The second, from 2012, melded a bit of personal history about patriotic parades with some background information about the marches of John Philip Sousa. By that time, as you will see, I’d gotten over all shyness about incorporating music in my posts.

…and of course, if you’re so inclined, feel free to visit my post of a few hours ago. It, too, has some things to say about the occasion celebrated in the US today. Sorry, no music for that one.

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Potpourri, June 18th (2017 edition)

Image: circa 1952, JES + Dad[Latest in the apparently annual June 18 tradition, of commenting about whatever the heck I want to…]

I damned near forgot what day it was… or, at any rate, that I typically do a blog post for the occasion! (The photo at the right was taken circa 1952, and celebrates another occasion — Father’s Day in the US.) I’m in a much better frame of mind this year than last (with the multiple-hard-drive disaster I’d been grappling with for months).

To get this rolling, here’s today’s strangely apropos poem of the day, from The Writer’s Almanac:

There Comes the Strangest Moment

There comes the strangest moment in your life,
when everything you thought before breaks free—
what you relied upon, as ground-rule and as rite
looks upside down from how it used to be.

Skin’s gone pale, your brain is shedding cells;
you question every tenet you set down;
obedient thoughts have turned to infidels
and every verb desires to be a noun.

I want—my want. I love—my love. I’ll stay
with you. I thought transitions were the best,
but I want what’s here to never go away.
I’ll make my peace, my bed, and kiss this breast…

Your heart’s in retrograde. You simply have no choice.
Things people told you turn out to be true.
You have to hold that body, hear that voice.
You’d have sworn no one knew you more than you.

How many people thought you’d never change?
But here you have. It’s beautiful. It’s strange.

(Kate Light)

I’m so glad that although Garrison Keillor no longer hosts Prairie Home Companion, he’s maintained his curation of the Almanac. I know at some point he’ll have to surrender that, too, and I know that he himself does not personally compile each issue; he delegates that to his staff. But for now, he still does the audio reading of each daily entry. Here’s today’s, read in full:

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Just Passing Through

Image: 'Closing Time, Office, Coat Rack, Timeless B&W,' by Lynn Friedman on Flickr

[Image: “Closing Time, Office, Coat Rack, Timeless B&W,” by Lynn Friedman on Flickr. (Used here under a Creative Commons license; thank you!) The only “information” provided by the photographer is the lyrics to the song “Closing Time,” by Semisonic. You can see the video for the song here on YouTube.]

From whiskey river:

We are all bound together in a tapestry that like the sea gives the impression of movement towards something but is actually just a maternal body of material…

The flowers buzz when the vibration of the bees stimulates their pistons and their molecules swell and their petals hum like cellos. Rocks are alive, the firstborn of the natural world, somber without will.

There is no freedom from this universe we were born into, because it is our vague source of sensation, our soul, the container of our guilt.

Skins liquefy in heat. And when a bald baby swallow dies on your palm, you feel warmth pouring over your skin, a kind of burning fountain that scalds you like pepper spray.

Do you think this is a sign of the spirit ripping its energy into you to carry to the other side? I do. There are no actual objects over there, no materials but unformed steaming clouds, colors that harmonize musically, no gravity exists but elasticity composed of invisible mesh images.

Who will meet me on the other side, I ask you, to prove the error of what I say? Will it be someone who never loved me?

(Fanny Howe [source])

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RAMH@9: The Music Break Mix

'Blown Hat Dance,' by John Fraissinet on Flickr

[Image: “Blown Hat Dance,” by John Fraissinet (found on Flickr, and used here under a Creative Commons license — thank you!). I love that the subject’s pursuit is a solitary one; to the extent that any of the bystanders notice him at all, they seem amused more than concerned, eager to join in, or anything else. When you chase your hat long enough, you get used to it: that’s just the way things go.]

This year’s anniversary post — if all goes well — will appear on Wednesday, April 19, rather than Thursday (i.e., the actual anniversary). If so, it will neatly confirm this year’s anniversary theme: that Wednesdays (and weekends), in particular, deserve some kind of musical interlude. Each song in the mix below was featured, at least peripherally, in a post for the “Midweek/Weekend Music Break” category, sometime in the last nine years.

All right, if you really want to get technical, the earliest selection below dates back only to February, 2011. But since the very first such post didn’t appear until January of that year, I figure I’m due a pass on the fact-checking.

As usual, each link in the track listing here takes you to the corresponding RAMH post. (Some of those posts featured numerous other songs, as well. You can tell which, probably, by hovering over the track title — you’ll see a little pop-up label showing the post‘s title. If the post title names this specific song, then that song is (always? most often?) the only one covered.) To actually play the mix, scroll down a bit further on the page for the audio-player device.

Track Title Artist Time
1 Steel Rail Blues Gordon Lightfoot 02:49
2 Lead Man Holler Harry Belafonte 04:13
3 Chuck E’s in Love Rickie Lee Jones 03:29
4 Easier Said Than Done The Essex 02:11
5 Take Me to the Pilot Elton John 03:46
6 Froggy Bottom ‘Mary Lou Williams’ (Geri Allen) 06:20
7 Black Magic Woman Santana 03:15
8 Old Paint Linda Ronstadt 03:04
9 Lyin’ Eyes The Eagles 06:23
10 Down by the Sally Gardens Loreena McKennitt 05:39
11 Fistful of Rain Warren Zevon 05:18
12 Once in a Lifetime Big Daddy 03:42
13 Un coin à nous Angela Easterling 04:34
14 The Only Thing Worth Fighting For Lera Lynn 03:16
15 Bandit Queen Sarah Beatty 03:20
16 Poor Side of Town Johnny Rivers 03:05
17 The Skye Boat Song Bear McCreary/Raya Yarbrough 01:36
18 Shine On Shook Twins 03:52

 

This year, the little audio-player whatsit lets you download each track as it’s playing — or at least as it’s selected. See the little “Download” button at the top left? There you go. (You can also pop out the playlist into its own window, if you don’t want to linger on the post.) The total length of this year’s mix is about 70 minutes: a CD’s worth. Either way, you can find this year’s version of my random anniversary thoughts below the fold.

Finally, for the record, here’s the list of links to earlier anniversary posts, most of which included playlists of their own. (As indicated, I did no playlist in 2009-10, nor in 2012.) One of these days I’ll combine them all into a single one; shuffled, especially, they really do make for an eminently listenable mix… although, looking back on them now, maybe my first priority should be replacing all the outdated audio players with the one I’m using nowadays. Ha.

As always, implicit in every post here is my gratitude for your visit. Thank you!

RAMH@9: The Music Break Mix

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Consolations of the Moment… But Which One?

'Southwest Reservoir Bridge,' by Bascove

[Image: “Southwest Reservoir Bridge,” by Bascove. (The artist also produced — selected and illustrated — the anthology in which I found Muriel Rukeyser’s poem, below.)]

From whiskey river:

A Journal of the Year of the Ox
(excerpt)

I find myself in my own image, and am neither and both.
I come and go in myself
as though from room to room,
As though the smooth incarnation of some medieval spirit
Escaping my own mouth and reswallowed at leisure,
Dissembling and at my ease.

(Charles Wright [source])

…and (italicized portion):

…if I go to sleep after lunch in the room where I work, sometimes I wake up with a feeling of childish amazement—why am I myself? What astonishes me, just as it astonishes a child when he becomes aware of his own identity, is the fact of finding myself here, and at this moment, deep in this life and not in any other. What stroke of chance has brought this about?

(Simone de Beauvoir [source])

…and:

Poem White Page
White Page Poem

Poem white page white page poem
something is streaming out of a body in waves
something is beginning from the fingertips
they are starting to declare for my whole life
all the despair and the making music
something like wave after wave
that breaks on a beach
something like bringing the entire life
to this moment
the small waves bringing themselves to white paper
something like light stands up and is alive

(Muriel Rukeyser [source])

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Name Time

'La Otra Navidad (The Other Christmas),' by Oiluj Samall Zeid on Flickr

[Image: “La Otra Navidad (The Other Christmas),” by Oiluj Samall Zeid; found on Flickr and used here under a Creative Commons license. The site is a mausoleum in León, Spain, commemorating Republicans killed in the Spanish Civil War. Each nameplate represents one victim.]

From whiskey river (italicized portion):

[Interviewer Terry] Gross: I’d like you to read another poem from your book “Book of Longing.” And this is called “Titles.” Would you tell us when you wrote this?

[Leonard] Cohen: I’ve been writing it for a while. But I finished it last winter in Montreal. It’s a poem called “Titles.”

(Reading) I had the title Poet. And maybe I was one for a while. Also, the title Singer was kindly accorded me even though I could barely carry a tune. For many years, I was known as a Monk. I shaved my head and wore robes and got up very early. I hated everyone. But I acted generously. And no one found me out. My reputation as a Ladies’ Man was a joke. It caused me to laugh bitterly through the 10,000 nights I spent alone. From a third-story window above the Parc du Portugal, I’ve watched the snow come down all day.

As usual, there’s no one here. There never is. Mercifully, the inner conversation is canceled by the white noise of winter. I am neither the mind, the intellect nor the silent voice within. That’s also canceled. And now, gentle reader, in what name — in whose name — do you come to idle with me in this luxurious and dwindling realms of aimless privacy?

(Leonard Cohen [source])

and:

The secrets to living are these:
First, the past cannot be improved upon.
Acknowledge what was and move on.
Next, the future cannot be molded.
Then, why bother?
Last, nothing can ultimately be controlled;
Not the past, nor the future, nor the present.
Accept this moment as it is.
Honoring these three,
One lives without shackles.

(Wu Hsin [source])

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