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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The Other Side of Some World (Maybe This One)

'Antipodes' (detail of Sanborn sculpture); photo by user wanderingYew2 on Flickr

[Image: Detail of “Antipodes,” a sculpture by James Sanborn. (Photo by Flickr user wanderingYew2 used here under a Creative Commons license.) “Antipodes” is currently in the collection of the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC; it combines elements of two other — arguably more famous — encrypted sculptures by Sanborn: “Cyrillic Projector” (in the collection of the University of NC-Charlotte) and “Kryptos” (on the grounds of the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters).]

From whiskey river:

Looking Around
(excerpt)

It’s only in darkness you can see the light, only
From emptiness that things start to fill,
I read once in a dream, I read in a book
under the pink
Redundancies of the spring peach trees.
Old fires, old geographies.
In that case, make it old, I say, make it singular
In its next resurrection,
White violets like photographs on the tombstone of the yard.

Each year it happens this way, each year
Something dead comes back and lifts up its arms,
puts down its luggage
And says—in the same costume, down-at-heels, badly sewn—
I bring you good news from the other world.

(Charles Wright [source])

and:

Why ask art into a life at all, if not to be transformed and enlarged by its presence and mysterious means? Some hunger for more is in us — more range, more depth, more feeling; more associative freedom, more beauty. More perplexity and more friction of interest. More prismatic grief and unstunted delight, more longing, more darkness. More saturation and permeability in knowing our own existence as also the existence of others. More capacity to be astonished. Art adds to the sum of the lives we would have, were it possible to live without it. And by changing selves, one by one, art changes also the outer world that selves create and share.

(Jane Hirshfield [source])

and:

Design

I pour a coating of salt on the table
and make a circle in it with my finger.
This is the cycle of life
I say to no one.
This is the wheel of fortune,
the Arctic Circle.
This is the ring of Kerry
and the white rose of Tralee
I say to the ghosts of my family,
the dead fathers,
the aunt who drowned,
my unborn brothers and sisters,
my unborn children.
This is the sun with its glittering spokes
and the bitter moon.
This is the absolute circle of geometry
I say to the crack in the wall,
to the birds who cross the window.
This is the wheel I just invented
to roll through the rest of my life
I say
touching my finger to my tongue.

(Billy Collins [source])

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In the Land of What’sToCome

[Video: The Hello Strangers, last seen at RAMH in October 2014, released this video cover of Doris Day’s 1956 classic earlier this year — not coincidentally, on Day’s 91st birthday. Also not coincidentally, their grandfather Ronald Chace, had both sung with Doris Day and played second trombone in Les Brown’s Big Band during Day’s tenure with Brown in the 1940s. The Strangers recorded this song in Chace’s memory.]

From whiskey river:

After Thanksgiving

Lord, as Rilke says, the year bears down toward winter, past
the purification of the trees, the darkened brook.
Only 4:45, and the sky’s sheer black
clasps two clear planets and a skinny moon
as we drive quietly home from the airport,
the last kid gone.

The time of preparation’s over, the time of
harvesting the seed, the husk, the kernel, saving
what can be saved—weaves of sun like
rags of old flannel, provident peach stones,
pies, pickles, berry wines to
hold the sweetness for a few more months.

Now the mountains will settle into their old
cold habits, now the white
birch bones will rise
like all those thoughts we’ve tried to repress:
madness of the solstice, phosphorescent
logic that rules the fifteen-hour night!

Our children, gorged, encouraged, have taken off
in tiny shuddering planes. Plump with stuffing,
we too hurry away, holding hands, holding on.
Soon it’ll be January, soon snow will
shuffle down, cold feathers, swathing us in
inches of white silence—

and the ways of the ice
will be narrow, delicate.

(Sandra M. Gilbert [source])

and:

Language is the element of definition, the defining and descriptive incantation. It puts the coin between our teeth. It whistles the boat up. It shows us the city of light across the water. Without language there is no poetry, without poetry there’s just talk. Talk is cheap and proves nothing. Poetry is dear and difficult to come by. But it poles us across the river and puts a music in our ears. It moves us to contemplation. And what we contemplate, what we sing our hymns to and offer our prayers to, is what will reincarnate us in the natural world, and what will be our one hope for salvation in the What’sToCome.

(Charles Wright [source])

and:

How To Listen

Tilt your head slightly to one side and lift
your eyebrows expectantly. Ask questions.

Delve into the subject at hand or let
things come randomly. Don’t expect answers.

Forget everything you’ve ever done.
Make no comparisons. Simply listen.

Listen with your eyes, as if the story
you are hearing is happening right now.

Listen without blinking, as if a move
might frighten the truth away forever.

Don’t attempt to copy anything down.
Don’t bring a camera or a recorder.

This is your chance to listen carefully.
Your whole life might depend on what you hear.

(Joyce Sutphen [source — click on the ‘Two Poems’ link])

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Far and Widely, Near and Narrowly

Image: 'Starmageddon,' by Bill Gracey on Flickr

[Image: “Starmageddon,” by Bill Gracey on Flickr. (Used under a Creative Commons license.) Read about the happy accidents which brought this photo together at Flickr itself.]

From whiskey river:

Autumn

The passion
Is still flourishing in the branches
Yellow funny and daring red
The sun warms even in the days
Where the fog
Stubbornly in the morning
From a distance
A woodpecker knocks
Impermanence
Is the enemy of beauty

(Kristian Goldmund Auman [unsourced; possibly here])

and:

The lucidity, the clarity of light that afternoon was sufficient to itself; perfect transparency must be impenetrable, these vertical bars of brass-colored distillation of light coming down from sulphur-yellow interstices in a sky hunkered with grey clouds that bulge with more rain. It struck the wood with nicotine-stained fingers, the leaves glittered. A cold day of late October, when the withered blackberries dangled like their own dour spooks on the discolored brambles. There were crisp husks of beechmast and cast acorn cups underfoot in the russet slime of the dead bracken where the rains of the equinox had so soaked the earth that the cold oozed up through the soles of the shoes, lancinating cold of the approaching winter that grips hold of your belly and squeezed it tight. Now the stark elders have an anorexic look; there is not much in the autumn wood to make you smile but it is not yet, not quite yet, the saddest time of the year. Only, there is a haunting sense of the imminent cessation of being; the year, in turning, turns in on itself. Introspective weather, a sickroom hush.

(Angela Carter [source])

and:

October

The leaves fall from my fingers
Cornflowers scattered across the field like stars,
like smoke stars,
By the train tracks, the leaves in a drift

Under the slow clouds
and the nine steps to heaven,
The light falling in great sheets through the trees,
Sheets almost tangible.

The transfiguration will start like this, I think,
breathless,
Quick blade through the trees,
Something with red colors falling away from my hands,

The air beginning to go cold…
And when it does
I’ll rise from this tired body, a blood-knot of light,
Ready to take the darkness in.

—Or for the wind to come
And carry me, bone by bone, through the sky,
Its wafer a burn on my tongue,
its wine deep forgetfulness.

(Charles Wright [source])

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In the Right Light (Which Is Sometimes No Light at All)

'New Yorker' magazine covers (2001-09-24 and 2002-09-16), by Art Spiegelman and Ana Juan

[Image: Art Spiegelman’s black-on-black cover for the New Yorker issue immediately following the 9/11 attack (left, above) has been justly famous from the time of its publication. Less often reproduced, but equally effective, was Ana Juan’s cover for the first-year anniversary issue (right), which achieved its effects with light and the absence of black.]

From whiskey river:

Buried under all the mute experiences are those unseen ones that give our life its form, its color, and its melody. Then, when we turn to these treasures, as archaeologists of the soul, we discover how confusing they are. The object of contemplation refuses to stand still, the words bounce off the experience and in the end, pure contradictions stand on the paper. For a long time, I thought it was a defect, something to be overcome. Today I think it is different: that recognition of the confusion is the ideal path to understanding these intimate yet enigmatic experiences. That sounds strange, even bizarre, I know. But ever since I have seen the issue in this light, I have the feeling of being really awake and alive for the first time.

(Pascal Mercier [source])

and:

A Reward

Tired and hungry, late in the day, impelled
to leave the house and search for what
might lift me back to what I had fallen away from,
I stood by the shore waiting.
I had walked in the silent woods:
the trees withdrew into their secrets.
Dusk was smoothing breadths of silk
over the lake, watery amethyst fading to gray.
Ducks were clustered in sleeping companies
afloat on their element as I was not
on mine. I turned homeward, unsatisfied.
But after a few steps, I paused, impelled again
to linger, to look North before nightfall—the expanse
of calm, of calming water, last wafts
of rose in the few high clouds.
And was rewarded:
the heron, unseen for weeks, came flying
widewinged toward me, settled
just offshore on his post,
took up his vigil.
If you ask
why this cleared a fog from my spirit,
I have no answer.

(Denise Levertov [source])

and:

Heaven Is Not Verbose: A Notebook
(excerpt)

Reader: So you want me to feel as if I were reading a letter addressed to someone else?
Poet: I want you to feel as if I had read a letter addressed to you by someone else and am shamelessly quoting from it.

[…]

Reader: Do you want me to recognize my everyday world in your poems?
Poet: No, I want your world to seem unfamiliar to you, once you take your eyes off the text.

(Vera Pavlova [source])

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Writing in the Night Sky

'Storyteller,' by user fobach on Flickr.com

[Image: “Storyteller,” by user fobach (Pieterjan Hanselaer) on Flickr. (Used under a Creative Commons license; click to enlarge.) The Dutch text says (per the English translation) “I followed the trail of my uncles. From the forest, at the edge of the Makokibatan Lake, the morning sounds arose.” No other information seems to be available for this mysterious image. For what it’s worth, though, you can find a lake by that name in Ontario, Canada.]

From whiskey river:

Food, fire, walks, dreams, cold, sleep, love, slowness, time, quiet, books, seasons — all these things, which are not really things, but moments of life — take on a different quality at night-time, where the moon reflects the light of the sun, and we have time to reflect what life is to us, knowing that it passes, and that every bit of it, in its change and its difference, is the here and now of what we have.

Life is too short to be all daylight. Night is not less; it’s more.

(Jeanette Winterson [source])

and:

Rereading Frost

Sometimes I think all the best poems
have been written already,
and no one has time to read them,
so why try to write more?

At other times though,
I remember how one flower
in a meadow already full of flowers
somehow adds to the general fireworks effect

as you get to the top of a hill
in Colorado, say, in high summer
and just look down at all that brimming color.
I also try to convince myself

that the smallest note of the smallest
instrument in the band,
the triangle for instance,
is important to the conductor

who stands there, pointing his finger
in the direction of the percussions,
demanding that one silvery ping.
And I decide not to stop trying,

at least not for a while, though in truth
I’d rather just sit here reading
how someone else has been acquainted
with the night already, and perfectly.

(Linda Pastan [source])

and:

Stars were the first text, the first instance of gabbiness; connecting the stars, making a pattern out of them, was the first story, sacred to storytellers. But the moon was the first poem, in the lyric sense, an entity complete in itself, recognizable at a glance, one that played upon the emotions so strongly that the context of time and place hardly seemed to matter.

(Mary Ruefle [source])

and:

(from) Body and Soul
(for Coleman Hawkins)

I used to think the power of words was inexhaustible,
That how we said the world
was how it was, and how it would be.
I used to imagine that word-sway and word-thunder
Would silence the Silence and all that,
That worlds were the Word,
That language could lead us inexplicably to grace,
As though it were geographical.
I used to think these things when I was young.
I still do.

(Charles Wright [source (the whole poem)*])

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Never Far Below the Surface, Bubbling Out

Hokusai: lion with sculptor (click to enlarge)

[Image: Lion and Sculptor, by Katsushika Hokusai. This is not one of the 200-odd lion drawings referred to below, but I do like the spirit it shows. See the note at the foot of this post for more information.]

From whiskey river:

Hokusai

Anger is a bitter lock
But you can turn it.

Hokusai aged 83
said,
Time to do my lions.

Every morning
until he died

219 days later
he made
a lion.

Wind came gusting from the northwest.

Lions swayed
and leapt
from the crests

of the pine trees
onto

the snowy road
or crashed
together

over his hut,
their white paws

mauling stars
on the way down.

I continue to draw
hoping for a peaceful day,

said Hokusai
as they thudded past.

(Anne Carson [source])

and:

From the age of six, I had a mania for drawing the shapes of things. When I was fifty I had published a universe of designs. But all I have done before the the age of seventy is not worth bothering with. At seventy five I’ll have learned something of the pattern of nature, of animals, of plants, of trees, birds, fish and insects. When I am eighty you will see real progress. At ninety I shall have cut my way deeply into the mystery of life itself. At one hundred, I shall be a marvelous artist. At one hundred and ten, everything I create; a dot, a line, will jump to life as never before. To all of you who are going to live as long as I do, I promise to keep my word. I am writing this in my old age. I used to call myself Hokusai, but today I sign my self ‘The Old Man Mad About Drawing.’

(Hokusai Katsushika [source (in slightly different words)])

and (italicized portion; excerpt):

11

Like clouds, once gone in their long drift,
there’s no coming back—
And like the wind that moves them, we stop
Wherever we please, or wherever we come to be,
Each one in his proper place,
not too near, not too far
From That’s okay and No one was ever interested enough.

How many years have slipped through our hands?
At least as many as the constellations we still can identify.
The quarter moon, like a light skiff,
floats out of the mist-remnants
Of last night’s hard rain.
It, too, will slip through our fingers
with no ripple, without us in it.

How is it it’s taken me almost a lifetime to come to the fact
That heaven and earth have no favorites
in either extreme?
Bits of us set out, at one time or another, in both directions,
Sleeping fitfully, heads on our fists,
Now close together and warm, now cold in the south sky.

Each one arrives in his own fashion,
each one with his birthmark
Beginning to take shape and shine out
And lead forth like a lead lamp.
Look for us in the black spaces, somewhere in the outer dark.

(Charles Wright [source])

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What to Do (with, for, in) Just One World

[Video from the Slashdot “News for nerds, stuff that matters” discussion forum: Sarah Campagna
discusses her CyberCraft robot-rescue project: building new robots from scraps of old ones. The finished
works are statues — immobile, fine-art sculpture — rather than machines, but they do arrest the
attention. The company slogan: “Robots, Rayguns, and Spaceships You Will Covet.”]

From whiskey river (italicized portion):

Long Point Light

Long Point’s apparitional
this warm spring morning,
the strand a blur of sandy light,

and the square white
of the lighthouse—separated from us
by the bay’s ultramarine

as if it were nowhere
we could ever go—gleams
like a tower’s ghost, hazing

into the rinsed blue of March,
our last outpost in the huge
indetermination of sea.

It seems cheerful enough,
in the strengthening sunlight,
fixed point accompanying our walk

along the shore. Sometimes I think
it’s the where-we-will-be,
only not yet, like some visible outcropping

of the afterlife. In the dark
its deeper invitations emerge:
green witness at night’s end,

flickering margin of horizon,
marker of safety and limit.
But limitless, the way it calls us,

and where it seems to want us
to come. And so I invite it
into the poem, to speak,

and the lighthouse says:
Here is the world you asked for,
gorgeous and opportune,

here is nine o’clock, harbor-wide,
and a glinting code: promise and warning.
The morning’s the size of heaven.

What will you do with it?

(Mark Doty [source])

and (in slightly different words):

As a working hypothesis to explain the riddle of our existence, I propose that our universe is the most interesting of all possible universes, and our fate as human beings is to make it so.

(Freeman Dyson [source])

and:

Today

Today I’m flying low and I’m
not saying a word.
I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.

The world goes on as it must,
the bees in the garden rumbling a little,
the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.
And so forth.

But I’m taking the day off.
Quiet as a feather.
I hardly move though really I’m traveling
a terrific distance.

Stillness. One of the doors
into the temple.

(Mary Oliver [source])

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Deciding to Stop; Deciding to Start Again

From whiskey river:

I remember the word and forget the word
                   although the word
Hovers in flame around me.
Summer hovers in flame around me.
The overcast breaks like a bone above the Blue Ridge.
A loneliness west of solitude
Splinters into the landscape
                   uncomforting as Braille.

We are our final vocabulary,
                   and how we use it.
There is no secret contingency.
There’s only the rearrangement, the redescription
Of little and mortal things.
There’s only this single body, this tiny garment
Gathering the past against itself,
                   making it otherwise.

(Charles Wright, Negative Blue)

and:
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