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])


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])


Heaven Is Not Verbose: A Notebook

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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Small Things Big, Big Things Small

Image from 'Mountains and Molehills, or: Recollections of a Burnt Journal,' by Frank Marryat

[Image: illustration from Mountains and Molehills; or, Recollections of a Burnt Journal (1855), by one Frank Marryat. (Click image to enlarge.) For the complete book in various formats, see the Internet Archive. For more information about this image in particular, see the note at the foot of this post.]

From whiskey river (italicized portion):

The Swan

Across the wide waters
something comes
floating—a slim
and delicate

ship, filled
with white flowers—
and it moves
on its miraculous muscles

as though time didn’t exist,
as though bringing such gifts
to the dry shore
was a happiness

almost beyond bearing.
And now it turns its dark eyes,
it rearranges
the clouds of its wings,

it trails
an elaborate webbed foot,
the color of charcoal.
Soon it will be here.

Oh, what shall I do
when that poppy-colored beak
rests in my hand?
Said Mrs. Blake of the poet:

I miss my husband’s company—
he is so often
in paradise.
Of course! the path to heaven

doesn’t lie down in flat miles.
It’s in the imagination
with which you perceive
this world,

and the gestures
with which you honor it.
Oh, what will I do, what will I say, when those white wings
touch the shore?

(Mary Oliver [source])


Time has no meaning, space and place have no meaning, on this journey. All times can be inhabited, all places visited. In a single day the mind can make a millpond of the oceans. Some people who have never crossed the land they were born on have traveled all over the world. The journey is not linear, it is always back and forth, denying the calendar, the wrinkles and lines of the body. The self is not contained in any moment or any place, but it is only in the intersection of moment and place that the self might, for a moment, be seen vanishing through a door, which disappears at once.

(Jeanette Winterson [source])



The fire in leaf and grass
so green it seems
each summer the last summer.

The wind blowing, the leaves
shivering in the sun,
each day the last day.

A red salamander
so cold and so
easy to catch, dreamily

moves his delicate feet
and long tail. I hold
my hand open for him to go.

Each minute the last minute.

(Denise Levertov [source])

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Nobody Better, Better Than Nobody

[Video: Sinéad O’Connor, “Nothing Compares 2 U.” ([Lyrics]) See the note at the foot of this post.]

From whiskey river:

You’re always presented as a kind of loner in the mountains, the man from the farm…

What can you do. You get a name, you’re called “Thomas Bernhard,” and it stays that way for the rest of your life. And if at some point you go for a walk in the woods, and someone takes a photo of you, then for the next eighty years you’re always walking in the woods. There’s nothing you can do about it.

(Thomas Bernhard [source])


There will come an intermediate, joyous point where you find that certain techniques work even better than the scriptures claim. In the wake of these discoveries, you will also find that life continues to be just as thorny and problematic as ever. Does this mean that the study of Tao is useless? No. It only means that you have been laboring to equip yourself with skill. You must still go out and live your life to the end.

(Deng Ming-Dao [source])

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Intersecting Panes

A reader where you'd expect a book

From whiskey river:

Indeterminacy means, literally: not fixed, not settled, uncertain, indefinite. It means that you don’t know where you are. How can it be otherwise, say the Buddhist teachings, since you have no fixed or inherent identity and are ceaselessly in process? Life is filled with uncertainty. Chance events happen to all of us. Each of us must take responsibility and make decisions. None of us should be imposing our ego image on others.

There’s another way to live. Accept indeterminacy as a principle, and you see your life in a new light, as a series of seemingly unrelated jewel-like stories within a dazzling setting of change and transformation. Recognize that you don’t know where you stand, and you will begin to watch where you put your feet. That’s when the path appears.

(Kay Larson, on John Cage [source])

…and (from whiskey river’s commonplace book — not counting the lovely epigraph, which walks a line between mysterious and profound):

Nothing is too wonderful to be true.
— Michael Faraday

There is a hole in the universe.

It is not like a hole in a wall where a mouse slips through, solid and crisp and leading from somewhere to someplace. It is rather like a hole in the heart, an amorphous and edgeless void. It is a heartfelt absence, a blank space where something is missing, a large and obvious blind spot in our understanding of the universe.

That missing something, strange to say, is a grasp of nothing itself. Understanding nothing matters, because nothing is the all-important background upon which everything else happens.

(K. C. Cole [source])


To the Reader

As you read, a white bear leisurely
pees, dyeing the snow

and as you read, many gods
lie among lianas: eyes of obsidian
are watching the generations of leaves,

and as you read
the sea is turning its dark pages,
its dark pages.

(Denise Levertov)

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It’s Right in Front of You

[Image: unretouched photograph of an anamorphically-painted building interior, by French artist George Rousse; I found it here. As suggested at that site, be sure to see the video about Rousse’s “Durham (NC) project.” And while you’re at it, check out the similar but sometimes entire city-sized work of Swiss artist Felice Varini. I couldn’t decide which artist’s work to feature here and finally flipped a coin.]

From whiskey river:


I had been worrying once again
about sad lives
and almost perfect art, Van Gogh,

Kafka, so when that voice on the radio
sang about drinking
a toast to those who most survive

the lives they’ve led, I drank that toast
in the prayerless
sanctum of my room, I said it

out loud in a hush. Then I thought
of Dr. Williams
who toward the end apologized

to his wife for doing everything
he had loved to do.
He was speaking of course to death,

not to her, though death instructed him
how valuable she was.
I thought of a lamp the neighbor’s child

had broken, then pieced back together
with wires and glue.
And my friend, the good husband,

kissing the scars his wife brought home
after the mastectomy.
I drank that toast again, though silently.

The radio was playing something old
and bad
I once thought was good.

Flaws. Suddenly the act of trying
to say how it feels
to live a life, to say it flawlessly,

seemed more immense than ever. Then
I remembered
those Persian rug makers built them in,

the flaws, because only Allah was perfect.
What arrogance to think
that otherwise they wouldn’t be there!

I allowed myself to wonder
about the ethics
of repair, but just for a while.

Sleep, too, was on my mind
and I knew
the difficulty that lay ahead:

how hard I’d try when I couldn’t,
how it would come
if only I could find a way

to enter and drift without concern
for what it is.

(Stephen Dunn [source])


I keep following this sort of hidden river of my life, you know, whatever the topic or impulse which comes, I follow it along trustingly. And I don’t have any sense of its coming to a kind of crescendo, or of its petering out either. It is just going steadily along.

(William Stafford [source])

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The Chime of the Moment

[Image: night view of House Attack, a 2006 installation by artist Erwin Wurm — a real house, turned upside down and embedded in the roof at Vienna’s Museum Moderner Kunst (MUMOK). See the daytime look here.]

From whiskey river (which, I think, offered an especially rich selection this week):

Everything That Acts Is Actual

From the tawny light
from the rainy nights
from the imagination finding
itself and more than itself
alone and more than alone
at the bottom of the well where the moon lives,
can you pull me

into December? a lowland
of space, perception of space
towering of shadows of clouds blown upon
clouds over
new ground, new made
under heavy December footsteps? the only
way to live?

The flawed moon
acts on the truth, and makes
an autumn of tentative
You lived, but somewhere else,
your presence touched others, ring upon ring,
and changed. Did you think
I would not change?

The black moon
turns away, its work done. A tenderness,
unspoken autumn.
We are faithful
only to the imagination. What the
as beauty must be truth. What holds you
to what you see of me is
that grasp alone.

(Denise Levertov [source])


The beginning of being fine is noticing how things really are.
1. Life is uncertain, surprises are likely.
2. If you are alive, that’s good; lower the bar.
3. In a dark place, you still have what really counts.
4. If you are in a predicament, there will be a gate.
5. What you need might be given to you.
6. The true life is in between winning and losing.
7. If you have nothing — give it away.

(John Tarrant [source])


Time is constantly passing. If you really consider this fact, you will be simultaneously amazed and terrified. Time is passing, even for tiles, walls, and pebbles. This means that every moment dies to itself. As soon as it arises, it is gone. You cannot find any duration. Arising and passing away are simultaneous. That is why there is no seeing nor hearing. That is why we are both sentient beings and insentient beings.

(Norman Fischer)


I have always been delighted at the prospect of a new day, a fresh try, one more start, with perhaps a bit of magic waiting somewhere behind the morning.

(J. B. Priestley)

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You Never Know

[Image: “Untitled #153,” by Chris Marker. For more information, see the note at the foot of this page.]

From whiskey river:

Only Once

All which, because it was
flame and song and granted us
joy, we thought we’d do, be, revisit,
turns out to have been what it was
that once, only; every invitation
did not begin
a series, a build-up: the marvelous
did happen in our lives, our stories
are not drab with its absence: but don’t
expect to return for more. Whatever more
there will be will be
unique as those were unique. Try
to acknowledge the next
song in its body — halo of flames as utterly
present, as now or never.

(Denise Levertov [source])

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Spark of Interest

[Video: “Musical Tesla Coils: Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies.” For more information, see the note at the foot of this post.]

From whiskey river:

What is it that you contain? The dead. Time. Light patterns of millennia opening in your gut. Every minute, in each of you, a few million potassium atoms succumb to radioactive decay. The energy that powers these tiny atomic events has been locked inside potassium atoms ever since a star-sized bomb exploded nothing into being. Potassium, like uranium and radium, is a long-lived radioactive nuclear waste of the supernova bang that accounts for you.

Your first parent was a star.

(Jeanette Winterson)


I won’t get any poems written during these weeks either. It’s not the first time this has happened. And I won’t go on about it. There isn’t much to say. Victor Hugo once summed it up as follows (Karol Berger told me about this as we strolled through Paris, the sixteenth arrondissement). When someone asked him if writing poetry was easy, he said, “When I can write it, it’s easy; when I can’t, it’s impossible.”

(Adam Zagajewski)

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Lucid Dreaming

From whiskey river:

A Remedy for Insomnia

Not sheep coming down the hills,
not cracks on the ceiling —
count the ones you loved,
the former tenants of dreams
who would keep you awake,
once meant the world to you,
rocked you in their arms,
those who loved you…
You will fall asleep, by dawn, in tears.

(Vera Pavlova, If There Is Something To Desire [source])

From that site’s archive (whiskey river’s commonplace book):

Too Easy: to Write of Miracles

Too easy: to write of miracles, dreams where the famous give
mysterious utterance to silent truth;
to confuse snow with the stars,
simulate a star’s fantastic wisdom.

Easy like the willow to lament,
rant in trampled roads where pools
are red with sorrowful fires, and sullen rain
drips from the willows’ ornamental leaves;
or die in words and angrily turn
to pace like ghosts about the walls of war.

But difficult when, innocent and cold,
day, a bird over a hill, flies in
— resolving anguish to a strange perspective,
a scene within a marble; returning
the brilliant shower of coloured dreams to dust,
a smell of fireworks lingering by canals
on autumn evenings — difficult to write
of the real image, real hand, the heartDream a Little Dream of Me
of day or autumn beating steadily:
to speak of human gestures, clarify
all the context of a simple phrase
— the hour, the shadow, the fire,
the loaf on a bare table.

Dream a Little Dream of MeHard, under the honest sun, to weigh
a word until it balances with love —
burden of happiness on fearful shoulders;
in the ease of daylight to discover
what measure has its music, and achieve
the unhaunted country of the final poem.

(Denise Levertov, Sicily, 1948 [source])

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(Under) Mining Your Dreams

[Image: “Good and Evil,” by Daniel Merriam. See the original, more clearly, at Merriam’s own site.]

From whiskey river’s commonplace book (“the pursuit of fantasy“):

Writing in the Dark

It’s not difficult.
Anyway, it’s necessary.

Wait till morning, and you’ll forget.
And who knows if morning will come.

Fumble for the light, and you’ll be
stark awake, but the vision
will be fading, slipping
out of reach.

You must have paper at hand,
a felt-tip pen, ballpoints don’t always flow,
pencil points tend to break. There’s nothing
shameful in that much prudence: those are our tools.

Never mind about crossing your t’s, dotting your i’s–
but take care not to cover
one word with the next. Practice will reveal
how one hand instinctively comes to the aid of the other
to keep each line
clear of the next.

Keep writing in the dark:
a record of the night, or
words that pulled you from depths of unknowing,
words that flew through your mind, strange birds
crying their urgency with human voices,

or opened
as flowers of a tree that blooms
only once in a lifetime:

words that may have the power
to make the sun rise again.

(Denise Levertov [source])


Surely you remember

After they all leave,
I remain alone with the poems,
some poems of mine, some of others.
I prefer poems that others have written.
I remain quiet, and slowly
the knot in my throat dissolves.
I remain.

Sometimes I wish everyone would go away.
Maybe it’s nice, after all, to write poems.
You sit in your room and the walls grow taller.
Colors deepen.
A blue kerchief becomes a deep well.

You wish everyone would go away.
You don’t know what’s the matter with you.
Perhaps you’ll think of something.
Then it all passes, and you are pure crystal.

After that, love.
Narcissus was so much in love with himself.
Only a fool doesn’t understand
he loved the river, too.

You sit alone.
Your heart aches, but
won’t break.
The faded images wash away one by one.
Then the defects.
A sun sets at midnight. You remember
the dark flowers too.

You wish you were dead or alive or
somebody else.
Isn’t there a country you love? A word?
Surely you remember.

Only a fool lets the sun set when it likes.
It always drifts off too early
westward to the islands.

Sun and moon, winter and summer
will come to you,
infinite treasures.

(Dahlia Ravikovitch; translated by Chana Bloch and Ariel Bloch)

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