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])

and:

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])

and:

Living

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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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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Step by Step, and an Ounce at a Time

[Image: Beast of Burden, a sculpture by Sarah Perry. For more information, see the note at the foot of this post.]

From whiskey river:

Burlap Sack

A person is full of sorrow
the way a burlap sack is full of stones or sand.
We say, “Hand me the sack,”
but we get the weight.
Heavier if left out in the rain.
To think that the stones or sand are the self is an error.
To think that grief is the self is an error.
Self carries grief as a pack mule carries the side bags,
being careful between the trees to leave extra room.
The mule is not the load of ropes and nails and axes.
The self is not the miner nor builder nor driver.
What would it be to take the bride
and leave behind the heavy dowry?
To let the thick ribbed mule browse in tall grasses,
its long ears waggling like the tails of two happy dogs?

(Jane Hirshfield [source])

…and:

I think there is choice possible at any moment to us, as long as we live. But there is no sacrifice. There is a choice, and the rest falls away. Second choice does not exist. Beware of those who talk about sacrifice.

(Muriel Rukeyser)

…and:

I have been a lucky man. To feel the intimacy of brothers is a marvelous thing in life. To feel the love of people whom we love is a fire that feeds our life. But to feel the affection that comes from those whom we do not know, from those unknown to us, who are watching over our sleep and solitude, over our dangers and our weaknesses — that is something still greater and more beautiful because it widens out the boundaries of our being, and unites all living things.

(Pablo Neruda)

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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)

and:

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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Ineffable

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

From whiskey river:

There it is; the light across the water. Your story. Mine. His. It has to be seen to be believed. And it has to be heard. In the endless babble of narrative, in spite of the daily noise, the story waits to be heard.

Some people say that the best stories have no words. It is true that words drop away, and that the important things are often left unsaid. The important things are learned in faces, in gestures, not in our locked tongues. The true things are too big or too small, or in any case always the wrong size to fit in the template called language.

(Jeanette Winterson)

and:

The Magic Mountain

A book opens. People come out, bend
this way and talk, ponder, love, wander around
while pages turn. Where did the plot go?
Why did someone sing just as the train
went by? Here come chapters with landscape all over
whatever happens when people meet. Now
a quiet part: a hospital glows in the dark.
I don’t think that woman with the sad gray eyes
will ever come back. And what does it mean when
the Italian has so many ideas? Maybe
a war is coming. The book is ending. Everyone
has a little tremolo in them; all
are going to die and it’s cold and the snow, and the
clear air. They took someone away. It’s ending,
the book is ending. But I thought — never mind. It
closes.

(William Stafford, The Way It Is)

and:

The invisible and imponderable is the sole fact.

(Ralph Waldo Emerson)

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Experience, Meet Hope

[Video: “Wiley vs. Rhodes,” a live-action Road Runner cartoon]

From whiskey river:

Ten Thousand Idiots

It is always a danger
to aspirants on the Path

when they begin
to believe and act

as if the ten thousand idiots
who so long ruled and lived inside

have all packed their bags
and skipped town
or
died.

(Hafiz [source: none canonical, as far as I can tell, but it’s quoted at various places around the Web, including here])

and:

Life has always seemed to me like a plant that lives on its rhizome. It’s true life is invisible, hidden in the rhizome. The part that appears above the ground lasts only a single summer. Then it withers away – an ephemeral apparition. When we think of the unending growth and decay of life and civilizations, we cannot escape the impression of absolute nullity. Yet I have never lost the sense of something that lives and endures beneath the eternal flux. What we see is blossom, which passes. The rhizome remains.

(Carl Jung, from Memories, Dreams, Reflections [source])

and:

They say that every snowflake is different. If that were true, how could the world go on? How could we ever get up off our knees? How could we ever recover from the wonder of it?

(Jeanette Winterson [source])

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All in Good Time

[A favorite minute from Citizen Kane. See the note at the end of this post.]

From whiskey river:

To Waiting

You spend so much of your time
expecting to become
someone else
always someone
who will be different
someone to whom a moment
whatever moment it may be
at last has come
and who has been
met and transformed
into no longer being you
and so has forgotten you

meanwhile in your life
you hardly notice
the world around you
lights changing
sirens dying along the buildings
your eyes intent
on a sight you do not see yet
not yet there
as long as you
are only yourself

with whom as you
recall you were
never happy
to be left alone for long

(W. S. Merwin, from Present Company [source])

and:

We’re here, there, not here, not there, swirling like specks of dust, claiming for ourselves the rights of the universe. Being important, being nothing, being caught in lives of our own making that we never wanted. Breaking out, trying again, wondering why the past comes with us, wondering how to talk about the past at all.

(Jeanette Winterson. from Lighthousekeeping [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)

…and:

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])

…and:

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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At the Outset

From whiskey river:

Morning

Why do we bother with the rest of the day,
the swale of the afternoon,
the sudden dip into evening,

then night with his notorious perfumes,
his many-pointed stars?

This is the best–
throwing off the light covers,
feet on the cold floor,
and buzzing around the house on espresso–

maybe a splash of water on the face,
a palmful of vitamins–
but mostly buzzing around the house on espresso,

dictionary and atlas open on the rug,
the typewriter waiting for the key of the head,
a cello on the radio,

and, if necessary, the windows–
trees fifty, a hundred years old
out there,
heavy clouds on the way
and the lawn steaming like a horse
in the early morning.

(Billy Collins [source])

and:

Whatever it is that pulls the pin, that hurls you past the boundaries of your own life into a brief and total beauty, even for a moment, it is enough.

(Jeanette Winterson [source])

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