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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Down to Specifics

'LA River and Washington Boulevard Looking East, Santa Fe Railroad,' by Michael Light

[Image: “LA River and Washington Boulevard Looking East, Santa Fe Railroad,” by Michael Light. (Larger, higher-resolution version here.) See the quotation from Rebecca Solnit, below.]

From whiskey river:

We pass the word around; we ponder how the case is put by different people, we read the poetry; we meditate over the literature; we play the music; we change our minds; we reach an understanding. Society evolves this way. Not by shouting each other down, but by the unique capacity of unique, individual human beings to comprehend each other.

(Lewis Thomas [source])

and:

The sense of unhappiness is so much easier to convey than that of happiness. In misery we seem aware of our own existence, even though it may be in the form of a monstrous egotism: this pain of mine is individual, this nerve that winces belongs to me and to no other. But happiness annihilates us: we lose our identity.

(Graham Greene [source])

and:

Mother Talking in the Porch Swing

Inside the river is there a river?—
it could follow slow water the way
the real current follows a stiller
shore. And in your life the life that
hurries could pass, and pass its
open neighbor the earth, and its shore
the sky. To be here, and always to find
places in the current, the dreams
the river has—surely we bubbles
ought to tell about it?

Listen: One of the rooms the river has
after its bridge and its bend in the mountains
is a place waiting for the sun every
afternoon, when the sun dwells
at a slant under a log and finds
that little yellow room and a waterbug
trying to learn circles but never making
one its shadow approves. Miles later
the river tries to recall that dream,
turning with all of its twisting self
that found gravel and found it good.

Just before the ocean that river
turns on its back and side and slowly
invites the world and the air and the sky,
trying to give away everything, everything.

(William Stafford [source])

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One Small Heart

[Video: “One Small Heart,” by Mary Chapin Carpenter. Lyrics here.]

From whiskey river:

Heart
(excerpt)

You watch a dream pause
over a pool in a forest
under a breeze rippling its
surface reflections of inverted
branches & a patch of sky where
one bird flies by, upside-down.
Let it slow down.
Down.

[…]

Gone. Wing-flap. Birdsong, tree-song, floated, tilted,
moving away on its own scrap of independent energy
where everything lives, however briefly,
beating its one small heart…

(Maurice Scully [source])

and:

There’s actually no such thing as an adult. That word is a placeholder. We never grow up. We’re not supposed to. We’re born and that’s it. We get bigger. We live through great storms. We get soaked to the bone. We realize we’re waterproof. We strive for calm. We discover what makes us feel good. We do those things over and over. We learn what doesn’t feel good. We avoid those things at all cost. Sometimes we come together: huge groups in agreement. Sometimes we clap and dance. Sometimes we look like a migration of birds. We need to remind ourselves — each other – that we’re mere breaths. But, and this is important, sometimes we can be magnificent, to one person, even for a short time, like the perfect touch — the first time you see the ocean from the middle. Like every time you see the low, full moon. We keep on eating: chewing, pretending we know what’s going on. The secret is that we don’t. We don’t, and don’t, and don’t. Each day we’re infants: plucking flower petals, full of wonder.

(Micah Ling, hobart pulp)

and:

The Heart Remembers Everything It Loved

Everything remembers something. The rock, its fiery bed,
cooling and fissuring into cracked pieces, the rub
of watery fingers along its edge.

The cloud remembers being elephant, camel, giraffe,
remembers being a veil over the face of the sun,
gathering itself together for the fall.

The turtle remembers the sea, sliding over and under
its belly, remembers legs like wings, escaping down
the sand under the beaks of savage birds.

The tree remembers the story of each ring, the years
of drought, the floods, the way things came
walking slowly towards it long ago.

And the skin remembers its scars, and the bone aches
where it was broken. The feet remember the dance,
and the arms remember lifting up the child.

The heart remembers everything it loved and gave away,
everything it lost and found again, and everyone
it loved, the heart cannot forget.

(Joyce Sutphen)

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To Be, Not to Be, or Barely to Be?

'unbeing dead isn't being alive,' by Nicole Pierce on Flickr

[Image: “unbeing dead isn’t being alive,” by Nicole Pierce on Flickr. (Used under a Creative Commons license.) The title of this image alludes, apparently, to a quotation by E.E. Cummings — it’s quoted everywhere on the Web — but no one ever says exactly what work it comes from. Maybe he muttered it in his sleep?]

From whiskey river:

Form is certainty. All nature knows this, and we have no greater adviser. Clouds have forms, porous and shape-shifting, bumptious, fleecy. They are what clouds need to be, to be clouds. See a flock of them come, on the sled of the wind, all kneeling above the blue sea. And in the blue water, see the dolphin built to leap, the sea mouse skittering, see the ropy kelp with its air-filled bladders tugging it upward; see the albatross floating day after day on its three-jointed wings. Each form sets a tone, enables a destiny, strikes a note in the universe unlike any other. How can we ever stop looking? How can we ever turn away?

(Mary Oliver)

and:

Statistically, the probability of any one of us being here is so small that you’d think the mere fact of existing would keep us all in a contented dazzlement of surprise.

(Lewis Thomas)

and:

Late Hours

On summer nights the world
moves within earshot
on the interstate with its swish
and growl, and occasional siren
that sends chills through us.
Sometimes, on clear, still nights,
voices float into our bedroom,
lunar and fragmented,
as if the sky had let them go
long before our birth.

In winter we close the windows
and read Chekhov,
nearly weeping for his world.

What luxury, to be so happy
that we can grieve
over imaginary lives.

(Lisel Mueller)

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The Ordinary Mystery

'The Lovers' (1928), by René Magritte

[Image: Les Amants (The Lovers) (1928), by René Magritte — one of the “stars” of a recent traveling exhibit of Magritte’s work, The Mystery of the Ordinary. See the note at the foot of this post for a macabre detail.]

From whiskey river:

I used to think I wrote because there was something I wanted to say. Then I thought, ‘I will continue to write because I have not yet said what I wanted to say’; but I know now I continue to write because I have not yet heard what I have been listening to.

(Mary Ruefle [source])

..and:

Losing My Sight

I never knew that by August
the birds are practically silent,
only a twitter here and there.
Now I notice. Last spring
their noisiness taught me the difference
between screamers and whistlers and cooers
and O, the coloraturas.
I have already mastered
the subtlest pitches in our cat’s
elegant Chinese. As the river
turns muddier before my eyes,
its sighs and little smacks
grow louder. Like a spy,
I pick up things indiscriminately:
the long approach of a truck,
car doors slammed in the dark,
the night life of animals — shrieks and hisses,
sex and plunder in the garage.
Tonight the crickets spread static
across the air, a continuous rope
of sound extended to me,
the perfect listener.

(Lisel Mueller [source])

and:

I do not think I really have anything to say about poetry other than remarking that it is a wandering little drift of unidentified sound, and trying to say more reminds me of following the sound of a thrush into the woods on a summer’s eve — if you persist in following the thrush it will only recede deeper and deeper into the woods; you will never actually see the thrush (the hermit thrush is especially shy), but I suppose that listening is a kind of knowledge, or as close as one can come. “Fret not after knowledge, I have none,” is what the thrush says. Perhaps we can use our knowledge to preserve a bit of space where his lack of knowledge can survive.

(Mary Ruefle [source])
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A Skin of Mirror

[Video: “Eulerian Video Magnification,” by a team of researchers at MIT. For more information, see the note at the foot of this post.]

From whiskey river:

Keiji, a long-time Zen student, approached his master and said: “I don’t see how there can be any enlightenment that sets you free once and for all. I think we just get ever greater glimpses of Buddha-nature, the vastness that is our true Reality. It’s an ever-expanding process.”

The master replied, “That may be what you think. But what is your experience, your experience right now?”

Keiji was confused, “My experience right now, Master?”

“Yes. Do you know yourself as Keiji, having ever-expanding experiences of Buddha-nature? Or do you know yourself as Buddha-nature, having the experience of Keiji?”

(unsourced)

and:

No one has ever seen fish.
Fish secrete highly reflective compounds
That act as a skin of mirror.
It is thought the fishes’ sides
are painted in landscapes,
mountainous.

(Annie Dillard [source])

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Life Lessons

One of my few successful attempts at visual art

[Image: The Ultimate Answer, one of my few successful attempts at (representational) visual art]

From whiskey river:

The black sky was underpinned with long silver streaks that looked like scaffolding and depth on depth behind it were thousands of stars that all seemed to be moving very slowly as if they were about some vast construction work that involved the whole universe and would take all time to complete. No one was paying attention to the sky.

(Flannery O’Connor [source])

…and (italicized portion):

I can often sense the spirit of a place, but I’m not entirely convinced such spirits have an existence separate from their environment. In that sense I’m both believer and skeptic; I’d like to believe, but keep searching for that elusive proof.

I do believe in an everyday sort of magic—the inexplicable connectedness we sometimes experience with places, people, works of art and the like; the eerie appropriateness of moments of syncronicity; the whispered voice, the hidden presence, when we think we’re alone. These are magics that many of us experience, parts of a Mystery that can’t—and perhaps shouldn’t—be explained.

I should add that often the magical elements in my books are standing in for elements of the real world, the small and magical-in-their-own-right sorts of things that we take for granted and no longer pay attention to, like the bonds of friendship that entwine our own lives with those of other people and places. When one of my characters becomes aware of a magical element, it might be because the world is wider than we assume it to be, but it might also be a reminder to pay attention to what is here already, hidden only because it’s been forgotten.

(Charles de Lint [source])

…and:

Passing Remark

In scenery I like flat country.
In life I don’t like much to happen.

In personalities I like mild colorless people.
And in colors I prefer gray and brown.

My wife, a vivid girl from the mountains,
says, “Then why did you choose me?”

Mildly I lower my brown eyes —
there are so many things admirable people do not understand.

(William Stafford [source])

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Good Heavens

[Video: Rita Wilson discusses why a movie whose emotional peak involves the Empire State
Building is beautiful; Tom Hanks and Vincent Garber prefer a more…
prosaic sort of beauty.]

From whiskey river (italicized portion):

I shrugged my shoulders, muttered “back soon,” and plunged into the darkness. At first I couldn’t see anything. I fumbled along the cobblestone street. I lit a cigarette. Suddenly the moon appeared from behind a black cloud, lighting a white wall that was crumbled in places. I stopped, blinded by such whiteness. Wind whistled slightly. I breathed the air of the tamarinds. The night hummed, full of leaves and insects. Crickets bivouacked in the tall grass. I raised my head: up there the stars too had set up camp. I thought that the universe was a vast system of signs, a conversation between giant beings. My actions, the cricket’s saw, the star’s blink, were nothing but pauses and syllables, scattered phrases from that dialogue. What word could it be, of which I was only a syllable? Who speaks the word? To whom is it spoken? I threw my cigarette down on the sidewalk. Falling, it drew a shining curve, shooting out brief sparks like a tiny comet.

(Octavio Paz [source])

and:

The Ant

The ant moves on his tiny Sephardic feet.
The flute is always glad to repeat the same note.
The ocean rejoices in its dusky mansion.

Often bears are piled up close to each other.
In their world it’s just one hump after another.
It’s like looking at piles of many melons.

You and I have spent so many hours working.
We have paid dearly for the life we have.
It’s all right if we do nothing tonight.

I am so much in love with mournful music
That I don’t bother to look for violinists.
The aging peepers satisfy me for hours.

I love to see the fiddlers tuning up their old fiddles,
And the singer urging the low notes to come.
I saw her trying to keep the dawn from breaking.

You and I have worked hard for the life we have.
But we love to remember the way the soul leaps
Over and over into the lonely heavens.

(Robert Bly [source])

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Un Momento, Por Favor

[Image found at What My World’s Like]

From whiskey river:

Visiting the Graveyard

When I think of death
it is a bright enough city,
and every year more faces there
are familiar

but not a single one
notices me,
though I long for it,
and when they talk together,

which they do
very quietly,
it’s in an unknowable language —
I can catch the tone

but understand not a single word —
and when I open my eyes
there’s the mysterious field, the beautiful trees.
There are the stones.

(Mary Oliver, from Red bird [source])

and:

…Time is a measure of energy, a measure of motion.

We have agreed internationally on the speed of the clock. And I want you to think about clocks and watches for a moment. We are of course slaves to them. And you will notice that your watch is a circle, and that it is calibrated, and that each minute, or second, is marked by a hairline which is made as narrow as possible, as yet to be consistent with being visible. And when we think of a moment of time, when we think what we mean by the word now, we think of the shortest possible instant that is here and gone, because that corresponds with the hairline calibrations on the watch.

As a result, we are a people who feel that we don’t have any present, because we believe that the present is always instantly vanishing. This is the problem of Goethe’s Faust. He attains his great moment and says to it, “Oh still delay, thou art so fair.” But the moment never stays. It is always disappearing into the past.

Therefore we have the sensation that our lives are constantly flowing away from us. And so we have a sense of urgency. Time is not to waste; time is money. And so, because of the tyranny of clocks, we feel that we have a past, and that we know who we were in the past — nobody can ever tell you who they are, they can only tell you who they were — and we believe we also have a future. And that belief is terribly important, because we have a naive hope that the future is somehow going to supply us with everything we’re looking for.

You see, if you live in a present that is so short that it is not really here at all, you will always feel vaguely frustrated.

(Alan Watts [source, in slightly different form])

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