I Remember, Therefore I Am

Image: 'Self-Portrait,' by Alyssa L. Miller on Flickr

[Image: “Self-Portrait,” by Alyssa L. Miller; found it on Flickr, and use it here under a Creative Commons license. (Thank you!) The glib “if someone looks to their right, they’re probably lying” trick, it turns out, is not as true as was once thought. Finer-tuned studies, especially mapping what the brain is doing when one’s eyes move in a given direction; looking up and to the left, as the photographer apparently was for this photo, is commonly associated with remembering visual images. Now, this photo was taken in 2009: if I contacted the photographer and asked her about the circumstances, odds are she wouldn’t remember if, back then, she was remembering any image in particular — but in the present, while thinking about which photo I was referring to, then, then she might look up and to the left.]

From whiskey river:

Memory, and time, both immaterial, are rivers with no banks, and constantly merging. Both escape our will, though we depend on them. Measured, but measured by whom or by what? The one is inside, the other, outside, or so it seems, but is that true? Time seems also buried deep in us, but where? Memory is right here, in the head, but it can exit, abandon the head, leave it behind, disappear. Memory, a sanctuary of infinite patience.

Is memory produced by us, or is it us? Our identity is very likely whatever our memory decides to retain. But let’s not presume that memory is a storage room. It’s not a tool for being able to think, it’s thinking, before thinking. It also makes an (apparently) simple thing like crossing the room, possible. It’s impossible to separate it from what it remembers…

We can admit that memory resurrects the dead, but these remain within their world, not ours. The universe covers the whole, a warm blanket.

But this memory is the glue that keeps the universe as one: although immaterial, it makes being possible, it is being. If an idea didn’t remember to think, it wouldn’t be. If a chair wasn’t there, it wouldn’t be tomorrow. If I didn’t remember that I am, I won’t be. We can also say that the universe is itself the glue that keeps it going, therefore it is memory in action and in essence, in becoming and in being. Because it remembers itself, it exists. Because it exists, it remembers.

(Etel Adnan[no canonical source online, but quoted in the reliable brain pickings])

and (italicized stanza):

Passing Along

People who walk by carry something so light
that no one can tell what it is. I know that burden,
lift it carefully from them and take it away
as they go on walking toward the sky.

Waiting here still I cherish whatever they find—
miles of lupine ghosting the hills,
an accurate bird whetting its call
beyond the hedgerows where they disappear.

“All I ask,” my mother said, “no matter the years
and the life we have, is that when you leave
you turn and wave.” That was long ago.
I like to remember—I turn, I wave.

(William Stafford [again, no canonical source online; quoted in Artful Dodge])

and:

Morning in a New Land

In trees still dripping night some nameless birds
Woke, shook out their arrowy wings, and sang,
Slowly, like finches sifting through a dream.
The pink sun fell, like glass, into the fields.
Two chestnuts, and a dapple gray,
Their shoulders wet with light, their dark hair streaming,
Climbed the hill. The last mist fell away,

And under the trees, beyond time’s brittle drift,
I stood like Adam in his lonely garden
On that first morning, shaken out of sleep,
Rubbing his eyes, listening, parting the leaves,
Like tissue on some vast, incredible gift.

(Mary Oliver [source])

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Not the Weaponry of Reason, But of Pure Submission

'Easy,' by Rob Cruickshank on Flickr.com

[Image: “Easy,” by Rob Cruickshank. Found on Flickr.com; used here under a Creative Commons license (thank you!). No information available, really, although this seems likely to have been taken in the Hamilton, Ontario area.]

From whiskey river:

Terns

Don’t think just now of the trudging forward of thought,
but of the wing-drive of unquestioning affirmation.

It’s summer, you never saw such a blue sky,
and here they are, those white birds with quick wings,

sweeping over the waves,
chattering and plunging,

their thin beaks snapping, their hard eyes
happy as little nails,

The years to come—this is a promise—
will grant you ample time

to try the difficult steps in the empire of thought
where you seek for the shining proofs you think you must have.

But nothing you ever understand will be sweeter, or more binding,
than this deepest affinity between your eyes and the world.

The flock thickens
Over the rolling, salt brightness. Listen,

maybe such devotion, in which one holds the world
in the clasp of attention, isn’t the perfect prayer,

but it must be close, for the sorrow, whose name is doubt,
is thus subdued, and not through the weaponry of reason,

but of pure submission. Tell me, what else
could beauty be for? And now the tide

is at its very crown,
the white birds sprinkle down,

gathering up the loose silver rising
as if weightless. It isn’t instruction, or parable.

It isn’t for any vanity or ambition
except for the one allowed, to stay alive.

It’s only a nimble frolic
over the waves. And you find, for hours,

you cannot even remember the questions
that weigh so in your mind.

(Mary Oliver [source])

and (in slightly different words):

Whatever exists in us is a natural situation. It is another dimension of natural beauty. People sometimes go to great lengths to appreciate nature, by climbing mountains, going on safari to see giraffes and lions in Africa, or taking a cruise to Antarctica. It is much simpler and more immediate to appreciate the natural beauty of ourselves. This is actually far more beautiful than flora and fauna, far more fantastic, far more painful, colorful, and delightful.

(Chögyam Trungpa [source])

and:

Seven in the Woods

Am I as old as I am?
Maybe not. Time is a mystery
that can tip us upside down.
Yesterday I was seven in the woods,
a bandage covering my blind eye,
in a bedroll Mother made me
so I could sleep out in the woods
far from people. A garter snake glided by
without noticing me. A chickadee
landed on my bare toe, so light
she wasn’t believable. The night
had been long and the treetops
thick with a trillion stars. Who
was I, half-blind on the forest floor
who was I at age seven? Sixty-eight
years later I can still inhabit that boy’s
body without thinking of the time between.
It is the burden of life to be many ages
without seeing the end of time.

(Jim Harrison [source])

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Doing What You Can’t Not Do

Image: '12$,' by Catherine Roy on Flickr

[Image: “12$,” by Catherine Roy. (Found it on Flickr; used here under a Creative Commons license — thank you!) The photographer seems to like taking photos which show objects (and people) of little or no consequence; although she hasn’t organized them into an official “album” as such, she has tagged (as of now) fifty-four photos with the phrase, “feeding my compulsion.” Many of these photos (although not this one, obviously) simply show toilets.]

From whiskey river:

2. Just that you do the right thing. The rest doesn’t matter.

Cold or warm.

Tired or well-rested.

Despised or honored.

Dying… or busy with other assignments. Because dying, too, is one of our assignments in life. There as well: “To do what needs doing.”

3. Look inward. Don’t let the true nature or value of anything elude you.

7. …Only there, delight and stillness

11. When jarred, unavoidably, by circumstances, revert at once to yourself, and don’t lose the rhythm more than you can help. You’ll have a better grasp of the harmony if you keep going back to it.

(Marcus Aurelius [source (various pages)]

and:

What Gorgeous Thing

I do not know what gorgeous thing
the bluebird keeps saying,
his voice easing out of his throat,
beak, body into the pink air
of the early morning. I like it
whatever it is. Sometimes
it seems the only thing in the world
that is without dark thoughts.
Sometimes it seems the only thing
in the world that is without
questions that can’t and probably
never will be answered, the
only thing that is entirely content
with the pink, then clear white
morning and, gratefully, says so.

(Mary Oliver [source])

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Wordfeel

[Video: “Bluebird,” by Charles Bukowski. The poem is read by a pseudonymous “Tom O’Bedlam,” about whom you can read a few things here (and its links) and here. For information on the real “Tom o’Bedlam,” an anonymous 17th-century poem, see its Wikipedia page.]

Not from whiskey river:

There Is No Word

There isn’t a word for walking out of the grocery store
with a gallon jug of milk in a plastic sack
that should have been bagged in double layers

—so that before you are even out the door
you feel the weight of the jug dragging
the bag down, stretching the thin

plastic handles longer and longer
and you know it’s only a matter of time until
the strap breaks or the bottom suddenly splits
and spills its contents to the ground.

There is no single, unimpeachably precise word
for that vague sensation of something
moving away from you
as it exceeds its elastic capacity

which is too bad because that is the word
I would like to use to describe
standing on the street and chatting with a friend,

as the awareness gradually dawns on me that he
is no longer a friend,
but only an acquaintance

—until this moment as we say good-bye,
when I think we share a feeling of relief,
an unspoken recognition

that we have reached the end of a pretense
—though to tell the truth,
what I already am thinking

is that language deserves the credit—
how it will stretch just so much and no further;
how there are some holes it will not cover up;

how it will move, if not inside, then
around the circumference
of almost anything—

how, over the years, it has given me back
all the hours and days, all the
plodding love and faith, all the

misunderstandings and secrets and mistakes
I have willingly poured into it.

(Tony Hoagland [source])

…and:

Something about [Shakespeare’s] brain was gloriously different.

Familiar enough to illuminate the human condition in recognizable, entertaining, and profound ways, but different enough to do it in ways and words no one else could achieve. Something about the radar net of his senses. Something about his ability to combine seemingly unrelated things in a metaphor’s alchemy was different. His ability to juggle many swords of insight at the same time was different. In truth, the people of his era had a very small vocabulary; ours is exponentially larger. But his gift didn’t require more words, because words, being human made, can’t begin to capture the experience of being alive or the complex predicaments even simple people get into. Words are small shapes in the chaos of the world. They’re unwieldy, sloppy, even at their most precise. Nothing is simply blue. No one just walks. Words fail us when we need them most. They fall into the crevasses between feelings. If we make them overlap, then we can cover some of those spaces, and that’s traditionally what writers, especially poets, do. A metaphor is hypergolic, like nitroglycerin. It takes two otherwise harmless things, smacks them together, and creates something more explosive. Instead of needing a vocabulary word for every single thing and experience, we use the words we have in new ways. How clever of the brain to find such an enchanting solution.

(Diane Ackerman [source])

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When a Moment Is More Than a Moment

'Desert Watcher,' by Children of Darklight (athalfred) on Flickr

[Image: “Desert Watcher,” by Children of Darklight (user athalfred) on Flickr. (Used here under a Creative Commons license.) This is a composite image: the star trails comprise 76 separate photos, stacked atop one another in (presumably digital) layers; the figure at the lower left is a lightpainted portrait.]

From whiskey river:

Crossing the Swamp

Here is the endless
wet thick
cosmos, the center
of everything—the nugget
of dense sap, branching
vines, the dark burred
faintly belching
bogs. Here
is swamp, here
is struggle,
closure—
pathless, seamless,
peerless mud. My bones
knock together at the pale
joints, trying
for foothold, fingerhold,
mindhold over
such slick crossings, deep
hipholes, hummocks
that sink silently
into the black, slack
earthsoup. I feel
not wet so much as
painted and glittered
with the fat grassy
mires, the rich
and succulent marrows
of earth—a poor
dry stick given
one more chance by the whims
of swamp water—a bough
that still, after all these years,
could take root,
sprout, branch out, bud—
make of its life a breathing
palace of leaves.

(Mary Oliver [source])

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Something Beyond

'beyond, the river,' by 'bunchadogs & susan' on Flickr

[Image: “beyond, the river,” by a photographer whose name displays simply as “susan” (her full account name, though, is “bunchadogs & susan”). I found it on Flickr, of course, and use it here under a Creative Commons license. The photo was taken by a pinhole camera.]

From whiskey river:

An Inventory of Moons

If you live to be very old, you may see twelve hundred full moons.
Some come in winter and you trudge out into the deep snow to
stand beneath their glow. Others come to you in the city and you
take an elevator up to the roof of the highest building and set out
a couple of folding chairs to watch it glide across the sky. Or the
moon finds you along a foreign shore and you paddle out in some
dingy and scoop its reflection from the waters and drink it down.
The moons of your old age are the most potent but seem few and
far between. They make their way into your marrow and teach it
how to hum. When your final moon arrives, it’s as if youth has
come back to you. Though instead of flaunting its yellow hat, now
it’s dressed in black.

(David Shumate [source])

and:

…many of us in this time have lost the inner substance of our lives and have forgotten to give praise and remember the sacredness of life. But in spite of this forgetting, there is still a part of us that is deep and intimate with the world. We remember it by feel. We experience it as a murmur in the night, a longing and restlessness that we can’t name, a yearning that tugs at us. Something in our human blood is still searching for it, still listening, still remembering. Nicaraguan poet-priest Ernesto Cardenal wrote, “We have always wanted something beyond what we wanted.” I have loved those words, how they speak to the longing place inside us that seeks to be whole and connected to the earth.

(Linda Hogan [source])

and:

On the windless days, when the maples have put forth their deep canopies, and the sky is wearing its new blue immensities, and the wind has dusted itself not an hour ago in some spicy field and hardly touches us as it passes by, what is it we do? We lie down and rest upon the generous earth. Very likely we fall asleep.

(Mary Oliver [source])

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Deeper Roots than Reason

'Spirit of the Demon' (poster for 'Howl's Moving Castle'), by Edward J. Moran

[Image: “Spirit of the Demon,” poster by Edward J. Moran for the Studio Ghibli film Howl’s Moving Castle. (Found on DeviantArt.) The film — and other films from the mind of Hayao Miyazaki — rewards the viewer approximately in proportion to how little one thinks about what one is seeing.]

From whiskey river:

Such Silence

As deep as I ever went into the forest
I came upon an old stone bench, very, very old,
and around it a clearing, and beyond that
trees taller and older than I had ever seen.

Such silence!
It really wasn’t so far from a town, but it seemed
all the clocks in the world had stopped counting.
So it was hard to suppose the usual rules applied.

Sometimes there’s only a hint, a possibility.
What’s magical, sometimes, has deeper roots
than reason.
I hope everyone knows that.

I sat on the bench, waiting for something.
An angel, perhaps.
Or dancers with the legs of goats.

No, I didn’t see either. But only, I think, because
I didn’t stay long enough.

(Mary Oliver [source])

and:

A moral character is attached to autumnal scenes; the leaves falling like our years, the flowers fading like our hours, the clouds fleeting like our illusions, the light diminishing like our intelligence, the sun growing colder like our affections, the rivers becoming frozen like our lives — all bear secret relations to our destinies.

(François-René de Chateaubriand [source, in slightly different wording])

and:

’til soon

Even you, raw matter,
even you, lumber, mass and muscle,
vodka, liver and chuckle,
candlelight, paper, coal and cloud,
stone, avocado meat, falling rain,
nail, mountain, hot-press iron,
even you feel saudade,
first-degree burn,
a longing to return home?

Clay, sponge, marble, rubber,
cement, steel, glass, vapor, cloth and cartilage,
paint, ash, eggshell, grain of sand,
first day of autumn, the word spring,
number five, the slap in the face, a rich rhyme,
a new life, middle age, old strength,
even you, matter my dear,
remember when we were only a mere idea?

(Paulo Leminski, translated by Elisa Wouk Almino [source])

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Atmospherics

'Clam Chowder, Bouillon, & Biscuits,' by Professor Bop on Flickr

[Image: “Clam Chowder, Bouillon, & Biscuits,” by user Professor Bop on Flickr. (Used here under a Creative Commons license.) The building is unidentified, only noted as “in New York City’s Meatpacking District.” (Curious about the user name? The photographer’s profile page cites “Professor Bop,” by Babs Gonzales: “He can do it so can you / Take a song like Auld Lang Syne / Then you add a bebop line / Oop be dop la kloog a mop / Like Professor Bop.”)]

From whiskey river (italicized lines):

Wait for an Autumn Day
(from Ekelöf)

Wait for an autumn day, for a slightly
weary sun, for dusty air,
a pale day’s weather.

Wait for the maple’s rough, brown leaves,
etched like an old man’s hands,
for chestnuts and acorns,

for an evening when you sit in the garden
with a notebook and the bonfire’s smoke contains
the heady taste of ungettable wisdom.

Wait for afternoons shorter than an athlete’s breath,
for a truce among the clouds,
for the silence of trees,

for the moment when you reach absolute peace
and accept the thought that what you’ve lost
is gone for good.

Wait for the moment when you might not
even miss those you loved
who are no more.

Wait for a bright, high day,
for an hour without doubt or pain.
Wait for an autumn day.

(Adam Zagajewski [source])

and (italicized lines):

Halleluiah

Everyone should be born into this world happy
and loving everything.
But in truth it rarely works that way.
For myself, I have spent my life clamoring toward it.
Halleluiah, anyway I’m not where I started!

And have you too been trudging like that, sometimes
almost forgetting how wondrous the world is
and how miraculously kind some people can be?
And have you too decided that probably nothing important
is ever easy?
Not, say, for the first sixty years.

Halleluiah, I’m sixty now, and even a little more,
and some days I feel I have wings.

(Mary Oliver [source])

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Vital Specifics

'Sally, Weld County, Colorado' (1984), by Robert Adams

[Image: “Sally, Weld County, Colorado” (1984), by Robert Adams. First found at the National Gallery of Art. (Above copy from the Fraenkel Gallery’s exhibit Perfect Times, Perfect Places.) Sally was Adams’s own dog. Says a New York Times review of an exhibit at Yale featuring the photo, “It pauses on a dirt road perhaps 10 yards away, looking back over its shoulder as if to invite us to follow and to wonder: ‘Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?'”]

From whiskey river:

Once, years ago, I emerged from the woods in the early morning at the end of a walk and—it was the most casual of moments—as I stepped from under the trees into the mild, pouring-down sunlight I experienced a sudden impact, a seizure of happiness. It was not the drowning sort of happiness, rather the floating sort. I made no struggle toward it; it was given. Time seemed to vanish. Urgency vanished. Any important difference between myself and all other things vanished. I knew that I belonged to the world, and felt comfortably my own containment in the totality. I did not feel that I understood any mystery, not at all; rather that I could be happy and feel blessed within the perplexity.

(Mary Oliver [source])

and:

From the Shore: Toronto

All afternoon I’ve watched the gulls
off the breakwater at Lake Ontario.
No one here seems to like them,
how they scavenge,
hover like icons,
against a metal sky.

But I am here from another country
not so foreign as the gulls’
and I like their garrulousness,
their joyful noise
and the way they hang in the air
flying and not flying.

(Henrietta Epstein [source])

and:

Are there scenes in life, right now, for which we might conceivably be thankful? Is there a basis for joy or serenity, even if felt only occasionally? Are there grounds now and then for an unironic smile?

(Robert Adams [source])

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Layers of Often, of Seldom, of Never

'127/365,' by Tom Wachtel on Flickr

[Image: “127/365,” by Tom Wachtel. (Found on Flickr, used here under a Creative Commons license.) The caption provided by the photographer: “Yellow often shines in sparkling company. Red will almost never dance alone. Green is seldom seen behind the screen of might-have-been, pining softly for what words were meant to mean.” And yes: I found this image after coming up with the post’s title.]

From whiskey river:

Often times, a person will think they know you by piecing together tiny facts and arranging those pieces into a puzzle that makes sense to them. If we don’t know ourselves very well, we’ll mistakenly believe them, and drift toward where they tell us to swim, only to drown in our own confusion.

Here’s the truth: it’s important to take the necessary steps to find out who you are. Because you hold endless depths below the surface of a few facts and pieces and past decisions. You aren’t only the ripples others can see. You are made of oceans.

(Victoria Erickson [source])

and:

Often down here I have entered into a sanctuary; a nunnery; had a religious retreat; of great agony once; and always some terror; so afraid one is of loneliness; of seeing to the bottom of the vessel. That is one of the experiences I have had here in some Augusts; and got then to a consciousness of what I call “reality”: a thing I see before me: something abstract; but residing in the downs or sky; beside which nothing matters; in which I shall rest and continue to exist. Reality I call it. And I fancy sometimes this is the most necessary thing to me: that which I seek. But who knows—once one takes a pen and writes? How difficult not to go making “reality” this and that, whereas it is one thing. Now perhaps this is my gift: this perhaps is what distinguishes me from other people: I think it may be rare to have so acute a sense of something like that—but again, who knows? I would like to express it too.

(Virginia Woolf [source])

and:

All through our gliding journey, on this day as on so many others, a little song runs through my mind. I say a song because it passes musically, but it is really just words, a thought that is neither strange nor complex. In fact, how strange it would be not to think it—not to have such music inside one’s head and body, on such an afternoon. What does it mean, say the words, that the earth is so beautiful? And what shall I do about it? What is the gift that I should bring to the world? What is the life that I should live?

(Mary Oliver [source])

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