Spirit Within Reach — Overlooked, Unrecognized, Disregarded

'Dryad's Saddle - Untouched Macro,' by user LasyDragonFlyCC on Flickr

[Image: “Dryad’s Saddle – Untouched Macro,” by “LadyDragonflyCC.” (Found on Flickr, and used here under a Creative Commons license: thank you!) Dryad’s saddle is a mushroom, scientific name Cerioporus squamosus; the photographer’s note on this photo says: “The mushroom’s shape and lateral stem make it look suitable for woodland spirits, the dryads of Greek mythology, to ride. I’ve found plenty of dryad’s saddle in the woods, but I’m still looking for the nymph!”]

From whiskey river:

You never hear people put it this way, and I don’t intend to start a trend, but when we consider the ever-evolving process of a person’s thinking, the way a person imagines and organizes the world, it could almost seem appropriate to ask each other from time to time, How’s your religion coming along? How’s it going? Born again, or the same old, same old? Did you successfully distinguish darkness from light in the course of your day? Is there a fever in your mind that won’t go away? Mind if I prescribe a poem?

(David Dark [source])

and:

I Have News for You

There are people who do not see a broken playground swing
as a symbol of ruined childhood

and there are people who don’t interpret the behavior
of a fly in a motel room as a mocking representation of their thought process.

There are people who don’t walk past an empty swimming pool
and think about past pleasures unrecoverable

and then stand there blocking the sidewalk for other pedestrians.
I have read about a town somewhere in California where human beings

do not send their sinuous feeder roots
deep into the potting soil of others’ emotional lives

as if they were greedy six-year-olds
sucking the last half-inch of milkshake up through a noisy straw;

and other persons in the Midwest who can kiss without
debating the imperialist baggage of heterosexuality.

Do you see that creamy, lemon-yellow moon?
There are some people, unlike me and you,

who do not yearn after fame or love or quantities of money as
unattainable as that moon;
thus, they do not later
have to waste more time
defaming the object of their former ardor.

Or consequently run and crucify themselves
in some solitary midnight Starbucks Golgotha.

I have news for you—
there are people who get up in the morning and cross a room

and open a window to let the sweet breeze in
and let it touch them all over their faces and bodies.

(Tony Hoagland [source])

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At the Corner of Imagined and Real

'Time Traveler (Chuck),' by user PINKÉ on Flickr

[Image: “Time Traveler,” by user PINKÉ on Flickr.com. (Used here under a Creative Commons license (thank you).) The photographer’s caption: “Chuck used his time machine to travel back in time. He was shocked to discover there wasn’t any air conditioning. He was glad to get back. July 2013.” Chuck seems to have had many adventures in geography, although as far as I can tell this has been his only one in time.]

From whiskey river (italicized lines):

On Velvet Turf

I dash outdoors so I will know
a little more about the day—
I stride forth filled with the whiff.
What’s to know is always a little to the left,
deep in the vine-covered hole of a hedgehog down
by the mossy stump. If something is impaled down there
I want to know. I don’t mind throwing myself
into the cistern of the Middle Ages.
Who knows, here once the embattled farmers stood,
their gallant foreheads broadly glistening.
I’ve read whole books standing up naked.
I’ve bragged all my life of the glories
I had in common with the rest of the world,
glories that fled through the windfields
and raked rivers, through the sere leaves
of the trees—
now that the broken gravy boat will sail no more
and the electric fence electrify no one,
now that the crepitating rain has come
and the winter lilt departed, it is time
to come out of my hole—
though the stars take me back
more than I am willing to admit.

(Mary Ruefle [source])

and:

Art alone makes life possible—this is how radically I should like to formulate it. I would say that without art man is inconceivable in physiological terms. There is a certain materialist doctrine which claims that we can dispense with mind and with art because man is just a more or less highly developed mechanism governed by chemical processes. I would say man does not consist only of chemical processes, but also of metaphysical occurrences. The provocateur of the chemical processes is located outside the world. Man is only truly alive when he realizes he is a creative, artistic being.

(Joseph Beuys [source])

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Dark Skies, Stark Uncertainties

'Dark Clouds,' by user Never Edit on Flickr

[Image: “Dark Clouds,” by “Never Edit.” (Found it on Flickr; used here under a Creative Commons license.) No details about this photo are provided by the pseudonymous street photographer (other than the data captured by the automatic camera). Her profile says, “Never Edit — no real name given because I don’t want my nosey neighbours checking on me — means I like the street as it is and don’t want to turn my photos into digital paintings. Therefore I hardly crop or edit the photos in any way.”]

From whiskey river:

Genesis

Oh, I said, this is going to be.
And it was.
Oh, I said, this will never happen.
But it did.
And a purple fog descended upon the land.
The roots of trees curled up.
The world was divided into two countries.
Every photograph taken in the first was of people.
Every photograph taken in the second showed none.
All of the girl children were named And.
All of the boy children named Then.

(Mary Ruefle [source])

and:

Below Zero

We are at a feast which doesn’t love us. At last the feast sheds its mask and shows itself for what it really is: a switchyard, cold colossi sit on rails in the mist. A piece of chalk has scribbled on the freight car doors.

It mustn’t be said, but there is much suppressed violence here. That’s why the features are so heavy. And why it’s so hard to see that other thing which also exists: a mirrored glare of sun which moves across the house wall and glides through the unknowing forest of flickering faces, a Bible text never written down: “Come to me, for I am laden with contradictions like you yourself.”

Tomorrow I’m working in another city. I whizz there through the morning hour which is a blue-black cylinder. Orion hovers above the frozen ground. Children stand in a silent crowd, waiting for the school bus, children for whom no one prays. The light grows slowly like our hair.

(Tomas Tranströmer [source])

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Sky and I, Sharing

'Dream,' by Mikko Lagerstedt

[Image: “Dream,” by Finnish photographer Mikko Lagerstedt (Facebook/Instagram); one of several in his “Edge” collection.]

From whiskey river:

The Mockingbird

All summer
the mockingbird
in his pearl-gray coat
and his white-windowed wings

flies
from the hedge to the top of the pine
and begins to sing, but it’s neither
lilting nor lovely,

for he is the thief of other sounds—
whistles and truck brakes and dry hinges
plus all the songs
of other birds in his neighborhood

mimicking and elaborating,
he sings with humor and bravado,
so I have to wait a long time
for the softer voice of his own life

to come through. He begins
by giving up all his usual flutter
and settling down on the pine’s forelock
then looking around

as though to make sure he’s alone;
then he slaps each wing against his breast,
where his heart is,
and, copying nothing, begins

easing into it
as though it was not half so easy
as rollicking,
as though his subject now

was his true self,
which of course was as dark and secret
as anyone else’s,
and it was too hard—

perhaps you understand—
to speak or to sing it
to anything or anyone
but the sky.

(Mary Oliver [source])

and:

Peridot

I awoke in an ecstasy.
The sky was the color of a cut lime
that had sat in the refrigerator
in a plastic container
for thirty-two days.
Fact-checkers, check.
I am happy.
Notice I speak in complete sentences.
Something I have not done since birth.
And the sky responds.

(Mary Ruefle [source])

and:

Many people used to believe that angels moved the stars. It now appears that they do not. As a result of this and like revelations, many people do not now believe in angels. Many people used to believe that the ‘seat’ of the soul was somewhere in the brain. Since brains began to be opened up frequently, no one has seen ‘the soul’. As a result of this and like revelations, many people do not now believe in the soul. Who could suppose that angels move the stars, or be so superstitious as to suppose that because one cannot see one’s soul at the end of a microscope it does not exist?

(R. D. Laing [source])

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Suspended Solutions

Photograph by Saul Leiter (1923-2013)

[Image: photograph by Saul Leiter. I know very little about this photo, although its title might be “Riding the Surface.” (Leiter didn’t title his photographs enigmatically, as a rule; this one might even be called “Bus.”) It was taken sometime in the 1960s, probably in New York City. Found widely around the Web, it seems — as best as I can tell — to have been among the photos in Leiter’s collection called Early Color (2006).]

From whiskey river (italicized lines):

Poem on a Line by Anne Sexton, ‘We are All Writing God’s Poem’

Today, the sky’s the soft blue of a work shirt washed
a thousand times. The journey of a thousand miles
begins with a single step. On the interstate listening
to NPR, I heard a Hubble scientist
say, “The universe is not only stranger than we
think, it’s stranger than we can think.” I think
I’ve driven into spring, as the woods revive
with a loud shout, redbud trees, their gaudy
scarves flung over bark’s bare limbs. Barely doing
sixty, I pass a tractor trailer called Glory Bound,
and aren’t we just? Just yesterday,
I read Li Po: “There is no end of things
in the heart,” but it seems like things
are always ending — vacation or childhood,
relationships, stores going out of business,
like the one that sold jeans that really fit —
And where do we fit in? How can we get up
in the morning, knowing what we do? But we do,
put one foot after the other, open the window,
make coffee, watch the steam curl up
and disappear. At night, the scent of phlox curls
in the open window, while the sky turns red violet,
lavender, thistle, a box of spilled crayons.

(Barbara Crooker [source])

and:

I see the mountains in the sky; the great clouds; and the moon; I have a great and astonishing sense of something there, which is “it” — it is not exactly beauty that I mean… A sense of my own strangeness, walking on the earth is there too: of the infinite oddity of the human position; with the moon up there and those mountain clouds. Who am I, what am I, and so on: these questions are always floating about in me.

(Virginia Woolf [source])

and (italicized lines):

Saga

Everything that ever happened to me
is just hanging — crushed
and sparkling — in the air,
waiting to happen to you.
Everything that ever happened to me
happened to somebody else first.
I would give you an example
but they are all invisible.
Or off gallivanting around the globe.
Not here when I need them
now that I need them
if I ever did which I doubt.
Being particular has its problems.
In particular there is a rift through everything.
There is a rift running the length of Iceland
and so a rift runs through every family
and between families a feud.
It’s called a saga. Rifts and sagas
fill the air, and beautiful old women
sing of them, so the air is filled with
music and the smell of berries and apples
and shouting when a gun goes off
and crying in closed rooms.
Faces, who needs them?
Eating the blood of oranges
I in my alcove could use one.
Abbas and ammas!
come out of your huts, travel
halfway around the world,
inspect my secret bank account of joy!
My face is a jar of honey
you can look through,
you can see everything
is muted, so terribly muted,
who could ever speak of it,
sealed and held up for all?

(Mary Ruefle [source])

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Putting Aside the Enchanter’s Wand

[Video: “Somebody That I Used to Know,” performed by Walk Off the Earth. Lyrics here. See the note about the video at the bottom of this post, too.]

From whiskey river (italicized portion):

What Narrative Is For

How fine the mind that can calculate
change and recognize destiny,

as if luck had something to do
with knowing, as if the lease

signed with the eyes closed
meant happiness, or even time

that’s bearable, slow breaths exchanging
the currency that wanting spends,

and how fine that sedatives
and jewels exist, those slanted elegies.

So there are errands and hours
when you hear your own breath—

or feel my breath coming from within you—
and register the haunt of cicadas

summering under the porch. So there is time
spooking off into the wings.

These are going to be big surgeries, bloody
gauzes of conditions, when loss

must be measured, and then
there are the outcomes, the calls

that must be made. Wouldn’t we all like to avoid
being the reason for anguish, to understand

why it’s so easy to cut ourselves
on our own edges? Silent,

the responders. They might
have the answers, but they’re not

telling, even when the vise grips
go for the nails. All that’s left is to know

we will suffer through almost anything—
make sure to remember it well.

(Margot Schilpp [source])

and:

Art gives us the knowledge that many have gone before, and had the same strange feelings and the same unanswerable questions, and that we are not alone in the art-endeavor, let alone life. It gives us the knowledge that people have always been stupid and violent and cruel, and compassionate and confused and curious and wondrous and astonished and tired. What it does not give us is answers. It gives us instead a picture. It does not ask that we analyze the picture, but that we stand before it and look, in the hope that looking might turn into gazing. For gazing will hold our attention for a very long time.

(Mary Ruefle [source])

and:

The world is an illusion, but it is an illusion which we must take seriously, because it is real as far as it goes, and in those aspects of the reality which we are capable of apprehending. Our business is to wake up. We have to find ways in which to detect the whole of reality in the illusory parts which our self-centered consciousness permits us to see. We must not live thoughtlessly, taking our illusion for the complete reality, but at the same time we must not live too thoughtfully in the sense of trying to escape from the dream state. We must continually be on the watch for ways in which we may enlarge our consciousness, we must not attempt to live outside the world, which is given us, but we must somehow learn how to transform it and transfigure it. Too much “wisdom” is as bad as too little wisdom, and there must be no magic tricks. We must learn to come to reality without the enchanter’s wand and his book of the words. One must find a way of being in this world while not being of it. A way of living in time without being completely swallowed up in time.

(Aldous Huxley [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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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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What to Do With Ourselves, and Vice-Versa (If You Follow)

[the only moment we were alone], by user 'nooone' on Flickr

[Image: “[the only moment we were alone],” by user ‘nooone’ on Flickr. (Used under a Creative Commons license.) I think I did a triple-take before I realized what I was looking at here.]

From whiskey river:

John Ashbery, in an interview in the Poetry Miscellany, talks about wasting time: “I waste a lot of time. That’s part of the [creative process]… The problem is, you can’t really use this wasted time. You have to have it wasted. Poetry disequips you for the requirements of life. You can’t use your time.” In other words, wasted time cannot be filled, or changed into another habit; it is a necessary void of fomentation. And I am wasting your time, and I am aware that I am wasting it; how could it be otherwise? Many others have spoken about this. Tess Gallagher: “I sit in the motel room, a place of much passage and no record, and feel I have made an important assault on the Great Nothing.” Gertrude Stein: “It takes a lot of time to be a genius, you have to sit around so much doing nothing, really doing nothing.” Mary Oppen: “When Heidegger speaks of boredom he allies it very closely with that moment of awe in which one’s mind begins to reach beyond. And that is a poetic moment, a moment in which a poem might well have been written.” The only purpose of this lecture, this letter, my only intent, goal, object, desire, is to waste time. For there is so little time to waste during a life, what little there is being so precious, that we must waste it, in whatever way we come to waste it, with all our heart.

(Mary Ruefle [source])

and:

Your Life

You will walk toward the mirror,
closer and closer, then flow
into the glass. You will disappear
some day like that, being
more real, more true, at the last.

You learn what you are, but slowly,
a child, a woman, a man,
a self often shattered, and pieces
put together again, till the end:
you halt, the glass opens—

A surface, an image, a past.

(William Stafford [source])

and (italicized portion):

The utter simplicity and obviousness of the infused light which contemplation pours into our soul suddenly awakens us to a new level of awareness. We enter a region which we never even suspected, and yet it is this new world which seems familiar and obvious. The old world of our senses is now the one that seems to us strange, remote and unbelievable — until the intense light of contemplation leaves us and we fall back to our own level.

Compared with the pure and peaceful comprehension of love in which the contemplative is permitted to see the truth not so much by seeing it as by being absorbed into it, ordinary ways of seeing and knowing are full of blindness and labor and uncertainty.

The sharpest of natural experiences is like sleep, compared with the awakening which is contemplation. The keenest and surest natural certitude is a dream compared to this serene comprehension…

A door opens in the center of our being and we seem to fall through it into immense depths which, although they are infinite are all accessible to us; all eternity seems to have become ours in this one placid and breathless contact.

(Thomas Merton [source])

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Stories and Madness, Poem, Sentence, Silence

Excerpt from 'Street of Crocodiles' by Bruno Schulz, as 'edited' for J.S. Foer's 'Tree of Codes'

[Image: an excerpt from Street of Crocodiles, by Bruno Schulz.
See note at the foot of this post for more info.]

From whiskey river:

My turn now. The story of one of my insanities.

What I liked were: absurd paintings, pictures over doorways, stage sets, carnival backdrops, billboards, bright-colored prints, old-fashioned literature, church Latin, erotic books full of misspellings, the kind of novels our grandmothers read, fairy tales, little children’s books, old operas, silly old songs, the naive rhythms of country rimes.

I dreamed of Crusades, voyages of discovery that nobody had heard of, republics without histories, religious wars stamped out, revolutions in morals, movements of races and continents; I used to believe in every kind of magic.

I invented colors for the vowels. A black, E white, I red, O blue, U green. I made rules for the form and movement of every consonant, and I boasted of inventing, with rhythms from within me, a kind of poetry that all the senses, sooner or later, would recognize. And I alone would be its translator.

I began it as an investigation. I turned silences and nights into words. What was unutterable, I wrote down. I made the whirling world stand still.

(Arthur Rimbaud)

and (italicized portion, in a different translation):

For the poem does not stand outside time. True, it claims the infinite and tries to reach across time — but across, not above.

A poem, being an instance of language, hence essentially dialogue, may be a letter in a bottle thrown out to sea with the — surely not always strong — hope that it may somehow wash up somewhere, perhaps on a shoreline of the heart. In this way, too, poems are en route: they are headed toward.

Toward what? Toward something open, inhabitable, an approachable you, perhaps, an approachable reality.

(Paul Celan [source])

and:

A Certain Swirl

The classroom was dark, all the desks were empty,
and the sentence on the board was frightened to
find itself alone. The sentence wanted someone to
read it, the sentence thought it was a fine sentence, a
noble, thorough sentence, perhaps a sentence of
some importance, made of chalk dust, yes, but a sen-
tence that contained within itself a certain swirl not
unlike the nebulous heart of the unknown universe,
but if no one read it, how could it be sure? Perhaps it
was a dull sentence and that was why everyone had
left the room and turned out the lights. Night came,
and the moon with it. The sentence sat on the board
and shone. It was beautiful to look at, but no one
read it.

(Mary Ruefle [source])

and:

The brain is silent, the brain is dark, the brain tastes nothing, the brain hears nothing. All it receives are electrical impulses — not the sumptuous chocolate melting sweetly, not the oboe solo like the flight of a bird, not the tingling caress, not the pastels of peach and lavender at sunset over a coral reef — just impulses.

(Diane Ackerman [source])

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