A Day Like No Other, a Day Like All the Rest

'This Is an Old Fishing Device,' by Aurealio Asiain on Flickr

[Image: “This is an old fishing device,” by Aurelio Asiaian on Flickr. (Used under a Creative Commons license.) The photographer says: “The name is ajirogi, a kind of wicker netting for fishing. I found the word in this old poem: Asaborake/ uji no kawa giri/ tae dae ni /araware wataru/ seze no ajirogi; in a bad translation: When a day is breaking,/Mist hanging over the Uji River/Is clearing off./Begin to appear one by one/From close ones to the ones in the distance./Stakes to support fences to catch fish.]

From whiskey river:

May

The backyard apple tree gets sad so soon,
takes on a used-up, feather-duster look
within a week.

The ivy’s spring reconnaissance campaign
sends red feelers out and up and down
to find the sun.

Ivy from last summer clogs the pool,
brewing a loamy, wormy, tea-leaf mulch
soft to the touch

and rank with interface of rut and rot.
The month after the month they say is cruel
is and is not.

(Jonathan Galassi [source])

and:

Today

Today I’m flying low and I’m
not saying a word.
I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.

The world goes on as it must,
the bees in the garden rumbling a little,
the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.
And so forth.

But I’m taking the day off.
Quiet as a feather.
I hardly move though really I’m traveling
a terrific distance.

Stillness. One of the doors
into the temple.

(Mary Oliver [source])

and:

Today

If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze

that it made you want to throw
open all the windows in the house

and unlatch the door to the canary’s cage,
indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,

a day when the cool brick paths
and the garden bursting with peonies

seemed so etched in sunlight
that you felt like taking

a hammer to the glass paperweight
on the living room end table,

releasing the inhabitants
from their snow-covered cottage

so they could walk out,
holding hands and squinting

into this larger dome of blue and white,
well, today is just that kind of day.

(Billy Collins [source])

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“The Evanescence of the World”

Monet: twelve images from his 'Rouen Cathedral' series

[Image: the twelve images from Monet’s Rouen Cathedral series, combined into a single image. Says Wikipedia: “The paintings in the series each capture the façade of the cathedral at different times of the day and year, and reflect changes in its appearance under different lighting conditions.”]

From whiskey river:

How can we ever know the difference we make to the soul of the earth? Where the infinite stillness of the earth meets the passion of the human eye, invisible depths strain towards the mirror of the name. In the word, the earth breaks silence. It has waited a long time for the word. Concealed beneath familiarity and silence, the earth holds back and it never occurs to us to wonder how the earth sees us. Is it not possible that a place could have huge affection for those who dwell there? Perhaps your place loves having you there. It misses you when you are away and in its secret way rejoices when you return. Could it be possible that a landscape might have a deep friendship with you? That it could sense your presence and feel the care you extend towards it? Perhaps your favorite place feels proud of you. We tend to think of death as a return to clay, a victory for nature. But maybe it is the converse: that when you die, your native place will fill with sorrow. It will miss your voice, your breath and the bright waves of your thought, how you walked through the light and brought news of other places. Perhaps each day our lives undertake unknown tasks on behalf of the silent mind and vast soul of nature. During its millions of years of presence perhaps it was also waiting for us, for our eyes and our words. Each of us is a secret envoi of the earth.

(John O’Donohue [source])

and:

I realized it for the first time in my life: there is nothing but mystery in the world, how it hides behind the fabric of our poor, browbeat days, shining brightly, and we don’t even know it.

(Sue Monk Kidd [source])

and:

The light of memory, or rather the light that memory lends to things, is the palest light of all. I am not quite sure whether I am dreaming or remembering, whether I have lived my life or dreamed it. Just as dreams do, memory makes me profoundly aware of the unreality, the evanescence of the world, a fleeting image in the moving water.

(Eugène Ionesco [source])

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So Little to Say, So Many Ways to Say It

'IM,' by L.e.e. on Flickr

[Image: “IM,” graphic by user “L.e.e.” on Flickr. The descriptive text below the work there says, FYI, I actually know 3 languages. This is the 3rd one =).]

From whiskey river:

We can set up a certain environment in which we have an agreement to suspend the rules — that is to say to meditate, to stop thinking for a while, to stop making formulations.

This means, essentially, to stop talking to yourself. That is the meaning of the word in Japanese — munen — that is ordinarily translated as “no thought.” To meditate is to stop talking to yourself!

We say, “Talking to yourself is the first sign of madness,” but we don’t follow our own advice. We’re talking to ourselves most of the time — and if you talk all the time you’ve got nothing else to talk about but your own talking! You never listen to what anybody else has to say, without a running commentary of your own talking. And if all you ever listen to is talking — be it your own or other people’s — you have nothing to talk about but talk.

You have to stop talking in order to have something to talk about!

(Alan Watts, What Is Zen? [source])

and:

The average human, on the other hand, thinks about all sorts of things around the clock, on all sorts of levels, with interruptions from dozens of biological calendars and timepieces. There’s thoughts about to be said, and private thoughts, and real thoughts, and thoughts about thoughts, and a whole gamut of subconscious thoughts. To a telepath the human head is a din. It is a railway terminus with all the Tannoys talking at once. It is a complete FM waveband — and some of those stations aren’t reputable, they’re outlawed pirates on forbidden seas who play late-night records with limbic lyrics.

(Terry Pratchett [source])

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Magic, Good and Bad (2)

[Video: the first 2-1/2 minutes of the 2006 Hogfather mini-series]

A few weeks ago, a post here shared this one’s title. (At the time, I didn’t intend to do a follow-up, so the earlier one wasn’t numbered.) That post considered… well, the point of the fiction in fiction. If the underpinning of what happens in a story is “real” — the laws of physics and so on — then why make up any important details? (Other than special cases like keeping the material non-libelous, of course.) Writers invent not just names but entire casts of characters, family histories, geographies, historical events (both the core facts and the marginalia), languages…

And when you get into the fantasy and science-fiction genres — “speculative fiction,” as they say despite the tautology — well, even the laws of physics go out the window.* History gets re-written. Facts we know now are replaced by other facts we will know only in some particular version of the future. Things turn into other things (or seem to) just because someone waves in their direction with a hand, a wand of miraculous construction, or an infernal machine…

As I said in that first post, I didn’t intend to debate whether the use of impossibilities presented as commonplace was good or bad. I wasn’t trying to make a case for or against fantasy and/or science fiction. And the post drew substantial thoughtful comments from Froog and Marta (which I thought might happen, in both cases). I continued to think about the topic myself, too, since I hadn’t really drawn any conclusions.

And then the Christmas holiday drew near…

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The Haunting

[Video: scene from 1963’s The Haunting, directed by Robert Wise,
starring Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, and Russ Tamblyn. More below.]

From whiskey river:

In This

In this house you would come to believe
in ghosts and lives beyond the grave. Here
noises configure themselves into the voices
of those who’ve gone. “Cyril!” calls a wife
lost to cancer; a dead dog’s nametag chinks
against the brass of her collar; the creak
of an opening door, a footstep
on a warped floorboard, and someone
you’ve loved comes to breathe your name
once again, and now in Autumn the wind
moaning beneath the eaves, and the small tornadoes
of leaves lifted in frenzied gusts
scratch against the window late at night
like the feeble clawing of all our loves
wanting to come back, wanting to make us
believe that we can ever be reunited.

(Mikey Fatboy Delgado [source])

and:

Anything that really frightens you may contain a clue to enlightenment. It may indicate to you how deeply you are attached to structure, whether mental, physical, or social. Attachment and resistance are appearances with the same root: when you resist by pulling away your awareness, the emotion is one of fear, and the contraction is experienced as a pull like magnetism or gravity; that is, attachment.

That is why we often fear to open our minds to more exalted spiritual beings. We think fear is a signal to withdraw, when in fact it is a sign we are already withdrawing too much.

(Thaddeus Golas, The Lazy Man’s Guide to Enlightenment [source])

and:

There is the sound of dust heard over the telephone.
There is the sound of a piano with a faint heart
coming from below, a hell where people are happy.
There is the sound of someone standing on the grave
of someone they do not know and do not care about.
There is the sound the same person makes
standing on their own grave.
I love the sound of the iron on the ironing board
turning on and off, waiting for someone to come.

(Mary Ruefle, from “Refrigerator” [hear her reading the whole poem here])

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Miracles of Confusion

[Image: a grainy photograph of a couple of volcanoes someplace. (Maybe another
planet.) Or are they? See the note at the foot of this post for more information.]

From whiskey river:

Dharma

The way the dog trots out the front door
every morning
without a hat or an umbrella,
without any money
or the keys to her doghouse
never fails to fill the saucer of my heart
with milky admiration.

Who provides a finer example
of a life without encumbrance —
Thoreau in his curtainless hut
with a single plate, a single spoon?
Gandhi with his staff and his holy diapers?

Off she goes into the material world
with nothing but her brown coat
and her modest blue collar,
following only her wet nose,
the twin portals of her steady breathing,
followed only by the plume of her tail.

If only she did not shove the cat aside
every morning
and eat all his food
what a model of self-containment she
would be,
what a paragon of earthly detachment.
If only she were not so eager
for a rub behind the ears,
so acrobatic in her welcomes,
if only I were not her god.

(Billy Collins [source])

and:

Tour

Near a shrine in Japan he’d swept the path
and then placed camellia blossoms there.

Or — we had no way of knowing — he’d swept the path
between fallen camellias.

(Carol Snow [source])

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Unquiet Large, Quiet Small

From whiskey river:

In the point of rest at the center of our being, we encounter a world where all things are at rest in the same way. Then a tree becomes a mystery, a cloud a revelation, each man a cosmos of whose riches we can only catch glimpses. The life of simplicity is simple, but it opens to us a book in which we never get beyond the first syllable.

(Dag Hammarskjöld, from Markings [source])

and:

The world — whatever we might think when terrified by its vastness and our own impotence, or embittered by its indifference to individual suffering, of people, animals, and perhaps even plants, for why are we so sure that plants feel no pain; whatever we might think of its expanses pierced by the rays of stars surrounded by planets we’ve just begun to discover, planets already dead? still dead? we just don’t know; whatever we might think of this measureless theater to which we’ve got reserved tickets, but tickets whose lifespan is laughably short, bounded as it is by two arbitrary dates; whatever else we might think of this world — it is astonishing.

(Wislawa Szymborska, from her Nobel lecture The Poet and the World [source])

and:

The Sciences Sing a Lullabye

Physics says: go to sleep. Of course
you’re tired. Every atom in you
has been dancing the shimmy in silver shoes
nonstop from mitosis to now.
Quit tapping your feet. They’ll dance
inside themselves without you. Go to sleep.

Geology says: it will be all right. Slow inch
by inch America is giving itself
to the ocean. Go to sleep. Let darkness
lap at your sides. Give darkness an inch.
You aren’t alone. All of the continents used to be
one body. You aren’t alone. Go to sleep.

Astronomy says: the sun will rise tomorrow,
Zoology says: on rainbow-fish and lithe gazelle,
Psychology says: but first it has to be night, so
Biology says: the body-clocks are stopped all over town
and
History says: here are the blankets, layer on layer, down and down.

(Albert Goldbarth [source])

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Waking Up to the Unreal

[Image: promotional still from The Troll Hunter, a 2010 “mockumentary” from
Norway about — well, perhaps you can guess.]

From whiskey river:

Fairy tales were maps formed of blood and hair and bones; they were the knots of the sub-conscious unwound. Every word in every tale was real and as true as apples and stones. They all led to the story inside the story.

(Alice Hoffman [source])

…and:

Sky Burial

This is the way they dispose of the dead
in Tibet. Letting nothing go to waste.
The loose bodies, with their blood still,
are lifted to high roofs, offered to the sky.
In this way everything becomes a temple
and bells ring to catch the carrion birds
in flight. Glorious bells! Unsettling circlers!
They alight like balding mathematicians,
like ancient men huddled over maps.

Their steepled wings flap now and again
like a preacher searching a hymnal;
their beaks could be penning red sermons
as the umbral body is unsewn, consumed—
concealed through all avenues of heaven,
borne again aloft in a scream of grace
echoing down the mausoleum of dark.

(Michael Titus [source])

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Across

[Image: “Waiting for the Ferryman,” by Jack R. Johanson (click for original). The photographer describes the location, along the Norwegian river Glomma, as “a fine place to wait for the ferryman to take you to the other side.”]

Oddly, whiskey river was very prose-y in the last week. Think I’ll duck down into the archives there, a/k/a whiskey river’s commonplace book, for a poetry selection

Letter Written on a Ferry
While Crossing Long Island Sound

I am surprised to see
that the ocean is still going on.
Now I am going back
and I have ripped my hand
from your hand as I said I would
and I have made it this far
as I said I would
and I am on the top deck now
holding my wallet, my cigarettes
and my car keys
at 2 o’clock on a Tuesday
in August of 1960.

Dearest,
although everything has happened,
nothing has happened.
The sea is very old.
The sea is the face of Mary,
without miracles or rage
or unusual hope,
grown rough and wrinkled
with incurable age.

Still,
I have eyes.
These are my eyes:
the orange letters that spell
ORIENT on the life preserver
that hangs by my knees;
the cement lifeboat that wears
its dirty canvas coat;
the faded sign that sits on its shelf
saying KEEP OFF.
Oh, all right, I say,
I’ll save myself.

Over my right shoulder
I see four nuns
who sit like a bridge club,
their faces poked out
from under their habits,
as good as good babies who
have sunk into their carriages.
Without discrimination
the wind pulls the skirts
of their arms.
Almost undressed,
I see what remains:
that holy wrist,
that ankle,
that chain.

(Anne Sexton; whiskey river includes only the first four stanzas, above, but I think you’ll want to read the whole thing, which you can do here and elsewhere.)

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Losing Our Heads Over Modest Gods

[Above, a set of miniature Egyptian canopic jars depicting, according to the retailer, “Anubis, Horus, Monkey God, Prince.”* Click image for original.]

From whiskey river (which this week celebrated eight years of bringing to the Web wisdom about things we generally know, but generally do not speak of):

Shinto

When sorrow lays us low
for a second we are saved
by humble windfalls
of the mindfulness or memory:
the taste of a fruit, the taste of water,
that face given back to us by a dream,
the first jasmine of November,
the endless yearning of the compass,
a book we thought was lost,
the throb of a hexameter,
the slight key that opens a house to us,
the smell of a library, or of sandalwood,
the former name of a street,
the colors of a map,
an unforeseen etymology,
the smoothness of a filed fingernail,
the date we were looking for,
the twelve dark bell-strokes, tolling as we count,
a sudden physical pain.

Eight million Shinto deities **
travel secretly throughout the earth.
Those modest gods touch us —
touch us and move on.

(Jorge Luis Borges)

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