How Comes the Dawn

'The Blue Hour,' by Dave Toussaint on Flickr.com

[Image: “The Blue Hour,” by Dave Toussaint. (Found on Flickr; used here under a Creative Commons license.) Toussaint reports that this shot of Yosemite Falls was taken roughly 45 minutes before sunrise. If you’re viewing this on a sufficiently large screen, click on the image to see it in the photographer’s preferred original size of 1140 x 754.]

From whiskey river:

Where do we find ourselves? In a series of which we do not know the extremes, and believe that it has none. We wake and find ourselves on a stair; there are stairs below us, which we seem to have ascended; there are stairs above us, many a one, which go upward and out of sight. But the Genius which, according to the old belief, stands at the door by which we enter, and gives us the lethe to drink, that we may tell no tales, mixed the cup too strongly, and we cannot shake off the lethargy now at noonday. Sleep lingers all our lifetime about our eyes, as night hovers all day in the boughs of the fir-tree. All things swim and glitter. Our life is not so much threatened as our perception. Ghostlike we glide through nature, and should not know our place again. Did our birth fall in some fit of indigence and frugality in nature, that she was so sparing of her fire and so liberal of her earth, that it appears to us that we lack the affirmative principle, and though we have health and reason, yet we have no superfluity of spirit for new creation? We have enough to live and bring the year about, but not an ounce to impart or to invest. Ah that our Genius were a little more of a genius!

(Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays: Second Series [source])

and:

To the New Year

With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few
high leaves that do not stir
as though they had not noticed
and did not know you at all
then the voice of a dove calls
from far away in itself
to the hush of the morning

so this is the sound of you
here and now whether or not
anyone hears it this is
where we have come with our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible

(W. S. Merwin [source])

and:

The Tongue Says Loneliness

The tongue says loneliness, anger, grief,
but does not feel them.

As Monday cannot feel Tuesday,
nor Thursday
reach back to Wednesday
as a mother reaches out for her found child.

As this life is not a gate, but the horse plunging through it.

Not a bell,
but the sound of the bell in the bell-shape,
lashing full strength with the first blow from inside the iron.

(Jane Hirshfield [source])

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Forever Beginning

'Âmes entrelacés par la lumière,' by user viewminder on Flickr.com

[Image: “Âmes entrelacés par la lumière,” by user Viewminder on Flickr.com. (Used here under a Creative Commons license.) Translation, per Google Translate: Souls intertwined by light.]

From whiskey river:

I wish that I could put up yesterday’s evening sky for all posterity, could preserve a night of love, the sound of a mountain stream, a realization as it sets my mind afire, a dance, a day of harmony, ten thousand glorious days of clouds that will instead vanish and never be seen again, line them up in jars where they might be admired in the interim and tasted again as needed.

(Rebecca Solnit [source])

and (italicized portion*):

We like to think that we are finely evolved creatures, in suit-and-tie or pantyhose-and-chemise, who live many millennia and mental detours away from the cave, but that’s not something our bodies are convinced of. We may have the luxury of being at the top of the food chain, but our adrenaline still rushes when we encounter real or imaginary predators. We even restage that primal fright by going to monster movies. We still stake out or mark our territories, though sometimes now it is with the sound of radios. We still jockey for position and power. We still create works of art to enhance our senses and add even more sensations to the brimming world, so that we can utterly luxuriate in the spectacles of life. We still ache fiercely with love, lust, loyalty, and passion. And we still perceive the world, in all its gushing beauty and terror, right on our pulses. There is no other way.  To begin to understand the gorgeous fever that is consciousness, we must try to understand the senses — how they evolved, how they can be extended, what their limits are, to which ones we have attached taboos, and what they can teach us about the ravishing world we have the privilege to inhabit.

(Diane Ackerman [source])

and:

Begin

Begin again to the summoning birds
to the sight of the light at the window,
begin to the roar of morning traffic
all along Pembroke Road.
Every beginning is a promise
born in light and dying in dark
determination and exaltation of springtime
flowering the way to work.
Begin to the pageant of queuing girls
the arrogant loneliness of swans in the canal
bridges linking the past and future
old friends passing though with us still.
Begin to the loneliness that cannot end
since it perhaps is what makes us begin,
begin to wonder at unknown faces
at crying birds in the sudden rain
at branches stark in the willing sunlight
at seagulls foraging for bread
at couples sharing a sunny secret
alone together while making good.
Though we live in a world that dreams of ending
that always seems about to give in
something that will not acknowledge conclusion
insists that we forever begin.

(Brendan Kennelly [source])

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Real-Life Dialogue: Time Warp Edition

Real-Life Dialogue[The setting: a suburban home in North Florida, USA, late on a Sunday afternoon. He has just returned from grocery shopping. The dialogue occurs as they’re placing things he’s bought into the pantry and refrigerator.]

She: The time really got away from us today — we’ve still got so much to do for the company coming tomorrow. It’s already almost five-thirty.

[He looks down at his watch.]

He: What are you talking about? It’s barely past four o’clock.

She: [hope dawning in her eyes as she looks down at his watch, held up for her inspection] Really?!

He: Yeah, really. I mean I thought it was a little weird, maybe you—

She: [looking down at her cell phone, hope dying] No. It IS almost FIVE-thirty.

[She holds up her cell phone for his inspection.]

He: Wha— huh? [looking down at his own cellphone, checking his watch again] Damn it. Watch battery must have died. And I’m off work tomorrow, without a car—

She: Well, I could take your watch to work with me, and run it over to the mall at lunch for a new battery. But I won’t have time to—

He: [confused, but dismissive] Well, that wouldn’t work anyway. I mean, if you’ve got my watch all day then how am I gonna know what time it is?

She: [her brain whirs, audibly]

He: [his brain whirs, audibly]

[Both crack up laughing.]

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Unfolding into Time

Webb telescope: unfolding test

[Image: Testing the unfolding of the James Webb Space Telescope’s sunshield (photo via NASA, 2014-07-10). Per the NASA site, the Webb telescope “will be a powerful time machine with infrared vision that will peer back over 13.5 billion years to see the first stars and galaxies forming out of the darkness of the early universe.” For a visualization of the complete unfolding of the telescope post-launch — all components, including the sunshield — see this video.]

[See the note at the foot of this post]

From whiskey river:

Poem for My Birthday

I have stopped being the heroine
of my bad dreams. The melodramas
of betrayal and narrow escapes
from which I wake up grateful
for an unexciting life
are starring my troubled young friend
or one of my daughters. I’m not the one
who swims too far out to sea;
I am the one who waves from shore
vainly and in despair.
Life is what happens to someone else;
I stand on the sidelines and wring my hands.
Strange that my dreams should have accepted
the minor role I’ve been cast in
by stories since stories began.
Does that mean I have solved my life?
I’m still afraid in my dreams, but not for myself.
Fear gets rededicated
with a new stone that bears a needier name.

(Lisel Mueller [source])

and:

Four in the morning, cold and still but for the buzz of my yard light as it talks to the one up the hill at my neighbor’s. Mine says it feels the earth spinning it out to the end of its post, like a drop of light that might at any instant shake off into the stars, but my neighbor’s says that’s nonsense, the typical thing you can expect to hear from a poet’s lamp: Nothing on earth can feel that centrifugal force. As for me, I know how light on their legs the fat mice are as they carry the dog food, nugget by nugget, feeling the warmth spin away from the earth, and how the trees are flushed at this time of the year with the effort of holding leaves. Oh, yes, there is a steady tug from the Milky Way, and I can feel my fingers lifting just a little away from these keys, not touching and then touching again, one tap and then another.

So light I am, so light is my heart when I am up early, trying to write.

(Ted Kooser [source])

…and (from the commonplace book):

The Dead

At night the dead come down to the river to drink.
They unburden themselves of their fears,
their worries for us. They take out the old photographs.
They pat the lines in our hands and tell our futures,
which are cracked and yellow.
Some dead find their way to our houses.
They go up to the attics.
They read the letters they sent us, insatiable
for signs of their love.
They tell each other stories.
They make so much noise
they wake us
as they did when we were children and they stayed up
drinking all night in the kitchen.

(Susan Mitchell [source])

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All the Directions of Time

Marc Chagall: 'Clock with Blue Wing' (1949, oil on canvas)

[Image: Clock with Blue Wing, by Marc Chagall (1949, oil on canvas). Translator Susanna Nied identifies this painting as the source or inspiration for Inger Christensen’s poem, below.]

From whiskey river:

A mysterious thing, this branching structure of life: one senses in every past instant a parting of ways, a “thus” and an “otherwise”, with innumerable dazzling zigzags bifurcating and trifurcating against the dark background of the past.

(Vladimir Nabokov [source])

and:

One advantage in keeping a diary is that you become aware with reassuring clarity of the changes which you constantly suffer and which in a general way are naturally believed, surmised, and admitted by you, but which you’ll unconsciously deny when it comes to the point of gaining hope or peace from such an admission. In the diary you find proof that in situations which today would seem unbearable, you lived, looked around and wrote down observations, that this right hand moved then as it does today, when we may be wiser because we are able to look back upon our former condition, and for that very reason have got to admit the courage of our earlier striving in which we persisted even in sheer ignorance.

(Franz Kafka [source])

and:

If I Stand

If I stand
alone in the snow
it is clear
that I am a clock

how else would eternity
find its way around

(Inger Christensen [source])

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A Direction in Which to Look

[Video: Linda Ronstadt sings “Blue Bayou,” in a performance filmed in September, 1977.
(Lyrics here.)]

From whiskey river:

Imagine yourself streaming through time shedding gloves, umbrellas, wrenches, books, friends, homes, names. This is what the view looks like if you take a rear-facing seat on the train. Looking forward you constantly acquire moments of arrival, moments of realization, moments of discovery. The wind blows your hair back and you are greeted by what you have never seen before. The material falls away in onrushing experience. It peels off like skin from a molting snake. Of course to forget the past is to lose the sense of loss that is also memory of an absent richness and a set of clues to navigate the present by; the art is not one of forgetting but letting go. And when everything else is gone, you can be rich in loss.

(Rebecca Solnit [source])

and (italicized portion):

New Year’s Day

The rain this morning falls
on the last of the snow

and will wash it away. I can smell
the grass again, and the torn leaves

being eased down into the mud.
The few loves I’ve been allowed

to keep are still sleeping
on the West Coast. Here in Virginia

I walk across the fields with only
a few young cows for company.

Big-boned and shy,
they are like girls I remember

from junior high, who never
spoke, who kept their heads

lowered and their arms crossed against
their new breasts. Those girls

are nearly forty now. Like me,
they must sometimes stand

at a window late at night, looking out
on a silent backyard, at one

rusting lawn chair and the sheer walls
of other people’s houses.

They must lie down some afternoons
and cry hard for whoever used

to make them happiest,
and wonder how their lives

have carried them
this far without ever once

explaining anything. I don’t know
why I’m walking out here

with my coat darkening
and my boots sinking in, coming up

with a mild sucking sound
I like to hear. I don’t care

where those girls are now.
Whatever they’ve made of it

they can have. Today I want   
to resolve nothing.

I only want to walk
a little longer in the cold

blessing of the rain,   
and lift my face to it.

(Kim Addonizio [source])

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Check the Clock. Check the Calendar. And Take a Breath.

Photo by 'orchidgalore,' on Flickr

[Photo by user orchidgalore, on Flickr. (Click to enlarge, but it’s a large image — over 3MB.) It took me a beat to realize what I was looking at: I thought it was a real-world recreation of one of Dali’s “melting watches” paintings. (Used here under a Creative Commons license.)]

From whiskey river:

No matter how hard you try to be what you once were, you can only be what you are here and now. Time hypnotizes. When you are nine, you think you’ve always been nine years old and will always be. And then when you turn seventy, you are always and forever seventy. You’re in the present, you’re trapped in a young now or an old now, but there is no other now to be seen. You’re only you, here, now — the present you.

(Ray Bradbury [source])

…and (same whiskey river post):

You who walk the earth know only the moment, which is whisked away with your next exhalation.

(Ray Bradbury [source])

and:

Exercise

First forget what time it is
for an hour
do it regularly every day

then forget what day of the week it is
do this regularly for a week
then forget what country you are in
and practice doing it in company
for a week
then do them together
for a week
with as few breaks as possible

follow these by forgetting how to add
or to subtract
it makes no difference
you can change them around
after a week
both will help you later
to forget how to count

forget how to count
starting with your own age
starting with how to count backward
starting with even numbers
starting with Roman numerals
starting with fractions of Roman numerals
starting with the old calendar
going on to the old alphabet
going on to the alphabet
until everything is continuous again

go on to forgetting elements
starting with water
proceeding to earth
rising in fire

forget fire

(W. S. Merwinn [source])

and:

I cannot shake time off me. He squats continually before my tree. Everything that has been in my life is always with me, simultaneously, and the events refuse to stand nicely one after the other in a row. They hook into each other, shift around, scatter, force themselves on me or try to slip out of my memory. I have difficulty with them in the necklace of my memory. I am not a carefree little herder of time at all. Day and night pass. Summer and winter, another summer, and here is winter again. This is easy, but not the time that has made of me what I am and that lives within me with another rhythm.

(Wilma Stockenström [source])

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The Deceptively Smallest of Lessons

'Lesson #3: On Starting Small,' by user theshanghaieye on Flickr.com

[Image: Lesson #3: On Starting Small, by user Don (theshanghaieye) on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license. (Click to enlarge.) The descriptive text accompanying the photo includes this note, from a source identified only as “Rules of Chess”: If a pawn makes it all the way across the board, it may be promoted to any piece of the same color. They reminded me of the Lewis chessmen.]

From whiskey river:

All That Is Glorious Around Us

is not, for me, these grand vistas, sublime peaks, mist-filled
overlooks, towering clouds, but doing errands on a day
of driving rain, staying dry inside the silver skin of the car,
160,000 miles, still running just fine. Or later,
sitting in a café warmed by the steam
from white chicken chili, two cups of dark coffee,
watching the red and gold leaves race down the street,
confetti from autumn’s bright parade. And I think
of how my mother struggles to breathe, how few good days
she has now, how we never think about the glories
of breath, oxygen cascading down our throats to the lungs,
simple as the journey of water over a rock. It is the nature
of stone / to be satisfied / writes Mary Oliver, It is the nature
of water / to want to be somewhere else, rushing down
a rocky tor or high escarpment, the panoramic landscape
boundless behind it. But everything glorious is around
us already: black and blue graffiti shining in the rain’s
bright glaze, the small rainbows of oil on the pavement,
where the last car to park has left its mark on the glistening
street, this radiant world.

(Barbara Crooker [source])

and:

It is only for a week or two that a broken chair or a door off its hinges is recognized for such. Soon, imperceptibly, it changes its character, and becomes the chair which is always left in the corner, the door which does not shut. A pin, fastening a torn valance, rusts itself into the texture of the stuff, is irremovable; the cracked dessert plate and the stew pan with a hole in it, set aside until the man who rivets and solders should chance to come that way, become part of the dresser, are taken down and dusted and put back, and when the man arrives no one remembers them as things in need of repair. Five large keys rest inside the best soup-tureen, scrupulously preserved though no one knows what it was they once opened, and the pastry-cutter is there too, little missed, for the teacup without a handle has taken its place.

(Sylvia Townsend Warner [source])

and:

In The Middle

of a life that’s as complicated as everyone else’s,
struggling for balance, juggling time.
The mantle clock that was my grandfather’s
has stopped at 9:20; we haven’t had time
to get it repaired. The brass pendulum is still,
the chimes don’t ring. One day I look out the window,
green summer, the next, the leaves have already fallen,
and a grey sky lowers the horizon. Our children almost grown,
our parents gone, it happened so fast. Each day, we must learn
again how to love, between morning’s quick coffee
and evening’s slow return. Steam from a pot of soup rises,
mixing with the yeasty smell of baking bread. Our bodies
twine, and the big black dog pushes his great head between;
his tail, a metronome, 3/4 time. We’ll never get there,
Time is always ahead of us, running down the beach, urging
us on faster, faster, but sometimes we take off our watches,
sometimes we lie in the hammock, caught between the mesh
of rope and the net of stars, suspended, tangled up
in love, running out of time.

(Barbara Crooker [source])

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All Those Pasts of Yours

'Lost in Time,' by Alice Popkorn on Flickr

[Image: “lost in time,” by Alice Popkorn. Found on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.]

From whiskey river:

While it’s true you’re haunted by your past, it’s truer that you’ve traveled spectacularly far away from it. You swam across a wide and wild sea and you made it all the way to the other side. That it feels different here on this shore than you thought it would does not negate the enormity of the distance you traversed and the strength it took you to do it.

(Cheryl Strayed [source])

and:

But what is the past? Could it be, the firmness of the past is just illusion? Could the past be a kaleidoscope, a pattern of images that shift with each disturbance of a sudden breeze, a laugh, a thought? And if the shift is everywhere, how would we know?

(Alan Lightman [source])

and:

Listen: you are not yourself, you are crowds of others, you are as leaky a vessel as was ever made, you have spent vast amounts of your life as someone else, as people who died long ago, as people who never lived, as strangers you never met. The usual I we are given has all the tidy containment of the kind of character the realist novel specializes in and none of the porousness of our every waking moment, the loose threads, the strange dreams, the forgettings and misrememberings, the portions of a life lived through others’ stories, the incoherence and inconsistency, the pantheon of dei ex machina and the companionability of ghosts. There are other ways of telling.

(Rebecca Solnit [source])

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Unseen in September

'Autumn Rhythm (Number 30) :: 1950 :: Jackson Pollock'

[Image: Autumn Rhythm (Number 30) :: 1950 :: Jackson Pollock, by Chris Van Pelt on Flickr]

From whiskey river (excerpted there; this is the whole poem):

Three Songs at the End of Summer

A second crop of hay lies cut
and turned. Five gleaming crows
search and peck between the rows.
They make a low, companionable squawk,
and like midwives and undertakers
possess a weird authority.

Crickets leap from the stubble,
parting before me like the Red Sea.
The garden sprawls and spoils.

Across the lake the campers have learned
to water ski. They have, or they haven’t.
Sounds of the instructor’s megaphone
suffuse the hazy air. “Relax! Relax!”

Cloud shadows rush over drying hay,
fences, dusty lane, and railroad ravine.
The first yellowing fronds of goldenrod
brighten the margins of the woods.

Schoolbooks, carpools, pleated skirts;
water, silver-still, and a vee of geese.

*

The cicada’s dry monotony breaks
over me. The days are bright
and free, bright and free.

Then why did I cry today
for an hour, with my whole
body, the way babies cry?

*

A white, indifferent morning sky,
and a crow, hectoring from its nest
high in the hemlock, a nest as big
as a laundry basket…
In my childhood
I stood under a dripping oak,
while autumnal fog eddied around my feet,
waiting for the school bus
with a dread that took my breath away.

The damp dirt road gave off
this same complex organic scent.

I had the new books — words, numbers,
and operations with numbers I did not
comprehend — and crayons, unspoiled
by use, in a blue canvas satchel
with red leather straps.

Spruce, inadequate, and alien
I stood at the side of the road.
It was the only life I had.

(Jane Kenyon [source])

and:

We are living in a culture entirely hypnotized by the illusion of time, in which the so-called present moment is felt as nothing but an infinitesimal hairline between an all-powerfully causative past and an absorbingly important future. We have no present. Our consciousness is almost completely preoccupied with memory and expectation. We do not realize that there never was, is, nor will be any other experience than present experience. We confuse the world as talked about, described, and measured with the world which actually is.

(Alan Watts [quoted various places (e.g. here), apparently from a book called The Way of Liberation])

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