Adrift in Oceans of Time

Image: Illustration by W. Heath Robinson from Rudyard Kipling's 'A Song of the English' (1909)

[Image: Illustration by W. Heath Robinson, from Rudyard Kipling’s A Song of the English (1909). (Found it at the Internet Archive.)]

From whiskey river:

Afterlife

There is no life after death. Why
should there be. What on

earth would have us believe this.
Heaven is not the American

highway, blackened chicken alfredo
from Applebee’s nor the

clown sundae from Friendly’s. Our
life, this is the afterdeath,

when we blink open, peeled and
ready to ache. Years ago

my aunt banged on the steering, she
insisted there had to be a

God, a heaven. We were on our
way to a wedding. I would

have to sit at the same table as the
man who saw no heaven

in me. Today I am thinking about
Mozart, of all people, who

died at 35 mysteriously, perhaps of
strep. What a strange cloth

it is to live. But that we came from
death and return to it, made

different by form, shaped again back
into anti-, anti-. On my run,

I think of Jack Gilbert, who said we
must insist while there is still

time, but insist toward what. Why we
must fill the void with light—

isn’t that our human insistence? But
we drift into a distance of

distance until proximity fails, our
name lifts away with any

future concerns, the past a flattened
coin that cannot spin. I am

matter spun from death’s wool—and
I bewilder the itch, I who am

I am just so happy to go.

(Natalie Eilbert [source])

and:

Often we feel time to be linear, inexorable, suffocating. At other moments we find it oceanic. We kind of swim in it. We expect physicists to come up with an explanation, but we don’t find one, and come back to our intuitive use of the concept. But there are also moments when time appears to be, to say it in one way, both vertical and horizontal, both “single-minded,” monotonous, unalterable, and multi-dimensional, infinite. When a few people come together, I often have wondered if each person’s amount of years was not being added to the amount of years of all the others, so that we were representing together much more than our single self. And if you add up the simultaneous ages of people, animals, plants, objects, the age of celestial bodies and so on, you realize that we are living in the unfolding of the infinite. But why bother? I think because we need to keep in mind the immensity of being, in spite of our fragility and mortality.

(Etel Adnan [no canonical source])

…and:

Apologia Pro Vita Sua
III
(excerpt)

It’s good to know certain things:
What’s departed, in order to know what’s left to come;
That water’s immeasurable and incomprehensible

And blows in the air
Where all that’s fallen and silent becomes invisible;
That fire’s the light our names are carved in.

That shame is a garment of sorrow;
That time is the Adversary, and stays sleepless and wants for nothing;
That clouds are unequal and words are.

(Charles Wright [source])

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Time, Time, Time, See What’s Become of Me

Image: 'Behind You,' by Tom Waterhouse on Flickr.com

[Image: “Behind You,” by Tom Waterhouse; found it on Flickr, and used here under a Creative Commons license (thank you!). The photographer says that he first saw the stencil of the girl looking over her shoulder, then crouched down and waited about twenty minutes for the shot. He knew he’d recognize it when it came.]

From whiskey river:

Preludes
(excerpt)

II

Two truths approach each other. One comes from within,
one comes from without—and where they meet you have the chance
to catch a look at yourself.
Noticing what is about to happen, you shout desperately: “Stop!
Anything, anything, as long as I don’t have to know myself.”

And there is a boat that wants to put in—tries to, right here—
it will try again thousands of times.
Out of the forest’s dark comes a long boat hook
that’s pushed through the open window
among the party guests who have danced themselves warm.

(Tomas Tranströmer [source])

and:

Living is moving; time is a live creek bearing changing lights. As I move, or as the world moves around me, the fullness of what I see shatters… “Last forever!” Who hasn’t prayed that prayer?… You were lucky to get it in the first place. The present is a freely given canvas. That it is constantly being ripped apart and washed downstream goes without saying; it is a canvas, nevertheless…

But there is more to the present than a series of snapshots. We are not merely sensitized film; we have feelings, a memory for information and an eidetic memory for the imagery of our pasts.

Our layered consciousness is a tiered track for an unmatched assortment of concentrically wound reels. Each one plays out for all of life its dazzle and blur of translucent shadow-pictures; each one hums at every moment its own secret melody in its own unique key. We tune in and out. But moments are not lost. Time out of mind is time nevertheless, cumulative, informing the present. From even the deepest slumber you wake with a jolt — older, closer to death, and wiser, grateful for breath…

But time is the one thing we have been given, and we have been given to time. Time gives us a whirl. We keep waking from a dream we can’t recall, looking around in surprise, and lapsing back, for years on end. All I want to do is stay awake, keep my head up, prop my eyes open, with toothpicks, with trees.

(Annie Dillard [source])

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“A Long and Sweet, Delicious Crack of Wood in My Teeth”

'064 - Day 5 Ayeyarwady River - A serene view of Ava Bridge,' by Neville Wootton on Flickr

[Image: “064 – Day 5 Ayeyarwady River – A serene view of Ava Bridge,” by Neville Wootton. Found on Flickr, and used here under a Creative Commons license. (Thank you!) The image’s beauty is proportionate to its scale (click it to enlarge), but at any scale it seems an image of a place remembered, but never actually visited.]

Not from whiskey river:

Theories of Time and Space

You can get there from here, though
there’s no going home.

Everywhere you go will be somewhere
you’ve never been. Try this:

head south on Mississippi 49, one-
by-one mile markers ticking off

another minute of your life. Follow this
to its natural conclusion — dead end

at the coast, the pier at Gulfport where
riggings of shrimp boats are loose stitches

in a sky threatening rain. Cross over
the man-made beach, 26 miles of sand

dumped on a mangrove swamp — buried
terrain of the past. Bring only

what you must carry — tome of memory
its random blank pages. On the dock

where you board the boat for Ship Island,
someone will take your picture:

the photograph — who you were —
will be waiting when you return

(Natasha Trethewey [source])

…and:

Fetch

Go, bring back the worthless stick.
Of memory,” I almostimage added.
But she wouldn’t understand, naturally.
There is the word and the thing

adhering. So far so good.
Metaphor, drawer of drafting tools —
spill it on the study floor, animal says,
that we might at least see

how an expensive ruler tastes.
Yesterday I pissed and barked and ate
because that’s what waking means.
Thus has God solved time

for me — here, here. What you call
memory is a long and sweet,
delicious crack of wood in my teeth
I bring back and bring back and bring back.

(Jeffrey Skinner [source])

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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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