No Alternative (Unless Imaginary)

Image: 'I came to the festival for love,' by Flickr user 'id-iom'

[Image: “I came to the festival for love,” by user id-iom on Flickr; used here under a Creative Commons license (thank you!). This is a photo of a work of street art, one of a so-called “mixtape project”: the artist (who is the photographer) has created various images on rectangles of slate — to the back of each of which s/he has mounted a CD of a mixtape of one sort or another. When finished, the artworks are (were?) simply placed out in public settings, where they may be freely collected by any passerby who wants them. See the complete album here. For a little more information, see the project’s Facebook page, which (I think!) is publicly accessible.]

From whiskey river (italicized portion):

Rapids

Fall’s leaves are redder than
spring’s flowers, have no pollen,
and also sometimes fly, as the wind
schools them out or down in shoals
or droves: though I
have not been here long, I can
look up at the sky at night and tell
how things are likely to go for
the next hundred million years:
the universe will probably not find
a way to vanish nor I
in all that time reappear.

(A. R. Ammons [source])

and:

…unfortunately, it’s true: time does heal. It will do so whether you like it or not, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. If you’re not careful, time will take away everything that ever hurt you, everything you have ever lost, and replace it with knowledge. Time is a machine: it will convert your pain into experience. Raw data will be compiled, will be translated into a more comprehensible language. The individual events of your life will be transmuted into another substance called memory and in the mechanism something will be lost and you will never be able to reverse it, you will never again have the original moment back in its uncategorized, preprocessed state. It will force you to move on and you will not have a choice in the matter.

(Charles Yu [source])

and:

On the Outskirts of Work

In the middle of work
we start longing fiercely for wild greenery,
for the Wilderness itself, penetrated only
by the thin civilization of the telephone wires.

*

The moon of leisure circles the planet Work
with its mass and weight.—That’s how they want it.
When we are on the way home the ground pricks up its ears.
The underground listens to us via the grassblades.

*

Even in this working day there is a private calm.
As in a smoky inland area where a canal flows:
THE BOAT appears unexpectedly in the traffic
or glides out behind the factory, a white vagabond.

*

One Sunday I walk past an unpainted new building
that stands in front of a grey wet surface.
It is half finished. The wood has the same light color
as the skin on someone bathing.

*

Outside the lamps the September night is totally dark.
When the eyes adjust, there is faint light
over the ground where large snails glide out
and the mushrooms are as numerous as the stars.

(Tomas Tranströmer [source])

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Things Flare Up… and Then — Poof!

Metanoia, by Patricia Wu Wu (via Glasgow School of Art) on Flickr

[Image: “Metanoia: transformation, a change of heart or mind,” by Patricia Wu Wu; found on Flickr, and used here under a Creative Commons license (thank you!). It’s not clear, exactly, but this image seems to be a draft, of sorts — sketches in black ink or paint: Patricia Wu Wu is a fashion/textiles designer. Apparently this image was included in her “Metanoia” show at the Glasgow School of Art (see the corresponding Flickr album for more). You can see more of the work she exhibited there at her own site.]

From whiskey river:

Then again, if physics is right, we shouldn’t exist. You can watch ions hop across synapses, follow nerve impulses from nose to toes; nothing in any of those processes would lead you to expect the emergence of subjective awareness. Physics describes a world of intelligent zombies who do everything we do, except understand that they’re doing it. That’s what we should be, that’s all we should be: meat and computation. Somehow the meat woke up. How the hell does that even work?

(Peter Watts [source])

and:

Prelude

Waking up is a parachute jump from dreams.
Free of the suffocating turbulence the traveler
sinks toward the green zone of morning.
Things flare up. From the viewpoint of the quivering lark
he is aware of the huge root systems of the trees,
their swaying underground lamps. But above ground
there’s greenery—a tropical flood of it—with
lifted arms, listening
to the beat of an invisible pump. And he
sinks toward summer, is lowered
in its dazzling crater, down
through shafts of green damp ages
trembling under the sun’s turbine. Then it’s checked,
this straight-down journey through the moment, and the wings spread
to the osprey’s repose above rushing waters.
The bronze-age trumpet’s
outlawed note
hovers above the bottomless depths.

In day’s first hours consciousness can grasp the world
as the hand grips a sun-warmed stone.
The traveler is standing under a tree. After
the crash through death’s turbulence, shall
a great light unfold above his head?

(Tomas Tranströmer [source])

and:

The plain truth is we are going to die. Here I am, a teeny speck surrounded by boundless space and time, arguing with the whole of creation, shaking my fist, sputtering, growing even eloquent at times, and then — poof! I am gone. Swept off once and for all. I think that is very, very funny.

(Charles Simic [source (via)])

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Wait

Image: 'Kitsuno' (uncredited image)

[Image: painting (?) by an unknown artist, of an encounter between a sleeping man and what appears to be a kitsuno disguised as a woman. This looks like a photograph of a painting; if so, I don’t know who took the photo, either. (I found it at this page on Tumblr, which has numerous other images of the same creature, from other sources.) For more about the kitsuno legend (a version of which is alluded to in Hannah Sanghee Park’s poem, below), see the note at the foot of this post.]

From whiskey river:

The death of self of which the great writers speak is no violent act. It is merely the joining of the great rock heart of the earth in its roll. It is merely the slow cessation of the will’s spirits and the intellect’s chatter: it is waiting like a hollow bell with a stilled tongue. Fuge, tace, quiesce. The waiting itself is the thing.

(Annie Dillard [source])

and:

The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled. Each evening we see the sun set. We know that the earth is turning away from it. Yet the knowledge, the explanation, never quite fits the sight.

(John Berger [source])

and:

Alcaic

This forest in May. It haunts my whole life:
the invisible moving van. Singing birds.
In silent pools, mosquito larvae’s
furiously dancing question marks.

I escape to the same places and same words.
Cold breeze from the sea, the ice-dragon’s licking
the back of my neck while the sun glares.
The moving van is burning with cool flames.

(Tomas Tranströmer [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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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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The Things You Find (and Sometimes Need to Ignore)

'Everyone #177' (detail), by Rodney Glick. Carved and painted wood.

[Image: “Everyone #9/177” (carved and painted wooden sculpture), by Rodney Glick. See the note at the foot of this post for more information.]

From whiskey river:

The Blind Leading the Blind

Take my hand. There are two of us in this cave.
The sound you hear is water; you will hear it forever.
The ground you walk on is rock. I have been here before.
People come here to be born, to discover, to kiss,
to dream, and to dig and to kill. Watch for the mud.
Summer blows in with scent of horses and roses;
fall with the sound of sound breaking; winter shoves
its empty sleeve down the dark of your throat.
You will learn toads from diamonds, the fist from palm,
love from the sweat of love, falling from flying.
There are a thousand turnoffs. I have been here before.
Once I fell off a precipice. Once I found gold.
Once I stumbled on murder, the thin parts of a girl.
Walk on, keep walking, there are axes above us.
Watch for the occasional bits and bubbles of light—
Birthdays for you, recognitions: yourself, another.
Watch for the mud. Listen for bells, for beggars.
Something with wings went crazy against my chest once.
There are two of us here. Touch me.

(Lisel Mueller [source])

and:

One of the strangest things about life is that it will chug on, blind and oblivious, even as your private world—your little carved-out sphere—is twisting and morphing, even breaking apart. One day you have parents; the next day you’re an orphan. One day you have a place and a path. The next day you’re lost in the wilderness.

And still the sun rises and clouds mass and drift and people shop for groceries and toilets flush and blinds go up and down. That’s when you realize that most of it—life, the relentless mechanism of existing—isn’t about you. It doesn’t include you at all. It will thrust onward even after you’ve jumped the edge.

(Lauren Oliver [source])

and:

Crests

With a sigh the elevators begin to rise
in high blocks delicate as porcelain.
It will be a hot day out on the asphalt.
The traffic signs have drooping eyelids.

The land a steep slope to the sky.
Crest after crest, no proper shadow.
We hunt for You, flying
through the summer in cinemascope.

And in the evening I lie like a ship
with lights out, just at the right distance
from reality, while the crew
swarms in the parks ashore.

(Tomas Tranströmer [source])

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Getting Around

Rocket dog

[Image: well, that’s one way to do it. I’m not really sure what this represents, but it got my attention.]

From whiskey river:

The Meadow

As we walk into words that have waited for us to enter them, so
the meadow, muddy with dreams, is gathering itself together

and trying, with difficulty, to remember how to make wildflowers.
Imperceptibly heaving with the old impatience, it knows

for certain that two horses walk upon it, weary of hay.
The horses, sway-backed and self important, cannot design

how the small white pony mysteriously escapes the fence every day.
This is the miracle just beyond their heavy-headed grasp,

and they turn from his nuzzling with irritation. Everything
is crying out. Two crows, rising from the hill, fight

and caw-cry in mid-flight, then fall and light on the meadow grass
bewildered by their weight. A dozen wasps drone, tiny prop planes,

sputtering into a field the farmer has not yet plowed,
and what I thought was a phone, turned down and ringing,

is the knock of a woodpecker for food or warning, I can’t say.
I want to add my cry to those who would speak for the sound alone.

But in this world, where something is always listening, even
murmuring has meaning, as in the next room you moan

in your sleep, turning into late morning. My love, this might be
all we know of forgiveness, this small time when you can forget

what you are. There will come a day when the meadow will think
suddenly, water, root, blossom, through no fault of its own,

and the horses will lie down in daisies and clover. Bedeviled,
human, your plight, in waking, is to choose from the words

that even now sleep on your tongue, and to know that tangled
among them and terribly new is the sentence that could change your life.

(Marie Howe, The Good Thief [source])

and:

Time is not a straight line, it’s more of a labyrinth, and if you press close to the wall in the right place you can hear the hurrying steps and the voices, you can hear yourself walking past on the other side.

(Tomas Tranströmer [source])

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Ready (or Not) for Surprise

[See the note at the foot of this post for information about this video.]

From whiskey river:

I don’t know what I’m doing most of the time. There’s a certain humor in realizing that. I can never figure out the kind of tie to put on in the morning. I don’t have any strategy or plan to get through the day. It is literally a problem for me to decide which side of the bed to get out on. These are staggering problems. I remember talking to this Trappist monk in a monastery. He’s been there twelve years. A pretty severe regime. I expressed my admiration for him and he said “Leonard, I’ve been here twelve years and every morning, I have to decide whether I’m going to stay or not.” I knew exactly what he was talking about.

(Leonard Cohen, 1988 interview with Jon Wilde in Blitz [source])

and:

Solitude (I)

I was nearly killed here, one night in February.
My car shivered, and slewed sideways on the ice,
right across into the other lane. The slur of traffic
came at me with their lights.

My name, my girls, my job, all
slipped free and were left behind, smaller and smaller,
further and further away. I was a nobody:
a boy in a playground, suddenly surrounded.

The headlights of the oncoming cars
bore down on me as I wrestled the wheel through a slick
of terror, clear and slippery as egg-white.
The seconds grew and grew — making more room for me —
stretching huge as hospitals.

I almost felt that I could rest
and take a breath
before the crash.

Then something caught: some helpful sand
or a well-timed gust of wind. The car
snapped out of it, swinging back across the road.
A signpost shot up and cracked, with a sharp clang,
spinning away in the darkness.

And it was still. I sat back in my seat-belt
and watched someone tramp through the whirling snow
to see what was left of me.

(Tomas Tranströmer [source])

and:

There will come a time when all of us are dead. All of us. There will come a time when there are no human beings remaining to remember that anyone ever existed or that our species ever did anything. There will be no one left to remember Aristotle or Cleopatra, let alone you. Everything that we did and built and wrote and thought and discovered will be forgotten and all of this will have been for naught. Maybe that time is coming soon and maybe it is millions of years away, but even if we survive the collapse of our sun, we will not survive forever. There was time before organisms experienced consciousness, and there will be time after. And if the inevitability of human oblivion worries you, I encourage you to ignore it. God knows that’s what everyone else does.

(John Green [source])

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