In the Land of What’sToCome

[Video: The Hello Strangers, last seen at RAMH in October 2014, released this video cover of Doris Day’s 1956 classic earlier this year — not coincidentally, on Day’s 91st birthday. Also not coincidentally, their grandfather, Ronald Chace, had both sung with Doris Day and played second trombone in Les Brown’s Big Band during Day’s tenure with Brown in the 1940s. The Strangers recorded this song in Chace’s memory.]

From whiskey river:

After Thanksgiving

Lord, as Rilke says, the year bears down toward winter, past
the purification of the trees, the darkened brook.
Only 4:45, and the sky’s sheer black
clasps two clear planets and a skinny moon
as we drive quietly home from the airport,
the last kid gone.

The time of preparation’s over, the time of
harvesting the seed, the husk, the kernel, saving
what can be saved—weaves of sun like
rags of old flannel, provident peach stones,
pies, pickles, berry wines to
hold the sweetness for a few more months.

Now the mountains will settle into their old
cold habits, now the white
birch bones will rise
like all those thoughts we’ve tried to repress:
madness of the solstice, phosphorescent
logic that rules the fifteen-hour night!

Our children, gorged, encouraged, have taken off
in tiny shuddering planes. Plump with stuffing,
we too hurry away, holding hands, holding on.
Soon it’ll be January, soon snow will
shuffle down, cold feathers, swathing us in
inches of white silence—

and the ways of the ice
will be narrow, delicate.

(Sandra M. Gilbert [source])


Language is the element of definition, the defining and descriptive incantation. It puts the coin between our teeth. It whistles the boat up. It shows us the city of light across the water. Without language there is no poetry, without poetry there’s just talk. Talk is cheap and proves nothing. Poetry is dear and difficult to come by. But it poles us across the river and puts a music in our ears. It moves us to contemplation. And what we contemplate, what we sing our hymns to and offer our prayers to, is what will reincarnate us in the natural world, and what will be our one hope for salvation in the What’sToCome.

(Charles Wright [source])


How To Listen

Tilt your head slightly to one side and lift
your eyebrows expectantly. Ask questions.

Delve into the subject at hand or let
things come randomly. Don’t expect answers.

Forget everything you’ve ever done.
Make no comparisons. Simply listen.

Listen with your eyes, as if the story
you are hearing is happening right now.

Listen without blinking, as if a move
might frighten the truth away forever.

Don’t attempt to copy anything down.
Don’t bring a camera or a recorder.

This is your chance to listen carefully.
Your whole life might depend on what you hear.

(Joyce Sutphen [source — click on the ‘Two Poems’ link])

Not from whiskey river:

This morning has been bearing down out of the future toward this riverbank forever. And for perhaps as long, in a sense, my life has been approaching from the opposite direction. The approach of a man’s life out of the past is history, and the approach of time out of the future is mystery. Their meeting is the present, and it is consciousness, the only time life is alive. The endless wonder of this meeting is what causes the mind, in its inward liberty of a frozen morning, to turn back and question and remember. The world is full of places. Why is it that I am here?

(Wendell Berry [source])


A Son with a Future

When he was four years old, he stood at the window during a
thunderstorm. His father, a tailor, sat on the table sewing.
He came up to his father and said, “I know what makes
thunder: two clouds knock together.”
When he was older, he recited well-known rants at parties.
They all said that he would be a lawyer.
At law school he won a prize for an essay. Afterwards, he
became the chum of an only son of rich people. They
were said to think the world of the young lawyer.
The Appellate Division considered the matter of his disbarment.
His relatives heard rumours of embezzlement.

When a boy, to keep himself at school, he had worked in a
drug store.
Now he turned to this half-forgotten work, among perfumes
and pungent drugs, quiet after the hubble-bubble of the
courts and the search in law books.
He had just enough money to buy a drug store in a side
Influenza broke out. The old tailor was still keeping his shop
and sitting cross-legged on the table sewing, but he was
He, too, was taken sick. As he lay in bed he thought, “What a
lot of money doctors and druggists must be making; now
is my son’s chance.”
They did not tell him that his son was dead of influenza.

(Charles Reznikoff [source])


#7: Numerous people, including Robert Graves and Yogi Berra*, have had legitimate claim to the phrase, “The future’s not what it used to be” (and variants). Who wouldn’t want credit for it? The saying’s clever, it’s pithy, and it’s true: not only is the future not what it used to be — it never was. For that, the present’s never been the same, either. And the past, holy cow, the past — the past is the worst of the lot. So many people looking at the past. So many people bemoaning its loss, or happily kissing it good-bye. And not a single one of them (including, my friend, you and especially I) have, or have ever had, a clue what the past really was. What we call “the past” is the Schrödinger’s cat of human existence: the moment we examine it, it collapses into whatever we hope to find.

If you must use the past, then — for memoir, for family legends, for history, for comfort or despair, as bludgeon or mirror — accept the quantum paradox: no matter how many references you cite, how many reliable observers’ memories you tap, more or less true is the best and the only past you can hope for.

(JES, Maxims for Nostalgists)


* The Quote Investigator blog found its earliest appearance in 1937, in “a journal called ‘Epilogue’ within an article titled ‘From a Private Correspondence on Reality’ by Laura Riding and Robert Graves.” Berra, to whom the joke may be most often ascribed, finally acceded to popular demand and included it in 1988’s The Yogi Book: I really didn’t say everything I said! (Note that that book’s very title asserts the past’s blurriness.)

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