[Video: “Bluebird,” by Charles Bukowski. The poem is read by a pseudonymous “Tom O’Bedlam,” about whom you can read a few things here (and its links) and here. For information on the real “Tom o’Bedlam,” an anonymous 17th-century poem, see its Wikipedia page.]
Not from whiskey river:
There Is No Word
There isn’t a word for walking out of the grocery store
with a gallon jug of milk in a plastic sack
that should have been bagged in double layers
—so that before you are even out the door
you feel the weight of the jug dragging
the bag down, stretching the thin
plastic handles longer and longer
and you know it’s only a matter of time until
the strap breaks or the bottom suddenly splits
and spills its contents to the ground.
There is no single, unimpeachably precise word
for that vague sensation of something
moving away from you
as it exceeds its elastic capacity
which is too bad because that is the word
I would like to use to describe
standing on the street and chatting with a friend,
as the awareness gradually dawns on me that he
is no longer a friend,
but only an acquaintance
—until this moment as we say good-bye,
when I think we share a feeling of relief,
an unspoken recognition
that we have reached the end of a pretense
—though to tell the truth,
what I already am thinking
is that language deserves the credit—
how it will stretch just so much and no further;
how there are some holes it will not cover up;
how it will move, if not inside, then
around the circumference
of almost anything—
how, over the years, it has given me back
all the hours and days, all the
plodding love and faith, all the
misunderstandings and secrets and mistakes
I have willingly poured into it.
(Tony Hoagland [source])
Something about [Shakespeare’s] brain was gloriously different.
Familiar enough to illuminate the human condition in recognizable, entertaining, and profound ways, but different enough to do it in ways and words no one else could achieve. Something about the radar net of his senses. Something about his ability to combine seemingly unrelated things in a metaphor’s alchemy was different. His ability to juggle many swords of insight at the same time was different. In truth, the people of his era had a very small vocabulary; ours is exponentially larger. But his gift didn’t require more words, because words, being human made, can’t begin to capture the experience of being alive or the complex predicaments even simple people get into. Words are small shapes in the chaos of the world. They’re unwieldy, sloppy, even at their most precise. Nothing is simply blue. No one just walks. Words fail us when we need them most. They fall into the crevasses between feelings. If we make them overlap, then we can cover some of those spaces, and that’s traditionally what writers, especially poets, do. A metaphor is hypergolic, like nitroglycerin. It takes two otherwise harmless things, smacks them together, and creates something more explosive. Instead of needing a vocabulary word for every single thing and experience, we use the words we have in new ways. How clever of the brain to find such an enchanting solution.
(Diane Ackerman [source])
From whiskey river:
…when you think about it, poets always want us to be moved by something, until in the end, you begin to suspect a poet is someone who is moved by everything, who just stands in front of the world and weeps and laughs and laughs and weeps (the mysteries, said Aristotle, are the saying of many ridiculous and many serious things).
(Mary Ruefle [source])
…and (italicized lines):
The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac (Part 3)
I know, you never intended to be in this world.
But you’re in it all the same.
so why not get started immediately.
I mean, belonging to it.
There is so much to admire, to weep over.
And to write music or poems about.
Bless the feet that take you to and fro.
Bless the eyes and the listening ears.
Bless the tongue, the marvel of taste.
You could live a hundred years, it’s happened.
I am speaking from the fortunate platform
of many years,
none of which, I think, I ever wasted.
Do you need a prod?
Do you need a little darkness to get you going?
Let me be urgent as a knife, then,
and remind you of Keats,
so single of purpose and thinking, for a while,
he had a lifetime.
(Mary Oliver [source])