Practical Magic

Image: 'A Hedgehog (Erinaceus roumanicus),' by Hans Hoffmann

[Image: “A Hedgehog (Erinaceus roumanicus),” by Hans Hoffmann (German, 16th century). Painting in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; for more about the painting, see the museum’s description of it. As for its relevance here, well, read on.]

From whiskey river:

Perhaps everything lies in knowing what words to speak, what actions to perform, and in what order and rhythm; or else someone’s gaze, answer, gesture is enough; it is enough for someone to do something for the sheer pleasure of doing it, and for his pleasure to become the pleasure of others: at that moment, all spaces change, all heights, distances; the city is transfigured, becomes crystalline, transparent as a dragonfly.

(Italo Calvino [source])

and:

Off A Side Road Near Staunton

Some nothing afternoon, no one anywhere,
an early autumn stillness in the air,
the kind of empty day you fill by taking in
the full size of the valley and its layers leading
slowly to the Blue Ridge, the quality of country,
if you stand here long enough, you could stay
for, step into, the way a landscape, even on a wall,
pulls you in, one field at a time, pasture and fall
meadow, high above the harvest, perfect
to the tree line, then spirit clouds and intermittent
sunlit smoky rain riding the tops of the mountains,
though you could walk until it’s dark and not reach those rains—
you could walk the rest of the day into the picture
and not know why, at any given moment, you’re there.

(Stanley Plumly [source])

and:

Fairy-Tale Logic

Fairy tales are full of impossible tasks:
Gather the chin hairs of a man-eating goat,
Or cross the sulphuric lake in a leaky boat,
Select the prince from a row of identical masks,
Tiptoe up to a dragon where it basks
And snatch its bone; count dust specks, mote by mote,
Or learn the phone directory by rote.
Always it’s impossible when someone asks—

You have to fight magic with magic. You have to believe
That you have something impossible up your sleeve—
The language of snakes, perhaps, an invisible cloak,
An army of ants at your beck, or a lethal joke,
The will to do whatever must be done:
Marry a monster. Hand over your firstborn son.

(A. E. Stallings [source])

Not from whiskey river:

One job of the unconscious is to act as a workshop for rough-shaping ideas; crafting notions as new parts or tools become available; storing observations until something relevant appears in the landscape — generally soaking, simmering, and incubating ideas. Gradually, while combing through its inventory, it finds bits and pieces that create a pattern. When it slips knowledge of that pattern to the conscious mind, it’s a surprise, like a telegram slid under the door. Since we weren’t looking for it, and didn’t know about it, where did it come from? Out of thin air.

(Diane Ackerman [source])

…and:

Life

A human being weighing 70 kilograms contains among other things:
-45 litres of water
-Enough chalk to whiten a chicken pen
-Enough phosphorus for 2,200 matches
-Enough fat to make approximately 70 bars of soap
-Enough iron to make a two inch nail
-Enough carbon for 9,000 pencil points
-A spoonful of magnesium
I weigh more than 70 kilograms.

And I remember a TV series called Cosmos. Carl Sagan would walk around on a set that was meant to look like space, speaking in large numbers. On one of the shows he sat in front of a tank full of all the substances human beings are made of. He stirred the tank with a stick wondering if he would be able to create life.

He didn’t succeed.

(Erlend Loe [source])

…and:

Identity

When Hans Hofmann became a hedgehog
somewhere in a Germany that has
vanished with its forests and hedgerows
Shakespeare would have been a young actor
starting out in a country that was
only a word to Hans who had learned
from those who had painted animals
only from hearing tales about them
without ever setting eyes on them
or from corpses with the lingering
light mute and deathly still forever
held fast in the fur or the feathers
hanging or lying on a table
and he had learned from others who had
arranged the corpses of animals
as though they were still alive in full
flight or on their way but this hedgehog
was there in the same life as his own
looking around at him with his brush
of camel hair and his stretched parchment
of sheepskin as he turned to each sharp
particular quill and every black
whisker on the long live snout and those
flat clawed feet made only for trundling
and for feeling along the dark undersides
of stones and as Hans took them in he
turned into the Hans that we would see

(W. S. Merwin [source])

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