There’s Gotta Be a Way…

Image: 'Push-me-Pull-you,' by user 'wiredwitch' on Flickr.com

[Image: “Push-me-Pull-you,” by Flickr user “wiredwitch” (actually a pair of Washington, DC-based photographers named Ketzirah Lesser and Art Drauglis). (Used here under a Creative Commons license; thank you!) The description there says, in part: “We came across these two red fox[es] who appeared to be stuck together. Our first thought was that they were mating. But they were facing in opposite directions. Having not read the Kanine Sutra we were unaware if this position was even possible for coitus. The predicament went on for a few minutes and they remained entangled. We wondered if there was some glue or piece of trash or something which was keeping them together. The classic Washington dilemma then popped up: Which Agency Do I Call?” For the rest of the story, see the page on Flickr.]

From whiskey river:

So much of what we dream flickers out before we can
name it. Even the sun has been frozen on the next street.
Every word only reveals a past that never seems real.
Sometimes we just stare at the ground as if it were
a grave we could rent for a while. Sometimes we don’t
understand how all that grief fits beside us on the stoop.
There should be some sort of metaphor that lifts us away.
We should see the sky open up or the stars descend.
There are birds migrating, but we don’t hear them, cars
on their way to futures made of a throw of the dice.
The pigeons here bring no messages. A few flies
stitch the air. Sometimes a poem knows no way out
unless truth becomes just a homeless character in it.

(Richard Jackson [source])

and:

On Parables

Many complain that the words of the wise are always merely parables and of no use in daily life, which is the only life we have. When the sage says: “Go over,” he does not mean that we should cross over to some actual place, which we could do anyhow if the labor were worth it; he means some fabulous yonder, something unknown to us, something too that he cannot designate more precisely, and therefore cannot help us here in the very least. All these parables really set out to say merely that the incomprehensible is incomprehensible, and we know that already. But the cares we have to struggle with every day: that is a different matter.

Concerning this a man once said: “Why such reluctance? If you only followed the parables you yourselves would become parables and with that rid yourself of all your daily cares.”

Another said: “I bet that is also a parable.”

The first said: “You have won.”

The second said: “But unfortunately only in parable.”

The first said: “No, in reality: in parable you have lost.”

(Franz Kafka [source])

and:

Your problem is how you are going to spend this one odd and precious life you have been issued. Whether you’re going to spend it trying to look good and creating the illusion that you have power over circumstances, or whether you are going to taste it, enjoy it and find out the truth about who you are.

(Anne Lamott [source])

[Read more…]

Send to Kindle
Share

“The Days of Great Usefulness”

Image: 'The Great Bear and the Live Oak,' by Justin Kern

[Image: “The Great Bear and the Live Oak,” by Justin Kern. (Found it on Flickr, and using it here via a Creative Commons license — thank you!) The photographer says that the image puts him in mind of Paul Simon’s “The Boy in the Bubble“:  “These are the days of miracle and wonder / This is the long distance call / The way the camera follows us in slo-mo / The way we look to us all…”]

From whiskey river:

In winter you wake up in this city, especially on Sundays, to the chiming of its innumerable bells, as though behind your gauze curtains a gigantic china tea set were vibrating on a silver tray in the pearl-gray sky. You fling the window open and the room is instantly flooded with this outer, pearl-laden haze, which is part damp oxygen, part coffee and prayers. No matter what sort of pills, and how many, you’ve got to swallow this morning, you feel it’s not over for you yet. No matter, by the same token, how autonomous you are, how much you’ve been betrayed, how thorough and dispiriting in your self-knowledge, you assume there is still hope for you, or at least a future. (Hope, said Francis Bacon, is a good breakfast but bad supper.) This optimism derives from the haze, from the prayer part of it, especially if it’s time for breakfast. On days like this, the city indeed acquires a porcelain aspect, what with all its zinc-covered cupolas resembling teapots or upturned cups, and the tilted profile of campaniles clinking like abandoned spoons and melting in the sky. Not to mention the seagulls and pigeons, now sharpening into focus, now melting into air. I should say that, good though this place is for honeymoons, I’ve often thought it should be tried for divorces also – both in progress and already accomplished. There is no better backdrop for rapture to fade into; whether right or wrong, no egoist can star for long in this porcelain setting by crystal water, for it steals the show. I am aware, of course, of the disastrous consequence the above suggestion may have for hotel rates here, even in winter. Still, people love their melodrama more than architecture, and I don’t feel threatened. It is surprising that beauty is valued less than psychology, but so long as such is the case, I’ll be able to afford this city – which means till the end of my days, and which ushers in the generous notion of the future.

(Joseph Brodsky [source])

and (italicized portion):

I’m not telling you to make the world better, because I don’t think that progress is necessarily part of the package. I’m just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment. And if you ask me why you should bother to do that, I could tell you that the grave’s a fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace. Nor do they sing there, or write, or argue, or see the tidal bore on the Amazon, or touch their children. And that’s what there is to do and get it while you can and good luck at it.

(Joan Didion [source])

[Read more…]

Send to Kindle
Share

Beginnings, Endings, All the Stuff in Between

Image: caterpillar on grape vine, stock photo via pexels.com

[Image: Stock photo from Pixabay/pexels.com, used here under a Creative Commons license. (Thanks!)]

From whiskey river:

A very sweet light is spreading over the Earth like a perfume. The moon is slowly dissolving and a boy-sun languidly stretches his translucent arms… Cool murmurings of pure waters that surrender themselves to the hillsides. A pair of wings dances in the rosy atmosphere. Silence, my friends. The day is about to begin.

(Clarice Lispector [source])

and:

Broom

To remember you’re alive
visit the cemetery of your father
at noon after you’ve made love
and are still wrapped in a mammalian
odor that you are forced to cherish.
Under each stone is someone’s inevitable
surprise, the unexpected death
of their biology that struggled hard, as it must.
Now to home without looking back,
enough is enough.
En route buy the best wine
you can afford and a dozen stiff brooms.
Have a few swallows then throw the furniture
out the window and begin sweeping.
Sweep until the walls are
bare of paint and at your feet sweep
until the floor disappears. Finish the wine
in this field of air, return to the cemetery
in evening and wind through the stones
a slow dance of your name visible only to birds.

(Jim Harrison [source])

and (italicized stanzas):

Year’s End

Now winter downs the dying of the year,
And night is all a settlement of snow;
From the soft street the rooms of houses show
A gathered light, a shapen atmosphere,
Like frozen-over lakes whose ice is thin
And still allows some stirring down within.

I’ve known the wind by water banks to shake
The late leaves down, which frozen where they fell
And held in ice as dancers in a spell
Fluttered all winter long into a lake;
Graved on the dark in gestures of descent,
They seemed their own most perfect monument.

There was perfection in the death of ferns
Which laid their fragile cheeks against the stone
A million years. Great mammoths overthrown
Composedly have made their long sojourns,
Like palaces of patience, in the gray
And changeless lands of ice. And at Pompeii

The little dog lay curled and did not rise
But slept the deeper as the ashes rose
And found the people incomplete, and froze
The random hands, the loose unready eyes
Of men expecting yet another sun
To do the shapely thing they had not done.

These sudden ends of time must give us pause.
We fray into the future, rarely wrought
Save in the tapestries of afterthought.
More time, more time. Barrages of applause
Come muffled from a buried radio.
The New-year bells are wrangling with the snow.

(Richard Wilbur [source])

[Read more…]

Send to Kindle
Share

All the Mysterious Comforts of Winter

Image: 'Black Boulangerie Alsacienne Food Truck,' by Tuur Tisseghem (large)

[Image: “Black Boulangerie Alsacienne Food Truck,” by Tuur Tisseghem. (Found it at Pexels; thanks!)]

From whiskey river (italicized lines):

Skating in Harlem, Christmas Day

To Mary Jo Salter

Beyond the ice-bound stones and bucking trees,
past bewildered Mary, the Meer in snow,
two skating rinks and two black crooked paths

are a battered pair of reading glasses
scratched by the skater’s multiplying math.
Beset, I play this game of tic-tac-toe.

Divide, subtract. Who can tell if love surpasses?
Two naughts we’ve learned make one astonished 0—
a hectic night of goats and compasses.

Folly tells the truth by what it’s not—
one X equals a fall I’d not forgo.
Are ice and fire the integers we’ve got?

Skating backwards tells another story—
the risky star above the freezing town,
a way to walk on water and not drown.

(Cynthia Zarin [source])

and:

You wake up on a winter morning and pull up the shade, and what lay there the evening before is no longer there — the sodden gray yard, the dog droppings, the tire tracks in the frozen mud, the broken lawn chair you forgot to take in last fall. All this has disappeared overnight, and what you look out on is not the snow of Narnia but the snow of home, which is no less shimmering and white as it falls. The earth is covered with it, and it is falling still in silence so deep that you can hear its silence. It is snow to be shoveled, to make driving even worse than usual, snow to be joked about and cursed at, but unless the child in you is entirely dead, it is snow, too, that can make the heart beat faster when it catches you by surprise that way, before your defenses are up. It is snow that can awaken memories of things more wonderful than anything you ever knew or dreamed.

(Frederick Buechner [source])

[Read more…]

Send to Kindle
Share

Grace at a Distance, Grace Close at Hand — But Grace

[Image: “Winter Forest Illustration,” by Jim Basa. (Found it on Pexels — thanks! — and used here in reduced scale; the thing is huge.)]

From whiskey river:

Are you willing to forget what you have done for other people, and to remember what other people have done for you; to ignore what the world owes you, and to think what you owe the world; to put your rights in the background, and your duties in the middle distance, and your chances to do a little more than your duty in the foreground; to see that men and women are just as real as you are, and try to look behind their faces to their hearts, hungry for joy; to own up to the fact that probably the only good reason for your existence is not what you are going to get out of life, but what you are going to give to life; to close your book of complaints against the management of the universe, and look around you for a place where you can sow a few seeds of happiness. Are you willing to do these things even for a day?

(Henry van Dyke [source])

and:

Laugh and be Merry

Laugh and be merry, remember, better the world with a song,
Better the world with a blow in the teeth of a wrong.
Laugh, for the time is brief, a thread the length of a span.
Laugh and be proud to belong to the old proud pageant of man.

Laugh and be merry: remember, in olden time.
God made Heaven and Earth for joy He took in a rhyme,
Made them, and filled them full with the strong red wine of His mirth,
The splendid joy of the stars: the joy of the earth.

So we must laugh and drink from the deep blue cup of the sky,
Join the jubilant song of the great stars sweeping by,
Laugh, and battle, and work, and drink of the wine outpoured
In the dear green earth, the sign of the joy of the Lord.

Laugh and be merry together, like brothers akin,
Guesting awhile in the rooms of a beautiful inn,
Glad till the dancing stops, and the lilt of the music ends.
Laugh till the game is played; and be you merry, my friends.

(John Masefield [source])

[Read more…]

Send to Kindle
Share

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])

[Read more…]

Send to Kindle
Share

Your First Miracle

Image: 'Israel-05625 - Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend,' by Dennis Jarvis on Flickr

[Image: “Israel-05625 – Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend,” by Dennis Jarvis; found it on Flickr, of course, and use it here under a Creative Commons license (thank you!)]

From whiskey river:

We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here…

This is another respect in which we are lucky. The universe is older than a hundred million centuries. Within a comparable time the sun will swell to a red giant and engulf the earth. Every century of hundreds of millions has been in its time, or will be when its time comes, “the present century.” Interestingly, some physicists don’t like the idea of a “moving present,” regarding it as a subjective phenomenon for which they find no house room in their equations. But it is a subjective argument I am making. How it feels to me, and I guess to you as well, is that the present moves from the past to the future, like a tiny spotlight, inching its way along a gigantic ruler of time. Everything behind the spotlight is in darkness, the darkness of the dead past. Everything ahead of the spotlight is in the darkness of the unknown future. The odds of your century being the one in the spotlight are the same as the odds that a penny, tossed down at random, will land on a particular ant crawling somewhere along the road from New York to San Francisco. In other words, it is overwhelmingly probable that you are dead.

In spite of these odds, you will notice that you are, as a matter of fact, alive. People whom the spotlight has already passed over, and people whom the spotlight has not reached, are in no position to read a book… What I see as I write is that I am lucky to be alive and so are you.

(Richard Dawkins [source])

and:

Horses Explain Things to Me

Today is a crash course on moving gently.
How to take a gift from someone so gingerly
they believe they still have it. If you move
soft enough through the wind or woods,
they say the sun will make a space for you.
Some of your regrets might soften. I move
terribly. I crush twigs and spiders but the horses
say nothing of it; they let me pet their long manes.
I hop on and we walk out to the end of wanting.
What is God? I ask them. They tell me, Yes.

(Brett Elizabeth Jenkins [source])

[Read more…]

Send to Kindle
Share

Sated, Still Hungry

Image: 'Insatiable,' by Thomas Hawk on Flickr

[Image: “Insatiable,” by Thomas Hawk; found on Flickr, and used here under a Creative Commons license. (Thank you!)]

From whiskey river:

My God, It’s Full of Stars
(excerpt)

3.

Perhaps the great error is believing we’re alone,
That the others have come and gone—a momentary blip—
When all along, space might be choc-full of traffic,
Bursting at the seams with energy we neither feel
Nor see, flush against us, living, dying, deciding,
Setting solid feet down on planets everywhere,
Bowing to the great stars that command, pitching stones
At whatever are their moons. They live wondering
If they are the only ones, knowing only the wish to know,
And the great black distance they—we—flicker in.

Maybe the dead know, their eyes widening at last,
Seeing the high beams of a million galaxies flick on
At twilight. Hearing the engines flare, the horns
Not letting up, the frenzy of being. I want to be
One notch below bedlam, like a radio without a dial.
Wide open, so everything floods in at once.
And sealed tight, so nothing escapes. Not even time,
Which should curl in on itself and loop around like smoke.
So that I might be sitting now beside my father
As he raises a lit match to the bowl of his pipe
For the first time in the winter of 1959.

(Tracy K. Smith [source])

and:

If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

(C. S. Lewis [source])

[Read more…]

Send to Kindle
Share

At the Fulcrum of All the Days

Image: 'Oncoming Rush,' by Christopher Octa on Flickr

[Image: “Oncoming Rush,” by Christopher Octa (user phrequency) on Flickr.com. (Used here under a Creative Commons license; thank you!)]

From whiskey river:

Foreseeing

Middle age refers more
to landscape than to time:
it’s as if you’d reached
the top of a hill
and could see all the way
to the end of your life,
so you know without a doubt
that it has an end—
not that it will have,
but that it does have,
if only in outline—
so for the first time
you can see your life whole,
beginning and end not far
from where you stand,
the horizon in the distance—
the view makes you weep,
but it also has the beauty
of symmetry, like the earth
seen from space: you can’t help
but admire it from afar,
especially now, while it’s simple
to re-enter whenever you choose,
lying down in your life,
waking up to it
just as you always have—
except that the details resonate
by virtue of being contained,
as your own words
coming back to you
define the landscape,
remind you that it won’t go on
like this forever.

(Sharon Bryan [source])

and:

Picture time less like a river than a book. Or a record. Something finished. Or a movie, with a beginning, middle, and end, but already done and complete.

Then picture time travel as nothing more than dropping your half-read book to the floor and losing your place. You pick up the book and open the pages to a scene too early or late, but never exactly where you’d been reading.

(Chuck Palahniuk [source])

…and:

Buffalo Yoga
(excerpt)

The world is a magic book, and we its sentences.
We read it and read ourselves.
We close it and turn the page down
And never come back,
Returned to what we once were before we became what we are.
This is the tale the world tells, this is the way it ends.

(Charles Wright [source])

[Read more…]

Send to Kindle
Share

When Memory Rubs Up Against Imagination

[Video: a multimedia installation called Memory Lane, by artists Félix Luque and Iñigo Bilbao. You can read more about the installation here. But — vis-à-vis this post — I was most struck by this portion of the description (emphasis added): “The installation forms in this way a coherent unit: sand rock and landscape… are two aspects of the same investigation on memory and space, on [the] perception of reality and on the human capacity of generating fiction, either by means of a simple child’s game or of a complex technological process.”]

From whiskey river:

If only we could listen more carefully, look more closely… Someday something will happen, the inner reality will stand revealed. At the same time I realize that this sense of mystery, of secrets dwelling in these streets, in this park, is fleeting and hard to defend. If someone were to ask me ironically, “Mr. Zagajewski, what actual mystery do you have in mind?,” I’d be hard-pressed to answer. I also know that there are people, some of them highly intelligent, who can never be brought to acknowledge the postulate of a mystery hidden in a city, or a park, or a quiet street at dusk. No, they’d say, everything can be checked and measured, so and so many bird species make their home in the park, including two subspecies of woodpeckers, along with twelve squirrels, maybe two martens, and five bums. The policemen on duty might easily survey the park and write up an unbiased report conclusively proving that no secrets had been unearthed.

(Adam Zagajewski [source])

and (second stanza):

The Nail

Some dictator or other had gone into exile, and now reports were coming about his regime,
the usual crimes, torture, false imprisonment, cruelty and corruption, but then a detail:
that the way his henchmen had disposed of enemies was by hammering nails into their skulls.
Horror, then, what mind does after horror, after that first feeling that you’ll never catch your breath,
mind imagines—how not be annihilated by it?—the preliminary tap, feels it in the tendons of the hand,
feels the way you do with your nail when you’re fixing something, making something, shelves, a bed;
the first light tap to set the slant, and then the slightly harder tap, to em-bed the tip a little more…

No, no more: this should be happening in myth, in stone, or paint, not in reality, not here;
it should be an emblem of itself, not itself, something that would mean, not really have to happen,
something to go out, expand in implication from that unmoved mass of matter in the breast;
as in the image of an anguished face, in grief for us, not us as us, us as in a myth, a moral tale,
a way to tell the truth that grief is limitless, a way to tell us we must always understand
it’s we who do such things, we who set the slant, embed the tip, lift the sledge and drive the nail,
drive the nail which is the axis upon which turns the brutal human world upon the world.

(C. K. Williams [source])

[Read more…]

Send to Kindle
Share