Juddering Through, to the Quiet

Image: 'Planet-Forming Disk Around a Baby Star,' by NASA Blueshift on Flickr

[Image: “Planet-Forming Disk Around a Baby Star,” from NASA Blueshift on Flickr. (Used under a Creative Commons license; thank you!) This is an artist’s concept, depicting (says the Flickr description) “a young star surrounded by a dusty protoplanetary disk. This disk contains the raw material that can form planets as the star system matures.” For more information, see the note below.]

From whiskey river:

My friend Suzie told me while I was driving her home from that bar about the real meaning of the blindfolded figure of Justice holding the scales. Suzie was drawing her own tarot cards and rethinking each card as she went. Justice, a book on classical lore asserted, stood at the gates of Hades deciding who would go in, and to go in was to be chosen for refinement through suffering, adventure, transformation, a punishing route to the reward that is the transformed self. It made going to hell seem different. And it suggested that justice is a far more complicated  and incalculable thing than we often imagine, that if everything is to come out even in the end, then the end is farther away than anticipated and far harder to estimate. It suggests too that to reside in comfort can be to have fallen by the wayside. Go to hell, but keep moving once you get there, come out the other side. Finally she drew a group around a campfire as her picture of justice, saying that justice is helping each other on the journey.

(Rebecca Solnit [source])

and:

Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back—in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.

(Frederick Buechner [source])

…and:

Anger, [Evagrius] wrote, is given to us by God to help us confront true evil. We err when we use it casually, against other people, to gratify our own desires for power or control.

(Kathleen Norris [source])

…and:

August

Summer sings its long song, and all the notes are green.
But there’s a click, somewhere in the middle
of the month, as we reach the turning point, the apex,
a Ferris wheel, cars tipping and tilting over the top,
and we see September up ahead, school and schedules
returning. And there’s the first night you step outside
and hear the katydids arguing, six more weeks
to frost, and you know you can make it through to fall.
Dark now at eight, nights finally cooling off for sleep,
no more twisting in damp sheets, hearing mosquitoes’
thirsty whines. Lakes of chicory and Queen Anne’s lace
mirror the sky’s high cirrus. Evenings grow chilly,
time for old sweaters and sweatpants, lying in the hammock
squinting to read in the quick-coming dusk.
A few fireflies punctuate the night’s black text,
and the moonlight is so thick, you could swim in it
until you reach the other side.

(Barbara Crooker [source])

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Come Back, Come Back

'coming back/remembering,' by Jane Cornwell on Flickr

[Image: “coming back/remembering,” by Jane Cornwell (on Flickr). As indicated, the quotation comes from Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, by Shunryu Suzuki.]

From whiskey river:

For a Friend Lying in Intensive Care Waiting for Her White Blood Cells to Rejuvenate After a Bone Marrow Transplant

The jonquils. They come back. They split the earth with
their green swords, bearing cups of light.
The forsythia comes back, spraying its thin whips with
blossom, one loud yellow shout.
The robins. They come back. They pull the sun on the
silver thread of their song.
The irises come back. They dance in the soft air in silken
gowns of midnight blue.
The lilacs come back. They trail their perfume like a scarf
of violet chiffon.
And the leaves come back, on every tree and bush, millions
and millions of small green hands applauding your return.

(Barbara Crooker [source])

and:

Our intention is to affirm this life, not to bring order out of chaos, nor to suggest improvements in creation, but simply to wake up to the very life we’re living, which is so excellent once one gets one’s mind and desires out of its way and lets it act of its own accord.

(John Cage [source])

and (in part; follow the link to read the rest):

Stalking the Poem

I

Only one word will do. It isn’t on the tip of your tongue, but you know it’s not far. It’s the one fish that won’t swim into your net, a figure that hides in a crowd of similar figures, a domino stone in the face-down pool. Your need to find it becomes an obsession, single-minded and relentless as lust. It’s a long time before you can free yourself, let it go. “Forget it,” you say, and think that you do. When the word is sure you have forgotten it, it comes out of hiding. But it isn’t taking any chances even now and has prepared its appearance with care. It surrounds itself with new and inconspicuous friends and faces you in a line up in which everyone looks equally innocent. Of course you know it instantly, the way Joan of Arc knew the Dauphin and Augustine knew God. You haven’t been so happy in weeks. You rush the word to your poem, which had died for lack of it, and it arises pink-cheeked as Lazarus. The two of you share the wine.

(Lisel Mueller [source])

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A Sufficiency in the Moment

'King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid,' by Edward Burne-Jones

[Image: “King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid,” by Edward Burne-Jones (1884, oil on panel). For more information about the painting, including a video, see the note at the foot of this post.]

From whiskey river’s commonplace book:

Praise Song

Praise the light of late November,
the thin sunlight that goes deep in the bones.
Praise the crows chattering in the oak trees;
though they are clothed in night, they do not
despair. Praise what little there’s left:
the small boats of milkweed pods, husks, hulls,
shells, the architecture of trees. Praise the meadow
of dried weeds: yarrow, goldenrod, chicory,
the remains of summer. Praise the blue sky
that hasn’t cracked yet. Praise the sun slipping down
behind the beechnuts, praise the quilt of leaves
that covers the grass: Scarlet Oak, Sweet Gum,
Sugar Maple. Though darkness gathers, praise our crazy
fallen world; it’s all we have, and it’s never enough.

(Barbara Crooker [source])

…and (from whiskey river itself):

The Book of Hours

There was that one hour sometime
in the middle of the last century.
It was autumn, and I was in my father’s
woods building a house out of branches
and the leaves that were falling like
thousands of letters from the sky.

And there was that hour in Central Park
in the middle of the seventies.
We were sitting on a blanket, listening
to Pete Seeger singing “This land is
your land, this land is my land,” and
the Vietnam War was finally over.

I would definitely include an hour
spent in one of the galleries of the
Tate Britain, looking up at the
painting of King Cophetua and
the Beggar Maid, and, afterwards
the walk along the Thames, and

I would also include one of those
hours when I woke in the night and
couldn’t get back to sleep thinking
about how nothing I thought was going
to happen happened the way I expected,
and things I never expected to happen did—

just like that hour today, when we saw
the dog running along the busy road,
and we stopped and held on to her
until her owner came along and brought
her home—that was an hour well
spent. Yes, that was a keeper.

(Joyce Sutphen [source])

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Wild Footprints

Screen capture: Google Street View of Galapogos tortoises

[Image: Screen capture from Google Street View, which now lets you “walk around” Galapagos with the giant tortoises. For more information, see the Google Maps LatLong blog.]

From whiskey river:

And Now it’s October

the golden hour of the clock of the year. Everything that can run
to fruit has already done so: round apples, oval plums, bottom-heavy
pears, black walnuts and hickory nuts annealed in their shells,
the woodchuck with his overcoat of fat. Flowers that were once bright
as a box of crayons are now seed heads and thistle down. All the feathery
grasses shine in the slanted light. It’s time to bring in the lawn chairs
and wind chimes, time to draw the drapes against the wind, time to hunker
down. Summer’s fruits are preserved in syrup, but nothing can stopper time.
No way to seal it in wax or amber; it slides though our hands like a rope
of silk. At night, the moon’s restless searchlight sweeps across the sky.

(Barbara Crooker [source])

and:

Our bodies are wild. The involuntary quick turn of the head at a shout, the vertigo at looking off a precipice, the heart-in-the-throat in a moment of danger, the catch of the breath, the quiet moments relaxing, staring, reflecting — all universal responses of this mammal body… The body does not require the intercession of some conscious intellect to make it breathe, to keep the heart beating. It is to a great extent self-regulating, it is a life of its own. The world is our consciousness, and it surrounds us. There are more things in the mind, in the imagination, than “you” can keep track of — thoughts, memories, images, angers, delights, rise unbidden. The depths of the mind, the unconscious, are our inner wilderness areas, and that is where a bobcat is right now. I do not mean personal bobcats in personal psyches, but the bobcat that roams from dream to dream. The conscious agenda-planning ego occupies a very tiny territory, a little cubicle somewhere near the gate, keeping track of some of what goes in and out (and sometimes making expansionistic plots), and the rest takes care of itself. The body is, so to speak, in the mind. They are both wild.

(Gary Snyder [source])

and (italicized portion):

A Message from the Wanderer

Today outside your prison I stand
and rattle my walking stick: Prisoners, listen;
you have relatives outside. And there are
thousands of ways to escape.

Years ago I bent my skill to keep my
cell locked, had chains smuggled to me in pies,
and shouted my plans to jailers;
but always new plans occurred to me,
or the new heavy locks bent hinges off,
or some stupid jailer would forget
and leave the keys.

Inside, I dreamed of constellations—
those feeding creatures outlined by stars,
their skeletons a darkness between jewels,
heroes that exist only where they are not.

Thus freedom always came nibbling my thought,
just as—often, in light, on the open hills—
you can pass an antelope and not know
and look back, and then—even before you see—
there is something wrong about the grass.
And then you see.

That’s the way everything in the world is waiting.

Now—these few more words, and then I’m
gone: Tell everyone just to remember
their names, and remind others, later, when we
find each other. Tell the little ones
to cry and then go to sleep, curled up
where they can. And if any of us get lost,
if any of us cannot come all the way—
remember: there will come a time when
all we have said and all we have hoped
will be all right.

There will be that form in the grass.

(William Stafford [source])

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Just Dancing Through

[Video: black-and-white still images over Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love,” sung by Madeleine Peyroux. (Lyrics here.) See the note at the foot of this post for more information.]

From whiskey river:

The way we move within time is a kind of dance. We are always keeping time within one rhythm or another. Music, of course, is exemplary. One reason we love music so much is that it’s so complete and the notes harmonize with one another in time to make a beautiful, ideal statement; not like our daily life where the rhythms are more subtle or hard to find or are constantly being interrupted or changed in ways that aren’t so easy to handle.

(Mel Weitsman [source])

and:

Sometimes, I Am Startled Out of Myself,

like this morning, when the wild geese came squawking,
flapping their rusty hinges, and something about their trek
across the sky made me think about my life, the places
of brokenness, the places of sorrow, the places where grief
has strung me out to dry. And then the geese come calling,
the leader falling back when tired, another taking her place.
Hope is borne on wings. Look at the trees. They turn to gold
for a brief while, then lose it all each November.
Through the cold months, they stand, take the worst
weather has to offer. And still, they put out shy green leaves
come April, come May. The geese glide over the cornfields,
land on the pond with its sedges and reeds.
You do not have to be wise. Even a goose knows how to find
shelter, where the corn still lies in the stubble and dried stalks.
All we do is pass through here, the best way we can.
They stitch up the sky, and it is whole again.

(Barbara Crooker [source])

and:

Why be saddled with this thing called life expectancy? Of what relevance to an individual is such a statistic? Am I to concern myself with an allotment of days I never had and was never promised? Must I check off each day of my life as if I am subtracting from this imaginary hoard? No, on the contrary, I will add each day of my life to my treasure of days lived. And with each day, my treasure will grow, not diminish.

(Robert Brault [source])

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Suspended Solutions

Photograph by Saul Leiter (1923-2013)

[Image: photograph by Saul Leiter. I know very little about this photo, although its title might be “Riding the Surface.” (Leiter didn’t title his photographs enigmatically, as a rule; this one might even be called “Bus.”) It was taken sometime in the 1960s, probably in New York City. Found widely around the Web, it seems — as best as I can tell — to have been among the photos in Leiter’s collection called Early Color (2006).]

From whiskey river (italicized lines):

Poem on a Line by Anne Sexton, ‘We are All Writing God’s Poem’

Today, the sky’s the soft blue of a work shirt washed
a thousand times. The journey of a thousand miles
begins with a single step. On the interstate listening
to NPR, I heard a Hubble scientist
say, “The universe is not only stranger than we
think, it’s stranger than we can think.” I think
I’ve driven into spring, as the woods revive
with a loud shout, redbud trees, their gaudy
scarves flung over bark’s bare limbs. Barely doing
sixty, I pass a tractor trailer called Glory Bound,
and aren’t we just? Just yesterday,
I read Li Po: “There is no end of things
in the heart,” but it seems like things
are always ending — vacation or childhood,
relationships, stores going out of business,
like the one that sold jeans that really fit —
And where do we fit in? How can we get up
in the morning, knowing what we do? But we do,
put one foot after the other, open the window,
make coffee, watch the steam curl up
and disappear. At night, the scent of phlox curls
in the open window, while the sky turns red violet,
lavender, thistle, a box of spilled crayons.

(Barbara Crooker [source])

and:

I see the mountains in the sky; the great clouds; and the moon; I have a great and astonishing sense of something there, which is “it” — it is not exactly beauty that I mean… A sense of my own strangeness, walking on the earth is there too: of the infinite oddity of the human position; with the moon up there and those mountain clouds. Who am I, what am I, and so on: these questions are always floating about in me.

(Virginia Woolf [source])

and (italicized lines):

Saga

Everything that ever happened to me
is just hanging — crushed
and sparkling — in the air,
waiting to happen to you.
Everything that ever happened to me
happened to somebody else first.
I would give you an example
but they are all invisible.
Or off gallivanting around the globe.
Not here when I need them
now that I need them
if I ever did which I doubt.
Being particular has its problems.
In particular there is a rift through everything.
There is a rift running the length of Iceland
and so a rift runs through every family
and between families a feud.
It’s called a saga. Rifts and sagas
fill the air, and beautiful old women
sing of them, so the air is filled with
music and the smell of berries and apples
and shouting when a gun goes off
and crying in closed rooms.
Faces, who needs them?
Eating the blood of oranges
I in my alcove could use one.
Abbas and ammas!
come out of your huts, travel
halfway around the world,
inspect my secret bank account of joy!
My face is a jar of honey
you can look through,
you can see everything
is muted, so terribly muted,
who could ever speak of it,
sealed and held up for all?

(Mary Ruefle [source])

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The Deceptively Smallest of Lessons

'Lesson #3: On Starting Small,' by user theshanghaieye on Flickr.com

[Image: Lesson #3: On Starting Small, by user Don (theshanghaieye) on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license. (Click to enlarge.) The descriptive text accompanying the photo includes this note, from a source identified only as “Rules of Chess”: If a pawn makes it all the way across the board, it may be promoted to any piece of the same color. They reminded me of the Lewis chessmen.]

From whiskey river:

All That Is Glorious Around Us

is not, for me, these grand vistas, sublime peaks, mist-filled
overlooks, towering clouds, but doing errands on a day
of driving rain, staying dry inside the silver skin of the car,
160,000 miles, still running just fine. Or later,
sitting in a café warmed by the steam
from white chicken chili, two cups of dark coffee,
watching the red and gold leaves race down the street,
confetti from autumn’s bright parade. And I think
of how my mother struggles to breathe, how few good days
she has now, how we never think about the glories
of breath, oxygen cascading down our throats to the lungs,
simple as the journey of water over a rock. It is the nature
of stone / to be satisfied / writes Mary Oliver, It is the nature
of water / to want to be somewhere else, rushing down
a rocky tor or high escarpment, the panoramic landscape
boundless behind it. But everything glorious is around
us already: black and blue graffiti shining in the rain’s
bright glaze, the small rainbows of oil on the pavement,
where the last car to park has left its mark on the glistening
street, this radiant world.

(Barbara Crooker [source])

and:

It is only for a week or two that a broken chair or a door off its hinges is recognized for such. Soon, imperceptibly, it changes its character, and becomes the chair which is always left in the corner, the door which does not shut. A pin, fastening a torn valance, rusts itself into the texture of the stuff, is irremovable; the cracked dessert plate and the stew pan with a hole in it, set aside until the man who rivets and solders should chance to come that way, become part of the dresser, are taken down and dusted and put back, and when the man arrives no one remembers them as things in need of repair. Five large keys rest inside the best soup-tureen, scrupulously preserved though no one knows what it was they once opened, and the pastry-cutter is there too, little missed, for the teacup without a handle has taken its place.

(Sylvia Townsend Warner [source])

and:

In The Middle

of a life that’s as complicated as everyone else’s,
struggling for balance, juggling time.
The mantle clock that was my grandfather’s
has stopped at 9:20; we haven’t had time
to get it repaired. The brass pendulum is still,
the chimes don’t ring. One day I look out the window,
green summer, the next, the leaves have already fallen,
and a grey sky lowers the horizon. Our children almost grown,
our parents gone, it happened so fast. Each day, we must learn
again how to love, between morning’s quick coffee
and evening’s slow return. Steam from a pot of soup rises,
mixing with the yeasty smell of baking bread. Our bodies
twine, and the big black dog pushes his great head between;
his tail, a metronome, 3/4 time. We’ll never get there,
Time is always ahead of us, running down the beach, urging
us on faster, faster, but sometimes we take off our watches,
sometimes we lie in the hammock, caught between the mesh
of rope and the net of stars, suspended, tangled up
in love, running out of time.

(Barbara Crooker [source])

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Clumsy Delights, Deftly Managed

'Duck with Slinky - 1,' by user SteveTaint at sxc.hu

[Image: “Duck with Slinky- 1,” by user SteveTaint at sxc.hu]

From whiskey river:

The Afterlife

While you are preparing for sleep, brushing your teeth,
or riffling through a magazine in bed,
the dead of the day are setting out on their journey.

They’re moving off in all imaginable directions,
each according to his own private belief,
and this is the secret that silent Lazarus would not reveal:
that everyone is right, as it turns out.
you go to the place you always thought you would go,
the place you kept lit in an alcove in your head.

Some are being shot into a funnel of flashing colors
into a zone of light, white as a January sun.
Others are standing naked before a forbidding judge who sits
with a golden ladder on one side, a coal chute on the other.

Some have already joined the celestial choir
and are singing as if they have been doing this forever,
while the less inventive find themselves stuck
in a big air conditioned room full of food and chorus girls.

Some are approaching the apartment of the female God,
a woman in her forties with short wiry hair
and glasses hanging from her neck by a string.
With one eye she regards the dead through a hole in her door.

There are those who are squeezing into the bodies
of animals — eagles and leopards — and one trying on
the skin of a monkey like a tight suit,
ready to begin another life in a more simple key,

while others float off into some benign vagueness,
little units of energy heading for the ultimate elsewhere.

There are even a few classicists being led to an underworld
by a mythological creature with a beard and hooves.
He will bring them to the mouth of the furious cave
guarded over by Edith Hamilton and her three-headed dog.

The rest just lie on their backs in their coffins
wishing they could return so they could learn Italian
or see the pyramids, or play some golf in a light rain.
They wish they could wake in the morning like you
and stand at a window examining the winter trees,
every branch traced with the ghost writing of snow.

(Billy Collins [note: first stanza not always included in quotations around the Web])

and:

It’s a weird thing, writing.

Sometimes you can look out across what you’re writing, and it’s like looking out over a landscape on a glorious, clear summer’s day. You can see every leaf on every tree, and hear the birdsong, and you know where you’ll be going on your walk.

And that’s wonderful.

Sometimes it’s like driving through fog. You can’t really see where you’re going. You have just enough of the road in front of you to know that you’re probably still on the road, and if you drive slowly and keep your headlamps lowered you’ll still get where you were going.

And that’s hard while you’re doing it, but satisfying at the end of a day like that, where you look down and you got 1500 words that didn’t exist in that order down on paper, half of what you’d get on a good day, and you drove slowly, but you drove.

And sometimes you come out of the fog into clarity, and you can see just what you’re doing and where you’re going, and you couldn’t see or know any of that five minutes before.

And that’s magic.

(Neil Gaiman [source])

and:

Living is all clumsy delights. Sitting here in this room, for example, listening to you turn pages, overhearing you breathe.

(Seon Joon [source])

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