What We’ll Never Leave Behind (Until We So Often Do)

[Video: “September When It Comes,” by Rosanne Cash; performance by Rosanne and Johnny Cash. (Lyrics)]

From whiskey river:

Lines Lost Among Trees

These are not the lines that came to me
while walking in the woods
with no pen
and nothing to write on anyway.

They are gone forever,
a handful of coins
dropped through the grate of memory,
along with the ingenious mnemonic

I devised to hold them in place—
all gone and forgotten
before I had returned to the clearing of lawn
in back of our quiet house

with its jars jammed with pens,
its notebooks and reams of blank paper,
its desk and soft lamp,
its table and the light from its windows.

So this is my elegy for them,
those six or eight exhalations,
the braided rope of syntax,
the jazz of the timing,

and the little insight at the end
wagging like the short tail
of a perfectly obedient spaniel
sitting by the door.

This is my envoy to nothing
where I say Go, little poem—
not out into the world of strangers’ eyes,
but off to some airy limbo,

home to lost epics,
unremembered names,
and fugitive dreams
such as the one I had last night,

which, like a fantastic city in pencil,
erased itself
in the bright morning air
just as I was waking up.

(Billy Collins [source])


A common misconception is
The belief that thinking is
The creation of thought.
Rather, it is
The reception of thought from
A source which has no name and
From a place that cannot be found.
Since one can’t decide to think
Nor can one decide
Thoughts’ contents,
Why does one
Claim their ownership?
Is every sound Wu Hsin’s because
He can hear them?

(Wu Hsin [source])


Well, the terrible fact is that though we are all more or less thinking of something or other all the time, some of us are thinking more and some less. Some brains are battling and working and remembering and puzzling things over all the time and other brains are just lying down, snoring and occasionally turning over. It is to the lazy minds that I am now speaking, and from my own experience I imagine this includes nineteen people out of every twenty. I am one of that clan myself and always have been.

(Ted Hughes [source])

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O Ghosts

'You Don't Stumble on Ghosts,' by user 'mawstools' on Flickr

[Image: “You Don’t Stumble on Ghosts,” a so-called “newspaper blackout poem” by user mawstools (Meri Aaron Walker) on Flickr. (Click to enlarge.) Used under a Creative Commons license. For more information, see the note at the foot of this post.]

From whiskey river (italicized portion):

Spirit Birds

The spirit world the negative of this one,
soft outlines of soft whites against soft darks,
someone crossing Broadway at Cathedral, walking
toward the god taking the picture, but now,
inside the camera, suddenly still. Or the spirit
world the detail through the window, manifest
if stared at long enough, the shapes of this
or that, the lights left on, the lights turned off,
the spirits under arcs of sycamores the gray-gold
mists of migratory birds and spotted leaves recognize.

Autumnal evening chill, knife-edges of the avenues,
wind kicking up newspaper off the street,
those ghost peripheral moments you catch yourself
beside yourself going down a stair or through
a door — the spirit world surprising: those birds,
for instance, bursting from the trees and turning
into shadow, then nothing, like spirit birds
called back to life from memory or a book,
those shadows in my hands I held, surprised.
I found them interspersed among the posthumous pages

of a friend, some hundreds of saved poems: dun
sparrows and a few lyrical wrens in photocopied
profile perched in air, focused on an abstract
abrupt edge. Blurred, their natural color bled,
they’d passed from one world to another: the poems,
too, sung in the twilit middle of the night, loved,
half-typed, half-written-over, flawed, images
of images. He’d kept them to forget them.
And every twenty pages, in xerox ash-and-frost,
Gray Eastern, Gold Western, ranging across borders.

(Stanley Plumly [source])


I don’t believe that ghosts are “spirits of the dead” because I don’t believe in death. In the multiverse, once you’re possible, you exist. And once you exist, you exist forever one way or another. Besides, death is the absence of life, and the ghosts I’ve met are very much alive.

(Paul F. Eno [source])

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Everyday Sights, Never Quite Seen or Remembered

[Photo: “If they’d only realized that the killer was right there in the crowd,” by Christopher Boffoli (from his book/exhibition, Big Appetites)]

From whiskey river:

I once had a friend. He had been teaching a long time when I was just starting. He liked telling his students he’d seen them before. In another life, at another school, the same hairline, the same kid brother back home in eighth grade. In class, he gave them obituaries to read. And though we’re no longer close, here is consolation: I still believe in what he was up to: seeing if he could make them dizzy. Suggesting they write their way into or out of the disquieting facts he offered up. Offering the chance to find themselves breathless, to consider themselves a point on a circle falling and rising, falling/drawn up, as the wheel moved, moves, is moving relentlessly on. He wanted them to feel conveyor beneath their feet, when all along they’d assumed they were walking. To consider they might, somehow, for another, be a mark and a measure of vastness. A site…

What does my friend want his students to say, what does he want them to stumble into, considering those obituaries? “Nothing in particular,” he’d answer, meaning “I have no plan.” No one thing in mind. Only for them to skid to a halt, to go breathlessly forth, for here is their chance to see: the patterns keep coming, all the lives theirs resemble — in the newspaper photo, the deceased at age twenty, the jaunty tilt of that head so like the tilt of their own. That they share the same name, the same birthday and interests. That the most basic, seismic events daily converge and include us.

(Lia Purpura [source])


In the Christian calendar, November 1st is the Feast of All Saints, a day honoring not only those who are known and recognized as enlightened souls, but more especially the unknowns, saints who walk beside us unrecognized down the millennia. In Buddhism, we honor the bodhisattvas — saints — who refuse enlightenment and return willingly to the wheel of karma to help other beings. Similarly, in Judaism, anonymous holy men pray the world from its well-merited destruction. We never know who is walking beside us, who is our spiritual teacher. That one — who annoys you so — pretends for a day that he’s the one, your personal Obi Wan Kenobi. The first of November is a splendid, subversive holiday.

Imagine a hectic procession of revelers — the half-mad bag lady; a mumbling, scarred janitor whose ravaged face made the children turn away; the austere, unsmiling mother superior who seemed with great focus and clarity to do harm; a haunted music teacher, survivor of Auschwitz. I bring them before my mind’s eye, these old friends of my soul, awakening to dance their day. Crazy saints: but who knows what was home in the heart? This is the feast of those who tried to take the path, so clumsily that no one knew or noticed, the feast, indeed, of most of us…

(Mary Rose O’Reilley [source])


All Hallow’s Eve

In the great silence of my favorite month,
October (the red of maples, the bronze of oaks,
A clear-yellow leaf here and there on birches),
I celebrated the standstill of time.

The vast country of the dead had its beginning everywhere:
At the turn of a tree-lined alley, across park lawns.
But I did not have to enter, I was not called yet.

Motorboats pulled up on the river bank, paths in pine needles.
It was getting dark early, no lights on the other side.

I was going to attend the ball of ghosts and witches.
A delegation would appear there in masks and wigs,
And dance, unrecognized, in the chorus of the living.

(Czeslaw Milosz [source (2MB PDF)])

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Shadows Over Stuff

“It’s me. I was just calling to tell you that there is a big white cloud coming.”
Cartoon by French cartoonist Voutch, from his 2007 collection, This Is as Bad as It Gets. (Click to enlarge.)

From whiskey river:

From Here to Eternity

One day you wake up
and your life is over.
But it doesn’t mean
you have to die.
It means last October was yellower
than this, and this the yellowest
anyone can remember.
It means you have produced enough tears
to fill, to one-eighth of an inch
of the top, Lake Baikal,
and now someone would like to swim.
It means what it meant
to listen to the teacher
tell the story of Dante and Beatrice
and break down crying in the middle,
because his wife was taken away by the police
last night, you so happy
to be dismissed early
you and your pals broke out
a pack of cards on the tram.
It means you are more interested
in the shadows of objects than objects
themselves, and if asked to draw anything
you would only need charcoal
to convince the world
it is waiting, in the shadows
of things, and you will wait back.

(Mary Ruefle [source])


The sun shines, snow falls, mountains rise and valleys sink, night deepens and pales into day, but it is only very seldom that we attend to such things. When we are grasping the inexpressible meaning of these things, this is life, this is living.

(R. H. Blyth, from Haiku, Vol. 1)


Perhaps the whisper was born before lips,
And the leaves in treelessness circled and flew,
And those, to whom we impart our experience as bliss,
Acquire their forms before we do.

(Osip Mandelstam, from “Octaves: 7”  [source])

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Review: Shades of Grey, by Jasper Fforde

My review of Jasper Fforde’s newest novel, Shades of Grey, is online over at The Book Book blog.

Maybe I’m just lucky to have read and savored everything else which Fforde has written. His work is without peer, I think — not necessarily in the sense of “none better,” more in the vein of “nothing else like it.” He’s endlessly inventive, does not take himself too seriously, always takes the story seriously, and somehow — despite his literally fantastic plots and alternate-universe settings and characters — escapes categorization as a writer of fantasy and/or science fiction. He probably belongs the “Pantheon” list in the right sidebar here. I desperately want his job.

In any event: Shades of Grey is highly recommended for readers who don’t mind being challenged by strange, even slightly loopy ideas, and who can recognize tongue-in-cheekery when they see it.

For more on the plot and so on, check the Book Book review. And of course, feel free to ask questions here (or over there) if you’d like.


On another note…

You may notice signs of some construction here for a little while. From time to time I think about messing with the overall “look” of the blog, but that’s not likely to happen; I’ve invested too much time in customizing what I’ve already got.

So far, two changes:

  • I replaced the ever-expanding list of month-by-month archives, in the left sidebar, with a little calendar doo-dad which lets you move around among the stacks here. Once you’ve got a particular month displayed, you can see the titles of posts from that month by clicking on the little «-» link below the calendar proper.
  • At the bottom of the left sidebar, there’s now a list of my five most recent Google Buzz entries. I keep finding these little Webly tidbits which are hard for me to justify turning over to a whole blog post, but which I think might be interesting to what passes as my “readership” at Running After My Hat. At the same time, this obviates the need for you to “follow my Buzz!” or whatever the hell cheerful thing Google is calling it in Gmail.

Not sure what else I might fool with. The list of categories bugs me a little, but I haven’t really given much thought what (if anything) to do with it. In the meantime, as someone or other has been saying around the Web since the early 1990s, I’ll try to keep the sawdust to a minimum.

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