Give the Kaleidoscope Its Due

'Quiet Nature | Game of light,' by Vasile Hurghis on Flickr

[Image: “Quiet Nature | Game of light,” by Vasile Hurghis. (Found on Flickr; used here under a Creative Commons license — thank you!) The scene is a Romanian landscape. I don’t know about you, but my own eyes resist seeing the tower on the right as what it is… especially when looking at anything else in the photo. I keep seeing it as a doorway to a world of colors which don’t exist in the foreground world. And honestly, I guess there’s no reason it can’t be that, is there — no reason it can’t be both that, and a simple rustic silo?]

From whiskey river (including the first paragraph, found elsewhere):

At 19, I read a sentence that re-terraformed my head: “The level of matter in the universe has been constant since the Big Bang.”

In all the aeons we have lost nothing, we have gained nothing — not a speck, not a grain, not a breath. The universe is simply a sealed, twisting kaleidoscope that has reordered itself a trillion trillion trillion times over.

Each baby, then, is a unique collision — a cocktail, a remix — of all that has come before: made from molecules of Napoleon and stardust and comets and whale tooth; colloidal mercury and Cleopatra’s breath: and with the same darkness that is between the stars between, and inside, our own atoms.

When you know this, you suddenly see the crowded top deck of the bus, in the rain, as a miracle: this collection of people is by way of a starburst constellation. Families are bright, irregular-shaped nebulae. Finding a person you love is like galaxies colliding. We are all peculiar, unrepeatable, perambulating micro-universes — we have never been before and we will never be again. Oh God, the sheer exuberant, unlikely face of our existences. The honour of being alive. They will never be able to make you again. Don’t you dare waste a second of it thinking something better will happen when it ends. Don’t you dare.

(Caitlin Moran [source: well, the quote is everywhere, dating back to at least 2014, but I don’t know the original])

and:

A Child is Something Else Again

A child is something else again. Wakes up
in the afternoon and in an instant he’s full of words,
in an instant he’s humming, in an instant warm,
instant light, instant darkness.

A child is Job. They’ve already placed their bets on him
but he doesn’t know it. He scratches his body
for pleasure. Nothing hurts yet.
They’re training him to be a polite Job,
to say “Thank you” when the Lord has given,
to say “You’re welcome” when the Lord has taken away.

A child is vengeance.
A child is a missile into the coming generations.
I launched him: I’m still trembling.

A child is something else again: on a rainy spring day
glimpsing the Garden of Eden through the fence,
kissing him in his sleep,
hearing footsteps in the wet pine needles.
A child delivers you from death.
Child, Garden, Rain, Fate.

(Yehuda Amichai, translated by Chana Bloch [source])

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The Voice, the Song, the Vision, the Light

[Video: 10,000 Maniacs and David Byrne (live), performing Iris Dement’s “Let the Mystery Be.” (Lyrics here.)]

From whiskey river:

Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity. The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. He has permitted the twilight. He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland. He has always left himself free to doubt his gods; but (unlike the agnostic of today) free also to believe in them. He has always cared more for truth than for consistency. If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them. His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight: he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that. Thus he has always believed that there was such a thing as fate, but such a thing as free will also.

(G. K. Chesterton [source])

and:

Old Man At Home Alone in the Morning

There are questions that I no longer ask
and others that I have not asked for a long time
that I return to and dust off and discover
that I’m smiling and the question
has always been me and that it is
no question at all but that it means
different things at the same time
yes I am old now and I am the child
I remember what are called the old days and there is
no one to ask how they became the old days
and if I ask myself there is no answer
so this is old and what I have become
and the answer is something I would come to
later when I was old but this morning
is not old and I am the morning
in which the autumn leaves have no question
as the breeze passes through them and is gone

(W. S. Merwin [source])

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In the Right Light (Which Is Sometimes No Light at All)

'New Yorker' magazine covers (2001-09-24 and 2002-09-16), by Art Spiegelman and Ana Juan

[Image: Art Spiegelman’s black-on-black cover for the New Yorker issue immediately following the 9/11 attack (left, above) has been justly famous from the time of its publication. Less often reproduced, but equally effective, was Ana Juan’s cover for the first-year anniversary issue (right), which achieved its effects with light and the absence of black.]

From whiskey river:

Buried under all the mute experiences are those unseen ones that give our life its form, its color, and its melody. Then, when we turn to these treasures, as archaeologists of the soul, we discover how confusing they are. The object of contemplation refuses to stand still, the words bounce off the experience and in the end, pure contradictions stand on the paper. For a long time, I thought it was a defect, something to be overcome. Today I think it is different: that recognition of the confusion is the ideal path to understanding these intimate yet enigmatic experiences. That sounds strange, even bizarre, I know. But ever since I have seen the issue in this light, I have the feeling of being really awake and alive for the first time.

(Pascal Mercier [source])

and:

A Reward

Tired and hungry, late in the day, impelled
to leave the house and search for what
might lift me back to what I had fallen away from,
I stood by the shore waiting.
I had walked in the silent woods:
the trees withdrew into their secrets.
Dusk was smoothing breadths of silk
over the lake, watery amethyst fading to gray.
Ducks were clustered in sleeping companies
afloat on their element as I was not
on mine. I turned homeward, unsatisfied.
But after a few steps, I paused, impelled again
to linger, to look North before nightfall—the expanse
of calm, of calming water, last wafts
of rose in the few high clouds.
And was rewarded:
the heron, unseen for weeks, came flying
widewinged toward me, settled
just offshore on his post,
took up his vigil.
If you ask
why this cleared a fog from my spirit,
I have no answer.

(Denise Levertov [source])

and:

Heaven Is Not Verbose: A Notebook
(excerpt)

Reader: So you want me to feel as if I were reading a letter addressed to someone else?
Poet: I want you to feel as if I had read a letter addressed to you by someone else and am shamelessly quoting from it.

[…]

Reader: Do you want me to recognize my everyday world in your poems?
Poet: No, I want your world to seem unfamiliar to you, once you take your eyes off the text.

(Vera Pavlova [source])

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“The Evanescence of the World”

Monet: twelve images from his 'Rouen Cathedral' series

[Image: the twelve images from Monet’s Rouen Cathedral series, combined into a single image. Says Wikipedia: “The paintings in the series each capture the façade of the cathedral at different times of the day and year, and reflect changes in its appearance under different lighting conditions.”]

From whiskey river:

How can we ever know the difference we make to the soul of the earth? Where the infinite stillness of the earth meets the passion of the human eye, invisible depths strain towards the mirror of the name. In the word, the earth breaks silence. It has waited a long time for the word. Concealed beneath familiarity and silence, the earth holds back and it never occurs to us to wonder how the earth sees us. Is it not possible that a place could have huge affection for those who dwell there? Perhaps your place loves having you there. It misses you when you are away and in its secret way rejoices when you return. Could it be possible that a landscape might have a deep friendship with you? That it could sense your presence and feel the care you extend towards it? Perhaps your favorite place feels proud of you. We tend to think of death as a return to clay, a victory for nature. But maybe it is the converse: that when you die, your native place will fill with sorrow. It will miss your voice, your breath and the bright waves of your thought, how you walked through the light and brought news of other places. Perhaps each day our lives undertake unknown tasks on behalf of the silent mind and vast soul of nature. During its millions of years of presence perhaps it was also waiting for us, for our eyes and our words. Each of us is a secret envoi of the earth.

(John O’Donohue [source])

and:

I realized it for the first time in my life: there is nothing but mystery in the world, how it hides behind the fabric of our poor, browbeat days, shining brightly, and we don’t even know it.

(Sue Monk Kidd [source])

and:

The light of memory, or rather the light that memory lends to things, is the palest light of all. I am not quite sure whether I am dreaming or remembering, whether I have lived my life or dreamed it. Just as dreams do, memory makes me profoundly aware of the unreality, the evanescence of the world, a fleeting image in the moving water.

(Eugène Ionesco [source])

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Seen in the Proper Light

'Night Visions,' by user lacomj on Flickr

[Image: “Night Visions,” by user lacomj on Flickr. Interestingly, this is not a black-and-white photo; says the caption on that page: “There is a lot to see up in the sky at night in infrared!”]

From whiskey river:

Scattered Reflections
(excerpt)

I had no idea what my real life was,
but I knew I had to look for it.
So one day I packed my car and took off.
I drove the whole country, examining
houses, stores, businesses, streets,
people … when all I was looking for was me.
I concluded that there was no me,
just flutterings, shudderings and shadows.
I think most people feel the same way,
and it isn’t bad, floating under the stars
at night like fireflies sending signals.

(James Tate [source])

and:

The genius of a composer is found in the notes of his music; but analyzing the notes will not reveal his genius. The poet’s greatness is contained in his words; yet the study of his words will not disclose his inspiration. God reveals himself in creation; but scrutinize creation as minutely as you wish, you will not find God, any more than you will find the soul through careful examination of your body.

(Anthony de Mello [source])

and:

The Buzzard and Reversal
(excerpt)

II.

In the dream, there are rabbits. Quiet as ever,
but crowded and jostling round the fallen buzzard.

They ignore the clover where the bird fell, dipping instead
into the dark thatch of feathers with their busy nibblings,
with their tiny snipping teeth. The impossible
softness of their fur is caked with blood. The bird is

broken: a collapsed umbrella. Its naked head emerges
and turns to watch itself drawn shining into the light.

(Michael Bazzett [source])

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When It’s Not Quite (Yet, Still) Light

[Image: “Zodiacal Light vs. Milky Way,” by Daniel López;
featured at
Astronomy Picture of the Day on March 20, 2010]

From whiskey river:

Incandescence at Dusk

(Homage to Dionysius the Areopagite)

There is fire in everything,
shining and hidden —

Or so the saint believed. And I believe the saint:
Nothing stays the same
in the shimmering heat
Of dusk during Indian summer in the country.

Out here it is possible to perceive
That those brilliant red welts
slashed into the horizon
Are like a drunken whip
whistling across a horse’s back,
And that round ball flaring in the trees
Is like a coal sizzling
in the mouth of a desert prophet.

Be careful.
Someone has called the orange leaves
sweeping off the branches
The colorful palmprints of God
brushing against our faces.
Someone has called the banked piles
of twigs and twisted veins
The handprints of the underworld
Gathering at our ankles and burning
through the soles of our feet.
We have to bear the sunset deep inside us.
I don’t believe in ultimate things.
I don’t believe in the inextinguishable light
of the other world.
I don’t believe that we will be lifted up
and transfixed by radiance.
One incandescent dusky world is all there is.

But I like this vigilant saint
Who stood by the river at nightfall
And saw the angels descending
as burnished mirrors and fiery wheels,
As living creatures of fire,
as streams of white flame….

1500 years in his wake,
I can almost imagine
his disappointment and joy
When the first cool wind
starts to rise on the prairie,
When the soothing blue rain begins
to fall out of the cerulean night.

(Edward Hirsch [source]; here‘s a good place to start learning about the mysterious figure whose name appears in the epigraph)

…and:

Do you wake up as I do, having forgotten what it is that hurts or where, until you move? There is a second of consciousness that is clean again. A second that is you, without memory or experience, the animal warm and waking into a brand new world. There is the sun dissolving the dark, and light as clear as music, filling the room where you sleep and the other rooms behind your eyes.

(Jeanette Winterson, from Gut Symmetries [source])

…and:

I have this strange feeling that I’m not myself anymore. It’s hard to put into words, but I guess it’s like I was fast asleep, and someone came, disassembled me, and hurriedly put me back together again. That sort of feeling.

(Haruki Murakami, from The Sputnik Sweetheart (translated by J. Philip Gabriel) [source])

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