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])


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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All of a Piece, a Piece of All

'Broken promises Project 365(3),' by Keith Williamson on Flickr

[Image: “Broken promises Project 365(3),” by Keith Williamson (user “elwillo”) on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons license.]

From whiskey river:

All good things are one thing. Sunsets, schools of philosophy, cathedrals, operas, mountains, horses, poems — all these are mainly disguises. One thing is always walking among us in fancy-dress, in the grey cloak of a church or the green cloak of a meadow.

(G. K. Chesterton [source])


Where Is God?

It’s as if what is unbreakable—
the very pulse of life—waits for
everything else to be torn away,
and then in the bareness that
only silence and suffering and
great love can expose, it dares
to speak through us and to us.

It seems to say, if you want to last,
hold on to nothing. If you want
to know love, let in everything.
If you want to feel the presence
of everything, stop counting the
things that break along the way.

(Mark Nepo [source])

…and, from whiskey river’s commonplace book:

People Like Us
for James Wright

There are more like us. All over the world
There are confused people, who can’t remember
The name of their dog when they wake up, and people
Who love God but can’t remember where

He was when they went to sleep. It’s
All right. The world cleanses itself this way.
A wrong number occurs to you in the middle
Of the night, you dial it, it rings just in time

To save the house. And the second-story man
Gets the wrong address, where the insomniac lives,
And he’s lonely , and they talk, and the thief
Goes back to college. Even in graduate school,

You can wander into the wrong classroom,
And hear great poems lovingly spoken
By the wrong professor. And you find your soul
And greatness has a defender, and even in death you’re safe

(Robert Bly [source])


Japanese Shape

The way it forces you to look
watching your step
so as not to turn your ankle
on a rock
or step into water nearby

The way it turns the torso
this way and that
view after view
spaces between spaces
and spaces between

The way it slows you down
step after step
no skipping between
there is no short cut
to the edge of this garden

The way it swirls the vision
into brown and black
and green and light with
sound in the air until
only a blanket remains

The way it stops the mind.

(Harry Palmer [no alternative source located])

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The Space That Contains the Stalk I Call Me

'Homeward Bound,' by Luc De Leeuw on Flicker (used under a Creative Commons license)

[Image: “Homeward Bound,” by Luc De Leeuw on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons license.]

From whiskey river gone by:

The irony and tension fade away, and I am home once more. I don’t want to ruminate on happiness. It is much simpler and much easier than that. For what has remained untouched in these hours I retrieve from the depths of forgetfulness is the memory of a pure emotion, a moment suspended in eternity. Only this memory is true in me, and I always discover it too late. We love the gentleness of certain gestures, the way a tree fits into a landscape. And we have only one detail with which to recreate all this love, but it will do: the smell of a room too long shut up, the special sound of a footstep on the road. This is the way it is for me. And if I loved then in giving myself, I finally became myself, since only love restores us.

(Albert Camus [source])

and (from whiskey river’s commonplace book):

The Resemblance Between Your Life And A Dog

I never intended to have this life, believe me —
It just happened. You know how dogs turn up
At a farm, and they wag but can’t explain.

It’s good if you can accept your life — you’ll notice
Your face has become deranged trying to adjust
To it. Your face thought your life would look

Like your bedroom mirror when you were ten.
That was a clear river touched by mountain wind.
Even your parents can’t believe how much you’ve changed.

Sparrows in winter, if you’ve ever held one, all feathers,
Burst out of your hand with a fiery glee.
You see them later in hedges. Teachers praise you,

But you can’t quite get back to the winter sparrow.
Your life is a dog. He’s been hungry for miles,
Doesn’t particularly like you, but gives up, and comes in.

(Robert Bly [source])


In his book On Having No Head, Douglas Harding pointed out that our actual experience of life is of being a stalk, the body, which ends at the chest and shoulders, upon which sits the entire universe. We can’t directly experience ourselves as having a head; we simply assume we are looking out through the eyes in our head because we see others doing that, and when we look in the mirror, that’s what we see. But our experience is of an undifferentiated world of colors, shapes, textures, sounds, feelings and sensations, all existing in one reality, roughly in the spot where we think of our head as being. All that exists, exists on top of the stalk that I call me.

The truly amazing next step in this realization is that the stalk I call me is included in the total existence that extends outward from the top of the stalk. My actual experience is that nothing is separate. I cannot say that any one thing is separate from any other one thing because they all occupy the same space — the space that exists, and contains, the stalk that I call me.

(Cheri Huber)

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Image from 'Leavings,' by Amy Regalia

[Image: one of the photos in photographer Amy Regalia’s 2007 exhibit, Leavings.
For more information, see the note at the foot of this post.]

From whiskey river:

Every spirit passing through the world fingers the tangible and mars the mutable and finally has come to look and not to buy. So shoes are worn and hassocks are sat upon and finally everything is left where it was and the spirit passes on, just as the wind in the orchard picks up the leaves from the ground as if there were no other pleasure in the world but brown leaves, as if it would deck, clothe, flesh itself in flourishes of dusty brown apple leaves and then drops them all in a heap at the side of the house and goes on.

(Marilynne Robinson [source])


Early Morning in Your Room

It’s morning. The brown scoops of coffee, the wasp-like
Coffee grinder, the neighbors still asleep.
The gray light as you pour gleaming water —
It seems you’ve traveled years to get here.

Finally you deserve a house. If not deserve
It, have it; no one can get you out. Misery
Had its way, poverty, no money at least.
Or maybe it was confusion. But that’s over.

Now you have a room. Those lighthearted books:
The Anatomy of Melancholy, Kafka’s Letter
to His Father, are all here. You can dance
With only one leg, and see the snowflake falling

With only one eye. Even the blind man
Can see. That’s what they say. If you had
A sad childhood, so what? When Robert Burton
Said he was melancholy, he meant he was home.

(Robert Bly [source])

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…Who from Their Labours Rest

Entries from All Saints Fornham Scarecrow Festival, 2013 (by Dave Catchpole, on Flickr)

[About the image: apparently in June of every year, the English village of Fornham All Saints* holds a Scarecrow Festival, for which residents and businesses create scarecrows — such as the entries above — which they place all around town. The theme this year was “Characters from Cartoons or Adverts.” (For more, see Dave Catchpole’s album on Flickr.) I don’t recognize the cartoons or adverts from which these were drawn, but I do like the scarecrows!]

From whiskey river, in fine holiday form this week:

At no other time does the earth let itself be inhaled in one smell, the ripe earth; in a smell that is in no way inferior to the smell of the sea, bitter where it borders on taste, and more honeysweet where you feel it touching the first sounds. Containing depth within itself, darkness, something of the grave almost.

(Rainer Maria Rilke)


There was a time when the coming of this night meant something. A dark Europe, groaning in superstitious fear, dedicated this Eve to the grinning Unknown. A million doors had once been barred against the evil visitants, a million prayers mumbled, a million candles lit. There was something majestic about the idea.

(Robert Bloch)


It is not our job to remain whole.
We came to lose our leaves
Like the trees, and be born again,
Drawing up from the great roots.

(Robert Bly)

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Cold. So Cold.

'ice-creeksicles,' by Jeremy Hiebert

[Image: “ice-creeksicles,” by Jeremy Hiebert. For more information, see the note at the foot of this post.]

From whiskey river:

Winter Afternoon by the Lake

Black trunks, black branches, and white snow.
No one nearby, five o’clock, below zero,
Late January. No birds. No wind.
You look, and your life seems stopped. Perhaps

You died suddenly earlier today. But the thin
Moon says no. The trees say, “It’s been this way
Before, often. It’s cold, but it’s quiet.” We’ve experienced
This before, among the messy Saxons putting back

The hide flap. A voice says: “It’s old. You’ll never
See this again, the way it is now, because
Just today you sensed that someone gave you
Life and said, ‘Stay as long as you like.'”

The snow and the black trees, pause, to see if we’re
Ready to re-enter that stillness. “Not yet.”

(Robert Bly [source])


Driving to Town Late to Mail a Letter

It is a cold and snowy night. The main street is deserted.
The only things moving are swirls of snow.
As I lift the mailbox door, I feel its cold iron.
There is a privacy I love in this snowy night.
Driving around, I will waste more time.

(Robert Bly [source])


There are stories that are true, in which each individual’s tale is unique and tragic, and the worst of the tragedy is that we have heard it before, and we cannot allow ourselves to feel it too deeply. We build a shell around it like an oyster dealing with a painful particle of grit, coating it with smooth pearl layers in order to cope. This is how we walk and talk and function, day in, day out, immune to others’ pain and loss. If it were to touch us it would cripple us or make saints of us; but, for the most part, it does not touch us. We cannot allow it to.

(Neil Gaiman [source])

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Good Heavens

[Video: Rita Wilson discusses why a movie whose emotional peak involves the Empire State
Building is beautiful; Tom Hanks and Vincent Garber prefer a more…
prosaic sort of beauty.]

From whiskey river (italicized portion):

I shrugged my shoulders, muttered “back soon,” and plunged into the darkness. At first I couldn’t see anything. I fumbled along the cobblestone street. I lit a cigarette. Suddenly the moon appeared from behind a black cloud, lighting a white wall that was crumbled in places. I stopped, blinded by such whiteness. Wind whistled slightly. I breathed the air of the tamarinds. The night hummed, full of leaves and insects. Crickets bivouacked in the tall grass. I raised my head: up there the stars too had set up camp. I thought that the universe was a vast system of signs, a conversation between giant beings. My actions, the cricket’s saw, the star’s blink, were nothing but pauses and syllables, scattered phrases from that dialogue. What word could it be, of which I was only a syllable? Who speaks the word? To whom is it spoken? I threw my cigarette down on the sidewalk. Falling, it drew a shining curve, shooting out brief sparks like a tiny comet.

(Octavio Paz [source])


The Ant

The ant moves on his tiny Sephardic feet.
The flute is always glad to repeat the same note.
The ocean rejoices in its dusky mansion.

Often bears are piled up close to each other.
In their world it’s just one hump after another.
It’s like looking at piles of many melons.

You and I have spent so many hours working.
We have paid dearly for the life we have.
It’s all right if we do nothing tonight.

I am so much in love with mournful music
That I don’t bother to look for violinists.
The aging peepers satisfy me for hours.

I love to see the fiddlers tuning up their old fiddles,
And the singer urging the low notes to come.
I saw her trying to keep the dawn from breaking.

You and I have worked hard for the life we have.
But we love to remember the way the soul leaps
Over and over into the lonely heavens.

(Robert Bly [source])

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Human Questions, Human Answers

[Above: still images from the 2010 South Korean film Quiz King, also known as The Quiz Show Scandal. See the note at the bottom of this post for more information.]

From whiskey river:

We are born for wonder, for joy, for hope, for love, to marvel at the mystery of existence, to be ravished by the beauty of the world, to seek truth and meaning, to acquire wisdom, and by our treatment of others to brighten the corner where we are.

(Dean Koontz)


You have to take seriously the notion that understanding the universe is your responsibility, because the only understanding of the universe that will be useful to you is your own understanding.

(Terence McKenna)

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The Garden, Neglected

[Video: scene from 12 Monkeys, in which the protagonists learn
the true intentions of a shadowy revolutionary movement]

From whiskey river:

The wind, one brilliant day, called
to my soul with an odor of jasmine.

“In return for this jasmine odor,
I’d like all the odor of your roses.”

“I have no roses; I have no flowers left now
in my garden… all are dead.”

“Then, I’ll take the waters of the fountains,
and the yellow leaves and the dried-up petals.”

The wind left… I wept. I said to myself:
“What have you done with the garden entrusted to you?”

(Antonio Machado, translated by Robert Bly [source])


I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world, and I am getting along. I am aging and eaten and have done my share of eating too. I am not washed and beautiful, in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wandering awed about on a splintered wreck I’ve come to care for, whose gnawed trees breathe a delicate air, whose bloodied and scarred creatures are my dearest companions, and whose beauty beats and shines not in its imperfections but overwhelmingly in spite of them, under the wind-rent clouds, upstream and down.

(Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek [source])

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Alien You

From whiskey river:

One Source of Bad Information

There’s a boy in you about three
Years old who hasn’t learned a thing for thirty
Thousand years. Sometimes it’s a girl.

This child has to make up its mind
How to save you from death. He said things like:
“Stay home. Avoid elevators. Eat only elk.”

You live with this child, but you don’t know it.
You’re in the office, yes, but live with this boy
At night. He’s uninformed, but he does want

To save your life. And he has. Because of this boy
You survived a lot. He’s got six big ideas.
Five don’t work. Right now he’s repeating them to you.

(Robert Bly [source])


When you think about it, it’s not easy to keep from just wandering out of life. It’s like someone’s always leaving the door open to the next world, and if you aren’t paying attention you could just walk through it, and then you’ve died. That’s why in your dreams it’s like you’re standing in that doorway, and the dying people and the newborn people pass by you, and brush up against you as they come in and out of the world during the night. You get spun around, and in the morning, it takes a while to find your way back into the world.

(Rick Moody, from The Ice Storm (film version) [source])

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