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])

and:

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])

and:

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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What I Imagined I Thought I Remembered I Might See

Untitled (?), by Vivian Maier

[Photo (untitled, as far as I know) by Vivian Maier.]

From whiskey river:

Writing in the Afterlife

I imagined the atmosphere would be clear,
shot with pristine light,
not this sulphurous haze,
the air ionized as before a thunderstorm.

Many have pictured a river here,
but no one mentioned all the boats,
their benches crowded with naked passengers,
each bent over a writing tablet.

I knew I would not always be a child
with a model train and a model tunnel,
and I knew I would not live forever,
jumping all day through the hoop of myself.

I had heard about the journey to the other side
and the clink of the final coin
in the leather purse of the man holding the oar,
but how could anyone have guessed

that as soon as we arrived
we would be asked to describe this place
and to include as much detail as possible—
not just the water, he insists,

rather the oily, fathomless, rat-happy water,
not simply the shackles, but the rusty,
iron, ankle-shredding shackles—
and that our next assignment would be

to jot down, off the tops of our heads,
our thoughts and feelings about being dead,
not really an assignment,
the man rotating the oar keeps telling us—

think of it more as an exercise, he groans,
think of writing as a process,
a never-ending, infernal process,
and now the boats have become jammed together,

bow against stern, stern locked to bow,
and not a thing is moving, only our diligent pens.

(Billy Collins [source])

and:

At every moment, behind the most efficient seeming adult exterior, the whole world of the person’s childhood is being carefully held like a glass of water bulging above the brim. And in fact, that child is the only real thing in them. It’s their humanity, their real individuality, the one that can’t understand why it was born and that knows it will have to die, in no matter how crowded a place, quite on its own. That’s the carrier of all the living qualities. It’s the center of all the possible magic and revelation.

(Ted Hughes [source, p. 513])

and:

And that’s how we measure out our real respect for people — by the degree of feeling they can register, the voltage of life they can carry and tolerate — and enjoy. End of sermon. As Buddha says: live like a mighty river. And as the old Greeks said: live as though all your ancestors were living again through you.

(Ted Hughes [source, p. 514])

and:

I interviewed a woman who is terminally ill. So I tried to delicately ask, “What is it like to wake up every morning and know that you are dying?” “Well,” she responded, “What is it like to wake up every morning and pretend that you are not?”

(Marc Chernoff [ascribed; source])

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A Glimpse of What Matters

Ellis Larkins

[Image: Jazz pianist Ellis Larkins. (I haven’t been able to track down the artist who created this drawing/painting/etching/whatever, but this seems based on the cover of Larkins’s album, A Smooth One. For one of his signature recordings, use the little audio-player thing just below this caption.]

From whiskey river:

For us there are always shackles, cages, constrictions. We are not pure beings, not whole selves; not animals, not gods. For all the purity of our aspirations, we live, as Kafka did, in the middle of things, in a room between other rooms, a self among other selves, in what literary types call a “liminal space.” Trapped between two realms, the earthly and the heavenly, we’re unable to fully inhabit, or escape, either one, but can only gesture longingly in both directions, flailing our useless limbs, like an upended beetle trying to get out of bed.

(Robert Cohen)

and:

Elegy

What to do with this knowledge
that our living is not guaranteed?

Perhaps one day you touch the young branch
of something beautiful. & it grows & grows
despite your birthdays & the death certificate,
& it one day shades the heads of something beautiful
or makes itself useful to the nest. Walk out
of your house, then, believing in this.
Nothing else matters.

All above us
is the kingdom of touching
of strangers & parrots,
some of them human,
some of them not human.

Listen to me. I am telling you
a true thing. This is the only kingdom.
The kingdom of touching
the touches of the disappearing, things.

(Aracelis Girmay [source])

and:

That’s the paradox: the only time most people feel alive is when they’re suffering, when something overwhelms their ordinary, careful armor, and the naked child is flung out into the world. That’s why the things that are worst to undergo are best to remember. But when that child gets buried away under their adaptive and protective shells — he becomes one of the walking dead, a monster. So when you realize you’ve gone a few weeks and haven’t felt that awful struggle of your childish self — struggling to lift itself out of its inadequacy and incompetence — you’ll know you’ve gone some weeks without meeting new challenges, and without growing, and that you’ve gone some weeks towards losing touch with yourself. The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough. Nothing else really counts at all.

(Ted Hughes)

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