02 September 2014

it was the only life i had

Three Songs at the End of Summer

By Jane Kenyon

A second crop of hay lies cut
and turned. Five gleaming crows
search and peck between the rows.
They make a low, companionable squawk,
and like midwives and undertakers
possess a weird authority.

Crickets leap from the stubble,
parting before me like the Red Sea.
The garden sprawls and spoils.

Across the lake the campers have learned
to water ski. They have, or they haven’t.
Sounds of the instructor’s megaphone
suffuse the hazy air. “Relax! Relax!”

Cloud shadows rush over drying hay,
fences, dusty lane, and railroad ravine.
The first yellowing fronds of goldenrod
brighten the margins of the woods.

Schoolbooks, carpools, pleated skirts;
water, silver-still, and a vee of geese.

*

The cicada’s dry monotony breaks
over me. The days are bright
and free, bright and free.

Then why did I cry today
for an hour, with my whole
body, the way babies cry?

*

A white, indifferent morning sky,
and a crow, hectoring from its nest
high in the hemlock, a nest as big
as a laundry basket ...
                                    In my childhood
I stood under a dripping oak,
while autumnal fog eddied around my feet,
waiting for the school bus
with a dread that took my breath away.

The damp dirt road gave off
this same complex organic scent.

I had the new books—words, numbers,
and operations with numbers I did not
comprehend—and crayons, unspoiled
by use, in a blue canvas satchel
with red leather straps.

Spruce, inadequate, and alien
I stood at the side of the road.
It was the only life I had.


Jane Kenyon, “Three Songs at the End of Summer” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 2005







18 August 2014

all men are noah's sons.

Still, Citizen Sparrow

by Richard Wilbur


Still, citizen sparrow, this vulture which you call
Unnatural, let him but lumber again to air
Over the rotten office, let him bear
The carrion ballast up, and at the tall

Tip of the sky lie cruising. Then you’ll see
That no more beautiful bird is in heaven’s height,
No wider more placid wings, no watchfuller flight;
He shoulders nature there, the frightfully free,

The naked-headed one. Pardon him, you
Who dart in the orchard aisles, for it is he
Devours death, mocks mutability,
Has heart to make an end, keeps nature new.

Thinking of Noah, childheart, try to forget
How for so many bedlam hours his saw
Soured the song of birds with its wheezy gnaw,
And the slam of his hammer all the day beset

The people’s ears. Forget that he could bear
To see the towns like coral under the keel,
And the fields so dismal deep. Try rather to feel
How high and weary it was, on the waters where

He rocked his only world, and everyone’s.
Forgive the hero, you who would have died
Gladly with all you knew; he rode that tide
To Ararat; all men are Noah’s sons.


Richard Wilbur, “Still, Citizen Sparrow” from Collected Poems 1943-2004. Copyright © 2004 by Richard Wilbur.


                                                                                                                                     above Edinburgh.
                                                                                                  'Sun Voyager'  harborside in Reykjavik.

17 August 2014

phosphorescent on kexp (yes the old man listens to these guys way too much)



Songs:

Terror In The Canyons (The Wounded Master)
Song for Zula
A New Anhedonia
Storms Never Last (Jessi Colter cover)


"Storms Never Last"

Storms never last do they baby
Bad times all pass with the wind
Your hand in mine stills the thunder
And you make the sun want to shine.

You followed me down so many roads baby
I've picked wild flowers and sung you soft sad songs
And every road we took God knows
Our search was for the truth
And the clouds brewing now won't be the last.

Storms never last do they baby
Bad times all pass with the wind
Your hand in mine stills the thunder
And you make the sun want to shine.

Storms never last do they Jessi
Bad times all pass with the wind
Your hand in mine stills the thunder
And you make the sun want to shine...

11 August 2014

Narcissus trifled with so many

From Ovid's Metamorphoses:

  

Narcissus trifled with so many

water nymphs, nymphs of the wooded mountains,

as well as a host of male admirers.

One of those spurned raised his hands to heaven:

“May he himself love as I have loved him,”

he said, “without obtaining his beloved,”

and Nemesis assented to his prayer.

There was a clear pool of reflecting water

unfrequented by shepherds with their flocks

or grazing mountain goats; no bird or beast,

not even a fallen twig stirred its surface;

its presence nourished greenery around it,

and the surrounding trees would keep it cool.

Worn out and overheated from the chase,

here comes the boy, attracted to this pool

as to its setting, and reclines beside it.

And as he strives to satisfy one thirst,

another is born; drinking, he’s overcome

by the beauty of the image that he sees;

he falls in love with an immaterial hope,

a shadow that he wrongly takes for substance.

Transfixed, suspended like a figure carved

from marble, he looks down at his own face;

stretched out on the ground, stares into his own eyes

and sees a pair of stars worthy of Bacchus,

a head of hair that might adorn Apollo;

those beardless cheeks, that neck of ivory,

the decorative beauty of his face,

and the blushing snow of his complexion;

he admires all that he’s admired for,

for it is he that he himself desires,

all unaware; he praises and is praised,

seeks and is the one that he is seeking;

kindles the flame and is consumed by it.

How many times, in vain, he leans to kiss

the pool’s deceptive surface or to plunge

his arms into the water, keen to clasp

the neck he glimpses but cannot embrace;

and ignorant of what it is he looks at,

he burns for what he sees there all the same,

aroused by the illusion that deceives him.

Why even try to stay this passing fancy?

Child, what you seek is nowhere to be found,

your beloved is lost when you avert your eyes:

that image of an image, without substance,

arrives with you and with you it remains,

and it will leave when you leave—if you can!

For neither his hunger nor his need for rest

can draw him off; prone on the shaded grass,

his insatiate stare fixed on that false shape,

he perishes by his own eyes.


Translated by Charles Martin. © 2004, Charles Martin. 



29 July 2014

what was i thinking when i said it didn't hurt?




I am an American aquarium drinker
I assassin down the avenue
I'm hidin' out in the big city blinkin'
What was I thinkin' when I let go of you?

Let's forget about the tongue-tied lightnin'
Let's undress just like cross-eyed strangers
This is not a joke so please stop smilin'
What was I thinkin' when I said it didn't hurt?

I want to glide through those brown eyes dreamin'
Take it from the inside, baby hold on tight
You were so right when you said, "I've been drinkin'"
What was I thinkin' when we said good night?

I wanna hold you in the Bible-black predawn
You're quite a quiet domino, bury me now
Take off your band-aid 'cause I don't believe in touchdowns
What was I thinkin' when we said hello?

I'd always thought that if I held you tightly
You'd always love me like you did back then
Then I fell asleep in the city kept blinkin'
What was I thinkin' when I let you back in?

I am trying to break your heart
I am trying to break your heart
But still I'd be lyin' if I said, it wasn't easy
I am trying to break your heart

Disposable dixie-cup drinkin'
I assassin down the avenue
I'm hidin' out in the big city blinkin'
What was I thinkin' when I let go of you?



i wonder what i haven't given yet





How the Trees on Summer Nights Turn into a Dark River

how you can never reach it, no matter how hard you try,
walking as fast as you can, but getting nowhere,
arms and legs pumping, sweat drizzling in rivulets;
each year, a little slower, more creaks and aches, less breath.
Ah, but these soft nights, air like a warm bath, the dusky wings
of bats careening crazily overhead, and you'd think the road
goes on forever. Apollinaire wrote, "What isn't given to love
is so much wasted," and I wonder what I haven't given yet.
A thin comma moon rises orange, a skinny slice of melon,
so delicious I could drown in its sweetness. Or eat the whole
thing, down to the rind. Always, this hunger for more.

by Barbara Crooker

27 July 2014

whale valley.

'Whale Valley' from Hannibal Lang on Vimeo.

couldn't find online a full version of this 15 minute short film from iceland.  it made the old man weep in his airline seat.   he says it's a beautiful film.  Hannibal Lang apparently posted it on vimeo.  But it was directed by GuĂ°mundur Arnar GuĂ°mundsson.

30 May 2014

"what we really want, in our hearts, is to be less selfish, more aware of what's actually happening in the present moment, more open, and more loving."




Down through the ages, a traditional form has evolved for this type of speech, which is: Some old fart, his best years behind him, who, over the course of his life, has made a series of dreadful mistakes (that would be me), gives heartfelt advice to a group of shining, energetic young people, with all of their best years ahead of them (that would be you).
And I intend to respect that tradition.

Now, one useful thing you can do with an old person, in addition to borrowing money from them, or asking them to do one of their old-time "dances," so you can watch, while laughing, is ask: "Looking back, what do you regret?" And they'll tell you. Sometimes, as you know, they'll tell you even if you haven't asked. Sometimes, even when you've specifically requested they not tell you, they'll tell you.

So: What do I regret? Being poor from time to time? Not really. Working terrible jobs, like "knuckle-puller in a slaughterhouse?" (And don't even ASK what that entails.) No. I don't regret that. Skinny-dipping in a river in Sumatra, a little buzzed, and looking up and seeing like 300 monkeys sitting on a pipeline, pooping down into the river, the river in which I was swimming, with my mouth open, naked? And getting deathly ill afterwards, and staying sick for the next seven months? Not so much. Do I regret the occasional humiliation? Like once, playing hockey in front of a big crowd, including this girl I really liked, I somehow managed, while falling and emitting this weird whooping noise, to score on my own goalie, while also sending my stick flying into the crowd, nearly hitting that girl? No. I don't even regret that.

But here's something I do regret:

In seventh grade, this new kid joined our class. In the interest of confidentiality, her Convocation Speech name will be "ELLEN." ELLEN was small, shy. She wore these blue cat's-eye glasses that, at the time, only old ladies wore. When nervous, which was pretty much always, she had a habit of taking a strand of hair into her mouth and chewing on it.

So she came to our school and our neighborhood, and was mostly ignored, occasionally teased ("Your hair taste good?" - that sort of thing). I could see this hurt her. I still remember the way she'd look after such an insult: eyes cast down, a little gut-kicked, as if, having just been reminded of her place in things, she was trying, as much as possible, to disappear. After awhile she'd drift away, hair-strand still in her mouth. At home, I imagined, after school, her mother would say, you know: "How was your day, sweetie?" and she'd say, "Oh, fine." And her mother would say, "Making any friends?" and she'd go, "Sure, lots."

Sometimes I'd see her hanging around alone in her front yard, as if afraid to leave it.

And then - they moved. That was it. No tragedy, no big final hazing.

One day she was there, next day she wasn't.

End of story.

Now, why do I regret that? Why, forty-two years later, am I still thinking about it? Relative to most of the other kids, I was actually pretty nice to her. I never said an unkind word to her. In fact, I sometimes even (mildly) defended her.

But still. It bothers me.

So here's something I know to be true, although it's a little corny, and I don't quite know what to do with it:

What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.

Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded...sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.

Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope: Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?

Those who were kindest to you, I bet.

It's a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I'd say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.

Now, the million-dollar question: What's our problem? Why aren't we kinder?

Here's what I think:

Each of us is born with a series of built-in confusions that are probably somehow Darwinian. These are: (1) we're central to the universe (that is, our personal story is the main and most interesting story, the only story, really); (2) we're separate from the universe (there's US and then, out there, all that other junk - dogs and swing-sets, and the State of Nebraska and low-hanging clouds and, you know, other people), and (3) we're permanent (death is real, o.k., sure - for you, but not for me).

Now, we don't really believe these things - intellectually we know better - but we believe them viscerally, and live by them, and they cause us to prioritize our own needs over the needs of others, even though what we really want, in our hearts, is to be less selfish, more aware of what's actually happening in the present moment, more open, and more loving.

So, the second million-dollar question: How might we DO this? How might we become more loving, more open, less selfish, more present, less delusional, etc., etc?

Well, yes, good question.

Unfortunately, I only have three minutes left.

So let me just say this. There are ways. You already know that because, in your life, there have been High Kindness periods and Low Kindness periods, and you know what inclined you toward the former and away from the latter. Education is good; immersing ourselves in a work of art: good; prayer is good; meditation's good; a frank talk with a dear friend; establishing ourselves in some kind of spiritual tradition - recognizing that there have been countless really smart people before us who have asked these same questions and left behind answers for us.

Because kindness, it turns out, is hard - it starts out all rainbows and puppy dogs, and expands to include...well, everything.

One thing in our favor: some of this "becoming kinder" happens naturally, with age. It might be a simple matter of attrition: as we get older, we come to see how useless it is to be selfish - how illogical, really. We come to love other people and are thereby counter-instructed in our own centrality. We get our butts kicked by real life, and people come to our defense, and help us, and we learn that we're not separate, and don't want to be. We see people near and dear to us dropping away, and are gradually convinced that maybe we too will drop away (someday, a long time from now). Most people, as they age, become less selfish and more loving. I think this is true. The great Syracuse poet, Hayden Carruth, said, in a poem written near the end of his life, that he was "mostly Love, now."

And so, a prediction, and my heartfelt wish for you: as you get older, your self will diminish and you will grow in love. YOU will gradually be replaced by LOVE. If you have kids, that will be a huge moment in your process of self-diminishment. You really won't care what happens to YOU, as long as they benefit. That's one reason your parents are so proud and happy today. One of their fondest dreams has come true: you have accomplished something difficult and tangible that has enlarged you as a person and will make your life better, from here on in, forever.

Congratulations, by the way.

When young, we're anxious - understandably - to find out if we've got what it takes. Can we succeed? Can we build a viable life for ourselves? But you - in particular you, of this generation - may have noticed a certain cyclical quality to ambition. You do well in high-school, in hopes of getting into a good college, so you can do well in the good college, in the hopes of getting a good job, so you can do well in the good job so you can....

And this is actually O.K. If we're going to become kinder, that process has to include taking ourselves seriously - as doers, as accomplishers, as dreamers. We have to do that, to be our best selves.

Still, accomplishment is unreliable. "Succeeding," whatever that might mean to you, is hard, and the need to do so constantly renews itself (success is like a mountain that keeps growing ahead of you as you hike it), and there's the very real danger that "succeeding" will take up your whole life, while the big questions go untended.

So, quick, end-of-speech advice: Since, according to me, your life is going to be a gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving: Hurry up. Speed it along. Start right now. There's a confusion in each of us, a sickness, really: selfishness. But there's also a cure. So be a good and proactive and even somewhat desperate patient on your own behalf - seek out the most efficacious anti-selfishness medicines, energetically, for the rest of your life.

Do all the other things, the ambitious things - travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop) - but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness. Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial. That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality - your soul, if you will - is as bright and shining as any that has ever been. Bright as Shakespeare's, bright as Gandhi's, bright as Mother Theresa's. Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.

And someday, in 80 years, when you're 100, and I'm 134, and we're both so kind and loving we're nearly unbearable, drop me a line, let me know how your life has been. I hope you will say: It has been so wonderful.

Congratulations, Class of 2013.

I wish you great happiness, all the luck in the world, and a beautiful summer.

15 May 2014

all we mean or wish to mean . . . when the bronze annals of the oak-tree close.

Advice to a Prophet

by Richard Wilbur



When you come, as you soon must, to the streets of our city,
Mad-eyed from stating the obvious,
Not proclaiming our fall but begging us
In God’s name to have self-pity,

Spare us all word of the weapons, their force and range,
The long numbers that rocket the mind;
Our slow, unreckoning hearts will be left behind,
Unable to fear what is too strange.

Nor shall you scare us with talk of the death of the race.
How should we dream of this place without us?—
The sun mere fire, the leaves untroubled about us,
A stone look on the stone’s face?

Speak of the world’s own change. Though we cannot conceive
Of an undreamt thing, we know to our cost
How the dreamt cloud crumbles, the vines are blackened by frost,
How the view alters. We could believe,

If you told us so, that the white-tailed deer will slip
Into perfect shade, grown perfectly shy,
The lark avoid the reaches of our eye,
The jack-pine lose its knuckled grip

On the cold ledge, and every torrent burn
As Xanthus once, its gliding trout
Stunned in a twinkling. What should we be without
The dolphin’s arc, the dove’s return,

These things in which we have seen ourselves and spoken?
Ask us, prophet, how we shall call
Our natures forth when that live tongue is all
Dispelled, that glass obscured or broken

In which we have said the rose of our love and the clean
Horse of our courage, in which beheld
The singing locust of the soul unshelled,
And all we mean or wish to mean.

Ask us, ask us whether with the worldless rose
Our hearts shall fail us; come demanding
Whether there shall be lofty or long standing
When the bronze annals of the oak-tree close.


Richard Wilbur, “Advice to a Prophet” from Collected Poems 1943-2004. Copyright © 2004 by Richard Wilbur. Reprinted with the permission of Harcourt, Inc.

08 May 2014

"there are no results that match your search"

Tablets

By Dunya Mikhail
Translated by Kareem James Abu-Zeid


1

She pressed her ear against the shell:
she wanted to hear everything
he never told her.


2

A single inch
separates their two bodies
facing one another
in the picture:
a framed smile
buried beneath the rubble.



3

Whenever you throw stones
into the sea
it sends ripples through me.



4

My heart’s quite small:
that’s why it fills so quickly.



5

Water needs no wars
to mix with water
and fill up spaces.



6

The tree doesn’t ask why it’s not moving
to some other forest
nor any other pointless questions.



7

He watches tv
while she holds a novel.
On the novel’s cover
there’s a man watching tv
and a woman holding a novel.



8

On the first morning
of the new year
all of us will look up
at the same sun.



9

She raised his head to her chest.
He did not respond:
he was dead.



10

The person who gazed at me for so long,
and whose gaze I returned for just as long . . .    
That man who never once embraced me,
and whom I never once embraced  . . .    
The rain wrecked the colors around him
on that old canvas.



11

He was not with the husbands
who were lost and then found;
he did not come with the prisoners of war,
nor with the kite that took her,
in her dream,
to some other place,
while she stood before the camera
to have her smile
glued into the passport.



12

Dates piled high
beside the road:
your way
of  kissing me.



13

Rapunzel’s hair
reaching down
from the window
to the earth
is how we wait.



14

The shadows
the prisoners left
on the wall
surrounded the jailer
and cast light
on his loneliness.



15

Homeland, I am not your mother,
so why do you weep in my lap like this
every time
something hurts you?



16

Never mind this bird:
it comes every day
and stops at the branch’s edge
to sing for an hour
or two.
That’s all it does:
nothing makes it happier.



17

House keys,
identity cards,
faded pictures among the bones . . .    
All of these are scattered
in a single mass grave.



18

The Arabic language
loves long sentences
and long wars.
It loves never-ending songs
and late nights
and weeping over ruins.
It loves working
for a long life
and a long death.



19

Far away from home — 
that’s all that changed in us.



20

Cinderella left her slipper in Iraq
along with the smell of cardamom
wafting from the teapot,
and that huge flower,
its mouth gaping like death.



21

Instant messages
ignite revolutions.
They spark new lives
waiting for a country to download,
a land that’s little more
than a handful of dust
when faced with these words:
“There are no results that match your search.”



22

The dog’s excitement
as she brings the stick to her owner
is the moment of opening the letter.



23

We cross borders lightly
like clouds.
Nothing carries us,
but as we move on
we carry rain,
and an accent,
and a memory
of another place.



24

How thrilling to appear in his eyes.
She can’t understand what he’s saying:
she’s too busy chewing his voice.
She looks at the mouth she’ll never kiss,
at the shoulder she’ll never cry on,
at the hand she’ll never hold,
and at the ground where their shadows meet.


Source: Poetry (March 2014).

29 April 2014

i have a shovel




Lives of the Poets

One stood among the violets
listening to a bird. One went to the toilet
and was struck by the moon. One felt hopeless
until a trumpet crash, and then lo,
he became a diamond. I have a shovel.
Can I turn it into a poem? On my stove
I’m boiling some milk thistle.
I hope it will turn into a winged thesis
before you stop reading. Look, I’m topless!
Listen: approaching hooves!
One drowned in a swimming pool.
One removed his shoes
and yearned off a bridge. One lives
with Alzheimer’s in a state facility, spittle
in his white beard. It
turns out words are no help.
But here I am with my shovel
digging like a fool
beside the spilth and splosh
of the ungirdled sea. I can’t stop.
The horses are coming, the thieves.
I still haven’t found lasting love.
I still want to hear viols
in the little beach hotel
that’s torn down and gone.
I want to see again the fish
schooling and glittering like a veil
where the waves shove
against the breakwater. Gone
is the girl in her white slip
testing the chill with one bare foot.
It’s too cold, but she goes in, so
carefully, oh.

By Kim Addonizio


Source: Poetry (April 2014).



21 April 2014

lie here and learn

Knowledge


Now that I know
That passion warms little
Of flesh in the mold,
And treasure is brittle,

I’ll lie here and learn
How, over their ground,
Trees make a long shadow
And a light sound.


By Louise Bogan


August 1922
Source: Poetry (June 2012).

13 April 2014

when you moan, even the devil don't know what you're talking about.



the old man insists that this is the best thing he's ever seen on youtube.