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.

10 April 2014

house of stone




Mandolin Orange - House Of Stone from Live & Breathing on Vimeo.




On “House of Stone,” Frantz’s fiddle and Marlin’s guitar are paired with the disjointed image of a church auction. The melody is peaceful, but Marlin’s lyrics speak of struggle and the devil’s temptations. It’s a fire-and-brimstone lullaby.

“Growing up in the South, hymns were a common part of my childhood,” says Marlin. “My mother played piano for the church, and so did her mother before that. Many of those old tunes refer to a mansion of gold that awaits all believers in heaven. ‘House of Stone’ is meant to be some kind of modern hymn that uses some of the same terminology to convey a contrary idea. To me, a mansion of gold seems too much like an infomercial for the afterlife.”  
(Chris Parton, http://www.cmtedge.com/2013/05/07/mandolin-orange-trade-a-mansion-for-house-of-stone/)



It's a churchyard auction, a sight to see,

where the eyes are big, and the odds are lean.
The pockets all are empty, the chances all are gone, 

but there's a free bet yet on a house of stone, 

a house of stone. 



Now some may sing sounds of hallelujah 

and dream about a mansion of gold, 

but to each be true and to each be known. 

My dreams all are resting on a house of stone, 


a house of stone. 

09 April 2014

the heart's stubborn pretending



Getting Old

by Jack Gilbert

The soft wind comes sweet in the night
on the mountain. Invisible except for
the sound it makes in the big poplars outside
and the feel on his naked, single body,
which breathes quietly a little before dawn,
eyes open and in love with the table
and chair in the transparent dark and stars
in the other window. Soon it will be time
for the first tea and cool pear and then
the miles down and miles up the mountain.
"Old and alone," he thinks, smiling.
Full of what abundance has done to his spirit.
Feeling around inside to see if his heart
is still, thank God, ambitious. The way
old men look in their eyes each morning.
Knowing she isn't there and how much Michiko
isn't anywhere. The eyes close as he remembers
seeing the big owl on the roof last night
for the first time after hearing it for months.
Thinking how much he has grown unsuited
for love the size it is for him. "But maybe
not," he says. And the eyes open as he
grins at the heart's stubborn pretending.

"Getting Old" by Jack Gilbert, from Collected Poems. © Knopf, 2012.

20 March 2014

i was stolen by gypsies. (it's the first day of spring)


I was stolen by the gypsies. My parents stole me right back. Then the gypsies stole me again. This went on for some time. One minute I was in the caravan suckling the dark teat of my new mother, the next I sat at the long dining room table eating my breakfast with a silver spoon.

It was the first day of spring. One of my fathers was singing in the bathtub; the other one was painting a live sparrow the colors of a tropical bird.


-By Charles Simic from his collection TheWorld Doesn't End



11 March 2014

for a while was mine

Forty-Five

by Hayden Carruth

When I was forty-five I lay for hours
beside a pool, the green hazy
springtime water, and watched
the salamanders coupling, how they drifted lazily,
their little hands floating before them,
aimlessly in and out of the shadows, fifteen
or twenty of them, and suddenly two
would dart together and clasp
one another belly to belly
the way we do, tender and vigorous, and then
would let go and drift away
at peace, lazily,
in the green pool that was their world
and for a while was mine.

"Forty-Five" by Hayden Carruth from Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey. © Copper Canyon Press, 1996.