Tuesday, October 27, 2015

feckless





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Willow flowers, snowflakes, the same . . .
They're feckless.


No matter whose garden they fall in,
They'll always follow the wind away.



–Yuan Mei

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Monday, October 26, 2015

Time, Transformation, and How the Radiance of Love Redeems the Rupture of Loss






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The transformation of the heart is a wondrous thing, no matter how you land there.
–Patti Smith

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... transcendent transience is what beloved musician, artist, and poet Patti Smith explores in M Train (public library) — a most unusual and breathtaking book: part memoir, part dreamscape, part elegy for the departed and for time itself.

A person possessing the rare gift of remaining radiant even in her melancholy, Smith grieves for her husband and her brother; she commemorates her great heroes, from friends like William S. Burroughs, who influenced her greatly, to kindred companions on the creative path across space and time like Frida Kahlo, William Blake, and Sylvia Plath; she even mourns the closing of the neighborhood café she frequented for more than a decade, one of those mundane anchors of constancy by which we hang on to existence.

The point, of course, is that each loss evokes all losses — a point Smith delivers with extraordinary elegance of prose and sincerity of spirit. What emerges is a strange and wonderful consolation for our inconsolable longing for permanency amid a universe driven by perpetual change and inevitable loss.

Smith writes:
The transformation of the heart is a wondrous thing, no matter how you land there.

But every transformation is invariably a loss, and the transformed must be mourned before the transformed-into can be relished. The mystery of the continuity between the two — between our past and present selves — is one of the greatest perplexities of philosophy. Smith arrives at it with wistful wonderment as she contemplates the disorientation of aging, that ultimate horseman of terminal transformation:

I considered what it meant to be sixty-six. The same number as the original American highway, the celebrated Mother Road that George Maharis, as Buz Murdock, took as he tooled across the country in his Corvette, working on oil rigs and trawlers, breaking hearts and freeing junkies. Sixty-six, I thought, what the hell. I could feel my chronology mounting, snow approaching. I could feel the moon, but I could not see it. The sky was veiled with a heavy mist illuminated by the perpetual city lights. When I was a girl the night sky was a great map of constellations, a cornucopia spilling the crystalline dust of the Milky Way across its ebony expanse, layers of stars that I would deftly unfold in my mind. I noticed the threads on my dungarees straining across my protruding knees. I’m still the same person, I thought, with all my flaws intact, same old bony knees…
[…]

The phone was ringing, a birthday wish from an old friend reaching from far away. As I said good-bye I realized I missed that particular version of me, the one who was feverish, impious. She has flown, that’s for sure.

In a sentiment reminiscent of Virginia Woolf’s thoughts on the fluidity of past and present, Smith considers what “real time” is:

Is it time uninterrupted? Only the present comprehended? Are our thoughts nothing but passing trains, no stops, devoid of dimension, whizzing by massive posters with repeating images? Catching a fragment from a window seat, yet another fragment from the next identical frame? If I write in the present yet digress, is that still real time? Real time, I reasoned, cannot be divided into sections like numbers on the face of a clock. If I write about the past as I simultaneously dwell in the present, am I still in real time? Perhaps there is no past or future, only the perpetual present that contains this trinity of memory. I looked out into the street and noticed the light changing. Perhaps the sun had slipped behind a cloud. Perhaps time had slipped away.
This dance with change on the precipice of past and present is perhaps why the weather plays such a recurring role throughout the book — weather changes are the most universally palpable of transformations, and at their most acute they augur loss. Smith writes about storms with a kind of primal awe — the blizzard that strikes as she and her husband leave the theater after seeing an Akira Kurosawa film on her fortieth birthday, having entered it under clear and sunny skies; the raging thunderstorm through which she returns home alone after her husband dies in a Detroit hospital, forty-five years after he was born in the midst of an electrical storm in his grandparents’ kitchen; Hurricane Sandy, which devastates the Far Rockaways just as she has fallen in love with the community and purchased a ramshackle bungalow as her newfound sanctuary.

Recalling visiting her beloved Rockaways after the Sandy devastation, Smith captures the piercing impermanence that storms swirl us into contact with:

The great storm surges that flooded the streets had killed most of the vegetation. I inspected all that there was to see. The mildewed pasteboard walls forming small rooms had been gutted, opening onto a large room with the century-old vaulted ceiling intact, and rotted floors were being removed. I could feel progress and left with a bit of optimism. I sat on the makeshift step of what would be my refurbished porch and envisioned a yard with wildflowers. Anxious for some permanency, I guess I needed to be reminded how temporal permanency is.

Nothing encodes this temporal permanency more palpably than our treasured objects, imbued with memories and haunted by former versions of ourselves, and there is nothing we imbue with memory more intimately than the worn stories of our clothes. Like life itself, these wearable micro-museums of memory are woven of both love and loss. Smith captures this beautifully in the story of one such cherished possession:

I had a black coat. A poet gave it to me some years ago on my fifty-seventh birthday. It had been his — an ill-fitting, unlined Comme des Garçons overcoat that I secretly coveted. On the morning of my birthday he told me he had no gift for me.

— I don’t need a gift, I said.

— But I want to give you something, whatever you wish for.

— Then I would like your black coat, I said.

And he smiled and gave it to me without hesitation or regret. Every time I put it on I felt like myself. The moths liked it as well and it was riddled with small holes along the hem, but I didn’t mind. The pockets had come unstitched at the seam and I lost everything I absentmindedly slipped into their holy caves. Every morning I got up, put on my coat and watch cap, grabbed my pen and notebook, and headed across Sixth Avenue to my café. I loved my coat and the café and my morning routine. It was the clearest and simplest expression of my solitary identity. But in this current run of harsh weather, I favored another coat to keep me warm and protect me from the wind. My black coat, more suitable for spring and fall, fell from my consciousness, and in this relatively short span it disappeared.

Smith’s husband, Fred, believed that when such beloved possessions disappear, they enter “the Valley of Lost Things.” When he was a child, his favorite toy — a red plastic cowboy he had named Reddy — suffered a similar fate after Fred’s mother, dusting the bookcase, inadvertently knocked Reddy into domestic neverland. But he miraculously reappeared some years later, emerging from the floor when boards had to be replaced. When Reddy returned, Fred proudly placed him on the bookcase in the couple’s bedroom.

Smith reflects on this dance of disappearances, which so aggrieves us precisely because objects concretize our longing for permanence:

Some things are called back from the Valley. I believe Reddy called out to Fred. I believe Fred heard. I believe in their mutual jubilance. Some things are not lost but sacrificed. I saw my black coat in the Valley of the Lost on a random mound being picked over by desperate urchins. Someone good will get it, I told myself, the Billy Pilgrim of the lot.

Do our lost possessions mourn us? Do electric sheep dream of Roy Batty? Will my coat, riddled with holes, remember the rich hours of our companionship? Asleep on buses from Vienna to Prague, nights at the opera, walks by the sea, the grave of Swinburne in the Isle of Wight, the arcades of Paris, the caverns of Luray, the cafés of Buenos Aires. Human experience bound in its threads. How many poems bleeding from its ragged sleeves? I averted my eyes just for a moment, drawn by another coat that was warmer and softer, but that I did not love. Why is it that we lose the things we love, and things cavalier cling to us and will be the measure of our worth after we’re gone?

Then it occurred to me. Perhaps I absorbed my coat.

[…]

The book is, above all, a reminder that love and loss always hang in such a balance — perhaps not a moral one, for morality presumes meaning and some losses are senseless, dealt out by a universe impervious to human concerns and conceits, but a balance nonetheless. Smith captures this devastating and transcendent truth in recounting the days following Fred’s death:

My brother stayed with me through the days that followed. He promised the children he would be there for them always and would return after the holidays. But exactly a month later he had a massive stroke while wrapping Christmas presents for his daughter. The sudden death of Todd, so soon after Fred’s passing, seemed unbearable. The shock left me numb. I spent hours sitting in Fred’s favorite chair, dreading my own imagination. I rose and performed small tasks with the mute concentration of one imprisoned in ice.

Eventually I left Michigan and returned to New York with our children. One afternoon while crossing the street I noticed I was crying. But I could not identify the source of my tears. I felt a heat containing the colors of autumn. The dark stone in my heart pulsed quietly, igniting like a coal in a hearth. Who is in my heart? I wondered.

I soon recognized Todd’s humorous spirit, and as I continued my walk I slowly reclaimed an aspect of him that was also myself — a natural optimism. And slowly the leaves of my life turned, and I saw myself pointing out simple things to Fred, skies of blue, clouds of white, hoping to penetrate the veil of a congenital sorrow. I saw his pale eyes looking intently into mine, trying to trap my walleye in his unfaltering gaze. That alone took up several pages that filled me with such painful longing that I fed them into the fire in my heart, like Gogol burning page by page the manuscript of Dead Souls Two. I burned them all, one by one; they did not form ash, did not go cold, but radiated the warmth of human compassion.

This, indeed, is the book’s greatest gift: The sublime assurance that although everything we love — people, places, possessions — can and likely will eventually be taken from us, the radiant vestiges those loves leave in the soul are permanently ours, and this is the only permanence we’ll ever know.

Echoing Italo Calvino’s unforgettable assertion that “every experience is unrepeatable,” Smith writes:

Nothing can be truly replicated. Not a love, not a jewel, not a single line.


–Maria Popova




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find the rest of this and much more
here

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Friday, October 23, 2015

if there are any heavens





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if there are any heavens my mother will(all by herself)have
one. It will not be a pansy heaven nor
a fragile heaven of lilies-of-the-valley but
it will be a heaven of blackred roses
my father will be(deep like a rose
tall like a rose)
standing near my
swaying over her
(silent)
with eyes which are really petals and see
nothing with the face of a poet really which
is a flower and not a face with
hands
which whisper
This is my beloved my
                                   (suddenly in sunlight
he will bow,
&the whole garden will bow)

 –E. E. Cummings



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Thursday, October 22, 2015

opening lines to 'Reincarnation of a Lovebird'






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Already it is snowing, the branches spattering out of darkness
the way I imagine the nerve endings of that grasshopper
did on my sill last summer while the nightingale finished it.

Already old fears condense on the panes with you
a thousand mile or words away, my friend
recently buried, the light in my room blaring all night
the way it’s done in prisons, trying to keep too much emotion
from scurrying out of the corners.

There’s a blind spot in
the middle of your eye, the guilt you feel for loving so fully
in the face of death, or dying in spite of love’s power.

These verbs are searchlights for memories gone over the wall.
It’s all we can do to embrace the distance between us
while night limps across these rooftops, while we preside
over the heart’s fire sale. Outside the streetlights hook
a reluctant sky. Memory won’t save everything.


–Richard Jackson
Heartwall



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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

October


 



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The leaves fall from my fingers
Cornflowers scattered across the field like stars,
like smoke stars,
By the train tracks, the leaves in a drift

Under the slow clouds
and the nine steps to heaven,
The light falling in great sheets through the trees,
Sheets almost tangible.

The transfiguration will start like this, I think,
breathless,
Quick blade through the trees,
Something with red colors falling away from my hands,

The air beginning to go cold
And when it does
I'll rise from this tired body, a blood-knot of light,
Ready to take the darkness in.

- Or for the wind to come
And carry me, bone by bone, through the sky,
Its wafer a burn on my tongue,
its wine deep forgetfulness.


–Charles Wright
The World of the Ten Thousand Things




Tuesday, October 20, 2015

who is seen or not seen, sees or does not see?





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Invisible before birth are all beings and after death invisible again.

They are seen between two unseens.

Why in this truth find sorrow?



The Bhagavad Gita 2:28
Juan Mascaró translation


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Monday, October 19, 2015

Beginning


 


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The moon drops one or two feathers into the field.
The dark wheat listens.
Be still.
Now.
There they are, the moon’s young, trying
Their wings.
Between trees, a slender woman lifts up the lovely shadow
Of her face, and now she steps into the air, now she is gone
Wholly, into the air.
I stand alone by an elder tree, I do not dare breathe
Or move.
I listen.
The wheat leans back toward its own darkness,
And I lean toward mine.

–James Wright




Sunday, October 18, 2015

everything has a secret soul





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Everything that is dead quivers.
Not only the things of poetry, stars, moon, wood, flowers, but even a white trouser button glittering out of a puddle in the street … Everything has a secret soul which is silent more often than it speaks.


–Wassily Kandinsky



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Saturday, October 17, 2015

listen





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Listen for the stream that tells you:

die on this bank
begin with me
the way of rivers with the sea.


Rumi

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Friday, October 16, 2015

In Passing





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On the Canadian side, we're standing far enough away the Falls look like photography, the roar a radio. In the real rain, so vertical it fuses with the air, the boat below us is starting for the caves. Everyone on deck is dressed in black, braced for weather and crossing against the current of the river. They seem lost in the gorge dimensions of the place, then, in fog, in a moment, gone. In the Chekhov story, the lovers live in a cloud, above the sheer witness of a valley. They call it circumstance. They look up at the open wing of the sky, or they look down into the future. Death is a power like any other pull of the earth.
The people in the raingear with the cameras want to see it from the inside, from behind, from the dark looking into the light. They want to take its picture, give it size— how much easier to get lost in the gradations of a large and yellow leaf drifting its good-bye down one side of the gorge. There is almost nothing that does not signal loneliness, then loveliness, then something connecting all we will become. All around us the luminous passage of the air, the flat, wet gold of the leaves. I will never love you more than at this moment, here in October, the new rain rising slowly from the river.

–Stanley Plumley



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Thursday, October 15, 2015

These Images

 



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Thus like swans,
wings wide open in the air,
when spring splashes lakes onto shores,
where in the woods,
wild ducks wheeling in pairs
for a love nest, and snakes
after spring's first thunders,
slide forth from winter's fields,
when racoons lose their minds
mating among maple leaves
in Quaker cemeteries,
and golden smoke rises
above cypress trees, their needles
aquiver with too much pollen,
when songs flow from their lips
and bare feet welcome the embrace of sand,
where, under the tent of a white sheet,
eyes fall on the sea-drenched forehead
of the beloved,
when the church bells rings,
children dash through the lunchroom,
their jackets of tropical fruit and birds of paradise
against the concrete ground of P.S. 19,
where words are at stake,
and thoughts are immobilized,
where life shouts with joy
and being is beauty and love
no longer clings,
where senses quicken their steps
to enter hearts of things...

So simple, these images,
their recognition
is in our nature,
yet too often neglected,
our eyes already elsewhere.
It is beyond the gods
why we hold onto our sorrows
so long, and so stubborn.

–Wang Ping
of flesh & spirit: poems




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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Learning from Trees

 



 
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If we could,
like the trees,
practice dying,
do it every year
just as something we do—
like going on vacation
or celebrating birthdays,
it would become
as easy a part of us
as our hair or clothing.


Someone would show us how
to lie down and fade away
as if in deepest meditation,
and we would learn
about the fine dark emptiness,
both knowing it and not knowing it,
and coming back would be irrelevant.


Whatever it is the trees know
when they stand undone,
surprisingly intricate,
we need to know also
so we can allow
that last thing
to happen to us
as if it were only
any ordinary thing,


leaves and lives
falling away,
the spirit, complex,
waiting in the fine darkness
to learn which way
it will go.



–Grace Butcher













Tuesday, October 13, 2015

not to worry





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Remember the clear light, the pure clear white light from which everything in the universe comes, to which everything in the universe returns; the original nature of your own mind. 

Remember the natural state of the universe unmanifest. 

Let go into the clear light, trust it, merge with it. 

It is your own true nature, it is home.


–Tibetan Book of the Dead



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Monday, October 12, 2015

sabbath 2001

 




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I

He wakes in darkness. All around
are sounds of stones shifting, locks
unlocking. As if some one had lifted
away a great weight, light
falls on him. He has been asleep or simply
gone. He has known a long suffering
of himself, himself shaped by the pain
of his wound of separation he now
no longer minds, for the pain is only himself
now, grown small, become a little growing
longing joy. Something teaches him
to rise, to stand and move out through
the opening the light has made.
He stands on the green hilltop amid
the cedars, the skewed stones, the earth all
opened doors. Half blind with light, he
traces with a forefinger the moss-grown
furrows of his name, hearing among the others
one woman's cry. She is crying and laughing,
her voice a stream of silver he seems to see:
"Oh William, honey, is it you? Oh!"



II

Surely it will be for this: the redbud
pink, the wild plum white, yellow
trout lilies in the morning light,
the trees, the pastures turning green.
On the river, quiet at daybreak,
the reflections of the trees, as in
another world, lie across
from shore to shore. Yes, here
is where they will come, the dead,
when they rise from the grave.


III

White
dogwood flowers
afloat
in leafing woods
untrouble
my mind.


IV

Ask the world to reveal its quietude—
not the silence of machines when they are still,
but the true quiet by which birdsongs,
trees, bellows, snails, clouds, storms
become what they are, and are nothing else.


V

A mind that has confronted ruin for years
Is half or more a ruined mind. Nightmares
Inhabit it, and daily evidence
Of the clean country smeared for want of sense,
Of freedom slack and dull among the free,
Of faith subsumed in idiot luxury,
And beauty beggared in the marketplace
And clear-eyed wisdom bleary with dispraise.


VI

Sit and be still
until in the time
of no rain you hear
beneath the dry wind's
commotion in the trees
the sound of flowing
water among the rocks,
a stream unheard before,
and you are where
breathing is prayer.


VII

The wind of the fall is here.
It is everywhere. It moves
every leaf of every
tree. It is the only motion
of the river. Green leaves
grow weary of their color.
Now evening too is in the air.
The bright hawks of the day
subside. The owls waken.
Small creatures die because
larger creatures are hungry.
How superior to this
human confusion of greed
and creed, blood and fire.


VIII

The question before me, now that I
am old, is not how to be dead,
which I know from enough practice,
but how to be alive, as these worn
hills still tell, and some paintings
of Paul Cezanne, and this mere
singing wren, who thinks he's alive
forever, this instant, and may be.


–Wendell Berry
Given




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Sunday, October 11, 2015

the stolen child

 



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Where dips the rocky highland
Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water rats;
There we’ve hid our faery vats,
Full of berrys
And of reddest stolen cherries.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim gray sands with light,
Far off by furthest Rosses
We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And anxious in its sleep.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star,
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams;
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Away with us he’s going,
The solemn-eyed:
He’ll hear no more the lowing
Of the calves on the warm hillside
Or the kettle on the hob
Sing peace into his breast,
Or see the brown mice bob
Round and round the oatmeal chest.
For he comes, the human child,
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than he can understand.



–William Butler Yeats




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beauty
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Friday, October 9, 2015

In Rain (excerpt)



 

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3.

In a mist of light
falling with the rain
I walk this ground
of which dead mean
and women I have loved
are part, as they
are part of me. In earth,
in blood, in mind,
the dead and living
into each other pass,
as the living pass
in and out of loves
as stepping to a song.
The way I go is
marriage to this place,
grace beyond chance,
love's braided dance
covering the world.

–Wendell Berry
The Wheel



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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Lake and Maple






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I want to give myself
utterly
as this maple
that burned and burned
for three days without stinting
and then in two more
dropped off every leaf;
as this lake that,
no matter what comes
to its green-blue depths,
both takes and returns it.

In the still heart that refuses nothing,
the world is twice-born—
two earths wheeling,
two heavens,
two egrets reaching
down into subtraction;
even the fish
for an instant doubled,
before it is gone.
I want the fish.

I want the losing it all
when it rains and I want
the returning transparence.
I want the place
by the edge-flowers where
the shallow sand is deceptive,
where whatever
steps in must plunge,
and I want that plunging.

I want the ones
who come in secret to drink
only in early darkness,
and I want the ones
who are swallowed.

I want the way
the water sees without eyes,
hears without ears,
shivers without will or fear
at the gentlest touch.

I want the way it
accepts the cold moonlight
and lets it pass,
the way it lets
all of it pass
without judgment or comment.

There is a lake,
Lalla Ded sang, no larger
than one seed of mustard,
that all things return to.
O heart, if you
will not, cannot, give me the lake,
then give me the song.



–Jane Hirshfield




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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Who has seen the wind?

 



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Who has seen the wind?

Neither I nor you;

But when the leaves hang trembling

The wind is passing through.

Who has seen the wind?

Neither you nor I;

But when the trees bow down their heads

The wind is passing by.


–Christina Rossetti

 

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Monday, October 5, 2015

the sensual world






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I call to you across a monstrous river or chasm
to caution you, to prepare you.

Earth will seduce you, slowly, imperceptibly,
subtly, not to say with connivance.

I was not prepared: I stood in my grandmother’s kitchen,
holding out my glass. Stewed plums, stewed apricots –

the juice poured off into the glass of ice.
And the water added, patiently, in small increments,

the various cousins discriminating, tasting
with each addition –

aroma of summer fruit, intensity of concentration:
the colored liquid turning gradually lighter, more radiant,

more light passing through it.
Delight, then solace. My grandmother waiting,

to see if more was wanted. Solace, then deep immersion.
I loved nothing more: deep privacy of the sensual life,

the self disappearing into it or inseparable from it,
somehow suspended, floating, its needs

fully exposed, awakened, fully alive –
Deep immersion, and with it

mysterious safety. Far away, the fruit glowing in its glass bowls.
Outside the kitchen, the sun setting.

I was not prepared: sunset, end of summer. Demonstrations
of time as a cotinuum, as something coming to an end,

not a suspension; the senses wouldn’t protect me.
I caution you as I was never cautioned:

you will never let go, you will never be satiated.
You will be damaged and scarred, you will continue to hunger.

Your body will age, you will continue to need.
You will want the earth, then more of the earth –

Sublime, indifferent, it is present, it will not respond.
It is encompassing, it will not minister. 
Meaning, it will feed you, it will ravish you,
it will not keep you alive.


–Louise Glück



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Sunday, October 4, 2015

Scars, excerpt




 
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there are sorrows
a choir can’t reach when they sing.

–William Stafford


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