an echo

July 4, 2019

Days I feel like a human being, while other days I feel more like a sound. I touch the world not as myself but as an echo of who I was.

Ocean Vuong
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

The Truth the Dead Know

March 21, 2019

for my Mother, born March 1902, died March 1959
and my Father, born February 1900, died June 1959

Gone, I say and walk from church,
refusing the stiff procession to the grave,
letting the dead ride alone in the hearse.
It is June. I am tired of being brave.

We drive to the Cape. I cultivate
myself where the sun gutters from the sky,
where the sea swings in like an iron gate
and we touch. In another country people die.

My darling, the wind falls in like stones
from the whitehearted water and when we touch
we enter touch entirely. No one’s alone.
Men kill for this, or for as much.

And what of the dead? They lie without shoes
in their stone boats. They are more like stone
than the sea would be if it stopped. They refuse
to be blessed, throat, eye and knucklebone.

Anne Sexton

Orpheus

March 12, 2019

Orpheus,
after Lot’s wife,
the second-most remembered
victim of life’s rearview mirror,
might have preferred the life of a pillar of salt
to living out his days
second-guessing and revisiting
the same lightning bolt
agony every time his chin moved
toward his shoulder.

Orpheus,
after his head-turning no-oh shit-oh no-no moment,
is second-most remembered
as the archetypal poet,
as word-wielding, web-weaving charmer.
And what poet, having completed the last line
of his greatest creation yet, could not
look back over the irresistible brilliance
he has just brought forth
from the depths?

Orpheus,
even after years of painful recrimination,
may never have seen Eurydice as second-most important
love of his life.
But what poet has not been haunted
by the dread possibility that seeing the world
with the poet’s wonder,
exploring its subterranean mysteries,
and coaxing its unspeakable depth
into words, might just be
the only thing worth living for?

Adelia Prado
Trans. Ellen Watson

chips of spirit

March 12, 2019

More and more I’m beginning to think the first half of life is like a beautiful piece of pottery that seems destined to either shatter under tragedy or crumble under the weight of worry and fear. Maybe the second half is about scouring the landscape for those lost pieces,  those chips of spirit,  combing them out of the grass with your fingers,  figuring out a way to piece them together, make something beautiful again.

Gary Ferguson
Through the Woods: A Journey Through America’s Forests

Let crazy terror take my head, nobody could fend off an attack more powerful than the idea of power.

It’s not what one thinks it is. It’s not what one doesn’t think it isn’t. It’s not what one thinks it isn’t. What is most unlikely is what’s most probable. The unthinkable trembles my heart, I call it “fear! fear!”

The illness comes into being again, I change it, and all this without the slightest calculation. One day one the next the other. I’m convinced I make myself sick one illness after another without being able to do a thing about it. Thinking I know this is an illusion of the ill. It’s no help at all my knowing it. All the same, no complacency. Each illness makes me doubly ill 1) with the illness 2) with being sick of being ill. Every time I make myself sick, I always make myself sick again but I see perfectly that I do this on the same model, it’s always the end of being, generally it’s at the bottom of the garden this happens, the way the death of my father took place, starting in the garden’s northeast corner which suddenly fills up with this terrifying substance, invisible but substantial, tactile, perceptible perceived as brushing as growling, this colossal quantity of void that one hears sighing if one could hear it (but one doesn’t want to, one is petrified), not breathing but sighing, as if the garden our daily body were suddenly occupied by a body too big diffuse internal and thus hollowing out of our usual compact and limited body bottomless pits of visceral caverns and this content, this monster is a nightmare in broad daylight without a hope of waking, the vanguard of Regret that already fills up all the available space, that spreads out into our eyes our throat our lungs great doses of bitterness and sobs to come. I am perfectly aware that the misfortune is my fault, I call upon no one, but taking advantage of my deficit of vigilance during sleep the illness spreads into every inch of me like a building going up without any estimation of its internal or external resistance and I am its even before I open my eyes. The minute I’m up, I lack everything, daylight, courage, sturdy legs, everything necessary to life: movement, confidence, habit, the solidity of things, the loyalty of vital beings! So far as I can see everything betrays me. No one I can count on. Death is the first to come along. I see it everywhere, far more overwhelming than my mental debility and it picks and chooses, according to probability or improbability.

Nobody can fend off a hurricane, it grinds up and kills at random, that I am at the origin of it doesn’t in the least lessen its impact.

Hélène Cixous
Hyperdream,
Translation Beverley Bie Brahic

Night Below Zero

January 22, 2019

3 AM, the night is absolutely still;
Snow squeals beneath my skis, plumes on the turns.
I stop at the canyon’s edge, stand looking out
Over the Great Valley, over the millions —
In bed, drunk, loving, tending mills, furnaces,
Alone, wakeful, as the world rolls in chaos.
The quarter moon rises in the black heavens —
Over the sharp constellations of the cities
The cold lies, crystalline and silent,
Locked between the mountains.

Kenneth Rexroth

Every morning I look up at the moon and I think
You are a kiddie-pool and I will drown in you.
I think about field trips and cold cuts.
I think about dividends and other words
I don’t understand. I make five hundred
lunches in advance. I want to be prepared.
I want new shoes. I want them to be waterproof
and unforgettable. I want the kind of resume
that takes home all the prizes and a salary
commensurate with thunderstorms. I want to believe
that there are people in this world
whose lives are the size of houses and their bills
are paid on time and when they see birds in the sky they think
that’s a nice thing to see. In my free time I clip coupons
and put them in my wallet where I forget
to redeem them and this gnaws at me
day in and day out and when I close my eyes
I can feel my heart and it is trembling.

Sasha Fletcher

taste their own blood

December 29, 2018

She imagines him imagining her. This is her salvation.

In spirit she walks the city, traces its labyrinths, its dingy mazes: each assignation, each rendezvous, each door and stair and bed. What he said, what she said, what they did, what they did then. Even the times they argued, fought, parted, agonized, rejoined. How they’d loved to cut themselves on each other, taste their own blood. We were ruinous together, she thinks. But how else can we live, these days, except in the midst of ruin?

Margaret Atwood
The Blind Assassin

Anyway

December 26, 2018

He was pointing at the moon but I was looking at his hand.
He was dead anyway, a ghost. I’m surprised
I saw his hand at all. The moon, of course, is always
There — day moon, but it’s still there; behind the clouds but
it’s still there. I like seeing things: a hand, the moon, ice
in a highball glass. The moon? It’s free, it doesn’t
cost you anything so go ahead and look. Sustained attention
to anything — a focus, a scrutiny — always yields results.
I’d live on the moon probably except I think I’d miss
the moonlight, landscaping craters with clay roses in earthshine
and a reasonable excuse to avoid visiting hours
at the mental hospital. In space, no one can hear you
lying to your mom: “Can’t make it, Mom. It’s
a really long schlep.” The coffee’s weak and the coffee cake’s
imaginary. You’re not missing anything. Inside: a day room
and a day pass. Outside: a gazebo under a jackfruit tree.
The other inside: a deeper understanding of the burden
and its domestic infrastructure. Make yourself white.
Make yourself snow but the black bears trample
your landscape like little black dots that show up on x-rays.
It is not enough to be a landscape. One must also become
the path through the landscape, which is creepy. Truly.
The sun melts the snow, the bears wander off, the leaves
tremble like all my sad friends. I can still see his hand.
Once, in a fable, the moon woke the dead. Buried
underground, its light was too much to bear. How did it
get there? Greed. The brothers who owned it had it
buried with them. Later, St. Peter hung it in a tree.
The dead went back to bed, allegedly. One wonders why
a story like this exists. Who wrote it and to what end?
An ingenious solution: trees. Cashew, avocado, fig,
olive. Put it in a tree. Hide it in plain sight and climb
higher. We are all of us secret agents, undercover in our
overcoats, the snow falling down. Little black dots.
Some dream of tall things – trees, ladders, a rope trick.
My dreams are filled with bricks, or things in the shape
of bricks. Rectangles in the hot sun. A cow, a car,
a carton of cigarettes. Even my imagination sleeps
when I sleep and why not rest? Why crash the party
on the astral plane? You’ll just be too tired to go
to the real party later. Have you ever eaten
Swedish meatballs at a dream party? They taste like
your blanket, because they are your blanket.
My imagination wants breakfast burritos. It refuses
to punch the clock until then. I could eat six but then
I’d need a nap. A breakfast that puts you back to sleep
is useless. Dear bears, we must not hibernate!
The bathroom tile is always wet and slippery and the door
from sleeping to waking always sticks and squeaks
but I have arrived, triumphant, with corporate coffee!
Tawnya has written our names on the paper cups
in her immaculate cursive. Her eyes are dead
and lusterless but her heart is in the right place, I guess.
Somewhere deep in her chest, I guess.
We take our hats off and get down
to business. “You got plans tonight, Dick?”
“Eight dollar spaghetti dinner and all you can sing
karaoke at the Best Western. Gonna school
Pace and Killian in the finer points of falsetto.”
Not even one hour later: smoke break
in the breezeway by the handicapped bathroom.
Why is it we believe we only have one soul?
Because it’s easier to set the table for one. And you can
sing your dinner tune to yourself while you eat over the sink.
The throat of the sink: silent. The throat of the argument:
more silverware, a tablecloth, gratitude, more souls.
A kid under a tablecloth insists he’s a ghost. A table
underneath a tablecloth is, I guess, like the rest of us,
only pretending to be invisible. Or worse:
dressed for work and not in the mood for, you know,
how it all plays out, always the same ways, boring times infinity.
“When I grow up I’m going to be a truck,”
says the kid underneath the tablecloth, and that’s one way
to deflect the weight of the inevitable, to insist on possibility
in the face of grownups and the pumice of their compromises.
The trees die standing. My Spanish teacher told me this.
I had conjugated the verbs beforehand and taped them
to the bottom of my sneaker. Cheater, yes. Also uninvested
in the outcome. She could tell. Nothing to be done about it.
Verbs of being and verbs of action. We, neither
of us, were doing much anyway at the time and the room was
too hot. I think she meant unroot, which is a good thing to mean
but a difficult thing to hear when you’re living under someone
else’s roof. I climbed trees then, too. Then climbed back down.
How do I tell you how I got here without getting trapped
in the past? I suppose that’s a bigger question than I expected.
“Hey Dick, tell ‘em about that one time when we made out.
That was a good time.” Yes, it was. And yet
should we really spend our velocities on backwards motion?
Yes. Any motion, every motion. It’s spring, green, take off
your coat, pull down your cap, roll up your sleeves, we’re
hunting, we’re arrows, we’re stag in a meadow, in a frenzy.
“Like I said, Dick. That was a good time.”
Soul 1: Was it a good time?
Soul 2: I had fun. You seemed to like it.
Soul 3: He’s no Neil Armstrong.
Soul 2: Few are.
Neil Armstrong: Hush.
“He was such a colicky baby. Always fussing and crying.
As if he didn’t want to be here at all. Right, Dicky?”
No, mom. I don’t remember. And you’re not supposed to be
in this part of the poem. You come back later, near the end,
with the ghost and the hand and the moon, after dark, after
the gimlets. “Sweetie, you asked for prompts and it’s getting dark
on the East Coast. Tick tock. And don’t type drunk.”
Dear East Coast, I’m sorry it’s getting dark. It must be problematic,
living in the future, always a few steps ahead, knowing
things you shouldn’t say, since they haven’t happened
to the rest of us yet. And Poland? I don’t dare wonder
what you know about tomorrow. “Your grandma was from Poland.”
I know, mom. And grandpa was handsome and you
were the smart one and the pretty one. “Still am. Poor Barbara.
You know, Dicky, I’ve been out of the hospital for a while now.
Remember how you promised you wouldn’t write about me
while I was alive, Dicky? Remember? So if you’re
writing about me that must mean something, yes?”
You’re not sticking around for the end, then. “No, you’re
doing fine, Squish. And yes, I miss you, too.”
We cannot tarry here. We must march, we must bear the brunt.
Smoke break: in the alley by the oleanders, the pink ones.
Dear East Coast, it is getting dark here too now. Suddenly.
“It’s getting late, Little Moon. Sing them the song.”
It’s not that late, Mr. Kitten.
“You are my moon, Little Moon. And it’s late enough.
So climb down out of the tree.”
Is it safe? “Safe enough.” Are you dead as well?
Soul 1: Sing.
Soul 2: Sing.
Soul 3: Sing.
Stag In The Meadow: Sing.
The Black Bears: Sing.
Kid Under The Tablecloth: Sing.
I’ve been singing all day.
“Yes, you’ve been singing all day. And no, I’m not dead, not
everyone is dead, Little Moon. But the big moon needs the tree.”
There is a ghost at the end of the song.
“Yes, there is. And you see his hand, and then you see the moon.”
Am I the ghost at the end of the song?
“No, you are the way we bounce the light to see the ghost.”
He was looking at the moon I was looking at his hand.
He was dead anyway, a ghost. I’m surprised I saw
his hand at all. Once, in a fable, the moon woke the dead.
One wonders why a story like this exists. Who wrote it
and to what end? Sure, everyone wants the same things —
to belong, and to not be left behind — but still, does it help?
Perhaps. Once, in a fable: a man in a tree. Once,
in a fable: the trace of his thinking, the sound of his singing.
I like seeing things: a hand, the moon, ice in a highball glass.
The light of the mind illuminating the mind itself.
Put it in a tree. Hide it in plain sight and climb higher.
We are all of us secret agents, undercover in our overcoats,
the snow falling down.

Richard Siken

Poetry, by its very nature, is defiant. It is spit in the eye of the oppressor. It is the defiance of lovers who will not waste a moment, knowing they may never see each other again on this earth. It is a single letter scrawled on a wall, a signal to the others. Every poem, by daring to hold and name a moment, defies death. The shortest poem is a name.

Poetry is the lonely, radical, precious expression of a single life. The singularity of the unique human soul who must cry out. Because of love, because of wounds, because of injustice, because of hunger, because of exile and migration, because of dispossession of every kind, because we have lost someone we love and cannot bear that loss, because night comes on and we are alone, because morning comes and blessedly our children are still safe asleep beside us, because the language the migrant speaks in the street is not the language in which he dreams, because parents sing lullabies in a language their children do not understand, because any moment we might die and—where do we belong? In the place we are born, or the place where we are buried, the place where we fall in love, the place where our children are born, the place where we made a catastrophic mistake…Poetry is born of all these things and everything else, it is the consuming subjective experience of the body, which ensures we are alone and never alone. Language keeps us inextricably entangled and inextricably separate. Just as a wall does not separate but binds two things together.

Poetry can be an ambush — the glint of a knife on a dark road —because it asks: how much is your life worth?

Poetry is insurrection, resurrection, insubordination—against amnesia of every sort, against every form of oppression, dispossession and indifference. And against the drowning noise of other words.

Poetry is a dispatch from the front. Because the ones who cry out cannot wait and have always had to wait in their urgency. Because love cannot wait—an entire life passes in a moment. Because we can say yes or we can say no. Under the wire, under the radar, or out across the desperate open space of a page.

Poetry suspends time. Poetry is time. Poetry gives us time.

Anne Michaels
A Definition of Fiction and Poetry
Infinite Gradation