“I am especially fond of the biblical passage in the first epistle of John, which tells us: ‘There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made in perfect love.’ From childhood on this passage of scripture has enchanted me. I was fascinated by the use of the word ‘perfect.’ For some time I thought of this word only in relation to being without fault or defect. Taught to believe that this understanding of what it means to be perfect was always out of human reach.”
intimacy seems nothing more, anymore, than
a form of letting what’s been simple enough become difficult,
because now less far. Or as when, looking into a mirror,
I’ve looked closer still, and seen the rest that I’d missed earlier:
fierce regret, with its flames for fingers, hope as the not-so-
dark holdover from the dark before… Despite our differences,
we agree about most things, my friend and I, or let’s say it
gets harder for me, as the years go by, to know for sure
he’s wrong… It’s like a game between us. He says my
moods are like the images any burst of starlings makes
against an open sky, before flying away. say either no one’s
listening , this late, or else anyone is. You’ve changed, he says,
getting slowly dressed again. You don’t know me, I say, I say back.
“And when we had come out of the temple, I straightway left that Blessed City; for I was not too young, and I could read the scripture.”
they say. Yet love
is no new grief
nor sudden disease, nor something
that rages and cools.
Like madness in an elephant,
coming up when he eats
for you to find
something to look at.
Foreward to Gastronomical Me:
“People ask me: Why do you write about food, and eating and drinking? Why don’t you write about the struggle for power and security, and about love, the way others do?
They ask it accusingly, as if I were somehow gross, unfaithful to the honor of my craft.
The easiest answer is to say that, like most other humans, I am hungry. But there is more than that. It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one.
I tell about myself, and how I ate bread on a lasting hillside, or drank red wine in a room now blown to bits, and it happens without my willing it that I am telling too about the people with me then, and their other deeper needs for love and happiness.
There is food in the bowl, and more often than not, because of what honesty I have, there is nourishment in the heart, to feed the wilder, more insistent hungers. We must eat. If, in the face of that dread fact, we can find other nourishment, and tolerance and compassion for it, we’ll be no less full of human dignity.”
Letter to Anita Politzer (1968): “I do not like the idea of happiness—it is too momentary—I would say that I was always busy and interested in something—interest has more meaning to me than the idea of happiness.”
The obvious is difficult
To prove. Many prefer
The hidden. I did, too.
I listened to the trees.
They had a secret
Which they were about to
Make known to me,
And then didn’t.
Summer came. Each tree
On my street had its own
Scheherazade. My nights
Were a part of their wild
Storytelling. We were
Entering dark houses,
More and more dark houses
Hushed and abandoned.
There was someone with eyes closed
On the upper floors.
The thought of it, and the wonder,
Kept me sleepless.
The truth is bald and cold,
Said the woman
Who always wore white.
She didn’t leave her room much.
The sun pointed to one or two
Things that had survived
The long night intact,
The simplest things,
Difficult in their obviousness.
They made no noise.
It was the kind of day
People describe as “perfect.”
Gods disguising themselves
As black hairpins? A hand-mirror?
A comb with a tooth missing?
No! That wasn’t it.
Just things as they are,
Unblinking, lying mute
In that bright light,
And the trees waiting for the night.
Without invention nothing is well spaced,
unless the mind change, unless
the stars are new measured, according
to their relative positions, the
line will not change, the necessity
will not matriculate: unless there is
a new mind there cannot be a new
line, the old will go on
repeating itself with recurring
without invention the line
will never again take on its ancient
divisons when the word, a supple word,
lived in it, crumbled now to chalk.
“What the hell does that mean,” he said.
”I’m not sure.”
”When will you be sure?”
”I don’t know.”
”So what do you do in the meantime?”
It was as though and invisible membrane had fallen between me and my lover, one fine enough to be
penetrated by desire but opaque enough to obscure human fellowship. The person on the other side of the
membrane seemed as unreal to me as I felt myself to be to him. At that moment I didn’t care if I never again got into bed with a man.
I did of course get into bed with them—love, quarrel, and bliss out many more times after this man and I parted—but the memory of that fine, invisible separation haunted me; and more often than I like to remember, I saw it glistening as I gazed into the face of a man who loved me but was not persuaded that I needed what he needed to feel like a human being.
—Odd Woman in the City
“I would like to talk about the perfection underlying life
when the mind is covered over with perfection
and the heart is filled with delight
but I wish not to deny the rest.
In our minds, there is an awareness of perfection;
when we look with our eyes we see it,
and how it functions is mysterious to us and unavailable.
When we live our lives it’s something like a race—our minds
become concerned and covered over and we get depressed and
have to get away for a holiday.
And then sometimes there are moments of perfection
and in these moments we wonder why we ever thought life
We think that at last our feet are on the right path and that we
will not falter or fail.
We’re absolutely convinced we have the solution and then the
moment is over.
Moments of awareness are not complete awareness,
just as moments of blindness are not completely blind.
In moments of blindness when you meet someone you know
they seem hardly recognizable,
and one seems even a stranger to oneself.
These experiences of the mind are too quickly passed over
although startling moments of awareness are never forgotten.
Seeking awareness of perfection in the mind is called
living the inner life.
It is not necessary for artists to live the inner life.
It is only necessary for them to recognize inspiration or represent it.
Our representations of inspiration are far from perfect
for perfection is unobtainable and unattainable.
Moments of awareness of perfection and of inspiration are alike
except that inspirations are often directives to action.
Many people think that if they are attuned to fate, all their
inspirations will lead them toward what they want and need.
But inspiration is really just the guide to the next thing
and may be what we call success or failure.
The bad paintings have to be painted…”
—Agnes Martin in Artforum (April 1973)
“The fundamental source of joy in life is the instinct of joy. If that is true, and a little difficult to realize in life, it is infinitely more true in poetry and painting, and much more easy to realize there. Van Gogh painted to indulge the instinct of joy.”
…I’d as lief
not leave, not
go away, not
I believe in belief ...
All said, whatever I can think of
comes from there,
As it gets now impossible
to say, it’s your hand
I hold to, still
These poems, these poems,
these poems, she said, are poems
with no love in them. These are the poems of a man
who would leave his wife and child because
they made noise in his study. These are the poems
of a man who would murder his mother to claim
the inheritance. These are the poems of a man
like Plato, she said, meaning something I did not
comprehend but which nevertheless
offended me. These are the poems of a man
who would rather sleep with himself than with women,
she said. These are the poems of a man
with eyes like a drawknife, with hands like a pickpocket’s
hands, woven of water and logic
and hunger, with no strand of love in them. These
poems are as heartless as birdsong, as unmeant
as elm leaves, which if they love love only
the wide blue sky and the air and the idea
of elm leaves. Self-love is an ending, she said,
and not a beginning. Love means love
of the thing sung, not of the song or the singing.
These poems, she said....
You are, he said,
That is not love, she said rightly
But sometimes I forget where I am,
Imagine myself inside that life again
Recalcitrant mornings. Sun perhaps,
Or more likely colorless light
Filtering its way through shapeless cloud.
And when I begin to believe I haven’t left,
The rest comes back. Our couch. My smoke
Climbing the walls while the hours fall.
Straining against the noise of traffic, music,
Anything alive, to catch your key in the door.
And that scamper of feeling in my chest,
As if the day, the night, wherever it is
I am by then, has been only a whir
Of something other than waiting.
We hear so much about what love feels like.
Right now, today, with the rain outside,
And leaves that want as much as I do to believe
In May, in seasons that come when called,
It’s impossible not to want
To walk into the next room and let you
Run your hands down the sides of my legs,
Knowing perfectly well what they know.
“The autumn after the apricots, when everything was at its worst, I was asked to talk to a roomful of undergraduates at a university in a beautiful coastal valley. I talked about places, about the ways we often talk about love of place, but which we mean our loves of places, but seldom how the places love us back, of what they give us. They give us continuity. something to return to, and offer a familiarity that allows some portion of our lives to remain connected and coherent. They give us an expansive scale in which our troubles are set into context, in which the largeness of the world is a balm to loss, trouble, and ugliness. And distant places give us a refuge in territories where our own histories aren’t so deeply entrenched and we can imagine other stories, other selves, or just drink up quiet and refuge.
The bigness of the world is redemption. Despair compresses you into a small place, and a depression is literally a hollow in the ground. To dig deeper into the self, to go underground, is sometimes necessary, but so is the other route of getting out of yourself into the larger world, into the openness in which you need not clutch your story and your troubles so tightly to your chest. Being able to travel both ways matters, and sometimes the way back into the heart of the question begins by going outward and beyond. This is the expansiveness that sometimes comes literally in a landscape or that tugs you out of yourself in a story.”
The voice is clean. Has heft. Like stones
Dropped in still water, or tossed
One after the other at a low wall.
Chipping away at what pushes back.
Not always making a dent, but keeping at it.
And the silence around it is a door
Punched through with light. A garment
That attests to breasts, the privacy
Between thighs. The body is what we lean toward,
Tensing as it darts, dancing away.
But it’s the voice that enters us. Even
Saying nothing. Even saying nothing
Over and over absently to itself.
lost all the wars. By definition. Had small desires and fundamental fear. Gave our
children for them, paid in full, from the start of time, standard time and standard
space, with and without suspension of disbelief, hungry for the everyday, wide
awake, able to bring about a state of affairs by bodily movement, not even gradually,
not hesitating, not ever, gave brothers fathers sisters mothers. Lost every war.
Will lose the ones to come. By definition. That woman. That
ocean. Careful how you fool around. There is form and it knows the difference. Go
alone. Hold back. Transfigure. Promise. Go alone. Transfigure. Keep promise. All this
is what the wind knows. It has never lost a war. It has a notion to be almost
wordless. It has need. But not like ours. No sir it knows acceptance – strange isn’t
it – so does the stream – it has a hillside – knows acquiescence – does not lose,
has no lips, does not love, does not carry-on – or maybe it does, yes – but not as we
do – no generations, no forgetting – no eyes desiring what they see too
much – the blossom – the bluebird – the crease in the hillside – no too much, no
thankfulness, nothing to do, or that has to be done, nothing to forget – please let me
forget – I did not do that – it could not have been me – where shall I hide now – I
shall be found – no one can find them, the stream, the bones in the culvert,
the pigeons hovering near the steam shaft – no one can find them they need not
hide – the stones, the steel, the galaxies – shrinking or in-
creasing, no war –
nothing – nothing can see itself – nothing can think – there is no prevailing – nor
lack – just as it should be – death yes but as a gathering, energy done – not a lost
war – just a merging with what comes – with what has come before – it does not
turn around – it is not looking over its shoulder – nerveless – were we needed – as
wind was – lost all wars – even the one with time – all of the time – all of the
times. Looked for all the intersections. Time and fiction. Asked can it be
true? Time and history. Asked can it really be true? This is happening. But is
not what the real feels like. The past? Is senseless. Collapse the it-has-been
says the wind. Look but not back. Any wind will tell you. You have not been there.
In the strictest sense. Are on display. There is no private space.
—full poem here
All I know is that I am still
compassionate, still have days,
still know the greatest places
for peace are parts leading
to grat lakes, to smooth shore
infinities and you could
spend whole and perfect lives
studying how to throw them.
—Josh Kalscheur via Poets House