“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
Sure, I used to say his name like a truth that, just
by saying it aloud, I could make more true, which
makes no more sense than having called it sorrow,
when it was only the rain making the branches hang
more heavily, so that some of them, sometimes,
even touched the ground … I see that now. I can
see how easy it is to confuse estrangement with
what comes before that, what’s really just another
form of being lost, having meant to spell out—
wordlessly, handlessly—I’m falling, not Sir,
I fell. As for emptiness spilling where no one
ever wanted it to, and becoming compassion, as
for how that happens— What if all we do is all we
can do? what if longing, annihilation, regret are all this
life’s ever going to be, a little music thrown across and
under it, ghost song from a cricket box when the last
crickets have again gone silent, now, or be still forever,
as the gathering crowd, ungathering, slowly backs away?
Maybe not ourselves for once but each other
Not the wilder doves,
not their blurred machinery leaving the less wild doves behind
Although you sit in a room that is gray,
Except for the silver
Of the straw-paper,
At your pale white gown
Or lift one of the green beads
Of your necklace,
To let it fall;
Or gaze at your green fan
Printed with the red branches of a red willow;
Or, with one finger,
Move the leaf in the bowl--
The leaf that has fallen from the branches of the forsythia
What is all this?
I know how furiously your heart is beating.
It was like the moment when a bird decides not to eat from your hand, and flies, just before it flies, the moment the rivers seem to still and stop because a storm is coming, but there is no storm, as when a hundred starlings lift and bank together before they wheel and drop, very much like the moment, driving on bad ice, when it occurs to you your car could spin, just before it slowly begins to spin, like the moment just before you forgot what it was you were about to say, it was like that, and after that, it was still like that, only all the time.
I have studied the tight curls on the back of your neck
moving away from me
beyond anger or failure
your face in the evening schools of longing
through mornings of wish and ripen
we were always saying goodbye
in the blood in the bone over coffee
before dashing for elevators going
in opposite directions
Do not remember me as a bridge nor a roof
as the maker of legends
nor as a trap
door to that world
where black and white clericals
hang on the edge of beauty in five oclock elevators
twitching their shoulders to avoid other flesh
there is someone to speak for them
moving away from me into tomorrows
morning of wish and ripen
your goodbye is a promise of lightning
in the last angels hand
unwelcome and warning
the sands have run out against us
we were rewarded by journeys
away from each other
into mornings alone
where excuse and endurance mingle
Do not remember me
nor as the keeper of secrets
I am a fellow rider in the cattle cars
you move slowly out of my bed
saying we cannot waste time
Audre Lorde, “Movement Song” from From a Land Where Other People
I don't know what I admire more about Georgia O'Keefe: her art or the way she lived. Her two homes in New Mexico are full of clean lines, muted colors, and long windows to frame the slow southwestern skies. It's easy to imagine cultivating a graceful life in those spaces.
Long ago, someone
told me: avoid or.
It troubles the mind
as a held-out piece of meat disturbs a dog.
Now I too am sixty.
There was no other life.
I love this idea of place and identity informing each other. I always want to be in beautiful spaces and not ugly ones, for just this reason, I'm hopeful/afraid they will enter my soul:
"After living in [my] apartment for some time, I realized that it gave me a sense of protection that was quite physical. It became a kind of skin, and I felt so comfortable that I was almost not even aware of the space around me any more. Eventually, I even started to experience this space as entering inside of me, as if it had shifted from a skin to something like an internal organ." -Do Ho Suh
More photos and information are available here.
I have more faith in the capacity of my own regret to turn back time and allow me to respond well than I do in someone else's capacity to overlook my mistakes. It's horrible to depend upon another person's understanding. Still, so much of how I judge a situation is based upon how other people respond. Maybe that's as it should be. We check each other.
I recently read "Turn of the Screw" with my class. In the most basic sense, it's all about the way we create stories around things we don't understand. Sometimes the stories are off, in very significant ways, because we see the world around us rather than ourselves in the world. That's always the struggle, isn't it? To find meaning in the right place. It helps to have a second opinion. Or a third, or a fourth. And sometimes you just need a friend who texts back, "It's the best thing you could have done."
I really love the colors in these, especially on this overcast February day, bundled in soft, dark fabrics. I haven't bought flowers in ages, and maybe it's time to pick some up. My apartment has succulents and cacti on the windowsills, but there's an optimism in pink and yellow that no amount of green can answer.
I wish I had known when I was younger that wonderful people would come into my life at the wrong time, and things wouldn't work out for that reason. An ex-boyfriend sent over this short essay the other day, because it reminded him of me. As painful as it is to believe in anything that ends, every time I meet someone I really like, I still believe in baseball:
"There are those who learn after the first few times. They grow out of sports. And there are others who were born with the wisdom to know that nothing lasts. These are the truly tough among us, the ones who can live without illusion, or without even the hope of illusion. I am not that grown-up or up-to-date. I am a simpler creature, tied to more primitive patterns and cycles. I need to think something lasts forever, and it might as well be that state of being that is a game; it might as well be that, in a green field, in the sun."
-A. Bartlett Giamatti, "Green Fields of the Mind" (see link above, trust me it’s worth a 3 page read)