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
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.
Late at night
men entered her ground-floor
room via the window.
I'd nicknamed her Aspasia, which she liked.
Then she left us. She was a waitress, a hairdresser,
and other things. I ran into her only rarely.
When I did I yelled out Aspasia!
and she smiled without stopping.
We were the same age, she'll have died years ago.
When I enter hell, almost out of habit
I'll shout Aspasia! at the first ghost who smiles.
She'll keep on walking of course. We'll never know
who she was and who she wasn't--
that butterfly who had next to nothing but a name
I chose to give her.
-Eugenio Montale (trans. William Arrowsmith)
Go, dumb-born book,
Tell her that sang me once that song of Lawes:
Hadst thou but song
As thou hast subjects known,
Then were there cause in thee that should condone
Even my faults that heavy upon me lie
And build her glories their longevity.
Tell her that sheds
Such treasure in the air,
Recking naught else but that her graces give
Life to the moment,
I would bid them live
As roses might, in magic amber laid,
Red overwrought with orange and all made
One substance and one colour
Tell her that goes
With song upon her lips
But sings not out the song, nor knows
The maker of it, some other mouth,
May be as fair as hers,
Might, in new ages, gain her worshippers,
When our two dusts with Waller’s shall be laid,
Siftings on siftings in oblivion,
Till change hath broken down
All things save Beauty alone.
I can't get enough of Carl Phillips, lately--bruised hopes, stubborn curiosity, moments of grace...
for Erin, for others
There are places in this world where
you can stand somewhere holy and be
thinking If it’s holy then why don’t
I feel it, something, and while waiting,
like it will any moment happen and
maybe this is it, a man accosts you,
half in his tongue, half in yours, he
asks if maybe you are wanting to get
high, all the time his damaged finger
twitching idly like on purpose at a
leash that holds an animal you can’t
quite put your finger on at first, until
you ask him, ask the man, and then
he tells you it’s a weasel and, of
course, it is, you’ve seen them, you
remember now, you say Of course, a weasel.
There are men inside the world who, never
mind how much they tell you that they’re
trying, can’t persuade you that it isn’t
you, it’s life, it’s life in general
where it hurts, a fear, of everything,
of nothing, when if only they would name
it maybe then you’d stay, you all the
time aware it’s you that’s talking, so
who’s going anywhere but here, beside them,
otherwise why come, why keep on coming,
when you can’t get to believing what
they tell you any more than you believed
the drugs the other man was offering
wouldn’t harm you. Still, you think, you
took them and you’re still alive, enough
to take the hand, that wants, that
promises to take you to where damage is
a word, that’s all, like yes, so Yes you
say, I’ll come, you tell him Show me.
At the end of his life, CK Williams called in corrections to his poems from the phone in his hospital bedroom. He didn't like emails. An assistant told me she could hear his nurses in the background, but the corrections were lucid. He just wanted to get it right. I've been reading up on his poems since I heard that story.
On the metro, I have to ask a young woman to move the packages beside her to make room for me;
she’s reading, her foot propped on the seat in front of her, and barely looks up as she pulls them to her.
I sit, take out my own book—Cioran, The Temptation to Exist—and notice her glancing up from hers
to take in the title of mine, and then, as Gombrowicz puts it, she “affirms herself physically,” that is,
becomes present in a way she hadn’t been before: though she hasn’t moved, she’s allowed herself
to come more sharply into focus, be more accessible to my sensual perception, so I can’t help but remark
her strong figure and very tan skin—(how literally golden young women can look at the end of summer.)
She leans back now, and as the train rocks and her arm brushes mine she doesn’t pull it away;
she seems to be allowing our surfaces to unite: the fine hairs on both our forearms, sensitive, alive,
achingly alive, bring news of someone touched, someone sensed, and thus acknowledged, known.
I understand that in no way is she offering more than this, and in truth I have no desire for more,
but it’s still enough for me to be taken by a surge, first of warmth then of something like its opposite:
a memory—a girl I’d mooned for from afar, across the table from me in the library in school now,
our feet I thought touching, touching even again, and then, with all I craved that touch to mean,
my having to realize it wasn’t her flesh my flesh for that gleaming time had pressed, but a table leg.
The young woman today removes her arm now, stands, swaying against the lurch of the slowing train,
and crossing before me brushes my knee and does that thing again, asserts her bodily being again,
(Gombrowicz again), then quickly moves to the door of the car and descends, not once looking back,
(to my relief not looking back), and I allow myself the thought that though I must be to her again
as senseless as that table of my youth, as wooden, as unfeeling, perhaps there was a moment I was not.
"we are familiar only with the passions of others, and what we come to know of our own, we have been able to learn only from them."
-Swann's Way by Marcel Proust (p 132, Lydia Davis translation)