The Night House
Every day the body works in the fields of the world
Mending a stone wall
Or swinging a sickle through the tall grass -
The grass of civics, the grass of money -
And every night the body curls around itself
And listens for the soft bells of sleep.
But the heart is restless and rises
From the body in the middle of the night,
Leaves the trapezoidal bedroom
With its thick, pictureless walls
To sit by herself at the kitchen table
And heat some milk in a pan.
And the mind gets up too, puts on a robe
And goes downstairs, lights a cigarette,
And opens a book on engineering.
Even the conscience awakens
And roams from room to room in the dark,
Darting away from every mirror like a strange fish.
And the soul is up on the roof
In her nightdress, straddling the ridge,
Singing a song about the wildness of the sea
Until the first rip of pink appears in the sky.
Then, they all will return to the sleeping body
The way a flock of birds settles back into a tree,
Resuming their daily colloquy,
Talking to each other or themselves
Even through the heat of the long afternoons.
Which is why the body - the house of voices -
Sometimes puts down its metal tongs, its needle, or its pen
To stare into the distance,
To listen to all its names being called
Before bending again to its labor.
- Billy Collins
alive on all channels
"Wasn't there a spell for making yourself happy? Somebody must have invented one. How could he have missed it? Why didn't they teach it? Was it in the library, a flying book fluttering just out of reach, beating its wings against some high window?"
- Lev Grossman
running after my hat
"Somewhere this very moment, babies are born, fathers are dying, mothers are grieving. Yet, pervading all is a groundless awareness, delicate and strong at the same time. Everything becomes we, a beating heart with a transparent, radiant smile."
- Judith Simmer-Brown
It's where you are in your imagination
That's important, for the life of simply staying where you are
Is a shadow's life, that leaves you by yourself, alone and scared.
Why can't we just move on? The light up ahead is soft
And seems to beckon us, glowing with a promise of beginning
Once again, as if there were still time.
- John Koethe
This is a world where there are monsters
There are monsters everywhere, raccoons and skunks
There are possums outside, there are monsters in my bed.
There is one monster. He is my little one.
I talk to my little monster.
I give my little monster some bacon but that does not satisfy him.
I tell him, ssh ssh, don't growl little monster!
And he growls, oh boy does he growl!
And he wants something from me,
He wants my soul.
And finally giving in, I give him my gleaming soul
And as he eats my gleaming soul, I am one with him
And stare out his eyepits and I see nothing but white
And then I see nothing but fog and the white I had seen before was nothing but fog
And there is nothing but fog out the eyes of monsters.
- Dorothea Lasky
"We are at a feast which doesn't love us. At last the feast sheds its mask and shows itself for what it really is: a switchyard, cold colossi sit on rails in the mist. A piece of chalk has scribbled on the freight car doors.
It mustn't be said, but there is much suppressed violence here. That's why the features are so heavy. And why it's so hard to see that other thing which also exists: a mirrored glare of sun which moves across the house wall and glides through the unknowing forest of flickering faces, a Bible text never written down: "Come to me, for I am laden with contradictions like you yourself."
Tomorrow I'm working in another city. I whizz there through the morning hour which is a blue-black cylinder. Orion hovers above the frozen ground. Children stand in a silent crowd, waiting for the school bus, children for whom no one prays. The light grows slowly like our hair."
- Tomas Tranströmer
The Blue House
translated by Göran Malmqvist
Oh, I said, this is going to be.
And it was.
Oh, I said, this will never happen.
But it did.
And a purple fog descended upon the land.
The roots of trees curled up.
The world was divided into two countries.
Every photograph taken in the first was of people.
Every photograph taken in the second showed none.
All of the girl children were named And.
All of the boy children named Then.
- Mary Ruefle
"Non-aggression doesn't mean that you're not supposed to get angry; it doesn't mean that you're not supposed to set boundaries; it doesn't mean that you're not supposed to be sharp; it doesn't mean that you don't have neurotic upheavals and meltdowns. What it does mean is that we have to keep letting go - until we are naked with ourselves, and we are making room for the person we actually are. And it's the exact same process with other people. We have to let go, let go, let go . . . Until we see and we are seen."
- Reggie Ray
"I shall be the wild park in the midst of the nightmare of perfection, the still, unshakable dream in the midst of frenzied activity, the random shot on the white billiard table of logic, I shall know neither how to weep nor protest, but I shall be there always in absolute silence to receive and to restore."
- Henry Miller
"My husband and I were arguing about a bench we wanted to buy and put in part of our backyard, a part which is actually a meadow of sorts, a half acre with tall grasses and weeds and the occasional wild flower because we do not mow it but leave it scrubby and unkempt. This bench would hardly ever be used and in summer when the grasses were high would remain partially hidden from view. We both knew we wanted the bench to be made of teak so that it would last a long time in the harsh weather and so that we would never have to paint it. Teak weathers to a soft silver that might, in November or March, disappear into the gray hills that are the backdrop of our lives. My husband wanted a four foot bench and I wanted a five foot bench. This is what we argued about. My husband insisted that a four foot bench was all we needed, since no more than two people (presumably ourselves) would ever sit on it at the same time. I felt his reasoning was not only beside the point but missed it entirely; I said what mattered most to me was the idea of the bench, the look of it there, to be gazed at with only the vaguest notion it could hold more people than would ever actually sit down. The life of the bench in my imagination was more important than any practical function the bench might serve. After all, I argued, we wanted a bench so that we could look at it, so that we could imagine sitting on it, so that, unexpectedly, a bird might sit on it, or fallen leaves, or inches of snow, and the longer the bench, the greater the expanse of that plank, the more it matched its true function, which was imaginary. My husband mentioned money and I said that I was happier to have no bench at all, which would cost nothing, than to have a four foot bench, which would be expensive. I said that having no bench at all was closer to the five foot bench than the four foot bench because having no bench served the imagination in similar ways, and so not having a bench became an option in our argument, became a third bench. We grew very tired of discussing the three benches and for a day we rested from our argument. During this day I had many things to do and many of them involved my driving past other houses, none of which had benches, that is they each had the third bench, and as I drove past the other houses I could see a bench here and a bench there; sometimes I saw the bench very close to the house, against a wall or on a porch, and sometimes I saw the bench under a tree or in the open grass, cut or uncut, and once I saw the bench at the end of the driveway, blocking the road. Always it was a five foot bench that I saw, a long sleek bench or a broken down bench, a bench with a slatted back or a bench with a solid, carved back, and always the bench was empty. But I knew that for my husband the third bench was only four feet long and he saw always two people sitting on it, two happy or tired people, two people who were happy to be alive or two people tired from having worked hard enough to buy the bench they were sitting on. Or they were happy and tired, happy to have reached the end of some argument, tired from having had it. For these people, the bench was an emblem of their days, which were fruitful because their suffering had come to an end. On my bench, which was always empty, nothing had come to an end because nothing had begun, no one had sat down, though the bench was always there waiting for exactly that to happen. And the bench was always long enough so that someone, if he desired to, could lie all the way down. That day passed. Another day followed it and my husband and I began, once more, to discuss the bench. The sound of our voices revealed a renewed interest and vigor. I thought I sensed in him a coming around to my view of the bench and I know he sensed in me a coming around to his view of the bench, because at one point I said that a four foot bench reminded me of rough notes towards a real bench while a five foot bench was like a fragment of an even longer bench and I admitted it was at times hard to tell the difference. He said he didn't know anything about the difference between rough notes and fragments but he agreed that between the two benches there was, possibly, just perhaps - he could imagine it - very little difference. It was, after all, only a foot we were talking about. And I think it was then, in both of our minds, that a fourth bench came into being, a bench that was only a foot long, a miniature bench, a bench we could build ourselves, though of course we did not. This seemed to be, essentially, the bench we were talking about. Much later, when the birds came back, or the leaves drifted downwards, or the snow fell, slowly and lightly at first, then heavier and faster, it was this bench that we both saw when we looked out the window at the bench we eventually placed in the meadow which continued to grow as if there were no bench at all."
- Mary Ruefle
Among the Musk Ox People
"There is a difficulty with only one person changing. People call that person a great saint or a great mystic or a great leader, and they say, 'Well, he's different from me - I could never do it.' What's wrong with most people is that they have this block - they feel they could never make a difference, and therefore, they never face the possibility, because it is too disturbing, too frightening."
- David Bohm
"Zen wants us to acquire an entirely new point of view whereby to look into the mysteries of life and the secrets of nature. This is because Zen has come to the definite conclusion that the ordinary logical process of reasoning is powerless to give final satisfaction to our deepest spiritual needs."
- D. T. Suzuki
"Those hours given over to basking in the glow of an imagined
future, of being carried away in streams of promise by a love or
a passion so strong that one felt altered forever and convinced
that even the smallest particle of the surrounding world was
charged with purpose of impossible grandeur; ah, yes, and
one would look up into the trees and be thrilled by the wind-
loosened river of pale, gold foliage cascading down and by the
high, melodious singing of countless birds; those moments, so
many and so long ago, still come back, but briefly, like fireflies
in the perfumed heat of summer night."
- Mark Strand
Almost Invisible: Poems
years of anger following
hours that float idly down -
drifts its weight
deeper and deeper for three days
or sixty years, eh? Then
the sun! a clutter of
yellow and blue flakes -
Hairy looking trees stand out
in long alleys
over a wild solitude.
The man turns and there -
his solitary track stretched out
upon the world.
- William Carlos Williams
"It seems that a profound, impartial, and absolutely just opinion of our fellow-creatures is utterly unknown. Either we are men, or we are women. Either we are cold, or we are sentimental. Either we are young, or growing old. In any case life is but a procession of shadows, and God knows why it is that we embrace them so eagerly, and see them depart with such anguish, being shadows. And why, if this - and much more than this is true - why are we yet surprised in the window corner by a sudden vision that the young man in the chair is of all things in the world the most real, the most solid, the best known to us - why indeed? For the moment after we know nothing about him.
Such is the manner of our seeing. Such the conditions of our love."
- Virginia Woolf
Poem White Page White Page Poem
Poem white page white page poem
something is streaming out of a body in waves
something is beginning from the fingertips
they are starting to declare for my whole life
all the despair and the making music
something like wave after wave
that breaks on a beach
something like bringing the entire life
to this moment
the small waves bringing themselves to white paper
something like light stands up and is alive
- Muriel Rukeyser
"What is a saint? A saint is someone who has achieved a remote human possibility. It is impossible to say what that possibility is. I think it has something to do with the energy of love. Contact with this energy results in the exercise of a kind of balance in the chaos of existence. A saint does not dissolve the chaos; if he did the world would have changed long ago. I do not think that a saint dissolves the chaos even for himself, for there is something arrogant and warlike in the notion of a man setting the universe in order. It is a kind of balance that is his glory. He rides the drifts like an escaped ski. His course is a caress of the hill. His track is a drawing of the snow in a moment of its particular arrangement with wind and rock. Something in him so loves the world that he gives himself to the laws of gravity and chance. Far from flying with the angels, he traces with the fidelity of a seismograph needle the state of the solid bloody landscape. His house is dangerous and finite, but he is at home in the world. He can love the shape of human beings, the fine and twisted shapes of the heart. It is good to have among us such men, such balancing monsters of love."
- Leonard Cohen
"The problem is that the self that you became convinced was the real you is a phantom that exists only as an abstraction in your mind - animated by the conflicted emotional energy of separation. It's about as real as last night's dream. And when you stop thinking it into existence, it has no existence at all. That's why it is false - which begs the question, who or what is the real you?
At the core of the false self is a void of deficiency derived from an essential turning away from one's own divinity, either out of natural development, despair, or simply by succumbing to the trance of the world with all its masks of deception and harsh obligation to conform to its insanity. The false self orbits around this vacuous abyss at its core, in silent terror of its nameless, faceless threat of oblivion.
The false self is both an obstacle and a doorway through which you must pass on your way to awakening to the dimension of being. As you pass through the void of self, the identification with self dies, either temporarily or permanently, and you are revealed (reborn) to be a presence. Presence is not a self in any conventional sense. It has no shape or form, no age or gender. It is an expression of universal being, the formless substance of existence. Presence is not subject to birth or death; it is not of the world of "things." It is the light and radiance of consciousness in which entire worlds arise and pass away."
wait - what?
I find myself in my own image, and am neither and both.
I come and go in myself
as though from room to room,
As though the smooth incarnation of some medieval spirit
Escaping my own mouth and reswallowed at leisure,
Dissembling and at my ease.
- Charles Wright
from A Journal of the Year of the Ox
"What astonishes me, just as it astonishes a child when he becomes aware of his own identity, is the fact of finding myself here, and at this moment, deep in this life and not in any other. What stroke of chance has brought this about?"
- Simone de Beauvoir
All Said and Done
live and learn
glitter like castles
of ribbons, the broad fields
smolder with light, a passing
heaped with shining hills;
and though the questions
that have assailed us all day
remain - not a single
answer has been found -
walking out now
into the silence and the light
under the trees,
and through the fields,
feels like one.
- Mary Oliver
from First Snow
the hammock papers
The Tongue Says Loneliness
The tongue says loneliness, anger, grief,
but does not feel them.
As Monday cannot feel Tuesday,
reach back to Wednesday
as a mother reaches out for her found child.
As this life is not a gate, but the horse plunging through it.
Not a bell,
but the sound of the bell in the bell-shape,
lashing full strength with the first blow from inside the iron.
- Jane Hirshfield
"Where do we find ourselves? In a series of which we do not know the extremes, and believe that it has none. We wake and find ourselves on a stair; there are stairs below us, which we seem to have ascended; there are stairs above us, many a one, which go upward and out of sight. But the Genius which, according to the old belief, stands at the door by which we enter, and gives us the lethe to drink, that we may tell no tales, mixed the cup too strongly, and we cannot shake off the lethargy now at noonday. Sleep lingers all our lifetime about our eyes, as night hovers all day in the boughs of the fir-tree. All things swim and glitter. Our life is not so much threatened as our perception. Ghostlike we glide through nature, and should not know our place again. Did our birth fall in some fit of indigence and frugality in nature, that she was so sparing of her fire and so liberal of her earth, that it appears to us that we lack the affirmative principle, and though we have health and reason, yet we have no superfluity of spirit for new creation? We have enough to live and bring the year about, but not an ounce to impart or to invest. Ah that our Genius were a little more of a genius!"
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Essays: Second Series
To the New Year
With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few
high leaves that do not stir
as though they had not noticed
and did not know you at all
then the voice of a dove calls
from far away in itself
to the hush of the morning
so this is the sound of you
here and now whether or not
anyone hears it this is
where we have come with our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible
- W. S. Merwin