"the life you lead is a midnight thing, always a hair's breadth from the witching hour; it is volatile, it is threadbare; it is carefree in the true sense of that term; it is light, losable like a key or a hair clip. And it is lethargy: why not sit all morning, all day, all year, under the same cypress tree drawing the figure eight in the dust? More than that, it is disaster, it is chaos: why not overthrow a government on a whim, why not blind the man you hate, why not go mad, go gibbering through the town like a loon, waving your hands, tearing your hair? There's nothing to stop you - or rather anything could stop you, any hour, any minute."
- Zadie Smith
"Masquerades disclose the reality of souls. As long as no one sees who we are, we can tell the most intimate details of our life. I sometimes muse over this sketch of a story about a man afflicted by one of those personal tragedies born of extreme shyness who one day, while wearing a mask I don't know where, told another mask all the most personal, most secret, most unthinkable things that could be told about his tragic and serene life. And since no outward detail would give him away, he having disguised even his voice, and since he didn't take careful note of whoever had listened to him, he could enjoy the ample sensation of knowing that somewhere in the world there was someone who knew him as not even his closest and finest friend did. When he walked down the street he would ask himself if this person, or that one, or that person over there might not be the one to whom he'd once, wearing a mask, told his most private life. Thus would be born in him a new interest in each person, since each person might be his only, unknown confidant."
- Fernando Pessoa
"Surely we cannot take an open question like the supernatural and shut it with a bang, turning the key of the madhouse on all the mystics of history. You cannot take the region of the unknown and calmly say that, though you know nothing about it, you know all the gates are locked. We do not know enough about the unknown to know that it is unknowable."
- G. K. Chesterton
"In a world which is indeed our world, the one we know, a world without devils, sylphides, or vampires, there occurs an event which cannot be explained by the laws of this same familiar world. The person who experiences the event must opt for one of two possible solutions: either he is the victim of an illusion of the senses, of a product of the imagination - and the laws of the world then remain what they are; or else the event has indeed taken place, it is an integral part of reality - but then this reality is controlled by laws unknown to us."
- Tzvetan Todorov
"The ancient Druids are said to have taken a special interest in in-between things like mistletoe, which is neither quite a plant nor quite a tree, and mist, which is neither quite a rain nor quite air, and dreams, which are neither quite waking nor quite sleep. They believed that in such things as those they were able to glimpse the mystery of the two worlds at once."
- Frederick Buechner
Whistling in the Dark
"In Ireland there are many stories of haunted houses. There may be a room in which one senses a presence or hears footsteps or a strange voice. Such haunted places remain uninhabited. People are afraid to go there. The place is forsaken and left to deepen ever further into the shadow of itself. The way you think about your life can turn your soul into a haunted room. You are afraid to risk going in there anymore. Your fantasy peoples this room of the heart with sad presences, which ultimately become disturbing and sinister. The haunted room in the mind installs lonesomeness at the heart of your life. It would be devastating in the autumn of your life to look back and recognize that you had created a series of haunted rooms in your heart. Fear and negativity are immense forces, which constantly tussle with us. They long to turn the mansions of the soul into a totally haunted house. These are the living conditions for which fear and negativity long, and in which they thrive. We were sent here to live life to the full. When you manage to be generous in your passion and vulnerability, life always comes to bless you. Had you but the courage to acknowledge the haunted inner room, turn the key, and enter, you would encounter nothing strange or sinister there. You would meet some vital self of yours that you had banished during a time of pain or difficulty. Sometimes, when life squeezes you into lonely crevices, you may have to decide between survival or breaking apart. At such times, you can be harsh with yourself and settle to be someone other than who you really long to be. At such a time, you can do nothing else; you have to survive. But your soul always remains faithful to your longing to become who you really are. The banished self from an earlier time of life remains within you waiting to be released and integrated. The soul has its own logic of loyalty and concealment. Ironically, it is usually in its most awkward rooms that the special blessings and healing are locked away."
- John O'Donohue
the beauty we love
The elm weaves the field's late light, this hill
hanging from the tree's roots like the moon
From its shadow and the whole
world beneath suspended.
Roots knead the earth's thick sorrow.
Still, leaves from this.
From this unshackling, birdsong.
I am a blade of corn where you kneel,
wind and quaking stalk.
The elm's body a vase of poured sky.
The tree will die.
Someday, the tree will die.
For now, this axis -
what we choose to compass by.
- Hannah Fries
"Sometimes an abyss opens between Tuesday and Wednesday but twenty-six years could pass in a moment. Time is not a straight line, it's more of a labyrinth, and if you press close to the wall at the right place you can hear the hurrying steps and the voices, you can hear yourself walking past on the other side."
- Tomas Tranströmer
The Great Enigma
On the Idea of Poetic Responsibility
I want to call in sick today
and stay home and write poetry.
I am sick, after all,
sick of clock-watching and making a living.
sick of dry-erase boards
and overstuffed books of overread literature.
sick of Frost and students,
not that any of them have done anything wrong.
I love Frost, and on any other day
I might want nothing more than to be with my students
and hear how they too have promises to keep,
and help them see the slipperiness of Frost.
But today there are more important things to do.
There is reverie and reflection.
There is memory to be pursued.
There are trails diverging in my mind.
There is this poem, and there is you
waiting for all the promises to be filled.
- Scott Owens
"And I would be the wind, whispering through the tangled woods, running airy fingers over the island's face, tingling in the chill of concealed places, sighing secrets in the dawn. And I would be the light, flinging over the island, covering it with flash and shadow, shining on rocks and pools, softening to a touch in the glow of dusk. If I were the rain and wind and light, I would encircle the island like the sky surrounding earth, flood through it like a heart driven pulse, shine from inside it like a star in flames, burn away to blackness in the closed eyes of its night."
- Richard Nelson
I wonder if I know enough to know what it's really like
to have been here: have I seen sights enough to give
seeing over: the clouds, I've waited with white
October clouds like these this afternoon often before and
taken them in, but white clouds shade other white
ones gray, had I noticed that: and though I've
followed the leaves of many falls, have I spent time with
the wire vines left when frost's red dyes strip the leaves
away: is more missing than was never enough: I'm sure
many of love's kinds absolve and heal, but were they passing
rapids or welling stirs: I suppose I haven't done and seen
enough yet to go, and, anyway, it may be way on on the way
before one picks up the track of the sufficient, the
world-round reach, spirit deep, easing and all, not just mind
answering itself but mind and things apprehended at once
as one, all giving all way, not a scrap of question holding back.
- A. R. Ammons
five branch tree
"For what it's worth: it's never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There's no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you're proud of. If you find that you're not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again."
- Eric Roth
"You must be ready to accept the possibility that there is a limitless range of awareness for which we now have no words; that awareness can expand beyond range of your ego, your self, your familiar identity, beyond everything you have learned, beyond your notions of space and time, beyond the differences which usually separate people from each other and from the world around them."
- Walter Evans-Wentz
The Tibetan Book of The Dead
"A person's life consists of a collection of events, the last of which could also change the meaning of the whole, not because it counts more than the previous ones but because once they are included in a life, events are arranged in an order that is not chronological but, rather, corresponds to an inner architecture."
- Italo Calvino
"Our search for meaning isn't limited to thoughts that were created to be meaningful and packaged in verse or easily extractable chunks. We can find meaning in everything - and everything is fair game. Your brain is, in fact, the ultimate commonplace collection, and everything you've ever read is in there somewhere, ready to come back into your consciousness when you want or need it."
- Will Schwalbe
We're doing a phone survey, asking
average people like yourself, attractive, cynical, smart, etc.,
people who cook with garlic, who, if married,
it's not the first time. People who have had
two or more jobs in the last three years.
We want to know what your preferred response is
when you hear,
if in fact you do hear,
the voices. Shall I clarify?
Voices that converse
on the great unhappiness and failure
that is yours. How often
would you swear you're not drunk, no,
but the trees are swaying. We're calling to ask
if you ever get confused and mistake
the swaying of trees for the lapping of water,
until you can't get your bearing. Is that when
the voices advise you, smooth
as a nail going in? Are there certain words that,
can I say, sneak in from behind, know all
the back entrances? Would you agree
the secret of their strength
is that they will not let you give in
to your hunger? How often
all you've said and all you've done, torn
like meat from a bone. Is that when you go out, walk
past lighted windows? Go to a movie? Have a coke?
Or do you hang around, drift off
till the voices wake you with a jolt or slap: "Payback time."
Like a street person in front of a diner, begging for change,
who will not let you go in and get your lousy cup of coffee
though the sign on the diner flashes: OPEN ALL NIGHT.
Are the voices familiar with, say,
streets you walked as a kid,
torn signs, dead trees?
We're asking if the voices, now or in the past,
have ever told you that you have to go back
to the path by the precipice. Because that is your path.
Would you mind answering? Or am I interrupting something?
Shall I call back later? What time would be best?
- Carole Glasser Langille
Late In A Slow Time
"Human character evermore publishes itself. The most fugitive deed and word, the mere air of doing a thing, the intimated purpose, expresses character. If you act, you show character; if you sit still, if you sleep, you show it. You think, because you have spoken nothing when others spoke, and have given no opinion on the times, on the church, on slavery, on marriage, on socialism, on secret societies, on the college, on parties and persons, that your verdict is still expected with curiosity as a reserved wisdom. Far otherwise; your silence answers very loud. You have no oracle to utter, and your fellow-men have learned that you cannot help them; for, oracles speak. Doth not wisdom cry, and understanding put forth her voice?"
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Mum Is The Word
The League of Quiet Persons meets
monthly. Its quarters are a cavernous
warehouse away from traffic. Its
business is not to discuss business.
Minutes are read silently and tacitly approved.
Members listen to rain argue with corrugated
iron, a furnace with itself. Glances
are learnéd. It is not so much refuge
from noise the members seek in such company
as implicit permission not to speak,
not to answer or to answer for,
not to pose, chat, persuade, or expound.
Podium and gavel have been banned,
indeed are viewed as weaponry.
A microphone? The horror.
Several Quiet Persons interviewed
had no comment. A recorded voice
at the main office murmured only, "You
have reached the League of Quiet
Persons. After the tone, listen."
- Hans Ostrom
"I've often thought of the forest as a living cathedral, but this might diminish what it truly is. If I have understood Koyukon teachings, the forest is not merely an expression or representation of sacredness, nor a place to invoke the sacred; the forest is sacredness itself. Nature is not merely created by God; nature is God. Whoever moves within the forest can partake directly of sacredness, experience sacredness with his entire body, breathe sacredness and contain it within himself, drink the sacred water as a living communion, bury his feet in sacredness, touch the living branch and feel the sacredness, open his eyes and witness the burning beauty of sacredness."
- Richard Nelson
The Island Within
"Nobody speaks to me. People fall in love with me, and annoy me and distress me and flatter me and excite me and - and all that sort of thing. But no one speaks to me. I sometimes think that no one can."
- Edna St. Vincent Millay
violent waves of emotion
Elegy for Those Not Yet Departed
This much I'm sure. It is hard to believe
in another morning's gift now that the evening
lawn has learned to grieve. Tonight moonlight
keeps sending its condolences, as if forgotten
whites on the line at the far end of the yard
can no longer bear a body's absence, and
that faint slant of lost light from a kitchen
window is not enough to bring anyone back.
Yet no one has left to forget that familiar way
home, those simple names of neighborhood streets:
Elm, Oak & Maple. Outside this window empty trees
keep rehearsing a sadness I wish I could ease.
Restless curtains ghost about as if they have some
other place to go. The once sure shadows have
now grown weary of their own quiet visits. Still
this room tries to hold onto everything it can.
Dresser mirror shines. Full moon shifts
to leave itself upon the polished floor - spent soul
too tired to find its body. But this is not a scene
where the sheet is slowly drawn over the head, or
the doctor helplessly closes his black leather bag.
The lawn has no reason for its plain, dark suit,
this solemn night - its one pale chrysanthemum.
Soon daylight will slip between the limbs,
begin to soften the lonesome, walled sorrow
of shadows. Even the last geese
that shall rise across this endless, gray longing
will not make much of what they leave behind -
no winter song for lifeless trees
nor grief given nights in the glove-quiet
that a pallbearer wears, finding
what it's like to touch & not feel.
- Gregory Sellers
"The wild. I have drunk it, deep and raw, and heard it's primal, unforgettable roar. We know it in our dreams, when our mind is off the leash, running wild. 'Outwardly, the equivalent of the unconscious is the wilderness: both of these terms meet, one step even further on, as one,' wrote Gary Snyder. 'It is in vain to dream of a wildness distinct from ourselves. There is none such,' wrote Thoreau. 'It is the bog in our brains and bowls, the primitive vigor of Nature in us, that inspires the dream.'
And as dreams are essential to the psyche, wildness is to life.
We are animal in our blood and in our skin. We were not born for pavements and escalators but for thunder and mud. More. We are animal not only in body but in spirit. Our minds are the minds of wild animals. Artists, who remember their wildness better than most, are animal artists, lifting their heads to sniff a quick wild scent in the air, and they know it unmistakably, they know the tug of wildness to be followed through your life is buckled by that strange and absolute obedience. ('You must have chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star,' wrote Nietzsche.) Children know it as magic and timeless play. Shamans of all sorts and inveterate misbehavers know it; those who cannot trammel themselves into a sensible job and life in the suburbs know it.
What is wild cannot be bought or sold, borrowed or copied. It is. Unmistakable, unforgettable, unshameable, elemental as earth and ice, water, fire and air, a quintessence, pure spirit, resolving into no constituents. Don't waste your wildness: it is precious and necessary."
- Jay Griffiths
Wild: An Elemental Journey
What the Wind Says
The wind says, "I am the voice beside you,
a leaf against the curb, a name you whisper
for the way it haunts you. You can hear
whatever the mind wants. I am still
holding a breath, the ghost beneath a sheet,
some lost moment a hinge finds. Open
the gate and walk away: you wish to turn
the porch light off and never look back
to the row of identical houses, your years
mortgaged with the familiar acts
of habits. Try to forget each hour spent
lying awake trying to forget, for regret
remembers regret, which is why
I never sweep the same place twice.
Often this voice is mistaken
for someone else. I remind others
of who they are, or wish to be. I know desires
better than any wildfire knows me.
So what do you wait for? A whim, a promise,
some dream? Think how dust settles
upon the shelf, how a tornado always loses
its funnel, how tomorrow becomes another day.
Think how capricious I am, for what
I bring to you, for what I take away."
- Greg Sellers
"In a world where we are left to renegotiate our traumas again and again, we have to find empathetic, patient witnesses. My grandmother used to say : Some people in your life need to be mirrors and show you who you are from time to time. Some people in your life need to be blankets and embrace everything you are from time to time. Keep your mirrors clean and bright. Keep your blankets soft and close."
- Scherezade Siobhan
In October the red leaves going brown heap and
over hayfield and dirt road, over garden and circular
and rise in a curl of wind dishevelled as
at recess, school just starting and summer done,
white quiet beginning in ice on the windshield, in
that only blue asters survive, and in the long houses
more tighten themselves for darkness and
- Donald Hall