"A man stepping into a river watches the ripple of his foot dissipate away into the waters, and he thinks about all those poems and songs that talk about impermanence, and he is tempted for a moment to become maudlin and existential about the way time washes away everything, but the truth is that his foot did make an impression, his print was there, and just for a second, even running water was perfectly etched in his image and showed that he existed, that he was there, that he had done something."
- John Brantingham
The Green of Sunset
"If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."
- C. S. Lewis
Perhaps the great error is believing we're alone,
That the others have come and gone - a momentary blip -
When all along, space might be choc-full of traffic,
Bursting at the seams with energy we neither feel
Nor see, flush against us, living, dying, deciding,
Setting solid feet down on planets everywhere,
Bowing to the great stars that command, pitching stones
At whatever are their moons. They live wondering
If they are the only ones, knowing only the wish to know,
And the great black distance they - we - flicker in.
Maybe the dead know, their eyes widening at last,
Seeing the high beams of a million galaxies flick on
At twilight. Hearing the engines flare, the horns
Not letting up, the frenzy of being. I want to be
One notch below bedlam, like a radio without a dial.
Wide open, so everything floods in at once.
And sealed tight, so nothing escapes. Not even time,
Which should curl in on itself and loop around like smoke.
So that I might be sitting now beside my father
As he raises a lit match to the bowl of his pipe
For the first time in the winter of 1959.
- Tracy K. Smith
from My God, It's Full of Stars
Life on Mars
"We are only about three hundred generations from ten thousand years ago.
"Although we are here today, tomorrow cannot be guaranteed. Keep this in mind! Keep this in mind!"
- Twelfth-century Korean Buddhist master Chinul.
Are we ready to think of all humanity as a living tree, carrying on splendidly without us? We easily regard a beehive or an ant colony as a single organism, and even a school of fish, a flock of dunlin, a herd of elk. And we easily and correctly regard an aggregate of individuals, a sponge or coral or lichen or slime mold as one creature - but us? When we people differ, and know our consciousness, and love? Even lovers, even twins, are strangers who will love and die alone. And we like it this way, at least in the West; we prefer to endure any agony of isolation rather than to merge and extinguish our selves in an abstract 'humanity' whose fate we should hold dearer than our own. Who could say, I'm in agony because my child died, but that's all right: Mankind as a whole has abundant children? The religious idea sooner or later challenges the notion of the individual. The Buddha taught each disciple to vanquish his fancy that he possessed an individual self. Huston Smith suggests that our individuality resembles a snowflake's: The seas evaporate water, clouds build and loose water in snowflakes, which dissolve and go to sea. The simile galls. What have I to do with the ocean, I with my unique and novel hexagon and spikes? Is my very mind a wave in the ocean, a wave the wind flattens, a flaw the wind draws like a finger?
We know we must yield, if only intellectually. Okay, we're a lousy snowflake. Okay, we're a tree. These dead loved ones we mourn were only those brown lower branches a tree shades and kills as it grows; the tree itself is thriving. But what kind of tree are we growing here, that could be worth such waste and pain? For each of us loses all we love, everyone we love. We grieve and leave. What marvels shall these future whizzes, damn their eyes, accomplish?"
- Annie Dillard
For the Time Being
running after my hat
Summer is late, my heart.
Words plucked out of the air
some forty years ago
when I was wild with love
and torn almost in two
scatter like leaves this night
of whistling wind and rain.
It is my heart that's late,
it is my song that's flown.
Outdoors all afternoon
under a gunmetal sky
staking my garden down,
I kneeled to the crickets trilling
underfoot as if about
to burst from their crusty shells;
and like a child again
marveled to hear so clear
and brave a music pour
from such a small machine.
What makes the engine go?
Desire, desire, desire.
The longing for the dance
stirs in the buried life.
One season only,
and it's done.
So let the battered old willow
thrash against the windowpanes
and the house timbers creak.
Darling, do you remember
the man you married? Touch me,
remind me who I am.
- Stanley Kunitz
Passing Through: The Later Poems
Sweater Weather: A Love Song to Language
Never better, mad as a hatter,
right as rain, might and main,
hanky-panky, hot toddy,
hoity-toity, cold shoulder,
bowled over, rolling in clover,
low blow, no soap, hope
against hope, pay the piper,
liar liar pants on fire,
high and dry, shoo-fly pie,
fiddle-faddle, fit as a fiddle,
sultan of swat, muskrat
ramble, fat and sassy,
flimflam, happy as a clam,
cat's pajamas, bee's knees,
peas in a pod, pleased as punch,
pretty as a picture, nothing much,
lift the latch, double dutch,
early bird, feathered friend,
dumb cluck, buck up,
roly-poly, holy moly,
loose lips sink ships,
spitting image, nip in the air,
hale and hearty, part and parcel,
upsy-daisy, lazy days,
maybe baby, up to snuff,
spic and span, handyman
cool as a cucumber, blue moon,
high as a kite, night and noon,
love me or leave me, seventh heaven,
up and about, over and out.
- Sharon Bryan
Let the bucket of memory down into the well,
bring it up. Cool, cool minutes. No one
stirring, no plans. Just being there.
This is what the whole thing is about.
- William Stafford
I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
"Live in the layers,
not on the litter."
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.
- Stanley Kunitz
your man for fun in rapidan
"Picture time travel as nothing more than knocking your half-read book to the floor and losing your place. You pick up the book and open the pages to a scene too early or late, but never exactly where you'd been reading."
- Chuck Palahniuk
The world is a magic book, and we its sentences.
We read it and read ourselves.
We close it and turn the page down
And never come back,
Returned to what we once were before we became what we are.
This is the tale the world tells, this is the way it ends.
- Charles Wright
Praise the light of late November,
the thin sunlight that goes deep in the bones.
Praise the crows chattering in the oak trees;
though they are clothed in night, they do not
despair. Praise what little there's left:
the small boats of milkweed pods, husks, hulls,
shells, the architecture of trees. Praise the meadow
of dried weeds: yarrow, goldenrod, chicory,
the remains of summer. Praise the blue sky
that hasn't cracked yet. Praise the sun slipping down
behind the beechnuts, praise the quilt of leaves
that covers the grass: Scarlet Oak, Sweet Gum,
Sugar Maple. Though darkness gathers, praise our crazy
fallen world; it's all we have, and it's never enough.
- Barbara Crooker
With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp'd, break from the trees
- Adelaide Crapsey
Fall's leaves are redder than
spring's flowers, have no pollen,
and also sometimes fly, as the wind
schools them out or down in shoals
or droves: though I
have not been here long, I can
look up at the sky at night and tell
how things are likely to go for
the next hundred million years:
the universe will probably not find
a way to vanish nor I
in all that time reappear.
- A. R. Ammons
"And tracing the labyrinthine ways of your mind, the haphazard vagaries of your thoughts at ease, the odds and ends of your mental surplus you carelessly throw at the world, one wants to be at a loss, in a maze; amazed, and amazingly unabashed."
- Adam Zagajewski
"Outwardly, I fulfill my duties satisfactorily at the office, not my inner duties, however, and every unfulfilled inner duty becomes a misfortune that never leaves."
- Franz Kafka
The Diaries of Franz Kafka
"Even now, only rarely am I able to convince myself that my reluctance to pass on my most secret reflections, meditations, theorizings, all the modes by which I manage to distract myself, arises from my belief that out of my appalling inner universe nothing anyway could possibly be extracted, departicularized, and offered as an instance of anything at all to anyone else."
- C. K. Williams
Middle age refers more
to landscape than to time:
it's as if you'd reached
the top of a hill
and could see all the way
to the end of your life,
so you know without a doubt
that it has an end -
not that it will have,
but that it does have,
if only in outline -
so for the first time
you can see your life whole,
beginning and end not far
from where you stand,
the horizon in the distance -
the view makes you weep,
but it also has the beauty
of symmetry, like the earth
seen from space: you can't help
but admire it from afar,
especially now, while it's simple
to re-enter whenever you choose,
lying down in your life,
waking up to it
just as you always have -
except that the details resonate
by virtue of being contained,
as your own words
coming back to you
define the landscape,
remind you that it won't go on
like this forever.
- Sharon Bryan
"If only we could listen more carefully, look more closely - someday something will happen, the inner reality will stand revealed. At the same time I realize that this sense of mystery, of secrets dwelling in these streets, in this park, is fleeting and hard to defend. If someone were to ask me ironically, "Mr. Zagajewski, what actual mystery do you have in mind?," I'd be hard-pressed to answer. I also know that there are people, some of them highly intelligent, who can never be brought to acknowledge the postulate of a mystery hidden in a city, or a park, or a quiet street at dusk. No, they'd say, everything can be checked and measured, so and so many bird species make their home in the park, including two subspecies of woodpeckers, along with twelve squirrels, maybe two martens, and five bums. The policemen on duty might easily survey the park and write up an unbiased report conclusively proving that no secrets had been unearthed."
- Adam Zagajewski
"There is something you can tell people over and over, and with feeling and eloquence, and still never say it well enough for it to be more than news from abroad - people have no readiness for it, no empathy. It is the news of personal aging - of climbing, and knowing it, to some unrepeatable pitch and coming forth on the other side, which is pleasant still but which is, inarguably, different - which is the beginning of descent. It is the news that no one is singular, that no argument will change the course, that one's time is more gone than not, and what is left waits to be spent gracefully and attentively, if not quite so actively."
- Mary Oliver
Nowhere is it the same place as yesterday.
None of us is the same person as yesterday.
We finally die from the exhaustion of becoming.
This downward cellular jubilance is shared
by the wind, bugs, birds, bears and rivers,
and perhaps the black holes in galactic space
where our souls will all be gathered in an invisible
thimble of antimatter. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.
- Jim Harrison
No, no more: this should be happening in myth, in stone, or paint, not in reality, not here;
it should be an emblem of itself, not itself, something that would mean, not really have to happen,
something to go out, expand in implication from that unmoved mass of matter in the breast;
as in the image of an anguished face, in grief for us, not us as us, us as in a myth, a moral tale,
a way to tell the truth that grief is limitless, a way to tell us we must always understand
it's we who do such things, we who set the slant, embed the tip, lift the sledge and drive the nail,
drive the nail which is the axis upon which turns the brutal human world upon the world.
- C. K. Williams
from The Nail
Out in the Open
Late autumn labyrinth.
A discarded bottle lies at the entrance to the wood.
Walk in. The forest in this season is a silent palace of abandoned
Only a few, precise sounds: as if someone were lifting twigs with
as if, inside each tree-trunk, a hinge was creaking quietly.
Frost has breathed on the mushrooms and they've shrivelled up;
they are like the personal effects of the disappeared.
It is almost dusk. You need to leave now,
find your landmarks again: the rusted implements out in the field
and the house on the other side of the lake, red-brown
and square and solid as a stock-cube.
A letter from America set me off, drove me out
on a white night in June through the empty suburban streets
among built blocks, cool as blueprints, too new to have memories.
The letter in my pocket. My unquiet raging stride a kind of prayer.
Where you are now, evil and good really do have faces.
Here, it's mostly a struggle between roots, numbers, transitions of
Those that run messages for death don't shy from daylight.
They govern from glass offices. They swell in the sun.
They lean over their desks and look at you askance.
Far away from that, I find myself in front of one of the new
Many windows merging into one window.
The light of the night sky and the swaying of the trees are caught
in this still mirror-lake, up-ended in the summer night.
Violence seems unreal
for a while.
The sun is scorching. The plane comes in low,
throwing a shadow in the shape of a giant cross, rushing over the
A man crouches over something in the field.
The shadow reaches him.
For a split-second he is in the middle of the cross.
I have seen the cross that hangs from cool church arches.
Sometimes it seems like a snapshot
- Tomas Tranströmer
translated by Robin Robertson
for example, with someone who no longer is, who exists only in yellowed letters. Or long walks beside a stream, whose depths hold hidden porcelain cups - and the talks about philosophy with a timid student or the postman. A passerby with proud eyes whom you’ll never know. Friendship with this world, ever more perfect (if not for the salty smell of blood). The old man sipping coffee in Saint-Lazare, who reminds you of someone. Faces flashing by in local trains - the happy faces of travelers headed perhaps for a splendid ball, or a beheading. And friendship with yourself - since after all you don’t know who you are.
- Adam Zagajewski
"Isn't it wonderful to be alive?
You know, you can forget all about it.
Then suddenly you remember, and think of all the things you can do. Here I am. I can walk around. I can talk. I can see things and remember things.
I am alive.
- Sophia Loren
live & learn
"It means for us simply that we must be careful with our lives, for Christ's sake, because it would seem that they are the only lives we are going to have in this puzzling and perilous world, and so they are very precious and what we do with them matters enormously."
- Frederick Buechner
Secrets in the Dark
I take my glasses off
it is the hard
edge of things
i am avoiding
so that i take my glasses off
and then i cannot tell
which are the leaves
and which the angels
like that man
who lived with lepers
not noticing what was sin
and what was grace
visioning visions vision
i take my glasses off
so i can see
- Lucille Clifton
The Half-Finished Heaven
Despondency breaks off its course.
Anguish breaks off its course.
The vulture breaks off its flight.
The eager light streams out,
even the ghosts take a draught.
And our paintings see daylight,
our red beasts of the ice-age studios.
Everything begins to look around.
We walk in the sun in hundreds.
Each man is a half-open door
leading to a room for everyone.
The endless ground under us.
The water is shining among the trees.
The lake is a window into the earth.
- Tomas Tranströmer
translated by Robin Fulton
"Week after week, year after year, after art class I walked the vast museum, and lost myself in the arts, or the sciences. Scientists, it seemed to me as I read the labels on display cases (bivalves, univalves; ungulates, lagomorphs), were collectors and sorters, as I had been. They noticed the things that engaged the curious mind: the way the world develops and divides, colony and polyp, population and tissue, ridge and crystal. Artists, for their part, noticed the things that engaged the mind's private and idiosyncratic interior, that area where the life of senses mingles with the life of the spirit: the shattering of light into color, and the way it shades off round a bend. The humble attention painters gave to the shadow of a stalk or the reflected sheen under a chin, or the lapping layers of strong stokes, included and extended the scientists' vision of each least thing as unendingly interesting. But artists laid down the vision in the form of beauty bare - Man Walking - radiant and fierce, inexplicable without the math.
It all got noticed: the horse's shoulders pumping; the sunlight warping the air over a hot field; the way the leaves turn color, brightly, cell by cell; and even the splitting, half-resigned feeling you have when you notice you are walking on the earth for a while now - set down for a spell - in this particular time for no particular reason, here."
- Annie Dillard
An American Childhood
- Jeffrey Harrison