At Seventy-Five: Re-Reading An Old Book
My prayers have been answered, if they were prayers. I live.
I'm alive, and even in rather good health, I believe.
If I'd quit smoking I might live to be a hundred.
Truly this is astonishing, after the poverty and pain,
The suffering. Who would have thought that petty
Endurance could achieve so much?
And prayers -
Were they prayers? Always I was adamant
In my irreligion, and had good reason to be.
Yet prayer is not, I see in old age now,
A matter of doctrine or discipline, but rather
A movement of the natural human mind
Bereft of its place among the animals, the other
Animals. I prayed. Then on paper I wrote
Some of the words I said, which are these poems.
- Hayden Carruth
"What else is going on right this minute while ground water creeps under my feet? The galaxy is careening in a slow, muffled widening. If a million solar systems are born every hour, then surely hundreds burst into being as I shift my weight to the other elbow. The sun's surface is now exploding; other stars implode and vanish, heavy and black, out of sight. Meteorites are arcing to earth invisibly all day long. On the planet, the winds are blowing: the polar easterlies, the westerlies, the northeast and southeast trades. Somewhere, someone under full sail is becalmed, in the horse latitudes, in the doldrums; in the northland, a trapper is maddened, crazed, by the eerie scent of the chinook, the sweater, a wind that can melt two feet of snow in a day. The pampero blows, and the tramontane, and the Boro, sirocco, levanter, mistral. Lick a finger; feel the now.
Spring is seeping north, towards me and away from me, at sixteen miles a day. Along estuary banks of tidal rivers all over the world, snails in black clusters like currants are gliding up and down the stems of reed and sedge, migrating every moment with the dip and swing of tides. The sharks I saw are roving up and down the coast. If the sharks cease roving, if they still their twist and rest for a moment, they die. They need new water pushed into their gills; they need dance. Somewhere east of me, on another continent, it is sunset, and starlings in breathtaking bands are winding high in the sky to their evening roost. The mantis egg cases are tied to the mock-orange hedge; within each case, within each egg, cells elongate, narrow, and split; cells bubble and curve inward, align, harden or hollow or stretch. And where are you now?"
- Annie Dillard
"As they say 'to be in the world, but not of the world.' You can go to the Himalayas and miss it completely, and you can be stuck in the middle of New York and be very spiritual. I mean, I noticed in certain places, like New York, it brings out a certain thing in myself. If I go to some place like Switzerland, I find a lot of uptight people because they're living amongst so much beauty there's no urgency in trying to find the beauty within themselves. If you're stuck in New York you have to somehow look within yourself - otherwise you'd go crackers. So, in a way, it's good to be able to go in and out of both situations. Most people think when the world gets itself together we'll all be okay. I don't see that situation arriving. I think one by one, we all free ourselves from the chains we have chained ourselves to. But I don't think that suddenly some magic happens and the whole lot of us will all be liberated in one throw."
- George Harrison
"Few realize that political action offers little solution to the world's major problems. Few understand that the elite have created political parties in order to prevent real change from ever taking place. The political arena is merely the "sty" in which two or more mutually hostile agencies, created by the same hidden hand, get the chance to pummel one another. As alternative researcher Juri Lina so brilliantly put it: When the left wing Freemason is finished, the right wing Freemason takes over."
- R. Buckminster Fuller
I think I can remember
being dead. Many times, in winter,
I approached Zeus. Tell me, I would ask him,
how can I endure the earth?
- Louise Glück
The word continues to fall
in splendor around us
Window half shadow window half moon
back yard like a book of snow
That holds nothing and that nothing holds
not too prescient not too true.
- Charles Wright
from Silent Journal
"Anywhere - and, it follows, nowhere - can be a place. As long as we are there, to think and talk, to listen and respond. The world, once conscious of itself in the form of human making, is a vast concert hall. What sounds there is not the divine music of celestial spheres, as the ancient Greek mathematicians believed, but the sound of one human after another issuing the daily plea: to be heard, to be understood, to be accommodated."
- Mark Kingwell
"Everything is argued over in this world. Apart from only one thing that is not argued over. Nobody argues about democracy. Democracy is there as if it was some sort of saint in the altar from whom miracles are no longer expected. But it's there as a reference. A reference. Democracy. And no one attends to the matter that the democracy in which we live is a democracy taken captive, conditioned, amputated. Because the power, the power of the citizen, the power of each one of us, is limited, in the political sphere, I repeat, in the political sphere, to remove a government that we do not like and replace it with another one that perhaps we might like in the future. Nothing else. But the big decisions are taken in a different sphere, and we all know which one that is. The big international financial organizations, the IMFs, the World Trade Organization, the World Banks, the OECDs. Of all - not one of these entities is democratic. And so, how can we keep talking about democracy, if those who effectively govern the world are not chosen democratically by the people? Who chooses the representatives of each country in those organizations? Your respective peoples? No. Where then is the democracy?"
- José Saramago
"And we the people are so vulnerable. Our bodies are shot with mortality. Our legs are fear and our arms are time. These chill humors seep through our capillaries, weighting each cell with an icy dab of nonbeing, and that dab grows and swells and sucks the cell dry. That is why physical courage is so important - it fills, as it were, the holes - and why it is so invigorating. The least brave act, chance taken and passage won, makes you feel loud as a child."
- Annie Dillard
"I'll tell you right now, the doors to the world of the wild self are few but precious. If you have a deep scar, that is a door; if you have an old, old story, that is a door. If you love the sky and the water so much that you almost cannot bear it, that is a door. If you yearn for a deeper life, a full life, a sane life, that is a door."
- Clarissa Pinkola Estés
The mind makes its daily pilgrimage
Through riff-raff moments. Then,
Back into the caprice case to dream
In a circle, a pony goes round.
The circle's association: There's a center
To almost everything but never
Any certainty. Nothing is
More malleable than a moment. We were
Only yesterday breathing in a sea.
Some summer sun
Asked us over and over we went. The sand was hot.
We were only yesterday tender hearted
Waiting. To be something.
A spring. And then someone says, Sit down,
We have a heart for you to forget. A mind to suffer
With. So, experience. So, the circus tent.
- Mary Jo Bang
from February Elegy
"We have not overcome our condition, and yet we know it better. We know that we live in contradiction, but we also know that we must refuse this contradiction and do what is needed to reduce it. Our task as humans is to find the few principles that will calm the infinite anguish of free souls. We must mend what has been torn apart, make justice imaginable again in a world so obviously unjust, give happiness a meaning once more to peoples poisoned by the misery of the century. Naturally, it is a superhuman task. But superhuman is the term for tasks we take a long time to accomplish, that's all.
Let us know our aims then, holding fast to the mind, even if force puts on a thoughtful or a comfortable face in order to seduce us. The first thing is not to despair. Let us not listen too much to those who proclaim that the world is at an end. Civilizations do not die so easily, and even if our world were to collapse, it would not have been the first. It is indeed true that we live in tragic times. But too many people confuse tragedy with despair. "Tragedy," D. H. Lawrence said, "ought to be a great kick at misery." This is a healthy and immediately applicable thought. There are many things today deserving such a kick."
- Albert Camus
running 'cause i can't fly
We're so overdue for joy,
we hook up with strangers,
unfolding our shivering souls
beneath down comforters
as lightly as kin
on our bodies.
In our reckless need, we neglect
to hide our celestial flesh,
let slip our flawlessness, allow
our wings. By Advent,
we remember the reason
we left in the first place.
It wasn't the wars, the callousness,
the cold. It may be
impossible to love you.
- Marjorie Stelmach
from Our Better Angels
A boy told me
if he roller-skated fast enough
his loneliness couldn't catch up to him,
the best reason I ever heard
for trying to be a champion.
What I wonder tonight
pedaling hard down King William Street
is if it translates to bicycles.
A victory! To leave your loneliness
panting behind you on some street corner
while you float free into a cloud of sudden azaleas,
pink petals that have never felt loneliness,
no matter how slowly they fell.
- Naomi Shihab Nye
"While much psychology emphasizes the familial causes of angst in humans, the cultural component carries as much weight, for culture is the family of family. If the family of the family has various sicknesses, then all families within that culture will have to struggle with the same malaises.
There is a saying, cultura cura, culture cures. If culture is a healer, the families learn how to heal; they will struggle less, be more reparative, far less wounding, far more graceful and loving. In a culture where the predator rules, all new life needing to be born, all old life needing to be gone, is unable to move and the soul-lives of its citizenry are frozen with both fear and spiritual famine."
- Clarissa Pinkola Estés
Excess of Air
And so ask: winter? this winter? not with writing pressing in. A variety of large and empty, but perhaps only a tone. It needn't bring tears to your eyes. Whereas winter means. The edge of the wood already distances itself. Lightness born of fatigue. Regardless of kisses, snow weighing down. The branches. Not feeling.
- Rosmarie Waldrop
"The house lights go off and the footlights come on. Even the chattiest stop chattering as they wait in darkness for the curtain to rise. In the orchestra pit, the violin bows are poised. The conductor has raised his baton. In the silence of a midwinter dusk, there is far off in the deeps of it somewhere a sound so faint that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of the silence itself. You hold your breath to listen. You walk up the steps to the front door. The empty windows at either side of it tell you nothing, or almost nothing. For a second you catch a whiff of some fragrance that reminds you of a place you've never been and a time you have no words for. You are aware of the beating of your heart.
The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment."
- Frederick Buechner
Whistling in the Dark: A Doubter's Dictionary
"These are pregnant times throughout the world. Just as in geology we have breaking lines between huge blocks of earth, so today we are at the juncture between great blocks of time. This is the place of storm and volcano - and of becoming. In today's reality, a small act can have far-reaching consequences, beyond imagination, whereas things that will be done five or ten years from today will be so much less effective. This is precisely the meaning of pregnant times: Anything can be born. And this is exactly the time when one must not sleep."
- Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion - put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
- Wendell Berry
from Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front
The Country of Marriage
"When I was born, humanity was 95 per cent illiterate. Since I've been born, the population has doubled and that total population is now 65 per cent literate. That's a gain of 130-fold of the literacy. When humanity is primarily illiterate, it needs leaders to understand and get the information and deal with it. When we are at the point where the majority of humans themselves are literate, able to get the information, we're in an entirely new relationship to the Universe. We are at the point where the integrity of the individual counts and not what the political leadership or the religious leadership says to do."
- R. Buckminster Fuller
Mind's centrifuge spins in self-defense.
Attempts to spare the core from engulfment
by noise shocks sales extortions hate;
and drowning by social media. Centrifuge
plays a centrifugue, its own idio-
synchronized music, which insulates,
and which also helps mind evade ego,
culture's target. A not-you seems
to glide in the fugue. Glowing
multi-colored rain falls. "Starwater,"
it's called by locals, although
there is no locality. The fogged
not-you folds itself into an unbounded
flow of other disengaged personas.
Soon sadly your non-self hears a noise,
recognizes it as name, and everything's
recalled, ego re-established. The
spinning and its spun music cease.
Your tense sense of the world resumes.
Out of digital Hades comes the flood again.
- Hans Ostrom
"That it's rough out there and chancy is no surprise. Every live thing is a survivor on a kind of extended emergency bivouac. But at the same time we are also created. In the Koran, Allah asks "the heaven and the earth, and all in between, thinkest thou I made them in jest?" It's a good question. What do we think of the created universe, spanning an unthinkable void with an unthinkable profusion of forms? Or what do we think of nothingness, those sickening reaches of time in either direction?"
- Annie Dillard
"Divinity is not playful. The universe was not made in jest but in solemn, incomprehensible earnest. By a power that is unfathomably secret, and holy, and fleet. There is nothing to be done about it, but ignore it, or see. And then you walk fearlessly, eating what you must, growing wherever you can, like the monk on the road who knows precisely how vulnerable he is, who takes no comfort among death-forgetting men, and who carries his vision of vastness and might around in his tunic like a live coal which neither burns nor warms him, but with which he will not part."
- Annie Dillard
"Like the sea, we are always in motion. The waves loom in our dreams and in our nightmares through all of time, their rhythms pulsing through us. They move across a faint horizon, the rush of love and the surge of grief, the respite of peace and then fear again, the heart that beats and then lies still, the rise and fall and rise and fall of all of it, the incoming and the outgoing, the infinite procession of life. And the ocean wraps the earth, a reminder. The mysteries come forward in waves."
- Susan Casey
running after my hat
Freedom is not following a river.
Freedom is following a river,
though, if you want to.
It is deciding now by what happens now.
It is knowing that luck makes a difference.
No leader is free; no follower is free -
the rest of us can often be free.
Most of the world are living by
creeds too odd, chancy, and habit-forming
to be worth arguing about by reason.
If you are oppressed, wake up about
four in the morning: most places,
you can usually be free some of the time
if you wake up before other people.
- William Stafford
The Way It Is
3 quarks daily
A blue sheen
radiates from my clothes.
Jangling tambourines of ice.
I close my eyes.
There is a soundless world
there is a crack
where dead people
are smuggled across the border.
- Tomas Tranströmer
translated by Robin Fulton
The Sad Gondola
the vale of soul-making