A Map of the World
One of the ancient maps of the world
Is heart-shaped, carefully drawn
And once washed with bright colors,
Though the colors have faded
As you might expect feelings to fade
From a fragile old heart, the brown map
Of a life. But feeling is indelible,
And longing infinite, a starburst compass
Pointing in all the directions
Two lovers might go, a fresh breeze
Swelling their sails, the future uncharted,
Still far from the edge
Where the sea pours into the stars.
- Ted Kooser
the vale of soul-making
Moon, plum blossoms,
and the day goes.
- Kobayashi Issa
"Starting from where you are now, you choose. And in choosing, you also choose who you will be. If this sounds difficult and unnerving, it's because it is. Sartre does not deny that the need to keep making decisions brings constant anxiety. He heightens this anxiety by pointing out that what you do really matters. You should make your choices as though you were choosing on behalf of the whole of humanity, taking the entire burden of responsibility for how the human race behaves. If you avoid this responsibility by fooling yourself that you are the victim of circumstances or of someone else's bad advice, you're failing to meet the demands of human life and choosing a fake existence, cut off from your own authenticity."
- Sarah Bakewell
At the Existentialist Café
"No one yet has made a list of places where the extraordinary may happen and where it may not. Still, there are indications. Among crowds, in drawing rooms, among easements and comforts and pleasures, it is seldom seen. It likes the out-of-doors. It likes the concentrating mind. It likes solitude. It is more likely to stick to the risk-taker than the ticket-taker. It isn't that it would disparage comforts, or the set routines of the world, but that its concern is directed to another place. Its concern is the edge, and the making of a form out of the formlessness that is beyond the edge."
- Mary Oliver
"Reality is what we take to be true. What we take to be true is what we believe. What we believe is based upon our perceptions. What we perceive depends on what we look for. What we look for depends on what we think. What we think depends on what we perceive. What we perceive determines what we believe. What we believe determines what we take to be true. What we take to be true is our reality."
- David Bohm
- Linden Fern
"What makes people good communicators is, in essence, an ability not to be fazed by the more problematic or offbeat aspects of their own characters. They can contemplate their anger, their sexuality, and their unpopular, awkward, or unfashionable opinions without losing confidence or collapsing into self-disgust. They can speak clearly because they have managed to develop a priceless sense of their own acceptability. They like themselves well enough to believe that they are worthy of, and can win, the goodwill of others if only they have the wherewithal to present themselves with the right degree of patience and imagination."
- Alain de Botton
These are the four lessons I have learned,
One from Martha Graham,
three others from here and there -
Walk as though you'd been given one brown eye and one blue,
Think as though you thought best with somebody else's brain,
Write as though you had in hand the last pencil on earth,
Pray as though you were praying with someone else's soul.
- Charles Wright
Suppose for a moment you live in a land,
Amazed at what happens during summer solstice.
Very strange things begin to occur,
Instantly, there is little darkness,
Night that we are so used to
Gone; what is left is the brilliant colors.
Daylight from dusk to dawn to dusk again,
Alight in all its energy and brightness.
Yes, we are north of the sixtieth parallel;
Land of the midnight sun.
I have been here before and seen things,
Gazed upon the horizon, waiting for darkness to reappear,
Holding on to summer in all its life, love and beauty;
To see it ebb once more as daylight fades to night.
- C. M. Davidson Pickett
Ten Things I Need to Know
The brightest stars are the first to explode. Also hearts. It is important to pay attention to love's high voltage signs. The mockingbird is really ashamed of its own feeble song lost beneath all those he has to imitate. It's true, the Carolina Wren caught in the bedroom yesterday died because he stepped on a glue trap and tore his wings off. Maybe we have both fallen through the soul's thin ice already. Even Ethiopia is splitting off from Africa to become its own continent. Last year it moved 10 feet. This will take a million years. There's always this nostalgia for the days when Time was so unreal it touched us only like the pale shadow of a hawk. Parmenedes transported himself above the beaten path of the stars to find the real that was beyond time. The words you left are still smoldering like the cigarette left in my ashtray as if it were a dying star. The thin thread of its smoke is caught on the ceiling. When love is threatened, the heart crackles with anger like kindling. It's lucky we are not like hippos who fling dung at each other with their ridiculously tiny tails. Okay, that's more than ten things I know. Let's try twenty five, no, let's not push it, twenty. How many times have we hurt each other not knowing? Destiny wears her clothes inside out. Each desire is a memory of the future. The past is a fake cloud we've pasted to a paper sky. That is why our dreams are the most real thing we possess. My logic here is made of your smells, your thighs, your kiss, your words. I collect stars but have no place to put them. You take my breath away only to give back a purer one. The way you dance creates a new constellation. Off the Thai coast they have discovered a new undersea world with sharks that walk on their fins. In Indonesia, a kangaroo that lives in a tree. Why is the shadow I cast always yours? Okay, let's say I list 33 things, a solid symbolic number. It's good to have a plan so we don't lose ourselves, but then who has taken the ladder out of the hole I've dug for myself? How can I revive the things I've killed inside you? The real is a sunset over a shanty by the river. The keys that lock the door also open it. When we shut out each other, nothing seems real except the empty caves of our hearts, yet how arrogant to think our problems finally matter when thousands of children are bayoneted in the Congo this year. How incredible to think of those soldiers never having loved. Nothing ever ends. Will this? Byron never knew where his epic, Don Juan, would end and died in the middle of it. The good thing about being dead is that you don't have to go through all that dying again. You just toast it. See, the real is what the imagination decants. You can be anywhere with the turn of a few words. Some say the feeling of out-of-the-body travel is due to certain short circuits in parts of the brain. That doesn't matter because I'm still drifting towards you. Inside you are cumulous clouds I could float on all night. The difference is always between what we say we love and what we love. Tonight, for instance, I could drink from the bowl of your belly. It doesn't matter if our feelings shift like sands beneath the river, there's still the river. Maybe the real is the way your palms fit against my face, or the way you hold my life inside you until it is nothing at all, the way this plant droops, this flower called Heart's Bursting Flower, with its beads of red hanging from their delicate threads any breeze might break, any word might shatter, any hurt might crush.
- Richard Jackson
The Summer You Read Proust
Remember the summer you read Proust?
In the hammock tied to the apple trees
your daughters climbed, their shadows
merging with the shadows of the leaves
spilling onto those long arduous sentences,
all afternoon and into the evening - robins,
jays, the distant dog, the occasional swaying,
the way the hours rocked back and forth,
that gigantic book holding you in its woven nest -
you couldn't get enough pages, you wished
that with every turning a thousand were added,
the words falling you into sleep, the sleep
waking you into words, the summer you read
Proust, which lasted the rest of your life.
- Philip Terman
"A steep and unaccountable transition," Thoreau has described it "from what is called a common sense view of things, to an infinitely expanded and liberating one, from seeing things as men describe them, to seeing them as men cannot describe them.""Man's mind, like the expanding universe itself, is engaged in pouring over limitless horizons. At its heights of genius it betrays all the miraculous unexpectedness which we try vainly to eliminate from the universe. The great artist, whether he be musician, painter, or poet, is known for this absolute unexpectedness. One does not see, one does not hear, until he speaks to us out of that limitless creativity which is his gift."
- Loren Eiseley
The Night Country
Yesterday, strangely, began with showers,
laying the heat demons down and out
for a moment and the air, wet
with the ghost of something old.
Whispers like clouds of aimless particles
which one day could form something solid,
whispers and the slight reverberation
of planets softly colliding,
showering each other with dust,
which they have been trying to avoid,
hoping for a poem about something greener.
As if rock didn't survive,
and dust didn't dance on air.
- Jill Jones
from When Planets Softly Collide
Screens Jets Heaven
five branch tree
The fish are drifting calmly in their tank
between the green reeds, lit by a white glow
that passes for the sun. Blindly, the blank
glass that holds them in displays their slow
progress from end to end, familiar rocks
set into the gravel, murmuring rows
of filters, a universe the flying fox
and glass cats, Congo tetras, bristle-nose
pleocostemus all take for granted. Yet
the platys, gold and red, persist in leaping
occasionally, as if they can't quite let
alone a possibility - of wings,
maybe, once they reach the air? They die
on the rug. We find them there, eyes open in surprise.
- Kim Addonizio
The Philosopher's Club
" (...) joy is not a concept, nor indeed a word, that we are entirely comfortable with, in the present age. The idea seems out of step with a time whose characteristic notes are mordant and mocking, and whose preferred emotion is irony. Joy hints at an unrestrained enthusiasm which may be thought uncool . . It reeks of the Romantic movement. Yet it is there. Being unfashionable has no effect on its existence . . What it denotes is a happiness with an overtone of something more, which we might term an elevated or, indeed, a spiritual quality."
- Michael McCarthy
"Listen - I want to run all my life, screaming at the top of my lungs. Let all of life be an unfettered howl. Like the crowd greeting the gladiator.
Don't stop to think, don't interrupt the scream, exhale, release life's rapture. Everything is blooming. Everything is flying. Everything is screaming, choking on its screams. Laughter. Running. Let-down hair. That is all there is to life."
- Vladimir Nabokov
Refresh yourself, sister
With the water from the copper bowl with bits of ice in it -
Open your eyes under water, wash them -
Dry yourself with a rough towel and cast
A glance at a book you love.
In this way begin
A lovely and useful day.
- Bertolt Brecht
"Pay attention to the gentle ones, the ones who can hold your gaze with no discomfort, the ones who smile to themselves while sitting alone in a coffeeshop, the ones who walk as if floating. Take them in and marvel at them. Simply marvel. It takes an extraordinary person to carry themselves as if they do not live in hell."
- D. Bunyavong
"Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things."
- T. S. Eliot
Fill yourself up with the forsythias
and when the lilacs flower, stir them in too
with your blood and happiness and wretchedness,
the dark ground that seems to come with you.
Sluggish days. All obstacles overcome.
And if you say: ending or beginning, who knows,
then maybe - just maybe - the hours will carry you
into June, when the roses blow.
- Gottfried Benn
translated by Michael Hofmann
"Luckily for art, life is difficult, hard to understand, useless, and mysterious. Luckily for artists, they don't require art to do a good day's work. But critics and teachers do. A book, a story, should be smarter than its author. It is the critic or the teacher in you or me who cleverly outwits the characters with the power of prior knowledge of meetings and ends.
Stay open and ignorant."
- Grace Paley
"So much of life is invisible, inscrutable: layers of thoughts, feelings, outward events entwined with secrecies, ambiguities, ambivalences, obscurities, darknesses strongly present even to the one who's lived it - maybe especially to the one who's lived it."
- Laurie Sheck
A Monster's Notes
This Blank Page
is where I begin to exist. See, and already you
begin to know me, an insistence somewhere
that your eyes transmute into Voice - thence
the somebody as much as I am that you
apprehend. But I am more arrogant than this, I
am here before you, making the paths through
blank lines of space,
a detergent across the glass of your language,
restoring the shock of perspective
to the household kitchen window
(the view that you had grown up with
till you could see behind all the fences)
so that, following the footprints of my eyes
already quite outside the walls of
you may be lured somewhere further enough to be
more than the small note that was
extension of me.
- Thomas Shapcott
Inwards to the sun