Costumes Exchanging Glances
The rhinestone lights blink off and on.
I'm sick of explanations. A life is like Russell said
of electricity, not a thing but the way things behave.
A science of motion toward some flat surface,
some heat, some cold. Some light
can leave some after-image but it doesn't last.
Isn't that what they say? That and that
historical events exchange glances with nothingness.
- Mary Jo Bang
A man told me once that all the bad people
Were needed. Maybe not all, but your fingernails
You need; they are really claws, and we know
Claws. The sharks - what about them?
They make other fish swim faster. The hard-faced men
In black coats who chase you for hours
In dreams - that's the only way to get you
To the shore. Sometimes those hard women
Who abandon you get you to say, "You."
A lazy part of us is like a tumbleweed.
It doesn't move on its own. Sometimes it takes
A lot of Depression to get tumbleweeds moving.
Then they blow across three or four States.
This man told me that things work together.
Bad handwriting sometimes leads to new ideas;
And a careless god - who refuses to let people
Eat from the Tree of Knowledge - can lead
To books, and eventually to us. We write
Poems with lies in them, but they help a little.
- Robert Bly
TIME PASSES TIME does not pass. Time all but passes. Time usually passes. Time passing and gazing. Time has no gaze. Time as perseverance. Time as hunger. Time in a natural way. Time when you were six the day a mountain. Mountain time. Time I don't remember. Time for a dog in an alley caught in the beam of your flashlight. Time not a video. Time as paper folded to look like a mountain. Time smeared under the eyes of the miners as they rattle down into the mine. Time if you are bankrupt. Time if you are Prometheus. Time if you are all the little tubes on the roots of a gorse plant sucking greenish black moistures up into new scribbled continents. Time it takes for the postal clerk to apply her lipstick at the back of the post office before the supervisor returns. Time it takes for a cow to tip over. Time in jail. Time as overcoats in a closet. Time for a herd of turkeys skidding and surprised on ice. All the time that has soaked into the walls here. Time between the little clicks. Time compared to the wild fantastic silence of the stars. Time for the man at the bus stop standing on one leg to tie his shoe. Time taking Night by the hand and trotting off down the road. Time passes oh boy. Time got the jump on me yes it did.
- Anne Carson
Blending with the wind,
Blending with the snow,
The wind blows.
By the hearth
I stretch out my legs,
Idling my time away
Confined in this hut.
Counting the days,
I find that February, too,
Has come and gone
Like a dream.
Dewdrops on a Lotus Leaf: Zen Poems of Ryokan
translated by John Stevens
"The things you do not have to say make you rich. Saying things you do not have to say weakens your talk. Hearing things you do not need to hear dulls your hearing. And things you know before you hear them - those are you, those are why you are in the world."
- William Stafford
Crossing Unmarked Snow
"You have to return to the stillness often to balance yourself out and to keep from becoming as extreme as the jumpy little symbols that pulse through your mind. Return again and again until you come to see that you are really there all the time anyway. Until you listen to the sound of your own voice as if it were small and far away, and the sound gives you no real pleasure anymore, but the listening does, the listening contains all the richness that you used to seek.
Return over and over until you watch the movements of your mind and find that your thoughts have lost their cleverness somewhere down the line. They still ring, but ring hollow. You're no longer so easily convinced as before, and the brilliance is now in the watching. The brilliance that you sought has remained hidden behind each movement of your mind, hidden in the twisted branches of the continual seeking."
- G. Bluestone
Journeys on Mind Mountain
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
"Magic doesn't sweep you away; it gathers you up into the body of the present moment so thoroughly that all your explanations fall away: the ordinary, in all its plain and simple outrageousness, begins to shine - to become luminously, impossibly so. Every facet of the world is awake, and you within it.
The deeper I slid into the material density of the real, the more I found that there was nothing determinate or predictable about existence. Actuality, this inexhaustible mystery, cannot be domesticated. It is wildness incarnate. Reality shapeshifts."
- David Abram
Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology
beyond the fields we know
And if, as we work, we can transmit life into our work,
life, still more life, rushes into us to compensate, to be
and we ripple with life through the days.
- D. H. Lawrence
from We are Transmitters
Not anyone who says, "I'm going to be
careful and smart in matters of love,"
who says, "I'm going to choose slowly,"
but only those lovers who didn't choose at all
but were, as it were, chosen
by something invisible and powerful and uncontrollable
and beautiful and possibly even
only those know what I'm talking about
in this talking about love.
- Mary Oliver
"The world - whatever we might think when terrified by its vastness and our own impotence, or embittered by its indifference to individual suffering, of people, animals, and perhaps even plants, for why are we so sure that plants feel no pain; whatever we might think of its expanses pierced by the rays of stars surrounded by planets we've just begun to discover, planets already dead? still dead? we just don't know; whatever we might think of this measureless theater to which we've got reserved tickets, but tickets whose lifespan is laughably short, bounded as it is by two arbitrary dates; whatever else we might think of this world - it is astonishing.
But "astonishing" is an epithet concealing a logical trap. We're astonished, after all, by things that deviate from some well-known and universally acknowledged norm, from an obviousness we've grown accustomed to. Now the point is, there is no such obvious world. Our astonishment exists per se and isn't based on comparison with something else.
Granted, in daily speech, where we don't stop to consider every word, we all use phrases like "the ordinary world," "ordinary life," "the ordinary course of events" ... But in the language of poetry, where every word is weighed, nothing is usual or normal. Not a single stone and not a single cloud above it. Not a single day and not a single night after it. And above all, not a single existence, not anyone's existence in this world.
It looks like poets will always have their work cut out for them."
- Wisława Szymborska
translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh
"Writing down your thoughts is both necessary and harmful. It leads to eccentricity, narcissism, preserves what should be let go. On the other hand, these notes intensify the inner life, which, left unexpressed, slips through your fingers. If only I could find a better kind of journal, humbler, one that would preserve the same thoughts, the same flesh of life, which is worth saving.
Moreover the writer invents himself as a character in this form. He shapes himself from the shards of the everyday, from the truth of that daily life. Which is also a truth not to be scorned."
- Anna Kamieńska
translated by Clare Cavanagh
In That Great River: A Notebook
Common Book Pillow Book
Long enough since the genre was popular
we've forgotten what to call it: weird mix of quotes and collectibles, private
thoughts and uncensored meditations in brief, like locks of hair and
child height charts of your considerations
and ponderings. An abandoned art, you practice it with care: each quote
equal to the other, simple entries like coordinates of unmarked
in the sky - twenty years, over
8,000 days - the weather is "what you make of sunshine," and only
make a man successful," haven't you heard
"God is the messenger, and we are all brothers and sisters," organizations
of hate "must be fought with the ultimate crest: humanity," and you
note a quote with a love reserved
for precision and the unattained, and I
suspend like cracked meteors in the ether
of your common message: go to bed, what is truly important in this world
has already been said.
"When people deserve love the least
is when they need it the most," we are the axis
of cliche, "like mother like daughter," sign your name
on this one before I turn out the light
and resume my interrupted prayer.
- Priscila Uppal
You will flicker in these words
and in the words of others
for a while and then go out.
Even if I send them,
you will never get these letters.
Even if I see you again,
I will never see you again.
- Margaret Atwood
from Five Poems for Grandmothers
"The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something and tell what it saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see. To see clearly is poetry, prophecy and religion, all in one."
- John Ruskin
"Writing teachers invariably tell students, Write about what you know. That's, of course, what you have to do, but on the other hand, how do you know what you know until you've written it? Writing is knowing. What did Kafka know? The insurance business? So that kind of advice is foolish, because it presumes that you have to go out to a war to be able to do war. Well, some do and some don't. I've had very little experience in my life. In fact, I try to avoid experience if I can. Most experience is bad."
- E. L. Doctorow
"One of the reasons writers are so much more interested in life than others who just go on living all the time is that what the writer doesn't understand the first thing about is just what he acts like such a specialist about - and that is life. And the reason he writes is to explain it all to himself, and the less he understands to begin with, the more he probably writes. And he takes his ununderstanding, whatever it is - the face of wealth, the collapse of his father's pride, the misuses of love, hopeless poverty - he simply never gets over it. He's like an idealist who marries nearly the same woman over and over. He tries to write with different names and faces, using different professions and labors, other forms to travel the shortest distance to the way things really are."
- Grace Paley
"Monotony collapses time; novelty unfolds it. You can exercise daily and eat healthily and live a long life, while experiencing a short one. If you spend your life sitting in a cubicle and passing papers, one day is bound to blend unmemorably into the next - and disappear. That's why it's so important to change routines regularly, and take vacations to exotic locales, and have as many new experiences as possible that can serve to anchor our memories. Creating new memories stretches out psychological time, and lengthens our perception of our lives."
- Joshua Foer
Moonwalking with Einstein
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
Sometimes we are led through the doorway
by a child, sometimes
by a stranger, always a matter of grace changing
the past, for if there is anything we must change
it is the past. To look back
and see another map.
Love enough to fill
a shoe, a suitcase, a bit of ink,
a painting, a child's eyes at a chalkboard,
a bit of chalk, a bit of
bone in ash.
All that is cupped,
all that is emptied
the rush of water from a pump,
a word spelled out
on a palm.
- Anne Michaels
moved slowly across
the field held down
by stones, stitch of trees
what colour was the mist
how still was it
the iv drip before it falls
mist always at a distance
always as far as sight
I stopped the car to watch it cross the field
black earth breathing its winter breath
life can become so still
the iv drip
before it falls
earth of the body
where a life grows
- Anne Michaels
All We Saw