"If America could be, once again, a nation of self-reliant farmers, craftsmen, hunters, ranchers, and artists, then the rich would have little power to dominate others. Neither to serve nor to rule: that was the American dream."
- Edward Abbey
If a sparrow dies in flight, the sky
turns inside out accepting it.
A feather may drift about for days
to mark a moving plot
with the thin blade of a name.
But no sparrow falls.
Deeply prescient, sparrows cup their seeds
in fragile domes hollow as heavens.
In time the skies crack
and grow wide with fledglings.
Winged like eighth notes,
they hold in hollowed bones
space enough for a grave
should grace prove too slow.
- Marjorie Stelmach
"You forget that your life is a short window, that you are stuck in the present, forget how your life is still here, waiting for you, wondering where you are, going on without you. You forget that people know who you are, think about you, might even be happy to see you."
- Charles Yu
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe
At three AM you have the gift of incomprehension
wherein the galaxies make more sense
than your job or the government. Jesus at the well
with Mary Magdalene is much more vivid
than your car. You can clearly see the bear
climb to heaven on a golden rope in the children's
story no one ever wrote. Your childhood horse
named June still stomps the ground for an apple.
What is morning and what if it doesn't arrive?
- Jim Harrison
from Mother Night
"You make the mistake of thinking you have to choose, that you have to do what you want, that there are conditions for happiness. What matters - all that matters, really - is the will to happiness, a kind of enormous, ever present consciousness."
- Albert Camus
A Happy Death
"And when the day reaches its end I hear the crickets and become entirely full and unintelligible. Then come the early hours bulging full of thousands of blaring little birds. And each thing that happens to me I live by noting it down. Because I want to feel in my probing hands the living and quivering nerve of the today."
- Clarice Lispector
other sides of a nobody
I like those old movies where tires and wheels run backwards on
horse-drawn carriages pursued by indians, or Model As driven by
thugs leaning out windows with tommy guns ablaze. Of late I feel a
cold blue wind through my life and need to go backwards myself to
the outback I once knew so well where there were too many mosqui-
toes, blackflies, curious bears, flowering berry trees of sugar plum
and chokeberry, and where sodden and hot with salty sweat I'd slide
into a cold river and drift along until I floated against a warm sandbar,
thinking of driving again the gravel backroads of America at
thirty-five miles per hour in order to see the ditches and gulleys, the
birds in the fields, the mountains and rivers, the skies that hold our
10,000 generations of mothers in the clouds waiting for us to fall
back into their arms again.
- Jim Harrison
In Search of Small Gods
"But the problem is a real one, not a mere intellectual game. Because today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups . . . So I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing. It is my job to create universes, as the basis of one novel after another. And I have to build them in such a way that they do not fall apart two days later.
But I consider that the matter of defining what is real - that is a serious topic, even a vital topic. And in there somewhere is the other topic, the definition of the authentic human. Because the bombardment of pseudo-realities begins to produce inauthentic humans very quickly, spurious humans - as fake as the data pressing at them from all sides. My two topics are really one topic; they unite at this point. Fake realities will create fake humans. Or, fake humans will generate fake realities and then sell them to other humans, turning them, eventually, into forgeries of themselves. So we wind up with fake humans inventing fake realities and then peddling them to other fake humans. It is just a very large version of Disneyland.
The authentic human being is one of us who instinctively knows what he should not do, and, in addition, he will balk at doing it. He will refuse to do it, even if this brings down dread consequences to him and to those whom he loves. This, to me, is the ultimately heroic trait of ordinary people; they say no to the tyrant and they calmly take the consequences of this resistance. Their deeds may be small, and almost always unnoticed, unmarked by history. Their names are not remembered, nor did these authentic humans expect their names to be remembered. I see their authenticity in an odd way: not in their willingness to perform great heroic deeds but in their quiet refusals. In essence, they cannot be compelled to be what they are not."
- Philip K. Dick
I gaze on myself
In the stream's emerald flow
Or sit on a boulder by a cliff.
My mind, a lonely cloud,
Leans on nothing,
From the world and its endless events.
- Han Shan
"To glimpse one's own true nature is a kind of homegoing, to a place East of the Sun, West of the Moon - the homegoing that needs no home, like that waterfall on the upper Suli Gad that turns to mist before touching the earth and rises once again to the sky."
- Peter Matthiessen
The Snow Leopard
"If one day you become sick of words, as happens to us all, and you grow tired of hearing them, of saying them; if whichever you choose seems worn out, dull, disabled; if you feel nauseated when you hear 'horrible' or 'divine' for some everyday occurrence - you'll not be cured, obviously, by alphabet soup.
You must do the following: cook a plate of al dente spaghetti dressed with the simplest seasoning - garlic, oil and chili. Over the pasta toss in this mixture, grate a layer of Parmesan cheese. To the right of the deep plate full of the spaghetti thus prepared, place an open book. To the left, place an open book. In front of it a full glass of red wine. Any other company is not recommended. Turn the pages of each book at random, but they must both be poetry. Only good poets cure us of an overindulgence in words. Only simple essential food cures us of gluttony."
- Héctor Abad Faciolince
Recipes for Sad Women
All my life I've looked for this slow light, this smallish light
Starting to seep, coppery blue,
out of the upper right-hand corner of things,
Down through the trees and off the back yard,
Rising and falling at the same time, now rising, now falling,
Inside the lapis lazuli of late afternoon.
- Charles Wright
"Today we are all doing penance every day. We're working hard, trying to make money to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table, trying to maintain a good relationship or marriage, trying to keep our children safe and happy and educated, trying to keep the world from blowing itself up. We don't need any more penance. We need some joy, an ideal, encouragement, a philosophy worthy of us, a real community, neighbors to keep us from having to go it alone. We need our own religion: our sources of inspiration, hope, and healing."
- Thomas Moore
A Religion of One's Own
"Amazingly, we take for granted that instinct for survival, fear of death, must separate us from the happiness of pure and uninterpreted experience, in which body, mind, and nature are the same. This retreat from wonder, the backing away like lobsters into safe crannies, the desperate instinct that our life passes unlived, is reflected in proliferation without joy, corrosive money rot, the gross befouling of the earth and air and water from which we came."
- Peter Matthiessen
The Snow Leopard
"As I read the Book of Genesis, God didn't give Adam and Eve a whole planet.
He gave them a manageable piece of property, for the sake of discussion let's say 200 acres.
I suggest to you Adams and Eves that you set as your goals the putting of some small part of the planet into something like safe and sane and decent order.
There's a lot of cleaning up to do.
There's a lot of rebuilding to do, both spiritual and physical.
And, again, there's going to be a lot of happiness. Don't forget to notice!
What painters and sculptors and writers do, incidentally, is put very small properties indeed into good order, as best they can.
A painter thinks, "I can't fix the whole planet, but I can at least make this square of canvas what it ought to be.'' And a sculptor thinks the same about a lump of clay or marble. A writer thinks the same about a piece of paper, conventionally eleven inches long and eight and a half inches wide.
We're talking about something less than 200 acres, aren't we?"
- Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
Rolling Stone magazine, May 28,1998
To pray you open your whole self
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
To one whole voice that is you.
And know there is more
That you can't see, can't hear,
Can't know except in moments
Steadily growing, and in languages
That aren't always sound but other
Circles of motion.
Like eagle that Sunday morning
Over Salt River. Circled in blue sky
In wind, swept our hearts clean
With sacred wings.
We see you, see ourselves and know
That we must take the utmost care
And kindness in all things.
Breathe in, knowing we are made of
All this, and breathe, knowing
We are truly blessed because we
Were born, and die soon within a
True circle of motion,
Like eagle rounding out the morning
We pray that it will be done
- Joy Harjo
In Mad Love and War
poetry out loud
When I Think
When I think of where I've come from
or even try to measure as any kind of
distance these places, all the various
people, and all the ways in which I re -
member them, so that even the skin I
touched or was myself fact of, inside,
could see through like a hole in the wall
or listen to, it must have been, to what
was going on in there, even if I was still
too dumb to know anything - When I think
of the miles and miles of roads, or meals,
of telephone wires even, or even of water
poured out in endless streams down streaks
of black sky or the dirt roads washed clean,
or myriad, salty tears and suddenly it's spring
again, or it was - Even when I think about
all those I treated so poorly, names, places,
their waiting uselessly for me in the rain and
I never came, was never really there at all,
was moving so confusedly, so fast, so driven
like a car along some empty highway passing,
passing other cars - When I try to think of
things, of what's happened, of what a life is
and was, my life, when I wonder what it meant,
the sad days passing, the continuing, echoing deaths,
all the painful, belligerent news, and the dog still
waiting to be fed, the closeness of you sleeping, voices,
presences, of children, of our own grown children,
the shining, bright sun, the smell of the air just now,
each physical moment, passing, passing, it's what
it always is or ever was, just then, just there.
- Robert Creeley
On Earth: Last Poems and an Essay
"Empathy isn't just something that happens to us - a meteor shower of synapses firing across the brain - it's also a choice we make: to pay attention, to extend ourselves. It's made of exertion, that dowdier cousin of impulse. Sometimes we care for another because we know we should, or because it's asked for, but this doesn't make our caring hollow. This confession of effort chafes against the notion that empathy should always rise unbidden, that genuine means the same thing as unwilled, that intentionality is the enemy of love. But I believe in intention and I believe in work. I believe in waking up in the middle of the night and packing our bags and leaving our worst selves for our better ones."
- Leslie Jamison
The Empathy Exams
"The Lama of the Crystal Monastery appears to be a very happy man, and yet I wonder how he feels about his isolation in the silences of Tsakang, which he has not left in eight years now and, because of his legs, may never leave again. Since Jang-bu seems uncomfortable with the Lama or with himself or perhaps with us, I tell him not to inquire on this point if it seems to him impertinent, but after a moment Jang-bu does so. And this holy man of great directness and simplicity, big white teeth shining, laughs out loud in an infectious way at Jang-bu's question. Indicating his twisted legs without a trace of self-pity or bitterness, as if they belonged to all of us, he casts his arms wide to the sky and the snow mountains, the high sun and dancing sheep, and cries, "Of course I am happy here! It's wonderful! Especially when I have no choice!"
- Peter Matthiessen
The Snow Leopard
"There are moments when you sense that you must live carefully: it's as if the protective layers have been removed, habitual as clothing, you are left naked, exposed, vulnerable, and the event that has been stalking you, following you outside your field of vision, is close, but you don't know where it's coming from."
- Sergei Lebedev
translated by Antonina Bouis
My uncle in East Germany
points to the unicorn in the painting
and explains it is now extinct.
We correct him, say such a creature
never existed. He does not argue,
but we know he does not believe us.
He is certain power and gentleness
must have gone hand in hand
once. A prisoner of war
even after the war was over,
my uncle needs to believe in something
that could not be captured except by love,
whose single luminous horn
redeemed the murderous forest
and, dipped into foul water,
would turn it pure. This world,
this terrible world we live in,
is not the only possible one,
his eighty-year-old eyes insist,
dry wells that fill so easily now.
- Lisel Mueller
I keep on thinking.
If I sit here for long enough,
A line, one true line,
Will rise like some miraculous fish to the surface,
Brilliant and lithe in the late sunlight,
And offer itself into my hands.
I keep thinking that as the weeks go by,
and the waters never change.
- Charles Wright
"Maybe learning how to be out in the big world isn't the epic journey everyone thinks it is. Maybe that's actually the easy part. The hard part is what's right in front of you. The hard part is learning how to hold the title to your very existence, to own not only property, but also your life. The hard part is learning not just how to be but mastering the nearly impossible art of how to be at home."
- Meghan Daum
Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House