Monday, February 28, 2011
It is a whisper. You turn somewhere,
hall, street, some great even: the stars
or the lights hold; your next step waits you
and the firm world waits- but
there is a whisper. You always live so,
a being that receives, or partly receives, or
fails to receive each moment's touch.
You see the people around you- the honors
they bear- a crutch, a cane, eye patch,
or the subtler ones, that fixed look, a turn
aside, or even the brave bearing: all declare
our kind, who serve on the human front and earn
whatever disguise will take them home. (I saw
Frank last week with his crutch de guerre.)
When the world is like this- and it is-
whispers, honors or penalties disguised- no wonder
art thrives like a pulse wherever civilized people,
or any people, live long enough in a place to
build, and remember, and anticipate; for we are
such beings as interact elaborately with what
surrounds us. The limited actual world we
successively overcome by fictions and by the mind's inventions
that cannot be quite arbitrary (and hence do reflect
the actual), but can escape the actual (and hence
may become art).
- William Stafford
Friday, February 25, 2011
I like walking on streets as black and wet as this one
now, at two in the solemnly musical morning, when everyone else
in this town emptied of Lestrygonians and Lotus-eaters
is asleep or trying or worrying why
they aren't asleep, while unknown to them Ulysses walks
into the shabby apartment I live in, humming and feeling
happy with the avant-garde weather we're having,
the winds (a fugue for flute and oboe) pouring
into the windows which I left open although
I live on the ground floor and there have been
two burglaries on my block already this week,
do I quickly take a look to see
if the valuables are missing? No, that is I can't,
it's an epistemological quandary: what I consider
valuable, would they? Who are they, anyway? I'd answer that
with speculations based on newspaper accounts if I were
Donald E. Westlake, whose novels I'm hooked on, but
this first cigarette after twenty-four hours
of abstinence tastes so good it makes me want
to include it in my catalogue of pleasures
designed to hide the ugliness or sweep it away
the way the violent overflow of rain over cliffs
cleans the sewers and drains of Ithaca
whose waterfalls head my list, followed by
crudites of carrots and beets, roots and all,
with rained-on radishes, too beautiful to eat,
and the pure pleasure of talking, talking and not knowing
where the talk will lead, but willing to take my chances.
Furthermore I shall enumerate some varieties of tulips
(Bacchus, Tantalus, Dardanelles) and other flowers
with names that have a life of their own (Love Lies Bleeding,
Dwarf Blue Bedding, Burning Bush, Torch Lily, Narcissus).
Mostly, as I've implied, it's the names of things
that count; still, sometimes I wonder and, wondering, find
the path of least resistance, the earth's orbit
around the sun's delirious clarity. Once you sniff
the aphrodisiac of disaster, you know: there's no reason
for the anxiety--or for expecting to be free of it;
try telling Franz Kafka he has no reason to feel guilty;
or so I say to well-meaning mongers of common sense.
They way I figure, you start with the names
which are keys and then you throw them away
and learn to love the locked rooms, with or without
corpses inside, riddles to unravel, emptiness to possess,
a woman to wake up with a kiss (who is she?
no one knows) who begs your forgiveness (for what?
you cannot know) and then, in the authoritative tone
of one who has weathered the storm of his exile, orders you
to put up your hands and beg the rain to continue
as if it were in your power. And it is,
I feel it with each drop. I am standing
outside at the window, looking in on myself
writing these words, feeling what wretches feel, just
as the doctor ordered. And that's what I plan to do,
what the storm I was caught in reminded me to do,
to shake the superflux, distribute my appetite, fast
without so much as a glass of water, and love
each bite I haven't taken. I shall become the romantic poet
whose coat of many colors smeared
with blood, like a butcher's apron, left
in the sacred pit or brought back to my father
to confirm my death, confirms my new life
instead, an alien prince of dungeons and dreams
who sheds the disguise people recognize him by
to reveal himself to his true brothers at last
in the silence that stuns before joy descends, like rain.
Not a red rose or a satin heart.
I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light
like the careful undressing of love.
It will blind you with tears
like a lover.
It will make your reflection
a wobbling photo of grief.
I am trying to be truthful.
Not a cute card or kissogram.
I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
possessive and faithful
as we are,
for as long as we are.
Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding ring,
if you like.
Its scent will cling to your fingers,
cling to your knife.
- Carol Ann Duffy
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Those who arrive at Thekla can see little of the city, beyond the plank fences, the sackcloth screens, the scaffolding, the metal armatures, the wooden catwalks hanging from ropes or supported by sawhorses, the ladders, the trestles. If you ask "Why is Thekla's construction taking such a long time?" the inhabitants continue hoisting sacks, lowering leaded strings, moving long brushes up and down, as they answer "So that its destruction cannot begin." And if asked whether they fear that, once the scaffolding is removed, the city may begin to crumble and fall to pieces, they add hastily, in a whisper, "Not only the city."
If, dissatisfied with the answers, someone puts his eye to a crack in a fence, he sees cranes pulling up other cranes, scaffolding that embraces other scaffolding, beams that prop up other beams. "What meaning does your construction have?" he asks. "What is the aim of a city under construction unless it is a city? Where is the plan you are following, the blueprint?"
"We will show it to you as soon as the working day is over; we cannot interrupt our work now," they answer.
Work stops at sunset. Darkness falls over the building site. The sky is filled with stars. "There is the blueprint," they say.
"Back from vacation", the barber announces,
or the postman, or the girl at the drugstore, now tan.
They are amazed to find the workaday world
still in place, their absence having slipped no cogs,
their customers having hardly missed them, and
there being so sparse an audience to tell of the wonders,
the pyramids they have seen, the silken warm seas,
the nighttimes of marimbas, the purchases achieved
in foreign languages, the beggars, the flies,
the hotel luxury, the grandeur of marble cities.
But at Customs the humdrum pressed its claims.
Gray days clicked shut around them; the yoke still fit,
warm as if never shucked. The world is still so small,
the evidence says, though their hearts cry, "Not so!"
- John Updike
i was talking to a moth
the other evening
he was trying to break into
an electric light bulb
and fry himself on the wires
why do you fellows
pull this stunt i asked him
because it is the conventional
thing for moths or why
if that had been an uncovered
candle instead of an electric
light bulb you would
now be a small unsightly cinder
have you no sense
plenty of it he answered
but at times we get tired
of using it
we get bored with the routine
and crave beauty
fire is beautiful
and we know that if we get
too close it will kill us
but what does that matter
it is better to be happy
for a moment
and be burned up with beauty
than to live a long time
and be bored all the while
so we wad all our life up
into one little roll
and then we shoot the roll
that is what life is for
it is better to be a part of beauty
for one instant and then cease to
exist than to exist forever
and never be a part of beauty
our attitude toward life
is come easy go easy
we are like human beings
used to be before they became
too civilized to enjoy themselves
and before i could argue him
out of his philosophy
he went and immolated himself
on a patent cigar lighter
i do not agree with him
myself i would rather have
half the happiness and twice
but at the same time i wish
there was something i wanted
as badly as he wanted to fry himself
- Don Marquis