Saturday, December 22, 2012

The stirring of the beast

"We all have something within ourselves to batter down, and we get our power from this fighting. I have never 'produced' a play in verse without showing the actors that the passion of the verse comes from the fact that the speakers are holding down violence, or madness - 'down Hysterica Passio'.

All depends on the completeness of the holding down, on the stirring of the beast underneath. Without this conflict we have no passion, only sentiment and thought."

W.B.Yeats, in a letter to Dorothy Wellesley. From 'Yeats: The Man and the Masks', by Richard Ellmann
Notebook 5, 12 June 1989

The Decision

There is a moment before a shape
hardens, a color sets.
Before the fixative or heat of   kiln.

The letter might still be taken
from the mailbox.
The hand held back by the elbow,
the word kept between the larynx pulse
and the amplifying drum-skin of the room’s air.

The thorax of an ant is not as narrow.
The green coat on old copper weighs more.
Yet something slips through it —
looks around,
sets out in the new direction, for other lands.

Not into exile, not into hope. Simply changed.
As a sandy track-rut changes when called a Silk Road:
it cannot be after turned back from.

Jane Hirshfield

Trains Pull Away Slowly

Sometimes you see things the way
they used to be - clouds of white smoke
standing over power stations
washing blowing in the wind,
a bike thrown down. Poplar trees hark back
to third-class carriages
with leather window straps
and periscopes in guard's vans.

Now all the houses have a seaside look
with giant purple weeds.
The sun is going down behind a shed,
leaving a vapour trail in salmon pink.
Hay bales are small and square
the way they used to be.
Trains pull away slowly,
leaving one or two people on the platform.

Hugo Williams

Winter Happiness

Pride, pride, pride, pride, pride,
pride and happiness. Winter
and empty fields and beyond the trees
the Aegean. The night sky
bright in the puddles of this lane.
Such dear loneliness. Going along
to no man's clock. No one who knows
my middle name for a thousand miles.
Thinking back to childhood. Astonished
that I could find the way here.

Jack Gilbert

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Looking for first light


When we love, when we tell ourselves we do,
we are pining for first love, somewhen,
before we thought of wanting it. When we rearrange
the rooms we end up living in, we are looking
for first light, the arrangement of light,
that time, before we knew to call it light.

Or talk of music, when we say
we cannot talk of it, but play again
C major, A flat minor, we are straining
for first sound, what we heard once,
then, in lost chords, wordless languages.

What country do we come from? This one?
The one where sun burns
when we have night. The one
the moon chills; elsewhere, ?

Why is our love imperfect,
music only echo of itself,
the light wrong?

We scratch in dust with sticks,
dying of homesickness
for when, where, what.

Carol Ann Duffy


When sorrow lays us low
for a second we are saved
by humble windfalls
of the mindfulness or memory:
the taste of a fruit, the taste of water,
that face given back to us by a dream,
the first jasmine of November,
the endless yearning of the compass,
a book we thought was lost,
the throb of a hexameter,
the slight key that opens a house to us,
the smell of a library, or of sandalwood,
the former name of a street,
the colors of a map,
an unforeseen etymology,
the smoothness of a filed fingernail,
the date we were looking for,
the twelve dark bell-strokes, tolling as we count,
a sudden physical pain.

Eight million Shinto deities
travel secretly throughout the earth.
Those modest gods touch us–
touch us and move on.

Jorge Luis Borges

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


"..Beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” Annie Dillard

Illuminare [pronounced 'i-lloo-mi-naa-rrey'] (Italian): To light, to give light, to enlighten, from Latin illūmināre to light up, from lūmen light.

At 9 AM on a Sunday morning in the park, it is too early for families, and too late for joggers. The familiar trees welcome you in a different way, "Hey, there's just us right now!", they whisper. "Lover of trees, found worthy of loneliness", you remember the words of the unknown dervish, and you smile back, stopping to watch a riot of squirrels careering crazily down a branch.

Some of the ordinary dark green leaves are no longer the same, in the slow dawning of a December morning. For Light passes through them. And they are transformed. Every vein outlined, every scar exposed. And how they shine. As we do, only when the light passes through us.

Is that why we are drawn to certain people, for reasons we cannot quite fathom? They remember to place themselves in the light at times, and it passes through them. Every wound exposed, every fragile thing that holds them together stretched out like yearning. And yet, how they shine.

Illuminare. Draw me into the light.  

Great Things Have Happened

We were talking about the great things
that have happened in our lifetimes;
and I said, "Oh, I suppose the moon landing
was the greatest thing that has happened
in my time." But, of course, we were all lying.

The truth is the moon landing didn't mean
one-tenth as much to me as one night in 1963
when we lived in a three-room flat in what once had been
the mansion of some Victorian merchant prince
(our kitchen had been a clothes closet, I'm sure),
on a street where by now nobody lived
who could afford to live anywhere else.
That night, the three of us, Claudine, Johnnie and me,
woke up at half-past four in the morning
and ate cinnamon toast together.

"Is that all?" I hear somebody ask.

Oh, but we were silly with sleepiness
and, under our windows, the street-cleaners
were working their machines and conversing in Italian, and
everything was strange without being threatening,
even the tea-kettle whistled differently
than in the daytime: it was like the feeling
you get sometimes in a country you've never visited
before, when the bread doesn't taste quite the same,
the butter is a small adventure, and they put
paprika on the table instead of pepper,

except that there was nobody in this country
except the three of us, half-tipsy with the wonder
of being alive, and wholly enveloped in love.

Alden Nowlan

The whole gift of the day

It was passed from one bird to another,
the whole gift of the day.

The day went from flute to flute,
went dressed in vegetation,
in flights which opened a tunnel
through the wind would pass
to where birds were breaking open
the dense blue air -
and there, night came in.

When I returned from so many journeys,
I stayed suspended and green
between sun and geography -
I saw how wings worked,
how perfumes are transmitted
by feathery telegraph,
and from above I saw the path,
the springs and the roof tiles,
the fishermen at their trades,
the trousers of the foam;
I saw it all from my green sky.

I had no more alphabet
than the swallows in their courses,
the tiny, shining water
of the small bird on fire
which dances out of the pollen.

Pablo Neruda

We must unlearn the constellations to see the stars

Tear It Down

We find out the heart only by dismantling what
the heart knows. By redefining the morning,
we find a morning that comes just after darkness.

We can break through marriage into marriage.
By insisting on love we spoil it, get beyond
affection and wade mouth-deep into love.

We must unlearn the constellations to see the stars.

But going back toward childhood will not help.
The village is not better than Pittsburgh.
Only Pittsburgh is more than Pittsburgh.

Rome is better than Rome in the same way the sound
of racoon tongues licking the inside walls
of the garbage tub is more than the stir
of them in the muck of the garbage. Love is not
enough. We die and are put into the earth forever.

We should insist while there is still time. We must
eat through the wildness of her sweet body already
in our bed to reach the body within the body.

Jack Gilbert

Saturday, December 1, 2012

For we have seen on our way

I have never been on a pilgrimage, nor have any plans to go on one, but am always deeply moved every time I cross, on the highway, people walking for weeks together to a holy place.

Is the very purpose of a pilgrimage to show us our own riches? Maybe all pilgrimages finally lead us to ourselves, the essential "innocent" self open to joy and beauty, not wearied and blinded by "knowledge", the "bluebird" whose song we stifle?

On Pilgrimage

May the smell of thyme and lavender accompany us on our journey
To a province that does not know how lucky it is
For it was, among all the hidden corners of the earth,
The only one chosen and visited.

We tended toward the Place but no signs led there.
Till it revealed itself in a pastoral valley
Between mountains that look older than memory,
By a narrow river humming at the grotto.

May the taste of wine and roast meat stay with us
As it did when we used to feast in the clearings,
Searching, not finding, gathering rumors,
Always comforted by the brightness of the day.

May the gentle mountains and the bells of the flocks
Remind us of everything we have lost,
For we have seen on our way and fallen in love
With the world that will pass in a twinkling.

Czeslaw Milosz
New & Collected Poems, translations by Czeslaw Milosz and Robert Hass

The Greek Harp

Clio Karabelias on the Greek Harp, two beautiful pieces with Marie Saintonge on the flute:

Humanity, Clio's composition:

A Cuban melody:

You can hear more of her music here:


Your words are all you have

"Good grammar is credibility, especially on the internet. In blog posts, on Facebook statuses, in e-mails, and on company websites, your words are all you have. They are a projection of you in your physical absence. And, for better or worse, people judge you if you can’t tell the difference between their, there, and they’re."

Poor Writing Is No Laughing Matter


Love Poem

I live in you, you live in me;
We are two gardens haunted by each other.

Sometimes I cannot find you there.
There is only the swing creaking, that you have just left,
Or your favourite book beside the sundial.

Douglas Dunn

Did I miss the willow tree?

Twenty Questions

Did I forget to look at the sky this morning
when I first woke up? Did I miss the willow tree?
The white gravel road that goes up from the cemetery,
but to where? And the abandoned house on the hill,
did it get even a moment?

Did I notice the small clouds so slowly
moving away? And did I think of the right hand
of God? What if it is a slow cloud descending
on earth as rain? As snow? As shade?

Don't you think I should move on to the mop? How it just sits there,
too often unused? And the stolen rose on its stem?
Why would I write a poem without one?
Wouldn't it be wrong not to mention joy? Sadness,
its sleepy-eyed twin?

If I'd caught the boat
to Mykonos that time when I was nineteen
would the moon have risen out of the sea
and shone on my life so clearly
I would have loved it
just as it was?

Is the boat still in the harbor, pointing
in the direction of the open sea? Am I
still nineteen? Going in or going out,
can I let the tide make of me
what it must? Did I already ask that?

Jim Moore

14 Degrees Centipede :)

From "Dave Barry's Only Travel Guide You'll Ever Need":

"Another well-known Paris landmark is the Arc de Triomphe, a moving monument to the many brave men and women who have died trying to visit it, which we do not recommend because it's located in the middle of La Place de La Traffic Coming from All Directions at 114 Miles Per Hour."

"Finland is also home to the sauna, which is a wooden box in which you subject your body to extreme heat, which causes you to become very relaxed, unless of course the door gets stuck, in which case it causes you to become lasagna."

"Modern-day Denmark is a tourism wonderland, boasting a year-round average temperature of 14 degrees Centipede (108 degrees Richter)."

"Although it is now covered with agriculture, Kansas was at one time very historic. It was the on-scene location of the "Wild West", where "longhorns" riding "six-shooters" used to "rustle up" some "varmints". This era eventually ended due to a shortage of quotation marks."

"Louisiana was discovered by the Cajuns, a dynamic group of people who came down from Canada and decided to stay after they forgot where they had parked."

As far from myself as ever

In the Winter of My Thirty-Eighth Year

It sounds unconvincing to say When I was young
Though I have long wondered what it would be like
To be me now
No older at all it seems from here
As far from myself as ever

Walking in fog and rain and seeing nothing
I imagine all the clocks have died in the night
Now no one is looking I could choose my age
It would be younger I suppose so I am older
It is there at hand I could take it
Except for the things I think I would do differently
They keep coming between they are what I am
They have taught me little I did not know when I was young

There is nothing wrong with my age now probably
It is how I have come to it
Like a thing I kept putting off as I did my youth

There is nothing the matter with speech
Just because it lent itself
To my uses

Of course there is nothing the matter with the stars
It is my emptiness among them
While they drift farther away in the invisible morning.

W. S. Merwin (1993)

I live my life in widening circles

I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I give myself to it.

I circle around God, around the primordial tower.
I've been circling for thousands of years
and I still don't know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?

Ranier Maria Rilke, Book of Hours:Love Poems to God, translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy

Yearning upwards


Perhaps the purpose
of leaves is to conceal
the verticality
of trees
which we notice
in December
as if for the first time:
row after row
of dark forms
yearning upwards.

And since we will be
horizontal ourselves
for so long,
let us now honor
the gods
of the vertical:

stalks of wheat
which to the ant
must seem as high
as these trees do to us,
silos and
telephone poles,
and skyscrapers.

But most of all
these winter oaks,
these soft-fleshed poplars,
this birch
whose bark is like
roughened skin
against which I lean
my chilled head,
not ready
to lie down.

Linda Pastan, from Traveling Light. © Norton, 2010.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Place Where We Are Right

From the place where we are right
flowers will never grow
in the spring.

The place where we are right
is hard and trampled
like a yard.

But doubts and loves
dig up the world
like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
where the ruined
house once stood.

Yehuda Amichai

Frighten me into the present

Jack Gilbert, the poet, died on Nov 13, the one who told us that "We must risk delight" and that "Icarus was not failing as he fell, but just coming to the end of his triumph."

I Imagine the Gods

I imagine the gods saying, We will
make it up to you. We will give you
three wishes, they say.

Let me see
the squirrels again, I tell them.

Let me eat some of the great hog
stuffed and roasted on its giant spit
and put out, steaming, into the winter
of my neighborhood when I was usually
too broke to afford even the hundred grams
I ate so happily walking up the cobbles,
past the Street of the Moon
and the Street of the Birdcage-Makers,
the Street of Silence and the Street
of the Little Pissing.

We can give you
wisdom, they say in their rich voices.
Let me go at last to Hugette, I say,
the Algerian student with her huge eyes
who timidly invited me to her room
when I was too young and bewildered
that first year in Paris.

Let me at least fail at my life.

Think, they say patiently, we could
make you famous again. Let me fall
in love one last time, I beg them.

Teach me mortality, frighten me
into the present. Help me to find
the heft of these days. That the nights
will be full enough and my heart feral.

Jack Gilbert, 1925-2012

Seeing, in Three Pieces

Somehow we must see
through the shimmering cloth
of daily life, its painted,
evasive facings of what to eat,
to wear? Which work
matters? Is a bird more
or less than a man?

There have been people
who helped the world. Named
or not named. They weren't interested
in what might matter,
doubled over as they were
with compassion. Laden
branches, bright rivers.

When a bulb burns out
we just change it--
it's not the bulb we love;
it's the light.

Kate Knapp,  'Wind Somewhere and Shade'

A November evening prayer

Riding into the city after nearly a month of illness and withdrawing, you are startled to see the tree covered in pink flowers, at a bend in the road. November. The pink of November. You had completely forgotten. You, who had watched the trees on the way to work every day for the last 20 years in this city, noticing every single change in them. You who had decided on your last job because it was right next to Cubbon Park. You are shaken up, in tears, you are choked up with guilt, horrified by what you had almost lost. How could you have forgotten November, its very brief splash of pink?

Twenty years later, you now live in a different part of the city, where the road to work passes through unending ugliness. You know you have lost something vital to your existence, you have not stopped feeling empty and lost for a minute, you are diminished, the face in the mirror grows stranger day by day.

You spend the entire weekend riding around in the perfect November sun, visiting each one of your trees in pink, asking forgiveness. You visit them in the morning, and then again in the evening, you know how they blush under the sun's gaze in different shades, at different times, a love that never grows stale.

In the evening you sit for coffee at the restaurant from where you can watch the trees in Cubbon Park, across the fountain. You remember an old friend who said that you will never make it big, because you never chase fame or wealth, all your goodness will never be recognized because you don't fight for the badges. The friend who on another day, remarked, "You are the Keeper of Seasons in this city", and understood, in a way, that if you ever make it to Heaven, you will have a feeling of déjà vu.

You watch the light turn golden, and for a brief moment you wish you had a friend to sit silently with, a friend who has nowhere else to go after this, whose phone will not ring, and whose gift of presence is complete.

You want to sit here forever, anyways. But then it is time for the sunset. You remember the old wandering seer in John Steinbeck's "Sweet Thursday". "I have to go to the sunset now. I've come to the point where I don't think it can go down without me. That makes me seem needed."

You ride into the park again, under the canopy of the ancient rain trees, and go around the circle of trees with pink flowers one last time, as if around the stone gods at the temple, worshipful. A November evening prayer, which you almost forgot.

Sunday, November 11, 2012


“Those who hate most fervently must have once loved deeply; those who want to deny the world must have once embraced what they now set on fire.”

Kurt Tucholsky

All these things


Sun overhead,
you pointed
to the wind-tossed grasses.
This is a memory now.

Together in that first sun,
so vivid:
there must be a pattern

I’d hung my life on.


Snow dropped in clusters,
staggered & jagged.

We don’t matter a bit.

Reflected in lake water:
all these things I’ll forget.

Nate Pritts, "& then afterward"


“Whenever someone who knows you disappears, you lose one version of yourself. Yourself as you were seen, as you were judged to be. Lover or enemy, mother or friend, those who know us construct us, and their several knowings slant the different facets of our characters like diamond-cutter's tools. Each such loss is a step leading to the grave, where all versions blend and end.”

Salman Rushdie, 'The Ground Beneath Her Feet'

The realm of possibilities

I Covered a Great Distance Without Effort

The seats faced backwards although the train car
was headed forward. The engineers designed it that way
intentionally: the cushioned seats at the front facing
in toward the rest of the car,—passengers’ faces,
a Japanese flower arrangement of faces.

The platform began receding. Whoosh.
Not in the sense of being unconscious or knocked out, but
I was coming to

see, that is, to understand an endurance test deep
inside that things could have
gone differently, the furniture. It could have turned out
completely different. That’s within

the realm of possibilities, as if the election were in our favor
somewhere else, in the United States of Atlantis.—

I left off just as I was going
to make a mental note in that regard,

that we were carried along, passively, in motion
without walking or running, spastic reflex in the legs
—To sit down in one city, stay seated an hour and a half,
and then stand up in a small town Milton Bradley
must have modeled its tiny green
Monopoly houses and red hotels after.

Jeffrey Jullich

Rought Drafts

My Ex-Husband Asks Me Who Reads My Rough Drafts

No one, I say, over Thanksgiving dinner at the Fess, the rhinestone ear-
rings I bought to please my lover brushing my cheeks like cool, knowl-
edgeable fingers. Then I amend that to: Well, my writing group does, of course.
But mostly I read my own rough drafts now. I don’t know why he’s asking or
what it matters, the two of us poised at opposite sides of the table,
polite and wary, but still family of a kind, thrown together this holiday
by circumstances too complicated to question.

Dinner arrives, with all the trimmings, and we talk of other things. His
job and mine. Econometric models for utility companies. The business
of selling books for a living. He wears the navy blue sweater with a
snowflake design that I helped him pick out at Brooks Brothers. I wear
a bargain, teal-green silk from Shopko that he’s never seen, the weird
alchemy of divorce making strange what was once most familiar.

Pumpkin pie comes, followed by decaf—sweetened, with lots of extra
cream—and all the silly things we know about one another float,
unspoken, in the lamplight between us. We do not talk of the future.

But as he bends to sign his half of the check, I see again how he bent at
our kitchen table, going over my manuscripts, pencil in hand, teaching
himself about poetry because he loved me. And how it is for love’s sake,
and because no one in our lives can ever really be replaced, that he asks
me this question I do not know how to answer, except with the words
of this poem, this rough draft I am still in the process of revising.

Alison Townsend

This blood of yours

"...For exactly the same reason, it is sometimes satisfying to cut yourself and bleed. On those gray days where eight in the morning looks no different from noon and nothing has happened and nothing is going to happen and you are washing a glass in the sink and it breaks-accidentally-and punctures your skin. And then there is this shocking red, the brightest thing in the day, so vibrant it buzzes, this blood of yours. That is okay sometimes because at least you know you’re alive."

Augusten Burroughs, 'Running With Scissors'

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Ego Boundary

"Suzuki rises from his chair and turns to the board. He picks up the chalk and draws a freehand oval, something like an eggshell in diagram. As though piercing one side of the eggshell with a straw, he draws two parallel lines that cut through from inside to outside.

...The eggshell is the boundary between us and everything else: the identity that constructs the viewpoint of "I-me-mine". The thin line that Suzuki draws on the board contains what we think of as "the world". Though it seems solid to us, the ego boundary is actually something like a mirror that reflects the way our own minds are constructed. Our consciousness imprints itself on everything we see, feel, think, and do, even before we notice. It's almost impossible to see what's "not us" due to the power of its biological force field. Perhaps it's a survival mechanism. Compared with the colossal and incomprehensible immensity that we float in, the egg-ego feels like a place apart - a comfortable little place where the separate existence of the chick can be nurtured.

Although the chick may feel alone within its shell, Suzuki is describing a bigger picture. He tells us that the chick's sense of separation is an illusion. I-me-mine has no reality beyond its purpose of keeping us alive. Instead, everything flows in and through the parallel lines.

...Suzuki's teaching on ego was ground zero in Cage's transformation. The emotions troubling him - where is their reality? They have no real basis. All they are doing is dividing Cage from himself. Walling him up in agonized thoughts. Making him lose sight of his own vast wisdom."

Page 171, 'Ego Noise', Section 2: 'Mountains are no longer Mountains', from ‘Where the Heart Beats - John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists’, by Kay Larson, 2012.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


Ink strokes on rice paper -
a wooden bridge
curved over a river,

mountains in the distance
and in the foreground
a wind-blown tree.

I rotate the book on the table
so the tree
is leaning toward your village.

Billy Collins

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Christmas Gift for Tamenglong

The villagers of Tamenglong in Manipur, North-East India, are building a 100 km road that is their only hope of access to medical facilities, all by themselves, with their physical effort and meager financial resources. They hope to complete it by Christmas.

I have included details below if you want to contribute, I did an online transfer. You could just read this article too, about this amazing young man, Armstrong Pame.

Naga IAS officer builds 100-km road in Manipur without govt help

Villagers of Manipur's Tousem sub-division in Tamenglong district are a busy lot these days. At least 150 of them on a daily basis are clearing away a thicket with their machetes and daos. Some are lugging away heavy branches of recently felled trees; and others are operating bulldozers and earthmovers to give themselves the "best Christmas gift ever".

Theirs is one of the remotest corners in the country, where the India shining story has not yet reached; but the villagers are part of modern India's most ambitious road project embarked upon by one man, a young Naga IAS officer, without any funding from the government.


To contribute:

Join the group (photos/details of road construction in here):

Bank Details for Transfer from India and abroad:

To receive the light, and return it

Read it here, preferably, with the photos.

Although what glitters
         on the trees,
row after perfect row,
        is merely
the injustice
        of the world,

the chips on the bark of each
        beech tree
catching the light, the sum
        of these delays
is the beautiful, the human

body of flaws.
        The dead
would give anything
        I’m sure,
to step again onto
        the leafrot,

into the avenue of mottled shadows,
        the speckled
broken skins. The dead
        in their sheer
open parenthesis, what they
        wouldn’t give

for something to lean on
        that won’t
give way. I think I
        would weep
for the moral nature
        of this world,

for right and wrong like pools
        of shadow
and light you can step in
        and out of
crossing this yellow beech forest,
        this buchen-wald,

one autumn afternoon, late
        in the twentieth
century, in hollow light,
        in gaseous light. . . .
To receive the light
        and return it

and stand in rows, anonymous,
        is a sweet secret
even the air wishes
        it could unlock.
See how it pokes at them
        in little hooks,

the blue air, the yellow trees.

Excerpt from "Two Paintings by Gustav Klimt", a poem by Jorie Graham.

Saturday, November 3, 2012



Woke up suddenly thinking I heard crying.
Rushed through the dark house.
Stopped, remembering. Stood looking
out at bright moonlight on concrete.

Jack Gilbert

Thursday, November 1, 2012

We must risk delight

"...We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world.

To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.

We must admit there will be music despite everything.

We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.

To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come."

'A Brief for the Defense', Jack Gilbert

This is Water

"...There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, "Morning, boys, how's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, "What the hell is water?"

.....The capital-T Truth is about life before death. It is about making it to 30, or maybe 50, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head..It is about simple awareness — awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves, over and over: "This is water, this is water."

This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life
A commencement speech given by David Foster Wallace, to the 2005 graduating class at Kenyon College

There are other options

"But most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she’s not usually like this.

Maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible. It just depends what you want to consider.

If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options.

It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down."

David Foster Wallace


"...Food is incredibly important. Not just because Cambodians know what it's like to be without, but because it acts as a means of connection. In Cambodia, physical displays of affection are awkward and almost nonexistent, except between pals of the same sex. Therefore a mother will show her adoration for her son through a well-cooked meal: a soup instead of a hug; a well-grilled fish intsead of a kiss."

Lonely Planet: Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos & the Greater Mekong

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The crunch of the gravel road, coming home

While You Are in the Hospital

...If I could really love, I would take away
these tubes dripping lipids and glucose
into your blood. I would liquefy the things
you love and flood them through your veins:

our sleeping dogs' rhythmic breathing, huge
orange trumpets of the amaryllis we thought
would never bloom, the crunch of the gravel
road coming home.

If I could really love,
I would climb onto your narrow back
and wrap myself around, guarding like
a ladybug, or Achilles' mighty shield.

Laurie Cooper

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Sweeping up Fallen Leaves

“….Most music tries to control its circumstances, just as most of us do. But there’s another way to live. Accept indeterminacy as a principle, and you see your life in a new light, as a series of seemingly unrelated jewel-like stories within a dazzling setting of change and transformation. Recognize that you don’t know where you stand, and you will begin to watch where you put your feet. That’s when a path appears.

“After a long and arduous journey a young Japanese man arrived deep in a forest where the teacher of his choice was living in a small house he had made. When the student arrived, the teacher was sweeping up fallen leaves. Greeting his master, the young man received no greeting in return. And to all his questions, there were no replies. Realizing there was nothing he could do to get the teacher’s attention, the student went to another part of the same forest and built himself a house. Years later, when he was sweeping up fallen leaves, he was enlightened. He then dropped everything, ran through the forest to his teacher, and said, “Thank you.”

Page 20, 'D.T.Suzuki', Section 1: 'Mountains are Mountains' from ‘Where the Heart Beats - John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists’, by Kay Larson, 2012.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Coming to This

We have done what we wanted.
We have discarded dreams, preferring the heavy industry
of each other, and we have welcomed grief
and called ruin the impossible habit to break.
And now we are here.
The dinner is ready and we cannot eat.
The meat sits in the white lake of its dish.
The wine waits.
Coming to this
has its rewards: nothing is promised, nothing is taken away.
We have no heart or saving grace,
no place to go, no reason to remain.

Mark Strand

Possible Life

Going There

Of course it was a disaster.
The unbearable, dearest secret
has always been a disaster.
The danger when we try to leave.
Going over and over afterward
what we should have done
instead of what we did.
But for those short times
we seemed to be alive. Misled,
misused, lied to and cheated,
certainly. Still, for that
little while, we visited
our possible life.

Jack Gilbert

Sunday, October 28, 2012


Morning, Thinking of Empire

We press our lips to the enameled rim of the cups
and know this grease that floats
over the coffee will one day stop our hearts.
Eyes and fingers drop onto silverware
that is not silverware. Outside the window, waves
beat against the chipped walls of the old city.
Your hands rise from the rough tablecloth
as if to prophesy. Your lips tremble ...
I want to say to hell with the future.
Our future lies deep in the afternoon.
It is a narrow street with a cart and driver,
a driver who looks at us and hesitates,
then shakes his head. Meanwhile,
I coolly crack the egg of a fine Leghorn chicken.
Your eyes film. You turn from me and look across
the rooftops at the sea. Even the flies are still.
I crack the other egg.
Surely we have diminished one another.

Raymond Carver

The little deaths you live

What's Left
How often now, raging weeping for the days
love gives then takes away, takes from you
the slightly chapped hand laid on the one
you’re pointing at a tree, and the voice
that breathes coffeeberry bush into your mouth. 

The finger that taps and feathers your ear
but the giggle’s gone before you turn around.
The sandalwood scent hanging in the room,
the auburn strand like a flaw in the porcelain,
the off-course nail clipping in the carpet.

The days eat into your stomach, knife you
with longing for relief from love
that you cannot leave or leave alone,
from its rings of fire where you won’t
burn down to ash or be transformed.
You become them, and they keep burning
and have a coffeeberry voice.

Listen how
their rhymes sing
the little deaths you live.

W. S. Di Piero

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Way, not the wayfarer

"To possess anything means to be possessed by it - the world enthralls those who possess some of its goods, whereas "the true faqir should not possess anything and thus not be possessed by anything".

"...Dervishhood in all its meaning is a metaphorical poverty, and amidst all its subordinate aspects there is a transcendent principle. The Divine mysteries come and go over the dervish, so that his affairs are acquired by himself, his actions attributed to himself, and his ideas attached to himself. But when his affairs are freed from the bonds of acquisition, his actions are no more attributed to himself. Then he is the Way, not the wayfarer, i.e, the dervish is a place over which something is passing, not a wayfarer following his own will."

Page 119, 'The Path', from 'The Mystical Dimensions of Islam', Annemarie Schimmel

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A single finger outstretched, like a tiny flame

This Was Once a Love Poem

This was once a love poem,
before its haunches thickened, its breath grew short,
before it found itself sitting,
perplexed and a little embarrassed,
on the fender of a parked car,
while many people passed by without turning their heads.

It remembers itself dressing as if for a great engagement.
It remembers choosing these shoes,
this scarf or tie.

Once, it drank beer for breakfast,
drifted its feet
in a river side by side with the feet of another.

Once it pretended shyness, then grew truly shy,
dropping its head so the hair would fall forward,
so the eyes would not be seen.

It spoke with passion of history, of art.
It was lovely then, this poem.
Under its chin, no fold of skin softened.
Behind the knees, no pad of yellow fat.
What it knew in the morning it still believed at nightfall.
An unconjured confidence lifted its eyebrows, its cheeks.

The longing has not diminished.
Still it understands. It is time to consider a cat,
the cultivation of African violets or flowering cactus.

Yes, it decides:
Many miniature cacti, in blue and red painted pots.
When it finds itself disquieted
by the pure and unfamiliar silence of its new life,
it will touch them—one, then another—
with a single finger outstretched like a tiny flame.

Jane Hirshfield

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Just look at September, look at October!

A time to remember the Zenrin poem again, that this moment is enough. And a time to watch the light of October.

The Light of October:

Just look at September, look at October!:


When did your name
change from a proper noun
to a charm?

Its three vowels
like jewels
on the thread of my breath.

Its consonants
brushing my mouth
like a kiss.

I love your name.
I say it again and again
in this summer rain.

I see it,
discreet in the alphabet,
like a wish.

I pray it
into the night
till its letters are light.

I hear your name
rhyming, rhyming,
rhyming with everything.

Carol Ann Duffy

In Defense of Joy

Defending joy like a trench
defending it from scandal and routine
from misery and the miserable
from absences both transitory
and definitive

Defending joy like a principle
defending it from fright and nightmares
from neutrality and neutrons
from sweet infamy
and grave diagnoses

Defending joy like a flag
defending it from lighting and despair
from the guileless and the guilty
From rhetoric and cardiac arrests
from the endemic and the academic

Defending joy like a destiny
defending it from fire and firemen
from the suicidal and the homicidal
from holidays and oppression
from the obligation to be joyful

Defending joy like a certainty
defending it from rust and filth
from the popular patina of time
from relentment and opportunism
from panderers of laughter

Defending joy like a right
defending it from God and the winter
from capitalization and death
from last names and regrets
from chance
…and from joy itself.

Mario Benedetti

Touching back to Wonder

The Beautiful Changes
Richard Wilbur

One wading a Fall meadow finds on all sides  
The Queen Anne’s Lace lying like lilies
On water; it glides
So from the walker, it turns
Dry grass to a lake, as the slightest shade of you  
Valleys my mind in fabulous blue Lucernes.
The beautiful changes as a forest is changed  

By a chameleon’s tuning his skin to it;  
As a mantis, arranged
On a green leaf, grows
Into it, makes the leaf leafier, and proves  
Any greenness is deeper than anyone knows.

Your hands hold roses always in a way that says  
They are not only yours; the beautiful changes  
In such kind ways,  
Wishing ever to sunder
Things and things’ selves for a second finding, to lose  
For a moment all that it touches back to wonder.

Monday, October 22, 2012

A Manner of Searching

“Drawing is anyway an exercise in orientation and as such may be compared with other processes of orientation which take place in nature.

When I’m drawing I feel  a little closer to the way birds navigate when flying, or to hares finding shelter when pursued, or to fish knowing where to spawn, or trees finding a way to the light, or bees constructing their cells.

I’m aware of a distant, silent company. Almost as distant as the stars. Company nevertheless. Not because we are in the same universe, but because we are involved – each according to his own mode – in a comparable manner of searching.

Drawing is a form of probing. And the first generic impulse to draw derives from the human need to search, to plot points, to place things and to place oneself."

Page 149, ‘Bento’s Sketchbook’, John Berger

Hold everything dear

Hold Everything Dear
For John Berger

....the paths they make towards us and how far we open towards them

the justice of grass that unravels palaces but shelters the songs of the searching

the vessel that names the waves, the jug of this life, as it fills with the days
as it sinks to becomes what it loves

memory that grows into a shape the tree always knew as a seed

the words
the bread

the child who reaches for the truths beyond the door

the yearning to begin again together

the people in the room the people in the street the people

hold everything dear

19th May 2005, Gareth Evans
From 'Hold Everything Dear, Dispatches on Survival and Resistance', John Berger

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A bend in the river


This is as far as the light
of my understanding
has carried me:
an October morning
a canoe built by hand
a quiet current

above me the trees arc
green and golden
against a cloudy sky

below me the river responds
with perfect reflection
a hundred feet deep
a hundred feet high.

To take a cup of this river
to drink its purple and gray
its golden and green

to see
a bend in the river up ahead
and still

Julie Cadwallader-Staub

A thousand leaves

“Love is an attempt to penetrate another being, but it can only be realized if the surrender is mutual.”

Octavio Paz, 'The Labyrinth of Solitude and Other Writings'


The tree still bends over the lake,
And I try to recall our love,
Our love which had a thousand leaves.

Sheila Wingfield, Collected Poems: 1938-1983

Friday, October 19, 2012


"What is Sufism? He (Rumi) said: "To find joy in the heart when grief comes."

Page 17, 'Mystical Dimensions of Islam', Annemarie Schimmel

Carl Sandburg

Let a joy keep you.
Reach out your hands
And take it when it runs by,
As the Apache dancer
Clutches his woman.
I have seen them
Live long and laugh loud,
Sent on singing, singing,
Smashed to the heart
Under the ribs
With a terrible love.
Joy always,
Joy everywhere--
Let joy kill you!
Keep away from the little deaths.


Not conscious
that you have been seeking
you come upon it

the village in the Welsh hills
dust free
with no road out
but the one you came in by.

A bird chimes
from a green tree
the hour that is no hour
you know.  The river dawdles
to hold a mirror for you
where you may see yourself

as you are, a traveller
with the moon's halo
above him, who has arrived
after long journeying where he
began, catching this
one truth by surprise
that there is everything to look forward to.

R. S. Thomas, Later Poems (1983)

From here:

Not what you meet on the way

"Then I will speak plainly, like a man. No hero can be destroyed by the world. His reward is to destroy himself. Not what you meet on the way, but what you are, will destroy you, Heraclitus."

Page 27, 'Weight, The Myth of Atlas and Heraclitus', by Jeanette Winterson

Huck's Salvation

"What do people remember about Mark Twain?  For one thing, they remember the stories he told.  One that has stuck with me for a long time was about a boy faced with a conflict about doing the right thing.

The written rule was for Huck Finn to turn Jim in for being a runaway slave.  But as Huckleberry came to terms with Jim’s humanity same as his own, he found his salvation, even though he was certain he’d have to go to Hell for it.

Where do we ever find such integrity as that even among our bravest adults?"

Ask Me

Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made.  Ask me whether
what I have done is my life.  Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait.  We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.

William Stafford, Stories That Could Be True (1977).

From here:


We were talking about magic
as we drove along a crowded
Sunday highway
when the whirl of wings
made me turn
and a flock of geese
flew over our car
so low I could see
their feet tucked under them.

For a moment the rustle
of their presence over our heads
obscured everything
and as they disappeared
you said,
"I see what you mean."

Jenifer Nostrand

To be Desired

"In the Louvre in Paris there is a Bathsheba painted by him (William Drost, Rembrandt's disciple) which echoes Rembrandt's painting of the same object painted in the same year.

She is not looking at the spectator. She is looking hard at a man she desired, imagining him as her lover. This man could only have been Drost. The only thing we know for certain about Drost is that he was desired precisely by this woman.

I was reminded of something of which one is not usually reminded in museums. To be so desired - if the desire is also reciprocal - renders the one who is desired fearless. No suit of armour from the galleries downstairs ever offered, when worn, a comparable sense of protection. To be desired is perhaps the closest anybody can reach in his life to feeling immortal."

Page 26, 'Bento's Sketchbook', John Berger

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

So this is how

Five A.M in the Pinewoods

I'd seen
their hoof prints in the deep
needles and knew
they ended the long night

under the pines, walking
like two mute
and beautiful women toward
the deeper woods, so I

got up in the dark and
went there. They came
slowly down the hill
and looked at me sitting under

the blue trees, shyly
they stepped closer and stared
from under their thick lashes and even
nibbled some damp

tassels of weeds. This
is not a poem about a dream,
though it could be.
This is a poem about the world

that is ours, or could be.
one of them - I swear it! -
would have come to my arms.

But the other
stamped sharp hoof in the
pine needles like
the tap of sanity,

and they went off together through
the trees. When I woke
I was alone,
I was thinking:

so this is how you swim inward,
so this is how you flow outward,
so this is how you pray.

Page 32, 'House of Light', Poems by Mary Oliver


Someday I am going to ask my friend Paulus,
the dancer, the potter,
to make me a begging bowl
which I believe my soul needs.

And If I come to you,
to the door of your comfortable house
in unwashed clothes and unclean fingernails
will you put something into it?

I would like to take this chance.
I would like to give you this chance.

Page 37, To Begin With, the Sweet Grass, from 'Evidence', Poems by Mary Oliver

Friday, October 12, 2012

Who could have known?

The Exam
Joyce Sutphen

It is mid-October. The trees are in
their autumnal glory (red, yellow-green,

orange) outside the classroom where students
take the mid-term, sniffling softly as if

identifying lines from Blake or Keats
was such sweet sorrow, summoned up in words

they never saw before. I am thinking
of my parents, of the six decades they’ve

been together, of the thirty thousand
meals they’ve eaten in the kitchen, of the

more than twenty thousand nights they’ve slept
under the same roof. I am wondering

who could have fashioned the test that would have
predicted this success? Who could have known?

So many ways

Jane Hirshfield

A thing too perfect to be remembered:
stone beautiful only when wet.

*     *     *
Blinded by light or black cloth—
so many ways
not to see others suffer.

*     *     *
Too much longing:
it separates us
like scent from bread,
rust from iron.

*     *     *
From very far or very close—
the most resolute folds of the mountain are gentle.

*     *     *
As if putting arms into woolen coat sleeves,
we listen to the murmuring dead.

*     *     *
Any point of a circle is its start:
desire forgoing fulfillment to go on desiring.

*     *     *
In a room in which nothing
has happened,
sweet-scented tobacco.

*     *     *
The very old, hands curling into themselves, remember their parents.

*     *     *
Think assailable thoughts, or be lonely.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Immaculate, bereft, deserving to be found

To go with it, John Cage's "In a Landscape", Piano Solo.

Sleep Cycle
Dean Young

We cannot push ourselves away
from this quiet, even in our sprees
of inattention, the departing passengers 
stubbing out their smokes, arrivees in tears, 
lots of cellophane, the rumpus over parking.

Wind scrapes leaves across the road, 
first flashes of snow, it is dark then
it’s really dark. Forgive me for not
writing for so long, I’ve been
right beside you, one of the vaguer
divinities blocking your way with its need 
to confess all its botched attempts at love, 
what started the whole mess.

I love this place, 
its absurd use of balustrade, the chairs 
that dig into the spine, motorcyclists 
propping their drunk girlfriends in the sun, 
men playing timed chess with themselves, 
the guarantees and warnings that entice us 
to the brink of what they warn about.

But we can do no more than pass through 
these rooms and their sudden chills 
where once a plea was entered almost 
unintentionally that seemed at last 
to reveal ourselves to ourselves,
immaculate, bereft, deserving to be found.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Disjointed unbelonging

"Perhaps the best urban October poem of all is TS Eliot's The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock, with its dark evening, yellow fog and overall air of the fall of the year and of man in equal measure. Eliot only mentions the month once, but that one naming is enough to place the poem irrevocably in the time of the year most suited to its tone of disjointed unbelonging. Prufrock is, perhaps, the October poem par excellence."

Poster Poems: October

I never tire of this. A perfect poem to read aloud. The sheer incantatory rhythm of it, the gravity...

The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock:


"He descended the small hill to the vault, in a corner of the graveyard, just as Jean had described it, so long before. Along the rough stone building was a wooden bench. He sat, leaning back, his head against the wall. He looked out to the adjacent field, empty, without even the single black horse from Jean's childhood. He imagined her as a young girl with her father, almost as if it were his own memory, reading together by the thick oak door.

Jean's childhood, her web of memory and unconscious memory, had once been her gift only to him. Now it had been given to another. This was the loss that overwhelmed him the most. Our memories contain more than we remember: those moments too ordinary to keep, from which, all our lives, we drink. Of all the privileges of love, this seemed to him the most affecting: to witness, in another, memories so deep they remain ineffable, glimpsed only by an intuition, by an illogical preference or an innocent desire, by a sorrow that arises out of seeming nothingness, an explicable longing."

Page 328, 'The Winter Vault', Anne Michaels


"We value sensitive machines. We spend billions of pounds to make them more sensitive yet, so that they detect materials deep in the earth's crust, radioactivity thousands of miles away. We don't value sensitive human beings and we spend no money on their priority.

As machines become more delicate and human beings coarser, will antennae and fibre-optic claim for themselves what was uniquely human? Not rationality, not logic, but that strange network of fragile perception, that means I can imagine, that teaches me to love, a lodging of recognition and tenderness where I sometimes know the essential beat that rhythms life."

Page 112, 'Art Objects, Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery', Jeanette Winterson


We were very tired, we were very merry—
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
It was bare and bright, and smelled like a stable—
But we looked into a fire, we leaned across a table,
We lay on a hill-top underneath the moon;
And the whistles kept blowing, and the dawn came soon.

We were very tired, we were very merry—
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry;
And you ate an apple, and I ate a pear,
From a dozen of each we had bought somewhere;
And the sky went wan, and the wind came cold,
And the sun rose dripping, a bucketful of gold.

We were very tired, we were very merry,
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
We hailed, “Good morrow, mother!” to a shawl-covered head,
And bought a morning paper, which neither of us read;
And she wept, “God bless you!” for the apples and pears,
And we gave her all our money but our subway fares.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Saturday, October 6, 2012



You know how it is waking
from a dream certain you can fly
and that someone, long gone, returned

and you are filled with longing,
for a brief moment, to drive off
the road and feel nothing

or to see the loved one and feel
everything. Perhaps one morning,
taking brush to hair you'll wonder

how much of your life you've spent
at this task or signing your name
or rising in fog in near darkness

to ready for work. Day begins
with other people's needs first
and your thoughts disperse like

In the in-between hour, the solitary hour,
before day begins, all the world
gradually reappears, car by car.

Deborah Ager

Marvin. And Zaphod

"It gives me a headache just trying to think down to your level." Marvin
Zaphod stared at them in astonishment.
‘Hey this is terrific!” he said. ‘Someone down there is trying to kill us!’
‘Terrific’, said Arthur.
‘But don’t you see what this means?’
‘Yes. We’re going to die.’
‘Yes, but apart from that.’
‘Apart from that?’
‘It means we must be on to something!’
‘How soon can we get off it?’
'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy', Douglas Adams


"We look almost happy out in the sun,
while we are bleeding fatally from wounds
we don't know about."

Tomas Transtromer, 'Streets in Shanghai

Too Much of the Air: Tomas Tranströmer   
Tom Sleigh 

Without need of meaning...

A Dedication to my Wife

To whom I owe the leaping delight
That quickens my senses in our wakingtime
And the rhythm that governs the repose of our sleepingtime,
the breathing in unison.

Of lovers whose bodies smell of each other
Who think the same thoughts without need of speech,
And babble the same speech without need of meaning...

No peevish winter wind shall chill
No sullen tropic sun shall wither
The roses in the rose-garden which is ours and ours only.

But this dedication is for others to read:
These are private words addressed to you in public.

T.S. Eliot

Verse gets worse on Fridays

I must go down to the sea again,
To the lonely sea and the sky,
I left my vest and socks there,
I wonder if they're dry ?

Spike Milligan

But this takes the cake - let me know if you can find anything worse than this! Worthy of being part of the Vogon arsenal, for their death-by-poetry sessions. Don't forget the audio.

The Loch Ness Monster's Song:

To think that Edwin Morgan, who wrote “Strawberries”, also wrote this! There is hope for us all.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


At Blackwater Pond

You know how it feels,
wanting to walk into
the rain and disappear-
wanting to feel your life
brighten and grow weightless
as a leaf in the fall.

And sometimes, for a moment,
you feel it beginning - the sense
of escape sharp as a knife-blade
hangs over the dark field
of your body, and your soul
waits just under the skin
to leap away over the water.

But the blade,
at the last minute, hesitates
and does not fall,
and the body does not open,
and you are what you are-
trapped, heavy and visible
under the rain, only your vision
delicate as old leaves skimming
over the mounds of the seasons,
the limits of everything,
the few shaped bones of time.

Page 49, 'Twelve Moons', poems by Mary Oliver

Ah, come with me!

You Are Tired (I Think)

You are tired,
(I think)
Of the always puzzle of living and doing;
And so am I.

Come with me, then,
And we’ll leave it far and far away—
(Only you and I, understand!)
You have played,
(I think)
And broke the toys you were fondest of,
And are a little tired now;
Tired of things that break, and—
Just tired.
So am I.

But I come with a dream in my eyes tonight,
And I knock with a rose at the hopeless gate of your heart—
Open to me!
For I will show you places Nobody knows,
And, if you like,
The perfect places of Sleep.
Ah, come with me!

I’ll blow you that wonderful bubble, the moon,
That floats forever and a day;
I’ll sing you the jacinth song
Of the probable stars;
I will attempt the unstartled steppes of dream,
Until I find the Only Flower,
Which shall keep (I think) your little heart
While the moon comes out of the sea.

e.e. cummings

The loneliness that roams

"There is a loneliness that can be rocked. Arms crossed, knees drawn up, holding, holding on, this motion, unlike a ship’s, smooths and contains the rocker. It’s an inside kind — wrapped tight like skin. Then there is the loneliness that roams. No rocking can hold it down. It is alive. On its own. A dry and spreading thing that makes the sound of one’s own feet going seem to come from a far-off place."

Toni Morrison,  in 'Beloved'

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Micchami Dukkadam

Every year in August, a dear friend calls up to say "Micchami Dukkadam". 'I am sorry".  The Jain ritual of asking for forgiveness, to all your dear ones, everyone whom you may have wronged, knowingly or unknowingly, on the last day of the festival of Paryushana. Though you always joke about it, it moves you deeply, every single time. (Probably you joke the most about things that move you deeply, and do not want to acknowledge?)

For we cause the deepest hurt to the ones we care about the most, those whom we wished cared for us more, to complete the circle of reciprocity. For we suffer the most when we inflict suffering on them, seemingly with nonchalance.

For we expect so much more from them, than from random people who cut us in the queue or nearly hit us in the traffic. For it is on their approval, their validation, that we hang the meaning, the purpose of our lives, whatever else it is that we seemingly chase, in the mad scramble of our blind seeking. All roads, finally, lead to them, though we think we are firmly headed in the opposite direction. As always, intelligence, displaying its feet of clay, its powerlessness.

In the moments when you have jumped off the trapeze and are sailing through the air, and know for sure there's no one on the other side sending you a swing to hold on to, and no safety net below, this is what you would like to say:

Micchami Dukkadam.


The Ten of Swords

"..This is the ultimate manifestation of the Swords suit and its negative, destructive power. Even though only one sword would be needed to kill this man, ten were used: he has not simply been killed, but annihilated."

The Tarot

And talked of never-ending things....

Continual Conversation With A Silent Man

The old brown hen and the old blue sky,
Between the two we live and die--
The broken cartwheel on the hill.

As if, in the presence of the sea,
We dried our nets and mended sail
And talked of never-ending things,

Of the never-ending storm of will,
One will and many wills, and the wind,
Of many meanings in the leaves,

Brought down to one below the eaves,
Link, of that tempest, to the farm,
The chain of the turquoise hen and sky

And the wheel that broke as the cart went by.
It is not a voice that is under the eaves.
It is not speech, the sound we hear

In this conversation, but the sound
Of things and their motion: the other man,
A turquoise monster moving round.

Wallace Stevens

Cinder and Smoke

Iron & Wine: Cinder and Smoke

Cinder and smoke
You’ll ask me to pray for rain
With ash in your mouth
You’ll ask it to burn again


I never run into anyone from the old days.
It's summer and I'm alone in the city.
I enter stores, apartment houses, offices
And find nothing remotely familiar.

The trees in the park - were they always so big?
And the birds so hidden, so quiet?
Where is the bus that passed this way?
Where are the greengrocers and hairdressers,

And that schoolhouse with the red fence?
Miss Harding is probably still at her desk,
Sighing as she grades papers late into the night.
The bummer is, I can't find the street.

All I can do is make another tour of the neighbourhood,
Hoping I'll meet someone to show me the way
And a place to sleep, since I've no return ticket
To wherever it is I came from earlier this evening.

From 'That Little Something', Poems by Charles Simic


The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was
Spawning snow and pink roses against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
World is suddener than we fancy it.

World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.

And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world
Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes -
On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one's hands -
There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.

Louis MacNeice

Monday, October 1, 2012

This responsibility tires me

"I write a little about my life in Delhi to A-1 and he says, "Wow! You get to do whatever you like. No family responsibilities." I smile and switch off the computer, asking myself if there is any other way of living alone.

When you have no one around you, it is not so hard to regulate your life around your own needs. I do not think he realizes that it has taken me all my life to reach this free space, or that not having anyone is also a huge responsibility. One slip and there is no one to hold me. It will be a steep fall. I will labour to rise from the abyss. The responsibility tires me.

No, I do not get to do what I want. I just do what I need to do to get by."

Page 42, 'Roll of Honour', Amandeep Sandhu


"That's all we need to do in this life - find the single feature in  each friend, the one really essential quality and then love them for it. When my mother checked to make sure the door was locked, even after she'd already checked a dozen times, even when she was at last sitting in the front seat of the car, in her place in the passenger seat next to my indulgent father, still she always had to get out and check the door one more time - and it wasn't good enough to watch my father do it, she had to do it herself.

How that set my teeth on edge, I'd wait in the backseat literally grinding my jaws together. But she'd grown up with nothing and now she had a nice house full of nice things - of course she would have to make sure the door was locked again and again. Who in their right mind would trust such luck? The important thing is not that she checked the lock, but that she was once so poor and she never, never forgot it. You'd have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by that. Think of all the anger I wasted on locks when I should've been thinking about poverty.

But that's just the way it is with the truth, it's never in the same room with you, it's never in the backseat with you, it's never there when you need it. It always bobs up years later like a waterbird that dives in one part of the lake and pops up in another. You grab for the truth with both hands and it pops up behind you..."

Page 151, 'The Winter Vault', Anne Michaels


 You must not fear, hold back, count or be a miser with your thoughts and feelings. It is also true that creation comes from an overflow, so you have to learn to intake, to imbibe, to nourish yourself and not be afraid of fullness. The fullness is like a tidal wave which then carries you, sweeps you into experience and into writing. Permit yourself to flow and overflow, allow for the rise in temperature, all the expansions and intensifications.

Something is always born of excess: great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them.

Anaïs Nin in The Diary of Anais Nin, Vol. 4: 1944-1947


If you look for the truth outside yourself,
It gets farther and farther away.

Today walking alone, I meet it everywhere I step.
It is the same as me, yet I am not it.

Only if you understand it in this way
Will you merge with the way things are.


The Night

"I cannot walk through the suburbs in the solitude of the night without thinking that the night pleases us because it suppresses idle details, just as our memory does."

Jorge Luis Borges

Sunday, September 30, 2012

So much is in bud

Dedicated to the memory of Karen Silkwood and Eliot Gralla

"From too much love of living,
Hope and desire set free,
Even the weariest river
Winds somewhere to the sea-"

But we have only begun
To love the earth.

We have only begun
To imagine the fullness of life.

How could we tire of hope?
- so much is in bud.

How can desire fail?
- we have only begun

to imagine justice and mercy,
only begun to envision

how it might be
to live as siblings with beast and flower,
not as oppressors.

Surely our river
cannot already be hastening
into the sea of nonbeing?

Surely it cannot
drag, in the silt,
all that is innocent?

Not yet, not yet-
there is too much broken
that must be mended,

too much hurt we have done to each other
that cannot yet be forgiven.

We have only begun to know
the power that is in us if we would join
our solitudes in the communion of struggle.

So much is unfolding that must
complete its gesture,

so much is in bud.

Denise Levertov. 'Candles in Babylon'

Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur, Taos, New Mexico

I’ve expanded like the swollen door in summer
            to fit my own dimension. Your loneliness
is a letter I read and put away, a daily reminder
            in the cry of the magpie that I am
still capable of inflicting pain
            at this distance.

Like a painting, our talk is dense with description,
            half-truths, landscapes, phrases layered
with a patina over time. When she came into my life
            I didn’t hesitate.

Or is that only how it seems now, looking back?
            Or is that only how you accuse me, looking back?
Long ago, this desert was an inland sea. In the mountains
            you can still find shells.

It’s these strange divagations I’ve come to love: midday sun
            on pink escarpments; dusk on gray sandstone;
toe-and-finger holes along the three hundred and fifty-seven foot
            climb to Acoma Pueblo, where the spirit
of the dead hovers about its earthly home
            four days, before the prayer sticks drive it away.

Today all good Jews collect their crimes like old clothes
            to be washed and given to the poor.
I remember how my father held his father around the shoulders
            as they walked to the old synagogue in Philadelphia.

Robin Becker

Lean back again


There were never strawberries
like the ones we had
that sultry afternoon
sitting on the step
of the open french window
facing each other
your knees held in mine
the blue plates in our laps

the strawberries glistening
in the hot sunlight
we dipped them in sugar
looking at each other
not hurrying the feast
for one to come
the empty plates
laid on the stone together
with the two forks crossed

and I bent towards you
sweet in that air
in my arms
abandoned like a child
from your eager mouth
the taste of strawberries
in my memory

lean back again
let me love you
let the sun beat
on our forgetfulness
one hour of all
the heat intense
and summer lightning
on the Kilpatrick hills

let the storm wash the plates.

Edwin Morgan


*Shock: Acute state of prostration accompanied by lowering of blood volume and pressure, weakening of pulse and respiration.

She glances over at the telephone.
Its silence makes her wonder
If it’s still working.

A cigarette burns her fingers as it reaches the filter.
Without flinching, she lets it slip to the floor.

She raises her right arm, like a sword of justice,
And swoops down.
She feels nothing.

She does it again, and again.
She can hear the blood frying
As it spits at the fire.
A crimson arc sprays across the wall
Showering her mother’s figurines on the mantlepiece.

Stumbling into the kitchen,
She wraps a tea towel around her gaping wrist,
Struggling to pull it tight.

Opening the back door, to get some air,
She is buffeted by the wind
As the door bangs on its hinges.

She walks down the drive
And out into the blackness.
The streets are deserted at this hour of night.

At home, a loose telephone wire
Whips the window pane,
As the wind blows rain
Like handfuls of grit against the glass.

David Milligan-Croft

From here:

Saturday, September 29, 2012


I have been wanting to write down this Tibetan man's story, for years. The search for Home. Something I deeply relate to. In all my travels, immigrants and refugees have fascinated me, I listened to their stories, I have suffered with them.

I did not succeeded in taking him home. A feeble attempt at telling his story is all I have been able to accomplish, not even worthy to be called a gift.


You and I

I explain quietly. You
hear me shouting. You
try a new tack. I
feel old wounds reopen.

You see both sides. I
see your blinkers. I
am placatory. You
sense a new selfishness.

I am a dove. You
recognize the hawk. You
offer an olive branch. I
feel the thorns.

You bleed. I
see crocodile tears. I
withdraw. You
reel from the impact.

Roger McGough

You’ve traveled this far, on the back of every mistake


Regret nothing. Not the cruel novels you read
to the end just to find out who killed the cook.
Not the insipid movies that made you cry in the dark,
in spite of your intelligence, your sophistication.

Not the lover you left quivering in a hotel parking lot,
the one you beat to the punchline, the door, or the one
who left you in your red dress and shoes, the ones
that crimped your toes, don’t regret those.

Not the nights you called god names and cursed
your mother, sunk like a dog in the livingroom couch,
chewing your nails and crushed by loneliness.

You were meant to inhale those smoky nights
over a bottle of flat beer, to sweep stuck onion rings
across the dirty restaurant floor, to wear the frayed
coat with its loose buttons, its pockets full of struck matches.

You’ve walked those streets a thousand times and still
you end up here. Regret none of it, not one
of the wasted days you wanted to know nothing,

when the lights from the carnival rides
were the only stars you believed in, loving them
for their uselessness, not wanting to be saved.

You’ve traveled this far on the back of every mistake,
ridden in dark-eyed and morose but calm as a house
after the TV set has been pitched out the upstairs
window. Harmless as a broken ax. Emptied
of expectation. Relax. Don’t bother remembering any of it.

Let’s stop here, under the lit sign
on the corner, and watch all the people walk by.

Dorianne Laux

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