Friday, January 31, 2014

What the river says

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).

Rain Tree Raagaas:

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

On Writing

Advice to writers

Even if it keeps you up all night,
wash down the walls and scrub the floor
of your study before composing a syllable.

Clean the place as if the Pope were on his way.
Spotlessness is the niece of inspiration.

The more you clean, the more brilliant
your writing will be, so do not hesitate to take
to the open fields to scour the undersides
of rocks or swab in the dark forest
upper branches, nests full of eggs.

When you find your way back home
and stow the sponges and brushes under the sink,
you will behold in the light of dawn
the immaculate altar of your desk,
a clean surface in the middle of a clean world.

From a small vase, sparkling blue, lift
a yellow pencil, the sharpest of the bouquet,
and cover pages with tiny sentences
like long rows of devoted ants
that followed you in from the woods.

Billy Collins

Thanks, K.

The moonlight catching sudden phosphorescence

I used to be  a letter-writer, once upon a time. Pages and pages, on foolscap paper. I can so imagine these letters.....

Letter Home
Ellen Steinbaum

I love you forever
my father's letter tells her
for forty-nine pages,
from the troopship crossing the Atlantic
before they'd ever heard of Anzio.

He misses her, the letter says,
counting out days of boredom, seasickness,
and changing weather,
poker games played for matches
when cash and cigarettes ran out,
a Red Cross package—soap,
cards, a mystery book he traded away
for The Rubaiyyat a bunkmate didn't want.
He stood night watch and thought
of her. Don't forget the payment
for insurance, he says.

My mother waits at home with me,
waits for the letter he writes day by day
moving farther across the ravenous ocean.
She will get it in three months and
her fingers will smooth the Army stationery
to suede.

He will come home, stand
beside her in the photograph, leaning
on crutches, holding
me against the rough wool
of his jacket. He will sit
alone and listen to Aïda

and they will pick up their
interrupted lives. Years later,
she will show her grandchildren
a yellow envelope with
forty-nine wilted pages telling her

of shimmering sequins on the water,
the moonlight catching sudden phosphorescence,
the churned wake that stretched a silver trail.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Making beauty, and throwing it away, and making more

...Last night I dreamed of X again.
She’s like a stain on my subconscious sheets.  
Years ago she penetrated me
but though I scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed,  
I never got her out,
but now I’m glad.

What I thought was an end turned out to be a middle.  
What I thought was a brick wall turned out to be a tunnel.  
What I thought was an injustice
turned out to be a color of the sky.

Outside the youth center, between the liquor store
and the police station,
a little dogwood tree is losing its mind;

overflowing with blossomfoam,
like a sudsy mug of beer;
like a bride ripping off her clothes,

dropping snow white petals to the ground in clouds,

so Nature’s wastefulness seems quietly obscene.
It’s been doing that all week:
making beauty,
and throwing it away,
and making more.

Tony Hoagland, from 'A Color of the Sky'.

The complete poem:

Welcoming February:

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Be Like Water

"Empty your mind. Be formless. Shapeless. Like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. Put it into a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or creep or drip or crash. Be water, my friend."

Inspired by the core principles of Wing Chun, the ancient Chinese conceptual martial art, which he learned from his only formal martial arts teacher, Yip Man, between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, when he left Hong Kong in 1959, Lee adapted Wing Chun into his own version, Jun Fan Gung Fu.

In Bruce Lee: Artist of Life", Lee traces the thinking that originated his famous metaphor, which came after a period of frustration with his inability to master “the art of detachment” that Yip Man was trying to impart on him. Lee writes:

"When my acute self-consciousness grew to what the psychologists refer to as the “double-bind” type, my instructor would again approach me and say, “Loong, preserve yourself by following the natural bends of things and don’t interfere. Remember never to assert yourself against nature; never be in frontal opposition to any problems, but control it by swinging with it. Don’t practice this week: Go home and think about it.”

Be Like Water: The Philosophy and Origin of Bruce Lee’s Famous Metaphor for Resilience

Maria Popova

They stitch up the sky, and it is whole again

I often feel that the seasons, and the way the trees respond to them, are among the few certainties we still have. The last twenty years have seen so many unexpected changes in my life, in this city, in the world. But the same familiar trees unfailingly lose their leaves, green and bloom in a predictable cycle that never ever fails, a steady warp on which the shaky weft of our days forms irregular patterns.
Sometimes, I Am Startled Out of Myself,

like this morning, when the wild geese came squawking,
flapping their rusty hinges, and something about their trek
across the sky made me think about my life, the places
of brokenness, the places of sorrow, the places where grief
has strung me out to dry. And then the geese come calling,
the leader falling back when tired, another taking her place.

Hope is borne on wings. Look at the trees. They turn to gold
for a brief while, then lose it all each November.
Through the cold months, they stand, take the worst
weather has to offer. And still, they put out shy green leaves
come April, come May. The geese glide over the cornfields,
land on the pond with its sedges and reeds.

You do not have to be wise. Even a goose knows how to find
shelter, where the corn still lies in the stubble and dried stalks.

All we do is pass through here, the best way we can.

They stitch up the sky, and it is whole again.

Barbara Crooker

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Opening of Eyes

That day I saw beneath dark clouds
The passing light over the water
And I heard the voice of the world speak out
I knew then as I have before
Life is no passing memory of what has been
Nor the remaining pages of a great book
Waiting to be read

It is the opening of eyes long closed
It is the vision of far off things
Seen for the silence they hold
It is the heart after years of secret conversing
Speaking out loud in the clear air

It is Moses in the desert fallen to his knees
Before the lit bush
It is the man throwing away his shoes
As if to enter heaven and finding himself astonished
Opened at last
Fallen in love
With Solid Ground.

David Whyte, 'Songs for Coming Home'

Winter Apple

Let the apple ripen
on the branch
beyond your need
to take it down.

Let the coolness
of autumn
and the breathing,
blowing wind
test its adherence
to endurance,
let the others fall.

Wait longer
than you would,
go against yourself,
find the pale nobility
of quiet that ripening
watch with patience
as the silhouette emerges
and the leaves fall,
see it become
a solitary roundness
against a greying sky,
let winter come
and the first
frost threaten,
and then wake
one morning
to see the breath
of winter
has haloed
its redness
with light.

So that a full
two months
after you
should have
taken the apple
you hold it in
your closed hand
at last and bite
into the cool
spread evenly
through every
single atom
of a pale
and yielding
so that you taste
on that cold,
grey day,
not only
the after reward
of a patience
not only
the summer
of a postponed
but the sweet,
inward stillness
of the wait itself.

David Whyte

Thanks, K.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Art, and Healing

"I wake and sleep language. It has always been so. I had been brought up to memorise very long Bible passages, and when I left home and was supporting myself so that I could continue my education, I fought off loneliness and fear by reciting. In the funeral parlour I whispered Donne to the embalming fluids and Marvell to the corpses. Later, I found that Tennyson's 'Lady of Shalott' had a soothing, because rythmic, effect on the mentally disturbed. Among the disturbed I numbered myself at that time.

The healing power of art is not a rhetorical fantasy. Fighting to keep language, language became my sanity and my strength. It still is, and I know of no pain that art cannot assuage. For some, music, for some, pictures, for me, primarily, poetry, whether found in poems or in prose, cuts through noise and hurt, opens the wound to clean it, and then gradually teaches it to heal itself. Wounds need to be taught to heal themselves.

The psyche and the spirit do not share the instinct of the damaged body. Healing is not automatically triggered nor is danger usually avoided. Since we put ourselves in the way of hurt it seems logical to put ourselves in the way of healing. Art has more work to do than ever before but it can do that work. In a self-destructive society like our own, is it unsurprising that art as a healing force is despised."

Page 156, 'Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery', Jeanette Winterson

Photo: Saleem's notebook, from his days in the Wayanad forests. 

Running :)

"Running. You should, of course, wear a specially designed $200 Running Garment made from a synthetic material that has a name like the leader of a hostile reptilian alien invasion force in a space movie, such as "Gore-Tex". The beauty of these materials is that they actually "breathe". Really. At night, if you listen carefully to your closet, you'll hear your garment in there, breathing and occasionally chuckling softly at some synthetic joke it heard from your dress slacks."

Chapter: Running. 'Stay Fit & Healthy Until You're Dead', Dave Barry

Heal into time and other people


Go Fishing

Join water, wade in underbeing
Let brain mist into moist earth
Ghost loosen away downstream
Gulp river and gravity

Lose words
Be assumed into glistenings of lymph
As if creation were a wound
As if this flow were all plasm healing

Be supplanted by mud and leaves and pebbles
By sudden rainbow monster-structures
That materialize in suspension gulping
And dematerialize under pressure of the eye

Be cleft by the sliding prow
Displaced by the hull of light and shadow

Dissolved in earth-wave, the soft sun-shock,
Dismembered in sun-melt

Become translucent – one untangling drift
Of water-mesh, and a weight of earth-taste light
Mangled by wing-shadows
Everything circling and flowing and hover-still

Crawl out over roots, new and nameless
Search for face, harden into limbs

Let the world come back, like a white hospital
Busy with urgent words

Try to speak and nearly succeed
Heal into time and other people.

Ted Hughes, 'River'

From here:

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

And beholden to what is tactile, and thrilling


When loneliness comes stalking, go into the fields, consider
the orderliness of the world. Notice
something you have never noticed before,

like the tambourine sound of the snow-cricket
whose pale green body is no longer than your thumb.

Stare hard at the hummingbird, in the summer rain,
shaking the water-sparks from its wings.

Let grief be your sister, she will whether or no.
Rise up from the stump of sorrow, and be green also,
like the diligent leaves.

A lifetime isn't long enough for the beauty of this world
and the responsibilities of your life.

Scatter your flowers over the graves, and walk away.
Be good-natured and untidy in your exuberance.

In the glare of your mind, be modest.
And beholden to what is tactile, and thrilling.

Mary Oliver
12. Flair. From 'The Leaf and the Cloud: A Poem'

You’ll need to travel light


"So the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading bowls wrapped in their cloaks upon their shoulders." Exodus 12:34

You’ll need to travel light.
Take what you can carry: a book, a poem,
a battered tin cup, your child strapped
to your chest, clutching your necklace
in one hot possessive fist.

So the dough isn’t ready. So your heart
isn't ready. You haven’t said goodbye
to the places where you hid as a child,
to the friends who aren’t interested in the journey,
to the graves you’ve tended.

But if you wait until you feel fully ready
you may never take the leap at all
and Infinity is calling you forth
out of this birth canal
and into the future’s wide expanse.

Learn to improvise flat cakes without yeast.
Learn to read new alphabets.
Wear God like a cloak
and stride forth with confidence.
You won’t know where you’re going

but you have the words of our sages,
the songs of our mothers, the inspiration
wrapped in your kneading bowl. Trust
that what you carry will sustain you
and take the first step out the door.

Rachel Barenblat

Losing too is still ours

Losing too is still ours; and even forgetting
still has a shape in the kingdom of transformation.

When something's let go of, it circles; and though
we are rarely the center of the circle,
it draws around us its unbroken, marvelous curve.

Rainer Maria Rilke

There is an age when you are most yourself

Something About The Trees

I remember what my father told me:
There is an age when you are most yourself.
He was just past fifty then,
Was it something about the trees that make him speak?

There is an age when you are most yourself.
I know more than I did once.
Was it something about the trees that make him speak?
Only a single leaf had turned so far.

I know more than I did once.
I used to think he'd always be the surgeon.
Only a single leaf had turned so far,
Even his body kept its secrets.

I used to think he'd always be the surgeon,
My mother was the perfect surgeon's wife.
Even his body kept its secrets.
I thought they both would live forever.

My mother was the perfect surgeon's wife,
I can still see her face at thirty.
I thought they both would live forever.
I thought I'd always be their child.

I can still see her face at thirty.
When will I be most myself?
I thought I'd always be their child.
In my sleep it's never winter.

When will I be most myself?
I remember what my father told me.
In my sleep it's never winter.
He was just past fifty then.

Linda Pastan

A syncopated code I long to know

Falling: The Code

Through the night
the apples
outside my window
one by one let go
their branches and
drop to the lawn.
I can’t see, but hear
the stem-snap, the plummet
through leaves, then
the final thump against the ground.

Sometimes two
at once, or one
right after another.
During long moments of silence
I wait
and wonder about the bruised bodies,
the terror of diving through air, and
think I’ll go tomorrow
to find the newly fallen, but they
all look alike lying there
dewsoaked, disappearing before me.

I lie beneath my window listening
to the sound of apples dropping in

the yard, a syncopated code I long to know,
which continues even as I sleep, and dream I know

the meaning of what I hear, each dull
thud of unseen apple-

body, the earth
falling to earth

once and forever, over
and over.

Li-Young Lee, 1986

What, if not transformation, is your deepest purpose?

Ninth Duino Elegy (excerpt)

Praise the world to the angel: leave the unsayable aside.
Your exalted feelings do not move him.
In the universe, where he feels feelings, you are a beginner.
Therefore show him what is ordinary, what has been
shaped from generation to generation, shaped by hand and eye.
Tell him of things. He will stand still in astonishment,
the way you stood by the ropemaker in Rome
or beside the potter on the Nile.
Show him how happy a thing can be, how innocent and ours,
how even a lament takes pure form,
serves as a thing, dies as a thing,
while the violin, blessing it, fades.

And the things, even as they pass,
understand that we praise them.
Transient, they are trusting us
to save them - us, the most transient of all.
As if they wanted in our invisible hearts
to be transformed
into - oh, endlessly - into us.

Earth, isn't this what you want? To arise in us, invisible?
Is it not your dream, to enter us so wholly
there's nothing left outside us to see?
What, if not transformation,
is your deepest purpose? Earth, my love,
I want that too. Believe me,
no more of your spring-times are needed
to win me over - even one flower
is more than enough. Before I was named
I belonged to you. I seek no other law
but yours, and know I can trust
the death you will bring.

Rainer Maria Rilke, 'In Praise of Mortality', trans. and edited Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy

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