For everything that’s lovely is
But a brief, dreamy, kind delight.
— W. B. Yeats (@DailyYeats)
February 8, 2016
Sometimes there’s nothing to go on but hope.
No proof, no guarantees.
No winning lottery ticket.
No rescue in the nick of time.
No heroes to fix everything
In a perfect 60-minute format, just before the commercial.
Just hope. Just the kind of courage that comes from nothing left to lose.
Just a ‘what the hell else are you going to do?’ moment.
Maybe it’s the season, the days in February when
It begins to feel like nothing is going to thaw.
Something quickens despite all the evidence,
Despite all the weight of cold experience.
Something feels the long rhythms,
Something stirs in the depths of cold nights.
Something that has been asleep, but shivers awake, when the moment is right.
Hope. That’s all there is. That’s all there’s ever been.
Foolish, delusional, ridiculous, irrational.
Just hope. Something no one can steal.
When everything else is stripped away,
When everything is gone, and
You don’t even have a psychic quarter left to make a phone call
(And there aren’t even any pay phones left, anyway.)
But there’s something…. something down there.
Do you feel it, too?
Maybe. Just maybe.
It does not happen as they say, the body
sluffing off and leaving light.
No. It’s terrible. All those
Who came home whole from Troy
now in nursing homes in Argos. Some brat-god
taking back, one by one, each thing they loved.
There is no dignity in this. And so Odysseus
Slips from Penelope’s warmth in the bed he carved
From a huge tree. Pretending to sleep,
She thinks of the melons she will split
On the courtyard table in the heat of the day.
He steps out into the overcast morning.
She thinks of the joiner’s apprentice,
Growing to fit his big hands, wonders
If he’s had a woman yet.
He feels the cool sand on his feet,
Heaves his shoulder into the boat.
She sits up, hangs her feet over the bed.
He is waist high now in the cold water.
Pulls himself up,
Yanks the half-hitch, frees…
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the washed-out sky in winter…
tea from used-up leaves…
like memories of summer…
and are replaced
This man has done everything I’d have hoped to do if I’d actually lived the kind of life he has. And had the talent…and/or the guts to lay it all out there and cast the dice. :-) (cue Cajun fiddle and squeeze box, playing something bouncy and bluesy) *sigh*
I’ve been watching his “Treme” on Amazon Prime. I am unworthy. :-) He is my kind of reformed reporter. I’m going to visit some of the places in the show, listen to some jazz and stick a toe in the Mississippi and the tragedy of New Orleans at the end of this month.
If I were and orphan, I’d pray that David Simon would adopt me and teach me things.
David Judah Simon (born February 9, 1960) is an American author, journalist, and a writer/producer of television series. He worked for the Baltimore Sun City Desk for twelve years (1982–95) and wrote Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets (1991) and co-wrote The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood (1997) with Ed Burns. The former book was the basis for the NBC series Homicide: Life on the Street (1993–99), on which Simon served as a writer and producer. Simon adapted the latter book into the HBO mini-series The Corner(2000).
He is the creator of the HBO television series The Wire (2002–2008), for which he served as executive producer, head writer, and show runner for all five seasons. He adapted the non-fiction book Generation Kill into an HBO mini-series and served as the show runner for the project. He was selected as one of the 2010 MacArthur Fellows and named an Utne Reader visionary in 2011. Simon also co-created the HBO series Treme with Eric Overmyer, which aired for four seasons. Following Treme’s conclusion, Simon wrote the HBO mini-series Show Me a Hero with journalist William F. Zorzi, with whom Simon worked at The Baltimore Sun and on The Wire.
In August 2015, HBO commissioned two drama pilots from Simon’s company Blown Deadline Productions: The Deuce—about the New York porn industry in the 1970s and 1980s, to star Maggie Gyllenhaal and co-producer James Franco (as twins) and shooting in New York in the fall of 2015—and an untitled program exploring a ‘detailed examination of partisanship’ and money in Washington politics, to be co-produced with Carl Bernstein. Wire writers also involved in The Deuce include George Pelecanos, Richard Price, Michelle MacLaren, Nina K. Noble, and Marc Henry Johnson.
“Why do we still do it?”
The two men had been talking for a few minutes already. It was the same every time. They’d covered what was in the paper, who’d died, and who would do everyone a favor if they did. That was always fun. And they always each nominated themselves.
They paused to let the waitress put their cups and a pot of coffee down. She somehow produced a small stainless cream pitcher and put it down, too, without spilling anything. A basket of biscotti was already waiting for them. She left, knowing better than to interrupt.
They were at a table by the big window that wobbled if you shifted your weight wrong. They came on Mondays at 7:30 in the morning, rain or shine.
The man who had spoken about their days as starving writers poured another splash of cream into his coffee until the color was the way God intended. He picked up a spoon — made the same decade as the pitcher — and stirred the required three circles. The table, which had probably been in many cafes and dives—and as many auctions—had been new — and in its first auction — in 1929. The years left their mark, but the table still stood where people gathered. Even if it had developed a slight wobble, just like the men.
The other man lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply, as if to hurt himself, then pushed the smoke up toward the ceiling. It hurried up there and hid in the dimness like old sad memories. Another long draw and exhale, more memories. He finally looked down into his coffee, watched the steam, felt mildly curious about when someone had poured it. He took a quick sip, blew a little to cool it, then took a longer drink. He looked through the dust of the window and watched the sun try to warm the old WCTU brick building across the street.
“I wish I knew.” One side of his mouth twitched in what once had once been an easy smile. He raised his eyes, caught those of his friend for a moment and looked back out the window. A gust kicked up and blew something past. A white paper sandwich bag.
“Maybe… I don’t know….He stopped.
“Maybe its because the world is so muddled, because people are so confused and lost.
“Maybe I’m the one who’s confused and lost and I never got the memo. Maybe…. It sounds crazy, I know.
“I have this nagging fear that we are living on borrowed time. It never leaves me. All of us. Everything. I just have this feeling that if I get it right—some day, even just once, I write the perfect thing, something of absolute and final clarity that is a plea for forgiveness—then maybe God will give us one more chance. The hell of it is, I’m getting old. I just don’t know how much time I have, or what it will take.”
Neither spoke again. There really was nothing more to say. They looked through the hazy glass as the coffees grew cold.
In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m on a slight Carl Sandburg kick lately. Just found this today:
“There is a wolf in me . . . fangs pointed for tearing gashes . . . a red tongue for raw meat . . . and the hot lapping of blood—I keep this wolf because the wilderness gave it to me and the wilderness will not let it go.
There is a hog in me . . . a snout and a belly . . . a machinery for eating and grunting . . . a machinery for sleeping satisfied in the sun—I got this too from the wilderness and the wilderness will not let it go.
There is a fish in me . . . I know I came from salt-blue water-gates . . . I scurried with shoals of herring . . . I blew waterspouts with porpoises . . . before land was . . . before the water went down . . . before Noah . . . before the first chapter of Genesis.
There is a baboon in me . . . clambering-clawed . . . dog-faced . . . yawping a galoot’s hunger . . . hairy under the armpits . . . here are the hawk-eyed hankering men . . . here are the blonde and blue-eyed women . . . here they hide curled asleep waiting . . . ready to snarl and kill . . . ready to sing and give milk . . . waiting—I keep the baboon because the wilderness says so.
There is an eagle in me and a mockingbird . . . and the eagle flies among the Rocky Mountains of my dreams and fights among the Sierra crags of what I want . . . and the mockingbird warbles in the early forenoon before the dew is gone, warbles in the underbrush of my Chattanoogas of hope, gushes over the blue Ozark foothills of my wishes—And I got the eagle and the mockingbird from the wilderness.
O, I got a zoo, I got a menagerie, inside my ribs, under my bony head, under my red-valve heart—and I got something else: it is a man-child heart, a woman-child heart: it is a father and mother and lover: it came from God-Knows-Where: it is going to God-Knows-Where—For I am the keeper of the zoo: I say yes and no: I sing and kill and work: I am a pal of the world: I came from the wilderness.
Jib sweeps the horizon, wake’s a long bubbling flow,
Storms uncounted I’ve weathered, bleak terrors I’ve known.
My passage, I see, leaves no trace at all.
What good to linger, then the words: “Let it go.”
The ship sluices onward, destination unknown,
Taut cables weave ’round me, they sing, snap and moan,
The mast bends, the hull bites deeper, new gusts arrive,
The prow cuts faster, the water’s hiss climbs, the sea knows her own.
Through the darkness she takes me, my eyes crusted blind,
Brine coats me, it seems, for three times out of mind.
I pray for the sight of rare stars cloaked in mist,
And dream fitfully of old friends left behind.
Each dawn brings the thought, despite what is past,
That this day will end on fair shore at long last.
Still, my body is one with the ship ‘neath my hand,
Both battered and worn, we’ve done what was asked.
*Republished from last February, with some revisions, which I’m still making this morning. Why this one? Pprobably because winter gets to the me same way every year. If this is your first visit, I hope you enjoy this and other more recent posts.
**Inspired by the rhyming pattern of Robert Frost’s “Stopping By A Woods On A Snowy Evening,” although a pale imitation of that.
Friend: “Any plans for today?”
Me: “Only one. To wake up tomorrow and not have the police after me.”
The sea moves always, the wind moves always,
They want and they want and there is no end to their wanting.
What they sing is the song of the people.
Man will never arrive. Man will always be on the way.
It is written he shall rest, but never for long.
The sea and the wind tell him he shall be lonely, meet love, be shaken with struggle and go on wanting.
What else could we think—
Life-soaked helplesslovers— but
Endless days of youth.
There are these moments every January
Like the one that hit at 4:42 PM
East Coast time today,
Usually after a string of crappy, cold,
Grey days with a Nor-easter in the forecast.
On the weather channel,
They’re having impressive,
Fully clothed group orgasms, apparently stimulated by
A couple of winter storms…
Doing what storms do.
(You can check if you want to.
Their stamina is truly amazing.)
Now to an electrician working outside—
It’s a “This Old House” segment,
Where a guy is Putting in a new outside light pole—
That flipped a switch in my head.
I kind of got emotional after that.
T-shirts, tool belts. Jeans, warm weather work gear.
Fixing stuff....Green grass, trees swaying in a breeze.
It was the sunlight—I felt the warmth—
That hit with a surprising flash of longing.
And the shadows, too.
The shadows jumping and playing across
Everyone and everything, transmitting the dance
Of Maple leaves in the warm breezes,
Of another, distant July in New England.
The shadows danced over the scene in that
Careless way the world’s wonders do.
They perform effortlessly for us, for free,
And we don’t see them at the time,
Focused as we are on
Getting the job done.
Yes to the unknown, the tears, the sweat.
Yes to the ‘morrow-rise and sunset.
Yes to the voices, young and strong,
Yes to the children learning right from wrong.
Yes to the starlight, high and cold,
Yes to the mists, and the mysteries they hold.
Yes to the hard road, traveled alone,
Yes to the love that reaches the bone.
Yes to the losses that each must bear,
Yes to the life sources, sea and air,
Yes to the pains that teach us strength,
Yes to the spirit that wins at length
Yes to the people, yes to their backs,
Yes to their yokes and labor and acts.
Yes to the toilers, loafers and apes,
Yes to the tillers of history’s landscapes.
Yes to the dawn, arms spread wide,
Yes to the rains and winds and tide,
Yes to the future, right or wrong,
Yes to the others, who rise in song.
(Note: This is for the word nerds out there, from a fellow nerd. I’ve been reading a lot lately about the history of the development of English. This is a bit off that track, but it’s related.)
Stories evolve. As they are told and retold to new audiences, they accumulate changes in plot, characters, and settings. They behave a lot like living organisms, which build up mutations in the genes that they pass to successive generations.
This is more than a metaphor. It means that scientists can reconstruct the relationships between versions of a story using the same tools that evolutionary biologists use to study species. They can compare different versions of the same tale and draw family trees—phylogenies—that unite them. They can even reconstruct the last common ancestor of a group of stories.
In 2013, Jamie Tehrani from Durham University did this for Little Red Riding Hood, charting the relationships between 58 different versions of the tale. In some, a huntsman rescues the girl; in others, she does it herself. But all these iterations could be traced back to a single origin, 2,000 years ago, somewhere between Europe and the Middle East. And East Asian versions (with several girls, and a tiger or leopard in lieu of wolf) probably derived from these European ancestors.
That project stoked Tehrani’s interest, and so he teamed up with Sara Graça da Silva, who studies intersections between evolution and literature, to piece together the origins of a wider corpus of folktales. The duo relied on the Aarne Thompson Uther Index—an immense catalogue that classifies folktales into over 2,000 tiered categories. (For example, Tales of Magic (300-749) contains Supernatural Adversaries (300-399), which contains Little Red Riding Hood (333), Rapunzel (310), and more amusing titles like Godfather Death (332) and Magnet Mountain Attracts Everything (322).
Tehrani and da Silva recorded the presence of each Tales of Magic to 50 Indo-European populations, and used these maps to reconstruct the stories’ evolutionary relationships. They were successful for 76 of the 275 tales, tracing their ancestries back by hundreds or thousands of years. These results vindicate a view espoused by no less a teller of stories than Wilhelm Grimm—half of the fraternal duo whose names are almost synonymous with fairy tales. He and his brother Jacob were assembling German peasant tales at a time of great advances in linguistics. Researchers were unmasking the commonalities between Indo-European languages (which include English, Spanish, Hindi, Russian, and German), and positing that those tongues shared a common ancestor. In 1884, the Grimms suggested that the same applied to oral traditions like folktales. Those they compiled were part of a grand cultural tradition that stretched from Scandinavia to South Asia, and many were probably thousands of years old.
Many folklorists disagreed. Some have claimed that many classic fairy tales are recent inventions that followed the advent of mass-printed literature. Others noted that human stories, unlike human genes, aren’t just passed down vertically through generations, but horizontally within generations. “They’re passed across societies through trade, exchange, migration, and conquest,” says Tehrani. “The consensus was that these processes would have destroyed any deep signatures of descent from ancient ancestral populations.”
“I love you,” said a great mother. “I love you for what you are knowing so well what you are.
“And I love you more yet, child, deeper yet than ever, child, for what you are going to be, knowing so well you are going far, knowing your great works are ahead, ahead and beyond, yonder and far over yet.”
I feel a little foolish posting this, but what the hell…. I just hit 500 subscribers. In the grand scheme of things, I realize it’s not a big number. It is certainly not close to others’. I can imagine those of you out there with thousands laughing. It’s OK. I would, too, in a paternal, chuckly sort of way.
“Hey, kid. Way to go. Maybe someday you can run with the big dogs when you grow up and learn how the pros blog.”
It’s a nice round number, though. I like round numbers. With two zeroes. And it is just big enough to feel like it matters a little.
I started this blog in January of 2014, not really knowing what to do. I was coming to the end of a career, and dealing with some of life’s other bad jokes. I needed to get some things off my chest.
What an interesting two years it has been. This blog has been a life-saver for me in many ways, particularly after the stroke in April of ’14. My right hand was partially paralyzed for a time, and I was terrified that I would never be able to type again. I asked my wife to bring the laptop to the ICU as soon as they took my clothes away and put me in those stupid little neon green footies with the non-skid strips. (I was glad for those the first time I tried to walk to the bathroom. My right leg belonged to someone else, and refused to do what I told it for a time.)
I forced myself to type…a lot of stuff… that whole first night. Thank God I still had my mind (what there was to start with) and speech and general well-being. I still have no idea now what I wrote, despite more or less constant interruptions by the nurses. It’s no fun trying to work with all of those monitor wires stuck everywhere, and the IV. But they knew it was important therapy, and left me to it. Maybe it was the time I growled at a nurse the first time one of them suggested I put the laptop away? I may have been high on something. I can’t be held responsible.
I slept. I woke and wrote. I slept. I ate (it was pretty good; hospital food isn’t always disgusting) I got poked and prodded and otherwise abused. And slept. Then wrote some more. By two days after the stroke, when I was home, I could tell the motor control in my hand and fingers, and all the muscle memory of a lifetime at a keyboard was coming back online. Enough. It was enough. Thank God, it was enough.
I wanted to post this to say that it all is important because I had found you, and earned your indulgence at my words one post and follow at a time. I’m grateful for your attention and occasional appreciations; your encouragement and generosity in giving me a feeling that what I had to say, no matter how confused it was at times, was worth something. To someone.
Thank you. 500 times. :-)
Doug aka Hemmingplay
From “The People, Yes” 1936, Harcourt & Brace
For sixty years the pine lumber barn
had held cows, horses, hay, harness, tools, junk,
amid the prairie winds of Knox County, Illinois
and the corn crops came and went, plows and wagons,
and hands milked, hands husked and harnessed
and held the leather reins of horse teams
in dust and dog days, in late fall sleet
till the work was done that fall.
And the barn was a witness, stood and saw it all.
“That old barn on your place, Charlie,
Was nearly falling last time I saw it,
How is it now?”
“I got some poles to hold it on the east side
And the wind holds it up on the west.”
The moon tracks across
A sky heavy with undecided clouds.
In places, the veil is diaphanous,
And I see the curve of her,
An adolescent shoulder,
Not quite half full.
In this stretch of night, moist
And chill in the way of false spring,
The South in January. Harsher days
Wait. Bide until the bulbs and buds
Have made a start, before
They pour winter down upon them.
But in this space, though brittle
Spells of hard frost come,
There is time to recall what is good.
In remembrance, I find strength.
To turn from fruitless memories
That shift and rattle within.
I take a breath, and am glad that life
Has given me the chance to learn–
The shame of failure, the agony
Burning at the heart of betrayal–
These moments are passed, as dead
As those committed to the earth.
Remembering them cannot change
All that happened.
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I was randomly wasting time on the web when I stumbled across this earlier. At first, I thought someone had caught me in one of my surprise sneezes this morning. My sinuses hate the cold, dry air this time of year.
The truth is a lot more interesting. Ontario-based photographer Michael Davies timed this impressive shot of his friend Markus hurling a thermos of hot tea through the air yesterday in -40°C weather near the Arctic Circle. At such frigid temperatures water freezes instantly to form a dramatic plume of ice. For the last decade Davies has worked as a photographer in the fly-in community of Pangnirtung in Canada’s High Arctic, only 20km south of the Arctic Circle, a place that sees about two hours of sunlight each day during the winter.
Found at: http://tinyurl.com/jx97xzg
Well, they’re sure driving ME nuts, that’s for damned sure.
I’m at that point with ©”Running Girl”.
I must decide whether to keep going, or do something more fun, such as drinking drain cleaner or having some teeth pulled without anesthesia?
I’ll just whinge a little, then get back to work. I’ll make no final decision yet, not until the train trip next month, at least.
Don’t worry: I won’t do the drain cleaner. And forget about teeth-pulling.
The only thing to do is to call a staff meeting, I’m afraid: me and the characters. (Between you and me, they make me nervous. There’s a high percentage of psychos in the bunch. Kind of like a previous job I had, come to think of it.)
Still, I’m in charge. I’m working on motivational sayings to start the meeting.
But maybe the nuclear option is just better. I always have the “delete” key.
Robert Frost was born on March 26th, 1874. During his lengthy career he won the Pulitzer Prize four times and was chosen as the Poet Laureate for the United States from 1958-1959 by President Eisenhower. He also was the first poet to be a part of an inauguration ceremony in 1961, reading the poem “The Gift Outright” for John F. Kennedy. His poems are “lovely, dark, and deep” and are well loved to this day. In this video, Garrison Keillor introduces footage of Frost reading, “Stopping By The Woods On A Snowy Evening,” and provides interesting context for the poem’s inception.
“Truth is like poetry… and most people fucking hate poetry.”
-Overheard at a Washington DC bar.
Quoted in opening screens of the movie “The Big Short”, in theaters now….
“One day things will change. One day men will change. But first, Alexander, the gods much change.”
I’m planning an extended trip next month, by train across the lower states. I’ll start in LA, where I’ll have a few days, then end near home in Pa, going by way of San Antonio, New Orleans, Chicago and Pittsburgh, with layovers–taking lots of photos and hoping to see what’s happening in the bottom half of the country.
On those long days, when someone else is driving across the Southwest and then up the Mississippi, I’ll also have time to dirty some (digital) paper, and keep up a running account of the trip here.
Plus, unless I’m in a hurry, air travel is just… bad these days. (It’s bad even when I am in a hurry, too, being just one or two notches up from the prep for a colonoscopy.)
Has anyone out there done one of these long rail trips, or spent time in any of these cities recently? Looking for suggestions on what to see/do/avoid. Dates will be between the middle of February and early March.
(Ozymandias is the name the Greeks gave to Ramses II)
Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1792 – 1822
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
W. B. Yeats (@DailyYeats) tweeted at 2:41pm – 29 Dec 15:
…you may think I waste my breath
Pretending that there can be passion
That has more life in it than death…
All that is gold does not glitter
Not all those who wander are lost
The old that is strong does not wither
Deep roots are not touched by the frost
PROF. J.R.R. TOLKIEN
I’m still not sure how I got here,
I would really like to know how I got here.
It feels as though all of my life so far,
Has just been practice for ….what comes next.
I want things to be harder,
I want to push beyond what I thought was possible.
I want to be astonished, over and over.
I want to feel the aches and pains and get mad,
And ignore them like the bastards they are.
I don’t know if I’ll be successful, but no longer
Give two fucks in a velvet bag about that.
What happens next needs to be a mystery,
A surprise. I like surprises.
It might be a heart attack, I suppose,
But that’s really not a surprise.. more a cliche, really.
I just hope I’ll find a few things I didn’t know,
Somethings, really, each more wonderful, elegant, sublime,
Than the last.
What more to life could there be?
Well, maybe one thing: I hope some lovely dark beauty
Young enough to be my granddaughter looks twice and thinks,
I’ll take a piece of that!
And I’ll still want to oblige.
Ordinary things be time machines,
Containing important futures.
Surprising links to before-times.
A cardboard box that held a cheap microwave,
Taking scissors to slice along the seam of the bottom,
Pulling to break the hold the staples had,
Breaking it down…
I was 16 again, back in the storeroom
Of the S&H Green Stamps store in my hometown,
Along Main Street. There were trees along all the streets.
My first real job.
I unloaded semi-loads of stuff, boxes of stuff,
Stuff frugal people would order from catalogues,
Or walk into the store to buy with their
Carefully saved booklets of stamps.
Choosing, pushing the booklets forward like money,
Walking out with a toaster or a toolkit or a set of sheets.
So, I unloaded trucks, unpacked these things and
Put them on warehouse shelves
On the days when the trucks made deliveries
In the alley behind the store. I learned what the backsides of ordinary things looked like.
My boss taught me where things went,
(And you have a dirty mind. It was nothing like that—
Although it would have been nice to be guided
Into manhood by an older woman who cared.)
She told me what it meant to work, be there on time,
Tolerated my teenage awkwardness, trained me bit by bit,
Was firm when I failed, gentle when I tried, smiled when I needed encouragement,
Showed me how a business ran.
Talked to me about important things when things were slow,
Let me know that adults had problems, too,
Told me stories about lessons she’d learned, about
Marriage, about living. I still remember one thing,
That helped me later on. I knew it was important then, and
Held onto it somehow.
“No matter who you marry, and how much in love you are,
There will be days when you look at that person and wonder
‘what in the world did I see in them?’
The important thing is what you do next,” she said. And
Chuckled with a hint of sadness.
She did that from time to time, and laughed, at herself, at life.
Shaking her head, and getting back to work.
That’s where I learned life was in the living, moving through it.
In cardboard boxes and shelving and in the company
Of older, kinder, competent people.
I wish I could remember her name.
She was not as old as my mother, with brown hair and kind but shrewd eyes,
She taught me how to do a job, made me better, scoffed at my bullshit,
Was real and practical and beautiful.
So when the trucks came on Wednesdays,
I unloaded them, trucked boxes inside, unpacked and stocked the shelves,
But the last thing on those hard days was to take a knife,
Slice them apart and change them into flat things,
Ready to be removed, their function served.
No longer holding someone’s precious
New microwave, or tool kit or sheets made of Egyptian cotton,
Ordinary again. But so much more.
*Republished from April
It is beautiful, is it not?
Utterly calm, soothing, serene.
If only I felt that way,
Or knew what it was like.
I float for a moment,
Feeling the calm,
If only I could have the Grace
To leave it at that.
Instead, my brain is churning
Wondering why something
Built for movement, for air and sea,
Is alone and still
Like some discarded refrigerator.
If only that made sense…
…My nature is hopelessly complicated; a mass of contradictory impulses;
The centre of me is always and eternally a terrible pain—a curious wild pain—a searching for something beyond what the world contains, something transfigured and infinite—the beatific vision—God—I do not find it, I do not think it is to be found—but the love of it is my life—it’s like a passionate love for a ghost. At times it fills me with rage, at times with wild despair, it is the source of gentleness and cruelty and work, it fills every passion that I have— it is the actual spring of life within me.
Through faint hiss of waves,
Mystery sits on the dawn
Far siren voice fades.
And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.
And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
They lying long shall not die windily;
Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through;
Split all ends up they shan’t crack;
And death shall have no dominion.
And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashores;
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
Though they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy….
I didn’t think it would be like this.
I could have been convinced, mind you,
But I was neutral, skeptical.
Unmoved except by facts.
“Show me a ghost; I can’t take your word for it.
Let me talk to just *one*,” I’d say to earnest believers, knowing they could not.
Show me. Prove it.
I even went looking on my own.
We once camped at Gettysburg when my sons were 8 and 10—
Under a full moon, no less.
I wanted them to visit such a place, to get a tiny taste of
The grand sweep of events, even though they were too young
To grasp much, and were more interested in lightening bugs
And climbing on a cannon or two.
It was a humid, sticky summer night, as I recall.
The time in some July’s when the dark hours stay hot from the day
Well past midnight, air coming up straight out of the Gulf
With humidity so high it’s like breathing
Through wet gauze—the air full of bugs, bats
The mating calls of cicadas, of frogs in some boggy spot …
And the occasional owl-hoot-whooo through the mist.
The kind of night when you can feel the Earth
Pumping, moving, breathing, desperately fertile,
Sudden small deaths in the grasses, feeding more life.
Much like the night before the battle all those decades before, I imagined.
A spooky night, pregnant with meaning, deadly and glorious,
Full of shadows and fear.
I couldn’t sleep, too hot, too curious, so once the others were asleep, I walked.
Alone. The crunching of the gravel under foot gave rhythm to the cicadas’ song,
All along a blueish-silver gravel path, with pockets of mist twisting, rising, on either side,
I passed many monuments, frozen glories, massive in the gloom.
I came down a grassy slope to a ridge, with a low stone wall,
Looked out over fields and fence rows glowing in the moonlight.
Pickett’s thousands had died out there, and hundreds more, all around.
The spot on which I stood was the place of a final, desperate, bloody ending,
Once littered with bodies and wreckage and screams, now neatly tended grass.
But I neither saw nor felt any unhappy spirits.
I listened for them, with my ears, with my doubting self.
For a long time. A coyote trotted across the far edge of the field,
A single cloud skittered across the moon, casting deeper gloom.
All I got that night
Were a few mosquito bites.
It went on like this for years. Me, skeptical, waiting, expecting nothing, getting nothing.
Until my body died (under circumstances I’d rather not go into right now).
Let’s just say that it was ‘messy’.
And, much to my surprise, I’m still here.
Sort of. Enough to dictate these words into
Another’s dream, at least.
For how long?
For a while, I guess.
Until I can figure it out.
So I try to keep as busy as one can when you can’t touch the world,
And can only observe through a thin barrier that
Makes everything look like an old newsreel.
But things are different in many ways.
I listen in on people’s conversations,
And drop in wherever and whenever I want.
Time and space are no longer limited as they were,
I visited my own past, and while I found some answers,
I came away from that feeling that my own existence
Was only ordinary. Was I a child of God, treasured?
I still don’t know. Maybe, though. I have so much to learn.
Having nothing better to do, I spy on people, though:
Satisfy my curiosity about certain people, and strangers,
Listen to their conversations, and, if the cosmic wind is out of Neptune,
To their thoughts. It is all open to me.
And yes, of course! I watched them flirting, lying, flattering, having sex,
It was one of the first things I did in the early days.
(And if people aren’t actually doing it,
They’re mostly thinking about it.
We humans are a horny bunch, that’s for sure.)
It was just… not as interesting to me—in my new condition.
So I drifted off, disoncerted, a little disappointed—but relieved, somehow.
I started listening more deeply to the ebb and flow
Of life beginning and life ending,
Of an ocean’s-worth of striving and defeat, of confusion and loss,
Of happiness in small things, and contentment.
It’s a gift, and yet no gift, to see things as they really are
And to no longer have any part to play.
And yet…. I learned….
What I used to call time passes. I feel some of it still
I feel myself becoming a part of all I see, as though coming home.
I finally find the undiscovered country.
Everything that was, is and shall be,
All that I see, all the others, present and future, are really parts of me.
And with that, I am a ghost no more.
I’ll be waiting for you.
” In the multiverse of the heart, all that could happen has already happened and would certainly happen again!”
—Syed Khalid Anwer
Now as the year turns toward its darkness
the car is packed, and time come to start
driving west. We have lived here
for many years and been more or less content;
now we are going away. That is how
things happen, and how into new places,
among other people, we shall carry
our lives with their peculiar memories
both happy and unhappy but either way
touched with a strange tonality
of what is gone but inalienable, the clear
and level light of a late afternoon
out on the terrace, looking to the mountains,
drinking with friends. Voices and laughter
lifted in still air, in a light
that seemed to paralyze time.
We have had kindness here, and some
unkindness; now we are going on.
Though we are young enough still
And militant enough to be resolved,
Keeping our faces to the front, there is
A moment, after saying all farewells,
when we taste the dry and bitter dust
of everything that we have said and done
for many years, and our mouths are dumb,
and the easy tears will not do. Soon
the north wind will shake the leaves,
the leaves will fall. It may be
never again that we shall see them,
the strangers who stand on the steps,
smiling and waving, before the screen doors
of their suddenly forbidden houses.
“Going Away” by Howard Nemerov from New Poems. © University of Chicago Press, 1992.
Monday morning. The usual routine now is to putter around downstairs, watch a politics show and catch up on news of the world. Then I climb to the third story to begin the work day.
I’m in the middle of a real pickle with “Running Girl,” one I’m not sure I can find the right combination of ham and swiss cheese to make edible. That’s today’s main task: staring. Staring at the screen. Staring out of the window. Coaxing the muse out of the plaster of the walls. Finding a smidgen of courage to go on.
To help inject some thought into the process, I read random things. It’s kind of like flipping through a book and sticking a finger in somewhere. Maybe there’s something guiding the finger (and maybe not), but it’s a technique to start moving the mental needle. This is today’s offering.”
“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed. It was the experience of mystery — even if mixed with fear — that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, our perceptions of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which only in their most primitive forms are accessible to our minds: it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute true religiosity. In this sense, and only this sense, I am a deeply religious man… I am satisfied with the mystery of life’s eternity and with a knowledge, a sense, of the marvelous structure of existence — as well as the humble attempt to understand even a tiny portion of the Reason that manifests itself in nature.”
AS I AGE, I REALIZE THAT
1. I talk to myself, because sometimes I need expert advice.
2. Sometimes I roll my eyes out loud.
3. I don’t need anger management. I need people to stop pissing me off.
4. My people skills are just fine. It’s my tolerance of idiots that needs work.
5. The biggest lie I tell myself is “I don’t need to write that down, I’ll remember it.”
6. When I was a child I thought nap time was punishment. Now it’s like a mini vacation..
7. The day the world runs out of wine is just too terrible to think about.
8. Even duct tape can’t fix stupid, but it can muffle the sound.
9. Wouldn’t it be great if we could put ourselves in the dryer for ten minutes; come out wrinkle-free and three sizes smaller.
10. At my age “Getting Lucky” means walking into a room and remembering what I came in there for.
somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond any experience,your eyes have their silence: in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me, or which i cannot touch because they are too near your slightest look easily will unclose me though i have closed myself as fingers, you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens (touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose or if your wish be to close me,i and my life will shut very beautifully,suddenly, as when the heart of this flower imagines the snow carefully everywhere descending; nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals the power of your intense fragility:whose texture compels me with the colour of its countries, rendering death and forever with each breathing (i do not know what it is about you that closes and opens;only something in me understands the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses) nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands Someone said: to get better, read the best
I may be the last person to realize that this piece was published six years ago by Andy Weir, author of the best-selling “The Martian,” subject of a recent movie. I’m a huge fan, and repeat it in that spirit. .
By Andy Weir
You were on your way home when you died.
It was a car accident. Nothing particularly remarkable, but fatal nonetheless. You left behind a wife and two children. It was a painless death. The EMTs tried their best to save you, but to no avail. Your body was so utterly shattered you were better off, trust me.
And that’s when you met me.
“What… what happened?” You asked. “Where am I?”
“You died,” I said, matter-of-factly. No point in mincing words.
“There was a… a truck and it was skidding…”
“Yup,” I said.
“I… I died?”
“Yup. But don’t feel bad about it. Everyone dies,” I said.
You looked around. There was nothingness. Just you and me. “What is this place?” You asked. “Is this the afterlife?”
“More or less,” I said.
“Are you god?” You asked.
“Yup,” I replied. “I’m God.”
“My kids… my wife,” you said.
“What about them?”
“Will they be all right?”
“That’s what I like to see,” I said. “You just died and your main concern is for your family. That’s good stuff right there.”
You looked at me with fascination. To you, I didn’t look like God. I just looked like some man. Or possibly a woman. Some vague authority figure, maybe. More of a grammar school teacher than the almighty.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “They’ll be fine. Your kids will remember you as perfect in every way. They didn’t have time to grow contempt for you. Your wife will cry on the outside, but will be secretly relieved. To be fair, your marriage was falling apart. If it’s any consolation, she’ll feel very guilty for feeling relieved.”
“Oh,” you said. “So what happens now? Do I go to heaven or hell or something?”
“Neither,” I said. “You’ll be reincarnated.”
“Ah,” you said. “So the Hindus were right,”
“All religions are right in their own way,” I said. “Walk with me.”
You followed along as we strode through the void. “Where are we going?”
“Nowhere in particular,” I said. “It’s just nice to walk while we talk.”
“So what’s the point, then?” You asked. “When I get reborn, I’ll just be a blank slate, right? A baby. So all my experiences and everything I did in this life won’t matter.”
“Not so!” I said. “You have within you all the knowledge and experiences of all your past lives. You just don’t remember them right now.”
I stopped walking and took you by the shoulders. “Your soul is more magnificent, beautiful, and gigantic than you can possibly imagine. A human mind can only contain a tiny fraction of what you are. It’s like sticking your finger in a glass of water to see if it’s hot or cold. You put a tiny part of yourself into the vessel, and when you bring it back out, you’ve gained all the experiences it had.
“You’ve been in a human for the last 48 years, so you haven’t stretched out yet and felt the rest of your immense consciousness. If we hung out here for long enough, you’d start remembering everything. But there’s no point to doing that between each life.”
“How many times have I been reincarnated, then?”
“Oh lots. Lots and lots. An into lots of different lives.” I said. “This time around, you’ll be a Chinese peasant girl in 540 AD.”
“Wait, what?” You stammered. “You’re sending me back in time?”
“Well, I guess technically. Time, as you know it, only exists in your universe. Things are different where I come from.”
“Where you come from?” You said.
“Oh sure,” I explained “I come from somewhere. Somewhere else. And there are others like me. I know you’ll want to know what it’s like there, but honestly you wouldn’t understand.”
“Oh,” you said, a little let down. “But wait. If I get reincarnated to other places in time, I could have interacted with myself at some point.”
“Sure. Happens all the time. And with both lives only aware of their own lifespan you don’t even know it’s happening.”
“So what’s the point of it all?”
“Seriously?” I asked. “Seriously? You’re asking me for the meaning of life? Isn’t that a little stereotypical?”
“Well it’s a reasonable question,” you persisted.
I looked you in the eye. “The meaning of life, the reason I made this whole universe, is for you to mature.”
“You mean mankind? You want us to mature?”
“No, just you. I made this whole universe for you. With each new life you grow and mature and become a larger and greater intellect.”
“Just me? What about everyone else?”
“There is no one else,” I said. “In this universe, there’s just you and me.”
You stared blankly at me. “But all the people on earth…”
“All you. Different incarnations of you.”
“Wait. I’m everyone!?”
“Now you’re getting it,” I said, with a congratulatory slap on the back.
“I’m every human being who ever lived?”
“Or who will ever live, yes.”
“I’m Abraham Lincoln?”
“And you’re John Wilkes Booth, too,” I added.
“I’m Hitler?” You said, appalled.
“And you’re the millions he killed.”
“And you’re everyone who followed him.”
You fell silent.
“Every time you victimized someone,” I said, “you were victimizing yourself. Every act of kindness you’ve done, you’ve done to yourself. Every happy and sad moment ever experienced by any human was, or will be, experienced by you.”
You thought for a long time.
“Why?” You asked me. “Why do all this?”
“Because someday, you will become like me. Because that’s what you are. You’re one of my kind. You’re my child.”
“Whoa,” you said, incredulous. “You mean I’m a god?”
“No. Not yet. You’re a fetus. You’re still growing. Once you’ve lived every human life throughout all time, you will have grown enough to be born.”
“So the whole universe,” you said, “it’s just…”
“An egg.” I answered. “Now it’s time for you to move on to your next life.”
And I sent you on your way.
“I know we’re not saints or virgins or lunatics; we know all the lust and lavatory jokes, and most of the dirty people; we can catch buses and count our change and cross the roads and talk real sentences. But our innocence goes awfully deep, and our discreditable secret is that we don’t know anything at all, and our horrid inner secret is that we don’t care that we don’t.”
― Dylan Thomas
And tomorrow, a few of us will vote in the neighborhood. :-)
After the night, when my heart despairs with loneliness and questions,
I know that I must only ride it out, embrace the nothingness
As the other half of meaning.
For just as quickly, despite the blackness,
A dawn will come, bursting like flame and thunder on the world,
‘Til I bathe my face in a new day, and see the road ahead again.
One of the best talks I’ve seen.