“You let your higher self rule
and your truer self grieve,
and the world will still strip away
all you ever hoped to achieve.”
by Amy King
Shame on you for dating a museum:
Everything is dead there and nothing is alive.
Not everyone who lives to be old embraces
the publicity of it all. I mean, you get up and folks
want to know, How did you get here? What makes you
go? What is the secret? And there is no secret except
there are many things that build the years out.
They are not vegetables every day and working out
but a faith that all of these things add up
and lead us to some sum total happiness
we can cash in for forever love in the face
of never lasting. That people along the way
keep disappearing in a variety show of deathbed ways
is also the sheer terror that it may not hold for us too.
That we may outlast everything and be left
alone to keep going, never Icarus with wax melting,
never the one whose smoke & drink undid
the lungs that pull our wings in then out and the liver
that keeps chugging the heft of Elizabeth Cotten’s
“Freight Train” with her upside down left hand guitar still
playing in videos past her presence. I have become a person since
I reorganized my face in the mirror and the world is my inflation.
But this testament offers no sound or silence since
nothing is proven yet and you are still here,
the dead stars’ light landing on your rods and cones
in a vitrine of cameos building—blink.
Somehow, I seem to have
awakened a couple of decades late.
OK, OK. It’s been longer than that…
The point is,
I missed my perfect Kennedy moment,
That one where we get
to die when we still look fantastic
and are always remembered that way,
while the rest of the gang
gets old and wrinkly and smells bad.
So long, Camelot.
I hardly knew ye.
It’s just a number: 1,000. But it is fellow-bloggers and for that reason is especially nice. Thank you all.
My path has taken a couple of side trails, and I’ve dialed back on poetry lately because I’m researching another book, and that’s taking up a lot of time. I don’t have a working title yet, and am still letting the research guide the setting and plot a little, but I know the general outlines.
It is in the “cli-fi” genre, set 50-100 years in the future and will be a character-based story about the world after the first big “impacts” of climate change have hit. After some cities have flooded from rising sea levels, other places are too hot to live in and grow crops most years, and other places are hit with monster storms or torrential rains and winds. I’m probably going to give New Orleans a starring role, since I have fallen in love with her and she’s going to be one of the early casualties as things now stand.
It’s a big story, and I’m basically going back to school. I’m learning that what is coming is both much worse than I thought, but also that the future is not totally hopeless. It’s a tossup now whether our grandchildren will spit on our graves or not.
I’m hoping this project doesn’t swamp me. (Pun intended)
My poetry book is still for sale, of course. 🙂 ( http://amzn.to/2lQnNoL ) and a second manuscript is making the rounds of some small presses.
Thanks again to all of you, and all the best as you live this crazy writer’s life with me. Here’s to your stories adding to the world.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Continue reading “The Second Coming”
A famous writer was in his study. He picked up his pen and started writing :
1. Last year, I had a surgery and my gall bladder was removed. I had to stay stuck to the bed due to this surgery for a long time.
2. The same year I reached the age of 60 years and had to give up my favourite job. I had spent 30 years of my life in this publishing company.
3. The same year I experienced the sorrow of the death of my father.
4. And in the same year my son failed in his medical exam because he had a car accident. He had to stay in bed at hospital with the cast on for several days. The destruction of car was another loss.
At the end he wrote: Alas! It was such a bad year !!
When the writer’s wife entered the room, she found her husband looking sad & lost in his thoughts. From behind his back she read what was written on the paper. She left the room silently and came back with another paper and placed it on side of her husband’s writing.
When the writer saw this paper, he found his name written on it with the following lines :
1. Last year I finally got rid of my gall bladder due to which I had spent years in pain….
2. I turned 60 with sound health and retired from my job. Now I can utilise my time to write something better with more focus and peace…..
3. The same year my father, at the age of 95, without depending on anyone or without any critical condition met his Creator….
4. The same year, God blessed my son with a new life. My car was destroyed but my son stayed alive without getting any disability.
At the end she wrote:
This year was an immense blessing of God and it passed well !!!
The writer was indeed happy and amazed at such beautiful and encouraging interpretation of the happenings in his life in that year !!!
Moral : It’s not happiness that makes us grateful but gratefulness that makes us happy.
We see what was under our noses
only when death’s diamond fingernail
scratches the window pane, asking….
Ok, then. Not today.
But he’s ruined it;
nothing is the same.
We had an orchard when I was a kid,
Macintosh, Granny Smith, pear, peaches.
I hated mowing under the trees.
The fallen fruit was full of hornets,
and the air swarmed with bees.
The air was full of the sweet rottenness
and squadrons of hostile aliens.
We picked the good ones, and
Dad would hand one to me.
I was in my squeamish phase, sure
I’d bite into a worm.
He ate, though, showing me how, eyes closed.
I wish I’d seen this for the gift this was
and taken it more to heart.
I wish he was still around
so I could
If there’s one thing I’ve learned since,
it is how to eat around the wormholes.
Most of the time .
Is it just me?
Was difficult at times,
like everyone’s, but
I wonder if that is because these lives
are really like bad translations,
From our original existence?
Sometimes comical, like
Thick fake Russian at Moose and Squirrel.
Sometimes just disastrous,
like thinking I was asking for
directions to the library and
instead calling his mother a
working girl, and ugly, too,
and having to run for my life.
It is an argument for reincarnation.
And… it makes sense if you think about it.
Not only do we struggle
to train a new, helpless body,
and then navigate the teenage years,
but it was doubly hard,
because a previous stop in this world
I must have been
a clerk in the Ming Dynasty
Ministry of Jade, in 1376,
taking a lunch break
and gossiping in Mandarin
over steamed dumplings.
about who the supervisor
was sleeping with this week.
And… English is hard, man.
This is what parents mean when we say “you’ll understand when you have kids,” and your son or daughter looks at you with that angry blank, frustrated look teenagers reserve for the stupidest people they know.
“You’ll find out. I live in constant terror for you. And you can’t understand. I’ve seen things, and you haven’t. So you don’t know what I mean.
“But you will. If you survive all the dangers of the world. If you do. I would die to make sure you do. “
After Our Daughter’s Wedding
by Ellen Bass
While the remnants of cake
and half-empty champagne glasses
lay on the lawn like sunbathers lingering
in the slanting light, we left the house guests
and drove to Antonelli’s pond.
On a log by the bank I sat in my flowered dress and cried.
A lone fisherman drifted by, casting his ribbon of light.
“Do you feel like you’ve given her away?” you asked.
But no, it was that she made it
to here, that she didn’t
drown in a well or die
of pneumonia or take the pills.
She wasn’t crushed
under the mammoth wheels of a semi
on highway 17, wasn’t found
lying in the alley
that night after rehearsal
when I got the time wrong.
It’s animal. The egg
not eaten by a weasel. Turtles
crossing the beach, exposed
in the moonlight. And we
have so few to start with.
And that long gestation—
like carrying your soul out in front of you.
All those years of feeding
and watching. The vulnerable hollow
at the back of the neck. Never knowing
what could pick them off—a seagull
swooping down for a clam.
Our most basic imperative:
for them to survive.
And there’s never been a moment
we could count on it.
“After Our Daughter’s Wedding” from Mules of Love. © 2002 by Ellen Bass. BOA Editions Ltd. (buy now)
The needle slips in,
my body’s alarmed.
Vital fluid oozes
through a tube
fills a vial, then
I am lighter by a
few molecules, but
more than that, too.
A bit of spirit has left .
The vials move
in a carrier,
down a hall, on a cart,
free of my veins and
glad for the adventure.
They spread their knees
all the secret pleasures
of a life plagued by
Betrayed, I say nothing.
My doctor ignores
the most interesting
mystery of the blood, too.
How my nose comes from
a man who’s grandfather
was a Viking. How
he wrote poetry
after every battle.
How he fought with
no thought to the future,
his blood, and others’
dripped on the grass,
on the page there,
in the shade.
And he felt lighter.
Technically, yes. It has been five years since I registered the account, but I didn’t start posting right away. Still, it has been fun and I’m very happy to have done this and to have met all of you. Thank you for hanging around.
Light shines through
into broken hearts
once the bleeding stops.
Age awaits us
with the patience of
a sleeper agent.
I am thirsty always, in a world of wet
Eyes open, but in the dark
I look for comforts I no longer find,
and yet, yet…
the skies between
mountains light a
This body’s nothing but
Flitting from who knows
what to who
I like how we
guess about our
It shows optimism.
We’re nothing if not plucky.
My own guess
is that the truths
are greater than anything
from fear and need.
I could be wrong.
But we’re here.
That’s all we know
Until Nature washes us away.
Wait with me,
we’ll find out.
by David Herbert Lawrence
A snake came to my water-trough
On a hot, hot day, and I in pyjamas for the heat,
To drink there.
In the deep, strange-scented shade of the great dark carob-tree
I came down the steps with my pitcher
And must wait, must stand and wait, for there he was at the trough before
He reached down from a fissure in the earth-wall in the gloom
And trailed his yellow-brown slackness soft-bellied down, over the edge of
the stone trough
And rested his throat upon the stone bottom,
And where the water had dripped from the tap, in a small clearness,
He sipped with his straight mouth,
Softly drank through his straight gums, into his slack long body,
Someone was before me at my water-trough,
And I, like a second comer, waiting.
He lifted his head from his drinking, as cattle do,
And looked at me vaguely, as drinking cattle do,
And flickered his two-forked tongue from his lips, and mused a moment,
And stooped and drank a little more,
Being earth-brown, earth-golden from the burning bowels of the earth
On the day of Sicilian July, with Etna smoking.
The voice of my education said to me
He must be killed,
For in Sicily the black, black snakes are innocent, the gold are venomous.
And voices in me said, If you were a man
You would take a stick and break him now, and finish him off.
But must I confess how I liked him,
How glad I was he had come like a guest in quiet, to drink at my water-trough
And depart peaceful, pacified, and thankless,
Into the burning bowels of this earth?
Was it cowardice, that I dared not kill him? Was it perversity, that I longed to talk to him? Was it humility, to feel so honoured?
I felt so honoured.
And yet those voices:
If you were not afraid, you would kill him!
And truly I was afraid, I was most afraid, But even so, honoured still more
That he should seek my hospitality
From out the dark door of the secret earth.
He drank enough
And lifted his head, dreamily, as one who has drunken,
And flickered his tongue like a forked night on the air, so black,
Seeming to lick his lips,
And looked around like a god, unseeing, into the air,
And slowly turned his head,
And slowly, very slowly, as if thrice adream,
Proceeded to draw his slow length curving round
And climb again the broken bank of my wall-face.
And as he put his head into that dreadful hole,
And as he slowly drew up, snake-easing his shoulders, and entered farther,
A sort of horror, a sort of protest against his withdrawing into that horrid black hole,
Deliberately going into the blackness, and slowly drawing himself after,
Overcame me now his back was turned.
I looked round, I put down my pitcher,
I picked up a clumsy log
And threw it at the water-trough with a clatter.
I think it did not hit him,
But suddenly that part of him that was left behind convulsed in undignified haste.
Writhed like lightning, and was gone
Into the black hole, the earth-lipped fissure in the wall-front,
At which, in the intense still noon, I stared with fascination.
And immediately I regretted it.
I thought how paltry, how vulgar, what a mean act!
I despised myself and the voices of my accursed human education.
And I thought of the albatross
And I wished he would come back, my snake.
For he seemed to me again like a king,
Like a king in exile, uncrowned in the underworld,
Now due to be crowned again.
And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords
And I have something to expiate:
by Keegan Lester
The war ships bobbing off the coast.
The outdated oil drills painted
so to blend into the clouds. The gold thin
stitched to the water’s edge. Errant dolphin.
Balled up piece of trash on PCH with the list: Eggs, whole milk,
You cry like a peacock, she says,
every time you get close to being the thing you want to be.
What if God is the people around us:
watching, listening? What a relief that would be.
But it’s so easy to forget we’re not
only being watched by the people in front of us, but
also by the people in places we cannot see. What is it
to be allowed back again? On the bike path, my father
ahead of me, saying, look at the wind,
meaning: look at the thing doing the moving,
moving orange-coned flags holding on for dear life.
The salt rolling off the ocean rots everything in its jowls
& my skin so close to turning, I can feel
becoming the metal shard you will learn to protect yourself from,
capable of catching the light drawing you in.
Everything rusted is a story beginning
once upon a time, I was young, standing in front of the
beneath the sun without consequence or query
for time, just standing, looking out into the thing
unaware of its indifference. There’s something Greek in that. Did
Odysseus need the monsters more
than they needed him? Does it matter? A kind of
in that line of thinking but also something very American. Akin to
They only dance if you light them & wave. Birds do not
abandon their young merely because of human touch.
This & so many other myths my mother breaks
in her search for palatable colors, for mixing,
for making what was lost whole again.
It applies to poetry, too.
“We are American writers, absorbing the American experience. We must absorb its heat, the recklessness and ruthlessness, the grotesqueries and cruelties. We must reflect the sprawl and smallness of America, its greedy optimism and dangerous sentimentality. And we must write with a pen—in Mark Twain’s phrase—warmed up in hell. We might have something then, worthy, necessary; a real literature instead of the Botox escapist lit told in the shiny prolix comedic style that has come to define us.” – from the Paris Review Joy Williams, The Art of Fiction No. 223
- There are more planes in the ocean than there are submarines in the sky.
- If the wings are traveling faster than the fuselage, it’s probably a helicopter — and therefore, unsafe.
- When one engine fails on a twin-engine airplane you always have enough power left to get you to the scene of the crash.
- What is the similarity between air traffic controllers and pilots? If a pilot screws up, the pilot dies; If ATC screws up, the pilot dies.
- Never trade luck for skill.
- The three most common expressions (or famous last words) in aviation are: “Why is it doing that?”, “Where are we?” and “Oh S#&t !”.
- Weather forecasts are horoscopes with numbers.
- Airspeed, altitude or brains. Two are always needed to successfully complete the flight.
- A smooth landing is mostly luck; two in a row is all luck; three in a row is prevarication.
- I remember when sex was safe and flying was dangerous.
- Mankind has a perfect record in aviation; we never left one up there!
- Flashlights are tubular metal containers kept in a flight bag for the purpose of storing dead batteries.
- When a flight is proceeding incredibly well, something was forgotten.
- Just remember, if you crash because of weather, your funeral will be held on a sunny day.
- Advice given to RAF pilots during W.W.II. When a prang (crash) seems inevitable, endeavor to strike the softest, cheapest object in the vicinity as slowly and gently as possible.
- If you’re faced with a forced landing, fly the thing as far into the crash as possible.
- If an airplane is still in one piece, don’t cheat on it; ride the bastard down.
- There is no reason to fly through a thunderstorm in peacetime. (Sign over squadron ops desk at Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ, 1970).
- The three best things in life are a good landing, a good orgasm, and a good bowel movement. The night carrier landing is one of the few opportunities in life where you get to experience all three at the same time. (Author unknown, but someone who’s been there)
- If something hasn’t broken on your helicopter, it’s about to.
- Basic Flying Rules Try to stay in the middle of the air. Do not go near the edges of it. The edges of the air can be recognized by the appearance of the ground, buildings, water, trees & interstellar space. It is much more difficult to fly these areas.
by Thomas Hardy
Forty years—aye, and several more—ago,
When I paced the headlands loosed from dull employ,
The waves huzza’d like a multitude below,
In the sway of an all-including joy
Blankly I walked there a double decade after,
When thwarts had flung their toils in front of me,
And I heard the waters wagging in a long ironic laughter
At the lot of men, and all the vapoury
Things that be.
Wheeling change has set me again standing where
Once I heard the waves huzza at Lammas-tide;
But they supplicate now—like a congregation there
Who murmur the Confession—I outside,
And still the waves
into sloping sand.
The wind slides ashore
from dark seas,
from empty spaces,
haunted by silences,
Shockingly cold and clean
like the sharp hum of
a wet finger sliding on
the spotless rim of a
fine crystal glass.
I might… I might
drop dead at any moment.
Sooooo… I look at a
and sigh, suddenly young again.
This, and a kiss,
This is what I’ll miss.
On Friday, a book jumped to the #1 spot on Amazon, out of nowhere; it quickly became obvious that the author had used a clickfarm to gatecrash the charts. The Kindle Store is officially broken. This is not the first time this has happened and Amazon’s continued inaction is increasingly baffling. Last Sunday, a clickfarmed […]
By Emily Temple
Hey—are you writing right now? If you aren’t, and I know you aren’t, because you’re reading this sentence, it’s okay. It may seem like the phenomenon of writers constantly agonizing over not being able to write is a modern one (one of the great ironies of book Twitter is how the moment you hashbrag #amwriting you necessarily make it a lie—though let’s get real, it had probably been a lie for a while before that), but in fact, it goes back at least a century or two. Many canonical authors, whose work is now beloved by millions of readers, also wrote depressive or hand-wringing journal entries and letters about their failure to get words on the page. Writer’s block, it turns out, can (and does) happen to anyone. To prove it, I’ve pulled out a few selections from the journals and letters of a few great writers, which I hope, if you are procrastinating right now, or just in a dry spell, will make you feel feelings of solidarity and encouragement. After all, Kafka may not have written for days at a stretch—but hey, almost everyone has read at least something by him now.
(from The Diaries of Franz Kafka, 1910-1923, h/t Open Culture)
20 January. The end of writing. When will it catch me up again? In what a bad state I am going to meet F.! The clumsy thinking that immediately appears when I give up my writing, my inability to prepare for the meeting; whereas last week I could hardly shake off all the ideas it aroused in me. May I enjoy the only conceivable profit I can have from it—better sleep.
Black Flags. How badly I even read. And with what malice and weakness I observe myself. Apparently I cannot force my way into the world, but lie quietly, receive, spread out within me what I have received, and then step calmly forth.. . .
29 January. Again tried to write, virtually useless. The past two days went early to bed, about ten o’clock, something I haven’t done for a long time now. Free feeling during the day, partial satisfaction, more useful in the office, possible to speak to people—Severe pain in my knee now.
30 January. The old incapacity. Hardly ten days interrupted in my writing and already cast aside. Once again prodigious efforts stand before me. You have to dive down, as it were, and sink more rapidly than which sinks in advance of you.
7 February. Complete standstill. Unending torments.. . .
11 March. How time flies; another ten days and I have achieved nothing. It doesn’t come off. A page now and then is successful, but I can’t keep it up, the next day I am powerless.. . .
13 March. An evening. At six o’clock lay down on the sofa. Slept until about eight. Couldn’t get up, waited for the clock to strike, and in my sleepiness missed hearing it. Got up at nine o’clock. Didn’t go home for supper, nor to Max’s either, where there was a gathering tonight. Reasons: lack of appetite, fear of getting back late in the evening; but above all the thought that I wrote nothing yesterday, that I keep getting farther and farther from it, and am in danger of losing everything I have laboriously achieved these past six months. Provided proof of this by writing one and a half wretched pages of a new story that I have already decided to discard . . . Occasionally I feel an unhappiness that almost dismembers me, and at the same time am convinced of its necessity and of the existence of a goal to which one makes one’s way by undergoing every kind of unhappiness.. . .
23 March. Incapable of writing a line.
(from The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath)
Monday, July 7 (1958): I am evidently going through a stage in beginning writing similar to my two months of hysteria in beginning teaching last fall. A sickness, frenzy of resentment at everything, but myself at the bottom. I lie wakeful at night, wake exhausted with that sense of razor-shaved nerves. I must be my own doctor. I must cure this very destructive paralysis & ruinous brooding & daydreaming. If I want to write, this is hardly the way to behave—in horror of it, frozen by it. The ghost of the unborn novel is a Medusa-head. Witty or simply observant character notes come to me. But I have no idea how to begin. I shall, perhaps, just begin. I am somewhere in me sure I should write a good “book poem” a day—but that is nonsense—I go wild when I spend a day writing a bad twelve lines—as I did yesterday. My danger, partly, I think, is becoming too dependent on Ted . . . I enjoy it when Ted is off for a bit. I can build up my own inner life, my own thoughts, without his continuous “What are you thinking? What are you going to do now?” which makes me promptly & recalcitrantly stop thinking and doing. We are amazingly compatible. But I must be myself—make myself & not let myself be made by him . . . I won’t get my writing schedule from outside—it must come from within. I’ll leave off poems for a bit—finish the books I’m now in the middle of (at least five!) do German (that I can do) & write a kitchen article (for Atlantic’s Accent on Living?) a Harper’s Cambridge Student Life article—a story “The Return” & suddenly attack my novel from the middle. O for a plot.
Wednesday, July 9: Prose writing has become a phobia to me: my mind shuts & I clench. I can’t, or won’t, come clear with a plot. Must put poetry aside & begin a story tomorrow, today was useless, a wash of exhaustion after the bird. Always excuses . . . I must start outlining a story plot: obviously it takes time—I half expect to fly to the typewriter & begin. Central conflict—my life is full of it. Start there. Marriage: Courtship. Jealousy. Settings I know: try Wellesley—suburbia. Cambridge apartment: Lou Healy, Sat Eve Post style. Jealousy: sister of newlywed husband. Poor poet. Couple divided over baby: why fear? Not like other men. Suburban neighborhood. I have fragments. Vignettes. Mrs. Spaulding is a story herself. I must note backgrounds jobs against which my people can move. Plagiarism in college. Young teacher. Decision to make. Start with that: 15 to 20 pages a week. Why not? Ambivalent position. Romance involved. Campus setting. I know this. Make a page of story plots & subjects tomorrow. That’s what—a paragraph on each—style & sort. Also several on “The Return.” Use Baskin. Ho ho. Everyone here. Aaron’s cocktail party. S————, James & Joan triangle. From whose point of view? Think, Think. Study sympathy point of view—emotional center—
(from A Writer’s Diary)
Friday, April 8th. 10 minutes to 11 a.m. (1921)
And I ought to be writing Jacob’s Room; and I can’t, and instead I shall write down the reason why I can’t—this diary being a kindly blankfaced old confidante. Well, you see, I’m a failure as a writer. I’m out of fashion: old: shan’t do any better: have no headpiece: the spring is everywhere: my book out (prematurely) and nipped, a damp firework. Now the solid grain of fact is that Ralph sent my book out to The Times for review without date of publication in it. Thus a short notice is scrambled through to be in “on Monday at latest,” put in an obscure place, rather scrappy, complimentary enough, but quite unintelligent. I mean by that they don’t see that I’m after something interesting. So that makes me suspect that I’m not. And thus I can’t get on with Jacob. Oh and Lytton’s book is out and takes up three columns; praise I suppose. I do not trouble to sketch this in order; or how my temper sank and sank till for half an hour I was as depressed as I ever am. I mean I thought of never writing any more—save reviews . . . What depresses me is the thought that I have ceased to interest people—at the very moment when, by the help of the press, I thought I was becoming more myself. One does not want an established reputation, such as I think I was getting, as one of our leading female novelists. I have still, of course, to gather in all the private criticism, which is the real test. When I have weighed this I shall be able to say whether I am “interesting” or obsolete. Anyhow, I feel quite alert enough to stop, if I’m obsolete. I shan’t become a machine, unless a machine for grinding articles. As I write, there rises somewhere in my head that queer and very pleasant sense of something which I want to write; my own point of view. I wonder, though, whether this feeling that I write for half a dozen instead of 1,500 will pervert this?—make me eccentric—no, I think not. But, as I said, one must face the despicable vanity which is at the root of all this niggling and haggling. I think the only prescription for me is to have a thousand interests—if one is damaged, to be able instantly to let my energy flow into Russian, or Greek, or the press, or the garden, or people, or some activity disconnected with my own writing.
(from a letter to George Sand)
You are alone and sad down there, I am the same here.
Whence come these attacks of melancholy that overwhelm one at times? They rise like a tide, one feels drowned, one has to flee. I lie prostrate. I do nothing and the tide passes.
My novel is going very badly for the moment. That fact added to the deaths of which I have heard; of Cormenin (a friend of twenty-five years’ standing), of Gavarni, and then all the rest, but that will pass. You don’t know what it is to stay a whole day with your head in your hands trying to squeeze your unfortunate brain so as to find a word. Ideas come very easily with you, incessantly, like a stream. With me it is a tiny thread of water. Hard labor at art is necessary for me before obtaining a waterfall. Ah! I certainly know THE AGONIES OF STYLE.
In short I pass my life in wearing away my heart and brain, that is the real TRUTH about your friend.
(from A Prayer Journal)
How can I live—how shall I live. Obviously the only way to live right is to give up everything. But I have no vocation & maybe that is wrong anyway. But how [to] eliminate this picky fish bone kind of way I do things—I want so to love God all the way. At the same time I want all the things that seem opposed to it—I want to be a fine writer. Any success will tend to swell my head—unconsciously even. If I ever do get to be a fine writer, it will not be because I am a fine writer but because God has given me credit for a few of the things He kindly wrote for me. Right at present this does not seem to be His policy. I can’t write a thing. But I’ll continue to try—that is the point. And at every dry point, I will be reminded Who is doing the work when it is done & Who is not doing it at that moment. Right now I wonder if God will ever do any more writing for me. He has promised His grace; I am not so sure about the other. Perhaps I have not been thankful enough for what has gone before.
How hard it is to keep any one intention[,] any one attitude toward a piece of work[,] any one tone[,] any one anything. I find a certain peace in my soul these days that is very fine—lead us not into temptation. The story level, bah. Work, work, work. Dead God, let me work, keep me working, I want so to be able to work. If my sin is laziness I want to be able to conquer it.
(from A Self Portrait in Letters)
November 14, 1960
Hello. Are you okay? I’m still here, not doing much—not writing enough, not writing good strong stuff—just coasting along with all my needles threaded, too busy worrying to sew. Worrying? Well, it is a difficult period . . . one book out, most reviews in, and the feeling that I’m a fraud, that I didn’t write the thing but that I stole it somewhere. New poems come slow . . . the fun’s gone. Or maybe it’s just now, maybe soon, maybe sooner I’ll get it back. I have about 25 pages toward a second book but some of it isn’t too good . . . I am allowing myself weaknesses that I wouldn’t have permitted a while ago. Or maybe I’m wrong . . . maybe not weak. Hell-bell! I worry obsessivly (can’t spell that one) and can’t seem to feel that I’m lousy or great . . . but both. Have a feeling that they (magazine editors) take my poems without reading or judging them . . . they were my super ego. I have a large group coming out in the Spring (I think) Hudson (some that you have seen) and they are okay I guess . . . also have a group of 6 coming out sometime soon in Partisan and they are the ones that worry me. Well, just today I made up my mind that to-hell-with-it, and that I’m not going to worry if they stink. They are a bad dream that I’ll put away. Do you think that is okay? Okay, I mean, to put away bad poems like bad dreams even when you have allowed them to be printed, revealed etc. It is all I can do.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
(from Volume II of his Notebooks)
Oct 21st, 1804—Monday night—Syracuse.—O my God! or if I dare not continue in that awful feeling! yet oh whatever is good in me, even tho’ not in the Depth, tho’ not in that which is the Universal & Perfect in us, yet oh! by all the ministering Imperfections of my Nature that were capable of subserving the Good—O why have I shunned & fled like a cowed Dog from the Thought that yesterday was my Birth Day, & that I was 32—So help me Heaven! as I looked back, & till I looked back I had imagined I was only 31—so completely has a whole year passed, with scarcely the fruits of a month!—O Sorrow & Shame! I am not worthy to live!—Two & thirty years—& this last year above all others!—I have done nothing! No I have not even layed up any materials, any inward stores, of after action!—O no! still worse! still worse! body & mind, habit of bedrugging the feelings, & bodily movements, & habit of dreaming without distinct of rememberable . . .
(from A Writer at War)
[in a 1943 letter to Frank Thompson]
Do I write? I’ve written only three poems & no prose in the last year. Just before that, I wrote quite a little prose. My father got one short story published for me in the Manchester Guardian and a selection of my letters without warning me in the New Statesman. But at the moment I’m writing nothing nor do I feel the urge to write. I’m suffering stagnation militaris. A change of air & proximity to the Germans will probably wake me up again. But the truth is I haven’t much to write about. I have a conventional mind formed along Wykhamical lines. Also I’m very little of an introvert. Only when writing to you or to my brother do I make an effort at introspection. And unless you are an introvert you do not have the vision to look into other people’s minds. And without that you cannot write as it is the fashion to write today. Mind you I think the psychological novel has had its day. Soviet authors I believe, are searching round for a new line of advance. Ehrenburg, when he tries straight fiction as opposed to satire, has gone back to a style as simple as Defoe’s. Personally, I think Tolstoy & Chekhov went as far into the minds of our fellow men as it is profitable or seemly to go. Gorki is, to me, an ideal novelist in this respect. No, if I had the ability to tell a story, I should not allow you to mar it with psychological interludes. But the truth is, Irushka, I have a very shallow mind & I’ve been skating round these last four years on the crust of it. If/when I return to England I look to you & other comrades to re-educate & rehabilitate me in some measure. What nonsense. This war should be developing my mind. I don’t know. I don’t know what’s happening to me. If I get through this European war I want to go to China, & then on, wherever the next phase takes place. Because this war, in which we are now engaged, may have its uneasy lulls & armistices, peace we shall NOT know until the United States of the World has been achieved. And if I get time, wandering from here to there, I may write some of the more memorable things I have seen. But about the conflicts in my own mind, not. They had far better end with the unseemly clay that bounds them.
Sometimes the bright sophistry of earnest souls of unlearned but much practiced minds shines its own light on the tangled feet of those so eager for the lie, the one that promises a job a meal a summer tan in every garage and two shiny objects for the elderly I’m sure, if there is […]
(Hi. I’m still around, just not posting much. My life lately feels like the scene in this poem. I’ve got a manuscript for another book making rounds at publishers, hat in hand. And I’m mulling, reading and writing sketches that could be one of three book ideas. One’s a murder mystery, one’s a time-travel, sci-fi love story, and the third is hard to describe. Maybe it’s a memoir by the alien who makes first contact with humans and barely escapes by nuking the east coast. You know, cheerful stuff.)
by J.T. Knoll
Speed popping, long haul truckers stretch, yak, and
drink coffee with locals searching for pancakes or bacon
and eggs after a night of drinking, dancing, gambling, and
making whoopee at nightspots like the Tower Ballroom,
Saddlehead Sam’s, the 69 Drive-In, Barto’s Idle Hour
and the VFW. The haggard and the high class together.
No place else open. Roy Orbison belts out Candy Man
from the neon and chrome Wurlitzer. Cigarette smoke
curls around the horseshoe bar beneath a large, stuffed
deer head. Three a.m., crowd gone, fry cook leans over a
newspaper. Waitress rolls a nickel from her tip pocket
into the juke, punches in her selection, slides wearily
into a booth, puts her feet up, and lights a Pall Mall. Elvis
begins to sing. She closes her eyes and mouths the words,
Are you lonesome tonight? Do you miss me tonight?
Are you sorry we drifted apart?
“Graveyard Shift At Ace’s Truck Stop” by J.T. Knoll from Others Like Us. © 39 West Press, 2016. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
“…So just how easy is it to arm yourself in America? I posed myself a little test. I am a Vietnam veteran. How much would it cost me to equip myself, and arm myself, as I was in Vietnam? And how long would it take me to answer that question?…”
I teach in Belleville, Illinois, a suburb of St. Louis. Belleville is the home of James Hodgkinson, the man who opened fire on congressmen and staffers at a G. O. P. baseball practice Wednesday morning.
As I write, Rep. Steve Scalise is in critical condition. Several others are recovering.
My university students Wednesday night were, to say the least, upset. Many expressed a certain gratitude that this is not seen as something peculiarly Midwestern or particularly partisan. Knuckle-dragging gun nut socialist hoosier, that sort of thing, that would only add more sadness to the almost unbearably painful. It’s sad enough that this is what it is, a sick man, our neighbor, caught up in a culture of violence. As near as anyone can tell, Hodgkinson just got a gun, went to Washington, and shot folks. Easy as that.
One of the people he shot wants to make it even easier…
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A pile of poems,
a scattering of short stories,
a minor mess of manuscripts,
all in a state of perpetual preparation,
wait while I, as usual, wait to see
what will happen today.
These things of mine,
Hopeful of attention,
Not expecting much.
It is as though I and these
things are sitting behind a card table
on Jackson Square in
New Orleans, Saturday morning,
while Jock, Buffalo and Michelle
play a mix of the classics
just over there in the next patch of shade.
Lovely and dark Michelle on the violin,
Jock, recently of Columbus, on the keyboard.
Buffalo, the veteran, with hair held back
by a leather band, plays guitar.
A guitar case is open on the worn
stones and a few coins and bills
are slowly collecting, never enough
to do more than buy one or two meals,
a share of a dive to sleep in
a ratty old apartment in the Tremé.
They all look like they’re barely out of
high school, or some music program
up north. Each floated to NOLA
to live the mythical life of music,
at first for the joy of it, happy
with friends, happy to live
rough, running from gig to gig,
earning a street corner on Thursdays
to make tips from tourists,
getting thinner and gradually
realizing that love alone will
not feed the bulldog.
But oh, there are times, just
like this morning, as tourists
walk by and glance at my books
without buying, that Michelle
calls forth the soul of an angel
lost and crying to heaven,
and I feel a touch of the holy,
just for a minute, and my
heart remembers what it waits for.
by Jim Harrison
Oh, to write just one poem
that would last as long as that rose
tattooed on her butt!
I’ve managed to make it through almost 25,000 days
by accidentally avoiding fatal incidents.
The first 23,756 (or so) I was rushing from one to the next,
believing, without evidence, that my presence was required.
But lately, I’ve been wondering what all the hurry was for.
At my age, I’ve become convinced that time needs to be slowed down,
and that the cheapest way to do that is to pretend
the clocks and calendars are all wrong.
The alternative — that I’m largely irrelevant, or just a mild irritant — is
too unpleasant–to consider.
My dog’s strategy is to sleep over there, twitching, dreaming,
reliving the exciting chase of a squirrel this morning.
She seldom catches one in these dreams. Neither do I.
When the sun comes up tomorrow,
it still won’t care about our little passions,
but we’ll look up, hopeful as puppies, and think it does.
Whatever the size of our apartment or tent or mansion,
we fill the available closets like we’re packing
for a long, long trip and will need all that debris.
I’m just a big ol’ hypocrite, knowing I’ll exit as
naked as the day I arrived, but cling to
my comforts and sense of ownership anyway.
My boys will someday go through what’s left,
hold up broken reading glasses or
socks with no mates, raise an eyebrow:
“Why did that crazy old man keep this?”
“I don’t know,” I’ll say from the ceiling,
already starting to dissolve from the solid world,
“But I thought I might need them someday.”
Time is a deep river with a fast current,
the past somewhere upstream.
You can try to swim against the flow,
but it’s no use. It’s exhausting, and pointless.
You can’t go there any more.
You might taste a memory,
But are soon worn out and
forced to tend to more immediate problems.
Just let the water
carry you along. It’s much easier.
You hear the shouts and cries of others.
The banks are near and sharp.
The past is out of sight and
mist hides everything downstream.
The water is white, though, and turbulent.
You can’t see the rocks and drowned snags until you’re
right on them. Then it’s up to luck and leg strength.
Sometimes you miss them, sometimes they get you.
Sometimes the screams you hear are your own.
But always the flow is strong, and pushes down,
through unseen things into the future.
My alter-ego has the idea that he wants to publish a second book of poems. I’m on the fence, but he’s sure.
However, what he’s not sure about this time is whether to self-publish again or take the time and trouble to try to find an agent and/or a small press who would take it on.
A bit of investigation shows there are quite a few people promoting themselves as literary agents. There are all sorts of “poetry” magazines (not to mention websites like Spillwords), but except for the bigger names, you get the impression it’s a couple of quirky, avante guarde friends from an MFA program working out of an apartment somewhere. Who knows if they’ll help, or even be around in a couple of months?
Then there’s the time. Weeks or months just to (most likely) get a rejection letter.
I can see the appeal of self-publishing, despite the river of unedited, mediocre stuff that it promotes/enables. And the weeks it takes to promote something just to sell a few dozen copies. And the costs: $500-$1000, at least. Still, at least your little child sees the light of day. Sort of.
So, if you’ve put yourself out there and published, what did you discover? Would you do it again? If so, which way would you go?
Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.
– Carl Jung
Judge Learned Hand
What do we mean when we say that first of all we seek liberty? I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws and upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it…
by Robert Frost
I walked down alone Sunday after church
To the place where John has been cutting trees
To see for myself about the birch
He said I could have to bush my peasThe sun in the new-cut narrow gap
Was hot enough for the first of May,
And stifling hot with the odor of sap
From stumps still bleeding their life away.
The frogs that were peeping a thousand shrill
Wherever the ground was low and wet,
The minute they heard my step went still
To watch me and see what I came to get.
Birch boughs enough piled everywhere!—
All fresh and sound from the recent axe.
Time someone came with cart and pair
And got them off the wild flower’s backs.
They might be good for garden things
To curl a little finger round,
The same as you seize cat’s-cradle strings,
And lift themselves up off the ground.
Small good to anything growing wild,
They were crooking many a trillium
That had budded before the boughs were piled
And since it was coming up had to come.
About This Poem
“Pea Brush” was published in Mountain Interval(Henry Holt and Company, 1916)
This is a short master class in creating vivid characters. Great work. 🙂
There is a priest in the off-license, buying two bottles of whiskey. His face is pasty and pocked with blotches. His hands tremble as he struggles valiantly to count out his notes and coins. On his third attempt, he reaches the correct amount. Even though he has not yet had his first drink, the physical and psychological changes that come over him are instantaneous and dramatic. His posture improves from pathetic to near heroic. His hands and voice cease their trembling. He even makes a joke at his own expense to the man behind the counter. I watch as he strides out into the night. A moment ago he was sick and desperate, clinging to life and sanity with the most tenuous of holds. Now, his whiskey in hand, he is saved, buoyant with hope.
The man behind the register, in contrast to the priest, has started his evening out…
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I squinted through previews of blind old age,
a hop and skip from life in a cage–
So I put into port, my vacation on hold.
I miss aspects of the younger me.
That mixture of brass and anxiety.
One minute riding with Aldrin and Glenn,
The next falling into bland misery.
What shall I encourage?
The naive fancies of youth?
The cautions of age?
The search for the truth?
Do I have to decide?
Can’t I take the easy way out,
hop the freak train, savor the ride?
Smiling eyes of absinthe green,
make me mush, a stuttering sixteen.
Not to complain; I like this just fine.
The heart never tires of love’s blush divine.
(I just read about someone doing yoga on a ferris wheel.
Two good things don’t necessarily work well together.
But I’ll admit, she looks good in Spandex,
And sex does sell, as we know too well. .
Still, this just proves that any good thing can be
ruined by the venal machinations of marketers–
the modern source of most human misery
now that we’ve killed off all the wolves and smallpox.)
And right there we have it, our abnormality.
Instead of reveling in that sublime unsanity–
that carries its victims away happily,
the passions that make life worth living, in actuality–
someone, somewhere, somewhen, without fail,
gives into the low-rent impulse’s to ruin simple things like love and luck,
with the smarmy impulse to make a quick buck.
Spring is so fast, so eager.
Changes come before I’ve absorbed yesterday’s.
A minute ago, the maple was nearly bare,
thousands of tiny spinners fallen on my windshield
like sawdust under a table saw.
This morning, new leaves dance in the breeze,
awkward teenagers already, swaying to their own music,
turning the bright sunshine green.
Have I missed something important?
I wish the world had a rewind button, or at least a pause option.
But sadly, we drift along like a cork in a stream,
never knowing what’s down below, never staying anywhere.
Only able to see a blurred impression of the scene whizzing by.
So, yes, I’m torn between the ineffable beauty of now
and endless wonders around the each bend of the stream.
That makes any cork an unreliable partner.
I cannot slow the stream, but
I’ll pause on my own, breathe deeply, still my mind.
When I eat, I will really taste the food; savor the wine.
Miss no opportunity to be kind.
See the joy in another’s eyes.
I’ll watch the young leaves dance and try to
imagine the shape of the wind, feel the fingers of the invisible ocean.
And when I laugh, it will be from the soles of my feet,
and when I’m sad, I’ll not be afraid to plumb the depths.
And when I love, I will hold nothing back, even
When, as is inevitable, there is pain.
I intend to be fully alive, to observe more and better.
That’s all I can do.
That’s all any of us can do.
After all, we’ll be dead soon enough.
I’m still around. The past couple of months have seen me busy elsewhere, but I want to reassure both of you who noticed I had been quieter. I underestimated the time it takes to market a book (and the expense, as it happens). And I had an eye operation that led to some complications that put me out of operation for a few weeks.
I’m working on a second book of poems (working title: “A Second Book of Poems”), to be out sometime in the next month or two. It may see daylight sooner, but I don’t want to jinx myself.
If anyone has actually read the first, “I Came From a Place of Fireflies” and feels the urge to write a review on Amazon, I’d appreciate it–Especially if you liked it! Reviews help boost visibility, and I hope that a few more will help encourage a publisher to take a look at the next slender volume.
Check it out here: http://amzn.to/2lQnNoL
The long-delayed novel’s on deck, and I start serious work on it after the poetry. I’ve put it off long enough.
Your help is mucho mas appreciated. 🙂
by Christina Georgina Rossetti
When I come to the end of the road
and the sun has set for me
I want no rites in a gloom filled room
Why cry for a soul set free?
Miss me a little, but not for long
and not with your head bowed low
Remember the love that once we shared
Miss me, but let me go.
For this is a journey we all must take
and each must go alone.
It’s all part of the master plan
a step on the road to home.
When you are lonely and sick at heart
go to the friends we know.
Laugh at all the things we used to do
Miss me, but let me go.
When I am dead my dearest
sing no sad songs for me
plant thou no roses at my head
nor shady cypress tree
be the green grass above me
with showers and dewdrops wet
and if thou wilt remember
and if thou wilt, forget.
I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not fear the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
sing on as if in pain;
and dreaming through the twilight
that doth not rise nor set,
haply I may remember,
and haply may forget.
by Charles Bukowski
Van Gogh writing his brother for paints
Hemingway testing his shotgun
Celine going broke as a doctor of medicine
the impossibility of being human
Villon expelled from Paris for being a thief
Faulkner drunk in the gutters of his town
the impossibility of being human
Burroughs killing his wife with a gun
Mailer stabbing his
the impossibility of being human
Maupassant going mad in a rowboat
Dostoyevsky lined up against a wall to be shot
Crane off the back of a boat into the propeller
Sylvia with her head in the oven like a baked potato
Harry Crosby leaping into that Black Sun
Lorca murdered in the road by Spanish troops
Artaud sitting on a madhouse bench
Chatterton drinking rat poison
Shakespeare a plagiarist
Beethoven with a horn stuck into his head against deafness
the impossibility the impossibility
Nietzsche gone totally mad
the impossibility of being human
all too human
in and out
out and in
these mad dogs of glory
moving this little bit of light toward us
Is it possible, can a young person understand what real loss feels like?
It takes the heartbreak of puppy love; a betrayal of trust once…. or twice…or thrice; the death of a beloved grandparent, a classmate ripped from this world by being in the wrong place at the wrong time on a Friday night. Personal failure and the recovery of confidence. Or not.
If we’re not too self-centered, an awareness grows that the world is a complicated place, that people are not all good– or bad.
Time teaches the hard lessons. Losses accumulate like a negative balance in the account books, offset by the joys and happiness that are piling up, too. Life is a double-entry balance sheet. The numbers seldom lie as much as we do.
No one else can really make us happy. No one else can break us without our help. Things are beginning and ending all the time. The world was before us, and will go on long after we are gone. Even the most famous of us will be forgotten. Do you know the name of the Mongol general who fathered many of the children of conquered Russia from captives who were brought before him–in tears, or fears, or with calculating or admiring eyes–night after night? Even the descendents don’t know him.
Or the name of history’s first real musician?
We are both unique and utterly the same: the first and only us that ever was. But others like us wandered the forests of prehistory, or the markets of medieval Paris, or leapt off Viking boats with flashing steel and a roar, or cowered inside during Roman raids. Generations of our line may have labored anonymously in slavery, or murdered and plundered and raped. Yet some of them had the same nose, the same way funny little laugh as we do. The same aversion to yellow vegetables. The same taste for wine. The same eyes.
Those of us who have spent time on the downslope think about these things. Most of us are fools who haven’t learned a thing, too.
If you are young, how will you write this entry when you are my age? Will you be any wiser?
Be careful how you answer.
W. B. Yeats, 1865 – 1939
That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.
O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.
Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.
“…What I found most remarkable, is that these institutions seemed to have a kind of dignity associated to them—something I would not say is the case today.
Sadly, few Americans realise that these institutions were once monuments to civic pride, build with noble intentions by leading architects and physicians who envisioned the asylums as places of refuge, therapy, and healing.
Amen to that.”
I associate neurologist and author Oliver Sacks with serene-laughter. Don’t ask me to define the term. The best I can say is: look at the image of him that appears on the cover of his book Musicophilia.
I read his book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat a long time ago, so I do not remember whether he employed magnificent figures of speech, or merely decent ones. But I do remember that his case-studies were not oppressive, despite the seriousness of the conditions he described. The New York Times called him the poet laureate of medicine for a reason.
After two heavy books, Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Bly’s Ten Days in a Mad-House, I decided to find a fresh, uplifting voice on a similar topic. I settled for Asylum : Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals, by photographer and architect Christopher Payne, and with an introduction…
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I’m on the verge of doing something.
You just wait and see if I don’t.
I was young, once, but excavated him recently
and found some things to admire.
He was a naive, quirky dreamer,
Not really cowed by what he didn’t know,
Below average in almost everything.
And so had to learn how to deal with frequent failure.
And endless, vast, gaping, gnawing caverns of ignorance.
But he also harbored a core of wonder, and stubbornness.
And that made all the difference.
So now I’m a burden on everyone,
cashing that Social Security check, living the dream.
I might use all this free time to
write the untold history of the doorknob, or
invent the inexpensive, irreplaceable solution to all your problems.
Oh, yes. That.
I’d make millions, billions, and buy a Greek island
Full of sun, ruins, waterfalls and nubile goddesses,
and do something really great, then.
You just watch and see if I don’t.
Living in the past leads only to regrets.
Living in the future leads to worry.
Living must be embraced in the now.
The meadowlarks have returned, singing.
I may not be able to leap as high as before,
Nor run as far, or as fast….
I’ve been away for eye surgery (all better now) and have begun working on new pieces, planning the next book and generally resuming my plan to go exploring for the next 60 years or so. Republishing this one from last year because it taps something that’s still true.