“Lifting Stones” Available for Pre-order


I’m thrilled to announce “Lifting Stones” is available for pre-order now. Publishing is set for June 8 in print and E-book formats and available world-wide. It is also going to be in catalogs for bookstores and libraries to place orders through normal channels.

Published by Rootstock Publishing in Montpelier, VT, a website is now up with background information on the book and a link to pre-order.

https://www.rootstockpublishing.com/rootstock-books/lifting-stones

Early reviews are starting to come in and they are looking good. A sample: “…There is humility and there is enormous bravery. Within the pages of Lifting Stones there is no finite limit to Stanfield’s poetic skill, nor to his quality….”

Stanfield

Catch My Breath


I know you want to hear me catch my breath, 

you wily temptress…

There’s no question, though

Glad to oblige. 

It happens every time I glimpse you.

Your kisses knock me backward, and you 

tell me that’s just because I’m getting old and feeble, 

but your kisses do knock me backward…

being allegedly feeble

just makes it harder to hide.

So……

If I fall down because you kissed me,

and you stopped my breath 

for a moment, It’ll be your fault.

Somehow.

And you’ll just have to give me mouth-to-mouth resuscitation

As I lie helpless there on the floor,

Eager to feel your lips on me again,

Feeling you bring me back to life.

No pressure.

Lazy?


I grow lazy about writing poems. 

My companion today is the detachment of age

(These lines take great effort;

I hope you appreciate this.) 

Pleasure is something as simple as

massaging a fleeting care from my brow,

letting go… always letting go

Oh, I see scenes of my past

A boy on a farm, a dog, 

a traveler for a time, 

a student, a young husband, father,

a striver full of self-doubt

a maker of many mistakes

but they are not me any longer

different bodies, different chapters

in a book I’ve closed and 

put on a distant shelf for good. 

Even my name, my byline, were 

someone to call it out, 

I cannot say if I would respond.

It would not feel like me any more

I am moving, moving. 

The clock strikes eleven

the day is sunny and calm

a breeze moves the colorful flags outside

stirs the clematis vines

and strolls through my house

bringing a scent of the mountains, and fir

and ocean

Dragonflies gather at my door

The roses modestly drape the yard

with elegance and unearned grace

And my heart is ignorant of all else. 

In This Moment


I don’t talk about it much

too many questions pop up,

not to mention the looks you get… and 

I ain’t tryin’ to sell anyone anything

but I know some things because I seen ‘em

and that’s always been my little secret.

I’m in the damnedest moment, though

So confusing

I ain’t never been quite so happy

It feels like I’m someone else

My bad times now are better

than my good times used to be. 

I’m what the world sees as old,

but inside I’m light as a cobweb

fluttering in a draft, and there’s no

other word for it. Love.

it’s found me. I got

ready first, then said ‘yes’.  

To be true with ya’… 

I looked for the catch. Old habit. 

Well, I went through some stuff. 

No need to dwell on that, 

since troubles don’t make 

anyone special, do they? 

I learned the 

truth of the old words about 

‘the valley of the shadow of death.’ 

Sure did. Maybe you know, too. 

That quiet, dark place where 

it seems the candle is just about snuffed. 

But somebody has been watching over me

I know it for true, because I seen it

in this world once. An angel— but not what 

you’ve seen in paintings. 

A being of power and grace. 

Standing still and silent beside me, 

me on my knees

That image bring tears still, 

45 years on. It carried me through

the bad times, burned away a lot

of pain with it. 

I’m an old man, and love walked in

And now I find 

love everywhere. That’s how you spot

the real deal, you know. 

Love reveals love, creates love.

Makes everything else seem trivial. 

The Cobweb


Raymond Carver

A few minutes ago, I stepped onto the deck 

of the house. From there I could see and hear the water, 

and everything that’s happened to me all these years. 

It was hot and still. The tide was out. 

No birds sang. As I leaned against the railing 

a cobweb touched my forehead. 

It caught in my hair. No one can blame me that I turned 

and went inside. There was no wind. The sea 

was dead calm. I hung the cobweb from the lampshade. 

Where I watch it shudder now and then when my breath 

touches it. A fine thread. Intricate. 

Before long, before anyone realizes, 

I’ll be gone from here. 

—Raymond Carver

Raymond Clevie Carver Jr. (May 25, 1938 – August 2, 1988) was an American short story writer and poet. He contributed to the revitalization of the American short story during the 1980s.

Accepting This


Mark Nepo

“If I am not for myself, who will be? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?” 

― Mark Nepo, The Exquisite Risk: Daring to Live an Authentic Life
Mark Nepo

Yes, it is true. I confess,
I have thought great thoughts,
and sung great songs—all of it
rehearsal for the majesty
of being held.

The dream is awakened
when thinking I love you
and life begins
when saying I love you
and joy moves like blood
when embracing others with love.

My efforts now turn
from trying to outrun suffering
to accepting love wherever
I can find it.

Stripped of causes and plans
and things to strive for,
I have discovered everything
I could need or ask for
is right here—
in flawed abundance.

We cannot eliminate hunger,
but we can feed each other.
We cannot eliminate loneliness,
but we can hold each other.
We cannot eliminate pain,
but we can live a life
of compassion.

Ultimately,
we are small living things
awakened in the stream,
not gods who carve out rivers.

Like human fish,
we are asked to experience
meaning in the life that moves
through the gill of our heart.

There is nothing to do
and nowhere to go.
Accepting this,
we can do everything
and go anywhere.

The Random Now


This.

Out of infinite universes,

out of countless twiststurns 

of our lives

of the trillions of moments

that had to happen, in just 

this way and not that

what seems fated now; inevitable. 

But was really nothing more

than randomness dusted with 

the fairy dust of choice…?

Transcendent. 

And this morning, this single magical 

moment, when as you walk by

pushing a broom as you get

ready for company, 

I reach out and pat your

leg at the miracle of it 

and we smile, grateful 

for this singular, 

infinite, magical now. 

Sunset


By Tu Fu

713–770

Sunset glitters on the beads

Of the curtains. Spring flowers

Bloom in the valley. The gardens

Along the river are filled

With perfume. Smoke of cooking

Fires drifts over the slow barges.

Sparrows hop and tumble

in the Branches. Whirling insects

Swarm in the air. Who discovered

That one cup of thick wine

Will dispell a thousand cares?

Translated from the Chinese by Kenneth Rexroth

Why I write


Striking a suitable moody pose for the jacket of the last poetry book.

I write,  as Frost put it, as a stay against my own confusion, but also with twin hungers for meaning and to do justice to this life and life beyond. But always with a sense of humility. I don’t have answers, merely guesses, little hypotheses I offer to see if you agree they are worth pursuing; and sometimes with questions, as much to face my own vulnerabilities as to try to guide anyone, or anything.

I write, too often, out of a self-conscious earnestness, trying so hard to be seen as a serious person, and could stand to take myself less seriously. Instead of striving to be a Hemingway or Steinbeck or Sandburg (however worthy they are), I should just find my own voice and let the devil take the hindmost.

I write sometimes as a confession of some failure or other, as a way to turn and face the dragons of guilt or shame or insecurity, and by facing, forgive myself. Quite selfishly, this is a choice to grow. Struggle is also growth, and must be engaged.

I write for the same reason people carve their initials into a tree, or leave “I was here” graffiti on the stones of famous places. I existed. I was special, wasn’t I? Even though few will care, beyond my loves and family, and even then, only for as long as they live. It’s all to complain about how little the Universe seems to care about any of us as individuals. I cannot imagine the world going on without ME, yet know it will. So, I write to leave some temporary marker behind. It’s silly. How many can name who had the top movie of 1987? Or who the kings and queens of Persia were, after all this time? Everything passes, but I still make the effort.

And I write, in the end, from a sense of gratitude for the world, the beautiful world we try so hard to destroy, and for the gift of living in it for a time. To hold a newborn child with both hope and terror for its future, or to make love to a woman who means more than life; to stand on the shore of a vast ocean and hear the whispers of mystery and distances beyond horizons; to bask in the presence of quiet giant trees, ready to welcome us into deep history and loamy mysteries.

In the end, I write for all of this, and for the last most of all. At it’s most honest and true, writing for me is an act of prayer and homage for the privilege of life itself. And for the sometimes forlorn hope that touching meaning and justice on behalf of life is a kind of redemption.

O Best of All Nights, Return and Return Again*


BY JAMES LAUGHLIN

How she let her long hair down over her shoulders, making a love cave around her face. Return and return again.

How when the lamplight was lowered she pressed against him, twining her fingers in his. Return and return again.

How their legs swam together like dolphins and their toes played like little tunnies. Return and return again.

How she sat beside him cross-legged, telling him stories of her childhood. Return and return again.

How she closed her eyes when his were open, how they breathed together, breathing each other. Return and return again.

How they fell into slumber, their bodies curled together like two spoons. Return and return again.

How they went together to Otherwhere, the fairest land they had ever seen. Return and return again.

O best of all nights, return and return again.

Notes:
*It’s never too late.

After the Pervigilium Veneris and Propertius’ “Nox mihi candida.”

James Laughlin, “O Best of All Nights, Return and Return Again” from Poems New and Selected.Copyright © 1996 by James Laughlin.

Love Comes Finally, Finally


by Clementine von Radics

“I am not the first person you loved.

You are not the first person I looked at

with a mouthful of forevers. We

have both known loss like the sharp edges

of a knife. We have both lived with lips

more scar tissue than skin. Our love came

unannounced in the middle of the night.

Our love came when we’d given up

on asking love to come. I think

that has to be part

of its miracle.

This is how we heal.

I will kiss you like forgiveness. You

will hold me like I’m hope. Our arms

will bandage and we will press promises

between us like flowers in a book.

I will write sonnets to the salt of sweat

on your skin. I will write novels to the scar

of your nose. I will write a dictionary

of all the words I have used trying

to describe the way it feels to have finally,

finally found you.

And I will not be afraid

of your scars.

I know sometimes

it’s still hard to let me see you

in all your cracked perfection,

but please know:

whether it’s the days you burn

more brilliant than the sun

or the nights you collapse into my lap

your body broken into a thousand questions,

you are the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

I will love you when you are a still day.

I will love you when you are a hurricane.” 

Kilimanjaro Moments


Essays



In “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” Hemingway writes about a writer feeling that his time has passed, even as he’s dying on a cot in Africa watching the buzzards gathering, drawn by the smell of his gangrenous leg. He’s angry and bitter that he’s going to die, and muses about all the things he’s never going to write, the things he’d saved up to write about until he knew more. And now, when he finally had resigned himself to the last, biggest and most awful thing there is for any of us to know, he never would. He felt a failure.

Knowing how Hemingway ended by blowing his own brains out, in a black dog despair that had chased him his whole life, the story wasn’t surprising. 

But it did get the man’s mind turning. He was old, too, a writer between books and living alone. The difference between him and Papa, he thought, was that he didn’t think his life was over. Oh, and he wasn’t famous.

He had lost his wife of many decades and had grieved that loss for four years. Still did, at times, and thought he might always have some business to face at times. You don’t forget a major part of your life, nor, he realized, should you even try.

There was more to it, though. There were things of his own, and about her that he hadn’t written yet. He’d put them off, not confident he was ready, or didn’t know enough. Or didn’t want to feel that loss of control again. And there were some things that were too private, just between the two of them, and would never see the light of day by his hand. Just out of respect.

But how long to be alone? Having someone else in the house, even the sweetest breath of femininity in the world, was a potential fatal distraction from this. Maybe he’d be strong enough to work and have a woman floating nearby and sharing her energy fields someday, someone who wasn’t jealous of the Muse. It was a pleasant thought. And he had recently met someone who showed every sign of being partner in crime, and also lover and protector of his Muse.

Re-reading “Snows of Kilimanjaro” led him to think about the past again, though. His long walk with death brought back a family memory, something that happened 22 years before his birth. An echo that hadn’t quite died away, like a gunshot bouncing down a canyon made of years. Something that had become part of his story, too. 

Now in his mind he saw a barren, stubble-covered farm field in the mid-afternoon of November 16 in 1929. Wooden fence posts made from a roughly split  hickory wood, grey with age and lined with deep fissures from years of  snow, rain and wind. A wire fence stapled to them, sagging in spots. Tall brown grass running along it, good nesting spots for rabbits and field mice. A couple hunting with a nephew not yet 8, everyone excited to be out in the country, after lunch, the boy thrilled to be on one of his first hunts. A festive mood.

The aunt, married to the brother of the boy’s mother, carries a small bore .410 shotgun.

A rabbit bolts from cover in the tall grass. His aunt fires, realizing too late that the little boy, who turned seven in June, runs after the rabbit, darting into the frame of her vision from the side, toward her.

The blast takes the boy in the chest. He’s close to it, and his little body takes the full force. He dies almost immediately. The echo bounces off nearby woods and the uncle can only make a guttural sound. He throws his shotgun to the side and kneels, scooping the boy in his arms. His wife cannot move, drops the gun and screams and falls to her knees. 

This is her sister-in-law’s boy she’s killed. The two would never speak as sisters again.  

The uncle, cradling the limp body, walks back toward the house and meets one of the boy’s other brothers, who yells for someone to call the doctor. 

The older brother scoops up the little body from his uncle’s useless arms, tells another brother who’s running up the hill,. to go get Dad. Dad has heard the scream and the yelling and somehow knows. 

“Is it one of my boys?” he asks. 

The doctor comes to the house, where the body has been lain on the sofa. The whole family had gathered there after Thanksgiving. It was the room where they’d opened presents the Christmas before. His mother sits on the floor beside him, sobbing, holding his cold, tiny hand. Time of death listed on the official certificate as 3:03 p.m. It is ruled a hunting accident. 

 The uncle and aunt stay outside, by their car. She’s still crying; his cheeks are wet and his face is grim. Everything has changed. Everything. The doctor has talked with them, for the facts, for the death certificate, for the official record. They don’t know what to do. After a time, they realize they’re not welcome, and drive away, never to return.

The man’s mind returned to the present, to why he was still satisfied to be alone after his own encounter with Death brushing too near.

He had hugged the pain and grief of the loss tight, determined to be honest about it all, to squeeze every bit of meaning from it, rather than hiding from it. He sensed hiding from it would only drag things out. But it still took a long time. And he learned the truth of the old Zen saying, “you can’t push the river.” The heart lives by it’s own rhythms. 

Then there were the memories that flooded back, his sophomore year in college. 

Most of it was just a blur, a kind of background mural scrolling behind his eyes. The roommates in the old farmhouse they rented from old man Harper near the campus his second year. Two beefy lumps from farms 60 miles north. Likable enough, but already rough shaped into the men they’d become. Aggressive. Stupid. Cunning. Cruel. Aimless. The kind the Army likes. Midwestern farm boys make good killers. I wonder if they ever ended up in Vietnam. I doubt they’d have handled it well, if they survived at all. The place wasn’t at all like the black and white simplicity their world had told them should be. 

There was the English guy, wry and sardonic and worldly, who seemed to be able to sleep with any woman who wandered through the vicinity. The black guy, a musician like the Brit, guarded and cagey. Played the drums in the impromptu sessions he, the Brit and a couple of others played in the living room. 

But all of that was a blur, really. Children lurching into adulthood, propelled to do something, anything, experimenting, encouraged to recklessness by others like them, strangers, really. Some who were already circling some dark whirlpools in their lives, drugs and drunken binges providing the lubricants. It was the late 60’s, man, that shit was in the very air, the water. A ride down the rapids in leaky boats with no oars, no way to stop, no way, it seemed, to get off, even if you wanted to. A blur, even as some went off to war and came back hollow-eyed, shattered, addicted; some flung themselves onto the rocks along the faster stretches with more, and harder, drugs. Some simply disappeared. He wondered what happened to them, but not for long. It was too common a story. Oh, an there were the ones who took the paths into things like Scientology and were swallowed up, too; or the Jesus people; or the HariKrishna cults. Just more drugs, but they thought it was different. 

A blur. He stayed on the fringes, mesmerized, wanting to belong, but instinctively knowing there were monsters feeding on the innocent there, too. 

What mattered, though, was the girl he met at a party. One of his roommates invited him and his best friend from high school, who also lived in the farmhouse-cum-bachelor den. The roommate, who they didn’t know, knew two girls who had an apartment in town with some other girls. Come to the party, he said. So they did. Simple as that. 

It turned out to be the most important accident in his life. He just pretended he made plans.

This time was one of the good ones. 

The girls’ place was on the second floor of what had been a mansion 60 or 70 years before. High ceilings, solid wood doors, hardwood floors, big windows. But run down and battered and turned into ghetto housing for college students. A cash cow for the landlord, a sour man in his late 50s, early 60s (which meant he was probably born before WWI), who didn’t like the 60s college crowd all that much and limited interactions to collecting rent and lecturing them about keeping the stairs to the attic clear. Fire code, he said. To the kids, though, it didn’t matter. It was a place to party and gather. He was of an age, or older than most of their parents and they were a little afraid of him. 

His memory of when he first saw her lasted the rest of his life, even after she had been dead for a while and he’d met other women, loved one or two. It was that old cliche´. A lightening bolt hit him and welded him to that moment in time. She was pretty, sure, but then most girls are pretty at that age. Prime time in the mating game. But she just had something extra. A natural grace and dignity? He didn’t have words for it. He just remembered the corduroy man’s shirt she wore, sleeves rolled up. And the curve of a swan-like neck rising out of the collar. She was circulating with a tray of snacks and took no notice of him, playing hostess. She was, he found out, already attached to a guy who wasn’t there that night.

He instantly hated that guy. Implacably. 

But she didn’t notice him. For the first time in his life he had no doubts about something. He loved her, instantly, totally. He knew only that he must try, that with luck, he would have her. And he did, mostly happily, until she died 50 years later. She finally noticed him. And selected him. Became the mother of his children. For that alone, it would stand as the best decision he had made, who would be mother to his children.

That one night shaped the rest of his life. Accidentally. Just by showing up.  

That kind of experience can trick us into thinking that things are more logical than they really are. “It was meant to be”. Well, maybe. But what if he’d had a cold that night, and missed all that followed? What if he’d seen her roommate (who was also a beauty), instead? Or someone else? We try to make sense of things in the rearview mirror, afraid to admit how much pure random chance shapes our lives. Lifetimes of accidents, disguised by our left-brain side, in retrospect, as intentions. Some are just accidents. Control and all things “Invictus” are illusions.  

He had seen the world change. He felt it was his duty to write about it, but he hadn’t written about a lot of it, and now wondered if he ever would. He felt like a failure, or a coward, sometimes. He idolized bravery and courage, but so many times had not been brave at all, had taken the easy way, avoided too much risk. Maybe that’s what he should write about now. The moral consequences of choosing fear over courage. As if one person could have had much effect on a world that was changing. That was impossible, he knew. He watched, though, and observed, and as he got older he trusted his own judgement less, and had more and more evidence that most people are fucking idiots half the time. Good and evil, in nearly equal parts. Anyone can be a saint and a monster, sometimes on the same day. Just like that Aunt a lifetime before.

But he’d always been a civilian. He had wondered if being in real life and death moments, on a battlefield, for instance, would have given him any more insight. What would he have done? Would he have faced the bull in the ring and stood despite the fears as the horns swept past his belly, a quarter- inch from ripping him open? That moment of testing when he would know he was a man and not a boy any longer. Or would he have run? Would he have done the thing he was afraid of, in spite of the fear? That was what real courage was. He hadn’t felt the nearness of death or bullets or bull’s horns, but he had had to make hard choices, afraid, miserable, full of doubt. But made the choices and only later found out how things turned out. That’s a kind of courage, isn’t it? The kind of thing that everyone has to face along the way? He thought it was. He’d know some people who’d seen combat, who’d killed people, who’d been shot in war, and not many of them bragged about it. Most were scarred and full of ghosts.  Perhaps, he’d concluded, the banging of heroic drums to glorify war was just so much bullshit propaganda to get men, mainly, to agree to kill and be killed for others who operate from the balcony. 

As for the rest, he’d had his eyes opened and saw how the world changed, and the people. The changes were subtle, sometimes visible only out of the corner of your eye, or others only after 30 years, like looking through an old photo album and seeing the funny hair and clothes and something that had changed about the eyes. It could be a shock, to see the person you were then, and it was then you saw how the world had changed, had changed you along with it. 

He hadn’t written about that, but he still could. He didn’t have Hemingway’s love affair with despair. But like H., he knew his days were drawing shorter, so he’d better get busy. Perhaps it was possible to capture somethings. Maybe it was possible to telescope it down, “to get it into a single paragraph, if you got it right.”

It was with this kind of thought that his heart lightened, especially when the sun came up through the fir, when the sky was that incredible blue, the air washed clean and clear after days of rain in the boundary country between a continent and a vast ocean. This was a purpose, and it didn’t matter if he was alone, or if he lived to 85, like he’d seen in a dream once—or got hit by a speeding pickup truck later today. Shit happens. It’s all, mostly, random, which is God’s way of teaching our souls some humility. And we’ll keep going round on the great wheel until we learn the lessons, and escape beyond the suffering we create by believing things that aren’t true. 

That was a worthy purpose, to be the chronicler of the passing circus. It was good to step outside sometimes and be washed by the vastness of the night heavens. Standing under the bright furnaces of Orion, and the Pleiades, and Jupiter and all the rest, it gave him a proper sense of his insignificance in the grand schemes of a universe that was vast beyond comprehension. But then it was good to step back inside and take up the pen again, and see the small, daily, deadly, lustful, loving, hateful antics of his kind, if only to feel significant again. (Poet: George Bilgere, “Stargazer”)

Flying



Perhaps I’m too cautious.
I accuse myself.

Perhaps it was my Calvanist upbringing,
that taught most pleasure was a trap

to snare the unwary pilgrim
into dark and venal depravities.

Perhaps I’m just too full of fear,
sometimes unable to tell the difference

between mortal risk—or simple embarrassment—
and the kind that teaches wisdom.

I’m the kind that would toss a rock
over the railing of a bridge

into the dragon scales of the ocean far, far below,
but also recoil from the risk, however small,

torn between a dream of freedom’s flight
and a pesky lack of wings,

knowing how easy it might be, like the suicide,
to fly as in his dreams,

smaller than a gull,
lured by fantasy for ever-so-brief a journey.

The Egg


Eye of wonder

[Resurrecting this one again ( no pun intended)–One of my favorites, to lighten the mood a bit. I first posted this eight years ago next month. With what we’re all going through, I thought we could use it again. And as I get older and closer to my own big transition, I have found it to be more and more relevant.]

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.”

“I’m Jesus?”

“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.

Sunrise


Time for me will stop
when my heart does.
At least as I understand things.
We seldom know much
about anything.
especially those things
we’re so sure of.
Two seconds into whatever
comes next, I’ll be asking:
“What’s happening?”

The sun rises
behind the tall, silent firs,
and wonder, would they
be there if I didn’t name them?
What conceit.
Our minds form the word ‘tree’,
and we think we created it.

Yet out there,
the ineffable beauty
of the ever-changing Now,
sweeps along whether
I ride it or not.
“Wisdom tells me I am nothing.
Love tells me I am everything,
and in between, my life flows.” –unk.

The Morning After


Someone said there is no actual life,
only what we remember.
One more war has ended
for a country that has seldom
known peace.

Our politicians are like a teen prostitute
Who sells her body cheap,
Who struts and markets
Her girlish delusions,
Her temporary, quite ordinary,
charms.

She can never go home, though,
Because they remember who
She used to be, and
their own failures,
and are ashamed.

Perhaps leaders should
be made to swim in a cracked
swimming pool in a silent suburb,
filled with the rotten blood
they spilled to fuel
their greed and corruption.

But who fed along with them?
Who shares the guilt?
Who else can never
go home again?

Remember


From whence we come, we know little,

and forget even that.

We are just fish moving through water,

which closes in behind and marks our passage

…barely at all.

But at our beginning, God whispered into us,

those foggy, quiet words:

Go, now, to the limits of your desire,

Let everything happen to you, every joy,

Every terror. No feeling is final.

Press on.

But remember Me,

Who spoke you out of the darkness.

And do not despair.

“I Hate and I Love”


Modern bust of Catullus on the Piazza Carducci in Sirmione

Odi et amo. Quare id faciam, fortasse requiris.
                            Nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.

                                                                    (Catullus, Poems, 85)


          I hate and I love. Why I do this perhaps you ask.
             I do not know, but I sense that it happens and I am tormented.

I Came From A Place of Fireflies


img_2961

I came from a place of fireflies,
where men were reasonable and tall,
where people knew me by who my grandfather was, and his, and his.
Where farmers didn’t block views with trees,
To quickly see at a glance from the kitchen window
How the corn was doing, the soybeans.

Where cemeteries were so old they had no one living who cared
and the raspberry bushes
And groundhogs had taken over;
Where being a child meant living outdoors, year-’round.
Where you waved at a passing car
Because they probably knew your parents:
And you didn’t want to hear at church on Sunday about being rude.

I came from a place where my nearest playmate was a cousin, a mile away;
Where going to hang out meant
Riding the old fat-tired-hand-me-down bike,
With one gear, but was great for
Popping the tar bubbles on hot summer days;
And watching the big grasshoppers and flies whiz by,
the birds calling from the trees,
And watching my dog chase another rabbit.

I came from a place of spirits, haunted by the land,
by deep roots down five generations;
Where uncles and aunts would come over
for summer dinners after the milking,
And sit outside after dark in our yard talking,
And how those adult voices murmering made things
Safe somehow as
My cousins and I would chase each other
through the darkness, making up games
Hiding in the bushes and the darkness
on the edge of safety,
Thrilling in the freedom to roam, to be children;
In awe when the fields and grass would
Erupt in a billion fireflies, and we would put
dozens in quart canning jars
For study, and marveling at  yet another mystery.

I came from a place, a very common place, that had an order
Of season and harvest, planting and animals, birth, death, renewal;
A place where the farm animals taught
about sex very early, but also about stewardship,
pragmatism, kindness and death;

There were the late nights wading through
snowdrifts to the barn in February’s lambing season,
Fields draped deeply asleep in white under hard,
cold moonlight and wicked winds;
Of helping with the births—which only seemed
to come in bitterest cold—
cleaning newborn lambs off with
old burlap feed sacks
Holding the newborns under heat lamps
until their mothers licked them clean,
Made sure they found the teat and began to nurse,
coats still steaming, tails wiggling.
It was there I learned about birth, and
the miracle of it.

I came from a place that has slowly died since then.
I feel an ache of loss of a place
that gave me my sense of who I was,
Where the places I roamed with my dog
are  now owned by Arab sheiks,
where even bigness did not guarantee survival.

It is a place where the invisible glue that once
nurtured communities evaporated from
change and neglect and globalism and meth and, now, heroin,
Where people stay inside and hide from themselves,
Surfing the web for porn, and never once see the
Fireflies rising up in the June nights,
calling children to mystery but with
fewer there to hear the answers.

For Posterity
Origin Story
Memory

Childhood

An Instant


In every life,
there’s a moment, or two.

The curve of your neck
out of that corduroy man’s shirt,

Burnt orange,
of autumn; change.

How unaware you were
that our child-like lives had just changed.

That’s not quite the right word.
They rearranged themselves

Into a new pattern, the right one.
Like random iron filings on paper

Which, when a magnet comes near,
Spring instantly into order,

Obedient to the
Truth of an invisible force.

.

The Mortal Wound


I felt for a while that grief would undo death.

Did it?

No.

But I believed it might, if it were deep enough.

My cynic friend laughs at me.

Life is a fatal condition, my friend. Don’t you get that yet?

All the bandages in the world, all the disinfectants, all the healthy diets

can never heal that gash we’ve had since the first moments,

Three Fates. One
fate, with three faces.


‘We strut and fret our hour on the stage
and then are heard no more’
Everything has a time limit here.

Such a gloomy cynic! You take away all hope.

Not at all. You don’t have to turn this into something.
You don’t need to get upset.
Think of yourself as dead already,
that you’ve lived your life.
Now you’re free to take what time is left and
live it as it should be lived.
It just takes being indifferent to what makes no difference.
And most of what we say and do is not essential.

I’m afraid. 

Listen. Just do this. 
Go out into the desert just once. 

Lie down          look up at the stars,
At a blackness so filled with light
 it seems alive

Let it bewilder you, 
overtake you. 

You shiver, but it is not the cool air, 


but an angel who has lain beside you.
you’ll know then that something 
beyond your imagining 

waits. 

Are We To Be


Are we to be lovers, or companions, or strangers?
(Not that one is better in some tedious way.)

I do not know myself.
I go dark and am of dark.

My journey takes me there.
And back again, but sometimes…

Is it moral to get better,
if I see things as they really are?

True is true— a little epiphany—
But so is hope a triumph.

And I have that male instinct
to penetrate, to impregnate with

A true, whatever it is,
but also hope.

So what shall we choose?
And are they different?

For the search for love does not cease in this world.

Home


I can’t go home, not yet.
Home is still moving,
When it stops, maybe I’ll rejoin it.

But this moment is real;
I can feel your lips,
and join you with
such easy passion.
I know the heat, the
weight, the wetness of you
In the dark,
or pressed against me
at a dock, oblivious
to jealous eyes,
saying a goodbye,
wordlessly telling
me what feels right.
Sensing it would not last.
My separateness
melts in the natural
grace of you.

Stay with me a while, dancer.
For these precious moments.
Let’s walk on the beach,
look in the sands for courage,
and connections,
and partings.
We’ll stroll to breakfast
just after dawn,
sit in the temporary
coolness, watching
the unworldly turquoise
of the sea
knowing the tide
always ebbs,
but, with luck, comes again.

Waiting for Heaven


pile of poems,
a scattering of short stories,
a minor mess of manuscripts,
all in a state of perpetual preparation.
I wait to see
what will happen today.

These things, bits of a lonely soul,
Hopeful of attention float into
Jackson Square,
New Orleans, on a random Saturday morning.
Jock and Michelle
play a mix of the classics
in the next patch of shade.

Lovely, dark Michelle on the violin,
Jock, recently of Columbus,
sits in on the keyboard.
Buffalo, the veteran, hair strapped
by a black cloth band, plucks
a soulful strain from Mozart
on a battered guitar.
Its case is open on the dirty concrete,
a few coins and bills
coaxed from a family from Iowa,
will buy one or two meals,
a share of a dump on
Decatur Street, when he’s
not enjoying the wonders
between a girlfriend’s thighs in
a ratty old apartment in the Tremé.

His trio, assembled for the day,
seem barely out of
high school, or some music program
up north. Each wandered to NOLA
to live the mythical life of music,
for the joy of it, happy
with friends, happy to live
rough, running from gig to gig,
earning a street corner on Thursdays
to seduce 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,
thick air moving into
the square from the river,
the magnolias in bloom,
the smell of overflowing
dumpsters, junkies sliding
along the alleys, looking to score.
And then Michelle,
long black hair gathered in a bun, bare
arms in a small black dress and almond-eyed,
raises the violin her father
bought her for her
promise, for respectable concert halls,
far from the dirty streets
of New Orleans. She
closes her eyes and summons

The voices of angels
to earth to move
among we the lost, but crying to heaven.
The ache and purity of the sound freezes
everyone nearby,  even the junkies,
souls seized
by something holy,
just for a minute.
And my heart remembers what it hungers for.

A Message in the Stars


The stars were out

shockingly clear and bright.

I couldn’t sleep, again,

as a bed is best kept for two things (not counting dying),

I slipped into clothes and went outside,

my dog curled up beside her, protecting.

It was an hour or two before first light,

a rare time here without clouds,

Venus rising in the East

like the Star of Africa on the paw of Leo.

To the south,

Orion’s three gems shine on his belt,

Betelgeuse on his upraised club arm,

Rigel in the buckle of

his raised left foot as he leaps into battle.

There is a universal beauty,

a unity of all creation,

a clear, subtle illumination

of the magnificence of life, and death

always there, like the stars,

beacons of creation,

in that last hour of darkness, when

the clouds slide away toward

Idaho, and dawn approaches,

a rare time without hidden things,

here in the kingdom of water.

To A Contemporary Bunkshooter


Carl and Lilian Steichen Sandburg

by Carl Sandburg

You come along. . . tearing your shirt. . .
yelling about
Jesus.
Where do you get that stuff?
What do you know about Jesus?
Jesus had a way of talking soft and outside of a few
bankers and higher-ups among the con men of Jerusalem
everybody liked to have this Jesus around because
he never made any fake passes and everything
he said went and he helped the sick and gave the
people hope.

You come along squirting words at us, shaking your fist
and calling us all damn fools so fierce the froth slobbers
over your lips. . . always blabbing we’re all
going to hell straight off and you know all about it.

I’ve read Jesus’ words. I know what he said. You don’t
throw any scare into me. I’ve got your number. I
know how much you know about Jesus.
He never came near clean people or dirty people but
they felt cleaner because he came along. It was your
crowd of bankers and business men and lawyers
hired the sluggers and murderers who put Jesus out
of the running.

I say the same bunch backing you nailed the nails into
the hands of this Jesus of Nazareth. He had lined
up against him the same crooks and strong-arm men
now lined up with you paying your way. Continue reading “To A Contemporary Bunkshooter”

Breakage


By Mary Oliver (2003)

I go down to the edge of the sea.

How everything shines in the morning light!

The cusp of the whelk,

the broken cupboard of the clam,

the opened, blue mussels,

moon snails, pale pink and barnacle scarred—

and nothing at all whole or shut, but tattered, split,

dropped by the gulls onto the gray rocks and all the moisture gone.

It’s like a schoolhouse

of little words,

thousands of words.

First you figure out what each one means by itself,

the jingle, the periwinkle, the scallop

full of moonlight.

 

Then you begin, slowly, to read the whole story.

Steelhead


By Robinson Jeffers

The sky was cold December blue with great tumbling clouds,
and the little river
Ran full but clear. A bare-legged girl
in a red jersey was wading
in it, holding a five-tined
Hay-fork at her head’s height; suddenly she darted it down like
a heron’s beak and panting hard
Leaned on the shaft, looking down passionately, her gipsy-lean
face, then stooped and dipping
One arm to the little breasts she drew up her catch, great hammered-
silver steelhead with the tines through it
And the fingers of her left hand hooked in its
gills, her slender body
Rocked with its writhing. She took it to the near bank
And was dropping it behind a log when someone said
Quietly ‘I guess I’ve got you, Vina.’ Who gasped and looked up
At a young horseman half hidden in the willow bushes,
She’d been too intent to notice him, and said ‘My God,
I thought it was the game-warden.’ ‘Worse,’ he said smiling.
‘This river’s ours.
You can’t get near it without crossing our fences.
Besides that you mustn’t spear ’em, and . . . three, four, you
little bitch,

That’s the fifth fish.’ She answered with her gipsy face, ‘Take
half o’ them, honey. I loved the fun.’
He looked up and down her taper legs, red with cold, and said
fiercely, ‘Your fun.
To kill them and leave them rotting.’ ‘Honey, let me have one
o’ them,’ she answered,

‘You take the rest.’ He shook his blond head. ‘You’ll have to pay
a terrible fine.’ She answered laughing,
‘Don’t worry: you wouldn’t tell on me.’ He dismounted and
tied the bridle to a bough, saying ‘Nobody would.
I know a lovely place deep in the willows, full of warm grass,
safe as a house,

Where you can pay it.’ Her body seemed to grow narrower
suddenly, both hands at her throat, and the cold thighs
Pressed close together while she stared at his face, it was beautiful,
long heavy-lidded eyes like a girl’s,
‘I can’t do that, honey . . . I,’ she said shivering, ‘your wife
would kill me.’ He hardened his eyes and said
‘Let that alone.’ ‘Oh,’ she answered; the little red hands came
down from her breast and faintly
Reached toward him, her head lifting, he saw the artery on the
lit side of her throat flutter like a bird
And said ‘You’ll be sick with cold, Vina,’ flung off his coat
And folded her in it with his warmth in it and carried her
To that island in the willows.

He warmed her bruised feet in
his hands;
She paid her fine for spearing fish, and another
For taking more than the legal limit, and would willingly
Have paid a third for trespassing; he sighed and said,
‘You’ll owe me that. I’m afraid somebody might come looking
for me,
Or my colt break his bridle.’ She moaned like a dove, ‘Oh Oh
Oh Oh,
You are beautiful, Hugh.’ They returned to the stream-bank.
There,
While Vina put on her shoes-they were like a small boy’s, all
stubbed and shapeless young Flodden strung the five fish
On a willow rod through the red gills and slung them
To his saddle-horn. He led the horse and walked with Vina,
going part way home with her.

Toward the canyon sea-mouth
The water spread wide and shoal, fingering through many channels
down a broad flood-bed, and a mob of sea-gulls
Screamed at each other. Vina said, ‘That’s a horrible thing.’
‘What?’ ‘What the birds do. They’re worse than I am.’
When Flodden returned alone he rode down and watched them.
He saw that one of the thousand steelhead
Which irresistible nature herded up stream to the spawning-gravel
in the mountain, the river headwaters,
Had wandered into a shallow finger of the current, and was
forced over on his flank, sculling uneasily
In three inches of water: instantly a gaunt herring-gull hovered
and dropped, to gouge the exposed
Eye with her beak; the great fish writhing, flopping over in his
anguish, another gull’s beak
Took the other eye. Their prey was then at their mercy, writhing
blind, soon stranded, and the screaming mob
Covered him.

Young Flodden rode into them and drove them
up; he found the torn steelhead
Still slowly and ceremoniously striking the sand with his tail and
a bloody eye-socket, under the
Pavilion of wings. They cast a cold shadow on the air, a fleeting
sense of fortune’s iniquities: why should
Hugh Flodden be young and happy, mounted on a good horse,
And have had another girl besides his dear wife, while others
have to endure blindness and death,
Pain and disease, misery, old age, God knows what worse?

Passion, Courage


I seek
each day the path of courage
and passion.
I fail, often.

I don’t
say this with bravado;
I do not feel brave.
If I could choose something
easier, I would.
But it never gets easier.

But to make the choice each day,
Each minute, to turn and
face the sadness and suffering,
of the world; the pain and joy,
Each on it’s own terms
and not be defeated by it—
That is something that
Must be chosen again,
and again.
And again.
It is the job of poetry.
No compromises.

It is not a choice of pleasant fictions,
A diversion of entertaining nothingness;
Nor like the fog of opium that
Leaves us still breathing,
But dead.

Each night, darkness does not fall.
That is the wrong image.
Rather, when the earth spins away
From the sun it rises up from deep places
From the earth and the oceans, from
Caverns and the bottoms of rivers and lakes and seas.
A deep exhalation.
A time for alternatives. Continue reading “Passion, Courage”

Primitive


 

By Sharon Olds

Sharon Olds

 

I have heard about the civilized,
the marriages run on talk, elegant and
honest, rational. But you and I are
savages. You come in with a bag,
hold it out to me in silence.
I know Moo Shu Pork when I smell it
and understand the message: I have
pleased you greatly last night. We sit
quietly, side by side, to eat
the long pancakes dangling and spilling,
fragrant sauce dripping out,
and glance at each other askance, wordless,
the corners of our eyes clear as spear points
laid along the sill to show
a friend sits with a friend here.

How To (And How Not To) Write Poetry


wisaawa-szymborskaAdvice for blocked writers and aspiring poets from a Nobel Prize winner’s newspaper column. 

INTRODUCTION

From: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/features/articles/detail/68657

In the Polish newspaper Literary Life, Nobel Prize winning poet Wislawa Szymborska answered letters from ordinary people who wanted to write poetry. Clare Cavanagh, translates these selections.


The following are selections from columns originally published in the Polish newspaper
Literary Life. In these columns, famed poet Wislawa Szymborska answered letters from ordinary people who wanted to write poetry. Translated by Clare Cavanagh, they appeared in slightly different form in our Journals section earlier this year.

To Heliodor from Przemysl: “You write, ‘I know my poems have many faults, but so what, I’m not going to stop and fix them.’ And why is that, oh Heliodor? Perhaps because you hold poetry so sacred? Or maybe you consider it insignificant? Both ways of treating poetry are mistaken, and what’s worse, they free the novice poet from the necessity of working on his verses. It’s pleasant and rewarding to tell our acquaintances that the bardic spirit seized us on Friday at 2:45 p.m. and began whispering mysterious secrets in our ear with such ardor that we scarcely had time to take them down. But at home, behind closed doors, they assiduously corrected, crossed out, and revised those otherworldly utterances. Spirits are fine and dandy, but even poetry has its prosaic side.”

To H.O. from Poznan, a would-be translator: “The translator is obliged to be faithful not only to the text. He must also reveal the full beauty of the poetry while retaining its form and preserving as completely as possible the epoch’s spirit and style.”

To Grazyna from Starachowice: “Let’s take the wings off and try writing on foot, shall we?”

To Mr. G. Kr. of Warsaw: “You need a new pen. The one you’re using makes a lot of mistakes. It must be foreign.” Continue reading “How To (And How Not To) Write Poetry”

Shine, Republic


The quality of these trees, green height; of the sky, shining, of
water, a clear flow; of the rock, hardness
And reticence: each is noble in its quality. The love of freedom
has been the quality of Western man.

There is a stubborn torch that flames from Marathon to Concord,
its dangerous beauty binding three ages
Into one time; the waves of barbarism and civilization have
eclipsed but have never quenched it.

For the Greeks the love of beauty, for Rome of ruling; for the
present age the passionate love of discovery;
But in one noble passion we are one; and Washington, Luther,
Tacitus, Aeschylus, one kind of man.

And you, America, that passion made you. You were not born
to prosperity, you were born to love freedom.
You did not say ‘en masse,’ you said ‘independence.’ But we
cannot have all the luxuries and freedom also.

Freedom is poor and laborious; that torch is not safe but hungry,
and often requires blood for its fuel.
You will tame it against it burn too clearly, you will hood it
like a kept hawk, you will perch it on the wrist of Caesar.

But keep the tradition, conserve the forms, the observances, keep
the spot sore. Be great, carve deep your heel-marks.
The states of the next age will no doubt remember you, and edge
their love of freedom with contempt of luxury.

–Robinson Jeffers, 1887-1962

Come With Me, I Said, And No One Knew (VII)


Pablo Neruda

Come with me, I said, and no one knew
where, or how my pain throbbed,
no carnations or barcaroles for me,
only a wound that love had opened.

I said it again: Come with me, as if I were dying,
and no one saw the moon that bled in my mouth
or the blood that rose into the silence.
O Love, now we can forget the star that has such thorns!

That is why when I heard your voice repeat
Come with me, it was as if you had let loose
the grief, the love, the fury of a cork-trapped wine

the geysers flooding from deep in its vault:
in my mouth I felt the taste of fire again,
of blood and carnations, of rock and scald.

A Dog Has Died


by Pablo Neruda

My dog has died.
I buried him in the garden
next to a rusted old machine.

Some day I’ll join him right there,
but now he’s gone with his shaggy coat,
his bad manners and his cold nose,
and I, the materialist, who never believed
in any promised heaven in the sky
for any human being,
I believe in a heaven I’ll never enter.
Yes, I believe in a heaven for all dogdom
where my dog waits for my arrival
waving his fan-like tail in friendship.

Ai, I’ll not speak of sadness here on earth,
of having lost a companion
who was never servile.
His friendship for me, like that of a porcupine
withholding its authority,
was the friendship of a star, aloof,
with no more intimacy than was called for,
with no exaggerations:
he never climbed all over my clothes
filling me full of his hair or his mange,
he never rubbed up against my knee
like other dogs obsessed with sex.

No, my dog used to gaze at me,
paying me the attention I need,
the attention required
to make a vain person like me understand
that, being a dog, he was wasting time,
but, with those eyes so much purer than mine,
he’d keep on gazing at me
with a look that reserved for me alone
all his sweet and shaggy life,
always near me, never troubling me,
and asking nothing.

Ai, how many times have I envied his tail
as we walked together on the shores of the sea
in the lonely winter of Isla Negra
where the wintering birds filled the sky
and my hairy dog was jumping about
full of the voltage of the sea’s movement:
my wandering dog, sniffing away
with his golden tail held high,
face to face with the ocean’s spray.

Joyful, joyful, joyful,
as only dogs know how to be happy
with only the autonomy
of their shameless spirit.

There are no good-byes for my dog who has died,
and we don’t now and never did lie to each other.

So now he’s gone and I buried him,
and that’s all there is to it.

Translated, from the Spanish, by Alfred Yankauer

Lighthearted Looks at the End of the World


Ed: I’m researching one or more works on climate fiction –CliFi–that will tiptoe through a increasingly alarming future. In the process, I’m finding some previous works that, while dark, are also windows into the subject. So, to brighten your day, here are two:

A Song on the End of the World

BY CZESLAW MILOSZ

On the day the world ends|
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,

By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.

On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,

A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,

The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.
And those who expected lightning and thunder
Are disappointed.
And those who expected signs and archangels’ trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.

As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.

Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he’s much too busy,
There will be no other end of the world,
There will be no other end of the world.

Warsaw, 1944


Note: This poem is presumed to be in the context of the “Year Without a Summer,” 1815, where the entire world’s weather was affected by the titanic eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia. There was a lack a perpetual fog and widespread rain leading to crop failure and widespread famine. The effects were felt most heavily in Europe where the prices of bread rose significantly leaving many people incapable of affording it. This then led to widespread riots which included the burning of bakeries to protest the cost inflation.
Modern people haven’t experienced anything quite like this, but speculations about “Nuclear Winter” had to do with similar dire results of nuclear war.

Darkness

by Lord Byron (George Gordon)

I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went—and came,
and brought no day,
And men forgot their passions in the dread
Of this their desolation; and all hearts
Were chill’d into a selfish prayer for light:
And they did live by watchfires—and the thrones,
The palaces of crowned kings—the huts,
The habitations of all things which dwell,
Were burnt for beacons;
cities were consum’d,
And men were gather’d round their blazing homes
To look once more into each other’s face;
Happy were those who dwelt within
the eye Of the volcanos,
and their mountain-torch:
A fearful hope was all the world contain’d;
Forests were set on fire—but hour by hour
They fell and faded—and the crackling trunks
Extinguish’d with a crash—and all was black.

The brows of men by the despairing light
Wore an unearthly aspect, as by fits
The flashes fell upon them; some lay down
And hid their eyes and wept; and some did rest
Their chins upon their clenched hands, and smil’d;
And others hurried to and fro, and fed
Their funeral piles with fuel, and look’d up
With mad disquietude on the dull sky,
The pall of a past world; and then again
With curses cast them down upon the dust,
And gnash’d their teeth and howl’d: the wild birds shriek’d
And, terrified, did flutter on the ground,
And flap their useless wings; the wildest brutes
Came tame and tremulous; and vipers crawl’d
And twin’d themselves among the multitude,
Hissing, but stingless—they were slain for food.
And War, which for a moment was no more,
Did glut himself again: a meal was bought
With blood, and each sate sullenly apart
Gorging himself in gloom: no love was left;
All earth was but one thought—and that was death
Immediate and inglorious; and the pang
Of famine fed upon all entrails—men
Died, and their bones were tombless as their flesh;
The meagre by the meagre were devour’d,
Even dogs assail’d their masters, all save one,
And he was faithful to a corse, and kept
The birds and beasts and famish’d men at bay,
Till hunger clung them, or the dropping dead
Lur’d their lank jaws; himself sought out no food,
But with a piteous and perpetual moan,
And a quick desolate cry, licking the hand
Which answer’d not with a caress—he died.

The crowd was famish’d by degrees; but two
Of an enormous city did survive,
And they were enemies: they met beside
The dying embers of an altar-place
Where had been heap’d a mass of holy things
For an unholy usage; they rak’d up,
And shivering scrap’d with their cold skeleton hands
The feeble ashes, and their feeble breath
Blew for a little life, and made a flame
Which was a mockery; then they lifted up
Their eyes as it grew lighter, and beheld
Each other’s aspects—saw, and shriek’d, and died—
Even of their mutual hideousness they died,
Unknowing who he was upon whose brow
Famine had written Fiend.

The world was void,
The populous and the powerful was a lump,
Seasonless, herbless, treeless, manless, lifeless—
A lump of death—a chaos of hard clay.
The rivers, lakes and ocean all stood still,
And nothing stirr’d within their silent depths;
Ships sailorless lay rotting on the sea,
And their masts fell down piecemeal: as they dropp’d
They slept on the abyss without a surge—
The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave,
The moon, their mistress, had expir’d before;
The winds were wither’d in the stagnant air,
And the clouds perish’d;
Darkness had no need
Of aid from them—
She was the Universe.

Change at Close Range…


This is something of a rerun, with apologies. But there’s a back story I’m keeping to myself. Music with lyrics from Carrie Newcomer. Enjoy


“We are body, skin and bones
We’re all the loss we’ve ever known
What is gone is always near
We’re all the love that brought us here

And the things that have saved us
Are still here to save us
It’s not out there somewhere
It’s right here, it’s right here

If I start by being kind
Love usually follows right behind
It nods its head and softly hums
Saying “Honey that’s the way it’s done.

We don’t have to search for love
Wring our hands and wring our hearts
All we have to do is know
The love will find us in the dark

And the things that have saved us
Are still here to save us
It’s not out there somewhere
It’s right here, it’s right here

I can’t change the whole world
But I can change the world I know
What’s within three feet or so

We are body, skin and bones
We’re all the love we’ve ever known
When I don’t know what is right
I hold it up into the Light
I hold it up into the Light
I hold it up into the Light

At Least


by Raymond Carver
I want to get up early one more morning, before sunrise. Before the birds, even. I want to throw cold water on my face and be at my work table when the sky lightens and smoke begins to rise from the chimneys of the other houses. I want to see the waves break on the beach, not just hear them break as I did all night in my sleep. I want to see again the ships that pass through the Straight from every seafaring country in the world— old, dirty freighters just barely moving along, and the swift new cargo vessels painted every color under the sun that cut the water as they pass. I want to keep an eye out for them. And for the little boat that plies the water between the ships and the pilot station near the lighthouse. I want to see them take a man off the ship and put another up on board. I want to spend the day watching this happen and reach my own conclusions. I hate to seem greedy—I have so much To be thankful for already. But I want to get up early one more morning, at least, And go to my place with some coffee and wait, Just wait, to see what’s going to happen.
Poet Raymond Carver
Raymond Carver

Wisdom


Bust of Aeschylus 
(Photo by Araldo de Luca/Corbis via Getty Images)
Bust of Aeschylus
(Photo by Araldo de Luca/Corbis via Getty Images)

He Who Learns Must Suffer

In our sleep, pain
which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon

the heart until,
in our own despair, 
against our will, 

comes wisdom through
the awful grace of God. 

—Aeschylus, “Father of tragedy”
c. 523 BCE- 456 BCE

If


BY RUDYARD KIPLING

If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

n/aSource: A Choice of Kipling’s Verse (1943)

Testament


by Carl Sandburg (1878  1967)

I give the undertakers permission to haul my body
to the graveyard and to lay away all, the head, the 
feet, the hands, all:

I know there is something left over they can not put away.


Let the nanny goats and the billy goats of the shanty
people
eat the clover over my grave
and if any yellow 
hair
or any blue smoke of flowers
is good enough to grow 
over me
let the dirty-fisted children
of the shanty people pick these flowers.


I have had my chance to live with the people who have
too much and the people who have
too little and I chose one of the two and I have told no man why.

Save


“I think everyone must love life more than anything else in the world.’

‘Love life more than the meaning of it?’

‘Yes, certainly. Love it regardless of logic, as you say. Yes, most certainly regardless of logic, for only then will I grasp its meaning. That’s what I’ve been vaguely aware of for a long time. Half your work is done, Ivan: you love life. Now you must try to do the second half and you are saved.”

-Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Some Work of Noble Note, May Yet Be Done


 

Quotes from better writers

Ulysses

BY ALFRED, LORD TENNYSON

“…I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought….”
“…’T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

August’s Book Note


Please consider picking up a copy of “Snowflakes & Ashes…” at Amazon or Barnes & Noble online. The links are below. It’s not a beach book, I’m afraid. But that’s not all bad this time of year.

But don’t take my word for it. From one of the reviews.

August 9, 2018

“A work of a lifetime, in a way.The story of being human, loving, hurting and healing. It will move you. Read this only if you are passionate about your journey and all that comes to you along the way.”

B&N: http://tinyurl.com/yay5mhaa

On the Muse


By Elizabeth Hardwick

Those with the least gift are the most anxious to receive a commission. It seems to them that there lies waiting a topic, a new book, a performance, and that this is known as material. The true prose writer knows there is nothing given, no idea, no text or play seen last evening, until an assault has taken place, the forced domination that we call ”putting it in your own words.” Talking about, thinking about a project bears little relation to the composition; enthusiasm boils down with distressing speed to a paragraph, often one of mischievous banality. To proceed from musing to writing is to feel a robbery has taken place. And certainly there has been a loss; the loss of the smiles and ramblings and discussions so much friendlier to ambition than the cold hardship of writing.

–from “Its Only Defense: Intelligence and Sparkle,” in The New York Times in 1986

The Purpose of Poetry


 

Robert Frost held a special place in President Kennedy’s intellectual pantheon. Frost died in January 1963, at age 88. The following October, Amherst College held a groundbreaking ceremony for the Robert Frost Library. Kennedy traveled to Massachusetts to deliver this speech; a month later, he, too, was dead.

(Did the headline catch your eye? Maybe pissed you off? Sorry. This is a political post, not really about poetry. But it is about poetry’s relationship to power, and how one president used to be. And how that compares to today.)

“Our national strength matters; but the spirit which informs and controls our strength matters just as much. This was the special significance of Robert Frost.

“He brought an unsparing instinct for reality to bear on the platitudes and pieties of society. His sense of the human tragedy fortified him against self-deception and easy consolation. Continue reading “The Purpose of Poetry”

A Request


A gentle reminder for July’s sales (going gangbusters!.. probably): if you meant to get a copy of “Snowflakes & Ashes….” and haven’t yet, it’s available through several channels, including  Barnes and Noble.

(It’s in stock at the State College (PA) B&N store near the mall, by the way. Or, you may order from B&N online and pickup at a store near you instead of home delivery.)

It’s also on Amazon, both paperback and e-Book. It is helpful if you leave a review and rating, as they use that for the algorithm to determine how visible it is. Thanks in advance. Now I can tell my marketing department I did my bit. 😉

Bulk orders for book clubs are available. Just email me with quantities and location so I can get you the discount price with shipping.

Oh, and I mentioned other channels. Your local small bookshop or library can order this one if you ask them to: ISBN: 978-1-64237-194-9

Snowflakes and Ashes


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I’m happy to announce that I’ve just published (via Gatekeeper Press), “Snowflakes and Ashes: Meditations on the Temporary.” It’s still being propagated through the internet, but Amazon (paperback and Kindle) and Barnes & Noble (Nook) have it up already. Distribution will also be through independent bookstores, libraries and academic users.

For now, you can take a peek at https://amzn.to/2kpYDLC

Steve Jobs said once that we can’t connect the dots of our lives looking forward. It’s only later, after the journey has a few miles on it, that one can look back and draw some conclusions and see the patterns that are usually invisible at the time. Some things we know, but some things are surprises. I wrote this out of the jumble of my own life, but have the conceit that my experiences and accidental insights are probably similar to some of yours. I hope so. (Solitary journeys can be lonely. Glad to have some company.) I’ll be posting some promo codes as soon as I get them if you can’t handle buying a book at the moment. I am gladly welcoming reviews, however.

Prayer for Good Humor


 

by St. Thomas More

Grant me, O Lord, good digestion,
and also something to digest.
Grant me a healthy body,
and the necessary good humor to maintain it.
Grant me a simple soul that knows to treasure all that is good
and that doesn’t frighten easily at the sight of evil,
but rather finds the means to put things back in their place.
Give me a soul that knows not
boredom, grumblings, sighs and laments,
nor excess of stress, because of that obstructing thing called “I.”
Grant me, O Lord, a sense of good humor.
Allow me the grace to be able to
take a joke to discover in life a bit of joy,
and to be able to share it with others.

One Day, I Stepped Off The Edge of the World


ARCHANGEL_MICHAEL__by_masiani

I’ve held this inside for more than 40 years. I think you’ll see why.

It was a hot summer Saturday afternoon. The humidity was heavy, and it was like breathing through wet gauze. The leaves of the oaks that shaded the grounds moved with a discouraged droop from air that provided no relief.

I have no witnesses to what happened, but it was something that to this day, more than 45 years later, I cannot explain. Or deny. I’ve tried both. Now it just has to be.

All I know is that I walked into that room alone, my mind on something completely different and ordinary and mundane. (I was checking supplies for the evening meeting.) I was walking through a typical Midwestern summer afternoon in Indiana one moment, and the next walked into another world.

Continue reading “One Day, I Stepped Off The Edge of the World”

The Exposed Nest


Robert Frost

By Robert Frost

You were forever finding some new play.
So when I saw you down on hands and knees
In the meadow, busy with the new-cut hay,
Trying, I thought, to set it up on end,
I went to show you how to make it stay,
If that was your idea, against the breeze,
And, if you asked me, even help pretend
To make it root again and grow afresh.
But ‘twas no make-believe with you to-day,
Nor was the grass itself your real concern,
Though I found your hand full of wilted fern,
Steel-bright June-grass, and blackening heads of clover.
‘Twas a nest full of young birds on the ground
The cutter-bar had just gone champing over
(Miraculously without tasting flesh)
And left defenseless to the heat and light.
You wanted to restore them to their right
Of something interposed between their sight
And too much world at once—could means be found.
The way the nest-full every time we stirred
Stood up to us as to a mother-bird
Whose coming home has been too long deferred,
Made me ask would the mother-bird return
And care for them in such a change of scene
And might our meddling make her more afraid.
That was a thing we could not wait to learn.
We saw the risk we took in doing good,
But dared not spare to do the best we could
Though harm should come of it; so built the screen
You had begun, and gave them back their shade.
All this to prove we cared. Why is there then
No more to tell? We turned to other things.
I haven’t any memory—have you?—
Of ever coming to the place again
To see if the birds lived the first night through,
And so at last to learn to use their wings.

Doubts


Doubt is my most trusted traveling partner, that “curious questioner” who comes in the night,  that voice that says what I’ve done is not what it should be, that I’m not what I should be. And it is then—out of a last-ditch, almost reluctant refusal to betray myself— that everything comes of which I am most proud.

Doubt is my friend and lover. Doubt need not be fear’d, but endured and embraced as a means to an end. I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way I became strong enough. Strong enough…. If I can, you can, too.

Walt Whitman

I too have—
Have—have—
I too have—felt the curious questioning come upon me.
In the day they came.
In the silence of the night came [they] upon me

—Walt Whitman

It is not upon you alone the dark patches fall, 
The dark threw its patches down upon me also, 
The best I had done seem’d to me blank and suspicious, 
My great thoughts as I supposed them, were they not in reality meagre? 
Nor is it you alone ho know what it is to be evil, 
I am he who knew what it was to be evil, 
I too knitted the old knot of contrariety, 
blabb’d, blush’d, resented, lied, stole, grudged, 
Had guile, anger, lust, hot wishes I cared not speak, 
Was wayward, vain, greedy, shallow, sly, cowardly, malignant, 
The world, the snake, the hog not wanting in me, 
The cheating look, the frivolous word, the adulterous wish, not wanting, 
Refusals, hates, postponements, meanness, laziness, none of these wanting, 
Was one with the rest, the days and haps of the rest. …”
—”Leaves of Grass, ‘Crossing Brooklyn Ferry’ briefs, p. 219.

Personal Note


I’ve been reluctant to post some personal news here, but because just disappearing without an explanation seems odd, at the least, here goes.

Starting in November, my wife started coughing, and kept coughing. A blood test and then some scans detected a tumor in her lung, and some additional spots on her spine and pelvis. Biopsies confirmed these were Stage IV lung cancer, metastasized to 5-7 spots on vertebrae, the lungs, and pelvis.

She had radiation therapy to knock back the bone pain in her back, then had one chemotherapy infusion. Within 36 hours of that, we both came down with the flu that everyone’s getting. But it hit her very hard because her immune system is severely compromised. She ended up in the hospital for the flu as one very, very sick girl, and then for the pneumonia that followed. She recovered, although unable to eat much, was at home for nine days, then pneumonia returned and then she spent another week in the hospital. She’s on a feeding tube now and is regaining her strength.

I’ve been well occupied with all of this, obviously, and thought that a few of you would appreciate knowing what’s been happening. I’ll probably be absent a lot over the next months, as what’s ahead is going to be rough. I miss writing and reading your creations, and hope to be back. Until then….

Doug

Grit


December 11, 1937 – March 26, 2016

“I like grit, I like love and death, I’m tired of irony. … A lot of good fiction is sentimental. … The novelist who refuses sentiment refuses the full spectrum of human behavior, and then he just dries up. … I would rather give full vent to all human loves and disappointments, and take a chance on being corny, than die a smartass.”
Jim Harrison

Folding Power


Pillars of Creation: interstellar gas and dust in the Eagle Nebula, some 6,500-7,000 light years from Earth where stars are born
“Pillars of Creation”: Hubble photo of interstellar gas and dust in the Eagle Nebula, some 6,500-7,000 light years from Earth where stars are born

I asked for the superpower of “Folding” for my birthday.
It cuts out the middle man:
Gimme a calendar with tricky bits, I said.
I’d fold weeks, months, years, centuries together,
jump to any time, past or future.

The first would be hanging with
the first human band to walk out of Africa .
I’d wait in the shade of a date palm, by the Nile,
bounce rocks off crocodiles, watch the south trail.
I’d cook hot dogs and hamburgers,
and have beer chilling on ice.
History’s first tailgate.
I would show them an iPhone, photos, movies.
Order something from Amazon—
Wouldn’t that be a good trick!…
Maybe a slinky, some bows and arrows and knives.
A chemistry set. Aspirin. Cargo pants,
broad-brimmed hats and sunglasses.
Trail mix. Snickers.
It’s in our interest that they survive the trip.
I’d tell them to be kind to one another,
Let them think I was the Great Spirit, then disappear.

Continue reading “Folding Power”

Blue Nights


A pall has settled in over the two of us in Chez Hemmingplay, and on our sons and others, a pall that may turn out to be nothing at all. I’ll have more to say if it seems things have gone sideways. But by accident, a writer friend mentioned some words Joan Didion wrote in “Blue Nights.” We can share these for now.

In ‘Blue Nights’

By Joan Didion

“Do not whine…Do not complain. Work harder. Spend more time alone.”

“In theory momentos serve to bring back the moment. In fact they serve only to make clear how inadequately I appreciated the moment when it was here.”

“During the blue nights you think the end of day will never come. As the blue nights draw to a close (and they will, and they do) you experience an actual chill, an apprehension of illness, at the moment you first notice: the blue light is going, the days are already shortening, the summer is gone…Blue nights are the opposite of the dying of the brightness, but they are also its warning.”

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night


Dylan Thomas

by Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Continue reading “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”

Shirt


Carl Sandburg, 1878-1967

I remember once I ran after you and tagged the fluttering
shirt of you in the wind.
Once many days ago I drank a glassful of something and
the picture of you shivered and slid on top of the stuff.
And again it was nobody else but you I heard in the
singing voice of a careless humming woman.
One night when I sat with chums telling stories at a
bonfire flickering red embers, in a language its own
talking to a spread of white stars:
It was you that slunk laughing
in the clumsy staggering shadows.
Broken answers of remembrance let me know you are
alive with a peering phantom face behind a doorway
somewhere in the city’s push and fury.
Or under a pack of moss and leaves waiting in silence
under a twist of oaken arms ready as ever to run<
away again when I tag the fluttering shirt of you.

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