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 writer of modest talent can only hope one day to put together a word or two—on on a rare week, a phrase—that’s worth keeping. This is not the conceit of perfectionism. This is just the reality of a mediocre vision that cannot totally grasp and share what floats in and out of view. It’s the frustration that has to be managed—The gap between what might be glimpsed, a brief impression of something sublime, and the skill that, were it a painting, only produces stick figure drawings.
So the experience is one of enduring a sense of constant failure, working to press my cheek up against the foggy glass that keeps me from the truth, but still trying to catch a scent of it and convey it honestly….Throwing the lariat a thousand times at a stallion that prances just out of reach, hoping that one more throw will tame the beast and bring him nearer to feel the heat and the true wild life of him.
That’s the job. (Neurotic? Of course it is. But what’s a little neurosis among friends?). It’s just a matter of putting up with failure long enough to feel the hot breath of something beautiful. It is insanity. But oh, so seductive.
Put your ear to the earth and wait…
Tune your senses to the long rhythms…
The sun’s daily higher in the sky,
It pounds a fist on the grave’s door:
Dormant in the frozen ground,
Life stirs from a sleep like death
Shudders and swells and pushes its fingers and shoulders against
The things that would keep it dead, climbing toward the
roar of the Sun:
Tune your senses to the long rhythms,
Close your eyes and see with an inner eye.
Life, bundled mystery, sleeps now,
but prepares to stir, move,
Grow from nothing to cover the world,
Rejoicing, contending, affirming, seeking, dying,
living again. Seeking and finding change.
The shoving and shifting and movement toward the light
Makes a soundless roar we will feel through our feet.
© Hemmingplay 2014
What do I want?
The patience of Old Testament Jøb
the vision of a Steve Jobs…
Good eyes and ears,
Strong heart and lungs
Not too many aches and pains,
not too many pills.
The ability to
stay in shape without
And a quick end.
And I’d like
Striking women to smile and say ‘hi’
And those precious, luscious few–
I hope you’re out there–
To permit that faint, wet stirring
And dare to pause, question,
First silently, then aloud:
“Hello. I’ve never done this… but
Is there a chance we might
Find a good way to spend
And I’d be in favor of some more surviving,
(Without getting hung up about it.)
I’m one day older than yesterday…
One younger than tomorrow,
But– having never been strong in math–
I will n’t count days
Letting them come as they will.
Aside from all that…
What Do I wish?
Good sleep several times a week.
And a warm body curved
Contented into me,
A person hunting for
the true in herself.
I wish for the wisdom
I’ve paid for with
so many dumb mistakes,
And I wish the stamina of my 60s
flows into my 70s
I’m grateful for
The satisfactions of my 50s and 60s
The energy of my 40s;
The happiness of my 30s;
The libido of my teens and 20s.
If only I knew then how to
Be unselfish. I wish I’d known…
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 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.
Quotes from better writers
*Part of the “Saying Goodbye” collection to be published soon.
Do you remember our babies’
crying through the night
with colic, red-faced, kicking,
little fists clenched, punching the air?
We took turns with
new at this baby thing,
desperate to comfort, to
silence that infernal noise
so we could go to work
in a few hours and not
fall asleep in the elevator.
They didn’t seem to want
comfort, did they?
Continue reading “Cry”
Different time zones
Different morn and night
hard to tell sometimes…
Might as well be different centuries
connected by a silver
thread so so fine
it’s hardly there
except on clear nights
when the moon is full
on the mountains, dark,
at ha’passed nine,
when the moonlight catches it just so
.and, for a minute, it hums with
a brilliant light.
To this brief journey,
to this time-travel adventure,
to the utter absurdity of our
helpless leap into the future;
to all the surprises and the pain… Continue reading “Snowflakes and Ashes*”
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.
I knew a guy.
but worn down by it
to the lacy bone.
Thin, with a dry look.
Still, a light shone through
his parchment skin
like a flame through
a mica shade,
like some kind of
The brush with death
left a calling card.
“I’ll be back” it said.
“You won’t know when.”
I’ve seen it, several times,
although much later in my own life.
It’s in the eyes
of men who
all had owned real estate
on the hopeless end
of Rockbottom Drive.
I didn’t want to find out
for myself what
was behind that look, though.
My dad made sure, as
He let me visit the address once.
I wanted to be Steve Jobs
I wanted to be Joni Mitchell
I wanted to be Leonard Cohen
I wanted to be Carl Sagan,
I wanted to be that person, they’ll say,
“yeah, whatever happened to him?”
The way people do, about certain
Rare, shining talents, like Joni, or Steve,
Mysteries that can’t be explained.
If I were a Beatle
the quiet one–
I’m racing the inevitable,
my only weapon an
of permanent youthfulness.
The 1970s are to blame.
My generation is to blame.
We started this crap,
pretending we could play
only teenagers and children could.
In my head, I’m still about 32,
on a stone patio of
a casino in Saint Tropez, in sandals,
skimpy swimming trunks,
Continue reading “A Fantasy of Permanent Youthfulness”
Do you have a favorite to share? (And yes, I’m procrastinating…)
A couple to get you primed:
Sometimes writing is beautiful, like making love. Sometimes it’s painful, like having a tooth pulled. Sometimes it’s like making love while having a tooth pulled.
“Why won’t the saints look at us?”
“Even saints need a break sometimes, Honey.”
“Is it that bad?”
“Yeah. It is. But try a long walk. They’re saints. They’ll be back.”
“I hope so. I’m not sure I would.”
“Me, neither. There’s always a first time, I suppose. Try not to think about that. ….
That path through the woods to the lake is your best shot. You’d better take your time.”
–From Aug. 2016, revised
With one exception, no one in the pub that night had heard the story of the unfaithful earl with a spear in his guts…. At least, not since they were children.
It was a quiet evening. Truth be told, most evenings in the little village were quiet. Deadly quiet. It made the people a little odd.
This night was running down in the same way. Nothing moved outside, or inside, except for calls for refills by the few villagers who remained.
But just before closing time, Robert Mordrum, a local farmer, burst into the low-beamed gathering place just before closing, white-faced and speechless.
by Leonard Cohen
It’s au revoir
My once so bright, my fallen star
I’m running late, they’ll close the bar
I used to play one mean guitar
I guess I’m just somebody who
Has given up on the me and you
I’m not alone, I’ve met a few
Traveling light like we used to do
Good night, good night, my fallen star
I guess you’re right, you always are
I know you’re right about the blues
You live some life you’d never choose
I’m just a fool, a dreamer who forgot to dream of the me and you
I’m not alone, I’ve met a few
Traveling light like we used to do
It’s au revoir
My once so bright, my fallen star
I’m running late, they’ll close the bar
I used to play one mean guitar
I guess I’m just somebody who
Has given up on the me and you
I’m not alone, I’ve met a few
Traveling light like we used to do
But if the road leads back to you
Must I forget the things I knew
When I was friends with one or two
Traveling light like we used to do
I’m traveling light
TRANSLATED BY ANTHONY 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
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,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
There will be no other end of the world,
There will be no other end of the world.
Missing NOLA, so a rerun
The City of New Orleans pulls out of downtown,
setting the ground rumbling, gaining speed,
steel nose pointed hard north,
toward the coming night.
Like a thousand times before,
she finds the scent of the line away from the party,
leaving street-corner musicians,
Heavenly beignets and chicory coffee….And joy.
Leaving Joy, behind—despite misery under freeway overpasses;
Falling away in the rear window down parallel bands of steel
The party goes on, the music getting
fainter, but stuck in my skin like a vaccination scar,
in my ear like an old love song playing soft.
Despite the worst that could happen, the People endure.
God bless the People.
The train rolls north, but carries the place with it.
The passengers carry the place with us.
Old Bourbon St., Canal St. with it’s clackety trolleys;
flood-stained Poydras, Gravier, Decatur streets.
The bars and the shops and the throngs of
sun worshipers on Jackson Square
who lounge and dance to a saxophone player
and drop coins and bills in his open case on the sidewalk.
Or listen to the tolling of the cathedral bells.
The steamboat down at the dock breathes
a hot, breathy calliope tune, luring passengers to the
Big Muddy to taste something old, something new
Something borrowed, and some Blues.
The blond woman, on her cast iron balcony above
The traffic and crowds, waters her flowers, looks
Down at me and smiles. It’s OK, Honey, she seems to say,
Life is good. Isn’t this a great place?
It’s New Orleans: Laissez les bon temps roulez, after all.
Let the good times roll…
So we roll. The horn blasts again and silent
steel wheels start to turn, gathering speed.
Number 58 follows an old steel line up, up,
slowing now and then but
Always up, up, up, past
Metairie, Kenner, New Iberia, the old names.
Hugging the shore of vast
Lake Ponchartrain, goddess destroyer,
Up, up the steel magic carpet ride
In dusk’s gathering, into the
dark memories of Delta country,
Past fields greening with winter wheat,
into the Mississippi night,
A stop at McComb, then Jackson,
then all the way up, up to Memphis by midnight.
And as we sleep, the car rocks unevenly,
the engine horn blows warnings
Into the darkness, the stars move slowly past.
The conductor’s voice comes over the speaker, tinny,
An hour and a half to Chicago.
“Get your things ready. Breakfast is served.”
Dawn comes early in places like this,
A mist covers the fields and coats them out of focus.
At breakfast, a retired doctor traveling with his daughter
Back home to Chicago
Tells about strawberries
(they’re on the menu this morning)
And remembers tending strawberries
on his father’s farm in
New Orleans, and how sweet
they were, and how he hated
Working in the beds, but loved
eating the sweetest berries in the world.
The sweetest in the world… his voice trails off.
Watching him, his eyes gone soft with old memories,
I wondered if their sweetness was more than rich soil,
But rather some small consolation to the People for
Enduring the swamps and fevers and mosquitos and the hurricanes.
The old doctor remembers the flavors
of strawberries on his father’s farm
In the French Quarter, 70 years, a lifetime ago.
He can taste the past again, and smiles.
The miles evaporate under the clicking wheels
as we talk, and eat
And the car rocks and rolls.
The waiter flies up and down the aisle,
Used to the way the car bucks and pitches on rough spots,
Never spilling the coffee.
The eastern horizon begins to glow.
Through fallow fields and past naked trees we fly.
And like the Resurrection, the sun is up and claims the day,
Keeping pace, rising in the east, burning bright, banishing darkness again.
And out the window,
over the frosty stubble
of an Illinois cornfield,
the old promise rises,
runs alongside, keeping pace.
We race the sun to Kankakee,
yet the faint music still plays,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.
– Carl Jung
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)
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.
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.
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.
With Audio: Accepted into the Telepoem program
After 60 years of work, more or less,
I’ve decided to take a working vacation.
I’m booking a cruise and extended
train travels for the next 60 years
To go exploring along the coasts,
Poking my canoe up the inlets and rivers,
Probing the veins and wires and memories of
Some unfamiliar parts of me, and some
I’ve been missing for a while, to
See whether there’s anything
Worth saving, or maybe just toss it all out.
I know how to make a bed
While still lying in it, and
Slip out of an imaginary hole
As if I were squeezed out of a tube:
Tug, smooth—the bed is made.
And if resurrections are this easy,
Why then I believe in all of them:
Lazarus rising from his tomb,
Elijah at the vertical—
Though death, I think, has more than clever
Household hints in mind and wants
The bed made, once, and for good.
“Making a Bed” by Howard Moss from New Selected Poems. © Athenaeum, 1985.
More at: http://www.advicetowriters.com
You Can’t Learn To Write in College
You can’t learn to write in college. It’s a very bad place for writers because the teachers always
think they know more than you do—and they don’t. They have prejudices. They may like Henry James, but what if you don’t want to write like Henry James? They may like John Irving, for instance, who’s the bore of all time. A lot of the people whose work they’ve taught in the schools for the last thirty years, I can’t understand why people read them and why they are taught.
Self-doubt Can Be An Ally
Self-doubt can be an ally. This is because it serves as an indicator of aspiration. It reflects love, love of something we dream of doing, and desire, desire to do it. If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.
You Must Read Everything
You must read everything, and you must let it all the way into your life, all the way into the part of you that makes writing, and you must let every good thing in — none of this reading a few lines of so-and-so with the hope that you might write something that sounds like it.
The old one-eyed poet said it is harder to
dismantle your life than to build it, but
I think it is just as difficult both ways.
I’m putting the finishing touches on the house of me.
Bolting the copper trout wind vane on the chimney,
mounting the mailbox by the road,
putting in the shrubbery and sod, laying out the welcome mat.
And doing it all never knowing if today
might be the last, or whether I have
6,200 more sunrises to enjoy, as I saw once in a dream.
It’s all just vanity, after all. I’ll pile my collection of rocks
beside the trail and someone will come along and
knock them over, not realizing what they are,
then steal a few to build their own pile.
These are not unusual worries and really
only concern me and a distressingly small circle of people.
The Nile River doesn’t care either way, Miami and
San Francisco and Shanghai are still going to flood,
people will always believe flim-flam artists,
the dinosaurs are still dead.
This life-sorting–patching and filtering—
feels like falling asleep on a muggy
afternoon and waking up sweaty,
disoriented, not sure where – or who—you are.
The Work, though, goes on.
It means to remember things, to patch torn screens,
To oil squeaky hinges of faintly remembered doors,
To somehow put a name to things and to see
What actually matters and which bits were bullshit.
(There has been a lot of the latter.)
The woman behind me on the train is coughing, reminding me
that most of us die of suffocation,
Choking on our own accumulated miseries.
I can think of better ways to go.
This makes me start coughing, too.
And so I write it down.
I love this one-eyed poet who talks about the
“Implacable indifference of time.” He was
old when he wrote that, and facing a decaying
body and painful surgery.
It made me think.
I was raised to believe in hope,
in the redeeming graces that would make
all suffering worthwhile in the sweet bye and bye;
to seek a moral purpose even in darkness and pain,
to value the hard-won badges and scars of a
life lived with eternity in mind.
Late in my sixth decade now, the path ahead
more and more clear, I think it’s time I
did myself a favor and distinguished between
wishful thinking and hard truths.
It’s a choice; I still have
the power to choose.
I have my health, for the most part,
but my wife has had cancer 5 times and still
keeps her face to the sun. It won’t get easier for either of us,
and I have promises to keep, somehow.
I’ve learned this much; your mileage may vary:
No matter how bad the news is, someone has it worse.
It’s easy to be discouraged, hard to be hopeful.
Be hopeful, anyway. It’s a way of not giving in.
There’s nothing better than the feeling of a cold beer
hitting the back of your throat on a hot day.
Realize that behind anything you want,
there are multiple reasons.
The majority are selfish, or weird or downright bad.
Wait. Bullshit always has a big mouth.
Wait. Your hair’s not really on fire.
It’s just the hormones whipping you, mostly.
Most desires turn out to be hollow things with time.
Wait and look for whether
there’s something in there that helps someone,
does not hurt someone and
would make your children proud.
Do that one. Out of all the rest.
And do it with everything you’ve got.
Then give someone else the credit for it.
This is especially true of love. We are all capable of
much more of that, but get selfish and fearful of pain.
We must be careful and keep the above rules in mind.
Does it help someone ? Everyone needs it.
Does it hurt anyone? Can you stretch yourself to include more?
Can you give 110% to more than one?
Would it make your children proud?
(When/if you have them, if you don’t now.)
Do that. And another just like it, but with care.
Grow into it.
Tell yourself that, in the end,
You told yourself the truth, most of the time;
You did not harm anyone on purpose;
and that you tasted as much sweetness
along the way
as you could.
A girl combs her grandmother’s hair, while the old woman
tries, suddenly, desperately, to remember her first kiss. The her mind slips a couple more decades back in time.
“It will be wonderful,” she sighs, in anticipation.
Her spirit surges into the past, pausing just an eye blink with the young girl.
Her granddaughter closes her eyes and shudders. She is headed into her future, but there’s something new in her now. The hand with the comb pauses, confused; continues.
Something is different. She sighs.
The challenge, it seems,
is to somehow arrange,
to slow-dance with Familiar,
but awaken with Strange.
To be like a welder
shooting showers of sparks,
birthing hot, fluid joinings,
behind a mask full of stars. Continue reading “Ashes and Snowflakes”