Sunday, March 12, 2017

one or two things

by mary oliver

1
don't bother me.
i've just
been born.

2
the butterfly's loping flight
carries it through the country of leaves
delicately, and well enough to get it
where it wants to go, wherever that is, stopping
here and there to fuzzle the damp throats
of flowers and the black mud; up
and down it swings, frenzied and aimless; and sometimes

for long delicious moments it is perfectly
lazy, riding motionless in the breeze on the soft talk
of some ordinary flower.

3
the god of dirt
came up to me many times and said
so many wise and delectable things, i lay
on the grass listening
to his dog voice,
crow voice,
frog voice; now,
he said, and now,

and never once mentioned forever,

4
which has nevertheless always been,
like a sharp iron hoof,
at the center of my mind.

5
one or two things are all you need
to travel over the blue pond, over the deep
roughage of the trees and through the stiff
flowers of lightning - some deep
memory of pleasure, some cutting
knowledge of pain.

6
but to lift the hoof!
for that you need
an idea.

7
for years and years i struggled
just to love my life. and then

the butterfly
rose, weightless, in the wind.
"don't love your life
too much," it said,

and vanished
into the world.

Friday, March 3, 2017

nineteen eighty three

by ray a. young bear from the invisible musician

1.
it is january--
and simply because
the rain failed to change
into snow
the quiet river
has risen to flood stage.
half-frozen rainwater
fills into a nearby pond
where once the sound
of frogs, crickets,
mosquitoes and birds
permeated the humid
summer night:
narcosis through
the sound of an open
window. tomorrow
young children will
pretend to skate
over the thick pond ice,
but each day their figures
will slowly descend
into the ground,
reminding us
of mythical rolling
heads playing hockey.
the rainwater will evaporate
and ice will succumb
to the daily game.
winter’s indecision
makes us feel safe.
an elder, however,
would say, “you’re
basically unprepared.”
no matter how balanced
one’s mentality,
one’s physicality.

2.
the gentle appearance
of the female death light
from wisconsin
takes place
in the center
of a soybean field.
two times, a slow fire.
inside the hollow wall
a mouse takes a chance
during our rumination
to weep like a human.
throughout the neighborhood
the four-legged sentinels,
especially the all-white ones,
signal each other of this
incongruity: a shadow
of an unknown tall being
stands in the flash
of lightning.

Monday, February 20, 2017

aubade

by louise gluck from the seven ages

there was one summer
that returned many times over
there was one flower unfurling
taking many forms

crimson of the monarda, pale gold of the late roses

there was one love
there was one love, there were many nights

smell of the mock orange tree
corridors of jasmine and lilies
still the wind blew

there were many winters but i closed my eyes
the cold air white with dissolved wings

there was one garden when the snow melted
azure and white; i couldn’t tell
my solitude from love --

there was one love; he had many voices
there was one dawn; sometimes
we watched it together

i was here
i was here

there was one summer returning over and over
there was one dawn
i grew old watching

Friday, January 6, 2017

the first thing

by jean valentine from little boat

the first thing this guy takes
is happiness
        the faint light of the stars
        in spring:     leaping!     lambs!

next thing he takes
is your skin

where it was, you grow ten more

--- a lifetime learning
you could take off your skins
and just talk out of flesh, to flesh

to lamb    to sleep    to wake

Saturday, December 31, 2016

jokes

excerpts from through the looking glass by lewis carroll (charles lutwidge dodson)

"what sort of insects do you rejoice in, where you come from?" the gnat inquired.
"i don't rejoice in insects at all," alice explained, "because i'm rather afraid of them -- at least the large kinds. but i can tell you the names of some of them."
"of course they answer to their names?" the gnat remarked carelessly.
"i never knew them do it."
"what's the use of their having names," the gnat said, "if they won't answer to them?"
"no use to them," said alice; "but it's useful to the people that name them, i suppose. if not, why do things have names at all?"
"i can't say," the gnat replied. "further on, in the wood down there, they've got no names -- however, go on with your list of insects: you're wasting time."
"well, there's the horse-fly," alice began, counting off the names on her fingers.
"all right," said the gnat. "half way up that bush, you'll see a rocking-horse-fly, if you look. it's made entirely of wood, and gets about by swinging itself from branch to branch."
"what does it live on?" alice asked, with great curiosity.
"sap and sawdust," said the gnat. "go on with the list."
alice looked at the rocking-horse-fly with great interest, and made up her mind that it must have been just repainted, it looked so bright and sticky; and then she went on.
"and there's the dragon-fly."
"look on the branch above your head," said the gnat, "and there you'll find a snap=dragon-fly. its body is made of plum-pudding, its wings of holly-leaves, and its head is a raisin burning in brandy."
"and what does it live on?" alice asked, as before.
"frumenty and mince-pie," the gnat replied; "and it makes its nest in a christmas-box."
"and then there's the butterfly," alice went on, after she had taken a good look at the insect with its head on fire, and had thought to herself, "i wonder if that's the reason insects are so fond of flying into candles -- because they want to turn into snap-dragon-flies!"
"crawling at your feet," said the gnat (alice drew her feet back in some alarm), "you may observe a bread-and-butter-fly. its wings are thin slices of bread-and-butter, its body is a crust, and its head is a lump of sugar."
"and what does it live on?"
"weak tea with cream in it."
a new difficulty came into alice's head. "supposing it couldn't find any?" she suggested.
"then it would die, of course."
"but that must happen very often," alice remarked thoughtfully.
"it always happens," said the gnat.
after this, alice was silent for a minute or two, pondering. the gnat amused itself meanwhile by humming round and round her head: at last it settled again and remarked "i suppose you don't want to lose your name?"
"no, indeed," alice said, a little anxiously.
"and yet i don't know," the gnat went on in a careless tone: "only think how convenient it would be if you could manage to go home without it! for instance, if the governess wanted to call you to your lessons, she would call out 'come here -------,' and there she would have to leave off, because there wouldn't be any name for her to call, and of course you wouldn't have to go, you know."
"that would never do, i'm sure," said alice: "the governess would never think of excusing me lessons for that. if she couldn't remember my name, she'd call me 'miss,' as the servants do."
"well, if she said 'miss,' and didn't say anything more," the gnat remarked, "of course you'd miss your lessons. that's a joke. i wish you had made it."
"why do you wish i had made it?" alice asked. "it's a very bad one."
but the gnat only sighed deeply, while two large tears came rolling down its cheeks.
"you shouldn't make jokes," alice said, "if it makes you so unhappy."

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

"how can you go on talking so quietly, head downwards?" alice asked, as she dragged him out by the feet, and laid him in a heap on the bank.
the knight looked surprised at the question. "what does it matter where my body happens to be?" he said. "my mind goes on working all the same. in fact, the more head-downwards i am, the more i keep inventing new things."
"now the cleverest thing of the sort that i ever did," he went on after a pause, "was inventing a new pudding during the meat-course."
"in time to have it cooked for the next course?" said alice. "well, that was quick work, certainly!"
"well, not the next course," the knight said in a slow thoughtful tone: "no, certainly not the next course."
"then it would have to be the next day. i suppose you wouldn't have two pudding-courses in one dinner?"
"well not the next day," the knight repeated as before: "not the next day. in fact," he went on, holding his head down, and his voice getting lower and lower, "i don't believe that pudding ever was cooked! in fact, i don't believe that pudding ever will be cooked! and yet it was a very clever pudding to invent."
"what did you mean it to be made of?" alice asked, hoping to cheer him up, for the poor knight seemed quite low-spirited about it.
"it began with blotting-paper," the knight answered with a groan.
"that wouldn't be very nice, i'm afraid ---"
"not very nice alone," he interrupted, quite eagerly: "but you've no idea what a difference it makes, mixing it with other things - such as gunpowder and sealing-wax. and here i must leave you." they had just come to the end of the wood.
alice could only look puzzled: she was thinking of the pudding.
"you are sad," the knight said in an anxious tone: "let me sing you a song to comfort you."
"is it very long?" alice asked, for she had heard a good deal of poetry that day.
"it's long," said the knight, "but it's very, very beautiful. everybody that hears me sing it - either it brings the tears into their eyes, or else ----"
"or else what?" said alice, for the knight had made a sudden pause.
"or else it doesn't, you know. the name of the song is called 'haddocks' eyes.'"
"oh, that's the name of the song, is it?" alice said, trying to feel interested.
 "no, you don't understand," the knight said, looking a little vexed. "that's what the name is called. the name really is "the aged aged man.'"
"then i ought to have said, 'that's what the song is called'?" alice corrected herself.
"no, you oughtn't: that's quite another thing! the song is called 'ways and means': but that's only what it's called, you know!"
"well, what is the song, then?" said alice, who was by this time completely bewildered.
"i was coming to that," the knight said. "the song really is 'a-sitting on a gate': and the tune's my own invention."
so saying, he stopped his horse and let the reins fall on its neck: then, slowly beating time with one hand, and with a faint smile lighting up his gentle foolish face, as if he enjoyed the music of his song, he began.
of all the strange things that alice saw in her journey through the looking-glass, this was the one that she always remembered most clearly. years afterwards she could bring the whole scene back again, as if it had been only yesterday -- the mild blue eyes and kindly smile of the knight -- the setting sun gleaming through his hair, and shining on his armour in a blaze of light that quite dazzled her -- the horse quietly moving about, with the reins hanging loose on his neck, cropping the grass at her feet -- and the black shadows of the forest behind -- all this she took in like a picture, as with one hand shading her eyes, she leant against a tree, watching the strange pair, and listening, in a half-dream, to the melancholy music of the song.


Saturday, December 17, 2016

bank seven

by laura sims from practice, restraint


tit for tat


your border gives in


                    under the wet awning, a bomb


or something

we think ---


                    we were animals


friend

Thursday, December 15, 2016

i i i i i

from seize the day by saul bellow

"on broadway it was still bright afternoon and the gassy air was almost motionless under the leaden spokes of sunlight, and sawdust footprints lay about the doorways of butcher shops and fruit stores. and the great, great crowd, the inexhaustible current of millions of every race and kind pouring out, pressing round, of every age, of every genius, possessors of every human secret, antique and future, in every face the refinement of one particular motive or essence -- i labor, i spend, i strive, i design, i love, i cling, i uphold, i give way, i envy, i long, i scorn, i die, i hide, i want. faster, much faster than any man could make the tally. the sidewalks were wider than any causeway; the street itself was immense, and it quaked and gleamed and it seemed to wilhelm to throb at the last limit of endurance. and although the sunlight appeared like a broad tissue, its actual weight made him feel like a drunkard."

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

moon

by billy collins from picnic, lightning

the moon is full tonight
an illustration for sheet music,
an image in matthew arnold
glimmering on the english channel,
or a ghost over a smoldering battlefield
in one of the history plays.

it's as full as it was
in that poem by coleridge
where he carries his year-old son
into the orchard behind the cottage
and turns the baby's face to the sky
to see for the first time
the earth's bright companion,
something amazing to make his crying seem small.

and if you wanted to follow this example,
tonight would be the night
to carry some tiny creature outside
and introduce him to the moon.

and if your house has no child
you can always gather into your arms
the sleeping infant of yourself,
as i have done tonight,
and carry him outdoors,
all limp in his tattered blanket,
making sure to steady his lolling head
with the palm of your hand.

and while the wind ruffles the pear trees
in the corner of the orchard
and dark roses wave against a stone wall,
you can turn him on your shoulder
and walk in circles on the lawn
drunk with the light.
you can lift him up into the sky,
your eyes nearly as wide as his,
as the moon climbs high into the night.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Discreet Charm of Fascism

by ibrahim el-sayed, from  أحد عشر كلبا (eleven dogs)
 
The spring of 2012 feels painful with its small yellow flowers that
fill the hospital garden
Dusty Christmas trees seem smaller
and Made in China
Crimson decorations have
the smell of strawberries
overlain by a sticky white film of mould

This is how my girlfriend fears her body; her non-aligned body:
an entirely unreliable ally in love’s fray
The fascism that flourished in the schools now storms the streets
The lizards roam the lanes
and the state is ghosts that press down on our thin fingers
Military marches summon memories of the Happy Fifties:
Shadia’s pink cheeks, movie melodrama cribbed from
La Dame au Camelias
The new editions are distorted, tanks and other tracked vehicles
occupy the street.

In the background, mahragan music: national anthem to a great horde of lighter sellers, statesmen, others

We shall leave the city behind us
making for the desert
The taxis are full
The railways lines cut
We will not leap into the river.

Waiting:
A continuous swimming within,
and the ugly cement wavebreaks
block the view on either side
The shoreline at our backs
is full of gelatinous bodies
pulsing in the dark:
jellyfish
surprised by a cold wave.

Monday, December 12, 2016

troublant

quotes from the argonauts by maggie nelson

"you, reader, are alive today, reading this, because someone once adequately policed your mouth exploring. in the face of this fact, winnicott holds the relatively unsentimental position that we don't owe these people (often women, but by no means always) anything. but we do owe ourselves 'an intellectual recognition of the fact that at first we were (psychologically) absolutely dependent, and that absolutely means absolutely. luckily we were met by ordinary devotion.'"

"when you are a stepparent, no matter how wonderful you are, no matter how much love you have to give, no matter how mature or wise or successful or smart or responsible you are, you are structurally vulnerable to being hated or resented, and there is precious little you can do about it, save endure, and commit to planting seeds of sanity and good spirit in the face of whatever shitstorms may come your way. and don't expect to get any kudos from the culture, either: parents are hallmark-sacrosanct, but stepparents are interlopers, self-servers, poachers, pollutants, and child molesters. . .

when i try to discover what i resent my stepfather for most, it is never 'he gave me too much love.' no - i resent him for not reliably giving the impression that he was glad he lived with my sister and me (he may not have been), for not telling me often that he loved me (again, he may not have - as one of the step-parenting self-help books i ordered during our early days put it, love is preferred, but not required), for not being my father, and for leaving after over twenty years of marriage to our mother without saying a proper good-bye.

i think you overestimate the maturity of adults, he wrote me in his final letter, a letter he sent only after i'd broken down and written him first, after a year of silence."

"one of the most annoying things about hearing the refrain 'same-sex marriage' over and over again is that i don't know many - if any - queers who think of their desire's main feature as being 'same-sex.' it's true that a lot of lesbian sex writing from the '70s was about being turned on, and even politically transformed, by an encounter with sameness. this encounter was, is, can be, important, as it has to do with seeing reflected that which has been reviled, with exchanging alienation or internalized revulsion for desire and care. to devote yourself to someone else's pussy can be a means of devoting yourself to your own. but whatever sameness i've noted in my relationships with women is not the sameness of Woman, and certainly not the sameness of parts. rather, it is the shared, crushing understanding of what it means to live in a patriarchy."

"if there's one thing homonormativity reveals it's the troubling fact that you can be victimized and in no way be radical; it happens very often among homosexuals as with every other oppressed minority [leo bersani]."

"eve kosofsky sedgwick wanted to make way for 'queer' to hold all kinds of resistances and fracturings and mismatches that have little or nothing to do with sexual orientation. 'queer is a continuing moment, movement, motive -- recurrent, eddying, troublant,' she wrote. 'keenly, it is relational, and strange.' she wanted the term to be a perpetual excitement, a kind of placeholder -- a nominative, like argo, willing to designate molten or shifting parts, a means of asserting while also giving the slip. that is what reclaimed terms do -- they retain, they insist on retaining, a sense of the fugitive."

"i told you i wanted to live in a world in which the antidote to shame is not honor, but honesty. you said i misunderstood what you meant by honor. we haven't yet stopped trying to explain to each other what these words mean to us"

"how to explain, in a culture frantic for resolution, that sometimes the shit stays messy? i do not want the female gender that has been assigned to me at birth. neither do i want the male gender that transsexual medicine can furnish and that the state will award me if i behave in the right way. i don't want any of it [beatriz preciado]. how to explain that for some, or for some at some times, this irresolution is ok -- desirable, even (e.g., 'gender hackers') -- whereas for others, or for others at some times, it stays a source of conflict or grief? how does one get across the fact that the best way to find out how people feel about their gender or their sexuality -- or anything else, really -- is to listen to what they tell you, and to try to treat them accordingly, without shellacking over their version of reality with yours?"

"i think [judith] butler is generous to name the diffuse 'commodification of identity' as the problem. less generously, i'd say that the simple fact that she's a lesbian is so blinding for some, that whatever words come out of her mouth -- whatever words come out of the lesbian's mouth, whatever ideas spout from her head -- certain listeners hear only one thing: lesbian, lesbian, lesbian. it's a quick step from there to discounting the lesbian -- or, for that matter, anyone who refuses to slip quietly into a 'postracial' future that resembles all too closely the racist past and present -- as identitarian, when it's actually the listener who cannot get beyond the identity that he has imputed to the speaker. calling the speaker identitarian then serves as an efficient excuse not to listen to her, in which case the listener can resume his role as speaker. and then we can scamper off to yet another conference with a keynote by jacques ranciere, alain badiou, slavoj zizek, at which we can meditate on self and other, grapple with radical difference, exalt the decisiveness of the two, and shame the unsophisticated identitarians, all at the feet of yet another great white man pontificating from the podium, just as we've done for centuries."

Sunday, December 11, 2016

science

from 1001 things everyone should know about science by james trefil

"the sun is a very ordinary star."

"it is likely that there is a black hole at the center of the galaxy. astronomers studying radiation coming from the center of our galaxy (in the constellation sagittarius) have come to the conclusion that something very strange is going on there. they see a large empty space in the center, free of gas but surrounded by swirling, chaotic threads of material. from the motion of this material, they conclude that there must be a massive object at the center of the galaxy -- several million times bigger than the sun. the best candidate for such an object would be a large black hole."

"859: the separation of charges in a thundercloud produces the lightning bolt. the large negative charge in the lower face of the clouds repels electrons from objects in the ground underneath it. the result is a 'shadow' of the cloud in the ground -- a region of positive charge. these charges follow along underneath the cloud, running up and down trees and buildings as they do so.

a lightning bolt begins when the charge in the cloud gets strong enough to ionize the air in its immediate vicinity. it opens a passage of ionized air several hundred feet long, called a 'leader.' because ionized air is a good conductor, the negative charge runs down into the leader. this process is repeated -- another leader is formed -- and the chain of leaders makes its way almost to the ground. about 100 feet above the ground, it is met by a leader formed by the positive charges coming up to meet it. the result of all this activity is a jagged path of conducting material between the negative charge in the clouds and the positive charge on the ground. with nothing to stop it, the positive charge runs up to the cloud, neutralizing the negative charges there. we perceive this motion of charge as a lightning stroke. the energy dissipated because of the resistance in the ionized path heats the air and pushes it away. the air then returns into this partial vacuum and creates a thunderclap."

"895: almost all the heavy elements in your body were made in supernovae somewhere. all elements heavier than iron, and most of the atoms of elements heavier than helium, are made in supernovae and then returned to the interstar medium when the supernova explodes. there they wait until they are taken up in the formation of a new star and (perhaps) planets. the sun and the earth were formed from this sort of enriched gas 4.6 billion years ago. the calcium in your bones, the iron in your blood, and the carbon in your tissues all got their start inside a star somewhere, and most likely inside a supernova."

Saturday, December 3, 2016

and water lies plainly

by laurie sheck

Then I came to an edge of very calm
But couldn’t stay there. It was the washed greenblue mapmakers use 
to indicate
Inlets and coves, softbroken contours where the land leaves off
And water lies plainly, as if lamped by its own justice. I hardly 
know how to say how it was
Though it spoke to me most kindly,
Unlike a hard afterwards or the motions of forestalling.

Now in evening light the far-off ridge carries marks of burning.
The hills turn thundercolored, and my thoughts move toward them, 
rough skins
Without their bodies. What is the part of us that feels it isn’t 
named, that doesn’t know
How to respond to any name? That scarcely or not at all can lift 
its head
Into the blue and so unfold there?

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

shatttered

excerpts from the pink institution by selah saterstrom

hamper

willie and azalea returned late from toomsata to discover all the lights in the house off. the doors and windows were closed and locked. this was unusual. after breaking down two doors, willie and azalea found the girls hiding in the bathroom hamper closet, aza holding a shotgun. ginger had vomited. they said they were chased into the hamper closet by a hand banging that came from under the floors.

stampede

one night after the family had gone to bed there was a racket in the living room. it sounded like a stampede. after it subsided, willie went into the living room. he said loudly, "i think y'all need to take a look at this." the family gathered in the living room. they saw what appeared to be muddy footprints of a large man going across the ceiling. it looked like the man had been running.

dining room

willie called his daughters into the dining room. he picked up a dining room table chair and threw it into a closed window. the window shattered. he said, "that's a lesson about virginity. do you understand?" to which they replied, "yes sir."

cleaning

azalea began waking aza in the middle of the night. she would make her perform chores. while aza did so, azalea would pinch her and pull her hair. in the morning, the girls knew azalea was awake by the sound of ice cubes clanking in a crystal tumbler.

Friday, November 25, 2016

bank thirty-two

by laura sims from practice, restraint



both of us opened

in windows / en face de



who froze               in the field

between                 road and wood



what's yours

settles mine, my mind ---



there's a staircase facing the porch door, patio, sea, you are



right

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

well,

excerpt from the hours by michael cunningham

she always surprises you this way, by knowing more than you think she does. louis wonders if they're calculated, these little demonstrations of self-knowledge that pepper clarissa's wise, hostessy performance. she seems, at times, to have read your thoughts. she disarms you by saying, essentially, i know what you're thinking and i agree, i'm ridiculous, i'm far less than i could have been and i'd like it to be otherwise but i can't seem to help myself. you find that you move, almost against your will, from being irritated with her to consoling her, helping her back into her performance so that she can be comfortable again and you can resume feeling irritated.
"so," louis says. "richard is pretty sick."
"yes. his body's not in such terrible shape anymore, but his mind wanders. i'm afraid he was a little too far gone for the protease inhibitors to help him the way they're helping some people."
"it must be terrible."
"he's still himself. i mean, there's this sort of constant quality, some sort of richardness, that's not the least bit different."
"that's good. that's something."
"remember the big dune in wellfleet?" she says.
"sure."
"i was thinking the other day that when i die i'll probably want my ashes scattered there."
"that's awfully morbid," louis says.
"but you think about these things. how could you not?"
clarissa believed then and she believes today that the dune in wellfleet will, in some sense, accompany her forever. whatever else happens, she will always have had that. she will always have been standing on a high dune in the summer. she will always have been young and indestructibly healthy, a little hungover, wearing richard's cotton sweater as he wraps a hand familiarly around her neck and louis stands slightly apart, watching the waves.
"i was furious at you then," louis says. "sometimes i could hardly look at you."
"i know."
"i tried to be good. i tried to be open and free."
"we all tried. i'm not sure the organism is fully capable."
louis says, "i drove up there once. to the house. i don't think i told you."
"no. you didn't."
"it was right before i left for california. i was on a panel in boston, some awful thing about the future of theater, just a crew of pompous old dinosaurs they'd trucked in to give the graduate students something to jeer at, and afterward i was so blue i rented a car and drove out to wellfleet. i hardly had any trouble finding it."
"i probably don't want to know."
"no, it's still there, and it looks pretty much the same. it's been gussied up a little. new paint, you know, and somebody put in a lawn, which looks weird out in the woods, like wall-to-wall carpet. but it's still standing."
"what do you know," clarissa says.
they sit quietly for a moment. it is somehow worse that the house still stands. it is worse that sun and then dark and sun again have entered and left those rooms every day, that rain has continued falling on that roof, that the whole thing could be visited again.
clarissa says, "i should go up there sometime. i'd like to stand on the dune."
"if that's where you think you want your ashes scattered, yes, you should go back and confirm."
"no, you were right, i was being morbid. summer brings it out in me. i have no idea where i'd want my ashes scattered."
clarissa wants, suddenly, to show her whole life to louis. she wants to tumble it out onto the floor at louis's feet, all the vivid, pointless moments that can't be told as stories. she wants to sit with louis and sift through it.
"so," she says. "tell me some more about san francisco."
"it's a pretty little city with great restaurants and nothing going on. my students are mostly imbeciles. really, i'm coming back to new york as soon as i can."
"good. it'd be good to have you back here."
clarissa touches louis's shoulder, and it seems that they will both rise, without speaking, go upstairs to the bedroom, and undress together. it seems they will go to the bedroom and undress not like lovers but like gladiators who've survived the arena, who find themselves bloody and harmed but miraculously alive when all the others have died. they will wince as they unstrap their breastplates and shin guards. they will look at each other with tenderness and reverence; they will gently embrace as new york clatters outside the casement window; as richard sits in his chair listening to voices and sally has her lunch uptown with oliver st. ives.
louis puts his glass down, lifts it, sets it down again. he taps his foot on the carpet, three times.
"it's a little complicated, though," he says. "you see, i've fallen in love."
"really?"
"his name is hunter. hunter craydon."
"hunter craydon. well."
"he was a student of mine last year," louis says.
clarissa leans back, sighs impatiently. this would be the fourth, at least of the ones she knows about. she would like to grab louis and say, you have to age better than this. i can't stand to see you make so much of yourself and then offer it all to some boy just because he happens to be pretty and young.
"he may be the most gifted student i've ever taught," louis says. "he does the most remarkable performances pieces about growing up white and gay in south africa. incredibly powerful."
"well," clarissa says. she can think of nothing else to say. she feels sorry for louis, and deeply impatient, and yet, she thinks, louis is in love. he is in love with a young man. he is fifty-three and still has all that ahead of him, the sex and the ridiculous arguments, the anguish.
"he's amazing," louis says. to his complete surprise, he begins to weep. the tears start simply enough, as a heat at the back of his eyes and a furring of his vision. these spasms of emotion take him constantly. a song can do it; even the sight of an old dog. they pass. they usually pass. this time, though, tears start falling from his eyes almost before he knows it will happen, and for a moment a compartment of his being (the same compartment that counts steps, sips, claps) says to itself, he's crying, how strange. louis leans forward, puts his face in his hands. he sobs.
the truth is that he does not love hunter and hunter does not love him. they are having an affair; only an affair. he fails to think of him for hours at a time. hunter has other boyfriends, a whole future planned, and when he's moved on, louis has to admit, privately, that he won't much miss hunter's shrill laugh, his chipped front tooth, his petulant silences.
there is so little love in the world.
clarissa rubs louis's back with the flat of her hand. what had sally said? we never fight. it was at a dinner somewhere, a year ago or longer. there had been some kind of fish, thick medallions in a puddle of bright yellow sauce (it seemed everything, just then, sat in a puddle of brightly colored sauce). we never fight. it's true. they bicker, they sulk, but they never explode, never shout or weep, never break a dish. it has always seemed that they haven't fought yet; that they're still too new for all-out war; that whole unexplored continents lie ahead once they've worked their way through their initial negotiations and feel sufficiently certain in each other's company to really let loose. what could she have been thinking? she and sally will soon celebrate their eighteenth anniversary together. they are a couple that never fights.
as she rubs louis's back, clarissa thinks, take me with you. i want a doomed love. i want streets at night, wind and rain, no one wondering where i am.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

ohio river

excerpt from day of tears by julius lester

yesterday at the store things were pretty quiet. wasn't much to do and wasn't nobody there. me and mr. henry was sitting around the potbellied stove in the center of the store and he say real quiet to me, "joe? you ever think about being free?"

i like to have almost fell off the chair. i never had a white person ask me about being free. i wondered if he was trying to get me in trouble. what if i said that's all i think about? would he tell mistress? she's a nice lady and all, but as nice as she is, she don't want no slave on her place to be thinking about freedom.

so when mr. henry ask me, i don't know what to say. he surprised me even more when he said, "i apologize. i shouldn't have asked you that. you don't know me. why should you tell me or any white man the truth? so, let's just leave it like this. i don't know if you know it, but this town ain't far from the ohio river. on this side of the river there are slaves. but on the other side there ain't no slaves. and i know some people over there, people who want to help slaves on this side get across the river to where they don't have to be slaves no more."

and he don't say nothing else. i sat there not knowing what to do. one part of me wanted to jump up and shout and holler, mr. henry, get me across that river now! but another part of me was scared. what if he wasn't telling the truth? what if he was trying to trap me and instead of being free, i'd end up being sold again, sold far away from you?

then, today, wasn't nobody else in the store. me and mr. henry was sitting by the stove again and he took three pieces of kindling wood. he laid one at an angle, and then the second one at an angle so that the two pieces met at the top. then he took the third piece and laid it across the other two.

"joe? i could be thrown in jail for what i'm about to do, but you see them three sticks i just laid out?"

i allowed as i did.

"that's the first letter of the alphabet. that's the letter A."

Monday, November 21, 2016

positive thoughts

quotes from the buddha in the attic by julie otsuka

"most of us on the boat were accomplished and were sure we would make good wives. we knew how to cook and sew. we knew how to serve tea and arrange flowers and sit quietly on our flat wide feet for hours, saying absolutely nothing of substance at all. a girl must blend into a room: she must be present without appearing to exist. we knew how to behave at funerals, and how to write short, melancholy poems about the passing of autumn that were exactly seventeen syllables long. we knew how to pull weeds and chop kindling and haul water, and one of us - the rice miller's daughter - knew how to walk two miles into town with an eighty-pound sack of rice on her back without once breaking into a sweat. it's all in the way you breathe. most of us had good manners, and were extremely polite, except for when we got mad and cursed like sailors. most of us spoke like ladies most of the time, with our voices pitched high, and pretended to know much less than we did, and whenever we walked past the deckhands we made sure to take small, mincing steps with our toes turned properly in. because how many times had our mothers told us: walk like the city, not like the farm!"

"one of us blamed them for everything and wished that they were dead. one of us blamed them for everything and wished that she were dead. others of us learned to live without thinking of them at all. we threw ourselves into our work and became obsessed with the thought of pulling one more weed. we put away our mirrors. we stopped combing our hair. we forgot about makeup. whenever i powder my nose it just looks like frost on a mountain. we forgot about buddha. we forgot about god. we developed a coldness inside us that still has not thawed. i fear my soul has died. we stopped writing home to our mothers. we lost weight and grew thin. we stopped bleeding. we stopped dreaming. we stopped wanting. we simply worked, that was all. we gulped down our meals three times a day without saying a word to our husbands so we could hurry back out into the fields. 'one minute sooner to pull one more weed.' i could not get this thought out of my mind. we spread our legs for them every evening but were so exhausted we often fell asleep before they were done. we washed their clothes for them once a week in tubs of boiling hot water. we cooked for them. we cleaned for them. we helped them chop wood. but it was not we who were cooking and cleaning and chopping, it was somebody else. and often our husbands did not even notice we'd disappeared."

"in the newspapers, and on the radio, we began to hear talk of mass removals. house to hold hearings on national defense migration. governor urges president to evacuate all enemy aliens from the coast. send them back to tojo! it would happen gradually, we heard, over a period of weeks, if not months. none of us would be forced out overnight. we would be sent far away, to a point of our own choosing deep in the zone of the interior where we could not do anyone any harm. we would be held under protective custody arrest for the duration of the war. only those of us who lived within one hundred miles of the coast would be removed. only those of us on the list would be removed. only those of us who were non-citizens would be removed. our adult children would be allowed to remain behind to oversee our businesses and farms. our businesses and farms would be confiscated and put up for auction. so start liquidating now. we would be separated from our younger children. we would be sterilized and deported at the earliest practicable date.

we tried to think positive thoughts. if we finished ironing the laundry before midnight our husband's name would be removed from the list. if we bought a ten-dollar war bond our children would be spared. if we sang 'the hemp-winding song' all the way through without making a mistake then there would be no list, no laundry, no war bonds, no war. often, though, at the end of the day, we felt uneasy, as if there was something we had forgotten to do. had we remembered to close the sluice gate? turn off the stove? feed the chickens? feed the children? tap the bedpost three times?"

Saturday, November 19, 2016

ambiguities

quotes from justine by lawrence durrell

"'it is idle to go over all this in a medium as unstable as words. i remember the edges and corners of so many meetings, and i see a sort of composite justine, concealing a ravenous hunger for information, for power through self-knowledge, under a pretence of feeling. sadly i am driven to wonder whether i ever really moved her - or existed simply as a laboratory in which she could work. she learned much from me: to read and reflect. she had achieved neither before. and perhaps what i took to be love was merely a gratitude. among the thousand discarded people, impressions, subjects of study - somewhere i see myself drifting, floating, reaching out arms. strangely enough it was never in the lover that i really met her but in the writer. here we clasped hands - in that amoral world of suspended judgements where curiosity and wonder seem greater than order - the syllogistic order imposed by the mind. this is where one waits in silence, holding one's breath, lest the pane should cloud over. i watched over her like this. i was mad about her.'"

"'yet with her one felt all around the companionship of shadows which invaded life and filled it with a new resonance. feeling so rich in ambiguities could not be resolved by a sudden act of the will. i had at times the impression of a woman whose every kiss was a blow struck on the side of death. when i discovered, for example (what i knew) that she had been repeatedly unfaithful to me, and at times when i had felt myself to be closest to her, i felt nothing very sharp in outline: rather a sinking numbness such as one might feel on leaving a friend in the hospital, to enter a lift and fall six floors in silence, standing beside a uniformed automaton whose breathing one could hear. the silence of my room deafened me. and then, thinking about it, gathering my whole mind about the fact i realized that what she had done bore no relation to myself: it was an attempt to free herself for me: to give me what she knew belonged to me. i cannot say that this sounded any better to my ears than a sophistry. nevertheless my heart seemed to know the truth of this and dictated a tactful silence to me to which she responded with a new warmth, a new ardour, of gratitude added to love.'"

"'i was surprised to find that though i loved her wholly and knew that i should never love anyone else - yet i shrank from the thought that she might return. the two ideas co-existed in my mind without displacing one another. i thought to myself with relief. 'good. i have really loved at last. that is something achieved;' and to this my alter ego added: 'spare me the pangs of love requited with justine'. this enigmatic polarity of feeling was something i found completely unexpected. if this was love then it was a variety of the plant which i have never seen before. ('damn the word', said justine once, 'i would like to spell it backwards as you say the elizabethans did god. call it evol and make it a part of "evolution" or "revolt". never use the word to me.')'"

"for clea too the little book of arnauti upon justine seemed shallow and infected by the desire to explain everything. 'it is our disease', she said, 'to want to contain everything within the frame of reference of a psychology or a philosophy. after all justine cannot be justified or excused. she simply and magnificently is; we have to put up with her, like original sin. but to call her a nymphomaniac or to try and freudanize here, my dear, takes away all her mythical substance - the only thing she really is.'"

"she put one hand out and leaned upon the mantelshelf as she said: 'i want to put an end to all this as soon as possible. i feel as if we've gone too far to go back'. as for me i was consumed by a terrible sort of desirelessness, a luxurious anguish of body and mind which prevented me from saying anything, thinking anything. i could not visualize the act of love with her, for somehow the emotional web we have woven about each other stood between us: an invisible cobweb of loyalties, ideas, hesitations which i had not the courage to brush aside. . . i could not help thinking then as i held her lightly in the crook of an arm how little we own our bodies."

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

i feel i can give you everything without giving myself away

excerpt from the argonauts by maggie nelson

before we met, i had spent a lifetime devoted to wittgenstein's idea that the inexpressible is contained - inexpressibly! - in the expressed. this idea gets less air time than his more reverential whereof one cannot speak thereof one must be silent, but it is, i think, the deeper idea. its paradox is, quite literally, why i write, or how i feel able to keep writing.

for it doesn't feed or exalt any angst one may feel about the incapacity to express, in words, that which eludes them. it doesn't punish what can be said for what, by definition, it cannot be. nor does it ham it up by miming a constricted throat: lo, what i would say, were words good enough. words are good enough.

it is idle to fault a net for having holes, my encyclopedia notes.

in this way you can have your empty church with a dirt floor swept clean of dirt and your spectacular stained glass gleaming by the cathedral rafters, both. because nothing you say can fuck up the space for god.

i've explained this elsewhere. but i'm trying to say something different now.

before long i learned that you had spent a lifetime equally devoted to the conviction that words are not good enough. not only not good enough, but corrosive to all that is good, all that is real, all that is flow. we argued and argued on this account, full of fever, not malice. once we name something, you said, we can never see it the same way again. all that is unnameable falls away, gets lost, is murdered. you called this the cookie-cutter function of our minds. you said that you knew this not from shunning language but from the immersion in it, on the screen, in conversation, onstage, on the page. i argued along the lines of thomas jefferson and the churches - for plethora, for kaleidoscopic shifting, for excess. i insisted that words did more than nominate. i read aloud to you the opening of philosophical investigations. slab, i shouted, slab!

for a time, i thought i had won. you conceded there might be an ok human, an ok human animal, even if that human animal used language, even if its use of language were somehow defining of its humanness - even if humanness itself meant trashing and torching the whole motley, precious planet, along with its, our, future.

but i changed too. i looked anew at unnameable things, or at least things whose essence is flicker, flow. i readmitted the sadness of our eventual extinction, and the injustice of our extinction of others. i stopped smugly repeating everything that can be thought at all can be thought clearly [ludwig wittgenstein] and wondered anew, can everything be thought.

and you - whatever you argued, you never mimed a constricted throat. in fact you ran at least a lap ahead of me, words streaming in your wake. how could i ever catch up (by which i mean, how could you want me?)

a day or two after my love pronouncement, now feral with vulnerability, i sent you the passage from roland barthes by roland barthes in which barthes describes how the subject who utters the phrase "i love you" is like "the argonaut renewing his ship during its voyage without changing its name." just as the argo's parts may be replaced over time but the boat is still called the argo, whenever the lover utters the phrase "i love you," its meaning must be renewed by each use, as "the very task of love and of language is to give to one and the same phrase inflections which will be forever new."

i thought the passage was romantic. you read it as a possible retraction. in retrospect, i guess it was both.

you've punctured my solitude, i told you. it had been a useful solitude, constructed, as it was, around a recent sobriety, long walks to and from the y through the sordid, bougainvillea-strewn back streets of hollywood, evening drives up and down mulholland to kill the long nights, and, of course, maniacal bouts of writing, learning to address no one. but the time for its puncturing had come. i feel i can give you everything without giving myself away. i whispered in your basement bed. if one does one's solitude right, this is the prize.

Monday, November 14, 2016

flickering

quotes from this is how you lose her by junot diaz

"ana iris once asked me if i loved him and i told her about the lights in my old home in the capital, how they flickered and you never knew if they would go out or not. you put down your things and you waited and couldn't do anything really until the lights decided. this, i told her, is how i feel."

"some nights you have neuromancer dreams where you see the ex and the boy and another figure, familiar, waving at you in the distance. somewhere, very close, the laugh that wasn't laughter.
and finally, when you feel like you can do so without blowing into burning atoms, you open a folder you have kept hidden under your bed. The Doomsday Book. copies of all the e-mails and fotos from the cheating days, the ones the ex found and compiled and mailed to you a month after she ended it. dear yunior, for your next book. probably the last time she wrote your name.
you read the whole thing cover to cover (yes, she put covers on it). you are surprised at what a fucking chickenshit coward you are. it kills you to admit it but it's true. you are astounded by the depths of your mendacity. when you finish the Book a second time you say the truth: you did the right thing, negra. you did the right thing.
she's right; this would make a killer book, elvis says. the two of you have been pulled over by a cop and are waiting for officer dickhead to finish running your license. elvis holds up one of the fotos.
she's colombian, you say.
he whistles. que viva colombia. hands you back the Book. you really should write the cheater's guide to love.
you think?
i do.
it takes a while. you see the tall girl. you go to more doctors. you celebrate arlenny's ph.d. defense. and then one june night you scribble the ex's name and: the half-life of love is forever."