Tuesday, February 28, 2012

sweetness by stephen dunn

Just when it has seemed I couldn’t bear   
   one more friend   
waking with a tumor, one more maniac   

with a perfect reason, often a sweetness   
   has come   
and changed nothing in the world   

except the way I stumbled through it,   
   for a while lost   
in the ignorance of loving   

someone or something, the world shrunk   
   to mouth-size,   
hand-size, and never seeming small.   

I acknowledge there is no sweetness   
   that doesn’t leave a stain,   
no sweetness that’s ever sufficiently sweet ....   

Tonight a friend called to say his lover   
   was killed in a car   
he was driving. His voice was low   

and guttural, he repeated what he needed   
   to repeat, and I repeated   
the one or two words we have for such grief   

until we were speaking only in tones.   
   Often a sweetness comes   
as if on loan, stays just long enough   

to make sense of what it means to be alive,   
   then returns to its dark   
source. As for me, I don’t care   

where it’s been, or what bitter road   
   it’s traveled   
to come so far, to taste so good.

Monday, February 27, 2012


from Soil Not Oil by Vandana Shiva

In biology, the term development refers to self-directed, self-regulated, and self-organized evolution from within. In the terms of Chilean scientists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, systems that self-organize and self-renew are autopoietic systems. And in the language of David Pimentel of Cornell, autopoietic systems are based on endosomatic or metabolic energy. If the economic domain were to think of development in the same way, it would lead to a flourishing of biodiversity and cultural diversity. Development would conserve resources and energy while improving human well-being and human welfare.

Unfortunately, development in economics has the opposite meaning. In economics, development is an externally driven process. It refers to self-organizing, self-regulating systems as “undeveloped” and “underdeveloped” and suggest that they should be made dependent on external inputs- external resources, energy, and money. Living systems, living societies, living cultures are thus transformed into mechanical systems, or, in Maturana and Varela's terms, into allopoietic systems- systems run from external sources. In energy terms these are based on exosomatic energy. Systems that are autopoietic and endosomatic need no external energy inputs. They are self-organizing and self-generative. They are models for a post-oil future.
. . .

Development cannot be defined by the colonizer, by those imposing allopoietic systems on society for their own end- profits and power. Development must be defined autopoietically, from within. . . When peasants resist Special Economic Zones and indigenous people resist mines, it is they who should define development, not the automobile, real estate, and mining corporations. This has always been a justice imperative. It is now also a climate imperative.

. . .

Disposability of people is built into the denial of food to millions as well as the destruction of rural livelihoods by the substitution of human energy with machines powered by fossil fuels. The very definition of productivity in the industrial paradigm is labor productivity, i.e., the fewer human beings involved in production, the more “productive” a process is, even if it uses more energy and more resources and produces less per unit of energy and resource inputs.

. . . 

The emerging food crisis poses the most immediate threat to the survival of the poor. The food crisis emerges from two historical processes, one long term- the industrialization of agriculture and the uprooting of peasants and family farmers from the land- and one more recent- the effects of globalization and trade liberalization of agriculture on food security and food sovereignty. The impact of climate change on agricultural production, along with such false solutions to climate change as industrial biofuels, which divert food and land from the poor to the non-sustainable energy needs of the rich, further exacerbate the food crisis.

. . .

Resistance to the limitless destructiveness of the industrialized globalized economy is coming precisely from those least responsible for climate change, the women, the hawkers, and street vendors who stand in front of the juggernaut of fossil fuel-driven, energy- and resource-intensive "development," refusing to be uprooted, refusing to be turned into disposable people, offering another paradigm and world view- of power and wealth, of nature and culture.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

there is.

there is.

this thing i want to do, it enters
sleep with you. like a dream duo,
who will be engulfed?

circling lakes, i imagine, we have
plenty of them. pack you up
in a tent and carry
us together to a land of silence,
my bones are tethered together
with calcium and romance.
i could be lifted,
i avoid being swept.

step by step, a spiral
unfolding upwards, i am dizzy
and disciplined. what do
your limbs look like beyond
winter, without long sleeves? the distraction
must be postponed, there is a snowplow
up ahead, barely an inch
of knowing you. the trees undress.

like an anchor to employ with caution,
i'd like to root myself in
a landscape or seascape i could
commit to, with seasonal swings, frozen
boundary waters, milky budding thaws.
no fences.

or this, my legs open,
i'm bleeding, it is unlike
religion, it is real
torpor & fervor & transcendence.
i swallow, i allow,
birds & their beaks,
birds & their wings,
beating arms holding exactitudes.
inside, i can feed, there is a nest.

there is a mountain range.
there is a strong wind.
there, next to me, in clear
vision with blue background:

you, body of water.
you, eyes of fire.
you, rolling over.

your left shoulder, elbow, your whole arm.
your left thigh, knee, you are whole. there.
your whole warm face.
my certain hands.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

by chance, these dreams

last night.  so odd, vivid, long, personal. i woke them up, in my dream.

Monday, February 20, 2012

could have by wislawa szymborska

could have

It could have happened.
It had to happen.
It happened earlier. Later.
Nearer. Farther off.
It happened, but not to you.
You were saved because you were the first.
You were saved because you were the last.
Alone. With others.
On the right. The left.
Because it was raining. Because of the shade.
Because the day was sunny.
You were in luck -- there was a forest.
You were in luck -- there were no trees.
You were in luck -- a rake, a hook, a beam, a brake,
A jamb, a turn, a quarter-inch, an instant . . .
So you're here? Still dizzy from
another dodge, close shave, reprieve?
One hole in the net and you slipped through?
I couldn't be more shocked or
how your heart pounds inside me.

This poem comes from her View With a Grain of Sand, trans. Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1996)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

such a favorite.

"blackbirds are the cellos of the deep farms." -anne stevenson

Thursday, February 16, 2012



i'm going to undo
the actions, here
are your words back

off fuck

i unwalked the tracks
boots to wet tressels
feet pointed toward the house

one night, a party, drunk
and partnered we walked
home together

i take myself back to the scene
of happiness, unraveling
each event alone
in re creation

uproot plants
unspool tapes
i throw up food
scream your name backwards

i welcome back all the gestures
of extension, the pile of small
kind generosities. i stretch

my hands out just to notice
the flexibility in my fingers.

i fold, i unfold.
here. i say. stay with me.


Monday, February 13, 2012

swallow the lake by clarence major

Swallow the Lake
gave me things I
could not use.   Then.      Now.
Rain night bursting upon and into —
I shine up-down into Lake Michigan

like the glow from the lights of the Loop.
          Walks. Deaths. Births. Streets.
Things I could not give back —
          or use. Gave me loneliness.
Feelings I could not put into words
          into people. Blank monkeys of the hierarchy!
More deaths! Stupidity and death
turning them on, timing them
          to the beat of my droopy heart,
to my Middle Passage blues
to my self-corroding hate —

In my release, I come to become
          neon iron eyes stainless lungs
blood zinc-gripped steel
I come up abstract —
not able to take their bricks.
          Their tar. Their flesh. Their plastic.
I ran — stung.
Loop fumes hung in my smoky lungs.
          Duped, left with ideas I could not break
                or form,
I crawled through the game.

Illusion illusion and you
          would swear before screaming —
these choked voices in me screaming.

Screaming with crawling thing in the blood,
          screaming the huge immune loneliness.
One becomes immune to the bricks
          to the feelings.
One becomes death.
One becomes each one and every person I become.
And I could not —
          I could not —
I could not whistle and walk in storms
along Lake Michigan's shore.
          Concrete walks. Concrete deaths.
I could not —
I could not swallow the lake.
Clarence Major, "Swallow the Lake" from Configurations: New and Selected Poems 1958-1998.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

learning from books.

from The Girl with the Brown Crayon by Vivian Gussin Paley

The Easy Tree

Perhaps all paths this year do lead to Leo Lionni. The day after her father's story, Reeny asks, “How come no one dies?”. She points to our Leo Lionni bookshelf.
“Yeah they do,” Bruce calls from his checkers game with Walter. “All those little red fish got ate by the big tuna.”
“I mean like a mother or a father, like in Cinderella, or a grandfather.”
“Are you remembering your father's story, that he told us his grandfather died?” I ask.
“I'm remembering about Jenny's mother,” Reeny says. “Will they tell us about that?”
“I doubt it, Reeny.” Unless someone asks.”
Jenny's father and grandmother are coming today. “Not my mother,” Jenny reminded us. She has told us about her mother's death many times. She is willing to repeat the story as often as she is asked and will bring the subject up on her own when she wants to talk about her mother. “I was two years old,” she'll say. “My mother had cancer. That means she was very, very sick. Sometimes I can't remember her face so I get her picture and look at it.”
Mr. Bergen and his mother arrive after lunch. I feel we are entering a three-generational novel, beginning with Jenny's memories and going backward in time. Leo Lionni cannot supply such stories for us. We need real people, real family members to tell us this part of who we are.
“When I was your age,” Mr. Bergen begins, “we had a tree in our little town called 'the easy tree'. That was because everyone in town could climb it, even little children. Then one day I wasn't careful enough and I fell from its lowest branch. I was bruised all over, but my brother said, “Don't tell anyone, okay? We'll say you fell off your bike. Because if you tell them, then we won't have a tree to call the easy tree anymore.”
The children smile at Mr. Bergen. In some way, each one understands that there must always be an easy tree; one cannot give up hope. The elderly Mrs. Bergen looks warmly at her son. “John, you never told me that story. I didn't know you fell out of the easy tree.”
“Should Daddy have told you?” Jenny asks her grandmother. Everyone waits for the answer; this is not the sort of question the children expect in the classroom. But Mrs. Bergen replies comfortably. “Well, your dad trusted his brother to know what was best. Now, children, my story is about a place with no easy tree. When I was little we lived on a farm in Nova Scotia. The ground was so hard you could hardly grow anything. But we were lucky. We had a cow that always gave milk, the sweetest milk ever tasted.”
“Was that the easy tree?” Reeny asks.
Mrs. Bergen looks deeply into Reeny's face. “Come up here, child. Let me give you a hug, may I? You just gave me something good to think about. Our good dependable cow, she certainly was our easy tree. You're absolutely right.”
While Mrs. Bergen finishes her story, in which the cow is lost and then found in the middle of a frozen pond, unable to get off, I can't help wondering if Reeny's ability to use the easy tree as a metaphor is due to the practice we've had in analyzing Leo Lionni.
Yet isn't it more likely the other way around? That is, the Leo Lionni stories and the easy-tree stories work so well because the children come to school knowing how to think about such matters. We need only to give them the proper context in which to demonstrate and fine-tune their natural gifts.
There are, of course, certain contexts each child brings independently. “Was your cow brown?” Reeny asks.
Mrs. Bergen laughs. “Well, yes, mostly brown she was that. We called her Cocoa. Why do you ask, Reeny?”
“Because she's a easy-tree cow. Brown is easy.”

Family Discussion

When Reeny's grandmother picks her up after school I hand her Mr. McMouse. “Will you read this book, Ettie, and tell me what you make of it? We're having trouble with the mirror scene. This is no Swimmy, I can tell you.”
Miss Ettie calls me that evening after dinner. “Vivian, my first thought was, this is what happens to colored folks who hang out with too many white people. They lose their image.”
“That was your first thought. And then. . .?”
“Well, then I talked about it with Reeny and she did not agree with me at all. She said, 'Grandma, if you have friends it's okay.' So then we all talked about the book at dinner. Reeny told us that Walter is the only boy who speaks Polish, but he has lots of friends and he's happy. Then she went on, nonstop, about Cory and Jenny and Bruce and Frederick and Tico and Oliver until we couldn't tell who was in a book and who was real. But, for her, the subject is friendship, plain and simple. Friendship is everything.”
“What did her parents make of Timothy and the mirror?”
“Steve said, 'Every once in a while, I look in the mirror when I'm shaving and I don't know myself. Especially after I've gone and done something mean to someone.' And then my daughter came up with this: Maybe Timothy wasn't even his real name. Maybe it was given to him by humans, and he didn't have mouse friends in the city to call him by his real name. So he had to get back to his own kind in order to know himself.”
“That was a pretty good discussion, Ettie.”
“Wait, it wasn't over. While we were cleaning up, Reeny said, 'That mouse has to dream himself a new name.' And then, as if it was part of the same subject, she said, 'Brown Baby is going to be in my story tomorrow, in my notebook.'”
“Who is Brown Baby?”
“Her imaginary playmate. He never leaves home! Why now? It feels funny knowing she's going to do this.”
“Maybe she'll change her mind,” I suggest.
“Could be. But my Reeny is someone who keeps thinking of new angles. You know what she told me at bedtime? She said, 'Grandma, you forgot something about Swimmy. He was the leader of red fish. Red fish. That means a black fish could be the leader of another color fish.”

from Geraldine

Cleaning up together after school, I say to Nisha, “I thought of a fancy way of describing what's happening to us this year. Narrative continuity. We have discovered another way of achieving narrative continuity.”
Nisha puts down the paint jar she is washing and smiles at me. “I think you once told me that play is narrative continuity.”
“That's exactly the point,” I reply. It feels as though we are marching to that same rhythm, as in play, or as you did when you heard the stories from the great epic every night. Now we are putting Leo Lionni to the test. Can he provide yet another vehicle for this instinctive need to concentrate for a long time on a connected set of images and dramatic events? Let's face it, what school usually does is continually interrupt any attempt on the part of children to recapture the highly focused intensity of play. What we need to do is help them – and ourselves – get back on track.”
Nisha pours out two cups of tea and motions me to the table she has just scrubbed. “You know what the Leo Lionni curriculum reminds me of?” she says. “It's like Hanuman's magic tail. It can grow longer and longer until it can wrap itself around everything and everybody.”

Saturday, February 11, 2012

here. take

here. take

a wing a moan a ship
the horse sails out on the lake
the bones of the sun fall from no clouds
tiny turkey wishbone,
jaw of snake,
fifteen ribs of a whale

then the teeth come, the aches
of muscles like the tongue
and the usual, heart
here the secrets calcify & petrify
the joints are still and fit together

a hand might fit nicely
into another hand
but we'll never know