Tuesday, November 29, 2016


excerpts from the pink institution by selah saterstrom


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.


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."


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


Wednesday, November 23, 2016


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.
"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."
"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


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


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."

Sunday, November 13, 2016


by angelo nikolopoulos  from obscenely yours

but i’m logistically opposed to love.

        all day the homunculus
        of desire pulses.

        my stranger.
        my shared interest.

            if i’m a candidate, then so are you.

from its hood
our happenstance moans and moves.

            i’m tired of being my own saint
            sebastian of missed connections.

        garden of eden tonight,
        deli counter. blue sweatpants.

a picnic to ourselves-
that’s the idea, isn’t it?

        (see women in love)

            frantic and beautiful.
            the lovers drowning in the lake.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

absurdity 2016

"we are all hunting for rational reasons for believing... the absurd" - lawrence durrell, justine

Monday, November 7, 2016

lovers asleep

by joyce carol oates from women whose lives are food, men whose lives are money

half the continent sleeps between us.
half the population has leapt into costume,
a cluster of selves that rolls our eyeballs
     to exhaustion. . . .
how strenuous we know it, the innocence of sleep!

forbidden by the midwestern plains
to know each other, nevertheless
we drift into each other:
we overlap somewhere west of kansas city --
sharing a costume, an angel to be thrown to earth,
the impulse of the abyss.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

philosophy of the inconsolable

by kimberly kotel

Listen. I’ll be better. I stuffed it into every pocket of your clothing I could find. When the garment was pocketless (that is to say, it was without) I sewed a small square of fabric to its inside—a variegated and decorated ulcer—and stuffed it there. When the doorbell rang and you rose so slow I barely noticed—almost like a drifting, you, an unanchored dinghy—and walked away from the table, silent in your stockinged feet, I sprinkled it into the cool blackened belly of your coffee cup. Imagine my heartbreak when you came back with four boxes of Thin Mints and poured the rest of the cup down the drain. Your arm raised high, as if you imagined for a moment, on this vernal Sunday, you were Moses incarnate, and the muddy water that fell from your vessel could be changed over our sink into blood.

Saturday, November 5, 2016


by rae armatrout from just saying

a woman writes to ask
how far along i am
with my apocalypse.

what will you give me
if i tell?

an origami fish
made from a dollar bill.

after the apocalypse,
we will all be in a band.

we will understand each other

“it’s alright” and

“it doesn’t matter.”

let “it” stand
for nothing.

a weathered, fleshy bicyclist
wearing bunny ears
and a tie-dyed shirt
says “zoom”
as she coasts past

Friday, November 4, 2016

mermaid's purse

by brenda shaughnessy from our andromeda

there is no such thing as sacrifice,
thought the bleeding doesn't end.

the self is the self yet bigger than itself.
indebted. and subordinate

to the unity of its fragments,
loopholes in the loop of wholeness.

cat sharks lay their eggsacs,
which eat themselves in gestation,

for if fewer mature sharks,
bigger portions at the feast

of the loggerhead turtle, which
will never again be a single entity.

out of one, many. if blameless,
then meaningless, dissolved

by a cloud of sardines, flashing
silver as if paying for breakfast

in a silent movie starring no stars.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

from a journal

by louise gluck from the seven ages

i had a lover once,
i had a lover twice,
easily three times i loved.
and in between
my heart reconstructed itself perfectly
like a worm.
and my dreams also reconstructed themselves.

after a time, i realized i was living
a completely idiotic life.
idiotic, wasted --
and sometime later, you and i
began to correspond, inventing
an entirely new form.

deep intimacy over great distance!
keats to fanny brawne, dante to beatrice --

one cannot invent
a new form in
an old character. the letters i sent remained
immaculately ironic, aloof
yet forthright. meanwhile, i was writing
different letters in my head,
some of which became poems.

so much genuine feeling!
so many fierce declarations
of passionate longing!

i loved once, i loved twice,
and suddenly
the form collapsed: i was
unable to sustain ignorance.

how sad to have lost you, to have lost
any chance of actually knowing you
or remembering you over time
as a real person, as someone i could have grown
deeply attached to, maybe
the brother i never had.

and how sad to think
of dying before finding out
anything. and to realize
how ignorant we all are most of the time,
seeing things
only from the one vantage, like a sniper.

and there were so many things
i never got to tell you about myself,
things which might have swayed you.
and the photo i never sent, taken
the night i looked almost splendid.

i wanted you to fall in love. but the arrow
kept hitting the mirror and coming back.
and the letters kept dividing themselves
with neither half totally true.

and sadly, you never figured out
any of this, though you always wrote back
so promptly, always the same elusive letter.

i loved once, i loved twice,
and even though in our case
things never got off the ground
it was a good thing to have tried.
and i still have the letters, of course.
sometimes i will take a few years’ worth
to reread in the garden,
with a glass of iced tea.

and i feel, sometimes, part of something
very great, wholly profound and sweeping.

i loved once, i loved twice,
easily three times i loved.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

during a war

by naomi shihab nye from you & yours

best wishes to you & yours
he closes the letter.

for a moment i can’t
fold it up again --
where does “yours” end?
dark eyes pleasing
what could we have done
your family,
your community,
circle of earth, we did not want,
we tried to stop,
we were not heard
by dark eyes who are dying
now. how easily they
would have welcomed us in
for coffee, serving it
in a simple room
with a radiant rug.
your friends & mine.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016


by billy collins from picnic, lightning

Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O'Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive -
'Nonsense.' 'Please! ' 'HA! ! ' -
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
why wrote 'Don't be a ninny'
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls 'Metaphor' next to a stanza of Eliot's.
Another notes the presence of 'Irony'
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths.
'Absolutely,' they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
'Yes.' 'Bull's-eye.' 'My man! '
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.

And if you have managed to graduate from college
without ever having written 'Man vs. Nature'
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.

Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird signing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page-
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.

And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake's furious scribbling.

Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents' living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page

A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil-
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet-
'Pardon the egg salad stains, but I'm in love.'