Saturday, May 30, 2015

On Meeting A Lady

The old courtesy rises like a ghost,
andthough nobility comes first
from the swagger of slaveholders,
and so, by easy stages, to the cast
of landed votes
yet a lady evokes a gentleman,
and the glamour of the lake;
my hand looks for the pommel of a sword.

The light spills,
unruly, from your eyes; the world leans.
Peasants born of peasants, no share really
in gallantry; our part was the harvest and the whip.
Still, I take your hand, square my shoulders,
long for ancestry and colonnaded walks.
Oh, I would take slaves for this!
That's the sad truth, I think:
history writ small.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Soon Now

I have not wanted to walk in the way of accumulation. But it is the way I fall into, being by nature wary and deliberate. I begin most days conscientiously studying whatever language I have in hand, reviewing flashcards -- thousands of flashcards, now -- and doggedly reading my twenty pages. And I set thresholds for buying and selling stocks, and watch the rise and fall of prices. I track my exercise and my domestic tasks. I am like those ants you see, carrying grains of sand to excavate tunnels and build hills. Any casual passer-by might demolish a life's work.

Venus and Jupiter hang a while in the west, these evenings, while the moon falls behind them. They shine over the garage roof. When we're all asleep, the raccoons step cautiously there, and pause a while to consider. They are as convinced as we are that the place belongs to them: the fact that the ground-apes nest in their basement doesn't trouble them. It's a good place to watch the stars, and a staging area for raiding nests or collecting the neighbor's chickenfeed. They gaze a while at Venus, through the tall bamboo, while raccoon-ambitions run through their minds. Soon they will achieve their hearts' desire. Soon life will be right. Soon they will be content.

I wash an apple, my thumbs skidding over the smooth skin. I think a lot about food, these days. The Fat Nutritionist put me on to Ellyn Satter. She has a little set-piece about normal eating, and it actually made me tear up, the other day. It sounded so lovely, so impossible. To feed oneself faithfully. It sounded like a fairy tale to me. 

I will find out where she has gone
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

Such things, of course, are not for you and me. We were born for irritation and discontent; for fiddling with latches and broken zippers; for hearing dance music in the distance; for waking up to find ourselves old.

I lift the apple and breathe the faint scent of its skin. Soon. Soon now.

Soon, but what? That, they don't tell me.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Interlude: The Moon And Venus

How fast it can all crumble! And I realize there was never much there, after all. But I'm lost on a bare plateau, in the gray wind, trying to assemble myself and failing. But I can't go on putting off the reckoning. This is silly: it's always been silly. I have the advantage now, anyway, of being able to put aside the pretense that I'm in control or know what I'm doing. That, at least, is one hag that's no longer riding.

First of all I'm going to need to get some sleep, some real sleep. For weeks now I've been waking after four or five hours, and walking my mind in circles about whatever most frets me at the moment. I need to stop that somehow. Everything collapses, without sleep: ordinary intelligence and prudence disappear, and what remains is a paper thing, like a huge wasp's nest, dropping shreds of itself as it stumbles from wanting to fearing and back again. I shamble on, against the gray wind or with it, but I might as well be still. There is no chance, none whatever, of arriving anywhere I want to be, by this means.

Eight fingers and two thumbs: adding carefully, I come up with ten. That still seems to work. And the person I was before has left inscriptions. Not all of them legible, but I do have some guidance. At this point one is supposed to call upon gods or friends for help, I suppose: but I've had enough of the agendas of others. I'll work this out for myself. So a nice deep breath, here. Not too much longer, now. This is an inherently unstable state: it won't last.

And last night the slender Moon and Venus were a blessed relief: still there, still beautiful, lingering after sunset in the West. I had almost thought the sky would be blank, a vapid darkening screen. But it wasn't. It never is. We will do fine.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Day Unwrapped

If the whole day 
lay unwrapped
trifled by the breeze 
and free to kiss

if one deep breath 
found ribs 
at ease to fan themselves 
like brand new playing cards
and flowered from the spine

then my hands 
would settle to your hips
like curious birds
my lips would find
three places 

where your throat demands
three murmured passwords.
They would unlock
a box of iron, one of silver,
and then a box of red shot-laced with gold.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Man with the Lantern

Lori Witzel linked to this fabulous series of accounts of the Man in the Moon, which I knew little of. My Man with the Lantern is a recurrent image I have upon falling asleep: not quite a dream, I think, though it might have come from a dream originally. I am far underground in a system of branching tunnels, and ahead of me is a man carrying a lantern. He appears and disappears, as he goes around corners, but I'm always able to follow the lantern-light on the walls, whether I can see him or not. He half turned once and he was Dave Bonta, but I think that was a nonce avatar: he can probably take whatever form is handy. I imagine he's been Diogenes as well. He's not usually very distinct. 

He is patiently searching: stopping sometimes and scrutinizing the walls or the ceiling. I am not. I am not looking for anything in particular, and certainly not for a way out. I am just following him into the dream world.

A dark May morning, heavily overcast and thinking of rain. I am slow: I slept too long this morning, after a night of wandering from bed to couch, in various stages of half-sleep. Duermevela, you say in Spanish, sleepwake, but we seem to have no word for it in English. 

Shaking off intimations of defeat and disaster, the fret of little-mind about its own precious continuity  as if it could care about, or understand, continuities larger than itself!  and finding, at times, a rightness underneath. I have taken to worrying, lately, in an uncharacteristic, unattractive, and mostly unfruitful way. Not a habit to encourage. No. Return to the sky: bright or gloomy, dry or wet. If I spend too much time indoors I start to believe in a world little enough to understand, a world of sense, a world that can be accounted for and rendered into credits and debits. That won't do.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Hedge Duff

These wood shavings I've accumulated so carefully over a lifetime: a handful of curls, blackened with age. I used to offer them as unimaginable treasure: and I never understood why so few people were anxious to receive them.

But now I understand, vividly and completely, that I have nothing, nothing whatever to give. My poverty goes far beyond what I imagined. I've run up debts it would take lifetimes to pay.

So stop, step back a little, consider. The soap in my palms, and the warm water. The click of a dog's nails on a wooden floor, and the piping of birds in the thicket. The shadows of tree leaves falling on the leaves of the hedge; the shadows of both on the ground; and in their weaving, the small creatures escaping, or not escaping, the chickens.

And these shavings I've gathered? Well, they might serve to start a cook-fire, or they might add a little bedding for the chickens. Oh, Dale, you've listened to the voices in your head for way too long, poor soul. 

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon.

So. Give up what you have gathered. Shave and wash your face. Or better yet, go back to bed and finish the sleep you've held at arm's length for decades. There are dreams there, waiting to show you things you've been unable, or unwilling, to see. Staying awake doesn't give you a magic ability to choose which dreams will come.

All this time, and all this debt you've acquired, and you still want credit for something? No. Go to sleep, dear, and meet the man with the lantern. Wander under the world's roof for a while. Listen to whatever music they have there, in the light that comes through net after net of leaves, the light that falls from lip to lip all the way down to the criss-cross tunnels. You have nothing to give. But they weren't going to receive you because of your gifts anyway. They're going to receive you because that's the way they are.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Eld Inlet

Belly of canvas over the lurching gunwale
and black sweatshirt curved round breast and head:
you sucked like a hero, three months old,
determined to thrive. The Wolf caught the wind
in its teeth and shook it. Spray rose slow
and suddenly slapped us in the face, but you
were not about to unlatch. You scowled at the weather,
red-browed, and nosed in deeper. The air scoured
us, cloud-white above and foam-white below,
ragged water in greens and grays. No memory
further than this, no landfall or departure:
only your indomitable rooting and the hammer of the waves.

Saturday, May 02, 2015


Over on Facebook, in response to a post of Marly Youmans re a Washington Post article re the extinction of poetry citing the census bureau's Survey of Public Participation in the Arts:

Holy cow! We're almost as popular as jazz? That's exciting.... Interesting to read the survey: the only reliable evidence for poetry's ballyhooed death that I've seen. Still, as with all surveys, it's important to see exactly what they're measuring. What's declining in a straight line is the number of people who answer "yes" to the question, "did you read any poetry last year?" What it suggests to me is that the number of people who read poetry *as a duty* is dropping. That is, there's a dwindling number of Americans who feel that they can't count themselves as educated unless they read a bit of poetry. It is an indicator of what's happening to poetry-reading generally, but only a vague one. I suspect that if you were measuring the number of people who would answer "yes" to "do you ordinarily read poetry in the course of week"? you'd see a quite different graph.

What I really like about the poetry-reading world, as I know it, is that there is almost no one in it for the wrong reasons. People read poetry nowadays, not because there's any cachet to it, but simply because they like it. And that is probably very good for poetry, however bad it may be for poetry sales.
In the meantime, my carapace hardens, and my back curves: my delicate feelers grow ever longer and more gracefully from their pediments. As my powers of hearing and sight dwindle, my other senses become more acute: I have never been better at telling which ants are from friendly hills, and which from hostile ones. And I seem to be ramifying: as I listen to music, in the evenings, I can feel my spirit branching and dividing, opening new channels, budding into new leaf. I am subsiding, apparently, backwards, into the kingdoms from which we came. I'm content, and more than content. The moon rises enormous, fifty minutes later every night, and I can hear its breathing, which is something that ordinarily only mosses and lichens can do. These dispensations are not, of course, for my benefit. I'll be called for something.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Not Silly Enough

So I tried to read Fifty Shades of Grey, but I got bored after a dozen pages, and then the library wanted it back, because there were a zillion more holds on it. I returned it without regret. It was not so poorly written as some people said. It was just a romance, written in the predictable prose typical of the genre; what I read was unremarkable.

It was silly, of course. Most books are. Most people are. We want silly things. We want the world to be other than it is. We want there to be someone young and gorgeous, who at age twenty nine has a hundred thousand employees -- I may be getting my numbers wrong here, but you get the picture -- and who sees us, not as commonplace, but as extraordinarily attractive. We want our attraction in return to be unambiguous and uncontrollable, something that sweeps us (and our scruples) away in a grand flood. That would be marvelous.

It's the basic plot of the romance novel, from Jane Eyre on: someone from a higher, more authentic, more intense, higher-class world (however we conceive of that; the variations are endless, depending on one's taste and training) will notice that we are special, pluck us out of a tedious low-class world that is blind to our wonderfulness, and bring us into theirs. Where we will shine with the brightness that was always there, but never properly seen.

It's a good plot. It has deep roots, and it's based on a truth that we really don't want to lose hold of. We are, in fact, special and precious, we are radically undervalued, and a world that would appreciate us is possible. These things are all true, and keeping them central is worth a little silliness.

So the silliness is not the problem. The problem, really, is that it's not silly enough. It doesn't say, "what would the world that valued me really look like? What would I really have to do, so that someone -- anyone, master of empires or no -- could see what is extraordinary in me? What perception would I have to cultivate, in order to be overwhelmed by my desire for somebody -- anybody -- outside the covers of a book or the frame of an LCD screen? We need to build that world, to expose that extraordinary interior, and to cultivate that perception.

I don't know where Fifty Shades was going to go: I didn't really think it was going to go anywhere that would help me with any of those three tasks. If I were to propose an objection to it, it would only be that it wasn't silly enough to be really helpful. It proposes a world that's just a little different from ours, an exposure just a little more extensive, a perception just slightly shifted. That is not going to do it.

Now contrast my friend Larissa Brown's Beautiful Wreck: a book that understands how different the world would need to be, how sharpened and cleared one's senses would have to be, how hard one would have to work, before such a narrative could really make sense. Now there is a romance novel worth reading.