Saturday, September 30, 2006

221. The Other Side Of The Mountain - David Wagoner

To walk downhill you must lean partially backwards,
Heels digging in,
While your body gets more help than it can use
In following directions––
Because it's possible simply to fall down
The way you're going
Instead of climbing against it. The baffling dead-ends
Of traveling upward
Are turned around now, their openings leading down
To the land you promised
Yourself, beyond box canyons and blind draws.
They branch repeatedly,
But the direction you choose should be as easy to take
As your right hand.
The sky is a constant; even its variables
Like cirrus and cumulus
Will cancel each other out in a rough balance,
Taking turns at weather.
The wind may bluff and bluster and cut corners
Or skip a whole valley,
But eventually it has nothing to do with you,
Not even when it throws
The dust of your own country in your eyes.
At dawn, at darkness,
The sun will be here or there, full-face, rear-view;
It evens out in the end.
You must keep your goal in mind as clear as day
Though it doesn't matter
What you may think it looks like: second-sight
Is simply perseverance;
And getting there from here is a set of stages
Demanding candle-power,
Foot-pounds and simple levers, thirst and hunger.
Signposts are seasonal
And not forensic: one end may come to a point
And the other be indented,
But the words will be gone, and the rusty earth and air
Will have eaten the pole and nails.
You must take time to notice what grows on rocks
Or squeezes between them––
The gnawing lichen, bone-weed and thorny scrub––
All hanging tough
And gnarling for elbow room or squatters' rights.
These are the straighteners,
The levellers at work on the thick and crooked:
Some distant species
Will find the world made flat by the likes of these.
You must do your bit
by scuffing downhill heel-first on behalf of erosion,
For the sake of another time
When the mountains are made plain and anyone standing
Can see them from there
Without half-trying. When your shoes are out of step
And your clothes are a burden
And you feel bone-tired, sit down and look around.
You're there. No matter what
You had in mind as a proper circumstance,
You've come to it at last:
A rock-strewn slope from which you have a view
Of a further rock-strewn slope.
You can pick up dust in your hand and let it fall.
The place is real.
You can bite a grass-stem, look, take a deep breath
And, naturally, let it go.

Friday, September 29, 2006

220. Vanishing Point - Lawrence Raab

You're walking down a road
which someone has drawn to illustrate
the idea of perspective, and you are there
to provide a sense of scale.
See how the road narrows in the distance,
becoming a point at which
everything connects, or flies apart.
That's where you're headed.
The rest of the world is a plank page
of open space. Did you really think
you were just out for an aimless stroll?
And those mountains on the horizon:
the longer you look, the more forbidding
they become, bleak and self-important,
like symbols. But of what?
The future, perhaps. Destiny. Or the opposite.
The perpetual present, the foolishness of purpose.
At evening they recede into the sky.
as if they had always been the sky.
Is it a relief to know you'll never reach them?
Is there any comfort in believing
you're needed where you are?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

219. Staying Alive - David Wagoner

Staying alive in the woods is a matter of calming down
At first and deciding whether to wait for rescue,
Trusting to others,
Or simply to start walking and walking in one direction
Till you come out--or something happens to stop you.
By far the safer choice
Is to settle down where you are, and try to make a living
Off the land, camping near water, away from shadows.
Eat no white berries;
Spit out all bitterness. Shooting at anything
Means hiking further and further every day
To hunt survivors;
It may be best to learn what you have to learn without a gun,
Not killing but watching birds and animals go
In and out of shelter
At will. Following their example, build for a whole season:
Facing across the wind in your lean-to,
You may feel wilder,
But nothing, not even you, will have to stay in hiding.
If you have no matches, a stick and a fire-bow
Will keep you warmer,
Or the crystal of your watch, filled with water, held up to the sun
Will do the same in time. In case of snow
Drifting toward winter,
Don't try to stay awake through the night, afraid of freezing--
The bottom of your mind knows all about zero;
It will turn you over
And shake you till you waken. If you have trouble sleeping
Even in the best of weather, jumping to follow
With eyes strained to their corners
The unidentifiable noises of the night and feeling
Bears and packs of wolves nuzzling your elbow,
Remember the trappers
Who treated them indifferently and were left alone.
If you hurt yourself, no one will comfort you
Or take your temperature,
So stumbling, wading, and climbing are as dangerous as flying.
But if you decide, at last, you must break through
In spite of all danger,
Think of yourself by time and not by distance, counting
Wherever you're going by how long it takes you;
No other measure
Will bring you safe to nightfall. Follow no streams: they run
Under the ground or fall into wilder country.
Remember the stars
And moss when your mind runs to circles. If it should rain
Or the fog should roll the horizon in around you,
Hold still for hours
Or days if you must, or weeks, for seeing is believing
In the wilderness. And if you find a pathway,
Wheel-rut, or fence-wire,
Retrace it left or right: someone knew where he was going
Once upon a time, and you can follow
Hopefully, somewhere,
Just in case. There may even come, on some uncanny evening,
A time when you're warm and dry, well fed, not thirsty,
Uninjured, without fear,
When nothing, either good or bad, is happening.
This is called staying alive. It's temporary.
What occurs after
Is doubtful. You must always be ready for something to come bursting
Through the far edge of a clearing, running toward you,
Grinning from ear to ear
And hoarse with welcome. Or something crossing and hovering
Overhead, as light as air, like a break in the sky,
Wondering what you are.
Here you are face to face with the problem of recognition.
Having no time to make smoke, too much to say,
You should have a mirror
With a tiny hole in the back for better aiming, for reflecting
Whatever disaster you can think of, to show
The way you suffer.
These body signals have universal meaning: If you are lying
Flat on your back with arms outstretched behind you,
You say you require
Emergency treatment; if you are standing erect and holding
Arms horizontal, you mean you are not ready;
If you hold them over
Your head, you want to be picked up. Three of anything
Is a sign of distress. Afterward, if you see
No ropes, no ladders,
No maps or messages falling, no searchlights or trails blazing,
Then, chances are, you should be prepared to burrow
Deep for a deep winter.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

218. Lightenings - Seamus Heaney

Once, as a child, out in a field of sheep,
Thomas Hardy pretended to be dead
And lay down flat among their dainty shins.

In that sniffed-at, bleated-into, grassy space
He experimented with infinity.
His small cool brow was like an anvil waiting

For sky to make it sing the perfect pitch
Of his dumb being, and that stir he caused
In the fleece-hustle was the original

Of a ripple that would travel eighty years
Outward from there, to be the same ripple
Inside him at its last circumference.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

217. Hunting What Is - William Stafford

There are days when everything waits—you run
down the street, and it’s cool, and now has a light
inside it, and you are entering that light
as a part of time, by giving your look—

But things are hiding. As you run the street
angles widen ahead even as they close
behind. True, you felt close, back there,
but what opens is also true, and the street. . . .

So it all marks your life—what you pass
and almost find will define your part.
You claim, “Things are happening to me!”
And the world goes hovering on as you pant, “Mine.”

Monday, September 25, 2006

216. The Invention of Nostalgia - Lawrence Raab

Before 1688 nostalgia didn’t exist.
People felt sad and thought about home,
but in 1688 Johannes Hofer, a Swiss doctor,
made up the word. It wasn’t what he himself
was feeling, but a malady he’d observed

in soldiers posted far from home.
Leeches and opium were the cures,
and if those failed, a return to the Alps.
Therefore: homesickness, nostalgia’s symptom,
the way your stomach felt that first night

at summer camp, though if you cried
so hard you had to leave, later
you probably found yourself thinking,
They’d be swimming now, they’d be having lunch.
And you felt sad in a different way.

Imagine how many places you can’t
go back to, how much it hurts
to want what’s lost — all those days,
the ones that have left
their cloudy pictures in your mind,

and the smell of certain rooms, the light
through trees at certain hours, a time
before the first time you felt it,
like all the years before 1688
when no one had the right word to turn to.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

215. Writing In The Afterlife - Billy Collins

I imagined the atmosphere would be clear,
shot with pristine light,
not this sulphurous haze,
the air ionized as before a thunderstorm.

Many have pictured a river here,
but no one mentioned all the boats,
their benches crowded with naked passengers,
each bent over a writing tablet.

I knew I would not always be a child
with a model train and a model tunnel,
and I knew I would not live forever,
jumping all day through the hoop of myself.

I had heard about the journey to the other side
and the clink of the final coin
in the leather purse of the man holding the oar,
but how could anyone have guessed

that as soon as we arrived
we would be asked to describe this place
and to include as much detail as possible—
not just the water, he insists,

rather the oily, fathomless, rat-happy water,
not simply the shackles, but the rusty,
iron, ankle-shredding shackles—
and that our next assignment would be

to jot down, off the tops of our heads,
our thoughts and feelings about being dead,
not really an assignment,
the man rotating the oar keeps telling us—

think of it more as an exercise, he groans,
think of writing as a process,
a never-ending, infernal process,
and now the boats have become jammed together,

bow against stern, stern locked to bow,
and not a thing is moving, only our diligent pens.

Friday, September 22, 2006

214. Love After Love - Derek Walcott

Derek Walcott - Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here, Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

213. Endless - Muriel Rukeyser

Under the tall black sky you look out of your body
lit my a white flare of the time between us
your body with its touch its weight smelling of new wood
as on the day the news of battle reached us
falls beside the endless river
flowing to the endless sea
whose waves come to this shore a world away.

Your body of new wood you eyes alive barkbrown of treetrunks
the leaves and flowers of trees stars all caught in crown of trees
your life gone down, broken into endless earth
no longer a world away but under my feet and everywhere
I look down at the one earth under me,
through to you and all the fallen
the broken and their children born and unborn
of the endless war.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

212. Digging - Seamus Heaney

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner's bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away

Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I've no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I'll dig with it.

Monday, September 18, 2006

211. Attachment - Vasant Lad

An Excerpt from Strands of Eternity by Vasant Lad

Here is a thoughtful collection of poems on the Ayurvedic tradition by Vasant Lad, who teaches at the Ayurvedic Institute in Albuqueque, New Mexico. Here is a poem on the spiritual practice of equanimity, which is put under the umbrella of peace.


Attachment is the food of the mind.
Attachment is the anchor of the mind.
Through attachment the mind anchors
to many things in this world.

Such a mind is a jailed mind.
Where there is attachment there is no freedom.
Where there is attachment there is no love.
The attachment you feel to a particular outcome
is like a vehicle.
Let the vehicle take you on a journey
but when you arrive, you must leave it
outside the door
and enter the destination alone.

Some have become unhappy with attachment
so they decide to practice detachment.
This detachment is but
another face of attachment.
It is based on control.

The stem of attachment has given rise
to the sprout of detachment,
Both stems spring forth from
the root of ego.

You may have given up outer clinging.
You may practice spiritual austerities.
But have you given up the inner clinging?
The clinging to enlightenment
prevents the transformation you so desire.

You cannot force open the flower
of spiritual freedom.
It blooms on its own accord.
If you force it, it may appear to bloom.
But in reality it is already dead.

Where there is attachment, there is no awareness.
Give complete attention to your attachment.
Apply your whole body, mind, and emotions to it.
A space will open
and that attachment will drop by itself
like a mature leaf drops to the ground.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

210. Before The Sky Darkens - Stephen Dunn

Sunsets, incipient storms, the tableaus
of melancholy––maybe these are
the Saturday night-events
to take your best girl to. At least then
there might be moments of vanishing beauty
before the sky darkens,
and the expectations of happiness
would hardly exist
and therefore might be possible.

More and more you learn to live
with the unacceptable.
You sense the ever-hidden God
retreating even farther,
terrified or embarrassed.
You might as well be a clown,
big silly clothes, no evidence of desire.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

209. Saint George's Dragon - Lawrence Raab

As such things go, my reign of terror
felt impressive.
I ate a lot of the town, was widely feared.
A few bloody rampages
taught them to bring my victims to me––
one a day, picked by chance. In exchange
I left their streets and shops alone,
found a cave by the lake, settled in.
This princess George has rescued
meant nothing to me. Nobody did.
I understand
I have to be dragged around for a while now,
made to look dangerous, then dispatched.
George is brandishing his weapon,
showing off. And why not?
It's his moment. But what do you want
back there in the crowd?
You've known more than a couple
of the men I've eaten. You've been afraid
you might be next. Leashed and cowering,
do I remind you of an old dog
you used to kick around? Don't try
To feel sorry for me.
I'm getting what I deserve, and you're eager
to see it all and tell
the story: A single savage blow, green blood
leaping out. That sort of thing.
Good versus evil. After which
George goes off to become a saint, meaning
he gets to be dragged around and slaughtered
while the happy crowd congratulates itself.
And you are there.
Just let your tender feelings go
and be yourself. I'm the one
to whom you can do anything
and feel good about it afterwards. Let me be
the first of many.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

208. At the Restaurant - Stephen Dunn

"At the Restaurant" by Stephen Dunn

Six people are too many people
and a public place the wrong place
for what you're thinking--

stop this now.

Who do you think you are?
The duck a l'orange is spectacular,
the flan is best in town.

But there among your friends
is the unspoken, as ever,
chatter and gaiety its familiar song.

And there's your chronic emptiness
spiraling upward in search of words
you'll dare not say

without irony.
You should have stayed at home.
It's part of the social contract

to seem to be where your body is,
and you've been elsewhere like this,
for Christ's sake, countless times;

behave, feign.

Certainly you believe a part of decency
is to overlook, to let pass?
Praise the Caesar salad. Praise Susan's

black dress, Paul's promotion and raise.
Inexusable, the slaughter in this world.
Insufficient, the merely decent.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

207. William Stafford - The Little Ways That Encourage Good Fortune

Wisdom is having things right in your life
and knowing why.
If you do not have things right in your life
you will be overwhelmed:
you may be heroic, but you will not be wise.
If you have things right in your life
but do not know why,
you are just lucky, and you will not move
in the little ways that encourage good fortune.

The saddest are those not right in their lives
who are acting to make things right for others:
they act only from the self—
and that self will never be right:
no luck, no help, no wisdom.

Monday, September 11, 2006

206. MILES DAVIS ON ART - Lawrence Raab

"The only way to make art," Miles Davis
said, "is to forget what is unimportant."
That sounds right, although the opposite
also feels like the truth. Forget
what looks important, hope it shows up

later to surprise you. I understand
he meant you've got to clear
your mind, get rid of everything
that doesn't matter. But how can you tell?
Maybe the barking of a dog at night

is exactly what you need
to think about. "Just play within
the range of the idea,"
Charlie Parker said. The poem
that know too quickly what's important

will disappoint us. And sometimes
when you talk about art
you mean it, sometimes you're just
fooling around. But once he had the melody
in place, he could leave it behind

and go where he wanted, trusting
the beautiful would come to him, as it may
to a man who's worked hard enough
to be ready for it. And he was,
more often than not. That was what he knew.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

205. THE RESORT - Stuart Dischell

Through the table, an umbrella.
Upon the umbrella, a name,
Some beverage with a bright color
And bitter taste. The couple
Sits impossibly quiet, listening
For the explosions on the sun.

I had a thought and then I lost it.
It would be best to stay this way forever,
A man and a woman at a small white table
On a perfectly clear afternoon.
He enjoys his shirt with its sporty logo.
She is glad she wore the straw hat.

It is forty feet back to the hotel.
One street to cross and two flights up.
Half a turn in the lock and the door opens
To a bed, two water glasses, and a clock.
The carpet measures one quarter inch thick,
Impressed with wet heels from the bath.

I should let them run and take their clothes off.
Let them repair what they have left of their lives.
But it is not yet the time to release them.
I may keep us here all afternoon.

Friday, September 08, 2006

204. THEIR DIVORCE - Stephen Dunn

Not them. Not even with the best
binoculars on the bluest day
could I have seen it coming.
Not with scrutiny's microscope,
or with the help of history or gossip.
Of all people, not them.
The hadn't fallen in love with others.
Not even a night of drink
or proximity's slow burn drove them
to lapse, say, with a coworker.
It means no one can know what goes on
in the pale trappings of bedrooms,
in anyone's secret, harrowed heart.
It makes time itself an executioner––
a fact I always knew
applied to couples
whose bodies contradicted
their Darling this, Honey that,
and even some who exhibited
true decency and respect.
But this is a mockery, a defeat.
My friends were perfect, perfect.
"Every married couple appearing together
in public is comic," Adorno said,
and I wrote "Stupid!" in the margin.
Now they're broken up, finished.
Oh Adorno, you son of a bitch,
you perspicacious bastard,
sometimes what a cold eye sees
lasts longer than any of us.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

203. GREAT ART - Lawrence Raab

Lawrence Raab - Great Art

There's so much I don't want to look at,
big religious scenes especially,
big historical battles,
almost anything, in fact, containing
large numbers of people.

Three or four people—that's the right number
for a painting. Then you can think
about what they might mean to each other,
why they're standing around that beach
at sunset, walking toward that mountain.

Or they're at home: a woman sewing, a child
playing, a dog, a man at the door,
much more ominous, I'm sure, than the artist
intended. And I like that, imagining
this isn't what I was supposed to feel,

the way I'm pleased with small imperfections,
stains and wrinkles, erasures particularly,
where you sense the artist changing his mind.
And sometimes a shape's been painted over,
although the ghost of it remains.

In Vermeer's Girl Asleep at a Table
she leans on one hand, dreaming
perhaps of love. Behind her there's a mirror
in which nothing is reflected. Once,
x-rays have shown, this was a portrait of a man.

And we would have understood, given
the conventions of the time, he was the subject
of her thoughts. Why take him away?
It's better, I want Vermeer
to have decided, not to show that much.

Let her keep her dream to herself.
Let the light be our secret.

Monday, September 04, 2006

202. Museum Piece - Richard Wilbur

The good grey guardians of art
Patrol the halls on spongy shoes,
Impartially protective, though
Perhaps suspicious of Toulouse.

Here dozes one against the wall,
Disposed upon a funeral chair.
A Degas dancer pirouettes
Upon the parting of his hair.

See how she spins! The grace is there,
But strain as well is plain to see.
Degas loved the two together:
Beauty joined to energy.

Edgar Degas purchased once
A fine El Greco, which he kept
Against the wall beside his bed
To hang his pants on while he slept.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

201. A PIPPA LILTED - William Stafford

Good things will happen
when the green flame of spring
goes up into the hills where
we'd have our ranch if
we had the money.

It will be soon—
we'll hold our arms ready,
long toward the table
like Cezanne's people,
and let the light pour.

Just wait a little more—
let new errors cancel
the things we did wrong.
That's the right way for us:
our errors will dance.

It will be soon.
Good things will happen.

Friday, September 01, 2006

200. ESSAY ON THE PERSONAL - Stephen Dunn

Because finally the personal
is all that matters,
we spend years describing stones,
chairs, abandoned farmhouses—
until we're ready. Always
it's a matter of precision,
what it feels like
to kiss someone or to walk
out the door. How good it was
to practice on stones
which were things we could love
without weeping over. How good
someone else abandoned the farmhouse,
bankrupt and desperate.
Now we can bring a fine edge
to our parents. We can hold hurt
up to the sun for examination.
But just when we think we have it,
the personal goes the way of
belief. What seemed so deep
begins to seem naive, something
that could be trusted
because we hadn't read Plato
or held two contradictory ideas
or women in the same day.
Love, then, becomes an old movie.
Loss seems so common
it belongs to the air,
to breath itself, anyone's.
We're left with style, a particular
way of standing and saying,
the idiosyncratic look
at the frown which means nothing
until we say it does. Years later,
long after we believed it peculiar
to ourselves, we return to love.
We return to everything
strange, inchoate, like living
with someone, like living alone,
settling for the partial, the almost
satisfactory sense of it.