can a person bear? It is
heavier than ugliness, even the burden
of emptiness is nothing beside it.
---Louise Glück, "Baskets"
"I shall never forget the occasion when I was visiting a school as a writer and the whole place suddenly fell into an uproar because the school tomboy - a most splendid Britomart of a girl - had beaten up the school bully. Everything stopped in the staffroom while the teachers debated what to do. They wanted to give the tomboy a prize, but decided reluctantly that they had better punish her and the bully too. They knew that if, as a child, you do pluck up courage to hit the bully, it is an act of true heroism - as great as that of Beowulf in his old age. I remember passing the tomboy, sitting in her special place of punishment opposite the bully. She was blazing with her deed, as if she had actually been touched by a god. And I thought that this confirmed all my theories: a child in her position is open to any heroic myth I care to use; she is inward with folktales; she would feel the force of any magical or divine intervention."
---Diana Wynne Jones
"Because children grow up, we think its a child’s purpose to grow up. But a child’s purpose is to be a child. Nature doesn’t disdain what lives for a day. It pours the whole of itself into each moment. We don’t value the lily less for not being made of flint and built to last. Life’s bounty is in its flow, later is too late. Where is the song when its being sung? The dance when its being danced? It’s only humans who want to own the future, too. We persuade ourselves that the universe is modestly employed in unfolding our destination. We note the haphazard chaos of history by the day, by the hour, but there is something wrong with the picture. Where is the unity, the meaning, of nature’s highest creation? Surely those millions of little streams of accident and willfulness have their correction in the vast underground river, which, without a doubt, is carrying us to the place where we’re expected! But there is not such place, that’s why it’s called utopia. The death of a child has no more meaning than the death of armies, of nations. Was the child happy while he lived? That is the proper question, the only question. If we can’t arrange our own happiness, it’s a conceit beyond vulgarity to arrange the happiness of those who come after us."
"A poem is a glass, through which light is conveyed to us."
---Susan Howe, "Vagrancy in the Park"
"To love does not mean to surrender, dissolve and merge with another person. It is the noble opportunity for an individual to ripen, to become something in and of himself. To become a world in response to another is a great immodest challenge that has sought him out and called him forth."
---Rainer Maria Rilke
"The Sermon on the Warpland"
“The fact that we are black
is our ultimate reality.”
And several strengths from drowsiness campaigned
but spoke in Single Sermon on the warpland.
And went about the warpland saying No.
“My people, black and black, revile the River.
Say that the River turns, and turn the River.
Say that our Something in doublepod contains
seeds for the coming hell and health together.
Prepare to meet
(sisters, brothers) the brash and terrible weather;
the bruising; the collapse of bestials, idols.
But then oh then!—the stuffing of the hulls!
the seasoning of the perilously sweet!
the health! the heralding of the clear obscure!
Build now your Church, my brothers, sisters. Build
never with brick nor Corten nor with granite.
Build with lithe love. With love like lion-eyes.
With love like morningrise.
With love like black, our black—
"The Second Sermon on the Warpland"
For Walter Bradford 1. This is the urgency: Live! and have your blooming in the noise of the whirlwind. 2. Salve salvage in the spin. Endorse the splendor splashes; stylize the flawed utility; prop a malign or failing light— but know the whirlwind is our commonwealth. Not the easy man, who rides above them all, not the jumbo brigand, not the pet bird of poets, that sweetest sonnet, shall straddle the whirlwind. Nevertheless, live. 3. All about are the cold places, all about are the pushmen and jeopardy, theft— all about are the stormers and scramblers but what must our Season be, which stars from Fear? Live and go out. Define and medicate the whirlwind. 4. The time cracks into furious flower. Lifts its face all unashamed. And sways in wicked grace. Whose half-black hands assemble oranges is tom-tom hearted (goes in bearing oranges and boom). And there are bells for orphans— and red and shriek and sheen. A garbageman is dignified as any diplomat. Big Bessie’s feet hurt like nobody’s business, but she stands—bigly—under the unruly scrutiny, stands in the wild weed. In the wild weed she is a citizen, and is a moment of highest quality; admirable. It is lonesome, yes. For we are the last of the loud. Nevertheless, live. Conduct your blooming in the noise and whip of the whirlwind.
"This then, I thought, as I looked about me, is the representation of history. It requires a falsification of perspective. We, the survivors, see everything from above, see everything at once, and still we do not know how it was."
---W.G Sebald, The Rings of Saturn
"If power were never anything but repressive, if it never did anything but to say no, do you really think one would be brought to obey it? What makes power hold good, what makes it accepted, is simply the fact that it doesn’t only weigh on us as a force that says no, but that it traverses and produces things, it induces pleasure, forms knowledge, produces discourse. It needs to be considered as a productive network which runs through the whole social body, much more than as a negative instance whose function is repression."
---Michel Foucault, "Truth and Power," trans. unknown
"This very insatiability of the photographing eye changes the terms of confinement in the cave, our world. In teaching us a new visual code, photographs alter and enlarge our notions of what is worth looking at and what we have a right to observe. They are a grammar and, even more importantly, an ethics of seeing. Finally, the most grandiose result of the photographic enterprise is to give us the sense that we can hold the whole world in our heads – as an anthology of images."
---Susan Sontag, On Photography
"I am in debt. I owe the world an unpayable sum, and yet each morning at my desk with the sun rising in the long distance—some mornings it blazes and on others it is a distant bulb barely able to raise smoke from the cold black tar of the roof—I sit down to repay that debt. My debt is simple. It is the poems of Elizabeth Bishop and Larry Levis. The prose of Norman Maclean and Michael Ondaatje. Derek Walcott and Wallace Stevens. Henry Thoreau and Ed Abbey. Naomi Shihab Nye and Terrance Hayes. Jack Gilbert. The list goes on and on. Some are my friends and some are people I know only in their words. But they have—each and every one—given me their language and their syntax. They have each offered me a gift—a fragment, story, a song, a glimpse of the sun streaming through their world. You want to know what keeps me going? I have no choice. The words are theirs and I owe the vigorish. It is all I can do to keep up the payments."
"In Memoriam: Martin Luther King, Jr."
honey people murder mercy U.S.A.
the milkland turn to monsters teach
to kill to violate pull down destroy
the weakly freedom growing fruit
from being born
tomorrow yesterday rip rape
exacerbate despoil disfigure
crazy running threat the
appall belief dispel
the wildlife burn the breast
the onward tongue
the outward hand
deform the normal rainy
riot sunshine shelter wreck
of darkness derogate
assassinate and batten up
like bullets fatten up
the raving greed
reactivate a springtime
death by men by more
than you or I can
They sleep who know a regulated place
or pulse or tide or changing sky
according to some universal
stage direction obvious
like shorewashed shells
we share an afternoon of mourning
in between no next predictable
except for wild reversal hearse rehearsal
bleach the blacklong lunging
ritual of fright insanity and more
My land is bare of chattering folk;
The clouds are low along the ridges,
And sweet's the air with curly smoke
From all my burning bridges.
"Compassion hurts. When you feel connected to everything, you also feel responsible for everything. And you cannot turn away. Your destiny is bound with the destinies of others. You must either learn to carry the Universe or be crushed by it. You must grow strong enough to love the world, yet empty enough to sit down at the same table with its worst horrors."
---Andrew Boyd, Daily Afflictions: The Agony of Being Connected to Everything in the Universe
"Frequently Asked Questions: 10"
Do you see current events differently because you were raised by a black father and are married to a black man? I am surprised they haven’t left already — things have gotten downright frosty, nearly unbearable. A mob of them is apparently mouthing off outside when I put down my newspaper and we all gather to stand beside my daughter in the bay of kitchen windows. Quiscalus quiscula: this name sounds like a spell which, after its casting, will make things crumble into a complement of unanswerable questions. Though, if you need me to tell you God’s honest truth, I know nothing but their common name the morning we watch them attack our feeder. I complain about the mess they leave. Hulls I’ll have to sweep up or ignore. My father — who I am thankful is still alive — says We could use a different kind of seed. A simple solution. We want that brown bird with the shock of red: the northern flicker. We want western bluebirds, more of the skittish finches. But mostly we get grackle grackle grackle all day long. Can it be justifiable to revile these harbingers? They scoff all we offer and — being too close and too many — scare other birds away. My husband says, Look at all those crackles. I almost laugh at him, but the winter air does look hurtful loud around the black flock. Like static is loud when it sticks sheets to sheets so they crackle when pulled one from another. And sting. My father — who is older now than his older brothers will ever be — promises he will solve the problem of the grackles and leaves the window to search for his keys. The dawn sky — blue breaking into blackness — is what I see feathering their bodies. The fence is gray. The feeder is gray, the aspen bark. Gray hulls litter the ground. But the grackles, their passerine claws — three facing forward, one turned back — around the roost bar of the feeder, are so bright within their blackness, I pray they will stay.
---Camille T. Dungy
"We read many different Iliads, many different Alcestises in the course of our lives, and the relationship between the two texts, and between Achilles and Admetus, will change accordingly. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between ourselves and the poetry, or our reading of it. But of course the words on the page are always the same; it is we who change a little each year, just like the tree outside our library window. Thus it happens that as we examine ourselves in the poetry on the page, its allusions to us may change from time to time. But when the buds ripen in spring, the tree brings forth leaves like the ones that the wind blew away in the fall."
---Richard Garner, “From Homer to Tragedy: The Art of Allusion in Greek Poetry”
"Someday I'll Love Ocean Vuong"
After Frank O’Hara / After Roger Reeves
Ocean, don’t be afraid.
The end of the road is so far ahead
it is already behind us.
Don’t worry. Your father is only your father
until one of you forgets. Like how the spine
won’t remember its wings
no matter how many times our knees
kiss the pavement. Ocean,
are you listening? The most beautiful part
of your body is wherever
your mother’s shadow falls.
Here’s the house with childhood
whittled down to a single red tripwire.
Don’t worry. Just call it horizon
& you’ll never reach it.
Here’s today. Jump. I promise it’s not
a lifeboat. Here’s the man
whose arms are wide enough to gather
your leaving. & here the moment,
just after the lights go out, when you can still see
the faint torch between his legs.
How you use it again & again
to find your own hands.
You asked for a second chance
& are given a mouth to empty into.
Don’t be afraid, the gunfire
is only the sound of people
trying to live a little longer. Ocean. Ocean,
get up. The most beautiful part of your body
is where it’s headed. & remember,
loneliness is still time spent
with the world. Here’s
the room with everyone in it.
Your dead friends passing
through you like wind
through a wind chime. Here’s a desk
with the gimp leg & a brick
to make it last. Yes, here’s a room
so warm & blood-close,
I swear, you will wake—
& mistake these walls
"How is it possible to reclaim the body when it’s visible only in a mirror? A reflection of the body, external and reversed: the image both belongs to me and doesn’t. The photos, which I still have tucked away in the plastic sleeves of leather albums, reflect something more than what they show: a gaze that follows across the distances of continents and years. I can move my body through the world, and yet there is also an image of my body that resembles in every way the real thing: two people, bound together by this perceived resemblance—a woman who has died, a woman who goes on living."
---Lacy M. Johnson, The Other Side
The thorns had hands. The fire stood still. It will take a hundred years to piece together a hundred dreams. A room of ashes was a room out-spun. Mother says the heart is a wheel and it will turn as I turn. Quickly. Nightly. I married the owl. ~ I told her I could not walk, the walls circled my steps. I told her, my flesh became stone and I did not bleed blood, but sound. What sound? I could not describe it; it was voiceless and low. But it was not. Mostly I was not alone in my solitude. My breath became the ghost of me, or the ghost of an old man I’d long forgotten, a midnight grandfather. Pages of thoughts, they were not mine, though my hand mastered their language. I told her, I cannot howl winsomely like vixens. Like thieves. I wandered the forest, fingering every loose twig, but I was sleeping. My hand, good as air, was sleeping. ~ In my sleep, I wrote the field guide: red-winged dream, tufted dream. One was of salt, one without hunger—a forest of three-leaved trees. I thought I knew everything. My bed sat alone amongst the sassafras. A fox, mid-pace and mid-bark, stopped statue-like on a patch of moss. I was watcher, or maker. Yellow-bellied dream, mourning dream. Each thing I saw: a seed to myself. Inside a girl stirred restless as rain. I could not see her. I only grew. Mother says when the basket’s full, it is time to come home. ~ Asleep, I lived in silence, but in light. What if waking were a room black as the mind? Horn-billed dream, Stellar’s dream. And the body, a darkness there is no memory of.
"Poetry — No definition of poetry is adequate unless it be poetry itself. The most accurate analysis by the rarest wisdom is yet insufficient, and the poet will instantly prove it false by setting aside its requisitions. It is indeed all that we do not know. The poet does not need to see how meadows are something else than earth, grass, and water, but how they are thus much. He does not need discover that potato blows are as beautiful as violets, as the farmer thinks, but only how good potato blows are. The poem is drawn out from under the feet of the poet, his whole weight has rested on this ground. It has a logic more severe than the logician’s. You might as well think to go in pursuit of the rainbow, and embrace it on the next hill, as to embrace the whole of poetry even in thought."
---Henry David Thoreau