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poetry

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dust off the bones

I've been busy with a few projects, and I have a massive backlog of posts for both this blog and H+M. In the meantime, here is some poetry.

 

So Much Light We Could See to the Other Side

Tina Chang

All fuel and fire, spine left like a bent arrow, dark matter, 
the teeth as relic, all of our words bitter fruit. Who could 
have believed we were made like this. The cosmonaut,

the soothsayer, and the blind archeologist knew merely 
by feeling with the ends of their fingers which reached out 
to nothing. We were a warring lot, hammered by days,

and greedy too. Our plates were dented with heavy spoons, 
words spoken in secret in front of a fire, documents burned 
before anything of substance was revealed. We made that fire,

fed the flames with newspapers, kings, martyrs, and love. 
We were wanton, selfish, predisposed to constant dreaming. 
We fed, fought and then fought some more until night arrived

with its hellish glow. All around us, mothers taught their children 
words for the first time. They fashioned the universe into something 
knowable, sayable. Say this, said the mother and the infant repeated

the words, clumsily, devoted. The child's devotion was the world 
fabricating a truth. Repairs on the other side of the hemisphere. 
The archeologist found our bones and said we were a strong

and healthy race, grew more ingenious than any generation before us, 
before we fell away from wit, invention, our own empty embrace.
We ran to our end like leaping into a volcano. Unstoppable fury.

We should have disappeared entirely after the bomb, the floods, 
our own desertion. Someone's mouth blows dust off the bones. 
The soothsayer predicts that we will come back, the cosmonaut

is willing to bet when the world ended there were more 
stars filling the sky than ever before. There once was shadow, 
before a last light came, not to darken the plain but to define it.

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"To the Reader: Twilight," Chase Twitchell

Saw this on the 6 train as part of MTA's "Poetry in Motion" project. I'm actually not crazy about the rest of her stuff, but I've come to peace with that. And I love this.

To the Reader: Twilight

Whenever I look
out at the snowy
mountains at this hour
and speak directly
into the ear of the sky,
it’s you I’m thinking of.
You’re like the spirits
the children invent
to inhabit the stuffed horse
and the doll.
I don’t know who hears me.
I don’t know who speaks
when the horse speaks.


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Bonus: I tried to take a picture of the poem so I could look it up later and Tyler thought I was taking a picture of him. You can guess how he feels about it. (Note the Young Fidel hat.)

Tyler, if you're reading this, I know you're mad at me, but the expression on your face is really great.

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The Journey of the Magi, by T.S. Eliot

"A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter."
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires gong out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty, and charging high prices.:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

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MoFT: "Epithalament," Brenda Shaughnessy

Epithalament

BY BRENDA SHAUGHNESSY

Other weddings are so shrewd on the sofa, short

and baffled, bassett-legged. All things

knuckled, I have no winter left, in my sore rememory,

to melt down for drinking water. Shrunk down.

Your wedding slides the way wiry dark hairs do, down

a swimming pool drain. So I am drained.

Sincerely. I wish you every chapped bird on this

pilgrimage to hold your hem up from the dust.

Dust is plural: infinite dust. I will sink in the sun,

I will crawl towards the heavy drawing

and design the curtains in the room

of never marrying you. Because it is a sinking,

because today’s perfect weather is a later life’s

smut. This soiled future unplans love.

I keep unplanning the same Sunday. Leg

and flower, breeze and terrier, I have no garden

and couldn’t be happier. Please, don’t lose me

here. I am sorry my clutch is all

tendon and no discipline: the heart is a severed

kind of muscle and alone.

I can hear yours in your room. I hear mine

in another room. In another’s.

 

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"I am as you are"

There's a poem by Marcia Southwick called "A Star is Born in the Eagle Nebula." It's an elegy for her ex-husband, the poet Larry Levis, and I remember being sixteen and reading it in the B. Dalton on my break from work: 

 ...In today’s paper four girls 
in a photo appear to be tied, as if by invisible threads, to five 
soap bubbles floating along the street against the black wall 
of the Park Avenue underpass. Nothing earthshattering. The girls 
are simply there. They’ve blown the bubbles & are following them 
up the street. That’s the plot. A life. Any life.

I always think that maybe I should have grown out of the poetry I loved as a junior in high school. But the fact remains that, like most people, I'm fond of wrestling things into some sort of narrative form. Which makes poems like this one useful even now.

I was reminded of this last night, working on a side project with one of my friends. I'll hold off on the details for now, but what you need to know (for our purposes) is that it's a media production, we have a pile of recordings of high school students but no real chance to collect more, and there's a whole lot of compelling media but not much story. So we kept pacing around my apartment, yelling "WE HAVE NO NARRATIVE" and "WHO'S GOING TO CARE?" and "WHAT WOULD IRA GLASS DO? HUH?" And then - this is totally true - I remembered this poem and I ran to my bookshelf (my apartment is not large, so the running was about five feet), grabbed The Best American Poetry 1999 off the shelf, and started reading it aloud. I would like to think that the girl in the armchair at B. Dalton is proud of me. 

The urge to impose a narrative is a pretty strong one, and I have to admit that it was also my initial impulse when I read Francesca Borri's poignant, bitter piece about being a freelance journalist in Syria. In it, she describes what starts to feel like the failure of, well, everything: 

Yet we pretend to be here so that nobody will be able to say, “But I didn’t know what was happening in Syria.” When really we are here just to get an award, to gain visibility. We are here thwarting one another as if there were a Pulitzer within our grasp, when there’s absolutely nothing. We are squeezed between a regime that grants you a visa only if you are against the rebels, and rebels who, if you are with them, allow you to see only what they want you to see. The truth is, we are failures. Two years on, our readers barely remember where Damascus is, and the world instinctively describes what’s happening in Syria as “that mayhem,” because nobody understands anything about Syria—only blood, blood, blood.

(Courtesy of my childhood friend Cori, who has some experience with military communications herself.)

You read it, and at first you feel that it's just sort of chaotic and angry, with no clear target for blame and no real call to action (e.g. Stop Covering The War). And you're just like, great, okay, so?

But, of course, I've come to the conclusion that those qualities are what make it great. There's no one entity to blame in her piece, because guess what: wars aren't clear-cut either. Her experience doesn't make sense because war doesn't make sense. She only learns one thing, but it may be all we can learn from conflict:

Had I really understood something of war, I wouldn’t have gotten sidetracked trying to write about rebels and loyalists, Sunnis and Shia. Because really the only story to tell in war is how to live without fear. It all could be over in an instant. If I knew that, then I wouldn’t have been so afraid to love, to dare, in my life; instead of being here, now, hugging myself in this dark, rancid corner, desperately regretting all I didn’t do, all I didn’t say. You who tomorrow are still alive, what are you waiting for? Why don’t you love enough? You who have everything, why you are so afraid?

We can try to impose all the frames we want, but maybe that's not where the value of the story is, after all. It will be a collection of voices, a portrait of the world through the microcosm of experience. Nothing earthshattering. That's the plot.  

 

 

 

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