AN UNCOMMON THOUGHT

"The real trick to life is not to be in the know, but to be in the mystery."
-Fred Alan Wolf

19 November 2014

Paper.


Love Paper.

A tree gave its life for what you are about to attempt. Don’t let the silicon chip or computer monitor cause you to forget this. That ex-tree material stacked in your printer is so dead as you begin to write that its bark-skinned, earth-eating, oxygen-producing, bird-supporting, squirrel-housing body has been reduced to an inert blank expanse of white. To find the life of language and lay that life down on the paper is to redeem the sacrificed life of the tree.

In order to do this, we must see paper as clearly as Inuits see snow. Our language is the second greatest living proof (actions being the greatest) of what we do and do not see. Listen to how Inuit people see: apun (snow); apingaut (first snowfall); aput (spread-out snow); ayak (snow on clothes); kannik (snowflake); nutagak (powder snow); aniu (flat, hard-packed snow); aniuvak (packed snowbank); natigvik (snowdrift); kimaugruk(snowdrift that blocks something); perksertok (drifting snow); akelrorak (newly drifted snow); mavsa (snowdrift overhead, about to fall); kaiyuglak (the rippled surface of snow);pukak (sugar-like snow); pokaktok (salt-like snow); misulik (sleet); massak (snow mixed with water); auksalak (melting snow); aniuk (snow for melting into water); akillukkak (soft snow); milik (very soft snow); mitailak (soft snow that covers an opening in an ice flow);sillik (old hard crusty snow); kiksrukak (glazed snow in a thaw); mauya (snow that can be broken through); katiksunik (light snow); katiksugnik (light snow that is deep for walking).

Love paper. Paper is writer’s snow (apun).

Paper is the blank white element we live upon: element that receives and records our every step. The receptacle of our lives and nuances deserves an Inuit depth of respect. I lack names for the many kinds of pages I see here in my study, but looking through drawers, shelves, wastebasket, manuscript boxes, I find: virgin paper, still in the ream. (Apingaut—first snowfall.)

I find paper at which I stare long, unable to write a word. (aniuvak—packed snowbank.)
I find a scrap of paper upon which, in the middle of the night, I write down an urgent message from the heart, but leave the light off so as not to wake my wife, only to find in the morning that after the words, “And when a prayer fails to...” my pen ran out of ink. (auksalak—melting snow.)

I find paper at which I am staring when, between the words, a door opens, and inside is an imaginary Room, and inside the Room are People; I find paper on which I write what the People are doing in the Room, and paper in which the People lure me clear into the Room, addressing me now as one of their own. (mauya-- snow that can be broken through.)

I find paper upon which, in the midst of an intimate disclosure from an elegant Room Woman, a phone rings (my phone, not hers), and then a neighbor stops by (my neighbor, not hers), and I am so long distracted that when I return to the paper and Room Woman I begin to spill my own thoughts, not hers, failing to notice that for hours I have not only cut her off in mid-disclosure, stood her up, treated her terribly, I have lost the way back to her wonderful Room. (kimaugruk—snowdrift that blocks something.)

I find paper on which I write so stupidly, aimlessly, roomlessly and unimaginatively that at the end of the day I wad it up and throw it across my study, then wad and throw a few blank sheets for good measure. (mitailak—soft snow that covers an opening in an ice flow.)

I find blank sheets unwadded in shame, and spoken to rather than written upon, paper I audibly promise that—during the hours and in the place foresworn to the People of the Imaginary Room—I will spill only their thoughts, not my own. (aniuk—snow for melting into water.)

I find paper at which I stare long and stupidly, unable to write a word—paper that at day’s end leaves me filled with shame even though, by not writing upon it, I have kept my solemn promise to the Room People. (aniu—flat, hard-packed snow.)

I find the dismayingly small stack of computer-printed pages on which I earlier wrote with self-effacing skill of the Room People, pages I begin to idly edit, after the People once again refuse to appear. (sillik—old hard crusty snow.)

I find, on these same computer-printed pages, a space between two words—a space no wider than the head of an ant—yet as I trying to smooth an awkward phrase in that space(kannik—snowflake), two tiny hands rise up out of the paper, a new Room Person climbs into sight, and this Person begins singing—to the glorious ruin of my earlier draft—the true and living story hidden behind everything I had written and not written so far.

I find paper on which I have so faithfully written not what I want but what is there to be told (be it ayak, nutagak, or akillukkak) that when I read it again days later its doors still open, the People in its Rooms still laugh/struggle/shout/hate/love/die, and a silent voice hidden in the next sheet of white tells me as I touch it whether it is kiksrukak or auksulakwe must watch for now.

Addenda:

A straight line in the right place can bring you to tears. 
Frederick Sommer (as overheard by Emmet Gowin)


If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are. “Interbeing” is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix ‘inter-’ with the verb ‘to be,’ we have a new verb, inter-be. 
Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace is Every Step

David James Duncan

Pens.


INTERVIEWER
Do you reckon you’re the last writer to be using dip pens in the United States?

FOOTE
There’s probably some other nut somewhere out there doing it.

Happy birthday, Dorsey.

Tommy Dorsey was born on this date in 1905.

Song of India ...



Thanks, Dad.

Shadows.


Shadows in the Water

In unexperienced infancy
Many a sweet mistake doth lie:
Mistake though false, intending true;
A seeming somewhat more than view;
         That doth instruct the mind
         In things that lie behind,
And many secrets to us show
Which afterwards we come to know.

Thus did I by the water’s brink
Another world beneath me think;
And while the lofty spacious skies
Reversèd there, abused mine eyes,
         I fancied other feet
         Came mine to touch or meet;
As by some puddle I did play
Another world within it lay.

Beneath the water people drowned,
Yet with another heaven crowned,
In spacious regions seemed to go
As freely moving to and fro:
         In bright and open space
         I saw their very face;
Eyes, hands, and feet they had like mine;
Another sun did with them shine.

’Twas strange that people there should walk,
And yet I could not hear them talk;
That through a little watery chink,
Which one dry ox or horse might drink,
         We other worlds should see,
         Yet not admitted be;
And other confines there behold
Of light and darkness, heat and cold.

I called them oft, but called in vain;
No speeches we could entertain:
Yet did I there expect to find
Some other world, to please my mind.
         I plainly saw by these
         A new antipodes,
Whom, though they were so plainly seen,
A film kept off that stood between.

By walking men’s reversèd feet
I chanced another world to meet;
Though it did not to view exceed
A phantom, ’tis a world indeed,
         Where skies beneath us shine,
         And earth by art divine
Another face presents below,
Where people’s feet against ours go.

Within the regions of the air,
Compassed about with heavens fair,
Great tracts of land there may be found
Enriched with fields and fertile ground;
         Where many numerous hosts
         In those far distant coasts,
For other great and glorious ends
Inhabit, my yet unknown friends.

O ye that stand upon the brink,
Whom I so near me through the chink
With wonder see: what faces there,
Whose feet, whose bodies, do ye wear?
         I my companions see
         In you, another me.
They seemèd others, but are we;
Our second selves these shadows be.

Look how far off those lower skies
Extend themselves! scarce with mine eyes
I can them reach. O ye my friends,
What secret borders on those ends?
         Are lofty heavens hurled
’Bout your inferior world?
Are yet the representatives
Of other peoples’ distant lives?

Of all the playmates which I knew
That here I do the image view
In other selves, what can it mean?
But that below the purling stream
         Some unknown joys there be
         Laid up in store for me;
To which I shall, when that thin skin
Is broken, be admitted in.

Thomas Traherne

18 November 2014

Transported.

Suppose you are walking home in the rain, your thoughts occupied with your work. The streets and the houses pass by unnoticed; the people, too, pass you by; nothing invades your thinking save your interests and anxieties. Then suddenly the sun emerges from the clouds, and a ray of sunlight alights on an old stone wall beside the road and trembles there. You glance up at the sky where the clouds are parting, and a bird bursts into song in a garden behind the wall. Your heart fills with joy, and your selfish thoughts are scattered. The world stands before you, and you are content simply to look at it and let it be.

Maybe such experiences are rarer now than they were in the eighteenth century, when the poets and philosophers lighted upon them as a new avenue to religion. The haste and disorder of modern life, the alienating forms of modern architecture, the noise and spoliation of modern industry—these things have made the pure encounter with beauty a rarer, more fragile, and more unpredictable thing for us. Still, we all know what it is to find ourselves suddenly transported, by the things we see, from the ordinary world of our appetites to the illuminated sphere of contemplation.


Dr. Roger Scruton, author of "The Aesthetics of Architecture and Beauty", delivers his keynote address entitled "Beauty and Desecration."

Matthias Loibner, hurdy-gurdy



I will start somewhere, and I will end somewhere ...

Shimmer.


When I talk about pictures in my mind I am talking, quite specifically, about images that shimmer around the edges. There used to be an illustration in every elementary psychology book showing a cat drawn by a patient in varying stages of schizophrenia. This cat had a shimmer around it. You could see the molecular structure breaking down at the very edges of the cat: the cat became the background and the background the cat, everything interacting, exchanging ions. People on hallucinogens describe the same perception of objects. I’m not a schizophrenic, nor do I take hallucinogens, but certain images do shimmer for me. Look hard enough, and you can’t miss the shimmer. It’s there. You can’t think too much about these pictures that shimmer. You just lie low and let them develop. You stay quiet. You don’t talk to many people and you keep your nervous system from shorting out and you try to locate the cat in the shimmer, the grammar in the picture.

Just as I meant “shimmer” literally I mean “grammar” literally. Grammar is a piano I play by ear, since I seem to have been out of school the year the rules were mentioned. All I know about grammar is its infinite power. To shift the structure of a sentence alters the meaning of that sentence, as definitely and inflexibly as the position of a camera alters the meaning of the object photographed. Many people know about camera angles now, but not so many know about sentences. The arrangement of the words matters, and the arrangement you want can be found in the picture in your mind.

The picture dictates the arrangement. The picture dictates whether this will be a sentence with or without clauses, a sentence that ends hard or a dying-fall sentence, long or short, active or passive. The picture tells you how to arrange the words and the arrangement of the words tells you, or tells me, what’s going on in the picture. Nota bene.

It tells you.

You don’t tell it.

Joan Didion

Turbulence.


In 2004, using the Hubble Space Telescope, scientists saw the eddies of a distant cloud of dust and gas around a star, and it reminded them of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” This motivated scientists from Mexico, Spain, and England to study the luminance in Van Gogh’s paintings in detail. They discovered that there is a distinct pattern of turbulent fluid structures close to Kolmogorov’s equation hidden in many of Van Gogh’s paintings.

The researchers digitized the paintings, and measured how brightness varies between any two pixels. From the curves measured for pixel separations, they concluded that paintings from Van Gogh’s period of psychotic agitation behave remarkably similar to fluid turbulence. His self-portrait with a pipe, from a calmer period in Van Gogh’s life, showed no sign of this correspondence. And neither did other artists’ work that seemed equally turbulent at first glance, like Munch’s ‘The Scream.”

While it’s too easy to say Van Gogh’s turbulent genius enabled him to depict turbulence, it’s also far too difficult to accurately express the rousing beauty of the fact that in a period of intense suffering, Van Gogh was somehow able to perceive and represent one of the most supremely difficult concepts nature has ever brought before mankind, and to unite his unique mind’s eye with the deepest mysteries of movement, fluid and light.


Beyond.


The rest, with very little exaggeration, was books. Meant-to-be-picked-up books. Permanently-left-behind books. Uncertain-what-to-do-with books. But books, books. Tall cases lined three walls of the room, filled to and beyond capacity. The overflow had been piled in stacks on the floor. There was little space left for walking, and none whatever for pacing.

J.D. Salinger

Heart.


A book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another.

Rebecca Solnit 

Heartily.

And laugh they did, and eat, and drink, often and heartily, being fond of simple jests at all times, and of six meals a day (when they could get them).

J.R.R. Tolkien

13 November 2014

Rejoice.


It’s so important for poetry to leave enough gaps and silences for readers to fill in the blanks. I hoped that What Matters would offer a message of encouragement and hope while giving readers room to map out their own places in the poems.

No form of survival is ever a “sudden epiphany.” Survival is a slow process, a measured progression that requires nearly impossible determination (read “understatement” here). It’s definitely a spiritual journey—sounds kind of trite, but this trip we call life is about spirit.

For me, and I suspect for many, gratitude is a necessary part of the process. Of course, it’s hard to be grateful when you stand on the edge of crash and burn. One day you’re simply living your life and the next you’re faced with something you didn’t anticipate and aren’t sure you can deal with. It happens to all of us sooner or later, in one way or another. Surviving becomes part of the trek, but it’s a lonely walk no matter how much support you have. Faced with fear, grief, loss, or illness, where do you go? You either give into the darkness of it all, or you look for a way out. Acceptance is part of the way back up—a grace that can lead to gratitude. (Stay with me, I’m working toward rejoicing.) There’s so much for which to be grateful (one more hour, one more day). Learning how to be grateful is another instrument in the survival toolbox. If you can manage gratefulness, you can begin to move away from the damages of what you work to survive. It’s kind of like when the feeling of the subject matter becomes the poem. You remember how to live, you remember what happiness is, and that projects itself backward and forward. Slowly, you begin to rejoice in whatever happiness and love you can find. What do we live for? From the poem:

Grace is acceptance—

all of it, whatever is—as
in we live for this: love
and gratitude enough.

CONNECT

Live.


Real mystery -- the very reason to read, and certainly write, any book -- was to them a thing to dismantle, distill and mine out into rubble they could tyrannize into sorry but more permanent explanations; monuments to themselves, in other words. In my view all teachers should be required to stop teaching at age thirty-two and not allowed to resume until they're sixty-five, so that they can live their lives, not teach them away -- live lives full of ambiguity and transience and regret and wonder, be asked to explain nothing in public until very near the end when they can't do anything else.

Explaining is where we all get into trouble.

Richard Ford

Listen to this ... the 3 x 5 cards, the precision of speech ...

James McMurtry, "No More Buffalo"

Don't chase that carrot 'til it makes you sick
What do you think you're gonna prove?
Just let it dangle 'til it falls off that stick
That's when you make your move.

Don't go chasing after shooting stars, 
Trying to make yourself a name.
You could joust at the windmills with that old Fender guitar
You'd probably do about the same.

Useless.


You can get so confused
that you'll start in to race,
down long, wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles 
across weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.

Dr. Seuss

Nucleus.


MidCurrent: 
Does it surprise you, in looking back, thirty years later, at what came out of that collection of people? Maybe you have other examples of how this has happened in your life, but very few people can look back and say “These guys and I just happened to end up here and two of them became highly esteemed writers and another one became a billionaire musician and another’s landscapes are collected by art critics all over the world … that’s pretty remarkable.”


Guy de la Valdene: 
It is remarkable. And I’m sure we all think about it. I certainly do. And as I said, we need to go back to Tom. Tom brought that whole group together, and then he brought that whole group together one more time in Livingston, Montana. Jim didn’t live in Montana then, but he does now — he moved there about seven or eight years ago. But Chatham followed Tom to Livingston, and Richard Brautigan followed him there, and my wife and I, or just I, would go out there at least once or twice a year. That was just our little nucleus, our particular group. Tom was a magnet to a lot of other people as well. 

12 November 2014

Already.


The image-producing forces of our mind develop along two very different lines.

The first take wing when confronted by the new; they take pleasure in the picturesque, in variety, in the unexpected event. The imagination to which they give life always finds a springtime to describe. In nature, far removed from us, they produce already living flowers.

Gaston Bachelard

Philae.


On 12 November, Rosetta’s Philae probe is set to make the first-ever landing on a comet when it touches down on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.

Separation of the lander is planned for about 09:03 GMT (10:03 CET), and touch down should follow about seven hours later, at 16:02 GMT (17:02 CET).

Happy birthday, Rodin.


Auguste Rodin was born on this date in 1840.

Where did I learn to understand sculpture? In the woods by looking at the trees, along roads by observing the formation of clouds, in the studio by studying the model, everywhere except in the schools.

Auguste Rodin

Rodin at work in 1915 ...

Sit.

Balke, Lighthouse on the Coast of Norway (detail), 1853



The Cold Mountain Poems

The path to Han-shan's place is laughable,
A path, but no sign of cart or horse.
Converging gorges - hard to trace their twists
Jumbled cliffs - unbelievably rugged.
A thousand grasses bend with dew,
A hill of pines hums in the wind.
And now I've lost the shortcut home,
Body asking shadow, how do you keep up?

In a tangle of cliffs, I chose a place -
Bird paths, but no trails for me.
What's beyond the yard?
White clouds clinging to vague rocks.
Now I've lived here - how many years -
Again and again, spring and winter pass.
Go tell families with silverware and cars
"What's the use of all that noise and money?"

In the mountains it's cold.
Always been cold, not just this year.
Jagged scarps forever snowed in
Woods in the dark ravines spitting mist.
Grass is still sprouting at the end of June,
Leaves begin to fall in early August.
And here I am, high on mountains,
Peering and peering, but I can't even see the sky.

I spur my horse through the wrecked town,
The wrecked town sinks my spirit.
High, low, old parapet walls
Big, small, the aging tombs.
I waggle my shadow, all alone;
Not even the crack of a shrinking coffin is heard.
I pity all those ordinary bones,
In the books of the Immortals they are nameless.

I wanted a good place to settle:
Cold Mountain would be safe.
Light wind in a hidden pine -
Listen close - the sound gets better.
Under it a gray haired man
Mumbles along reading Huang and Lao.
For ten years I havn't gone back home
I've even forgotten the way by which I came.

Men ask the way to Cold Mountain
Cold Mountain: there's no through trail.
In summer, ice doesn't melt
The rising sun blurs in swirling fog.
How did I make it?
My heart's not the same as yours.
If your heart was like mine
You'd get it and be right here.

I settled at Cold Mountain long ago,
Already it seems like years and years.
Freely drifting, I prowl the woods and streams
And linger watching things themselves.
Men don't get this far into the mountains,
White clouds gather and billow.
Thin grass does for a mattress,
The blue sky makes a good quilt.
Happy with a stone under head
Let heaven and earth go about their changes.

Clambering up the Cold Mountain path,
The Cold Mountain trail goes on and on:
The long gorge choked with scree and boulders,
The wide creek, the mist blurred grass.
The moss is slippery, though there's been no rain
The pine sings, but there's no wind.
Who can leap the word's ties
And sit with me among the white clouds?

Rough and dark - the Cold Mountain trail,
Sharp cobbles - the icy creek bank.
Yammering, chirping - always birds
Bleak, alone, not even a lone hiker.
Whip, whip - the wind slaps my face
Whirled and tumbled - snow piles on my back.
Morning after morning I don't see the sun
Year after year, not a sign of spring.

I have lived at Cold Mountain
These thirty long years.
Yesterday I called on friends and family:
More than half had gone to the Yellow Springs.
Slowly consumed, like fire down a candle;
Forever flowing, like a passing river.
Now, morning, I face my lone shadow:
Suddenly my eyes are bleared with tears.

Spring water in the green creek is clear
Moonlight on Cold Mountain is white
Silent knowledge - the spirit is enlightened of itself
Contemplate the void: this world exceeds stillness.

In my first thirty years of life
I roamed hundreds and thousands of miles.
Walked by rivers through deep green grass
Entered cities of boiling red dust.
Tried drugs, but couldn't make Immortal;
Read books and wrote poems on history.
Today I'm back at Cold Mountain:
I'll sleep by the creek and purify my ears.

I can't stand these bird songs
Now I'll go rest in my straw shack.
The cherry flowers are scarlet
The willow shoots up feathery.
Morning sun drives over blue peaks
Bright clouds wash green ponds.
Who knows that I'm out of the dusty world
Climbing the southern slope of Cold Mountain?

Cold Mountain has many hidden wonders,
People who climb here are always getting scared.
When the moon shines, water sparkles clear
When the wind blows, grass swishes and rattles.
On the bare plum, flowers of snow
On the dead stump, leaves of mist.
At the touch of rain it all turns fresh and live
At the wrong season you can't ford the creeks.

There's a naked bug at Cold Mountain
With a white body and a black head.
His hand holds two book scrolls,
One the Way and one its Power.
His shack's got no pots or oven,
He goes for a long walk with his shirt and pants askew.
But he always carries the sword of wisdom:
He means to cut down senseless craving.

Cold Mountain is a house
Without beans or walls.
The six doors left and right are open
The hall is sky blue.
The rooms all vacant and vague
The east wall beats on the west wall
At the center nothing.

Borrowers don't bother me
In the cold I build a little fire
When I'm hungry I boil up some greens.
I've got no use for the kulak
With hs big barn and pasture -
He just sets uo a prison for himself.
Once in he can't get out.
Think it over -
You know it might happen to you.

If I hide out at Cold Mountain
Living off mountain plants and berries -
All my lifetime, why worry?
One follows his karma through.
Days and months slip by like water,
Time is like sparks knocked off flint.
Go ahead and let the world change -
I'm happy to sit among these cliffs.

Most T'ien-t'ai men
Don't know Han-shan
Don't know his real thought
And call it silly talk.

Once at Cold Mountain, troubles cease -
No more tangled, hung up mind.
I idly scribble poems on the rock cliff,
Taking whatever comes, like a drifting boat.

Some critic tried to put me down -
"Your poems lack the Basic Truth of Tao."
And I recall the old timers
Who were poor and didn't care.
I have to laugh at him,
He misses the point entirely,
Men like that
Ought to stick to making money.

I've lived at Cold Mountain - how many autumns.
Alone, I hum a song - utterly without regret.
Hungry, I eat one grain of Immortal medicine
Mind solid and sharp; leaning on a stone.

On top of Cold Mountain the lone round moon
Lights the whole clear cloudless sky.
Honor this priceless natural treasure
Concealed in five shadows, sunk deep in the flesh.

My home was at Cold Mountain from the start,
Rambling among the hills, far from trouble.

Gone, and a million things leave no trace
Loosed, and it flows through galaxies
A fountain of light, into the very mind -
Not a thing, and yet it appears before me:
Now I know the pearl of the Buddha nature
Know its use: a boundless perfect sphere.

When men see Han-shan
They all say he's crazy
And not much to look at -
Dressed in rags and hides.
They don't get what I say
And I don't talk their language.
All I can say to those I meet:
"Try and make it to Cold Mountain."

Gary Snyder

Thank you for leading the way, Poetessa.

Clear.

Clear the mechanism.

Jerry Jeff Walker, "Gettin' By"

11 November 2014

Beethoven, Symphony No.3 In E Flat, Op.55, "Eroica"

Herbert von Karajan conducts the Berlin Philharmonic ...

Remember.

President Reagan's remarks at Arlington Cemetery during the Veterans Day National Ceremony, November 11, 1985 ... 

It is, in a way, an odd thing to honor those who died in defense of our country, in defense of us, in wars far away. The imagination plays a trick. We see these soldiers in our mind as old and wise. We see them as something like the Founding Fathers, grave and gray haired. But most of them were boys when they died, and they gave up two lives -- the one they were living and the one they would have lived. When they died, they gave up their chance to be husbands and fathers and grandfathers. They gave up their chance to be revered old men. They gave up everything for our country, for us. And all we can do is remember.

There's always someone who is remembering for us. No matter what time of year it is or what time of day, there are always people who come to this cemetery, leave a flag or a flower or a little rock on a headstone. And they stop and bow their heads and communicate what they wished to communicate. They say, "Hello, Johnny," or "Hello, Bob. We still think of you. You're still with us. We never got over you, and we pray for you still, and we'll see you again. We'll all meet again." In a way, they represent us, these relatives and friends, and they speak for us as they walk among the headstones and remember. It's not so hard to summon memory, but it's hard to recapture meaning.


10 November 2014

Fitz.


On this date, at this time, in 1975, the Great Lakes freighter Edmund Fitzgerald was lost with all hands on Lake Superior.



CONNECT

Joy.


One for the Monk of Mauntadon

I like to wake up somewhere
between Hawaiian music and Mormon architecture,
say, another coffee shop above the sea,
a silver, streamlined diner in the dawn
with chrome stools, cushioned booths,
cold food on a hot plate.

When the smoke clears,
I like to just continue,
sit on a brilliant windowsill
and enjoy the view; wonder about things
such as what’s in it that makes glass
cast more of a shadow than some people I know.

I like to order another cup of coffee,
light another cigarette and admire the paint job,
check out the insects sealed under a third coat,
or see yet another sullen short order cook
bitch and grumble above the grill.

I love the way the waitress
can chew gum and sing while she wipes
the dust off a plastic plant
and then stop and talk about the weather.
And I love the dramatic weather:
the way the air changes with us,
the way another world arrives
in an avalanche of clouds,
the way the continents meet and separate again
while I jot down my immediate impressions
on a sheet of yellow paper;
taking note of little things, like the scorpion,
the first creature to walk on land;
or craters of illusion, great assumptions of normalcy,
where Ohio once was, or never was.

And I’m glad of a chance to meet people,
like Miss Ohio
(“five foot nine, eyes that shine”),
if for no other reason than the pleasure
of shaking hands or the opportunity
of leaning into the distances
while a strand of smoke lingers, and rises,
and turns like an unheard but legible desire.

And the sight of a cat, undisturbed,
curled in the sunlight, pleases me;
or ketchup smears on table mats
of Venezuela and its hideous flowers;
or the sight of boys splattering peaches
against an ancient stone wall.

I just like to sit back and take it all in,
watch the sea and sky move together
like memory and imagination,
move me out of a dripping indolence
to a dripping cathedral, like Chartres
(“walls of glass, roof of stone”),
where I can stand outside, see
whatever a summer sky can do, doing it all at once:
sunbursts through the daylong overcast
just when the rain begins to fall,
wind that leaps through the light and dark
to tear newspapers out of old grumps’ hands
and raise the skirts of secretaries
who run by in groups that sound full of birdcalls
and smell like groves in bloom.

Or I just enjoy relaxing, follow
my thoughts and shadows
through the light of a vacant lot
where a cathedral once stood, or a cleaning store
(“Clothes Cleaned In An Hour, Fresh As A Flower”),
and watch a cassowary stamp and scratch in the rubble,
able to explain the dust of his resentment
to anyone who might ask: although
he’s not the only bird that can’t fly, he is the only one
that can cripple a man with one swell foop.
And after the dust settles and the snow falls,
I like to listen to the cars
stuck throughout the hills,
tires that spin and smoke and wail,
attracting greater creatures
whose wings creak with sadness,
whose eyes sway with the stars.
And I like to sink into the bright desolation,
the sword-of-the-Lord glare
of empty, limitless parking lots,
the vast western skies above highways,
galactic pinball nights
when the wind carries my sight
and I’m lulled by the sound of passing trucks,
the surf-like rumble
that splashes a dusty light over my face.

Highway jetsam: hubcaps, tailpipes, a shoe,
mere logic’s gleam in an empty bottle,
the spark of omniscience on my fingertips
wondering where the ocean went
that bared these gray miles, this unfinished world
where a miniature figure waves an armless sleeve,
greetings from the phantom of an ever-widening hour,
where fountains in the rain,
half frozen, half music,
shine with a dim dream of the sun.

Or after drinking white wine on a gray day,
I want to step outside,
see the rain fall with the snow
and lick it off my lips.

Another fast walker in the smeared city,
people huddled under umbrellas
like clumps of black mushrooms on the corners,
shriveled rainbows on the oil-stained sidewalk,
cars sprouting clear wings
as they cut through flooded streets.
And it’s a good day
when the wind is pure sensation
and I can lie in the garden with my lady,
watch the crows slide sideways above the clearing
and squirrels trash through the treetops;
when I can listen to dragonflies
roll in a dogfight over the snowpeas
and the wind fizz through blighted pines;
or watch my shadow climb after a yellow bird
through the towering ruins of memory.

And by the rings of St. Elmo,
it’s a good day when I can stretch out
under the magnolia tree,
hear its limbs rub the ground,
see its flowers still filled with water
days after it’s rained.

In a place like that I like to think
about where I’ve been
—Milwaukee, Cleveland, Dallas—
or where I’m not sure I’ve been
—Milwaukee, Detroit, Tenerife—
Just put a shining finger on the globe
and cloud-crawl above the spin,
from Agadir to Inertia.

An occasional pastime,
and the past is endless:
Hausaland to Sokoto, Senegambia
to Isfahan, Kabul, Baluchistan,
the Southern Limit of the Grain,
the Southern Limit of the Vine,
the Standing Bear, the Gold Flies,
the Blue-eyed Dog, Yenner’s Slopshop,
muezzins’ voices and kites
whirling above the skyline,
craven runts suddenly dancing through trashfires
on a hilltop intersection,
or jumping through stars reflected in the Bosphorus.
Dutch junkie in a sweetshop
slouched over the jukebox;
just me and a few shivering cheerleaders
loitering in Asia Minor.

On a good day, I’m glad I was there
and glad I’m not there now,
another paleface in the middle of winter
living on hotel roofs covered with plastic,
almost asleep beside the trashfire
while French tramps broadjumped the flames.

Sparks and singed hair.
Moonhole through a dome of clouds
or starlight through plastic,
withered plastic flapping above the heat.

Cold, thick fingers. Mine.
And I could see myself in time
the way the log burned brighter than the flames.

The years below, rooms
with the furniture removed,
where moths rested on my bare arms
and spiders descended into conversations
on spectral parachutes;
where the words flowed
and the beginnings of all my thoughts
sat behind me like an idol in the night,
the dark and fearsome generosity,
the eyes of some gigantic child
who has never spoken, never slept.

And I swear by the Blue Saint of Tolerance
that when the future looks bright
I’m as happy as a flame in a lumberyard,
and nothing pleases me more
than to sit under a clear sky
at a table piled high
with oysters and shrimp, mushrooms and veal,
wine, strawberries, brandy, coffee and mints.

For it’s a pure and simple joy
to eat and drink with those I love,
to stay late and celebrate
a few certainties
while confusion and scorn
and a few other crazy, weather-beaten guests
continue to roll across the cold floors,
out the doors, the gates, the empty palace of the night.

And I like the sweet, weary feeling
of going sleepless, aimless through city streets,
have the action and ebullient tones
carry me like the first wave-borne beer can
to near a pristine shore;
and then wallow in the sunlight
as the day drifts into one long morning,
sit on a bench and gaze at the river
and, above its glimmer of forgetfulness,
at the wild blue yonder,
and wonder whether the haze between
—like a life—joins or separates them.

I like to consider what else
could be more important than kindness and work,
or think of a better way to end a day
than to lie on a lawn
as the sun casts a net of shadows
below the leafless trees, a net
that slides over me and gathers in its gentleness
what a mind finds too heavy to force away.
And for a while I am outside of time,
amazed by what’s left of me
and all there is to know.
I can close my eyes and bask in a satisfaction
that begins to glow with silence;
it could be green, dark green, the entrance
to the deep, empty well
that Pliny told astronomers was the best place
from which to watch stars move in daylight.
And though he meant that as practical advice,
it sounds to me like a prayer
from one of those barren, cloudy lands
that I’ve seen and liked,
forgotten and then wrote about.

Paul Violi