Sunday, December 04, 2016

Donkeys

Frontispiece by Walter Crane, 1907

The theme of my recent reading, by chance, if you wish, has been donkeys, asses, burros. I just reread with pleasure Stevenson's Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes -- with an internal shiver at Stevenson's odd precocity: he was in his twenties, but he muses with a brittle, elderly wisdom, as if caught in a temporal backwash from his early death -- and I am slowly making my way through Juan Ramón Jiménez's Platero y Yo. I don't think I've read Platero before, but I wonder if I read it when young and forgot it: if it set me the example for the sort of blog-writing I do best. Anyway, Platero is the poet's donkey, and often addressed in the mode I call "the second person blogular." You -- yes, you -- are the intimate who will understand, though the rest of the world mock: the object of all the tenderness that would otherwise be spilled and wasted.

Stevenson thinks of writing as I do: in the dedication to the Travels he writes:
Every book is, in an intimate sense, a circular letter to the friends of him who writes it.  They alone take his meaning; they find private messages, assurances of love, and expressions of gratitude, dropped for them in every corner.  The public is but a generous patron who defrays the postage.
You can read it in an evening, free from Gutenberg: Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Kristallnacht

She said: you have broken it; now you get to see inside.
She said: what you've worked on all your life is worthless.

I said, if what I've worked on all my life is worthless,
high time to break it. There is still a streak of gold 

where the low sill of the eastern sky is cracked;
and if you think I am afraid you do not know me yet.

She said: what have you given to your children but loss?
I said, then at least I have taught them what there is to lose.

She said: what will you give me, to make it all untrue?
I said, nothing will make it all untrue, but I will plant

such strange things in your breast that their singing 
will haunt you in the morning and the night,

till its wickerwork is open, and their song
has spread apart your willow ribs and turned them into light.

Friday, November 04, 2016

The Broken World

My heart is convinced that Trump will win this election. My head says no, and points to our three point lead, and a variety of ingenious reasons for thinking that two-thirds of the imponderable and unpollable influences will break Clinton's way in the end-game: but my heart has its own reasons, and it says that liberalism and democracy are dead: our social capital is expended to the last penny: and we really are going to elect a sociopath to hold coke parties adorned with Playboy bunnies on the back lawn of the White House. I have always, of course, been a political gloomy Gus, and my originally low opinion of American political intelligence -- I came to political awareness, mind, during the Watergate hearings -- has gone steadily down for four decades. 



Joaquín Sarollo: Benito Pérez Galdós

Hitler's election in 1933 was, to my mind, understandable. Germany was undergoing political and economic convulsions that made desperate measures seem the only rational response. Inflation was running at a thousand percent: Communists and Brownshirts were rioting and brawling nightly in the streets. And Hitler was a war hero and a patriot, a man who loved his country deeply and was passionate about its restoration. If he had a bee in his bonnet about Jews, well, at least he was not in the pocket of the big banks.

In the United States, meanwhile, everything is fine. Basic crime rates are the lowest I've known in my life. The economy is in full recovery from the great recession. Our perennial wars are far away and fought by volunteer poor people, who like that sort of thing. We want to elect our fascist, apparently, just to see what happens to a polity if you break it.



Charles Dickens

The autumn is walking in the hills, and the beauty is almost unendurable. There is sudden fire in the wet forest, and the hands that reach out to me from the past are strong, warming after that first cold contact: the fire of old loves, of hearts that yearned for ordinary decent lives for ordinary decent people. In the hills it's harder to believe in the triumph of hatred and suspicion.


Émile Zola

I have nothing to say. I love you all. We don't know what the future holds, but we know that we are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and receive weary wanderers with an open heart. We will go on doing that, where we can. The world is, was, and always will be broken.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Tryon Creek

Under the tall cascaras and the alders
I limp to the creek on shells of sodden gold; no one 
peels these trees but God and ravenkind.

The knees and the hips of my jeans are wet:
I've been nosing in the bushes like a truffling pig,
looking for disregarded, not yet ruined things.

It was just yesterday, or some few centuries ago,
the earl king came riding through these woods,
and saw your lowered gaze, and took your offering

of painfully gathered herbs: a prudent soul
is careful of kings, but also of ladies with sharp eyes
who linger where the strong root fingers tangle

in the bright hair of the brook. No more.
Neither he nor you, nor even I, for long,
will walk at large on the creeksides

in this new-made world of time.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Identification

And if I rise from beds to walk
on brilliant yellow leaf:
And if the one who huddles in
so timid warm and brief

is the one who found me after all 
and called me into life:
how thank those woolen feet I held
in service to their wife?

But walk a little further 
where the gray clouds shear away, 
and blinding silver pours
out into dawn of day. 
I'd thought of Venus 
and of Vulcan, and of interlocking doors--

but I had thought that Venus
had loaned me to her friend,
to spread her skin with orange oil,
as comfort at the end.

(For even splendid husbands die by afternoon, 
and skin longs for a stroking hand,
and the long dark evening calls 
for cradling when it can.)

No. It it is the little one,
whose candelabra formed 
of pukel men with hollow eyes
was seldom lit or warmed:

She struck the match and named 
me, and I was bound to come:
bound to receive her fingerprints
in the wet clay of my palms.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Tinnitus

Well, it is like someone playing keyboards, 
meditatively, way high on the scale, as high
as the the sound will go. Or like a steampunk
mosquito swaying at my ear. Or like 
a silver brightness, not quite seen.
It is what silence sounds like now:
the goddess of hazards who hums as she works;
or the sift of the sunrise between steel clouds.

Friday, October 21, 2016

A Pledge Of Other Things

Start again: it's the morning walk,
the long slow flourish
of silver in the gray sky, the sudden
slash of rain across my face,
and the leaves scrambling on the street:
if I've forgotten the recklessness that matters
then I've forgotten everything.

Start again.
One painful step, the aching heels,
the flash of pain that runs from hip to calf,
the relief of closing eyes against the light,
so that the pulse knocks once, twice, thrice against the lids.

Start again.
Leave the brutal soldiers to their work,
leave Nineveh its overlaid, perpetual collapse.
Did I think there was no work for me alone to do?
But it's one stone at a time. This word:
its heft in the hand, its longing
for a throat to call its own.

Cup my hands and let them fill with light,
let the radiance dribble down my chin. 
I have forgotten, haven't I? I have.
No matter. Start again.

Straighten up, and the company of ghosts
shuffling at my heels 
falls back and falls behind: they can't keep pace
with standing still.

One prayer learned late or early
will make them flinch; and this light,
this rainwashed silver scarf,
is a pledge of other things
soon to be remembered in their turn.