Ah, Grief, I should not treat you like a homeless dog who comes to the back door for a crust, for a meatless bone. I should trust you. I should coax you into the house and give you your own corner, a worn mat to lie on, your own water dish. You think I don’t know you’ve been living under my porch. You long for your real place to be readied before winter comes. You need your name, your collar and tag. You need the right to warn off intruders, to consider my house your own and me your person and yourself my own dog.
by Denise Levertov
Just when you seem to yourself nothing but a flimsy web of questions, you are given the questions of others to hold in the emptiness of your hands, songbird eggs that can still hatch if you keep them warm, butterflies opening and closing themselves in your cupped palms, trusting you not to injure their scintillant fur, their dust. You are given the questions of others as if they were answers to all you ask. Yes, perhaps this gift is your answer
“I saw the danger, yet I passed along the enchanted way,
And I said, let grief be a fallen leaf at the dawning of the day.”
by Patrick Kavanaugh
A year ago I fell in love with the functional ward Of a chest hospital: square cubicles in a row Plain concrete, wash basins – an art lover’s woe, Not counting how the fellow in the next bed snored. But nothing whatever is by love debarred, The common and banal her heat can know. The corridor led to a stairway and below Was the inexhaustible adventure of a gravelled yard.
This is what love does to things: the Rialto Bridge, The main gate that was bent by a heavy lorry, The seat at the back of a shed that was a suntrap. Naming these things is the love-act and its pledge; For we must record love’s mystery without claptrap, Snatch out of time the passionate transitory.
The Visiting Hour
By Toi Derricotte
he came in his seedy brown jacket smelling of paint. all
thumbs, a man stumbling over his own muscles, unable to
hold some part of himself and rock it, gently. she gave
up, seeing him come in the door, wanting to show him her
flat belly just an hour before, looking at her own corpse
in the mirror. she lay there reduced, neither virgin nor mother.
it had been decided. the winter was too cold in the garage.
they would live with her mother. the old bedroom was
already prepared, cleaned, the door opened. the solitary
twin bed remained; he would sleep on the porch.
she looked at him and tried to feel her way into the body
of a woman, a thing which has to be taken care of, held
safely in his arms.
she lay there, trying to hold on to what she had, knowing
Under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule – and both commonly succeed, and are right.
H. L. Mencken
At the Bomb Testing Site
By William Stafford
At noon in the desert a panting lizard
waited for history, its elbows tense,
watching the curve of a particular road
as if something might happen.
It was looking at something farther off
than people could see, an important scene
acted in stone for little selves
at the flute end of consequences.
There was just a continent without much on it
under a sky that never cared less.
Ready for a change, the elbows waited.
The hands gripped hard on the desert.
Ways of Rebelling
By Nathalie Handal
Who needs to be at peace in the world? It helps to be between wars, to die a few times each day to understand your father’s sky, as you take it apart piece by piece and can’t feel anything, can’t feel the tree growing under your feet, the eyes poking night only to find another night to compare it to. Whoever heard of turning pain into hummingbirds or red birds— haven’t we grown? What does it mean to be older? Maybe a house with- out doors can still survive a storm. Maybe I can’t find the proper way to rebel or damn it, I can’t leave. I want to, but you grow inside of me. And as I watch you, before I know it, I’m too heavy, too full of you to move. Maybe that’s what they meant when they said you shouldn’t love a country too much.
“A simple way to take measure of a country is to look at how many want in.. And how many want out.”
Sonnet for the British-Born
by Hannah Lowe
And suddenly, new language: ‘British-Born’, for kids who grew up on terraces in Leeds or tower blocks in Bow, and at weekends tied their bootlaces for footie on the lawn and went to college to study Sports or Business or Car Mechanics and spoke with accents thick as Yorkshire mud or London bullet-quick – bare good and innit – and were as British as
a pack of salt-and-vinegar, and no, his teacher hadn’t noticed him withdrawing and no, his mother hadn’t wondered who he called at 2am in the blue lit bedroom of their bungalow, though despite her scrubbing, the words still clear on their garden wall: ‘Go Home’
My Tongue is Divided Into Two
By Quique Aviles
My tongue is divided into two
by virtue, coincidence or heaven
words jumping out of my mouth
stepping on each other
enjoying being a voice for the message
My tongue is divided into two
into heavy accent bits of confusion
into miracles and accidents
saying things that hurt the heart
drowning in a language that lives, jumps, translates
Ease after War, Death after Life, does greatly please.”
Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, Book One
Amoretti III: The Sovereign Beauty
By Edmund Spenser
The sovereign beauty which I do admire,
Witness the world how worthy to be praised:
The light whereof hath kindled heavenly fire
In my frail spirit, by her from baseness raised;
That being now with her huge brightness dazed,
Base thing I can no more endure to view;
But looking still on her, I stand amazed
At wondrous sight of so celestial hue.
So when my tongue would speak her praises due,
It stopped is with thought’s astonishment:
And when my pen would write her titles true,
It ravish’d is with fancy’s wonderment:
Yet in my heart I then both speak and write
The wonder that my wit cannot indite.
On being Cautioned against Walking on a Headland Overlooking the Sea, Because It was Frequented by a Lunatic (1797)
by Charlotte Smith (1749 – 1806)
Is there a solitary wretch who hies To the tall cliff, with starting pace or slow, And, measuring, views with wild and hollow eyes Its distance from the waves that chide below; Who, as the sea-born gale with frequent sighs Chills his cold bed upon the mountain turf, With hoarse, half-utter’d lamentation, lies Murmuring responses to the dashing surf? In moody sadness, on the giddy brink, I see him more with envy than with fear; He has no nice felicities that shrink From giant horrors; wildly wandering here, He seems (uncursed with reason) not to know The depth or the duration of his woe.
It’s an old trick, blaming injustice on its targets so that the privileged can pretend there’s nothing wrong. We are at the bottom of society because, what? Because we are DeafBlind. Which cannot be helped. Therefore, we belong at the bottom of society. It’s an amazingly easy trick to pull. They take things out of our reach and then they say we have limited awareness. Whatever they do is our fault.
John Lee Clark
by John Lee Clark
An erasure of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Palingenesis”
I, sobbing in the rolling mist, Started for peopled days. In dreams A faded, lonely promontory shed petals. Belief exists. Cunning with its perfume Working from youth, defiance. A phantom Vanished. The swift surrenders, leap into The old dead heart of lies. I will give, remembering my turns Into foliage. Of what light unseen! What, what, what, what, what, what Will hold still without its end.
We are taught at a young age to look for patterns. We are rewarded for developing this skill. But in truth, we see connections where none may exist. We fall into the trap of believing that coincidence has divine providence. However, even falsity can connect with good intent, by creating curiosity or empathy.
I am connected to the last name of both of these writers through my Mother, Clark her birth name, and Longfellow the married name of her Father’s sister, her Aunt. There are claims by the Longfellow clan to which we are connected by marriage is related to the famous poet below. I have my doubts, but if it makes the cousins feel a bit more literary to claim him as a distant namesake, there’s no harm in it.
Today is the 6th anniversary of my Mother’s death. In one sense that time has passed quickly. In another it feels like a distant epoch, completely detached from our current reality. What would my Mother think about the state of our world? She would be devastated by world events, loss of freedoms, the fundamental destruction of democratic norms. She would be frustrated by the Minnesota Twins lack of pitching. I have no reason to believe that if she were alive she would be anything but her normal wonderful self.
I stumbled across John Lee Clark’s essay on distantism. A word he coined himself. It is a remarkable essay. In it he unpacks the ways in which the deafblind are put in boxes by the sighted and hearing community, those of us who think of ourselves as normal. But in his clear writing, he outlines an idea I found fascinating. The concept of having senses that bring autonomy, also bring us loss in ways that accepting a life based on the willingness to be dependent on each doesn’t create. In it he writes;
I propose to call it distantism. The English word “distance” comes from “distantia,” Latin for “a standing apart.” A point could be made that distantism refers to the privileging of the distance senses of hearing and vision. The ways in which many cultures have evolved on the almost exclusive basis of these two senses have indeed been harmful to us. That insistence on sight or hearing to function in society means only one thing for us: death. But that would be putting it too simplistically. Each form of social bigotry has its distinctive personality and its unique set of intertwining evils. So I would like to dwell on the concept of distantia, or a standing apart, which lies at the heart of distantism.
We all come into this world completely dependent on our mothers. I was fortunate to be nurtured by a woman of considerable grace and love. Though I will always miss her, I am still feel very much connected and blessed. Her memory is alive and vibrant in my heart, a heart that must now hear and see her with a different sense, the kind of completeness that John Lee Clark suggests is possible.
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
I lay upon the headland-height, and listened To the incessant sobbing of the sea In caverns under me, And watched the waves, that tossed and fled and glistened, Until the rolling meadows of amethyst Melted away in mist.
Then suddenly, as one from sleep, I started; For round about me all the sunny capes Seemed peopled with the shapes Of those whom I had known in days departed, Apparelled in the loveliness which gleams On faces seen in dreams.
A moment only, and the light and glory Faded away, and the disconsolate shore Stood lonely as before; And the wild roses of the promontory Around me shuddered in the wind, and shed Their petals of pale red.
There was an old belief that in the embers Of all things their primordial form exists, And cunning alchemists Could recreate the rose with all its members From its own ashes, but without the bloom, Without the lost perfume.
Ah, me! what wonder-working, occult science Can from the ashes in our hearts once more The rose of youth restore? What craft of alchemy can bid defiance To time and change, and for a single hour Renew this phantom-flower?
“Oh, give me back,” I cried, “the vanished splendors, The breath of morn, and the exultant strife, When the swift stream of life Bounds o’er its rocky channel, and surrenders The pond, with all its lilies for the leap Into the unknown deep!”
And the sea answered, with a lamentation, Like some old prophet wailing, and it said, “Alas! thy youth is dead! It breathes no more, its heart has no pulsation, In the dark places with the dead of old It lies forever cold!”
Then said I, “From its consecrated cerements I will not drag this sacred dust again, Only to give me pain; But, still remembering all the lost endearments, Go on my way, like one who looks before, And turns to weep no more.”
Into what land of harvests, what plantations Bright with autumnal foliage and the glow Of sunsets burning low; Beneath what midnight skies, whose constellations Light up the spacious avenues between This world and the unseen!
Amid what friendly greetings and caresses, What households, though not alien, yet not mine, What bowers of rest divine; To what temptations in lone wildernesses, What famine of the heart, what pain and loss, The bearing of what cross!
Si a una parte miraran solamente
vuestros ojos, ¿cuál parte no abrasaran?
Y si a diversas partes no miraran,
se helaran el ocaso o el Oriente.
El mirar zambo y zurdo es delincuente;
vuestras luces izquierdas lo declaran,
pues con mira engañosa nos disparan
facinorosa luz, dulce y ardiente.
Lo que no miran ven, y son despojos
suyos cuantos los ven, y su conquista
da a l’alma tantos premios como enojos.
¿Qué ley, pues, mover pudo al mal jurista
a que, siendo monarcas los dos ojos,
los llamase vizcondes de la vista?
To A Cross-Eyed, Beautiful Lady
By Francisco de Quevedo
Translated by Christopher Johnson
Were your eyes to gaze on just one place, it would be cinders. If they didn’t gaze hither and thither, the West would freeze, or the East.
Your lame, stuttering glance convicts your criminal eyes of sinister deeds; with deceitful sight, they shoot us with sweet, fascinating, burning light.
What they do not gaze upon, they see; what they see is their spoils, and their conquest angers and pleases the soul.
What law, then, moved a wicked judge to declare them, the eyes being monarchs, mere counts of the countenance?
Do not think this business of writing sonnets is all snooty literature. There is a history of using sonnets as satire, humor and good clean revenge. We take for granted freedom of the press, but for most of the past 500 years a writers words could get them killed if you offended the wrong person. Cervantes was not the only Spanish writer to use humor to gain wide spread acceptance of his most politically charged writing. The wit and flow of the rhyme in both these poems is lost in the English translation, but the school boy humor still comes through loud and clear.
I am fond of limericks, as well as sonnets. Limericks have a reputation for silliness, double meanings, puns and bawdiness. Though they are considered low brow poetry, their tradition of origin is historically high brow. Limericks are the poetry of college boy drinking contests, in which tawdriness balanced by wit, the more clever the unexpected twist the more likely the limerick will survive in oral tradition. Limerick origins are usually considered “anonymous” yet, some of the most famous writers in the English language, men of distinguished letters, penned more than one that would have made their Mother’s blush. Of course they generally only assigned their names to ones that didn’t sully their reputation.
Oliver Wendell Holmes is credited with the following:
God’s plan made a hopeful beginning.
But man spoiled his chances by sinning.
We trust that the story
Will end in God’s glory,
But at present the other side’s winning.
La Voz Del Ojo, Que Llamamos Pedo
by Francisco de Quevedo
La voz del ojo, que llamamos pedo
(ruiseñor de los putos), detenida,
da muerte a la salud más presumida,
y el proprio Preste Juan le tiene miedo.
Mas pronunciada con el labio acedo
y con pujo sonoro despedida,
con pullas y con risa da la vida,
y con puf y con asco, siendo quedo.
Cágome en el blasón de los monarcas
que se precian, cercados de tudescos,
de dar la vida y dispensar las Parcas.
Pues en el tribunal de sus gregüescos,
con afl ojar y comprimir las arcas,
cualquier culo lo hace con dos cuescos.
The eye’s voice we call a fart
by Francisco de Quevedo
Translated by Christopher Johnson
The eye’s voice we call a fart
(nightingale of sodomites), if
detained, kills the healthiest
and scares the wealthiest.
But if pronounced with a vile lip
and with a sonorous, farewell push,
with curses and jests, with a soft ,
disgusting puff , it gives life.
I shit on the blazons of kings,
who fancy, guarded by Germans,
they grant life and dispense fate;
for in the tribunal of its trousers,
easing and squeezing the chambers,
any asshole does so with two farts.
Now my soul is incarnate in my country. My body has swallowed her soul, And I and my country are one. My name is million, for I love and suffer for millions.
by Taras Shevchenko Translated by E. L. Voynich, London, 1911
Dig my grave and raise my barrow By the Dnieper-side In Ukraina, my own land, A fair land and wide. I will lie and watch the cornfields, Listen through the years To the river voices roaring, Roaring in my ears.
When I hear the call Of the racing flood, Loud with hated blood, I will leave them all, Fields and hills; and force my way Right up to the Throne Where God sits alone; Clasp His feet and pray… But till that day What is God to me?
Bury me, be done with me, Rise and break your chain, Water your new liberty With blood for rain. Then, in the mighty family Of all men that are free, May be sometimes, very softly You will speak of me?
by Adam Mickiewicz
I like to watch leaning on Ajudah’s face How foaming billows pressed in black ranks grow Or at other times like silvery snow Whirl in millions of rainbows with splendid grace. They strike against the shoal, break into wave sprays, Like an army of whales the shore overflow, Seize the land in triumph, in retreat they go, Toss shells, pearls, corals behind in their grace. So it is, o young Poet, in your heart! Passion often gives threatening storms a start, But when you raise your lute, it leaves you unscarred, In the oblivion of deep waters will drown And the immortal songs will scatter down From which on your brow ages will weave the crown.
by Adam Mickiewicz
Lubię poglądać wsparty na Judahu skale, Jak spienione bałwany to w czarne szeregi Ścisnąwszy się buchają, to jak srebrne śniegi W milijonowych tęczach kołują wspaniale. Trącą się o mieliznę, rozbiją na fale, Jak wojsko wielorybów zalegając brzegi, Zdobędą ląd w tryumfie i, na powrót zbiegi, Miecą za sobą muszle, perły i korale. Podobnie na twe serce, o poeto młody! Namiętność często groźne wzburza niepogody; Lecz gdy podniesiesz bardon, ona bez twej szkody Ucieka w zapomnienia pogrążyć się toni I nieśmiertelne pieśni za sobą uroni, Z których wieki uplotą ozdobę twych skroni
Maybe it was summer and I was back home for a while working to pay off debts from school, painting white barns and long field fences and on off-days baling hay. It was hot then in Ohio and sometimes so dry the corn or the soybeans would fail. I’d get up at two or three in the morning to find my way to the kitchen for water and he’d be sitting there in a kind of outline, smoking and staring at something far, his eyes by now long adjusted to the dark. Mine were just now opening. Nothing would be said, since there was nothing to say. He was dying, he was turning into stone. The little I could see I could see already how much heavier he made the air, heavy enough over the days that summer you could feel in the house the pull of the earth
Zermat: To The Matterhorn (June-July, 1897)
by Thomas Hardy
Thirty-two years since, up against the sun, Seven shapes, thin atomies to lower sight, Labouringly leapt and gained thy gabled height, And four lives paid for what the seven had won.
They were the first by whom the deed was done, And when I look at thee, my mind takes flight To that day’s tragic feat of manly might, As though, till then, of history thou hadst none.
Yet ages ere men topped thee, late and soon Thou watch’dst each night the planets lift and lower; Thou gleam’dst to Joshua’s pausing sun and moon, And brav’dst the tokening sky when Caesar’s power Approached its bloody end: yea, saw’st that Noon When darkness filled the earth till the ninth hour.