“The splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not rob the little violet of its scent nor the daisy of its simple charm. If every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness.” —Thérèse of Lisieux
I don’t know why I am so tired today, and yesterday, and before yesterday. I will be tired forever, seems like, until I die and become an exhausted shade, like the ones in Odyssey Book 11, in the Underworld or is it the Overworld or the Beyondworld, where Odysseus meets up with them and experiences their immense exhaustion, sadness, cynicism.
He journeyed to see them knowing well what probably awaited him: the first one who greets him, though, is unexpected – he didn’t even know this man, his friend and companion, was dead—he’d lost track of him, and now here is his shade, asking for burial. Sometimes you just lose people, I guess: they slip away from you into the stream of their own lives, and you follow a different current and don’t look back. At moments you might wonder to yourself, where did they ever wind up? what were our last words exchanged? but you don’t know the answers and you give them up to the worldwind.
Sometimes they are friends you were quite close to in times past—good times, when you ate and drank and talked philosophy with one another until 2am, and placed your hand on the carpet and asked them, in all seriousness, “why is there something instead of nothing?” and they told you hey, I don’t know but maybe all the questions you’re asking will someday become a soft cushion for your head, and you recoiled in horror. But now you forget all about them—they slipped away or you slipped away, and god what a stupid conversation.
And now I think I know why I’m tired a little bit, because maybe each time you put energy into a friendship only to have them slip away it takes a little energy away from you, a little love goes with them, and you forget about it but now it’s gone, and you are a little less happy and open with the next person you meet because look what it got you.
Or no, maybe it’s just that I’m so far behind the others who have been really realizing their potential that it’s easier to hide and say I’m tired instead of admitting I’m lazy and potential-averse, in fact I am moving in the opposite direction of the sphere of the universe and dragging it so it slows down and creaks and seems like it’s actually going to turn backwards like planets wandering around the ecliptic
At any rate, you lose people as you fly, they peel off like strings of sparks from your comet’s tail, and when you’re young you don’t worry that much because hey, there’s always someone new to meet coming up, but then there isn’t, or the stream thins out and you are alone a lot these days
Then you go to the Beyondworld for a visit and someone greets you and you realize you’ve lost a lot of people, really a lot of good ones, and they’re all lost in fact and are surrounding you asking for things, asking for a bit of blood from you. They have been hoarding the energy you shared with them for centuries but if you’re going to hear them at all they will need more of it and fast. So you open your veins because you want the stories, but instead they give you questions and bad advice, because they’re your own shades and doubts, so you are suddenly open-eyed. You realize they are the ones who left you, who let you down, and gave you bad advice, that is why they are here in the Overworld in the first place, and they miss you. Your mother can’t hold you, she’s just a figment of your distress, and so you start pushing through, trying instead to find the big celebrities rolling rocks and reaching for water and fruit, but they’re too busy to tell you anything; you look into the distance and the Trojan War is still going on. You look a little further, but the heroes aren’t there. You had really hoped to ask them some important things, but they just don’t hang out here; hey, Herakles! no, that’s just a shade of him, and he looks pretty upset, stalking around in terrifying, terrified, mesmerizing armor, and all he can say is, don’t.
pink red white drenched dogwood petals spin and shiver
i am grateful for the cold snap and sun beam
i am grateful for lighted windows across the street at night
i am grateful for sidewalk rain star synagogue tree brick road
i am grateful for the sounds small birds make before sunup
i am grateful for the chucking whistles of trains
i am grateful for the meditation of the underpass
i have received too much
i own i give i am full i am warm i go shod
my friends are friends
my lovers love me
i swim i read i take care of a cat
i travel 500 miles speak a new language
most of all:
for two whole years beyond my fate
i had the feel of you nearby
i loved you two whole years
close as train to platform
tight as closing doors
Torrents Become Us
A window in the middle of the wall
is open; it is autumn. On the sky
handfuls of wings are swinging home again
all brown or gray on simple paint-chip blue,
and all the leaves are yellow. On the sill
the little garden sits and watches us.
We think: “The fall stands drily before us,
with nothing saving us except this wall,
and tiny cut-out window with its sill
of basil. We will fall into the sky
and drown ourselves in miles of harshest blue
ice-water till it snows.” We look again
and this time it could almost snow. Again
the breathed-on pane gestures to one of us:
“Come, smash my solid wasteland into blue
icicles, and be free;” I touch the wall
as if to certify how far the sky
is from my hand. You grasp the painted sill
and laugh. We’re looking south. Out on the sill
a bird alights for seeds, and flies again
to find its hungry partner in the sky.
“It’s time to go,” we say. It is to us
(to me) the perfect place, beside our wall
of dill and sage and basil, seeing blue
across the way—the neighbors’ shades are blue
as a swim-meet. What is on their windowsill?
I wonder if they too stare through the wall,
and feed each other promises. Again,
it’s raining now, and torrents become us.
Our sheets of water cover up the sky.
All through our sky,
cloud-hounds hunt down their scattered hares of blue
and sniff about the window, hot for us.
They have our scent, they whine, they scratch the sill,
they fade. I see a clutch of birds again
sweep by to shelter, quiet, in the wall.
We huddle into us, next to the wall,
and, peaceful, find the blue of every sky
alive again upon our watered sill.
True Double Stars Do Not Lie
True double stars do not lie
near each other
by mere chance.
They are held together by physical bonds
that keep them
revolving around each other,
and their revolutions are what betray to us
of the stars
taking part in the motion.
Sometimes it requires many years
whether there is a physical connection
Found poem: The Friendly Stars, by Martha Evans Martin, revised by D.H. Menzel, p. 92, found 8/31/97, arranged 10/24/97.
I began to ask each time: “What’s the worst that could happen to me if I tell this truth?” Unlike women in other countries, our breaking silence is unlikely to have us jailed, “disappeared” or run off the road at night. Our speaking out will irritate some people, get us called bitchy or hypersensitive and disrupt some dinner parties. And then our speaking out will permit other women to speak, until laws are changed and lives are saved and the world is altered forever.
Next time, ask: What’s the worst that will happen? Then push yourself a little further than you dare. Once you start to speak, people will yell at you. They will interrupt you, put you down and suggest it’s personal. And the world won’t end.
“You owe it to all of us to get on with what you’re good at.” — W.H. Auden
“You shall love your crooked neighbour, with your crooked heart.” –W.H. Auden
Note:This is part of the poem “Jubilate Agno” [“Rejoice in the Lamb”], Fragment B, by Christopher Smart (1722-1771); an excerpted version of this poem is set to music in Benjamin Britten’s festival cantata “Rejoice in the Lamb” (1943).
For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God, duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having considered God and himself he will consider his neighbor.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.
For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
For when his day’s work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord’s watch in the night against the adversary.
For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.
For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses.
For he will not do destruction if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.
For he purrs in thankfulness when God tells him he’s a good Cat.
For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
For every house is incomplete without him, and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.
For the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats at the departure of the Children of Israel from Egypt.
For every family had one cat at least in the bag.
For the English Cats are the best in Europe.
For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.
For the dexterity of his defense is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.
For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
For he is tenacious of his point.
For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.
For he knows that God is his Saviour.
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.
For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion.
For he is of the Lord’s poor, and so indeed is he called by benevolence perpetually–
Poor Jeoffry! poor Jeoffry! the rat has bit thy throat.
For I bless the name of the Lord Jesus that Jeoffry is better.
For the divine spirit comes about his body to sustain it in complete cat.
For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what it wants in music.
For he is docile and can learn certain things.
For he can sit up with gravity, which is patience upon approbation.
For he can fetch and carry, which is patience in employment.
For he can jump over a stick, which is patience upon proof positive.
For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.
For he can jump from an eminence into his master’s bosom.
For he can catch the cork and toss it again.
For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser.
For the former is afraid of detection.
For the latter refuses the charge.
For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business.
For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.
For he made a great figure in Egypt for his signal services.
For he killed the Icneumon rat, very pernicious by land.
For his ears are so acute that they sting again.
For from this proceeds the passing quickness of his attention.
For by stroking of him I have found out electricity.
For I perceived God’s light about him both wax and fire.
For the electrical fire is the spiritual substance which God sends from heaven to sustain the bodies both of man and beast.
For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
For, though he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadruped.
For he can tread to all the measures upon the music.
For he can swim for life.
Hello, White People! I hope you have been practicing diligently! Today we finally get around to something you’ve been wanting to do for so long, I know: TALKING.
White people love to talk at people–but they are definitely at a disadvantage when they are attempting to sustain meaningful conversation with People of Color, due to not being able to shut up; this is in addition to their congenital disability concerning listening, which we touched on in the last exercise. This three-step exercise should help you as a WP to oil the wheels of conversations with POC in a spectacular and surprising way; you may even really communicate with each other.
1. Wait for an answer. Stop after you ask any question, and count to ten as you wait. This is especially good if you find that a) you frequently ask rhetorical questions, not real questions, and/or b) you get half-hearted or no responses when you talk. This is because waiting till you count to ten will elicit a real response from your interlocutor, often in less time than it takes for you to finish counting to ten.
2. Don’t correct your interlocutor! Listen to the answer you get and allow it to hang there unrefuted and unchallenged for a while. Think about it. Squelch that impulse inside you that says, “They misunderstood my point!” or “They just said something that makes no sense!” Remind yourself that the problem could be your understanding, not theirs. It’s literally amazing how many times this does turn out to be the case for WP talking with POC (not to mention men talking with women, but that’s a different blog).
3. When you are telling your story, be aware that it’s only your story. This part of the exercise is hard for WP because we all think we can speak for everybody we know. Don’t non-apologize: “Hey, I know I’m just one person, but I really think everybody in their right minds agrees that…” Just don’t do that! Stay literally, painfully open to the possibility that your interlocutor may disagree even with what you think is basic human instinct, or sheer logic.
Post-script: When your story is over, stop talking. This is actually probably the hardest thing to do ever, so practice in the mirror first.
Have fun, and write back about how your conversations are going when you use these practice steps! We all want to hear! Ciao for now.