Clouds and Trees

"Nothing ever goes away enough or arrives enough,/ and I want to cry when I think of my heart,/ muscle pounding in muscle, greedy always for joy." – 'A Warning', Eric Anderson

Category: Death

Ars Poetica

The vines by the creek must have been there years
before I noticed them at 12 or 13. Invasive species,
would climb a tree arm upon arm, like tefillin,
until the tree’s back couldn’t bear it, snapped in half
and hung, suspended in the veins of its parasite.
While I was away, the whole woods disappeared —
but left behind such beautiful houses.

Advertisements

Favorite Poem of the Day – “Praise Song for the Donkey” by Aracelis Girmay

I figure this is appropriate given what’s going on.

for Lama & Haya & the donkey, killed by an Israeli missile in Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza

“It was not possible to identify which parts belonged to the donkey & the girls”
     –Witness, Gaza, Palestine, 2009

Praise the Mohawk roof
of the donkey’s good & gray head, praise
its dangerous mane hollering out. Beneath
her soft & mournful gray, still beneath
the skull, where it is dusk, praise
the rooms of the donkey’s eye & brain,
its pulley & clang, this sound
of hooves & the girls still saying words.
Praise the girls still saying words,
praise the girls, their hands, the hooves
of their hearts hoofing against their opened chests
opened on the open road plainly, praise
the fat tongue’s memory of grass or hay,
the hundred nights of animal sleep
flung far from bodies, the sturdy houses of bones, all over
the decimated road where every thing is flying, praise
the deep, dark machine of the donkey’s eye,
the girl’s eye, like a movie-house crumbling
in a field outside of town—,
praise the houses & the rocks it held once, the sky
before & after the missile, praise the dark
& donkey soul crossing over, every one,
every hill & girl it ever saw, crossing over
in the red suitcase of its blood, into the earth,
praise the donkey earth, earth of girls,
earth of funerals & girls, praise the small,
black luggage of the donkey’s eye
in a field, flung far,
filling the ants & birds
with what
it saw.

Suits

The average New York City
subway rat lives about 80 years
fortified by potato grease
and vigorous exercise.

Because of this, they develop
robust internal culture.

Each withstands a profusion
of menial, violent, and beautiful
daily impulses driven by endless,
repetitive, personal history.

Rats are as often killed by the subway,
as by their jobs, or by disease,
though it can be difficult to tell.

Some are captivated by shallow puddles
in which they drown themselves
whilst staring at the moon and just beginning
to grasp the meaning of a metaphor.

Favorite Poem of the Day – “The Play of Light and Shadow” by D. Nurkse

This poem is by my first teacher and adviser during my undergrad studies at Sarah Lawrence College. Technically he’s my ‘Don’; I’ll leave it to all of you to discern what that means. I’ve always felt incredibly lucky to have a personal relationship with this guy because besides being a brilliant, universally wonderful (or to use a word I’ve only ever heard him use, numinous) person, he’s also become one of my favorite poets in the world.

The Play of Light and Shadow

We want to give ourselves away utterly
but afterwards we resent it, it is the same
with the sparrows, their eyes burn so coldly
under the dusty pines, their small chests swell
as they dispute a crumb, or the empty place
where a seed was once: this is our law too,
to peck and peck at the Self, to take turns
being I, to die in a fierce sidelong glance,
then to hold the entire forest in one tilt
of a tufted head, to take flight suddenly
and fuck in midair, tumbling upward.

Favorite Poem of the Day – “Esse” by Czeslaw Milosz

I realized just now that I’ve never posted this poem, the last line of which was the original tagline for this blog. It is my favorite poem of all time.

I found this in Czeslaw Milosz’s (Cheh-shwah Mee-lohsh is my impression of how to pronounce it) Nobel Prize portfolio. Milosz is a polish poet who is particularly fond of attempting to describe the indescribable nature of things. He is astonishingly successful at this hilariously ironic enterprise, and captures absolute beauty as he does it. I love him because he has come closer to describing anything than anyone I’ve ever read.

As a lure into more of his work I’m going to quote the last couple lines of his poem “Earth Again” which I read in his book “Unattainable Earth”. These are the lines that first made Milosz one of my favorite writers of all time.

“…for a short moment there is no death
And time does not unreel like a skein of yarn
Thrown into an abyss.”

Also search youtube for videos of him speaking/reading if you want an example of a great poet voice.

If you’re interested in other Polish poets check out Zbigniew Herbert.

Esse

I looked at that face, dumbfounded. The lights of métro stations flew by; I didn’t notice them. What can be done, if our sight lacks absolute power to devour objects ecstatically, in an instant, leaving nothing more than the void of an ideal form, a sign like a hieroglyph simplified from the drawing of an animal or bird? A slightly snub nose, a high brow with sleekly brushed-back hair, the line of the chin – but why isn’t the power of sight absolute? – and in a whiteness tinged with pink two sculpted holes, containing a dark, lustrous lava. To absorb that face but to have it simultaneously against the background of all spring boughs, walls, waves, in its weeping, its laughter, moving it back fifteen years, or ahead thirty. To have. It is not even a desire. Like a butterfly, a fish, the stem of a plant, only more mysterious. And so it befell me that after so many attempts at naming the world, I am able only to repeat, harping on one string, the highest, the unique avowal beyond which no power can attain: I am, she is. Shout, blow the trumpets, make thousands-strong marches, leap, rend your clothing, repeating only: is!

She got out at Raspail. I was left behind with the immensity of existing things. A sponge, suffering because it cannot saturate itself; a river, suffering because reflections of clouds and trees are not clouds and trees.

Rocks

Last night there was another storm and he could see patches of black ice on the road where the river must have flooded. The radio crackled quietly. He looked out the window and shifted down a gear. The water had been very high and further down the river there would be rapids.

He parked in the gravel lot. As he stepped out of the car he could smell the cold. The sunlight was grey but the sky bright blue and the river, dark green and brown. It was higher than he had ever seen it and thunderous, a static cupping his ears and a resounding deep bass far away, like a drum struck by god.

He stepped through the gate with the ROAD CLOSED sign. The gravel path had disappeared into the river; it looked as if the river had exploded. The trees along the bank had already been exposed completely, the dirt entirely stripped from their roots. The forest seemed naked, shivering. He had taken a walk here with his parents right after the big storm a few years earlier. He had been looking down at his feet, stepping carefully. He looked up; his dad was helping his mom over the rocks.

 

Two huge fisherman were walking towards him. They nodded as they passed. One was missing his arm above the elbow, the sleeve of his waders held closed against the water with a rubber-band.

He had come hoping to find a small island in the middle of the river. He remembered the rapids in that spot had risen to almost six feet. He had stared at those waves crashing in on themselves, his face wet, but never rushing forward until his parents had said they had to move on.

When he reached the spot where it used to be there was only water, flat and fast, water rushing straight through trees. He stared at it for a minute. He took a deep breath of cold air. Once, it had been warm and the water was lower; he had jumped across the rocks and stood on the island. As it started to rain lightly he had stripped and gone into the river.

 

Closer to the car, the water slowed into a wide curve and a dead tree jutted out from the bank. He remembered his Dad crouching on the edge and pointing.

“Right there is where I want you to scatter my ashes.”

“Okay, Dad,” He had tried to laugh, to clasp his shoulder naturally, “Not for awhile.” Just two men by the river. When he was younger they used to walk together here and he would find sticks to throw in. He ran along the edge racing them downstream as they dipped and bucked through the rapids until they blended with the water and he lost sight of them.

Hole in Blue

Dad is driving me home from the train.
“That hawk dive-bombed the window
and died on the table. I got rid of it.”

I think of garbage, our bones. I walk down
To the edge of the woods. No power;
I can’t use the toilet. Our ground is hollow:

Years of Dad seeding grass, grubs
Eating roots, Dad poisoning them.
Nothing dies, just hollows out.

We never begin that tree-house, broken
Glass grown into the ground, bits of sky
Reflected as in lakes seen from your plane

Crashing over Minnesota.
I am at my friend’s house, doing laundry,
I tell him how I sat in the yard playing

And how that hawk cawed with me.
I wanted to see its eggs then, to know
it found a mate around my house.

I come back a year later. A few days
Feeling hopeless until I see a hawk
Against white, winter sky. A baby,

Alive. How old could it have been?
I want to speak to it, to tell it I’m sorry
for living here and leaving it empty.

Scavengers

Two vultures in the morning
Arrive together with the crows;
This – insanity I wake up from.

Dull…Dull…Dull…

Vultures are noiseless except for wings
Thumping the air. From far away:
Heavy things falling to the ground.

Dull…Dull…Dull…

Vultures who love each other
sit together on the pool-house roof
opposite my parents on the porch.

Dull…Dull…Dull…

I visit home again, watch them
shade each other from the sun,
black bones thick, outstretched.

Dull…Dull…Dull…

Flying over my brother, he looks up:
grotesque feet, grey genitals, fingers,
Shadows on us, through the porch.

Dull…Dull…Dull…

Heavy things fallen to the ground.
Mom never looks up, I hear:
I have no idea what that was.

Trees

Everywhere he looked, something had changed. In part it was the trees that had fallen over the stream at unfamiliar angles. The water was running low over the rocks now. It would be freezing if he touched it. His parents had already gone five days without power. He flexed his toes in his boots and stood up, brushing the dirt off of his pants.

He walked out of the woods onto the newly paved driveway, stepping as much as he could in the old gravel on its edges. When he reached the end he looked to the left. The road curved away and out of sight.

He put his hand on the wishbone tree next to the driveway. He looked up one trunk, up through to the white sky. The other had been chopped at about chest height. He ran his palm along the stump where the bark lipped over. There had been a car crash. He pulled himself up onto the slanted surface and crouched awkwardly. He thought he must look like a wood gargoyle.

He tried to remember standing in the insurance office, his mother high above him. She described the deer jumping out in front of the car, her defensive swerve. She was sweating, he was sweating. The insurance man nodded, looking down at something. “We get a lot of these this time of year. They get very aggressive during mating season.” She agreed. No big deal.

He slid off the tree and started walking back along the gravel. Of course it hadn’t been a deer. He didn’t remember the rest. She had probably explained it to him.

He smiled strangely as he cut back into the woods, feeling his teeth. He thought about bones he had found out here. Sometimes turtle shells with the tiny spine still inside. Sometimes small bird bones, or just empty circles of feathers. Sometimes fur, once so much it covered a whole clearing. Coyotes, he thought, but did not really know. One time he found a whole deer skull, broken in places. He had stood over it in silence, debating whether or not he wanted to bring it home. His parents told him there were germs on bones. It was always best to leave them where you found them.

Vertical Migration

I have been following robins
North. They used to migrate
Towards memories, travel
Tree by tree, long distances.

I am tracking one up a hill
To a field covered by Robins,
I recognize my house and them:
Two figures exiting the porch

Like my parents but painted
Of robins. They reach out
Dripping birds: droplets,
floating as if everything

Is falling together until they burst
Into feathers. Near now, incredibly
close. I am reaching into them
with my younger hands, searching

For my parents within myself,
And these fragile, terrifying birds
Which in an instant will all float up
Then disappear, as if sheared away.