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: existence

bhlf

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.

Windows

The ceiling was perfectly flat. The corners exact, no paint misplaced. Nothing wrong. He rolled his head to the left. Underneath the fridge there were silhouettes of dirt, balls of dust, lost food. Maybe the floor. What had it been? When he was standing there a moment before something had been off. He had gotten to his knees and rubbed his thumb against the floor tile. That hadn’t helped. He had remembered the technique his mother had taught him for finding small things; he pressed his cheek against the cold white tile and still, nothing seemed wrong. He was glad he had laid down.

“Where are you?” Her voice came out of the bedroom. There was some kind of shuffling, she must be getting dressed. “Someone called you.”

He leaned his head back. He could see the sky even though the window shade was mostly down. It looked warm and blue but he knew it would be freezing. She walked through the door zipping up the side of her dress. “Where are you?”

“Who called?”

“Jesus Christ,” Her face seemed to burst then almost instantly close; lines formed in between her eyebrows. “What the hell are you doing?”

“Did you pick it up or did it go to voicemail?”

She shook her head, “I don’t know, I didn’t see.”

He nodded. “There’s something weird about the kitchen. Are you going out?”

“I’m going to Midtown. Are you just going to stay there? I need to get something.”

He shuffled to the side and she stepped over him. As she reached up and began rifling through the cabinet her heels lifted off the floor, the veins in her ankles visible and thick through the skin. He almost reached out and grabbed them.

“Here we go.” She stepped down and walked into the bathroom, not bothering to turn the light on. He could hear the water running. He took a deep breath and sighed loudly.

She came out of the bathroom and stood over him. “I’m going down to Midtown, is there anything you need? There’s your phone again.” It was buzzing in the bedroom. She handed it to him.

“Okay, I’m going, you don’t need anything?” He shook his head, holding the buzzing phone. “I’ll probably be back in a couple of hours, give me a call if you think of anything.”

The door closed.

He laid there for a minute. The phone was still buzzing. He had been clasping it over his chest. After awhile it stopped. He put it down on the tile next to the fridge.

He brought up his knees and groaned. Most of his backside had fallen asleep. He used the counter to pull himself up. He stood there for a second, getting his bearings. The room was worse now than it had been earlier. It was tilted, as if he had just been dizzy. He went over to the window. The streets outside looked as if they slanted strangely away. A familiar flock of pigeons flew by. They dipped by the window in the exact same way at least once every day. He always caught it out of the corner of his eye. They never changed. The same flock, the same swoop. He rapped his fingertips on the glass, bitten fingernails making an unsatisfying thumping sound. There were millions of windows in New York City. More windows than there were people. Most windows must not be seen at all. Might as well just be walls.

Jokes

A horse walks into a bar and the bartender doesn’t even like horses because of something to do with the length of their faces but his daughter is giving him those eyes and he groans like, “not those eyes!” and later when the bar closes they take the horse home.

In this one dimension, the big bang occurs in such a way that the universe is a bar and everything walks into it.

Osama Bin Laden walks into a bar and the special forces throw everyone’s bodies into the ocean.

A boy, a bear, a piglet, a tiger, a rabbit, and a donkey all walk into a bar, mess the place up, and pay in honey.

God walks into a bar and Jesus is already there and there’s this Awkward Silence.

A serial killer walks into a bar and kills everybody.

A bar walks into a bar.

A bar walks in on a bar and it’s uncomfortable and the first bar doesn’t know what to say and just closes the door.

A man and a woman walk into a bar and then later out of a bar.

Sisyphus pushes a bar all the way up a hill and when he is about to walk into the bar it rolls back down again.

A psychotic maniac charges into a bar but is very well spoken and makes a lot of friends. Later they’re all into regime change.

God kills himself in the bathroom of a bar and all of time is spent piecing him together.

War is in a bar and never leaves because a genie keeps refilling its glass.

A bomb goes off in a bar and destroys everything and your philosopher friends are like, “Well, what really is ‘a place’?”

The wind blows into a bar and Dawn is in the back spinning a frisbee on her fingers.

The Interior

[Important space]

The scales on the
are not well-fixed.

In fact, they are all falling
Oh well, everything is made of
this is another important space,
I guess. We all gaze up

and see space.
It’s like night
but no stars
are winking.

Virginia Woolf

1

My joints are weak; I almost lose
balance on the cobblestones.
Even this poem-writing I do
to keep my mind from eclipsing
or being eclipsed. You see—
by what, by whom?

2

I am walking towards the girl and she is walking towards me. I am trying to make her real when she smiles at me like her mouth has been stretched across her face and I thought only I smile that way. She is walking towards me and the tree gets in the way and I think I will never see her again.

3

I am losing it.
Not my mind, no,
don’t think that.

It’s just, people do
go insane sometimes.
They probably seem

pretty normal.

4

Oh my friends.
Oh my words,
dead in the mist.
The waves! The waves
of the River Ouse.
Oh my friends
in the mist.
Oh my god, my god
my god.

The Devil Reads Poetry

Full crowd tonight– all of Niobe’s kids,
Eurydice, who’ll be leaving early,
and Persephone’s here. It’s Spring in Hell.

I spent this morning crossing the river
In Charon’s boat; he’s gives the best feedback.
I’m still trying to write this one poem

But it just won’t come. I think it’s about
Filling an empty place up with something,
And how the emptiness grows around it.

Sisyphus takes my shoulders in the wings;
Inside I’m trembling over this line like:
I made my world one endless metaphor.

I almost called my brother yesterday.
I just want to figure out everything.

A Blind Spectacle

I think I can see you more clearly
If you would move the windows
Please? Paint on the shadows
And if you can, the light.

What I mean is, the dog
Came splashing towards me,
His head all in white shells
And also scattering them.

I underline the dog, there.
Then, he is lost.
I dive into bushes, looking
Behind them.

I am smoking a cigarette
In your robe, turning my radio
To the lake. I listen closely
to our old, sealed letters.

I see a face through the woods.
It is like the open spaces between
Trees: like our so many windows.
One grand sheet: a painting

You can see from only one angle.
I cannot walk into that flatness:
My own right eye taking over
The left. The lake is inside it.

There are rocks and the water
Is freezing. My father is in it
Somewhere. It is flat like this
But only if you can remember it.

Reaching Off

“I got it,” the girl says, laughing
at how incompetent I am
because I fumble at the door
as we leave the coffee place.
It is early in the morning.

And I remember this
as I am walking to school.
I regret that I didn’t ask her
to walk with me. Imagining
that could carry me all day.

We would have split here.
That song, “Can’t you see?
Oh, can’t you see…” in my head.
“It’s not that I miss my ex-girlfriend,
it’s that I miss having a girlfriend.”

My marine friend said to me,
“I just want to be back overseas.”
My professor calls it a cycle
of fullness and emptiness and he rolls
life in the air with his hands.

I cannot remember on what end
we write poetry. Does it drain
or fill us? I wonder how a marine
feels when he shoots his gun,
how it feels to truly fuck.

I went to class two stanzas back,
talked to someone, took a shit,
thought about masturbating.
Am I fuller or emptier now?
Maybe I just ruined the poem.

My mom called me.
The only other way it could be:
either you are entirely full
or empty. Like honesty, pregnancy,
you can’t be sort of complete.

I want to call my mom back,
hold her voice in my head.
It pours in and strengthens me.
Poetry is like that—
fullness shooing emptiness away.