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: Unrequited

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.

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First Steps

I’ve got a list and a pair of hands
I’m using to hold it into my mouth.
Am I a good enough poet yet?
I learned all the methods they got.
Sure, I know how to be honest.

There are too many ways around.
More like holes in the road.
These aren’t poems they’re
Fucking holes I filled with words
So I could climb out. Now watch:

I am bouncing from doubt to doubt.
You want confessional? I’ll give you
Priestly. You want right now?
I’ll give you two lines ahead and
Look back – already crossed out.

My word is shit. Don’t listen to me,
Even if I promised. I want to boil
Out of my skin, get light-spirited,
Make peace with the starry night.
I am alone in a cloud. I want out.

Other people seem to feel this.
In rare moments when the surface
Of my chest folds back like paper
And my feelings breathe and see
Light, not stale, dark body vacuum

I hear it in every song,
Read it in every poem.
Why are we rolling in bed
Trying to make sense
Of our discomfort?

I fall asleep, always, in the face
Of that which I don’t understand.
I think others know how to talk,
Feel free, and judge me. Sex
Isn’t satisfying but it should be.

I am trying to figure out how
To seduce. But I still feel like
people my age aren’t doing that yet.
Why doesn’t anybody talk to me?
They do – all the time – I just don’t

Talk back. No I do! It just feels
Like they’re alone in a room
Talking to me, who’s also alone
In a room, completely silent.
And I am funny and intelligent.

But I am lying. Or I am pulling
Strings which connect my brain
To things. It’s not like I memorize
Speeches, I just imagined this
Conversation before we had it.

I think the stars are clouds
With poems in their mouths.
I promise myself I’ll get out.

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.

Lovebirds

I am all hooks and lovebirds.
When I undress for you
it is a way of talking
to myself.

Prana

I expect Love to come
from the Heart of God

***

Interesting, then, that god speaks

Sometimes in thunderclaps,

Sometimes in other kinds of friction–

Wind through leaves
grass and tree branches,
air that creaks in floorboards,
ceiling beams, and bed-springs

In warm breath
falling behind my ears
saying, sometimes, I love you
through god’s softest voice-box

I roll over,
look into loving eyes
admit I’m not religious
and kiss you to sleep

Vapor

If you were made out of water
maybe it would be easier for you

to seep in between
the door and door-frame

I could blame you, then,
for the peeling paint on my ceiling

and the stain on my bed

I could write
in the fog you’d leave on my window-pane

A smile and saltwater is
no way to leave me;
sodden, soggy

and
I wish you could make up
more than 70% of me

Restraint

I could write poems
about where it is okay
for me to kiss you

A Love Poem

Paint a face colorless
collect short stories about a neckline
cross a bridge of perfectly laid ribcage
find whole caverns made of softly-tissued bone

I’ve made this trip many times
I’ve built small castles atop your breasts
I’ve climbed the hanging vines of your hair
and called deep into the well above your earlobe

Years later, it seemed
when I ran my little fingers in between the ridges of your fingerprints
when your fist closed loosely around me
and brought your face to mine for the first time

Finally! A small way for you to see, to smell, to taste me
the way that I have searched every patch of your skin
how I have held you tightly and left no impression
how I have tried to find that spot on your body
that makes my heart beat rhythmic within me
yet in this small lifetime of mine
I have found nothing at all

Keepsakes

The twist comes in the beginning
two swans necks intertwined
the thread they weave is weak
but it still snakes its way through every seam

We walk slowly through the wilting garden
it’s not like me to see the beauty in trees
the gardener’s never known quite how to water
and the flowers are still learning how to see

I’ve stumbled and I’ve fallen
and I’ve watched the grass bleed green
Not today, not today
belief will close your throat if you let it

There’s no house here for someone to flood
it’s already become the rubble it was
I believed you when you built me a coffin
to sit upon

Not today, not today
not until the clouds are gone
Maybe tomorrow, when you say
that this isn’t your god to love

I know now who I was
and I grasp at the threads
that kept the best parts of me in
but the beaks of these birds
who squawk about love
keep tearing my garments apart

Three days pass
until the darkness fades
you keep calling me names
like baby and savior
and I know I can’t help you to remember
that overnight any thing can change

Here’s a cloud to shade your house
here’s a flower to reflect upon
here’s a god to return your love
and here’s the end we’ve both been waiting on

Vital

This angel might be terrible
but she must be much too beautiful
to hide her lies from only me

Her heart might be untenable
but at least she doesn’t tell people
the same things that she tells me

She could sleep inside a centerfold
but at least she saves her skin for me

Her eyes might be like bluegrass
but at least she plays them quietly

When she smiles it might genuine
but she whispers things I don’t believe

This angel might be terrible
but I see her like the seasons
I could trust her like the leaves
to crumble underneath my feet
but the dirt beneath your fingernails
that’s ground deep into me
makes me know the name of terrible
it’s this angel full of iron
who lies with seashell eyes
and honestly empty beliefs