Many poets aren’t poets, Merton says, for the same reason so many religious are not saints: they never get to becoming the version they are meant to be, as created by the circumstances of their own lives.
It always seems more attractive, somehow, to be some other artist––the point being, one you can point to, already formed, as opposed to––what is this, but so much blurred confusion and dissonant noise?
The work of the artist comes from staying with the mess even as the dust settles, even as more debris accumulates, to rescue a faint but still-living music from the wreck.
Inspired by this morning’s reading, Thomas Merton’s short essay “Integrity” in New Seeds of Contemplation.
Death and the high notes.
A matter if tuning: the singer to the frequency of glass, the virus to its host, death as the explosion of a vase. Contents of the vase move inside out, and no distinction remains.
Before the glass shatters, it shudders. If you watch in slow motion, you’ll see it. To be moved deeply by what is well-tuned is to be on the verge of breaking into pieces until there is no longer a body to break.
Notes while reading Timothy Morton’s Realist Magic: Objects, Ontology, Causality.
Like breathing, close; like something rustling in the leaves in the dark outside the window; the first notes of the world. I hear it, we say of this something, but reality is conditional, and faith, already fraught, has a way of returning any listener to the old refrain about the world and it’s too-muchness––so much, with us. A sensitive medium feels the artist’s hand, dissolving the last line into light, the gong that swelled the heart now a faint echo over the sunset lake at midnight.
An old problem: how to phrase
the far-away steeples.
How to abandon a conversation
made of one part memory
and the other projection?
Which time is it now, the world
of memory or the procession
of days marching to the iron-fisted clock?
What grows beyond the window over there,
and who has a mirror?
Let’s shine it by the opening buds, a signal
to ourselves and our aboves:
The opening line references Marcel Proust’s recollection of the twin steeples of Martinville.
Regrets near the tree of knowledge.
Dear algorithm, what I am looking for is not, unlike some requests, a complete unknown. I saw it once before it was gone. Now I am running–– numbers and lines across time. What time? The hour of this page is long.
I know what I asked, but perhaps I was mistaken. I wanted to see inside the tether of your spine and follow it through the central nervous system of the moment, out to the dendrite tips of the long buried and unborn, and back again.
Give me back the dark, when the unseen bled rivers of color where we scratched the invisible surfaces, and it was ours too, the corrugated acres, permutations of possibility between the last light and the next sighting and I floated a wandering frame, slow as any becoming.
This morning, some curiosity about fractals led me to the work of Mehrdad Garousi, who creates fractal art using mixed medium of mathematics and technology. After reading about his process in “The Postmodern Beauty of Fractals” I found his video Let Me Go, which I discovered I could not view head-on without dizziness. I had to watch through my peripheral vision.
You gave voice lessons to your followers, reminding them back to the poetic possibilities of their own idioms. You knew the absurdity of lovesickness, the hopelessness of waiting, and the dogged persistence of stubborn hope. You lamented time’s slow passage even when you found it making still too quick an interval between before and after.
How do you catch a heartbeat? Build a poem to break everything, until what is left is the syncopated feeling of forest voices, to polish the mirror where the Unconscious seeks itself. What escapes the lover’s reach?
You knew the maddening moon, your death, beneath the dripping branches, the work of the web undone; you heard the tragic anthem of the unattended sun . . . like a gland ripped from the throat, and still. You could not keep from singing.
It’s the birthday of Jules Laforgue (1860-1887), French symbolist poet whose work strongly influenced T.S. Eliot’s development, and who championed the expansion of free verse. The opening line of this post references an enthusiastic comment of Eliot’s, soon after he encountered Laforgue’s early work in an anthology of symbolists. Much of Laforgue’s later work was not published in his lifetime (he died at the age of twenty-seven, of tuberculosis). This morning, I read Moon Solo: The Last Poems of Laforgue, published by William Jay Smith in a 1956 issue of The Sewanee Review. Some of the images (and italicized phrases) above are from these poems.
You left the door open, called everyone familiar––and they were, after so long looking. You had born witness to their hope and heartbreak, their quiet, their children and the children they had once been, faces breaking open in a running laugh. They knew that you saw them and felt recognized, knew the shock of relief from their own anonymity in a world crowded with rushed strangers, too busy or beaten to look. Your lens could not resist a smile toward the lovers, and your heart swelled too full to make it stop.
Inspired by Willy Ronis, whose birthday was yesterday, and by this article about the photographer who saw Paris “with his heart in his eyes.”
Once upon a time, when the bodies of the residents of former villages were still warm, so many had lived in homes, among families. After the wars, there was more and more talk of melancholy retrospection, this chronic looking back, this impulse to exhume the buried once upon a time that had so abruptly gone.
The word nostalgia had been coined centuries earlier, to describe the pathological homesickness afflicting soldiers separated from family and village. One doctor wrote extensively to insist that the condition be treated seriously as “a pathological state” rather than “an imaginary malady.” He saw death of a broken heart in the land of exile as something more lethal than enemy fire.
Reading these words, I begin to wonder if I know anyone who isn’t separated from family, who has ever known a village. Surely, there must be someone, but what is the word to name this longing for a place you’ve never known?
The doctor mentioned above is Raoul Chenu in “De la Nostalgie” whose insights appear regularly in connection with this topic. I was intending to write about the work of French photographer Willy Ronis (1910-2009), who was born on this day, but his work in post-war France naturally led me here. The word I was wondering about is hireath, of Welsch origin and not entirely translatable, which a student presented to me once as “longing for a place that never was.”
In the land where time is a circle, I meet you again and again, always with a rush of recognition–– the lilting wave that beckons hello, stranger. It seems I have known you before, and each time I lose you, it is with the shocking pain of the first cut.
In the land where time is water, a tiny rivulet of this becoming will sometimes turn backstream, and any creatures, debris, soil, falling branches, or conversations will find themselves suddenly in the past. In this world, we know even after our most recent reunion, of the loss that comes next, because we learned this when we lived in the land where time was a circle.
In another world, two times exist concurrently. One is mechanical, its form a massive pendulum of iron, back and forth. The other is of the body, bodies, the body of the living planet and its teeming forms. It squirms, wiggles . . . makes its mind up as it goes along. Most reject one or the other form of time. But the worlds have a way of colliding. The collision tends to create a desperate state, because everybody knows that you can make a world in one or another time but not both. This is because each time is true, but the truths are not the same.
This morning, while waiting for the coffee to brew, I was delighted to discover Einstein’s Dreams, a slim novel by Alan Lightman, hiding in plain sight on a bookshelf. Although I do not remember buying this book, it is easy for me to imagine why I would have wanted to, upon learning that the premise is based on a series of dreams that the young scientist had before arriving at his theories of relativity. I wrote today’s post while reading the opening twenty pages of the book, using three of the worlds Lightman describes. Italicized phrases are Lightman’s.
The weight of remembrance.
In the days of constant violence and plagues, when the crops are dead with drought and fire and even the shade trees are gone, the citizens gather. The cry is help, and the answer calls to mind a riddle and a mirror, and who is the most mysterious of all?
––And the mirror answered back with a reflection, the face of the king and all behind him. But what does it take to read a body’s history?
Ask the oracle, she’ll tell you again: not until there is justice, will you know peace in your homes and shade for your children. The old questions return: whose death continues to echo within the city walls; whose blood stains the soil of these charred acres? What severances between life and the living continue to bleed.
Bring in the blind prophet to remind the assembly of the weight of this knowledge and what it means to have it, where no gain can come except through the death of a timeworn dream.
Nevertheless, they resisted.
I am inspired by the work of Brian Doerries and Theatre of War in placing Greek tragedies at the center of community discussions around central challenges of the moment. I jotted these notes while reviewing his translation of the Oedipus Trilogy and related notes.