No, there isn’t a map, but you’ve heard this before. That isn’t what you’re after, is it? When you speak of what you never knew.
So much is obscured by the fog of empire. Maybe if it blew into the thin air of the last mountaintop at the exact moment of your arrival, still living, at its narrow peak––then you’d be able to see your way down. But maybe not.
Fair enough. How much blood in the veins of the earth, gathered from these wrecks and battles across time? The waste of it we call history and imagine this a map to what we used to be, that the discovery of this might involve some ancient key, glowing like the last fifteen minutes of a quest film, to lead us forward from our stadium seats, into the light.
But I don’t know, except for being here in the dirt, with clouds all week, and now mud from the rains, and here comes the wind again and those questions about what it might blow away or into us. I am here with these others; we’re tethered for now, and so there’s nowhere to go, is there, if they are here, too? Nowhere better but the staying while they are here, too, even as most of them are strangers by official standards. For which I have little use.
This morning, I was reading the words of five poets I’ve only ever known by the flesh of their words, and I knew I loved them for the way each sang of someday, when I learn to love––
Inspired when I chanced upon this Dean Rader poem, which echoes poems by Nâzim Hikmet, Roger Reeves, Ocean Vuong, and Frank O’Hara. What a stunning chorus across time.
In the presence of endings, your imagination lifted, and death was never far. Where others ran away, you went to meet it. You waded into waters of long suffering, returning with the precious and unseen.
With death never far from where you rested, you rested only briefly. You knew waters deep and rough enough to drown the best of us, how they silenced, and the violence of a blow to stop the mouth.
Still, you spoke of longing and living in a fallen world. Beholding, for you, was a series of flashes. Each pierced you. You kept looking.
Early this morning, I spent time with the work of César Vallejo, whose life I mean to honor here.
At the clothesline, you watched and remembered loving her in the great storm. You worried she would run off with a sailor. And you saw the shadow of a man but not the man, how it mocked you.
You loved the crazies, wanted to hear them. You were the buddy to the toughest guy in every class––protection, maybe, you laughed. The things we do.
You pulled a gun on the man who beat your mother, joined a gang called something like The Zoo Club. It’s funny how the gangs of old always sound quaint. Your mother was recovering, your grandmother was cooking, and your grandfather was silent. You invented.
The first poem you read was, as you put it, stupid. You fell in love. You met poetry in bars, on street corners and in back alleys. Suddenly ravenous, you could not get enough. It was coming out my ears, you said, of your reading.
The hardest work, you said, after decades in love, is creating the situation, the new reality. Once that was handled, you had something to work within. You loved the surprise of a laugh when you meant to be crying.
It’s a tragic story, you wrote, but that’s what’s so funny.
I spent the early morning with poetry and interviews by (and with) James Tate, and I am glad I did. Italicized phrases are Tate’s.
When the visionary told you, Man is not a tree, you took note. The punchline had to do with the whole country up and moving every few years. Out of one town, into another––given the means, which were a significant factor. You considered reasons. Why the impulse to cut and run; to fly, stop, land?
Meanwhile, you could not––would not, stop thinking of the child who couldn’t flee, who didn’t make it. You refused coexistence with the mental calculations that allowed the peace of some to be secured by the occupation of others.
It is a fundamental need, you said, basic as shelter, food. For sanctuary, you said. Because man is not a tree.
Adapted from June Jordan’s 1989 essay, “Finding the Way Home.”
It was the black boxes that haunted you at first. Now you tell stories with mirrors, some of which transform into windows. It’s never clear which is which. What pulled you was the possibilities for world building, the hypnotic vastness. Your mind was drawn to portals, the potential thresholds lurking at the edges of the ordinary. You wonder what happens when sight turns into a nightmare, and no one notices. As an antidote, you watch the sea. It reminds you of an invitation to return somewhere. You hope it is. You hope it may return you to seeing.
Inspired by, and with borrowed phrases from Krish Raghav’s interview with Josh Riedel (BOMB magazine), on Riedel’s novel, Please Report Your Bug Here.
The body, de Beauvoir observes, is an instrument for holding onto the world. Same for a body of work. In this light, it’s truly an odd (modern, western) impulse that insists on classifying literary works into camps of fiction and nonfiction. We are supposed to be used to this by now but try asking a painter or sculptor to make the same distinction. Anything we make––or are, for that matter, is always an alchemy of observation, response, and dream.
Recognize this astonishment, this awe, this resistance to the hurry of speech. Its pressure signals the weight of what language battles. Here is the rupture, the interrupter; partner; opponent; interrogator; monument. Watch it.
To meet it on its own terms is to welcome some erosion. Each confrontation will put an end to the original witness, the one who meant to do the looking, and wrest from her womb a new creature, sharply aware of being watched.
When the word fists stop swinging, held behind the back, and the shouting mouth surrenders to its hold, what emerges? Here are the boundaries between flesh and time, sealed and open, the words we speak and those unspeaking us.
The above are notes while reading Jorie Graham’s essay “Some Notes on Silence” in By Herself: Women Reclaim Poetry (2000), edited by Molly McQuade. The italicized phrases are Graham’s.
How not to lose the life of life.
It is autumn, she said. And we are going to die. And we have all this choosing to do, with great stakes. And yet, simultaneously: this beloved, ill; this new child, this sudden bird, this love. How often we keep our thinking separate from what we know. For a simple reason: simultaneous submersion within all sensibilities is unbearable.
So, how to know anything? How to keep the life of life in life? Try not knowing. Try reading below the threshold of interpretation. Try burying the head, leaving only the ear. It is possible to transcend personality and arrive. At a shared physical understanding. These songs were always here to pull us into them and we.
The italicized phrase comes from Jorie Graham, whose work inspires this piece.
To enter the regions where music is the official language, check all baggage. To what destination? It doesn’t matter. It isn’t yours. The bags will not be coming.
To be invited, sleep. When you discover that your hands are deep in the mane of the creature that carries you, do not attack with sharp probes of interpretation. Do not attempt to extract some abstract essence from its living flesh.
Where is the ladder? You will not find it looking up. It only descends.
Notes while reading Hélène Cixous: “The School of Dreams” in Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing.
In an era where it often seems like time itself has run out of time, when the experts of the moment loudly proclaim the absurdity of a continuance far beyond now, where an ever-expanding past narrows as it passes through us and into a vanishing point in the space once reserved for a future, it seems we are long overdue for a sustained effort of radical courage and love.
What if we dared to breathe it wider, this space before us, for children so far ahead that we can’t even go around calling them ours with the same clenched fist that pulled us into this point?
May this coming evolution be one of dreaming forward, not for ourselves and the empty achievements we’ve learned to wave like flags into battle in the days of permanent war, but for the absorption of these husks of selves into a greater all, and for the delicate hearts still far from being breathed into their lives.
Notes while reading Toni Morrison’s stunning essay “The Future of Time: On Literature and Diminished Expectations” as it appears in her essay collection The Source of Self-Regard