Consider what is cloaked in story.

My bread prepared, time calls. The ship is leaving port. Consider the surface like a poet’s fable.

Consider also what is cloaked in story: truth behind the ornament of fiction, Orpheus’s lyre taming nature as wisdom over the cruel heart.

Then consider discovery, the possibility that a reader might know transfiguration. Last, beyond the senses, what a soul may know when it leaves: no womb beyond the elements, no warmth without cold, nor word without silence of the beginning and the end.

No single sense, but senses. No goat song, foul at the end. Give me instead a tragic beginning, the known world all fire. Then, let me follow and welcome me home.


Inspired by (and borrowing phrases from) Dante’s Il Convivo, as translated by Richard H. Lansing.

The Art of Perplexity

On the virtue of resisting the easy answer.

Rabbi Moses Maimonides (1131-1205), is a good person to meet if you’re looking for some antidote to the excesses of a mode of thought (typically Greek in origin) that tends to value “the universal, the general, and the unequivocal” over modes more typical of Hebraic scholarship, namely an openness toward “ambiguity, contradiction, and plurality of meaning” (from The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism). The title of Maimonides’ “Guide of the Perplexed” was enough to pull me into his orbit. The following is inspired by this treatise, as translated by Shlomo Pines


Consider this: the meaning of a sacred text can only be glimpsed. It is best accessed by those prone to being perplexed. Consider also how contradictions, so often maligned, may be embraced instead of being shunned as flaws.

I am moved toward those terms that may sometimes have one meaning, and sometimes many.

When it comes to some subjects, a sensible reader will know better than to demand a complete exposition and will not expect any given meaning to be exhaustive. A sensible reader would never consider the possibility of removing all difficulties, ever, from the interpretive challenge. The most valuable truths may at best be glimpsed, and then concealed again.

Sometimes, in a long, dark night, a flash of lightning will illuminate the landscape. It’s like that, and yet––

Many a fool has so hungered for certainty that he refers to pretend the flash continual, pretending night is day,

––hence the parable, the riddle, the poem, the allegory. Let me show you a deep well. Would you drink? No, you cannot reach it, except by attaching the pail to one, and the next, and the next of each of these, in succession and with humility of mind. You will find no rope long enough, but the vulgar won’t bear this truth. They’ll keep insisting, tell it straight and in a single breath, and when you can’t they will call you a liar and when you won’t you are nothing.

My goal: to guide a single, virtuous reader to rest. Most will be highly displeased. Here is no answer, no show. What may be told to mortals of their own beginnings, except obscurely?

An Elegant Intelligence

Is it the stone that makes the statue beautiful, or something else?

The following is a meditation culled from ideas and phrases emerging from time spent this morning with Plotinus, namely with his treatise “On the Intellectual Beauty” from his Fifth Ennead, written between the years 300-305 A.D. Plotinus was of the group of Neoplatonists that located reality “in a transcendental spiritual realm that gives meaning to the visible world” (from the Norton Anthology introduction).


Plato may have distrusted the storytellers, but I’d rather hear them than any new ideas.

Rather than pale imitation of more perfect forms, art is the access point for transcendence.

Nature is an emanation from a higher realm, its source the same as art. Here we are, between the worlds.

Let’s go to the realm of magnitudes. Suppose two blocks of stone, side by side: one untouched, another wrought by an artist’s hands into a fine statue, concentrating all loveliness of form. Is it the stone that makes the statue beautiful, or something else?

The form is not the material, but the design, held not by crude equipment, but participation. Revelation happens when the resistance of the materials is subdued. The resistance? Stone, yes, but also these hands, these eyes, this stubborn heart. Every prime cause, indwelling, more powerful than its effect. What is musical comes from music itself. You may call it God, although I won’t.

Also note how the elegance will not depend on magnitude. Where does it come from, if not an original power? All gods are august in grace beyond our speech, and why? All there is, is heaven. Truth, then, is mother and nurse. All transparent, light running through light, all only mirrors.

Eyes in the divine, no satiety to call for its ending: to see is to look at greater length. Wisdom is not built of reasonings, but primal, complete from the start.

Powers of fire and the like may be thought great, but it is through their failure in true power that we see them burning, destroying, wearing things away––slaving toward production, they destroy because they belong to the realm of the produced.

There is no beauty outside being. Only in self-ignorance are we ugly. Light upon light, shine.

Present, Past

In memory of the work of Walker Evans, American photographer.

In honor of the birthday of Walker Evans, the American photographer credited as the “progenitor of the documentary tradition” with an “extraordinary ability to see the present as if it were already the past,” today’s post is assembled from phrases from Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, the work of Evans’ collaboration with writer James Agee, chronicling the lives of Depression-era sharecropping families (quotes above come from The Met Museum’s page on his work).

These eyes, blank and watchful: neither forgiveness for unforgiveness, heat nor cool, or any sign of understanding, were not the first to look away.

The hallway in mud, and underwater, rain beating on rain beating on rain, out the brains of the earth. Steady rave and the breakage of thunder. The lamp is out, room breathing cool like a lung, ripe with the smell of rain on earth, and kerosene.

Where are the introductions now? Each mind disguised again in lack of fear, and busy.

Name it Anyway

A Sampling of Longinus’ First Century text, “On Sublimity.”

When it comes to explanatory text, practical help ought to be a writer’s principal object. The point is to explain what it is and how can we achieve it. Regarding sublimity, I will do my best.


How to explain? The source of distinction of the greatest poets? Grandeur. It produces ecstasy, not persuasion. Persuasion we cannot control, but sublimity tears like wind. 

Nothing is truly great that is great to despise: wealth, reputation, absolute power. The wise disdain these. What of literature depends on nature can only be learned through art. Some marks: it is impossible to resist and it endures, leaving a long impression. 

Inspired emotion, a kind of madness and divine spirit, can help. Another way is to make the mind ever-pregnant with noble thoughts. Selection and organization are not to be underestimated. See Sappho here, how she layers. Consider imagery, Phantasia: the point being, to astonish.  In this vein, consider hyperbation: the arrangement of words and thoughts outside the normal sequence.

Also, remember metaphors. Consider the bodily tabernacle, the head as citadel; the heart a knot of veins; spleen, a napkin for the insides; blood, the fodder of flesh; death, a loosing of the cables binding the soul’s ship.


Inspired by the first-century manuscript “On Sublimity,” widely (though not uncontroversially) attributed to Cassius Loginus, as translated by D.A. Russell. Finding it in my Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, I was heartened by the slightly bombastic and utterly romantic confidence of this writer, moved with urgency to explain the sublime.


Considering longings for unknown homelands.

The feelings that hurt most, the emotions that sting most, are those that are absurd – The longing for impossible things, precisely because they are impossible; nostalgia for what never was; the desire for what could have been; regret over not being someone else; dissatisfaction with the world’s existence. All these half-tones of the soul’s consciousness create in us a painful landscape, an eternal sunset of what we are.” – Fernando Pessoa

If memory is the original fiction, then let me remember the women 

whose warm hands, stained with vegetables, 

tended to Sunday stock, who were unknown 

except to those who ate what they offered, 

and who made what they offered in a haven 

unknown to cameras and reviewers and stars 

of achievement. Let me remember the thrill 

of running along a Normandy coast, 

after mussels when blond wheat covered 

the fields before they gave way to corn, concrete, 

plastic; when necessary meant bread at a midday meal. 

Inspired by this morning’s sighting of Madeline Kamman’s When French Women Cook, a book I discovered about a decade ago in a used bookstore. It’s descriptions of a French countryside that no longer exists created a strange sense of longing, one that I have come to associate with a word I happened to discover around the time I discovered this book. The word, hireath, is a Welsch word with no exact translation in English, was presented to me originally as “longing or homesickness for a place you have not directly known.”  It resounded, in an instant, as one of the dominating feelings of my time on the planet.

Signs and Symbols

A found poem introduction to the definitive introduction to literary theory.

The following is assembled from phrases found in the opening six pages of The Norton’s Anthology of Theory and Criticism, a text that some readers might find a touch dense, or perhaps conducive of a sprained wrist. I took the liberty of assembling this found poem from the text, to keep on hand for moments when something lighter is in order.

What does theory demonstrate? That there is no position free of it, 

not even common sense. The same is true of an author’s inner being, 

institutions, historical periods, and conflict.

What is interpretation? Consider dense and enigmatic 

explication, exegesis––versus intimate, casual appreciation.

In order to establish our bearings, 

along the way

we discuss.

True, there are problems 

with seemingly sensible methods

––ambiguities, paradoxes, the problem of no easy 

answers––and theorists, and well-known heuristic devices. 

The notion of mirroring necessarily contains 

distorting devices: signifiers, signified; 

the crisis of reference; the dizzying view. 

Significantly, it re-presents and refracts 

certain affinities.

Earthling to Moon, on News of its Departure

Imagining some awkward breakup conversations inspired by the moon’s inevitable departure from Earth’s gravitational pull.

At first, I didn’t believe it. My gravitational gauge is oversensitive sometimes.  I always think things are closer than they are. For this reason, I avoid parallel parking when possible. (“You’ve got like, three feet! Seriously!” a helpful person will try to explain. “No, no, never mind!” I’ll say, preferring to walk a few more blocks as needed to avoid what looks like a near collision.)

Needless to say, the idea that you’ve been drifting away this whole time comes as a bit of a shock. 

You say it’s “just gravity” but isn’t that sort of like one of those noncommittal statements that really mean a whole other thing (“It’s not you, really, It’s me,” or “I just have a lot going on”)? Isn’t gravity what we had going on? I mean if that’s getting weaker, what are you really saying? 

I know there’s something you’re not saying.  Was it all the photographs? I know, I know. It’s a lot, but you were always changing––color, size, shape; we couldn’t get enough.

Was it how were always projecting our own insecurities, variabilities and hopes onto you? I know it’s a lot: our moods, our energy levels, certain personality traits. 

Wait a minute, now that I think of it, what did you mean when you did that thing at the festival? Well, I know it wasn’t You-you, but c’mon. I mean, that thing with the balloon at the parade? That huge one that looked just like you, with craters and everything? How it broke free and started rolling in the street, remember that?  

I bet you do. People ran after it, but it never came back to the parade. They called it “a mishap” but you planned that, didn’t you? ––As, what, like a hint? Like a sign of things to come? Is this your idea of communicating?

I wasn’t alive when we were supposedly much closer than we are now, but I love the idea: once we needed only a ladder and a willingness to leap, and there we were, scooping cheese from your surface and hurling it back. Thank you, Calvino. I love to imagine the small earthlings, like jellyfish and children floating into you until they are caught by someone on a boat.

Apparently, the same forces drawing you away are slowing our days. We can barely feel this, of course. When does anyone ever feel when this happens, in real time? Once it was four hours from sunrise to night-time, and what were we doing then? 

Just wait, someone tried to say. They called it our honeymoon phase. We laughed. But, I wonder now, how will we explain the totality of what we felt here, when you were close enough to block the whole sun?

Inspired by Marina Koren’s Atlantic article The Moon is Leaving Us. Also, the thought of moon distances shifting inevitably calls to mind Italo Calvino’s wondrous story,  “The Distance of the Moon.”

Headlines Almost Missed

News of the world, in miniature.

This morning, catching up on news from past months, I find some worth sharing.

Orange Orb Owning Onus of Our Origins, Outcast Among Us.

Dancing bears circle: stomp, push, shove; their mother waits. I watch through a lens.

Baikal babushka crosses the lake on skates her dad made, after war.

Listening to Lepidoptera

We appreciate the beauty of butterflies, but what else? What of the moths disguised as tree bark, and what do they say with those wings?

For most, a typical response to a tray of specimens can be a ranking in order of beauty. This because, what else? Butterflies and moths cause no marked aversion; they do not sting or make terrible pests. We do not eat them.

What, then? Initially, we have no other means, beyond the appeal of their colors, to appreciate them. 

In North America, there are more species of butterfly on the endangered list than any other insect. Not everyone gets field experience, so look.

Why are the wings so large? They speak with them.

Consider these canvases, painted differently on each side, according to audience.

Where are the moths in daytime? In the day, they become tree bark, lichen, twigs.

Consider one hundred caterpillars, wrapped or naked; cylindrical or bulging, immaculate or marked. See the chrysalis, head down, unclothed, posing as a leaf.

Some ride mice to safety, to lay eggs in an underground den.

One makes no sound, but what about a chorus of millions?

Here is a waterfall.

Patience now. A more complete discussion will be possible after secrets are revealed.


This morning’s post is assembled from found phrases in the opening chapter of 100 Butterflies and Moths: Portraits From the Tropical Forests of Costa Rica, by Jeffrey C. Miller, Daniel H. Janzen, and Winifred Hallwachs. I came across it in the used bookstore adjacent to the library in the year before the pandemic, and was taken by the color images. It seemed like the sort of book to keep on hand for future inspiration.  Waking especially groggily this Wednesday morning, I pulled it from the shelf to see what I could find.