Flight in Darkness

The poet remembers.

Only symbols. When I saw that the architecture was burnt out in me, I became a poet. Now I am grief, hunger, the embers of cities. But making is older than killing, and what is this man to make of this life but a brief flight in darkness, now and then on a rainbow?

***

This morning I learned that it was the birthday of poet Andrei Andreyevich Voznesensky, who  Robert Lowell once distinguished as the greatest living poet in any language. He came to fame during the Khrushchev thaw and was known as an outspoken critic of artistic censorship of any kind. I don’t have a complete translation of Voznesensky’s work, but I was able to find some selections online. The above is assembled from my a small sample of these findings, adapted.

Shiny Tomorrows

Visions from a tech summit of the past.

Tomorrow’s hero is bloodless and perfect and all are lit from below––even the cow’s udder. It does not smell, and the maidens are all behind glass, sitting in the robot’s lap. In tomorrow, there is one voice and no talking back; the rugs do not slip and it’s rife with clean sailors. Instead of sounding music, tomorrow has the memory of sound.

It’s a little expensive, this tomorrow, and it remains unclear who––beyond these few––will be in attendance.

***

On this day in 1939, the New York World’s fair opened in Queens, New York. As war raged in Europe, this massive event was built around the theme of “The World of Tomorrow.” It professed to be a celebration of scientific discovery, but serious scientists complained that the emphasis on gadgetry far outweighed any possibility of serious scientific discussion. Einstein, for example, was asked to give a presentation on cosmic rays, but was only allowed five minutes to do so, a limit he said would make any serious explanation impossible. I failed to find a text of this speech this morning, so instead I selected E.B. White’s essay on his visit to the event, which appeared in The New Yorker and is collected in Essays of E.B. White. Today’s post is assembled from borrowed phrases from White’s text.

Advice from the Ground Beetles

Confidence of cave-dwelling carabid.

You can hurry, but it won’t get you anywhere. You were way too late for this prologue’s conclusion, and still want to rush. We are the stagehands you missed, ushering the deaths you wouldn’t stand.

It’s not the worst, really, to let others make a punchline of your life, like Where have you been, under a rock all this time? As a matter of fact, you can tell them––or not, cleaning your sensors with smooth precision.

I don’t want to frighten you, but let’s face it; it doesn’t take much. We live in the settings of your nightmares. No one knows you better than the one who recognizes what you refuse––I won’t say, to look at. You really ought to consider your bias toward sight, along with a few other favorite metaphors. Look at the river of life, you say, let’s jump in! From the places you call nowhere and not yet, we laugh and call back, you first! ––which is always your preference anyway.

Any beetle can tell you about all the cries in the dark, but that doesn’t mean you will listen. So much grief in these places, but we’ve been here all along. We get a lot of tourists on quests, looking for a dragon to slay. Sure, we tell them, go farther, and then get back to our invisible work, laughing.

Do you have a friend who studies eyesight, who can talk at length about degrees of vision? The word vision suggests blindness all by itself. A person’s aspirations will tell you a lot about their fears. 

Please don’t expect a welcome every time you come back. As a matter of fact, you should try to go missing. Let them call you extinct, finished. We’ve been doing this for twenty million years, but the newcomers can’t help themselves. There’s a new announcement every few decades about how they’ve discovered us––again.

Every seed spends many nights in the earth, and what does this tell you about the dangers you presume of obscurity? Kid, you’re kind of a drag the way you go around trying to illuminate everything. That’s enough now, out with your light.

From this darkness, there will be no forgiveness for someone who refuses to meet it on its own terms. 

***

Over this morning’s coffee, I learned that today is the birthday of the Croation entymologist Josef Müller (1880-1964) who is best known for his extensive study of blind cave-dwelling ground beetles. I can only imagine that one would be compelled to shift perspective away from certain popular biases after spending so much time with any often-disregarded species, especially those that are regularly rediscovered after presumed extinction. The idea inspired me to play again with certain phrases and turns from Robert Bly’s “Advice from the Geese,” an exercise from The Daily Poet that I enjoyed very much when I first used it to make “Advice from the Silver Mollies” for Bly’s birthday.

First Sight

Notes of a witness.

For a lover, pure and simple, beguiled every step, it may be a long journey. Bloom time in the lowlands, there were weeks and months uncounted, sun-drenched in lark song before the painted hills. Progress slow, I wandered enchanted.

Then came the peaks, massive light forms suggesting the walls of a celestial city. Crystal rocks and aspen glow, the irised spray of waterfalls; all that may perish is vanishing quickly. Listen, ancient glaciers now sing river song, and at temple of the valley floor, a congregation of glowing rock faces to welcome the storm like the lambs. 

In the distance, I heard the thunder of the fall, and before me the whale-back masses of granite crowning and rising, alone and in snug groups. Breaking tranquility, I followed the plunging river down. This wild scene I tell you was never safe, my fate hinged on an idle wind.

Nerves shaken, drenched, bathed in moonlit spray, I hoped. All were in bloom.

The air was shining. I counted, noticing the noon-gray clouds.

I slept and woke, and the winds sung too, in throbbing chorus with the fall, and it was a song I tell you, pleading notice.

Do you think there is a choice now? I saw none but this cry, and I did.

***

In honor of the birthday of Scottish-American naturalist and environmental philosopher John Muir (1838-1914) (also known as John of the Mountains), today’s post is composed of found words and phrases from an 1890 essay he published in The Century Magazine, “The Treasures of the Yosemite.”

Encounter in the Desert

The hermit to the artist.

You thought you were learning to live, kid? Sure, if you want. Live it up. But look around. See these rocks? And beyond? What’s next? I tell you, it isn’t another commission and you’ll be going empty-handed. Think I always dressed like this? I had clothes, finery. But what for, here? I get it, though. Look at me, even now. One hand clutching the rock, I can’t help myself, but look out there. Name one solid form. 

Leonardo Da Vinci’s Jerome in the Wilderness

I can’t either. Are you on the lion now? Sure, but put your hand here. Feel: fur, warmth, body. Breathing, just like us. Dying, too. Not soon, I hope. I named him Leo, actually, but don’t let it go to your head. He’s not a symbol of courage or danger, just a fellow creature I met along the way. He was suffering, too. You’ve probably heard the stories. Sure, I pulled a thorn from his paw, but it wasn’t what they make it out to be. Poor guy was almost passed out from the pain when I got to him. It was infected, he had lizards in his mane. Now we’re friends and he waits with me here. We walk together when we’re not on these rocks. Sure, you can come.

Why are you here, anyway? Let me guess. You think if you can study the extent of my torment, you can be ready for it. Let me tell you, night after night the dancing girls would come visit as I slept, to mock my restraint.  They still come, but I’ve lost most of my vanity by this point, so the torture is less. 

So now what? It’s a long walk back. Where’s your horse?

***

In honor of the birthday of Leonardo DaVinci (1452-1519), today’s post is in an imagined voice of one of his subjects. DaVinci worked on St. Jerome in the Wilderness toward the end of his life, and the painting (which hangs in the Vatican) was never finished. DaVinci appears to have been in a difficult time in his life, in part related to a sexual scandal, and also because his worldview was shifting with age. “I thought I was learning to live,” the painter wrote in his diary around this time, adding, “I was only learning to die” (from Liana Bortolon’s The Life and Times of Leonardo). In this light, I can only imagine that St. Jerome’s hermetic life in the desert may have been of special interest. An apocryphal story about Jerome features him pulling a thorn from the paw of a lion.

Exile

Remembering home.

It’s hard to imagine now but try. It was fields of gold. There was nothing like it. It was a paradise, the flyers announced, with soil rich as chocolate. There would be peace in the valley, we sang, and believed, and we had the wheat to win the war. Then came the suitcase farmers, to make a killing. They didn’t come to live, just to buy the land and the machines to work it. 

They bled it dry. What followed looked like vengeance, except that the killers had already fled. What was left was those of us still working by foot and horse, to get by. We’d sing on Sundays, still, and our spirit shall sorrow no more. By and by, we gave up trying to keep dirt off the children’s faces during the week. They’d spit and it would look like they’d been chewing tobacco.

Suddenly, the sky cleared up. Hallelujah, we said, to witness blue again. We washed the children’s faces, went to church, even packed a picnic. But then, in the afternoon, it got suddenly cool. You could see a cloud in the distance, dark and low, rolling in on itself. The birds took off. When it rolled over us, I looked for my own hand. I brought it up and even when it touched my nose, I still couldn’t see it.

After that, people stopped asking each other, where’s your home? It wasn’t polite. The answer was scattered all over, and it wasn’t the one that any of us wanted to give.

***

On this day in 1935, the Black Sunday Dust Storm swept across the panhandle region of Oklahoma, Texas, and surrounding regions in the U.S. Sources: Remembering Black SundaySmithsonian Magazine, and the photographs of Dorothea Lange and In the Sweet by and by Hymn Lyrics and history.

Breaking Silence

A tribute.

When silence is betrayal, when uncertainty mesmerizes, a calling to speak can be a vocation of agony––so rejoice as well, because we are here in firm dissent, a new spirit among us.

No document from human hands can make any of the persecuted less our brothers––sisters, hear their broken cries. They watched us poison water, bulldoze land, and the children run in packs in the street, seeking food for their mothers.

Family, village, land––destroyed. The initiative is ours now, to somehow cease this madness, to be prepared, with every creative protest possible. To challenge the young with alternatives, each by their own convictions.

There is a deeper malady here, and the answer so readily dismissed as weak is love––courageous, relentless against fear.

Let us hope. We still have a choice.

Begin. 

***

Exactly one year before he was assassinated, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his speech “Beyond Vietnam––Time to Break the Silence” at Riverside Church in New York City. Today’s post is a tribute to this moment, assembled from words and phrases in this speech. Found poetry is one of my favorite ways to listen.

Non-Linear

Regarding some equations.

On first introduction to the idea of convergence, it is natural to take an optimistic view. However, in certain cases it is clear with moral certainty that whatever else happens, convergence does not.

Consider subharmonics. Proving their bare existence, we begin with a theorem of our own before beginning any proofs.

Suppose a positive constant, some fixed function bounded by a given. From there, find a local maximum. Suppose the velocity of a given around a stationary point, spinning.

Consider any variable whatsoever, and let it be x. It follows immediately that the notation parallel to that for symbol y is denoted by an alternate symbol.

We are always supposing. 

We suppose always,

assume the truth.

***

Today is the anniversary of the death of celebrated British mathematician, Dame Mary Cartwright (1900-1998), who is considered one of the pioneers of what came to be known as chaos theory. This exercise is a collage of phrases found in this paper she published in 1945.

Valley

Between us.

Between being and becoming, a valley holds the wasted lives of a time when we thought we could not know what we were except by testing hot fire against some idea of what it felt to be a god, before the end of the world, and we are in this valley now, still with this longing, and what can it be but nostalgia for the days when it was possible to imagine anything but this relentless fragility with its incessant reminders, that there is no becoming beyond this? Instead of a world, see this baby, head bandaged from the last strike, another attempt by a would-be god of our own making, to make some urgent point, but there is no scorecard without a world to rule, only this child looking up, eyes glazed and the dead all around.

Crossings

Keeping watch in the dark.

Hundreds gather beneath the remains of a bridge they meant to cross. They wait, watching the river, for the next chance to move. One, looking back, says the children are scaredthey are killing them over there. When a cloud of dust settles, some are still unmoving in the road, a dog beside them barking, and even David is shrouded in black now, to mark the deaths.

At the border, a woman waits for her cousin, traveling for days with children. The men are back home fighting, but where is home now? 

We are trying to get them out, she says, to save their lives, at least. Do you see me, cousin? She jumps and waves. A child runs to her, hooded in a pink parka. There is weeping all around and weary smiles of relief. It is calmer now, she says, and they move from the wire fence of the thin border between the known world and the next.

***

Details culled from New York Times coverage of events on the eleventh day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. With love and prayers for all who flee war and persecution.