“Human nature is like water. It takes the shape of its container.” ~ Wallace Stevens

Charles Burchfield The Mysterious Bird 1917
“The Mysterious Bird” (1917)
by Charles Burchfield

                   

Two for Tuesday: Imperfect Memories

Edward Hopper Blackhead, Monhegan, Maine c1918
“Blackhead, Monhegan, Maine” (c1918)
by Edward Hopper

Of Bright & Blue Birds & The Gala Sun

Some things, niño, some things are like this,
That instantly and in themselves are gay
And you and I are such things, O most miserable…

For a moment they are gay and are a part
Of an element, the exactest element for us,
In which we pronounce joy like a word of our own.

It is there, being imperfect, and with these things
And erudite in happiness, with nothing learned,
That we are joyously ourselves and we think

Without the labor of thought, in that element,
And we feel, in a way apart, for a moment, as if
There was a bright scienza outside of ourselves,

A gaiety that is being, not merely knowing,
The will to be and to be total in belief,
Provoking a laughter, an agreement, by surprise.

~ Wallace Stevens

                   

Max Beckmann Beach Landscape 1904
“Beach Landscape” (1904)
by Max Beckmann

Liar

What brings me alive
is less than simplicity,
is a company of soldiers in shiny blue jackets
boiling chickens in the shade
by the Erasmus Gate, is the fact that my grandfather
died begging for mercy
in a hotel in Atlanta, and that my grandmother, in 1910,
mourned because her breasts
were small.

I know four men
who paddled the length of the Mississippi
in a dugout they hacked
and burned out of a beech tree. When anyone mentioned rivers
they would look at each other
and their eyes would soften with the memory
of mists and sand bars,
of the grave black brows of river barges.

I come from a country as large as Brazil,
but all I remember
are the wet silver webs
of golden jungle spiders
netted in the cane.

I wake up thinking of my brother,
who, on a July morning in 1954,
killed a boy without meaning to.
And I can tell you that this isn’t true,
that my brother didn’t,
as he swept back a four iron
on the lawn of our house in Sea Island,
crack the temple of a boy we had only met
the night before. I can say Yes
I am lying again,
about the boy, about Sea Island,
but as you get up to fix another drink
I will tell you a story
about sleeping in a hay barn in Turkey
and of waking in the night, as, one by one,
the farm hands stood out of the rank straw
to greet us.
I want you to know
that my life is a ritual lie
and that I deserve to be loved
anyway. I want you to smile
when I tell of the purple hyacinths
caught in the gears of the raised bridge
over the Chickopee River, I want you to pretend
you were there.

My sister’s hips were two ax handles wide,
she wept that no one would love her,
my sister, who waded among yellow poppies
and wondered if she were really alive—I want you to wish
you had married her,
I want you to say Please, why did she leave me,
Get her back, O my God,
how can I live without her. I’m not even amazed
that I want you to say this. Listen,
I came downstairs this morning
and somebody had filled the house with flowers.

~ Charlie Smith

                   

Music by Ryan Star, “Losing Your Memory”

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