. . . we had to forgive to survive in the labyrinth. There were so many of us who would have to live with things done and things left undone that day. Things that did not go right, things that seemed okay at the time because we could not see the future. If only we could see the endless string of consequences that result from our smallest actions. But we can’t know better until knowing better is useless. . . .
Before I got here, I thought for a long time that the way out of the labyrinth was to pretend that it did not exist, to build a small, self-sufficient world in a back corner of the endless maze and to pretend that I was not lost but home. But that only led to a lonely life accompanied only by the last words of the already-dead, so I came here looking for a Great Perhaps . . .
Tuesday afternoon, cloudy and less humid after the earlier showers, 84 degrees.
Yesterday was the birthday of American poet Donald Justice (August 12, 1925-August 6, 2004), who wrote one of my all-time favorite poems, “Men at Forty.” I would always try to include this one on the syllabus of any American Literature classes that I taught, and it was always the older students who liked it best. I suppose that it’s the kind of poem that is like fine wine, best savored with some years added. I realize that I’ve featured this poem before, several years ago (April 2011), but that’s the great things about controlling my content: I can repeat things that I love.
Justice’s poems have been called elegaic and controlled. What I like best about his poems are the powerful single lines, such as the one that I chose for the heading, or this closing line from his poem “About My Poems”:
—Now the long silence. Now the beginning again.
Or these beautiful closing lines from “Invitation to a Ghost,” an elegy that Justice wrote for his friend Henri Coulette:
Come back now and help me with these verses.
Whisper to me some beautiful secret that you remember from life.
You may not be as familiar with the Pulitzer Prize winning Justice as his writing was not flashy, like, say Bukowski, but he was incredibly influential to the genre, helping to shape the work of a generation of poets such as Rita Dove, Mark Strand, and Charles Wright via his association with the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. You can find a more in-depth biography on Justice here at the Poetry Foundation or here at the Academy of American Poets.
Men at Forty
Men at forty
Learn to close softly
The doors to rooms they will not be
Coming back to.
At rest on a stair landing,
They feel it
Moving beneath them now like the deck of a ship,
Though the swell is gentle.
And deep in mirrors
The face of the boy as he practices trying
His father’s tie there in secret
And the face of that father,
Still warm with the mystery of lather.
They are more fathers than sons themselves now.
Something is filling them, something
That is like the twilight sound
Of the crickets, immense,
Filling the woods at the foot of the slope
Behind their mortgaged houses.
[This poem is not addressed to you]
This poem is not addressed to you.
You may come into it briefly,
But no one will find you here, no one.
You will have changed before the poem will.
Even while you sit there, unmovable,
You have begun to vanish. And it does not matter.
The poem will go on without you.
It has the spurious glamor of certain voids.
It is not sad, really, only empty.
Once perhaps it was sad, no one knows why.
It prefers to remember nothing.
Nostalgias were peeled from it long ago.
Your type of beauty has no place here.
Night is the sky over this poem.
It is too black for stars.
And do not look for any illumination.
You neither can nor should understand what it means.
Listen, it comes without guitar,
Neither in rags nor any purple fashion.
And there is nothing in it to comfort you.
Close your eyes, yawn. It will be over soon.
You will forget the poem, but not before
It has forgotten you. And it does not matter.
It has been most beautiful in its erasures.
O bleached mirrors! Oceans of the drowned!
Nor is one silence equal to another.
And it does not matter what you think.
This poem is not addressed to you.
“. . . I cannot remember a time when I was not in love with them—with the books themselves, cover and binding and the paper they were printed on, with their smell and their weight and with their possession in my arms, captured and carried off to myself.” ~ Eudora Welty, from “One Writer’s Beginnings”
Monday afternoon, sunny and mild, 82 degrees.
I thought that today I’d complete a survey that I found. I enjoy doing these once in a while. This one is perfect for me as it’s about books and reading. By the way, if you don’t know it, you can find great copies of hardback books from all genres at Ollie’s. I know, a surprise right? Usually the books are $3.99 or less. Whenever we go there, I look for copies of books that I lost with the storage unit.
Another great place to find books is in thrift stores. There were two in Norfolk that I loved to peruse; one of them used to have a bag of books option: as many books as you could fit in a bag for $5. They were very generous in not limiting bag sizes. I really miss that place.
That all for now. More later. Peace.
“A room without books is like a body without a soul.” ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero
What are you currently reading? I’m rereading Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.
How many books have you read this year? I’m behind in my goals, having only read 12.
How have your reading tastes changed from when you were a child? I wouldn’t say they’ve changed as much as they’ve broadened. As a child, I loved pretty much anything I could find in the young section of the library. Now, I still love books from all categories—science fiction/fantasy, mysteries, in particular British mysteries, poetry, action/adventure, sweeping historical fiction, biographies, actual histories, and memoirs. I also like that category known as Young Adult, although I’m not sure why it’s called that.
Physical book or e-book? Only paper for me. I love the way that books smell and feel. You cannot get that from an e-reader.
Where do you love to read? I love to read outside; if I had a hammock again, that would be my preferred place. I did see one of those hanging egg chairs at Sam’s Club that I would give anything to have as that would be ideal.
What is your ideal reading atmosphere? background noise or silent? alone or with others? I don’t want anything going on in the background if I’m reading, and I prefer to be alone. When I was a teen, I would watch TV with my boyfriend while reading. Don’t really know how I did that.
Are you a writer? I like to think so.
What was your very first baby book? The first book that I remember having was A Child’s Garden of Verses.
What was the first book you read on your own? I’m fairly certain that the first things that I read on my own were Superman comics, but the first book was probably The House at Pooh Corner.
How many books have you read in total? A conservative estimate would be about 2,000 books.
What has been the longest gap between books? I went through a really bad depression in which I couldn’t concentrate enough to read. It was almost a year without books.
What are your favorite genres? See number 3. My very favorite would probably be British mysteries. I’ve been reading those kinds of books the longest.
What books make you happy? This is a weird question. Reading in general makes me happy. Books that make me smile tend to be things like comic compilations such as Calvin & Hobbes or The Far Side.
What books have made you uncomfortable? Why? I don’t really like romances, mostly because they are so antithetical to real life, and the writing style tends to be formulaic.
Can you read anywhere? Moving vehicle? Roller coaster? I used to be able to read anywhere, but I can no longer read in a moving vehicle without getting carsick.
How do you bookmark books? I have a collection of bookmarks, but I rarely remember to use them. Usually I just use whatever piece of paper is closest to me.
Policy on book-lending? I only lend books to close friends or family. My other mother and I used to exchange books all of the time.
Do people know you’re a bookworm? If they know me, they do.
How well do you take care of your books? I cherish my books, and I prefer to purchase hardbacks. I hate it if they become damaged.
Can you read in other languages? I can read a bit in French.
What is a total book turn-off for you? I hate books that contain errors in grammar and syntax, and I get really upset if a book has a bad ending.
What is an essential element of a good book? For me, it needs to have good plot and character development, and it needs to be written well.
Genres you rarely read? I don’t read self-help books. They get on my nerves.
Do you read non-fiction? Yes, I like to read biographies, especially those of writers. I also like memoirs and collections of essays.
Do you read reviews on a book before you read it? Not usually, but if I do read a review and it seems intriguing, I will probably order the book.
Do you judge a book by the cover? I try not to. I learned when pursuing my publishing degree that the cover design is not always as closely married to the text as it should be.
Do you read cover to cover or sometimes skim parts? I read cover to cover, and I often reread books I love, in particular series such as Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, both of which I have read multiple times.
Do you always finish a book, even if it is dull? It’s hard for me to leave a book unfinished, and I can count on my hands the number of books that I’ve actually put down without finishing.
How do you organize your books? I organize by last name within genres.
Favorite book this year? This would have to be The Magicians trilogy. I really, really liked those books, and I wish that there were more in the series.
Music by Keane, “Somewhere Only We Know”
Burning of the Books
Typewriters wait at desks,
stories loiter outside hotels.
Far from the boiling pulp of Thunder Bay
starved spruces in wordless bogs
wait to be books.
You who leave the bookstore
will know how the snow waits
for the white fox to venture out
when hunger is spelled in his gut,
how his tracks end in a tuft of fur
and the asterisk of blood
which is the only color on this page;
the unwritten preface to your book.
It will speak to you in your study
like the claviforms on cavern walls
that have kept felling bison
for forty thousand years.
As you open the cover
an axe will strike in the north woods
and teams of draft horses will haul
great logs across the ice.
And if you read well when you read fire
the censor’s match will fail,
the heart of a pinecone will shine.
Incendiary slogans that sleep in libraries
will inspire arsons in the night.
Fireballs will crown the forests,
and in your book-walled room
the sweet smoke of a word’s entrails
will rise from ashes of the page.
A quiet day around here. I’ll be handling everything while Corey is gone to Ohio for his dad’s big birthday celebration. That means all of the dogs, the goats, and the horses. Woo hoo. My life is full. Seriously, though, it’s really nice to have Napoleon back; this morning I went out to let the goats out of their pen, and I turned around and found Napoleon right behind me, waiting to be nuzzled. Sassy was there, of course, but she’s still too skittish to be nuzzled. Now I just need a saddle.
One good thing about binge-watching The Americans is that I keep being treated to great songs from the 80s, as well as a few that I’ve never heard or heard and completely forgotten. I posted one the other day by Yazoo, who was completely new to me.
I only have one season left, and then I’ll probably start on either Deadwood or Justified. Kind of sad, huh, that the only real news that I have at the moment is the next television show that I’m going to watch . . .
Anyway, thought I’d share a passage that I found from Canadian philosopher and humanitarian Jean Vanier (go here to learn more about him):
If we try to prevent, or ignore, the movement of life, we run the risk of falling into the inevitable depression that must accompany an impossible goal. Life evolves; change is constant. When we try to prevent the forward movement of life, we may succeed for a while but, inevitably, there is an explosion; the groundswell of life’s constant movement, constant change, is too great to resist.
. . . To live well is to observe in today’s apparent order the tiny anomalies that are the seeds of change, the harbingers of the order of tomorrow. This means living in a state of certain insecurity, in anguish and loneliness, which, at its best, can push us towards the new. Too much security and the refusal to evolve, to embrace change, leads to a kind of death. Too much insecurity, however, can also mean death. To be human is to create sufficient order so that we can move on into insecurity and seeming disorder. In this way, we discover the new. ~ Jean Vanier, from Becoming Human
More later. Peace.
Note: Roland the goat knocked my laptop off the table once again, and for hours I was unable to finish this post and publish.
Music by Avi Kaplan (love this guy’s voice), “Change on the Rise”
“I was returning to my musty court and madness but my kind of madness.” ~ Charles Bukowski, from “Would You Suggest Writing as a Career?”
Monday afternoon, rainy and much cooler, 72 degrees.
It’s a Charles Bukowski kind of day; by that I mean that it’s ordinary, but depressing in its ordinariness. I’m of two minds about Bukowski: I like some of his poetry, but his short stories sometimes get on my nerves because they are so filled with misogyny. I was just perusing the 1983 collection Tales of Ordinary Madness (originally published by Lawrence Ferlinghetti in 1972). Bukowski had a seeming antipathy towards women that I have a hard time getting past. Yet at the same time, he wrote some lines that were real pearls. For example, take the closing line of one of his short stories, “A .45 to Pay the Rent”:
then the beautiful child was asleep and the moon was full.
It’s such a peaceful line, closing a story with such violent undertones.
The truth is, though, that Bukowski was a true curmudgeon: he just didn’t get along with most people, and he found ordinary life hard, taxing. So he drank and smoked and did drugs, none of which I really do; nevertheless, I sometimes feel a real affinity for the man, the writer, and the intense creative force that compelled him.
“‘Would you suggest writing as a career?’ one of the young students asked me. ‘Are you trying to be funny?’ I asked him. ‘No, no, I’m serious. Would you advise writing as a career?’ ‘Writing chooses you, you don’t choose it.’” ~ Charles Bukowski, from “Would You Suggest Writing as a Career?”
I was reminded of the collection when I was prowling the ether looking for quotes that fit my mood for today. I may have over 100 draft posts filled with quotes and poems and songs, but none of them seemed to fit today’s mood. Then I found the quote for this section, which I have always loved, which led me to search for an online copy of the short stories. I found one here as a PDF, if you are so inclined. I actually found a site that has nothing but quotes from the collection. You can find it here if you’re interested.
Anyway, the drastic switch in temperatures and dropping barometric pressure has caused a combination sinus/migraine, which probably accounts for my weird mood. No real surprise there. Intense pressure and pain do not make for a pleasant afternoon under any circumstances, as I am sure you can agree.
One good thing on the horizon, though: Corey was able to borrow a small horse trailer that works with a standard hitch. We should be able to bring Napoleon home today or tomorrow, depending on weather. I am so relieved.
“I like to prowl ordinary places and taste the people— from a distance.” ~ Charles Bukowski, from”59 Cents a Pound”
This section quote comes from a poem contained in the book (epub here) Play the Piano Drunk Like a Percussion Instrument Until the Fingers Begin to Bleed a Bit. I mean, how can you not love something with that title? It’s as if Bukowski was at times two different people. The crass woman-hater in the short stories, and the astute observer of humanity and life in the poems. I mean, he wrote poems about the souls of dead animals and dreaming of injured cats; there’s a remembered section from some poem, “It’s so easy to be a poet | and so hard to be | a man.”
Truthfully, though I have never read a biography on him, so I probably should do so before attempting to analyze the man in any kind of cogent way.
There was actually a point here. The title of the collection reminds me so much of my friend Gail Kelly from the medical school. She came to me one afternoon so excited because she had found the Tom Waits’ song called “The Piano Has Been Drinking.” It was a classic Gail moment. She was a wild woman, and like so many of my friends, I lost touch with her, and that’s really a shame because we had a real connection.
But back to me and my headache.
It hurts. My eyes are throbbing and I’m typing without really focusing on the screen, not just because of the head but also because the pair of glasses that I use during the day is an old pair of prescription sunglasses, and I lost a nose piece the other day. I haven’t pursued getting a new pair of glasses because of the whole cataract thing. I’m hoping to have an eye exam in August, and perhaps then I can get a referral to an eye surgeon; although, I would really prefer to have the operation done in Norfolk, but who even knows if I can swing that.
Allow me to apologize. I know that this post has been all over the place. Like I said in the beginning: a Bukowski kind of day.
That’s about all for now. More later. Peace.
Music by Tom Waits, “The Piano has been Drinking,” what else? I picked one with the lyrics. For Gail.
59 cents a pound
I like to prowl ordinary places
and taste the people—
from a distance.
I don’t want them too near
because that’s when attrition
but in supermarkets
I can look at their bodies
and their faces
and their clothing—
watch the way they walk
or what they are doing.
I’m like an x-ray machine
I like them like that:
I imagine the best things
I imagine them brave and crazy
I imagine them beautiful.
I like to prowl ordinary places.
I feel sorry for us all or glad for us
caught alive together
and awkward in that way.
there’s nothing better than the joke
the seriousness of us
the dullness of us
buying stockings and carrots and gum
buying birth control
and toilet paper.
we should build a great bonfire
we should congratulate ourselves on our
we stand in long lines
we walk about
I like to prowl ordinary places
the people explain themselves to me
and I to them
a woman at 3:35 p.m.
weighing purple grapes on a scale
looking at that scale very
she is dressed in a simple green dress
with a pattern of white flowers
she takes the grapes
puts them carefully into a white paper
that’s lightning enough
the generals and the doctors may kill us
but we have
Road trip today to Roanoke to pick up two more goats, female Nubians, so no time for a post. I’ve been wanting to use the following selection from The Upanishads, so I thought today would be a good day. One day I’ll read more of these texts (for more information on these ancient Indian philosophies, go here).
More later. Peace.
From “Eternal Stories” from The Upanishads (Tr. Thomas Egenes):
“Look Balaki,” the king said. “Do you see that spider?”
“Yes,” said Balaki, “I see the spider moving along its web.”
“We are like the spider,” said the king. “We weave our life, and then move along in it. We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives in the dream.
“This is true for the entire universe. That is why it is said, ‘Having created the creation, the Creator entered into it.’
“This is true for us. We create our world, and then enter into that world. We live in the world that we have created. When our hearts are pure, then we create the beautiful, enlightened life we have wished for.”
(Didn’t get home until almost 11 p.m. Very long day. Much hotter in Roanoke, in the 90s. Forgot to post before we left.)