When everything around me begins to fall apart, I often find comfort in the words of others. Bukowski’s poem below seems especially relevant at the moment:
Aside: I’m really impressed by the YouTuber who makes these poem companion videos.
Happy Birthday to T. S. Eliot (September 26, 1888-January 4, 1965), poet, literary critic, essayist, and publisher (“The Waste Land”)
Belated Happy Birthday to WILLIAM FAULKNER (September 25, 1897-July 6, 1962), Nobel Prize Laureate and author whose work I always have to read at least twice to really understand (The sound and the fury).
I missed the birthday of one of my favorite writers: Michael Ondaatje (September 12, 1943). One of my best friends from the museum, Becky Anthony, introduced me to Ondaatje and his masterful novel, The English Patient, which was adapted into an equally beautiful movie starring Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas. The Poetry Foundation has a nice bio of the author.
For today’s Two for Tuesday, I thought that I’d share some of my favorite quotes from the novel, a few more than two, I suppose. I’m also including a video with some of the movie’s soundtrack. I love movie soundtracks, and this is one that I listen to when I’m feeling very out of sorts. It is as hauntingly beautiful as the movie and novel. Enjoy.
“She had always wanted words, she loved them; grew up on them. Words gave her clarity, brought reason, shape.”
In the desert the most loved waters, like a lover’s name, are carried blue in your hands, enter your throat. One swallows absence.
A man in a desert can hold absence in his cupped hands knowing it is something that feeds him more than water. There is a plant he knows of near El Taj, whose heart, if one cuts it out, is replaced with a fluid containing herbal goodness. Every morning one can drink the liquid the amount of a missing heart.
He walks with her through the indigo markets that lie between South Cairo and her home. The beautiful songs of faith enter the air like arrows, one minaret answering another, as if passing on a rumor of the two of them as they walk through the cold morning air, the smell of charcoal and hemp already making the air profound. Sinners in a holy city.
And all the names of the tribes, the nomads of faith who walked in the monotone of the desert and saw brightness and faith and colour. The way a stone or found metal box or bone can become loved and turn eternal in a prayer. Such glory of this country she enters now and becomes a part of. We die containing a richness of lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have plunged into and swum up as if rivers of wisdom, characters we have climbed into as if trees, fears we have hidden in as if caves. I wish for all of this to be marked on my body when I am dead. I believe in such cartography—to be marked by nature, not just to label ourselves on a map like the names of rich men and women on buildings. We are communal histories, communal books. We are not owned or monogamous in our taste or experience. All I desired was to walk upon such an earth that had no maps.
I would ride your bed
And leave the yellow bark dust
On your pillow.
Your breasts and shoulders would reek
You could never walk through markets
without the profession of my fingers
floating over you. The blind would
stumble certain of whom they approached
though you might bathe
under rain gutters, monsoon.
Here on the upper thigh
at this smooth pasture
neighbour to you hair
or the crease
that cuts your back. This ankle.
You will be known among strangers
as the cinnamon peeler’s wife.
I could hardly glance at you
never touch you
–your keen nosed mother, your rough brothers.
I buried my hands
in saffron, disguised them
over smoking tar,
helped the honey gatherers…
When we swam once
I touched you in the water
and our bodies remained free,
you could hold me and be blind of smell.
you climbed the bank and said
this is how you touch other women
the grass cutter’s wife, the lime burner’s daughter.
And you searched your arms
for the missing perfume
what good is it
to be the lime burner’s daughter
left with no trace
as if not spoken to in the act of love
as if wounded without the pleasure of a scar.
your belly to my hands
in the dry air and said
I am the cinnamon
Peeler’s wife. Smell me.
. . . 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”