“Living With the News” by W.S. Merwin

Can I get used to it day after day
a little at a time while the tide keeps
coming in faster the waves get bigger
building on each other breaking records
this is not the world that I remember
then comes the day when I open the box
that I remember packing with such care
and there is the face that I had known well
in little pieces staring up at me
it is not mentioned on the front pages
but somewhere far back near the real estate
among the things that happen every day
to someone who now happens to be me
and what can I do and who can tell me
then there is what the doctor comes to say
endless patience will never be enough
the only hope is to be the daylight

~ W. S. Merwin  (September 30, 1927 – March 15, 2019). As published in the July 28, 2014 issue of The New Yorker

RIP Mr. Merwin. “Your absence has gone through me / Like thread through a needle. / Everything I do is stitched with its color.” . . . “We are saying thank you and waving / dark though it is.”

(“Separation” and “Thanks” both by W. S. Merwin)

Read more remembrances at The Merwin Conservancy.

“Oatmeal” by Galway Kinnell

I eat oatmeal for breakfast.
I make it on the hot plate and put skimmed milk on it.
I eat it alone.
I am aware it is not good to eat oatmeal alone.
Its consistency is such that it is better for your mental health
if somebody eats it with you.
That is why I often think up an imaginary companion to have breakfast with.
Possibly it is even worse to eat oatmeal with an imaginary companion.
Nevertheless, yesterday morning, I ate my oatmeal porridge,
as he called it with John Keats.
Keats said I was absolutely right to invite him:
due to its glutinous texture, gluey lumpishness, hint of slime,
and unusual willingness to disintegrate, oatmeal should not be eaten alone.
He said that in his opinion, however, it is perfectly OK to eat
it with an imaginary companion, and that he himself had
enjoyed memorable porridges with Edmund Spenser and John Milton.
Even if eating oatmeal with an imaginary companion is not as
wholesome as Keats claims, still, you can learn something from it.
Yesterday morning, for instance, Keats told me about writing the “Ode to a Nightingale.”
He had a heck of a time finishing it those were his words “Oi ‘ad a ‘eck of a toime,” he said,
more or less, speaking through his porridge.
He wrote it quickly, on scraps of paper, which he then stuck in his pocket,
but when he got home he couldn’t figure out the order of the stanzas,
and he and a friend spread the papers on a table, and they
made some sense of them, but he isn’t sure to this day if they got it right.
An entire stanza may have slipped into the lining of his jacket through a hole in his pocket.
He still wonders about the occasional sense of drift between stanzas,
and the way here and there a line will go into the
configuration of a Moslem at prayer, then raise itself up
and peer about, and then lay itself down slightly off the mark,
causing the poem to move forward with a reckless, shining wobble.
He said someone told him that later in life Wordsworth heard about
the scraps of paper on the table, and tried shuffling some
stanzas of his own, but only made matters worse.
I would not have known any of this but for my reluctance to eat oatmeal alone.
When breakfast was over, John recited “To Autumn.”
He recited it slowly, with much feeling, and he articulated the words
lovingly, and his odd accent sounded sweet.
He didn’t offer the story of writing “To Autumn,” I doubt if there is much of one.
But he did say the sight of a just-harvested oat field got him started
on it, and two of the lines, “For Summer has o’er-brimmed their
clammy cells” and “Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours,”
came to him while eating oatmeal alone.
I can see him drawing a spoon through the stuff, gazing into the glimmering furrows,
muttering. Maybe there is no sublime; only the shining of the amnion’s tatters.
For supper tonight I am going to have a baked potato left over from lunch.
I am aware that a leftover baked potato is damp, slippery, and simultaneously
gummy and crumbly, and therefore I’m going to invite Patrick Kavanagh to join me.

Galway Kinnell, from A New Selected Poems (Mariner Books).

 

 

“Breath” by Mark Strand (repost)

When you see them
tell them I am still here,
that I stand on one leg while the other one dreams,
that this is the only way,

that the lies I tell them are different
from the lies I tell myself,
that by being both here and beyond
I am becoming a horizon,

that as the sun rises and sets I know my place,
that breath is what saves me,
that even the forced syllables of decline are breath,
that if the body is a coffin it is also a closet of breath,

that breath is a mirror clouded by words,
that breath is all that survives the cry for help
as it enters the stranger’s ear
and stays long after the world is gone,

that breath is the beginning again, that from it
all resistance falls away, as meaning falls
away from life, or darkness fall from light,
that breath is what I give them when I send my love.

“Breath” by Mark Strand from New Selected Poems

originally shared on November 30, 2014.

“A Great Book can be read again and again…” by Suzanne Buffam

A Great Book can be read again and again, inexhaustibly, with great benefit to great minds, wrote Mortimer Adler, co-founder of the Great Books Foundation and the Great Books of the Western World program at the university where my husband will be going up for tenure next fall, and where I sometimes teach as well, albeit in a lesser, “non-ladder” position. Not only must a Great Book still matter today, Adler insisted, it must touch upon at least twenty- five of the one hundred and two Great Ideas that have occupied Great Minds for the last twenty-five centuries. Ranging from Angel to World, a comprehensive list of these concepts can be found in Adler’s two-volume Syntopicon: an Index to the Great Ideas, which was published with Great Fanfare, if not Great Financial Success, by Encyclopedia Britannica in 1952. Although the index includes many Great Ideas, including Art, Beauty, Change, Desire, Eternity, Family, Fate, Happiness, History, Pain, Sin, Slavery, Soul, Space, Time, and Truth, it does not, alas, include an entry on Pillows, which often strike me, as I sink into mine at the end of long day of anything, these days, as at the very least worthy of note. Among the five hundred and eleven Great Books on Adler’s list, updated in 1990 to appease his quibbling critics, moreover, only four, I can’t help counting, were written by women—Virginia, Willa, Jane, and George—none of whom, as far as I can discover, were anyone’s mother.

Not in stock, says the campus bookstore clerk looking up from his screen with a smile when I inquire, incognito, after my books which are nowhere to be found on the shelves. We used to have two copies of the first one, he says, but no one bought them, so we sent them back last June. We never carried the second one, he adds, but we could order it for you. What’s your name? I glance up, above his head, at a shelf of Staff Picks. Between a history of disgust and a guide for saving the planet, I spot my husband’s last book, gleaming in the day’s dying light. Forget it, I mutter into my muffler, I can get it from Amazon by Friday. I go home and order an ivory satin pillowcase instead, guaranteed to reduce hair loss due to breakage and soften fine lines.

No Use

Wet cigarettes.
E-cigarettes.
A babysitter whose babysitter is sick.
Nunchucks at a gunfight.
Stiletto heels at the beach.
Last year’s flu shot.
Next year’s peace talks.

All day I lie sprawled across my pillow watching a light crust of  snow retract across the lawn into a thin band of shade along the  fence. I watch the sun fail to rise above the Japanese maple and  drop like a coin into a slot in the wall.

Therapies A to Z

Art.
Biblio.
Chemo.
Dung.
Electroshock.
Family.
Gestalt.
Hippo.
Ichthyo.
Jenga.
Kite.
Light.
Music.
Neurolinguistic.
Occupational.
Primal scream.
Quantum touch.
Reiki.
Sandplay.
Transpersonal.
Ultraviolet.
Viro.
Wilderness.
X-ray.
Yoga.
Zoo.

Suzanne Buffam, “A Great Book can be read again and again…” from A Pillow Book (Canarium Books, 2016). Copyright © 2016 by Suzanne Buffam.


So it may be a stretch, but I’m pairing this with an acoustic cover of one of my favorite songs, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” by a new to me artist Darryl Green. A nice haunting version in-between Annie Lennox and Marilyn Manson.

“Gift” by Rabindranath Tagore (repost)

O my love, what gift of mine
Shall I give you this dawn?
A morning song?
But morning does not last long—
The heat of the sun
Wilts like a flower
And songs that tire
Are done.

O friend, when you come to my gate.
At dusk
What is it you ask?
What shall I bring you?
A light?

A lamp from a secret corner of my silent house?
But will you want to take it with you
Down the crowded street?
Alas,
The wind will blow it out.

Whatever gifts are in my power to give you,
Be they flowers,
Be they gems for your neck
How can they please you
If in time they must surely wither,
Crack,
Lose lustre?
All that my hands can place in yours
Will slip through your fingers
And fall forgotten to the dust
To turn into dust.

Rather,
When you have leisure,
Wander idly through my garden in spring
And let an unknown, hidden flower’s scent startle you
Into sudden wondering—
Let that displaced moment
Be my gift.
Or if, as you peer your way down a shady avenue,
Suddenly, spilled
From the thick gathered tresses of evening
A single shivering fleck of sunset-light stops you,
Turns your daydreams to gold,
Let that light be an innocent
Gift.

Truest treasure is fleeting;
It sparkles for a moment, then goes.
It does not tell its name; its tune
Stops us in our tracks, its dance disappears
At the toss of an anklet
I know no way to it—
No hand, nor word can reach it.
Friend, whatever you take of it,
On your own,
Without asking, without knowing, let that
Be yours.
Anything I can give you is trifling—
Be it a flower, or a song.

Rabindranath Tagore

*Originally shared 5/29/15.

(I found this poem via the internet, but there is a Complete Works currently available at Amazon for Kindle for only $1.99.)