Nights in the Neighborhood by Linda Gregg

•March 15, 2015 • 11 Comments

I don’t desire much these days. Only that I get to be well, and take care of myself, as I should, which honestly I haven’t been very good at these past couple of years. I’m trying though. Or should I say: I’m learning.

I suppose, it’s because after all the wanting, I have arrived at that point when some things are clearer. For example: what I am meant to be doing for the rest of my life. For example: who I am at the core, and how that’s separate from what I’m going through, because really, life happens, and the world, and the universe, and to not be able to keep up with it at times is okay. For example: the people I love, and that small overlap with the people who love me, which is nice. For example: the truth that I am going to always a little bit sad. For example: that there are days when I am not strong enough to go at it alone, and that I need help, which is okay, too.

I think I have been lost for a long time now. I think maybe I even encourage that, sometimes. I think I’m so used to being lost that it’s started to give me roots in the abyss, and I tell myself it’s the only place I’ve ever known, the only space where I’ll be loved. I think maybe it’s time to be found.

I turn twenty-nine today. It’s past midnight. I could feel my old self stirring about, dusting the corners. Not ready to leave yet, perhaps. Sticking it out for another year, perhaps.

I suppose, it’s because after all the grief, the husk remains.

Happy birthday, self. It’s funny how life works, but I think you already know that.

Nights in the Neighborhood
Linda Gregg

I carry joy as a choir sings,
but quietly as the dark
carols. To keep the wind away
so the hidden ones will come
out into the street and add
themselves to this array of
stars, constellations and moon.
I notice the ones in pain
shine more than the others.
It’s so they can be found,
I think. Found and harbored.

Guard Duty by Tomas Tranströmer

•December 31, 2014 • 11 Comments

Listen: if you are writing, then you are a writer. That’s it. That’s all there really is. It took me a long time to finally embrace the truth of it, but here I am. There is no true measure to what makes one a writer; don’t let anybody else define it for you. I believe that you just have to find yourself writing, is all. Is everything.

And if you’re not writing: it is a holy task that you must appoint to yourself, to make a space for it in your life. I say holy, because it is the closest thing I can get to peace—that place where who I am and what I do can meet, where will and purpose can sit side by side and not argue about semantics. I say task, because writing is work. It’s a gargantuan amount of work that would take your whole life. You are not a special snowflake for choosing to write. It was just what you were meant to do, so do it.

Listen: writing is both a noble pursuit and a thankless job, and yet I love it unabashedly because it’s saved me even when I didn’t want to be saved. I am tethered to it the way an old tree has dug deep its roots into the earth, unto itself.

About a month ago I met someone who has dedicated the past few years purely to writing and nothing else. He has given up and shifted a lot of things in his life just to be able to do it every day. I could tell, just by looking at his face, how right that decision was. I could tell that writing will always come first over everything. I could tell because I recognise in him parts of myself, although I’m not all the way there yet. I admired his courage, perhaps even envied him. He sat across from me and inhabited another world entirely, one that he created, and how amazing was that? I know it doesn’t make me less of who I am—just that we have different paths. Yet how amazing is it that our paths would cross, perhaps entwine?

Listen: do what you have to do. You have to fight for what you love any fucking way you can, but you can also take your time. You are a writer because you are writing, and you are a writer even if you are not writing. It is allowed. Forgive yourself. This is yours, the life you make. Nobody can take it away from you.

Listen: the new year is arriving in a few hours. The past twelve months have led you to this. It was rough, but you are alive. And now you are here. I love you wholly, and fiercely, as I have never loved before.

Guard Duty
Tomas Tranströmer
Translated by Robert Bly

I’m ordered out to a big hump of stones
as if I were an aristocratic corpse from the Iron Age.
The rest are still back in the tent sleeping,
stretched out like spokes in a wheel.

In the tent the stove is boss: it is a big snake
that swallows a ball of fire and hisses.
But it is silent out here in the spring night
among chill stones waiting for dawn.

Out here in the cold I start to fly
like a shaman, straight to her body—
some places pale from her swimming suit.
The sun shone right on us. The moss was hot.

I brush along the side of warm moments,
but I can’t stay there long.
I’m whistled back through space—
I crawl among the stones. Back to here and now.

Task: to be where I am.
Even when I’m in this solemn and absurd
role: I am still the place
where creation works on itself.

Dawn comes, the sparse tree trunks
rake on color now, the frostbitten
forest flowers form a silent search party
after something that has disappeared in the dark.

But to be where I am…and to wait.
I am full of anxiety, obstinate, confused.
Things not yet happened are already here!
I feel that. They’re just out there:

a murmuring mass outside the barrier.
They can only slip in one by one.
They want to slip in. Why? They do
one by one. I am the turnstile.

This is from Selected Poems: 1954-1986 by Tomas Tranströmer, edited by Robert Hass, published by The Ecco Press, 1987.

For The Moment by Pierre Reverdy

•December 25, 2014 • 3 Comments

I feel good. And happy. The quiet kind of happy. You know this—that which sits beside you, like sadness, and holds your hand. Only this time it is not as dark out as it should be. You both know that there will be bad days, but good days—they’re not impossible.

How have you been? Is it snowing where you are? Are the days longer? Where are you in the world? I feel you here, and then I remember all the space between us.

I’m full of wine, and the stars outside. And laughter, so much laughter. The cores of our lives should always feel like this.

Here is a gift. Merry Christmas.

For The Moment
Pierre Reverdy
Translated by Kenneth Rexroth

Life is simple and gay
The bright sun rings with a quiet sound
The sound of the bells has quieted down
This morning the light hits it all
The footlights of my head are lit again
And the room I live in is finally bright

Just one beam is enough
Just one burst of laughter
My joy that shakes the house
Restrains those wanting to die
By the notes of its song

I sing off-key
Ah it’s funny
My mouth open to every breeze
Spews mad notes everywhere
That emerge I don’t know how
To fly toward other ears

Listen I’m not crazy
I laugh at the bottom of the stairs
Before the wide-open door
In the sunlight scattered
On the wall among green vines
And my arms are held out toward you

It’s today I love you

This is from Selected Poems by Pierre Reverdy, translated by Kenneth Rexroth, published by New Directions, 1969. This is the only translation that I am familiar with, although I found out via a quick search that it is also attributed to Ron Padgett (his translation), which appears in The Random House Book of 20th Century French Poetry, edited by Paul Auster, published by Vintage, 1984.

A Step Away From Them by Frank O’Hara

•December 24, 2014 • 2 Comments

More than a year ago during class, my dear friend S. said, “When I read this poem, I have this wonderful, relaxed feeling of just walking around with O’Hara, happy to be aimless, happy to put a poem in my pocket, as he does with Reverdy.”

I said, Whenever I read O’Hara, I feel like I’m in his pocket, and he’s carrying me around with him during lunch time. I always like to imagine myself sitting in the dark, swaying as Frank moves gently through the crowd. And I am probably in the company of loose change, a handkerchief perhaps, or some cigarettes. I am unraveling a piece of paper maybe, or flipping open a book, and it is Poems by Pierre Reverdy, and I am whispering lines to myself, and Frank is writing his poems in his head.

A lot of poems out there tie the heart with romantic things, or people. I like how with Frank it is a book, it is poems, it is words (it is why he is a poet, and not a painter!). Ginsberg said Frank helped him see New York, and for me as a reader, Frank helped me realise, made me think, about what is important to people, individuals. That everything is relative. That for Frank it is Poems by Pierre Reverdy, and for my neighbour it is probably sweeping the canal in front of her house every morning, and for my father it is perhaps polishing the silverware every other weekend for a whole afternoon.

I’ve been thinking about where my heart is. How it keeps me anchored, even as I open myself to everything around me.

I’ve been thinking about pockets. How intimate it is, to place your heart in your pocket—as opposed to wearing your heart on your sleeve, which to me means being exposed and vulnerable. It’s like an inside joke, a secret. I am thinking of what we put in pockets—essentials and things we forget, both. I am thinking of the phrase, emptying out your pockets, and how it seems full of meaning now.

I’ve been thinking about the way the line breaks between my and pocket. The drop from one word to the next almost seems like a gesture, like a hand falling down to the pocket, as if feeling for it, as if to remind himself of what’s there.

Today it’s Christmas Eve. It is two in the morning. I’ve woken up suddenly around midnight, feeling like I have forgotten to do something, and now I’m sat here on my desk writing. Maybe I’ll take a walk. Or go back to bed. Read a book. Dream. Gather my life closely to my chest. Marvel at the passing days.

A Step Away From Them
Frank O’Hara

It’s my lunch hour, so I go
for a walk among the hum-colored
cabs. First, down the sidewalk
where laborers feed their dirty
glistening torsos sandwiches
and Coca-Cola, with yellow helmets
on. They protect them from falling
bricks, I guess. Then onto the
avenue where skirts are flipping
above heels and blow up over
grates. The sun is hot, but the
cabs stir up the air. I look
at bargains in wristwatches. There
are cats playing in sawdust.
to Times Square, where the sign
blows smoke over my head, and higher
the waterfall pours lightly. A
Negro stands in a doorway with a
toothpick, languorously agitating.
A blonde chorus girl clicks: he
smiles and rubs his chin. Everything
suddenly honks: it is 12:40 of
a Thursday.
                 Neon in daylight is a
great pleasure, as Edwin Denby would
write, as are light bulbs in daylight.
I stop for a cheeseburger at JULIET’S
CORNER. Giulietta Masina, wife of
Federico Fellini, è bell’ attrice.
And chocolate malted. A lady in
foxes on such a day puts her poodle
in a cab.
             There are several Puerto
Ricans on the avenue today, which
makes it beautiful and warm. First
Bunny died, then John Latouche,
then Jackson Pollock. But is the
earth as full as life was full, of them?
And one has eaten and one walks,
past the magazines with nudes
and the posters for BULLFIGHT and
the Manhattan Storage Warehouse,
which they’ll soon tear down. I
used to think they had the Armory
Show there.
                  A glass of papaya juice
and back to work. My heart is in my
pocket, it is Poems by Pierre Reverdy.

Negotiations with a Volcano by Naomi Shihab Nye

•November 25, 2014 • 6 Comments

I woke up this morning in tears, the wisps of a dream leaving me softly. Disoriented, I had trouble deciphering where I was, in the dark. I thought I was back again in a deep pit where no one can hear me for miles and miles, and for a few seconds was filled with terror—not for being alone, but for being back. Then I began to wake up, my lungs expanding. I realise it’s a memory I have of things that didn’t happen—or maybe it did, sometime, somewhere, in another life.

It’s leftover grief, I tell myself. Leftover sadness. The kind that arrives at your door unannounced, saying, have you forgotten? It’s because my days have been good for as long as I can remember it. Difficult, but good, and I treasure that. Life has been both kind and not kind, and honestly, is there any other way to live? For this moment, at least.

Two years I’ve been putting myself back together, and lately I feel like I am finally figuring some things out. Mostly I am learning not to venture too far ahead, because things change. Mostly I am learning that I will always be vulnerable. Mostly I am learning I can’t shield myself from everything, as much as I want to. That it is painful, but I need to be open if I want to spend the rest of my days creating. Mostly I am learning that there are people I can love who can grow with me, and there are people I can leave whom I’ve outgrown. Mostly I am learning what it means to be here, and to stay here.

How have I been living: most days I wake up around six. Two hours later I am at my desk writing. I come up for air every now and then. In the evening I write some more, and when sleep comes, I let it take me.

Sometimes I approach writing and living as I would an altar, the way I was taught when I was a child and still find value in kneeling inside a church. Perhaps this is how I pray: I put my pen to paper, and wrestle with the words and the world on the page. I put my pen to paper, and think: this is just to say, this is just to say.

Negotiations with a Volcano
Naomi Shihab Nye

We will call you “Agua” like the rivers and cool jugs.
We will persuade the clouds to nestle around your neck
so you may sleep late.
We would be happy if you slept forever.
We will tend the slopes we plant, singing the songs
our grandfathers taught us before we inherited their fear.
We will try not to argue among ourselves.
When the widow demands extra flour, we will provide it,
remembering the smell of incense on the day of our Lord.

Please think of us as we are, tiny, with skins that burn easily.
Please notice how we have watered the shrubs around our houses
and transplanted the peppers into neat tin cans.
Forgive any anger we feel toward the earth,
when the rains do not come, or they come too much,
and swallow our corn.
It is not easy to be this small and live in your shadow.

Often while we are eating our evening meal
you cross our rooms like a thief,
touching first the radio and then the loom.
Later our dreams begin catching fire around the edges,
they burn like paper, we wake with our hands full of ash.

How can we live like this?
We need to wake and find our shelves intact,
our children slumbering in their quilts.
We need dreams the shape of lakes,
with mornings in them thick as fish.
Shade us while we cast and hook—
but nothing else, nothing else.

This is from Words Under Words: Selected Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye, published by Far Corner Books, 1995.

The Gift by N. Scott Momaday

•September 12, 2014 • 10 Comments

As it is with friends who haven’t spoken for awhile, we shuffle our feet before we hug. Sometimes we hug for hours.

How are you? And this time I really mean it. I have found myself before at fault for using it by way of hello, but these days I am really asking because I want to know: Are you happy? Loved?

I have learned how to be funny with people who have always seen me sad, and to be sad, and comfortably I might add, with those who always thought that I don’t hurt for very long. If I am lucky, and on some days I am, these people are the same.

What changed, is the crux of a conversation I’ve had a few hours ago. I said, I think it was time. A bit of distance, maybe.

I have been exploring language differently. It’s enough to spur me forward. Does that make sense?

The Gift
N. Scott Momaday

For Bobby Jack Nelson

Older, more generous,
We give each other hope.
The gift is ominous:
Enough praise, enough rope.

This is from The Norton Anthology of Poetry (Shorter Fourth Edition), edited by Margaret Ferguson, Mary Jo Salter, and Jon Stallworthy, published by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1997.

from Eurydice by H.D.

•September 11, 2014 • Leave a Comment

We turn several words over and over these past few days, measuring their weight. Honor versus respect. What is demanded versus what is earned. What is poetry for, I ask myself, if not to closely examine what we mean by what we say, and how we say it. You think language is economy. I imagine crossing the seas, sitting by the feet of people who understand that words are more than the attempt to open the mouth.

To reject the familiar myth: does it free you, or does it burden you?

We leave each other flowers. One blooms, the other wounds.

from Eurydice


At least I have the flowers of myself,
and my thoughts, no god
can take that;
I have the fervour of myself for a presence
and my own spirit for light;

and my spirit with its loss
knows this;
though small against the black,
small against the formless rocks,
hell must break before I am lost;

before I am lost,
hell must open like a red rose
for the dead to pass.

This is from Selected Poems by H.D., edited by Louis L. Martz, published by New Directions, 1982.


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