“Paul removed his coat and pulled the trowel from his belt. He stood nervously. Old Santos left him. No one watched him now. He reached the trowel down into the mortar. Slice down toward him, edgewise twist in quick short circle and scoop up away from him. The trowel came up half-covered with mortar—but how heavy! He dropped it back into the tub and worked the trowel back and forth in the mortar just as he had seen the bricklayers do. The feel of flexible steel trowel in pliant warm plushy soon-to-be stone. The wet rub of mortar on tender skin…the first fleshly sense of Job, Job who would give living to mother Annunziata and the little ones. He gathered straight unchipped red brick and layed them dry in lengthwise string. Then he went over to the building, studied the bond of a corner, and fixed it in his eye.”—Pietro di Donato, Christ in Concrete
“I kept experimenting. My notes are full of the designs I drew at night while Leona did mothering things. I made diamond-shaped trees, cathedral-shaped trees, a bird cage, a ladder, a zigzag, a telephone booth, a spiral, a heart, a tree with a knot in it—twenty years’ worth of evenings, sitting in a barn drawing plans and building forms to direct the trees. I do not know if I was ever wanted in the house; it never occurred to me that I could belong there.” —Angela Pelster, from “Inosculation,” in Limber (Sarabande, 2014)
“The cedar waxwings swarmed the backyard this afternoon—at least a thousand of them—and the radio I had been listening to went static with their coming and then switched to a French station I could not understand. I moved from my table to the window to watch the birds feed on the red mountain ash berries. Poor trees. They looked so patient in the snow, so resigned to being stripped of their color for the sake of the birds…
“It has been discovered that trees communicate with one another below the ground through root systems and fungi. I do not know if they communicate with birds, but it seems possible in a world where all manner of unimaginable things happens in places seen and unseen, in forests and gardens and parks.”
“Strange people. The kind that leave the merest blur behind them, soon vanished. Hutte and I often used to talk about these traceless human beings. They spring up out of nothing one fine day and return there, having sparkled a little. Beauty queens. Giggles. Butterflies. Most of them, even when alive, had no more substance than steam which will never condense. Hutte, for instance, used to quote the case of a fellow he called ‘the beach man.’ This man had spent forty years of his life on beaches or by the sides of swimming pools, chatting pleasantly with summer visitors and rich idlers. He is to be seen, in his bathing costume, in the corners and backgrounds of thousands of holiday snaps, among groups of happy people, but no one knew his name and why we was there. And no one noticed when one day he vanished from the photographs. I did not dare tell Hutte, but I felt that ‘the beach man’ was myself. Though it would not have surprised him if I had confessed it.” —Patrick Modiano, from Missing Person
Ocean which I pushed up
with my fingers so I could touch
the orange sand below
and white mountain
which is not white but for getting
caught in the cold
Stay here where it is warm
and where the sun shines, for later
celestial garlands of dead light
will draw you into the cold for sure
—Joshua Beckman, from The Inside of an Apple (Wave Books, 2013)
(A post more personal than usual for me. Dedicated to my family.)
“It is as big and depthless as the sky itself. You can see the curve of the earth on its surface as it stretches away for miles to the far shore. Sunset has turned the water to the color of unripe peaches. There’s no wind. Sandbars and wooded islands stand on their exact reflections. The only signs of movement on the water are the lightly scratched lines which run in parallel across it like the scores of a diamond on a windowpane. In the middle distance, the river smokes with toppling pillars of mist which soften light so that one can almost reach out and take in handfuls of that thickened air.”
—Jonathan Raban, from Old Glory
“Through this reverberation, by going immediately beyond all psychology or psychoanalysis, we feel a poetic power rising naïvely within us. After the original reverberation, we are able to experience resonances, sentimental repercussions, reminders of our past. But the image has touched the depths before it stirs the surface. And this is also true of the simple experience of reading. The image offered us by reading the poem now becomes really our own. It takes root in us. It has been given us by another, but we begin to have the impression that we could have created it, that we should have created it. It becomes a new being in our language, expressing us by making us what it expresses; in other words, it is at once a becoming of expression, and a becoming of our being. Here expression creates being.” —Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space
(For my ongoing series of photographs of people reading in public.)
MORNING OCCURRENCE AT XANADU by Charles Wright
Swallows are flying grief-circles over their featherless young,
Night-dropped and dead on the wooden step.
The aspen leaves have turned grey, slapped by the hard, west wind.
Someone who knows how little he knows
Is like the man who comes to a clearing in the forest, and sees the light spikes
And suddenly senses how happy his life has been.
(from Scar Tissue, 2006, FSG)
SLOW MUSIC by Tomas Tranströmer
The building is closed. The sun crowds in through the windowpanes
and warms up the surfaces of desks
that are strong enough to take the load of human fate.
We are outside today, on the long wide slope.
Many have dark clothes, You can stand in the sun with your eyes shut
and feel yourself blown slowly forward.
I come too seldom down to the water. But I am here now,
among large stones with peaceful backs.
Stones which slowly migrated backwards up out of the waves.
(on Virginia Woolf’s birthday)