Archive for July, 2011

The Triggering Town

All things belong

to the music of guns,

after you’ve put one to your chest

and pulled the trigger.

It initiates everything else in your life —

who you love

where you work

what you eat

where you live.

It is the one thing

you can depend on,

closed around that wound

the act of setting and

resetting the safety

then turning it off.

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When The Helga Paintings were discovered in 1985, 
240 tempera, dry-brush paintings, watercolors and pencil sketches
Andrew Wyeth created of Helga Testorf  between the years
1971 and 1985, Wyeth’s wife was asked what
she thought of them. She replied,
“All I see is love.”  

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Angels climb
Jacob’s ladder
at Bath Abbey

Jacob left Beersheba, and went toward Haran. He came to the place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the Lord stood above it [or “beside him”] and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your descendants; and your descendants shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and by you and your descendants shall all the families of the earth bless themselves. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done that of which I have spoken to you.” Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place; and I did not know it.” And he was afraid, and said, “This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

Afterwards, Jacob names the place, Bethel, meaning “house of God.” Genesis 28:10–19

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Dara Wier (right) with poets James Tate and Mong-Lan

The Pressure of the Moment

The pressure of the moment can cause someone to kill
someone or something

The leniency of consideration might treat with more

Which is to be desired. Or at least often to be desired.

But if my house is on fire and you notice, I wish you would

That fire. But if my hair is on fire, while I’m sure
you’ll be enjoying

The spectacle of it, act quickly or don’t act at all. But
if a sudden

Jarring of us all out of existence is eminent, do
by Dara Wier (born 1949)

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The reading from the Rule of St. Benedict for July 15:

Care of the sick must rank before and above everything, so that they may truly be served as Christ Himself, for He said: I was sick and you visited me (Matthew 25.36) and, Whatever you did for one of these who are least, you did for me (Matthew 25:40). But let the sick themselves consider that they are served out of honor for God, and they are not to sadden their brothers who serve them with superfluous demands. Yet they are to be patiently borne, because from such as these a more abundant reward is acquired. The abbot shall therefore exercise the greatest care that they not suffer any neglect.

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Cracked Marble

A desk,
sturdy, useful
fixed in one spot,

used to write letters.
When can I return to you,
the letters say,

and the desk remains unmoved.
I can shove you around, I say,
love, lust, desire,

all written here.
I can move you to another room.

The desk and I live in a neighborhood
split in half like a heart —
along one ridge

white-collar workers
who live among kings
Edison, Galileo, Darwin, Curie —

and on the other, a trailer park.
The two halves are equal,
divided by a single fence.

Cottonwoods stand
in a park near my house
presenting their seeds to the wind,

watching Penelope
weave a web
through her window.

She finishes it,
begins again,
cutting threads,

searching for fresh cloth
she hasn’t worn away
with sewing and mending

loose ends.
I shove the desk around,
this way, that,

and the top half falls,
cracking marble
on an antique washstand.

Mother, grandmother,
great grandmother,
we’ve all stood beside it each morning

checking the clock,
sliding the marble aside
to conceal deeds of trust

insurance policies, stock.
Outside, a calypso orchid grows
beneath my bedroom window

where I sometimes hear footsteps.
What are you after
as you travel through my soul,

what are you looking for
as you breathe in
these white flowers.

Can you hear Penelope say,
Odysseus, Odysseus, come home.

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Constance Olson and HIlda Morley
at Black Mountain College.

Sheep Language

What have I done that I should find myself
here, in this meadow
in the Cotswolds, sheep bleating
(from time to time) on the other side of
the fence,
hurrying away
from the drinking-trough as I pass,
so I feel
their peace infringed upon
(& I the cause of it)
that peace their drowsy presence overfills to brimming,
Keatslike, almost more than I can hold
But I hold it
as if in a waking dream, the spell is
upon me & out of it
my voice can speak & speaks as
it must in accents only they
can understand:
a voice for them,
as they need to hear it,
have heard it
centuries ago — sheep-language —
I must have
stood here & found the sequence
of words, the phrase,
the cadence
formed for their ears,
for the rhythm
of their nuzzling,
their nudging movements
& I, a speaker
of first-generation English,
who recognize the knights
in stained-glass windows
in the village churches
of Gloucestershire which William Morris loved,
those knights
who cut my Jewish forefathers down, setting out
for the Crusades,
these little churches built, as
Morris saw them
in joyful dedication,
out of love.
by Hilda Morley (1919–1998)

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Robin Robertson

Albatross in Co. Antrim

after Baudelaire

The men would sometimes try to catch one,
throwing a looped wire at the great white cross
that tracked their every turn, gliding over their deep
gulfs and bitter waves: the bright pacific albatross.

Now, with a cardboard sign around his neck, the king
of the winds stands there, hobbled: head shorn,
ashamed; his broken limbs hang down by his side,
those huge white wings like dragging oars.

Once beautiful and brave, now tarred, unfeathered,
this lost traveller is a bad joke; a lord cut down to size.
One pokes a muzzle in his mouth; another limps past,
mimicking the skliff, sclaff of a bird that cannot fly.

The poet is like this prince of the clouds
who rides the storm of war and scorns the archer;
exiled on the ground, in all this derision,
his giant wings prevent his marching.
by Robin Robertson (born 1955)

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The last few days I’ve questioned the value of freedom. What if it meant giving up the woman I wanted to spend my life with.

I had a Romanian student last semester who lived under the reign of Nicolae Ceausescu before he was executed in 1989. She said, “It was a diseased society, where the inmates had taken over the asylum. Neighbors were encouraged to spy and report each other. So were children about their parents.”

Growing up in that country, she realizes the value of freedom in ways some don’t in the U.S.

Perhaps something in our childhoods keeps us from moving beyond the dark part of ourselves that wants to sell our freedom short. The voice must be the same, we say, the voice of the person I come from must be the same voice of the person I become. My future rises out of my past, and I cannot empty myself of it.

I will be something else one day, but not now, not now. I must be the same thing I was born into, the empty room where I had no name and waited in corners for morning to come so that I could open the door and leave the room again.

Somewhere the lost tribes of the earth keep walking. Somewhere the lost tribes of our world live alone and die and wait to be born into a freedom they can only watch others have. What things, they ask, could I have if only I had freedom. This is the opposite of me, they say, but how can I change it.

From each of us this desire sets out in life. It is born in us and lost, and the lost tribes come. We look for them and they are gone. There is no tracing them. They have clung to promises that never come and now they have no way to recognize their dreams.

I lay in bed the last few nights wondering how I could keep my soul alive without freedom. I lay listening to people stand outside my window, wondering if they would leave or what I would do if they tried to enter my room. If they leave, will they come back, I asked myself. And if not tonight, what about tomorrow.

Even now as I write this, they are above me and beside me. They are home tonight.

I know the walls that listen. I know a place that listens and watches me walk out my door and across a parking lot and through the streets so there is no place I can walk without being seen.

This is something I thought I would always have, the freedom to stand in my own home without being heard. It’s difficult not to sit as still as possible so that no one hears me.

But tonight I type these words. Not even you tonight beyond those walls can keep me from typing, not you who stand on street corners and take photos of me from cars and ride past me on bikes.

You think you have my heart. You think you can walk beside me and fly out like birds from every bush, but even in the stillness of these rooms I grow. I grow and keep on growing. Freedom is the only image of me you can never take. It doesn’t come and go from rooms at regular hours, it doesn’t stand or sit in certain places on the street, it doesn’t open doors or close them at specific times. It lives inside me.

You have your own stories. You look around for someone else to become, but there is no one else. What we have inside is all we’ve been given. Freedom is a dream that’s born even in animal’s eyes, and there’s no use looking for it in someone else’s face.

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Daily Reading from the Rule of St. Benedict for July 11:

This vice especially
is to be cut out of the monastery by the roots.
Let no one presume to give or receive anything
without the Abbot’s leave,
or to have anything as his own —
anything whatever,
whether book or tablets or pen or whatever it may be —
since they are not permitted to have even their bodies or wills
at their own disposal;
but for all their necessities
let them look to the Father of the monastery.
And let it be unlawful to have anything
which the Abbot has not given or allowed.
Let all things be common to all,
as it is written (Acts 4:32),
and let no one say or assume that anything is his own.

But if anyone is caught indulging in this most wicked vice,
let him be admonished once and a second time.
If he fails to amend,
let him undergo punishment.

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