Don’t Wake the Cards
Painting on Plato’s Wall
The shadows behind people walking
in the bright piazza are not merely
gaps in the sunlight. Just as goodness
is not the absence of badness.
Goodness is a triumph. And so it is
with love. Love is not the part
we are born with that flowers
a little and then wanes as we
grow up. We cobble love together
from this and those of our machinery
until there is suddenly an apparition
that never existed before. There it is,
unaccountable. The woman and our
desire are somehow turned into
brandy by Athena’s tiny owl filling
the darkness around an old villa
on the mountain with its plaintive
mewing. As a man might be
turned into someone else while
living kind of happy up there
with the lady’s gentle dying.
If I knew I would be dead by this time next year I believe I would
spend the months from now till then writing thank-you notes to strangers
telling them, “You really were a great travel agent,” or
“I never got the taste of your kisses out of my mouth.” or
“Watching you walk across the room
was part of my destination.”
It would be the equivalent, I think, of leaving a chocolate wrapped in
shiny foil on the pillow of a guest in a hotel–
“Hotel of earth, where we resided for some years together,” I
start to say, before I realize it is a terrible cliche,
and stop, and then go on, forgiving myself in a mere split second
because now that I’m dying, I just go forward like water, flowing
and second thoughts, not getting snagged, just continuing with my long
list of thank-yous, which seems to naturally expand
to include sunlight and wind, and the aspen trees which gleam and
shimmer in the yard and the intricate irrigation system
which nourishes their roots invented by an individual whose name I will
never know but to whom I am quietly grateful.
Outside it is autumn, season when cold air sharpens the mind. The hills
are red and copper in their shaggy majesty.
The clouds blow overhead like governments and years. Time to contemplate
the distant things, to learn from their example of calm;
time to practice affection without a desperate hanging on. It took me a
long time to understand the phrase “distant regard,”
but I believe that I get it now, and I am grateful for my heart, that
turned out to be good, after all;
and grateful for my mind, to which, in retrospect, I can see I have
never been sufficiently kind.
“Every society has some group of people—somewhere between a minuscule amount and half the adults—that read a lot in their leisure time,” says Wendy Griswold, a sociologist at Northwestern University who studies reading. Griswold refers to this group as “the reading class,”– The Atlantic
In further news of technology really changing things, I sat down with my Kindle a few weeks ago to read Robert Coles’s The Call of Service – a school book. I made some progress and set it aside. A few days later, when the time came to write an assignment with the aid of the book, I went back to the Kindle and started reading again and wondered how and when the tone had shifted so dramatically. Suddenly, it had moved from people in the segregated south who were compelled, at their own peril, to act against segregation to… a man pondering whether he was still attracted to his flirtatious wife. I kept reading… for 30 minutes wondering when Coles was going to return to the core themes of the text. I might not have persevered as long as I did except that one of my classmates had posed a question in response to one of my papers about whether Coles gave enough attention to gender differences and women in his book. I thought maybe these passages about the attractive, flirtatious, non-compliant wife were what he was referring to.
And then, never reaching a return to the theme of service, I clicked out of the book to discover that I was somehow reading The Winds of War instead. I am not sure how that book got opened on the Kindle and the Coles book closed… but clearly I was reading the wrong book.
Once upon a time, such a mishap would not have been possible, but these are the modern times we live in and the strange form factor with which many of us do the bulk of our reading.
Clearly I’m back, writing again about my reading exploits, but in truth, I am busier than ever and don’t quite have the time to dedicate to the format I had been using in writing about reading. For now I will simply share some impressions and titles and see where it takes me.
Thoughts on reading for September:
I knew I would begin reading a whole lot more this morning, and I did make my way through some lovely books of poetry and a few school texts. But finding the time to comb through my thoughts and observations… not quite as easy. I will take this up, hopefully, in more depth in October.
We do not speak like Petrarch or wear a hat like Spenser
and it is not fourteen lines
like furrows in a small, carefully plowed field
but the picture postcard, a poem on vacation,
that forces us to sing our songs in little rooms
or pour our sentiments into measuring cups.
We write on the back of a waterfall or lake,
adding to the view a caption as conventional
as an Elizabethan woman’s heliocentric eyes.
We locate an adjective for the weather.
We announce that we are having a wonderful time.
We express the wish that you were here
and hide the wish that we were where you are,
walking back from the mailbox, your head lowered
as you read and turn the thin message in your hands.
A slice of this place, a length of white beach,
a piazza or carved spires of a cathedral
will pierce the familiar place where you remain,
and you will toss on the table this reversible display:
a few square inches of where we have strayed
and a compression of what we feel.
Dawn. First light tearing
at the rough tongues of the zinnias,
at the leaves of the just born.
Today it will rain. On the road
black cars are abandoned, but the clouds
ride above, their wisdom intact.
They are predictions. They never matter.
The jet fighters lift above the flat roofs,
black arrowheads trailing their future.
When the night comes small fires go out.
Blood runs to the heart and finds it locked.
Morning is exhaustion, tranquilizers, gasoline,
the screaming of frozen bearings,
the failures of will, the TV talking to itself
The clouds go on eating oil, cigars,
housewives, sighing letters,
the breath of lies. In their great silent pockets
they carry off all our dead.
The clouds collect until there’s no sky.
A boat slips its moorings and drifts
toward the open sea, turning and turning.
The moon bends to the canal and bathes
her torn lips, and the earth goes on
giving off her angers and sighs
and who knows or cares except these
breathing the first rains,
the last rivers running over iron.
You cut an apple in two pieces
and ate them both. In the rain
the door knocked and you dreamed it.
On bad roads the poor walked under cardboard boxes.
The houses are angry because they’re watched.
A soldier wants to talk with God
but his mouth fills with lost tags.
The clouds have seen it all, in the dark
they pass over the graves of the forgotten
and they don’t cry or whisper.
They should be punished every morning,
they should be bitten and boiled like spoons.