‘Called to witness and perhaps ease’

Christian Wiman’s recent “Issues of Blood” essay is a show-stopper. Lori read it and encouraged me to do the same. The piece from the former editor of Poetry magazine starts with an injured dog and ends with a Holocaust victim.

“Few of us will ever be called to witness to world pain—to weltschmerz—as Etty [Etty Hillesum, whose work Wiman teaches at Yale Divinity School] was called, but I feel sure that there is some one pain to which every one of us is called to witness and perhaps ease,” Wiman writes. “It might be as simple as some phone call to a family member you haven’t spoken to in too long, it might be some thorn in the heart of a friend to whom you have not paid sufficient attention, it might be some wholly ordinary encounter you have in the next few hours of this wholly ordinary day—when suddenly you feel some power going out of you.”

Also in the poetry-meets-religion vein, poet Lindsey Weishar writes: “I have come to realize the cowardice of sidestepping revision. … My task is to acknowledge my broken humanity, and to say yes to being broken further in the act of writing.”

 

Poems that stop for you

I haven’t been able to read lines recently as much as I would like. To the extent that I have, I haven’t been able to stop and smell them properly. I can tell my eyes are moving too quickly across the words. But the following have come into my life here and there the last few months, fortunately.

From an April New Yorker story, where I didn’t know the subject of the story but liked the line (and its implied encouragement): “Poetry trains us to look past the advertised reality, or, better, to see surface commotion as a manifestation of inner turbulence.”

Twilight” by Rae Armantrout. “Where there’s smoke / there are mirrors / and a dry ice machine, / industrial quality fans. / If I’ve learned anything / about the present moment….”

Planetarium” by Adrienne Rich. “I am an instrument in the shape / of a woman trying to translate pulsations / into images for the relief of the body / and the reconstruction of the mind.”

In the Museum of Lost Objects” by Rebecca Lindenberg. “I hope you don’t mind, but I have kept / a few of your pieces / for my private collection. I think / you know the ones I mean.”

Colors passing through us” by Marge Piercy. Via Lori, who read this at the wedding of friends Alice and Brian this June. Among its color stanzas: “Purple as tulips in May, mauve / into lush velvet, purple / as the stain blackberries leave / on the lips, on the hands, / the purple of ripe grapes / sunlit and warm as flesh.”

Postscript” by Seamus Heaney. Via Lori, whom this poem reminded of our ocean visit in County Clare. “And some time make the time to drive out west / Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore, / In September or October, when the wind / And the light are working off each other….”

Read Me” by Naomi Shihab Nye. “Watch us humans / as we enter our rooms, / remove our shoes and watches….”

Spring Song” by Lucille Clifton. “the green of Jesus / is breaking the ground / and the sweet / smell of delicious Jesus / is opening the house and….”

The Voice of God” by Mary Karr. “The voice of God does not pander, / offers no five year plan, no long-term / solution, nary an edict. It is small & fond & local.”

‘even the symphonic / wrecking of the antique locomotive’

For a spring time:

Cabbage Days” by Stephen Sandy. “Look how in heat waves the folding metal / chairs go slack in the sun / and their withered arms settle / waiting like ritual tongs to hold your body.”

Inventory for Spring” by Wendy Xu. “Feeling rich for one moment for using money as a bookmark / Feeling deceitful for making public some opinions while neglecting others….”

Invitation” by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. “Come in, come in. The water’s fine! You can’t get lost / here. Even if you want to hide behind a clutch /of spiny oysters — I’ll find you.”

Amor Fati” by Jane Hirshfield. “Little soul, / you have wandered / lost a long time. / The woods are dark now, / birded and eyed. / Then a light, a cabin, a fire, a door standing open.”

For an unsettled time:

Capriccio of the Imaginary Prison” by Richard Garcia. “O hub of panopticon, each moment on display, / from the central monitor there is no escape. / This is all accomplished, even the symphonic / wrecking of the antique locomotive, in silence.”

If They Should Come for Us” by Fatimah Asghar. “my people I follow you like constellations / we hear the glass smashing the street / & the nights opening their dark / our names this country’s wood / for the fire my people my people….”

Devotion (“I Am on the Battlefield for My Lord”)” by Cortney Lamar Charleston. “I can’t help but believe our songs, to one another,
would be familiar, church family….”

Echo” by Raymond Antrobus. “My ear amps whistle like they are singing / to Echo, goddess of noise, / the raveled knot of tongues, / of blaring birds, consonant crumbs / of dull doorbells, sounds swamped / in my misty hearing aid tubes.

Semi-Splendid” by Tracy K. Smith. “You flinch. Something flickers, not fleeing your face. My / Heart hammers at the ceiling, telling my tongue / To turn it down. Too late.”

A little more about ‘Paterson’

In Commonweal, Richard Alleva finds the small stuff very well.

  • “The quotidian provides our bus-driving bard not only with his raw material but also with the steady emotional climate he needs in order to practice his art.”
  • “The act of noticing is at the heart of both our hero’s art and the filmmaker’s method.”
  • “If her husband is good at spotting variations within sameness, Laura, his complementary opposite, seems to see the same patterns in very different objects.”
  • “Instead of hungering for action, you start responding to whatever Paterson notices, quirks of speech as well as visual anomalies….”
  • “The other way this film avoids tedium is by showing us that, though its protagonist is a strictly no-drama guy… there is drama happening all around him.”

Previously in the blog — thoughts on Paterson. (Loved it.)

Muddling through somehow

Theater” by William Greenway. Via Lori. “Like the neighborhood kind / you went to as a kid, full / of yellow light and red / velvet curtains and everybody / there, friends, bullies throwing / popcorn, somebody with red hair.”

Weather Systems” by Barbara Crooker. Via Lori. “Sugar maples, little fires in the trees, every blazing gradation / of orange to red, and this makes me think of you….”

Ars Poetica #100: I Believe” by Elizabeth Alexander. “…digging in the clam flats / for the shell that snaps, / emptying the proverbial pocketbook.”

Gilly’s Bowl & Grille” by Corey Van Landingham. “As for the beer, I bring my own. I haven’t touched / another human / in twenty-three days, not even someone’s palm / passing my change.”