Rev stood by the bed in the darkness and played as though coaxing her soul out of him, not with a hangman’s rope, but with a sweet, age-old lament that sounded like the smell of a graveyard. His melancholy had blossomed and opened like the sticky flower of a water lily. Rev’s melodies trembled and gasped for air. They were as weirdly broken and dead as a blind eye that keeps blinking and trying to see.
The room was dark.
Next he fiddled for the hen. Now Rev’s tears were different. They fell for the distant, uncaring orbits of the constellations that remained forever unmoved.
Where did you go to, when you went away?
It is as if you step by step were going
Someplace elsewhere into some other range
Of speaking, that I had no gift for speaking,
Knowing nothing of the language of that place
To which you went with naked foot at night
Into the wilderness there elsewhere in the bed,
Elsewhere somewhere in the house beyond my seeking.
I have been so dislanguaged by what happened
I cannot speak the words that somewhere you
Maybe were speaking to others where you went.
Maybe they talk together where they are
Restlessly wandering, along the shore,
Waiting for a way to cross the river.
At the end of August, when all
The letters of the alphabet are waiting,
You drop a teabag in a cup.
The same few letters making many different words,
The same words meaning different things.
Often you’ve rearranged them on the surface of the fridge.
Without the surface
They’re repulsed by one another.
Here are the letters.
The tea is in your cup.
At the end of August, the mind
Is neither the pokeweed piercing the grass
Nor the grass itself.
As Tony Cook says in The Biology of Terrestrial Mollusks
The right thing to do is nothing, the place
A place of concealment,
And the time as often as possible.
by James Longenbach, 2012
… [D]ifferent “heterologies ” (sciences of the different) have the common characteristic of attempting to write the voice. The voice reaching us from a great distance must find a place in the text (“Quotation of Voices”).
Voices of people I have loved, or have wished that I could, carry themselves from far away, and make themselves at home in the nearby neighborhood of the books I like to read, coming to nest in this or that favorite piece of poetry or prose.
At least I think it’s them. Maybe it’s just me. Or maybe it’s more like some harmony between us.
There was this girl I knew in College—I think it was College; maybe it was later; maybe before—I’m pretty sure I hear her (speaking or singing or crying) in most everything I care to read. On the other hand, I’m sentimental, and apt to exaggerate how much I recall of people that have meant a lot to me. Still, I’m pretty sure I hear her. She’s gotten older and younger, more and less fluid and fragmented, but I’m pretty sure she’s always there, her voice pressed into the words that matter to me most. It’s like a story a friend told me once about how his grandmother, in her last years, heard the sound of the birds she’d grown up with singing in her ears everywhere she went. He says that he still remembers hearing the thrill in her voice when she first said something about it to him.
Sounds like a miracle: it’s hard to imagine how you’d forget hearing something like that.
Note: Never again would birds’ song be the same.
And to do that to birds was why she came (Robert Frost, “Never Again Would Birds’ Song Be the Same”).
Somewhere someone is traveling furiously toward you,
At incredible speed, traveling day and night,
Through blizzards and desert heat, across torrents, through narrow passes.
But will he know where to find you,
Recognize you when he sees you,
Give you the thing he has for you?
Hardly anything grows here,
Yet the granaries are bursting with meal,
The sacks of meal piled to the rafters.
The streams run with sweetness, fattening fish;
Birds darken the sky. Is it enough
That the dish of milk is set out at night,
That we think of him sometimes,
Sometimes and always, with mixed feelings?
by John Ashbery, 1984
by Professor Jeff Nunokawa, 10/12/2012
Your friends get the best of you, someone once said to me as he walked out of my life.
He was right.
My best hope now is that you don’t get too much of the worst of me, as well (all that hunger for besting). When I write to you, first ache in morning, I’m just trying as best I know how, to help us both get up—not all flyin-high, like an eagle, just ready for our daily rounds. All my fancy soundings aside, I’m just trying to say, if I can reach for the high notes, even when I’m feeling low, so can you.
As best I can tell, I care a little bit less with the rise of every sun about trying to score points as a Special Guardian of Something Old, or a Shining Starter Up of Something New:
For as the sun is daily new and old,
So is my love, still telling what is told (Shakespeare, “Sonnet 76”).
On a related note, I wanted to mention to you that, like lots of people, I like to sing, even though I’m the worst singer, ever. Every song that comes out of my mouth sounds pretty much the same. (That’s why I tend to content myself belting out my paltry playlist of standards, over and over again. Why bother branching out, when it all comes back to the same root?)
I can’t sing to save my life. But maybe my noise can help you save yours.
You hear girls in the toilets of clubs saying, ‘Yeah, he fucked off and left me. He just couldn’t deal with love. He was too fucked up to know how to love me.’ Now how did that happen? What was it about this unlovable century that convinced us we were, despite everything, eminently lovable as a people, as a species? What made us think that anyone who fails to love us is damaged, lacking, malfunctioning in some way? We are so convinced of the goodness of ourselves, and the goodness of our love, we cannot bear to believe that their might be something more worthy of love than us, more worthy of worship. Greeting cards routinely tell us everybody deserves love. No. Everybody deserves clean water. Not everybody deserves love all the time.
wrap their babies in the American flag,
feed them mashed hotdogs and apple pie,
name them Bill and Daisy,
buy them blonde dolls that blink blue
eyes or a football and tiny cleats
before the baby can even walk,
speak to them in thick English,
hallo, babee, hallo,
whisper in Spanish or Polish
when the babies sleep, whisper
in a dark parent bed, that dark
parent fear, “Will they like
our boy, our girl, our fine American
boy, our fine American girl?”
— Pat Mora
He can just about remember Nigel, and Nigel’s parents’ house that summer, and Fiona (they were together off and on for a few months afterward). But he has no memory at all of Jane. Even if by some miracle he ever met her, and she recognized him and told him the whole story (which she would never do), it wouldn’t bring anything back. It isn’t only that the alcohol and the drugs made him forget. He’s had too much happiness in his life since, too much experience; he’s lost that fine-tuning that could hold on to the smell of the ham in the off-license, the wetness of the swimming costume, the girl’s cold skin and her naïveté, her extraordinary offer of herself without reserve, the curtains sweeping the floor in the morning light. It’s all just gone.
Whenever she told him he needed to get some sleep, he got angry and didn’t call her for days. And it was during this period Madeleine fully understood how the lover’s discourse was of an extreme solitude. The solitude was extreme because it wasn’t physical. It was extreme because you felt it while in the company of the person you loved. It was extreme because it was in your head, that most solitary of places.
— ― Bertolt Brecht
— Joseph Brodsky, Watermark (1993)