Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Wilfred Thesiger

Wilfred Thesiger [dogwoodfamily]

from Wilfred Thesiger's Across the Empty Quarter:

Later Musallim and al Auf argued how far it was from Mughshin to Bai, where Tamtaim and the others were to wait for us. I asked al Auf if he had ever ridden from the Wadi al Amairi to Bai. He answered, 'Yes, six years ago.'

'How many days did it take?'

'I will tell you. We watered at al Ghaba in the Amairi. There were four of us, myself, Salim, Janazil of the Awamir, and Alaiwi of the Afar; it was in the middle of summer. We had been to Ibri to settle the feud between the Rashid and the Mahamid, started by the killing of Fahad's son.'

Musallim interrupted, 'That must have been before the Riqaishi was Governor of Ibri. I had been there myself the year before. Sahail was with me and we went there from . . .'

But al Auf went on, 'I was riding the three-year-old I had bought from bin Duailan.'

'The one the Manahil raided from the Yam?' Bin Kabina asked.

'Yes. I exchanged it later for the yellow six-year-old I got from bin Ham. Janazil rode a Batina camel. Do you remember her? She was the daughter of the famous grey which belonged to Harahaish of the Wahiba.'

Mabkhaut said, 'Yes, I saw her last year when he was in Salala, a tall animal; she was old when I saw her, past her prime but even then a real beauty.'

Al Auf went on, 'We spent the night with Rai of the Afar.'

Bin Kabina chimed in, 'I met him last year when he came to Habarut; he carried a riflt, "a father of ten shots", which he had taken from the Mahra he had killed in the Ghudun. Bin Mautlauq offered him the grey yearling, the daughter of Fahra, and fifty riyals for this rifle, but he refused.'

Al Auf continued, 'Rai killed a goat for our dinner and told us . . .', but I interrupted: 'Yes, but how many days did it take you to get to Bai?' He looked at me in surprise and said, 'Am I not telling you?'

Monday, September 22, 2014

William Bronk

William Bronk [Vassar]

from William Bronk's Vectors and Smoothable Curves: Collected Essays:

Copan: Unwillingness, the Unwilled

What do we want? Say everyone were healthy and beautiful, were rich and together and would never die: well, hardly. But that or something like it had seemed to be what we want. Just the same, any increase in personal favor, relief from some particular ailment, or to live if only a little longer, — these partial benefits seem good. But, in either case, it is the imminent certainty of deprivation, whether whole or fractional, we stand on. How should we seem to want these things without that certainty?

So; what do we want? Sometimes, to go, in other ways also, counter to the truth, to mark ourselves off from what there is around us, and make that subject to our will: to be masters of some sort, of the political-military sort that leaders and conquerors are, or of the intellectual sort that devises a rationality strong enough that it seems to impose that rationality on what there is. But what there is continues outside and beyond any rationality imposed on it, and political-military mastery is brief and apparent. The notion that [sic] man's condition can be stated in such a way that there is, for one thing we, and for another, our environment which we master or fail to master, is in itself a wrong idea. It might be said that we are everything, that the only reality is internal, there is nothing outside of us. Or, it might be said that we are nothing, have no real being, that there is only something else whose existence ignores us, and asks us for nothing. The two statements seem to be opposed but may not be. They are equivalent, at least, in denying the duality. Whatever there is, if there is something, we, if we are, are part of it. There are not two realities: [sic] man and his medium, of which one is the subject and one the object. It is only by a willful act in the face of the truth that we become an entity separate from what there is around us; and how much the more willful it is to presume to master what we have marked ourselves off from.

There is something which is and we are not separable from it. Then, if we want something, it is something wanted through us; we are the instrumentality of a desire which it would not be quite accurate to call external because we are part of the wanting, but neither is it right to think it personal. If something is wanted, we feel the want but we are not apart in wanting it. It is always tempting though to transmute the something wanting into personal terms, to look for, or even to find, our own satisfactions as though that were what was wanted, as it proves not to be. At any rate, our personal satisfactions, once had, often seem nothing; whatever it was that was wanted, it wasn't that, and we are puzzled by trophies that seem to have been won by someone we don't even remember. Not always though.

The attempt to put personal desires in place of the general want which we feel, is a simplification, and makes the problem of desire appear to be something we could hope to solve. Isn't it, at bottom, a trial to be something of our own, a separate part with its own desire? It is interesting that our separation is rarely a branching and gradual departure, nor is it a process of development by which inherent and hardly perceptible tendencies express and realize themselves. It is a removal to an existent position as though it were transferable, as though we were molten and gave ourselves into some mold that we saw in order to borrow the form of that mold. We might make much of the implications of external labels which are neither natural nor inherent — of name and place and time and function. It is the somewhat removed mold, often, that seems to attract us, though sometimes the removal is only the distance from actuality to pretension. It may be that the attraction of hypocrisy is only the unnaturalness of the position which it offers, a position which is well-defined because of its falsity. We are uncertain where something real begins or ends, or of its nature; the false can be sharply defined however hollow it is or however little it means. The human situation seems less a come-as-you-are party than a party to which we are bidden to come as our favorite character and, though we are sometimes cheap or shy, we do fairly well. We put on the costume and badges, the mental attitudes, the facial and vocal expressions of something, of someone. Such an action gives shape and clarity to our desires, gives them poles and simplicity; it sets us up as some sort of marked-off existent. It is of course evasive. It is hard to face how insanely evasive until we have watched the fatal despair with which we fight off the loss of an assumed identity. An assumed identity is made from appearances and lets us be nothing and yet appear to be something. We don't so much want to be something as we want to be allowed to look like something, to be granted general recognition — even acclaim — as what we pretend to be, to win the prize for Best Costume. A declared identity is an assertion of independence, often an aggressive and defiant assertion as though our separate person were a prime value; and it is an avoidance at the same time of any person we might have inside lest it look like the nothing it fears to be. Avoidance, removal, displacement: these seem to be the center of our wanting to be something, our assumption of an identity on our own, as though in order to be something it were necessary to move away, to break some existing connection whatever we sense it to be. But it may be the other way: that we want to be something in order to justify our real desire which is to move aside. There are societies where it is recognized as essential to have an assumed name under which to function and to conduct a mature life, suppressing a real name such as it might be. In certain ways, our own society admits the same need.

We may well be nothing or if not, are tenuous and frail. Resoluteness of being which seems to make us something acts to block our emptiness into which something which is might flow. If we start playing a role and let our energies and devisings embellish and serve that role, we are reflecting, however in error, the flow into our emptiness of energies and intentions from what seems outside, but which finds some sort of reception in us. Something enjoys being. Our imitation in our own right, of being, may pass for pious homage or a satisfaction at least, of those self-generated desires. We envy actors who have a role into which their passions can be directed, or else we envy the dead, that melted flesh no longer faced with the question.

If something wants through us, if we are the instrumentality of a desire whose source is not internal, then to interpose our own will or personal desires is an avoidance of reality, and the wants which our willfulness includes are irrelevant wants and may be dismissed as not important, as not what we want, no more than we want, as we seem to, an endless life, endless wealth and fairness and company. Order and security, to be caressed and honored and to caress and honor in turn — we seem to want these things, but in order to make us a separate enclave, a refuge apart from what may be wanted through us. If we are not to falsify life, but to have it for what it is, we must leave ourselves open to it and undefended, observant of what may happen, since our private will is not relevant and we are not capable of apprehending or assisting any other will, and what we observe and feel is perhaps less will than being and the nature of being. We have made up complicated frameworks of activity and attitude on the foundation that somehow we grasp what may be wanted from us, some challenge or imperative. The challenges and imperatives may not be anything like each other in any respect except in this: that they assume our receiving them. But in experience (and on the contrary) nothing is revealed to us of what our nature may be, or of what we must do. Nor, though we spy on it most diligently, do we learn things of consequence about whatever else there may be besides ourselves. We have no inkling of its wants or purposes or whether it has any. There may be some divine or historical or biological or evolutionary determinism and we may be wholly subject to it — it may want something of us — but it is without our consciousness, and we cannot bring our wills to consonance with it, not knowing what it is. I think we are totally unable to affect it: that any action of ours which is contrary is null by its contrariety, and any consonant action is an action not by us but through us, not by our will or any necessity. We have supposed that there are wants and purposes but it seems likely that none exists.

How empty all those schemes are, and they are very many, which propose our necessity or which propose that we need to do this or that in order to assert or maintain our own existence, or to realize what may have been intended for us. Noting that we do devise as a convenience a kind of machinery of social and political and economic organization, we project that a more searching and more diligent devising would make use of what there is and organize reality into the mechanism. Noting that we do personify ourselves, that we devise a characterization by means of, say, the superego, or historical imperative, or evolutionary vectors, moral precept, or what we will, we project that our courage and intelligence have the means to produce in our own person the fulfilled and realized [sic] man who has dared to embody reality in himself, not flee from it, and so has permitted reality to have real being. But what there is — we are part of what there is — is what it is regardless of us. It has real being without our help. We are whatever we are, squirm or resolve what we will to avoid it. We can make as though to run away and leave only a token of ourselves behind, but the token we leave behind is what there is. Anything else is pretense and subterfuge. We need not want anything; nothing needs us to want.

There are things which we feel, certain angers, rejoicings, fears. These feelings astonish us. Set beside our expectation of a real world, they seem not to have the habit of reality. They seem unrelated, and there is a lapse of time before we take them as real in the absence of a more expected reality. We learn at last, and accept the learning at last, that these feelings come to us without our willing or acceding or inventing. They come from beyond our skin like approaches to us, like messages; and we respond, trembling and shaking, or vibrating in tune as though we were instruments a music were played on and we arch and turn to have the contact closer. Our responses are presences that tower around us, seemingly solid as stone.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Rigoberto Gonzalez

Rigoberto Gonzalez [Numéro Cinq]

from Rigoberto Gonzalez's Black Blossoms:


          Baby's Breath

Every birthday you eat a year off your mother's life — your mother plucked
in parts, petal by petal like the schizophrenic daisy, stares down as her heart

bubbles out vulnerable as yolk. The needle-thin rays of the sun
press against her every morning when she opens her mouth to yawn

and exposes the waking weevil of her tongue. What is it about mothers
that makes them so mortal? Is it that every mother bleeds? Is it that every

mother weeps into the jaundiced rags of her hands after the bodies she hums
into the world exclude her? Yes, you'll leave her, first memory of your gums.

She slumps among the furniture and marvels at the temporary power
of populating houses. Skin and wood, these are the archives of your hours.

The floor maps footsteps with cracks on the tile. Your mother records
the sounds of her sleepless nights. This is what keeps her alive

for now: the sleepwalk through the walls as she lactates through her robe,
your baby breath settling like the snowdrift in a dusty water globe.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Alberto Ríos

Alberto Ríos [ASU]

from Alberto Ríos 's The Smallest Muscle in the Human Body:

Common Crows in a Winter Tree

The birds, they make this happen.
In the sky with nothing else to do, a Saturday,
The slow knee-bend of an afternoon, out there.

I have seen them myself.
The birds caw down a rain, tease it
To a hard ground of grass and flat and edge.

The birds, they cannot stop — they are birds.
They play when they do it. They don't mean it
When the rain reaches bottom.

But there is so much rain, and it listens
So well. Who would not, like the birds,
Try other things, try to train this water

To tricks, and to laughter? Circus
Ringmaster to a thousand lions of water:
Rain do this: And again: And now this.

To get away from the birds, the rain tries a mask:
It becomes snow, a show of wings, the flakes
Drunk moths in an aimless, cool wander.

Then it is ice, a trick again, rain

Turning into tiny fists without skin.
Hailstones, each a clutch of finger-bones,
Brittle, as much dry as wet. Rain to snow,

Then ice, then bone. Then more,
To skulls, and teeth, breaking against the earth
In a white fireworks of cruelty.

The birds, they get carried away, they cannot
Do a small thing or make a quiet noise.
But the birds do not mean it, this

Teasing of the sky to tears. They are birds —
They caw at anything, at little boys
Walking, boys who will look up.

And a loud caw, it will draw the boys, lift them
A little, until they cry. The birds
Do not mean to frighten,

But neither do they mean not to frighten,
Not to lift a boy into a branch
The way boys will go, lift a boy to a second

Branch, higher. The boys will go.
They cry at first, but they rise.
They are boys, and these are birds.

And the rain is falling. It makes a sound
Until snow, which is itself a sound,
Bigger and smaller than the moment before.

The boys come down from climbing, the boys who were lifted
Into trees, the boys who were birds.
The birds make their noise again, at something else.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What's the story

What's the story behind the poop-filled small plastic bags left beside the DeLaveaga Park hiking trails? I understand the beginning & middle: a hiker takes her dog for a walk, & when the dog poops, she gathers the poop into a small plastic bag she’s brought along for just this purpose. But how to explain the ending? Instead of taking the bag back out & dropping it a trash barrel, she leaves the poop-filled bag beside the trail.

My granddaughter & I often try to figure out stories to explain peculiar circumstances. For example, the missing piece of fence along Branciforte Road probably means a car drove through it, but why did the car drive through? Maybe the driver was driving too fast. Maybe the driver swerved to avoid a person or an animal. Maybe a blown tire caused the driver to lose control of the car. “Or maybe the driver was careless,” my granddaughter says. Or drugged or drunk, I tell myself. Maybe we’re wrong about the beginning of the story. Maybe a gust of wind blew the fence down.

I can only think of disappointing endings to the poop-bags-beside-the-trail story. Maybe the person set the poop bag down so she didn’t have to carry it for the whole hike, & then on her way back she forgot to pick it up. Or maybe she hiked a different trail back & forgot she’d left behind a poop bag on the first one. Still, leaving a bag of poop on a hiking trail seems a poor decision, especially four bags of poop in one mile.

Part of me wanted to pick up the poop bags & carry them out to a trash barrel. Part of me decided to leave them because they were dirty & I had no gloves. Part of me wants to hide beside the trail next time & wait for a person to set down a poop bag & walk away. All of me wonders what would happen next.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Kathleen Norris

from Kathleen Norris's Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and A Writer's Life:

being suspicious of our motives need not mean indulging in self-loathing or unnecessary guilt, for God has provided us with everything we need to cope with our bad thoughts and temptations. The corresponding virtues, or good thoughts, are always at our disposal. When Evagrius asserts that "virtues do not prevent the demons from assaulting us, but they do preserve us guiltless," he is elucidating an all-but-forgotten aspect of the doctrine of sin. The bad thoughts come to everyone at one time or another. No one is exempt from anger, jealousy, greed, gluttony, lust, pride, acedia. Our job is not to deny them or run from them, but to make our way through to the virtue on the other side. The virtue of greed is a fearlessness concerning one's future needs that translates into sharing what one has at present. Lust's virtue is a self-giving love that can endure all things. Acedia's virtue is a caring expressed in thoughtful and timely acts that enhance our relationship with others. . . .

modern life is increasingly unstable, marked by a lack of constancy and trust. In defense we adopt a disproportionate self-regard that does not allow us to perceive as sanity the early monks' refusal to see themselves as good or in the right. We are likely to recoil from Abba Poemen's response to the question "What is integrity?" He replied, "Always to accuse [oneself]." It is important to recognize that he and other monks were suggesting that people not become doormats wallowing in self-abnegation, but individuals with a realistic perception of their place in the world. These monks were also well aware that in order to give up the instinctive impulse toward self-justification, a person needed a healthy self-regard in the first place. . . .

This superficial me may show a confident face to the world but inwardly is plagued by fears and compulsions, and remains blind to its true condition. All too often, it harbors an acedia that arises from unacknowledged anger and manifests as passive-aggressive behavior. Evagrius believed that acedia in its most dangerous form derived from a lack of self-knowledge. "[coming] into being when someone . . . does not perceive the meaning of his temptation and as a result fights against it without understanding." I am often "without understanding" in my attempt to navigate the dense thickets of my good thoughts and bad. When I am mired in acedia, enthusiasm seems foolish and false. And it is no easy matter to spurn the comforts of pride even though I know that only a proper and balanced self-respect can free me to love myself as I am, and also better respect and love others. I am slow to respond to my heart's wisdom, although I know that anything less is deadly. So, I struggle.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Velella velella

what if I wrote how angry I am, how isolated, how old, how decrepit, how deteriorating
what if I wrote in a way that made you bear it
what I bear now
my hips, my eyes, my hands

how small this is
compared to everything

you might as well find a psalm & sing



When I was a child & deaf
& chewing
at the family dinner table
I could hear nothing
but my heartbeat & my chewing.
I watched my parents,
my brothers
converse between bites.
I chewed slowly,
waiting for them to finish
& go away
so I could read.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014


Colette [Léopold-Émile Reutlinger]

Colette from Robert Phelps's Earthly Paradise: Colette's Autobiography drawn from the writings of her lifetime:

I am hostile to those who let life burn them out. Voluntary consumption is, I always feel, a kind of alibi. I fear there is not much difference between the habit of obtaining sexual satisfaction and, for instance, the cigarette habit. Smokers, male and female, inject and excuse idleness in their lives every time they light a cigarette.

The habit of obtaining sexual satisfaction is less tyrannical than the tobacco habit, but it gains on one. O voluptuous pleasure, O lascivious ram . . . Voluptuaries, consumed by their senses, always begin by flinging themselves with a great display of frenzy into an abyss. But they survive, they come to the surface again. And they develop the routine of the abyss: “It’s four o’clock . . . At five I have my abyss . . .”

Monday, September 1, 2014

Barbara Guest

Attic Mirror, collaboration by Mary Abbott & Barbara Guest [Painters & Poets]

from Barbara Guest's The Collected Poems:

The Nude

Studios are stations of reminiscence
in the nimble wind they are shadows

The artist attaches himself to the shadow
he attempts to revive it after the wind ceases,

This mixture of dark and light
is mysterious and adds depth

To the position of his model
who rephrases the shadow.

She reminds him of attitudes
beyond the mere appraisal of subject,

A peace without clothes
with its bestowal of light and volume

Where nudism is born.

The behavior of the landscape of nudism
varies as mirrors reflect

Curves, syllables of grace,
drops of water or trees elastic,

A native body beneath its plumes.

Is a weight become effervescent
when attacked by knowledge

Of shells and other remainders
of sexual consciousness tossed from sand,

They live in a contradiction of time.

The narcissism of the artist escapes into a body
that defines his emotions,

An interior where his own contour is less misty.

The figure is a nominal reminder that existence
is not pantomime as relieved by the artist,

The body of the model, the lift of her torso
the extension of limbs, fold of skin

Express reality beyond tenure of the brush,
shell or escapist sail,

A severe distance is established between her realism
and his anxious attempt to define it.

The painter desires the image he has selected
to be clothed in the absolute silk of his touch,

Lonely himself he has admired the glance
of kimonos, mirrors, fans and bestowed them on her

Who for many minutes of this day
borrows from art to cover her nudity.

The artist chose these objects to enrich space
around his model's hair or even her breathing

Which you notice as it shifts the atmosphere
in which you keep watch with a calm become necessary,

You are the viewer and without you
the picture cannot exist, the model shall cease to breathe.

The artist will sorrow even as darkness
replaces his brilliance of color.

The viewer inherits this nude
as a reminder of his own weightlessness

In a natural world
made winsome, or tense or aggravated

By the requests of an unclad body
with its announcement of dimension and clarity.

The need of the artist to draw the body
is like the love for three oranges,

He searches the world to find those spheres
that will confine the fluid nude,

There is with him a desire elemental
in its urgency to savor the skin of the body

The hues of geranium before the exit
his allotment of reality.

As the swan entered Leda
so the actual timing of an artist's abrupt gesture

Is supernatural despite interferences
of local ornamental mundaneity,

The supernatural contacts ecstasy hidden
in a guise of nudism.

The artist borrows mannerisms and technique,
he is free to copy, the other world is ambitionless.

An aura once restless now subsists
through residual favors on reverence,

Eve stands by her cypress,
a quiet nude studied by Cranach,

The solid body is led through crocuses.

You are an artist who notices everything
which concerns color and shape.

In the restaurant the artist says a blouse
you are wearing goes with the decor.

The blouse is a watery blue like somewhere
off the coast of Greece, like these walls

The colors you wear tumble into mild earth tones
again like a country, nothing literary

Where the rough body reaches out
a wave rushes over the sand denuding it

You share the classical nude landscape of sand.

At times a silence overcomes the artist,
a fog at the base of columns,

He explains he is thinking of the body.

Its behavior is strange, hiding behind leaves
he can never trap or bribe it.

So deep is the body's memory of self.

Each day there is a different voice,
today while wearing no clothes

It spoke of the essentials of life which were evident,
but the body took an invisible position,

It is arguable whether he shall ever see the face,
her back was turned from him like a goddess

She was either admiring herself or bathing.

Morning traverses her breasts
where she sits under the window of white curtains,

Trees are outside, their branches fix the sky,
she is thinking of nudism,

He draws an odalisque,
it is love they are asking for.

She looks at a canvas,
nature covets it,

Where a fever blots the muslin
clouds start to rise.

There is no figure.

This is landscape,
portrait of nude melancholy

Or its glow which is austere,
she asks, where am I?

He has not drawn her,
the sheen of her body only survives.

She turns herself into a star
above the unattended foliage,

He views her as she glistens,
silver enters the picture.

He confides,
"Each day I define myself."

He notices a coarseness of flesh,
he thickens his paint,

"It is a glimpse into the future,
fields light up," she sighs.

To replenish the sallow on her throat
he adds sunset tint

She reaches for ombre, noir
"It is the narrowness of time."

Respectful moonlight inhabits them.