|Ted Hughes Pibroch
|W. H. Auden Musée des Beaux Arts
|Ford Maddox Ford What the Orderly Dog Saw
|ee cummings somewhere i have never traveled
|Langston Hughes Salvation
|Zoë Griffith-Jones Who am I to Say?
|Balzac, M.S. Merwin Good Night
|Gail Goodwin To Noble Companions
|Karl Jay Shapiro Buick
Life After Death
Colonel David Marcus was killed in battle
during the Israeli War in June 1948.
In his wallet was found a card
that spoke of death. It read:
"I am standing upon the seashore.
A ship at my side spreads her white sails
to the morning breeze and starts for the ocean.
"She is an object of beauty and strength.
And I stand and watch her,
until at length
she is only a ribbon of white cloud
just where the sky and sea
come to mingle with each other.
Then someone at my side says,
'There! She's gone!'
Gone from my sight--that is all.
She is just as large in mast and hull and spar
as she was when she left my side,
and just as able to bear her load
of living freight--to the place of destination.
Her diminished size is in me, not in her.
"And just at the moment
When someone at my side says,
'There! She's gone!' there are other voices
ready to take up the glad shout,
'There! She comes!'
And that is dying."
2Mc 7:1-2 9-14; Lk 20:27-38
The sea cries with its meaningless voice,
Treating alike its dead and its living,
Probably bored with the appearance of heaven
After so many millions of nights without sleep,
Without purpose, without self-deception.
Stone likewise. Stone is imprisoned
Like nothing in the Universe.
Created for black sleep. Or growing
Conscious of the sun’s red spot occasionally,
Then dreaming it is the feotus of God.
Over the stone rushes the wind,
Able to mingle with nothing,
Like the hearing of the blind stone itself.
Or turns, as if the stone’s mind came feeling
A fantasy of directions.
Drinking the sea and eating the rock
A tree struggles to make leaves—
An old woman fallen from space
Unprepared for these conditions.
She hangs on, because her mind’s gone completely.
Minute after minute, aeon after aeon,
Nothing lets up or develops.
And this is neither a bad variant nor a tryout.
This is where the staring angels go through.
This is where all the stars bow down.
* * *
Pibroch a Scottish bagpipe composition con-
sisting of ornamental variations on a theme.
Musée des Beaux Arts
About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
WHAT THE ORDERLY DOG SAW
A Winter Landscape
The seven white peacocks against the castle wall
In the high trees and the dusk are like tapestry,
The sky being orange, the high wall a purple barrier
The canal, dead silver in the dusk
And you are far away.
Yet I can see infinite mile of mountains.
Little lights shining in rows in the dark of them;
Infinite miles of marshes.
Thin wisps of mist, shimmering like blue webs
Over the dusk of them, great curves and horns of sea
And dusk and dusk and the little village
And you, sitting in the firelight.
Around me are the two hundred and forty men of B Company
Going about their avocations,
Resting between their practice of the art
Of killing men,
As I too rest between my practice
Of the Art of killing men.
Their pipes glow above the mud and their mud colour, moving
like fireflies beneath trees,
I too being mud-coloured
Beneath the trees and peacocks.
When they come up to me in the dusk
They start, stiffen and salute, almost invisibly.
And the forty-two prisoners from the Battalion guardroom
Crouch over the tea cans in the shadow of the wall,
And the bread hunks glimmer, beneath the peacocks,
And you are far away.
Presently I shall go in,
I shall write don the names of the forty-two
Prisoners in the Battalion guardroom
On fair white foolscap.
Their names, rank, and regimental numbers,
Corps, Companies, Punishments and Offenses,
Remarks, and By whom Confined.
Yet in spite of all I shall see only
The infinite miles of dark mountain,
The infinite miles of dark marshland,
Great curves and horns of sea
The little village.
Sitting in the firelight.
By Langston Hughes
"Believe those who are seeking the truth.
Doubt those who find it." --Andre Gide
I was saved from sin when I was going on thirteen. But not really saved. It happened like this. There was a big revival at my Auntie Reed's church. Every night for weeks there had been much preaching, singing, praying, and shouting, and some very hardened sinners had been brought to Christ, and the membership of the church had grown by leaps and bounds. Then just before the revival ended, they held a special meeting for children, "to bring the young lambs to the fold." My aunt spoke of it for days ahead. That night I was escorted to the front row and placed on the mourners' bench with all the other young sinners, who had not yet been brought to Jesus.
My aunt told me that when you were saved you saw a light, and something happened to you inside! And Jesus came into your life! And God was with you from then on! She said you could see and hear and feel Jesus in your soul. I believed her. I had heard a great many old people say the same thing and it seemed to me they ought to know. So I sat there calmly in the hot, crowded church, waiting for Jesus to come to me.
The preacher preached a wonderful rhythmical sermon, all moans and shouts and lonely cries and dire pictures of hell, and then he sang a song about the ninety and nine safe in the fold, but one little lamb was left out in the cold. Then he said: "Won't you come? Won't you come to Jesus? Young lambs, won't you come?" And he held out his arms to all us young sinners there on the mourners' bench. And the little girls cried. And some of them jumped up and went to Jesus right away. But most of us just sat there.
A great many old people came and knelt around us and prayed, old women with jet-black faces and braided hair, old men with work-gnarled hands. And the church sang a song about the lower lights are burning, some poor sinners to be saved. And the whole building rocked with prayer and song.
Still I kept waiting to see Jesus.
Finally all the young people had gone to the altar and were saved, but one boy and me. He was a rounder's son named Westley. Westley and I were surrounded by sisters and deacons praying. It was very hot in the church, and getting late now. Finally Westley said to me in a whisper: "God damn! I'm tired o' sitting here. Let's get up and be saved." So he got up and was saved.
Then I was left all alone on the mourners' bench. My aunt came and knelt at my knees and cried, while prayers and song swirled all around me in the little church. The whole congregation prayed for me alone, in a mighty wail of moans and voices. And I kept waiting serenely for Jesus, waiting, waiting - but he didn't come. I wanted to see him, but nothing happened to me. Nothing! I wanted something to happen to me, but nothing happened.
I heard the songs and the minister saying: "Why don't you come? My dear child, why don't you come to Jesus? Jesus is waiting for you. He wants you. Why don't you come? Sister Reed, what is this child's name?"
"Langston," my aunt sobbed.
"Langston, why don't you come? Why don't you come and be saved? Oh, Lamb of God! Why don't you come?"
Now it was really getting late. I began to be ashamed of myself, holding everything up so long. I began to wonder what God thought about Westley, who certainly hadn't seen Jesus either, but who was now sitting proudly on the platform, swinging his knickerbockered legs and grinning down at me, surrounded by deacons and old women on their knees praying. God had not struck Westley dead for taking his name in vain or for lying in the temple. So I decided that maybe to save further trouble, I'd better lie, too, and say that Jesus had come, and get up and be saved.
So I got up.
Suddenly the whole room broke into a sea of shouting, as they saw me rise. Waves of rejoicing swept the place. Women leaped in the air. My aunt threw her arms around me. The minister took me by the hand and led me to the platform.
When things quieted down, in a hushed silence, punctuated by a few ecstatic "Amens," all the new young lambs were blessed in the name of God. Then joyous singing filled the room.
That night, for the first time in my life but one for I was a big boy twelve years old - I cried. I cried, in bed alone, and couldn't stop. I buried my head under the quilts, but my aunt heard me. She woke up and told my uncle I was crying because the Holy Ghost had come into my life, and because I had seen Jesus. But I was really crying because I couldn't bear to tell her that I had lied, that I had deceived everybody in the church, that I hadn't seen Jesus, and that now I didn't believe there was a Jesus anymore, since he didn't come to help me.
--Mark Twain Short Takes: “The
difference between the right word and the almost right word is the
difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”
Who Am I to Say
Regrets, I've had a few,
but then again, too few to mention.
Well bully you, Frankie.
If you're keeping track, I think you
should regret, "My Way,"
but who am I to say--my own catalog is
those roads to success that beckoned
but seemed too long a trek,
the bridges burned in fiery rages,
the rash decisions, the bitter words I could not suck
back into my throat where they might have stuck, straining
to escape, but would not have stung those in their way;
the child I did not have, who in my mind still
adores me unreservedly, but who am I to say--she might
to love the needle more, the sting of the serpents tooth.
Who am I to say that the missteps, the wrong turns,
the bright lights that lured & burned and seared my heart
leaving scars of regret --who am I to say they didn't,
in the end,
make me whole.
ON LOVE AND MEN
"Man can start with aversion and end with love, but
if he begins with love and comes round to aversion
he will never get back to love."
--Honore de Balzac --Tours, France 1799
Sleep softly my old love
my beauty in the dark
night is a dream we have
as you know as you know
night is a dream you know
an old love in the dark
around you as you go
without end as you know
in the night where you go
sleep softly my old love
without end in the dark
in the love that you know
Balzac, Take 2:
"Men are so made that they can resist sound argument, and yet yield to a glance."
To Noble Companions
The dutiful first answer seems programmed into us by our meager expectations: “A friend is one who will be there in times of trouble.” But I believe this is a skin-deep answer to describe skin deep friends. There is something irresistible about misfortune to human nature, and standbys for setbacks and sicknesses (as long as they are not too lengthy, or contagious) can usually be found. They can be hired. What I value is not the “friend” who, looming sympathetically above me when I have been dashed to the ground, appears gigantically generous in the hour of my reversal; more and more I desire friends who will endure my ecstasies with me, who posses wings of their own and who will fly with me. I don’t mean this as arrogance (I am too superstitious to indulge long in that trait), and I don’t fly all that often. What I mean is that I seek (and occasionally find) friends with whom it is possible to drag out all those beautiful, old, outrageously aspiring, costumes and rehearse for the Great Roles; persons whose qualities groom me and train me up for love. It is for these people that I reserve the glowing hours, too good not to share. It is the existence of these people that remind me that the words “friend” and “free” grew out of each other. (OE freo, not in bondage, noble, glad; OE Freon, to love; OE freond, friend.)
When I was in eight grade, I had a friend. We were shy and “too serious” about our studies when it was becoming fashionable with our classmates to acquire the social graces. We said little at school, but she would come to my house and we would sit down with pencil and paper, and one of us would say: “Let’s start with a train whistle today.” We would sit quietly and write separate poems or stories that grew out of a train whistle. Then we would read them aloud. At the end of the school year, we, too, were transformed into social creatures and the stories and poems stopped.
When I lived for a time in London, I had a friend. He was in despair and I was in despair, but our friendship was based on the small flicker of foresight in each of us that told us we would be sorry later if we didn't explore this great city because we had felt bad at the time. We met every Sunday for five weeks and found many marvelous things. We walked until our despairs resolved themselves and then we parted. We gave London to each other.
For almost four years I have had a remarkable friend whose imagination illumes mine. We write long letters in which we often discover our strangest selves. Each of us appears, sometimes prophetically, sometimes comically, in the other’s dreams. She and I agree that, at certain times, we seem to be parts of the same mind. In my most sacred and interesting moments, I often think: “Yes, I must tell———.” We have never met.
It is such exceptional (in a sense divine) companions I wish to salute. I have seen the glories of the world reflected briefly through our encounters. One bright hour with their kind is worth more to me than a lifetime guarantee of the services of a Job’s comforter whose “helpful.” lamentations will only clutter the healing silence necessary to those darkest moments in which I would rather be my own best friend.
Gail Godwin Writing for a Reason