2004 I

Sharon Olds -Sex Without Love
Robert Graves -Among Thieves
Charles Tomlinson -Through Binoculars
Czeslaw Milosz -Guilt/Doris Langely Moore -Epilogue
Lawrence Ferlinghetti -see it was like this
Stanley Kunitz Touch Me / Geoffrey Hill -September Song
Edna St. Vincent Millay -To P: Well, I have lost you
Stephan Gould - A Time of Gifts
Will Weaver - A Gravestone Made of Wheat
Joan Didion - Marrying Absurd
Ezra Pound - In a Station of the Metro

"As no roads are so rough as those that have just been mended, so no   
    sinners are so intolerant as those that have just turned saints."
-Charles Caleb Colton, author and clergyman (1780-1880)

Sex Without Love

How do they do it, the ones who make love
without love?  Beautiful as dancers,
gliding over each other like ice-skaters
over the ice, fingers hooked
inside each other's bodies, faces
red as steak, wine, wet as the
children at birth whose mothers are going to
give them away.  How do they come to the
come to the  come to the  God  come to the
still waters, and not love
the one who came there with them, light
rising slowly as steam off their joined
skin?  These are the true religious,
the purists, the pros, the ones who will not
accept a false Messiah, love the
priest instead of the God.  They do not
mistake the lover for their own pleasure,
they are like great runners: they know they are alone
with the road surface, the cold, the wind,
the fit of their shoes, their over-all cardio-
vascular health--just factors, like the partner
in the bed, and not the truth, which is the
single body alone in the universe
against its own best time.

Sharon Olds


"As a work of art, I know few things more pleasing to the eye, or more
     capable of affording scope and gratification to a taste for the beautiful
     than a well-situated, well-cultivated farm."

--Edward Everett Address at Buffalo, New York, Oct 9, 1857

Among Thieves

Lovers in the act dispense
With such meum-teum sense
As might warmingly reveal
What they must not pick or steal,
And their nostrum is to say:
You and I are both away

After, when they disentwine
You from me and yours from mine,
Neither can be certain who
Was that me whose mine was you.

To the act again they go
More completely now to know
Theft is theft and raid is raid
Though reciprocally made.

Lovers, the conclusion is
Doubled sighs and jealousies
In a single heart that grieves
For lost honor among thieves.

Robert Graves


                           "I like the rich--the way  they say 'I'm not made of money:'  their
                            favorite pastoral is to think they're not rich at all--poorer, perhaps,
                            than you or me, for they have the imagination of that fall into the
                            pinched decency we take for granted."
                                                            Charles Tomlinson,  Poet (1927-     )


Through Binoculars

In their congealed light
We discover that what we had taken for a face
Has neither eyes nor mouth,
But only the impersonality of anatomy

Silencing movement,
They withdraw life.

Definition grows clear-cut, but bodiless,
Withering by a dimension.

To see thus
Is to ignore the revenge of light on shadow,
To confound both in a brittle and false union.

This fictive extension into madness
Has a kind of bracing effect:
That normality is, after all, desirable
One can no longer doubt  having experienced its opposite.

Binoculars are the last phase in a romanticism:
The starkly mad vision, not mortal,
But dangling one in a vicarious, momentary, idiocy.

To dispense with them
Is to make audible the steady roar of evening.
Withdrawing in slow ripples of orange,
Like the retreat of water from sea caves.

                       Charles Tomlinson



                                  "The longer one's life, the more torments of memory.  Only a part is remembered
                                  and that's already a blessing.  Yet even that is enough to disturb a peace so much
                                  desired.  To confess. To unload one's guilt?  But memory preserves on the same
                                  level moments of humiliation in school, social blunders, tactless behavior, horrible
                                  defeats, sins.  In other words, everything that belies our image of ourselves as
                                  brave, heroic, pure, goodhearted.  To whom would one confess these things:
                                  "I made a fool of myself, you should have seen their glances!"  Or, "I know that
                                  they, though they would not say it, thought I behaved poorly"  or  " They placed
                                  their stake on me and I lost"  or  "At a moment that was for me decisive, I failed"?
                                  Where is contrition, divided by the catechism into perfect, if it is impossible to
                                  distinguish between improper behavior at the table and wounding or killing a
                                  human being?"
                                                                                                                                 --Czeslaw Milosz
                                                                        (translated from the Polish by the author and Robert Hass)

should say that love is the kind of warfare in which victory is to the week.  The strong who
                               force themselves to sell bliss for despair are the defeated.  The probability is that they will not
                               be able to keep up their self-denying resolutions.  While emotions are still vigorous and calamant,
                               that "clean break" which the inexperienced believe in so passionately is the most futile of aims;
                               and even in the rare instances where it can be achieved, it exacts much more in the long run from
                               the renouncer than the renounced."
                                                            Doris Langley Moore, 1902  in Pleasure:  A Discursive Guide Book


                                                     it was like this when

                                                                 we waltz into this place
                                                                             a couple of Papish cats
                                               is doing an Aztec two-step
                                                       And I says
                                                                       Dad let's cut
                                                                                 but then this dame
                                              comes up behind me
                                                             and says
                                                                      You and me could really exist
                                               Wow I says
                                                         Only the next day
                                                                  she has bad teeth
                                                                           and really hates

                                                                                                                              -Lawrence Ferlinghetti

From A Coney Island of the Mind


"Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be".
 -Ralph Waldo Emerson

TOUCH ME             

Summer is late, my heart.

Words plucked out of the air
some six years ago
when I was wild with love
and torn almost in two
scatter like leaves this night
of whistling wind and rain.
It is my heart that’s late,
it is my song that’s flown.
Outdoors all afternoon
under a gunmetal sky
staking my garden down,
I kneeled to the crickets trilling
Underfoot as if  about
to burst from their crusty shells;
and like a child again.

staking my garden down,
marveled to hear so clear
and brave a music pour
from such a small machine.
What makes the engine go?
Desire, desire, desire.
The longing for the dance
stirs in the buried life.
One season only,
                      and it’s done.
So let the battered old willow
thrash against the windowpanes
and the house timbers creak.
Darling, do you remember
the man you loved?  Touch me,
remind me who I am.

          Stanley Kunitz

September Song
Undesirable you may have been, untouchable
you were not. Not forgotten
or passed over at the proper time.
As estimated, you died. Things marched,
sufficient, to that end.
Just so much Zyklon and leather, patented
terror, so many routine cries.
(I have made
an elegy for myself it
is true)
September fattens on vines. Roses
flake from the wall. The smoke
of harmless fires drifts to my eyes.
This is plenty. This is more than enough.
--Geoffrey Hill 
born 19.6.32 - deported 24.9.42


To P:                          
Well, I have lost you

Well, I have lost you; and I lost you fairly;
In my own way, and with my full consent.
Say what you will, kings in a tumbrel rarely
Went to their deaths more proud than this one went.
Some nights of apprehension and hot weeping
I will confess; but that's permitted me;
Day dried my eyes; I was not one for keeping
Rubbed in a cage a wing that would be free.
If I had loved you less or played you slyly
I might have held you for a summer more,
But at the cost of words I value highly,
And no such summer as the one before.
Should I outlive this anguish—and men do—
I shall have only good to say of you.

                 -Edna St. Vincent Millay -  Poet
                        _______ ___________


From P

And if I loved you Wednesday,

Well, what is that to you?

I do not love you Thursday—

So much is true.

And why you come complaining

Is more than I can see.

I loved you Wednesday,—yes—but what

Is that to me?


Thursday,  by Edna St. Vincent Millay



Reflecting Absence:                   

Stephen J. Gould, Notes on 9-11, 2001                  

                                                                              A Time of Gifts

The patterns of human history mixes decency and depravity in equal measure.  We often assume, therefore, that such a fine balance of results must emerge from societies made of decent and depraved people in equal numbers.  But we need to expose and celebrate the fallacy of this conclusion so that, in this year of crisis, we may reaffirm an essential truth too easily forgotten, and regain some crucial comfort too readily forgone.  Good and kind people outnumber all others by thousands to one.  The tragedy of human history lies in the enormous potential for destruction in rare acts of evil, not in the high frequency of evil people.  Complex systems can only be built step by step, whereas destruction requires but an instant.  Thus, in what I like to call the Great Asymmetry, every spectacular act of evil will be balanced by 10,000 acts of kindness, too often unnoted and invisible as the "ordinary" efforts of a vast majority.

We have a duty, almost a holy responsibility, to record and honor the victorious weight of theses innumerable little kindnesses, when an unprecedented act of evil so threatens to distort our perception of ordinary human behavior.  I have stood at ground zero, stunned by the twisted ruins of the largest human structure ever destroyed in a catastrophic moment.  (I will discount the claims of a few biblical literalist for the Tower of Babel.)  And I have contemplated a single day of carnage that our nation has not suffered since battles that still evoke passions and tears nearly 150 years later: Antietnam, Gettysburg, Cold Harbor.  The scene is insufferably sad, but not at all depressing.  Rather ground zero can only be described, in the lost meaning of a grand old word, as "sublime," in the sense of awe inspired by solemnity.

In human terms, ground zero is the focal point for a vast web of bustling goodness, channeling uncountable deeds of kindness from an entire planet--the acts that must be recorded to reaffirm the overwhelming weight of human decency.  The rubble of ground zero stands mute, while a beehive of human activity churns within, and radiates outward, as everyone makes a contribution, big or tiny according to means and skills, but each of equal worth.  My wife and stepdaughter established a depot on Spring Street to collect and ferry needed items in short supply, including face masks and shoe inserts, to the workers at ground zero.  Words spread like a wildfire of goodness, and people streamed in, bringing gifts from a pocket full of batteries to a $10,000 purchase of hard hats, made on the spot by a local supply house and delivered right to us.

I will cite but one tiny story, among so many, to add to the count that will overwhelm the power of any terrorist's act.  And by such tales, multiplied many million fold, let those few depraved people finally understand why their vision of inspired fear cannot prevail over ordinary decency.  As we left a local restaurant to make a delivery to ground zero late one evening, the cook gave us a shopping bag and said:  "Here's a dozen apple brown bettys, our best desert, still warm.  Please give them to the rescue workers."  How lovely, I thought, but how meaningless, except as an act of solidarity, connecting the cook to the cleanup.  Still, we  promised that we would make the distribution, and we put the bag of twelve apple brown bettys atop several thousand face masks and shoe pads.

Twelve apple brown bettys into the breach.  Twelve apple brown bettys for  thousands of workers.  And then I learned something I should never have forgotten--and the joke turned on me.  These trivial symbols in my initial judgment turned into little drops of gold within a rainstorm of similar offerings for stomach and soul, from childrens' postcards to cheers by the roadside.  We gave the last one to a firefighter, an older man in a young crowd, sitting alone in utter exhaustion as he said, with a twinkle and a smile restored to his face:  "Thank you.  This is the most lovely thing I've seen in four days --and still warm




Marrying Absurd
 Joan Didion

To be married in Las Vegas, Clark County, Nevada, a bride must swear that she is eighteen or has parental permission and a bridegroom that he is twenty-one or has parental permission.  Someone must put up five dollars for the license. (On Sundays and holidays, fifteen dollars. The Clark County Courthouse issues marriage licenses at any time of the day or night except between noon and one in the afternoon, between eight and nine in the evening, and between four and five in the morning.) Nothing else is required. The State of Nevada, alone among these United States, demands neither a premarital blood test nor a waiting period before or after the issuance of a marriage license.  Driving in across the Mojave from Los Angeles, one sees the signs way out on the desert, looming up from that moonscape of rattlesnakes and mesquite, even before the Las Vegas lights appear like a mirage on the horizon: "GETTING MARRIED? Free License Information First Strip Exit." Perhaps the Las Vegas wedding industry achieved its peak operational efficiency between 9:00 p.m. and midnight of August 26, 1965, an otherwise unremarkable Thursday which happened to be, by Presidential order, the last day on which anyone could improve his draft status merely by getting married. One hundred and seventy-one couples were pronounced man and wife in the name of Clark County and the State of Nevada that night, sixty-seven of them by a single justice of the peace, Mr. James A. Brennan. Mr. Brennan did one wedding at the Dunes and the other sixty-six in his office, and charged each couple eight dollars. One bride lent her veil to six others. "I got it down from five to three minutes," Mr Brennan said later of his feat. "I could've married them en masse, but they're people, not cattle. People expect more when they get married."

What people who get married in Las Vegas actually do expect—what, in the largest sense, their "expectations" are strikes one as a curious and self-contradictory business. Las Vegas is the most extreme and allegorical of American settlements, bizarre and beautiful in its venality and in its devotion to immediate gratification, a place the tone of which is set by mobsters and call girls and ladies' room attendants with amyl nitrite poppers in their uniform pockets. Almost everyone notes that there is no "time" in Las Vegas, no night and no day and no past and no future (no Las Vegas casino, however, has taken the obliteration of the ordinary time sense quite so far as Harold's Club in Reno, which for a while issued at odd intervals in the day and night, mimeographed "bulletins" carrying news from the world outside); neither is there any logical sense of where one is.  One is standing on a highway in the middle of a vast hostile desert looking at an eighty-foot sign which blinks "STARDUST" or "CAESAR'S PALACE." Yes, but what does that explain? This geographical implausibility reinforces the sense that what happens there has no connection with "real" life;  Nevada cities like Reno and Carson are ranch towns, Western towns, places behind which there is some historical imperative. But Las Vegas seems to exist only in the eye of the beholder. All of which makes it an extraordinarily stimulating and interesting place, but an odd one in which to want to wear a candlelight satin Priscilla of Boston wedding dress with Chantilly lace insets, tapered sleeves and a detachable modified train.

And yet the Las Vegas wedding business seems to appeal to precisely that impulse. "Sincere and Dignified Since 1954," one wedding chapel advertises. There are forty-nine such wedding chapels in Las Vegas, intensely competitive, each offering better, faster, and, by implication, more sincere services than the next: Our Photos Best Anywhere, Your Wedding on A Phonograph Record, Candlelight with Your Ceremony, Honeymoon Accommodations, Free Transportation from Your Motel to Courthouse to Chapel and Return to Motel, Religious or Civil Ceremonies, Dressing Rooms, Flowers, Rings, Announcements, Witnesses Available, and Ample Parking, All of these services, like most others in Las Vegas (sauna baths, payroll-check cashing, chinchilla coats for sale or rent) are offered twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, presumably on the premise that marriage, like craps, is a game to be played when the table seems hot.

But what strikes one most about the Strip chapels, with their wishing wells and stained-glass paper windows and their artificial bouvardia, is that so much of their business is by no means a matter of simple convenience, of late-night liaisons between show girls and baby Crosbys. Of course there is some of that. (One night about eleven o'clock in Las Vegas I watched a bride in an orange minidress and masses of flame-colored hair stumble from a Strip chapel on the arm of her bridegroom, who looked the part of the expendable nephew in movies like Miami Syndicate. "I gotta get the kids," the bride whimpered. "I gotta pick up the sitter, I gotta get to the midnight show." "What you gotta get," the bridegroom said, opening the door of a Cadillac Coupe de Ville and watching her crumple on the seat, "is sober.") But Las Vegas seems to offer something other than "convenience"; it is merchandising "niceness," the facsimile of proper ritual, to children who do not know how else to find it, how to make the arrangements, how to do it "right." All day and evening long on the Strip, one sees actual wedding parties, waiting under the harsh lights at a crosswalk, standing uneasily in the parking lot of the Frontier while the photographer hired by The Little Church of the West ("Wedding Place of the Stars") certifies the occasion, takes the picture: the bride in a veil and white satin pumps, the bridegroom usually in a white dinner jacket, and even an attendant or two, a sister or a best friend in hot-pink peau de soie, a flirtation veil, a carnation nosegay. "When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever," the organist plays, and then a few bars of Lohengrin. The mother cries; the stepfather, awkward in his role, invites the chapel hostess to join them for a drink at the Sands. The hostess declines with a professional smile; she has already transferred her interest to the group waiting outside. One bride out, another in, and again the sign goes up on the chapel door: "One moment please-Wedding."

I sat next to one such wedding party in a Strip restaurant the last time I was in Las Vegas. The marriage had just taken place; the bride still wore her dress, the mother her corsage. A bored waiter poured out a few swallows of pink champagne ("on the house") for everyone but the bride, who was too young to be served. "You'll need something with more kick than that," the bride's father said with heavy jocularity to his new son-in-law; the ritual jokes about the wedding night had a certain Panglossian character, since the bride was clearly several months pregnant. Another round of pink champagne, this time not on the house, and the bride began to cry. "It was just as nice," she sobbed, "as I hoped and dreamed it would be."


In a Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

                                                 --Ezra Pound