on sleep stones/ anne carson

Camille Claudel lived the last thirty years of her
life in an asylum, wondering why, writing letters
to her brother the poet, who had signed the
papers. Come visit me, she says. Remember, I
am living here with madwomen; days are long.
She did not smoke or stroll. She refused to
sculpt. Although they gave her sleep stones—
marble and granite and porphyry—she broke
them, then collected the pieces and buried these
outside the walls at night. Night was when her
hands grew, huger and huger until in the photo-
graph they are like two parts of someone else
loaded onto her knees.

: anne carson, ‘on sleep stones’/ short talks; plainwater

my god, it's full of stars/ tracy k. smith

1. 

 
We like to think of it as parallel to what we know,
Only bigger. One man against the authorities.
Or one man against a city of zombies. One man
 
Who is not, in fact, a man, sent to understand
The caravan of men now chasing him like red ants
Let loose down the pants of America. Man on the run.
 
Man with a ship to catch, a payload to drop,
This message going out to all of space. . . . Though
Maybe it’s more like life below the sea: silent,
 
Buoyant, bizarrely benign. Relics
Of an outmoded design. Some like to imagine
A cosmic mother watching through a spray of stars,
 
Mouthing yes, yes as we toddle toward the light,
Biting her lip if we teeter at some ledge. Longing
To sweep us to her breast, she hopes for the best
 
While the father storms through adjacent rooms
Ranting with the force of Kingdom Come,
Not caring anymore what might snap us in its jaw.
 
Sometimes,  what I see is a library in a rural community.
All the tall shelves in the big open room. And the pencils
In a cup at Circulation, gnawed on by the entire population.
 
The books have lived here all along, belonging
For weeks at a time to one or another in the brief sequence
Of family names, speaking (at night mostly) to a face,
 
A pair of eyes. The most remarkable lies.
 
 
          2.
 
Charlton Heston is waiting to be let in. He asked once politely.
A second time with force from the diaphragm. The third time,
He did it like Moses: arms raised high, face an apocryphal white.
 
Shirt crisp, suit trim, he stoops a little coming in,
Then grows tall. He scans the room. He stands until I gesture,
Then he sits. Birds commence their evening chatter. Someone fires
 
Charcoals out below. He’ll take a whiskey if I have it. Water if I don’t.
I ask him to start from the beginning, but he goes only halfway back.
That was the future once, he says. Before the world went upside down.
 
Hero, survivor, God’s right hand man, I know he sees the blank
Surface of the moon where I see a language built from brick and bone.
He sits straight in his seat, takes a long, slow high-thespian breath,
 
Then lets it go. For all I know, I was the last true man on this earth. And:
May I smoke? The voices outside soften. Planes jet past heading off or back.
Someone cries that she does not want to go to bed. Footsteps overhead.
 
A fountain in the neighbor’s yard babbles to itself, and the night air
Lifts the sound indoors. It was another time, he says, picking up again.
We were pioneers. Will you fight to stay alive here, riding the earth
 
Toward God-knows-where? I think of Atlantis buried under ice, gone
One day from sight, the shore from which it rose now glacial and stark.
Our eyes adjust to the dark.
 
 
          3.
 
Perhaps the great error is believing we’re alone,
 
That the others have come and gone—a momentary blip—
 
When all along, space might be choc-full of traffic,
 
Bursting at the seams with energy we neither feel
 
Nor see, flush against us, living, dying, deciding,
 
Setting solid feet down on planets everywhere,
 
Bowing to the great stars that command, pitching stones
 
At whatever are their moons. They live wondering
 
If they are the only ones, knowing only the wish to know,
 
And the great black distance they—we—flicker in.
 
 
Maybe the dead know, their eyes widening at last,
 
Seeing the high beams of a million galaxies flick on
 
At twilight. Hearing the engines flare, the horns
 
Not letting up, the frenzy of being. I want to be
 
One notch below bedlam, like a radio without a dial.
 
Wide open, so everything floods in at once.
 
And sealed tight, so nothing escapes. Not even time,
 
Which should curl in on itself and loop around like smoke.
 
So that I might be sitting now beside my father
 
As he raises a lit match to the bowl of his pipe
 
For the first time in the winter of 1959.
 



          4.
 
 
In those last scenes of Kubrick’s 2001
When Dave is whisked into the center of space,
Which unfurls in an aurora of orgasmic light
Before opening wide, like a jungle orchid
For a love-struck bee, then goes liquid,
Paint-in-water, and then gauze wafting out and off,
Before, finally, the night tide, luminescent
And vague, swirls in, and on and on. . . . 
 
In those last scenes, as he floats
Above Jupiter’s vast canyons and seas,
Over the lava strewn plains and mountains
Packed in ice, that whole time, he doesn’t blink.
In his little ship, blind to what he rides, whisked
Across the wide-screen of unparcelled time,
Who knows what blazes through his mind?
Is it still his life he moves through, or does
That end at the end of what he can name?
 
On set, it’s shot after shot till Kubrick is happy,
Then the costumes go back on their racks
And the great gleaming set goes black.
 
 
          5.
 
When my father worked on the Hubble Telescope, he said
They operated like surgeons: scrubbed and sheathed
In papery green, the room a clean cold, a bright white.
 
He’d read Larry Niven at home, and drink scotch on the rocks,
His eyes exhausted and pink. These were the Reagan years,
When we lived with our finger on The Button and struggled
 
To view our enemies as children. My father spent whole seasons
Bowing before the oracle-eye, hungry for what it would find.
His face lit-up whenever anyone asked, and his arms would rise
 
As if he were weightless, perfectly at ease in the never-ending
Night of space. On the ground, we tied postcards to balloons
For peace. Prince Charles married Lady Di. Rock Hudson died.
 
We learned new words for things. The decade changed.
 
The first few pictures came back blurred, and I felt ashamed
For all the cheerful engineers, my father and his tribe. The second time,
The optics jibed. We saw to the edge of all there is—

So brutal and alive it seemed to comprehend us back.

 

: tracy k. smith, ‘my god, it's full of stars’; life on mars

the old poets of china/ mary oliver

Wherever I am, the world comes after me.
It offers me its busyness. It does not believe
that I do not want it. Now I understand
why the old poets of China went so far and high
into the mountains, then crept into the pale mist.

: mary oliver, ‘the old poets of china’; new and selected poems, volume ii

unknowing before the heavens of my life/ rainer maria rilke

Unknowing before the heavens of my life
I stand in wonder. O the great stars.
The rising and the going down. How quiet.
As if I didn't exist. Am I part? Have I dismissed
the pure influence? Do high and low tide
alternate in my blood according to this order?
I will cast off all wishes, all other links,
accustom my heart to its remotest space. Better
it live in the terror of its stars than
seemingly protected, soothed by something near.

: rainer maria rilke, uncollected poems (tr. edward snow)

transcendental etude/ adrienne rich

(..)
But there come times–perhaps this is one of them–
when we have to take ourselves more seriously or die;
when we have to pull back from the incantations,
rhythms we’ve moved to thoughtlessly,
and disenthrall ourselves, bestow
ourselves to silence, or a severer listening, cleansed
or oratory, formulas, choruses, laments, static
crowding the wires. We cut the wires,
find ourselves in free-fall, as if
our true home were the undimensional
solitudes, the rift
in the Great Nebula.
No one who survives to speak
new language, has avoided this:
the cutting-away of an old force that held her
rooted to an old ground
the pitch of utter loneliness
where she herself and all creation
seem equally dispersed, weightless, her being a cry
to which no echo comes or can ever come.
(..)

: adrienne rich, een fragment uit ‘transcendental etude’; the dream of a common language: poems 1974-1977

september/ jennifer michael hecht

Tonight there must be people who are getting what they want.
I let my oars fall into the water.
Good for them. Good for them, getting what they want.

The night is so still that I forget to breathe.
The dark air is getting colder. Birds are leaving.

Tonight there are people getting just what they need.

The air is so still that it seems to stop my heart.
I remember you in a black and white photograph
taken this time of some year. You were leaning against
a half-shed tree, standing in the leaves the tree had lost.

When I finally exhale it takes forever to be over.

Tonight, there are people who are so happy,
that they have forgotten to worry about tomorrow.

Somewhere, people have entirely forgotten about tomorrow.
My hand trails in the water.
I should not have dropped those oars. Such a soft wind.

: jennifer michael hecht, ‘september’; the next ancient world

crater lake/ louise glück

There was a war between good and evil.
We decided to call the body good.

That made death evil.
It turned the soul
against death completely.

Like a foot soldier wanting
to serve a great warrior, the soul
wanted to side with the body.

It turned against the dark,
against the forms of death
it recognized.

Where does the voice come from
that says suppose the war
is evil, that says

suppose the body did this to us,
made us afraid of love—

: louise glück, ‘crater lake’; averno

//

quoi?

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