Thursday, May 31, 2007

Check This Out!

Yes! Yes! Yes!


Friday, May 25, 2007

Friday Poetry: Philip Levine

Not precisely a mourning poem. But it feels right.

Philip Levine
And the Trains Go On

We stood at the back door
of the shop in the night air
while a line of box cars
of soured wheat and pop bottles
uncoupled and was sent creaking
down our spur. Once, when I
unsealed a car and the two
of us strained the door open
with a groan of rust, an old man
stepped out and tipped his hat.
"It's all yours, boys!"
and he went off, stiff-legged,
smelling of straw and shit.
I often wonder whose father
he was and how long he kept
moving until the police
found him, ticketless, sleeping
in a 2nd class waiting room
and tore the cardboard box
out of his hands and beat him
until the ink of his birth smudged
and surrendered its separate vowels.
In the great railyard of Milano
the dog with the white throat
and the soiled muzzle crossed
and recrossed the tracks
"searching for his master,"
said the boy, but his grandfather
said, "No. He was sent by God
to test the Italian railroads."
When I lie down at last to sleep
inside a boxcar of coffins bound
for the villages climbing north
will I waken in a small station
where women have come to claim
what is left of glory? Or will
I sleep until the silver bridge
spanning the Mystic River jabs
me awake, and I am back
in a dirty work shirt that says Phil,
24 years old, hungry and lost, on
the run from a war no one can win?
I want to travel one more time
with the wind whipping in
the open door, with you to keep
me company, back the long
tangled road that leads us home.
Through Flat Rock going east
picking up speed, the damp fields
asleep in moonlight. You stand
beside me, breathing the cold
in silence. When you grip
my arm hard and lean way out
and shout out the holy names
of the lost neither of us is scared
and our tears mean nothing.

Thursday, May 24, 2007


My cousin died this week. I don't have much to say that works in writing, though hopefully I'll find a poem that can communicate better than I can. She was 63 years old, a thoughtful and loving woman, and I, her immediate family, and the rest of our extended family will miss her terribly.

(I try not to do the super-personal on the blog; as such, I have omitted her name from the post, and no obituary or notice has been published yet.)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Two Hours from Friday Poetry: Pablo Neruda

I'm getting on a plane in eight hours to go to a wedding, and I'm not expecting to be coherent enough to post Friday Poetry when I leave for the airport. I am going to Miami for a wedding, and I'm going to read this poem at aforementioned wedding. Hence the repeat of our Mr. Neruda. Once again, I don't have the translation, but I will look for it. If anyone has the Spanish version of this poem, please feel free to post it in the comments.

Pablo Neruda
Sonnet XVII

Love the way certain dark things are loved: secretly between the shadows and the soul.
Love as the plant that does not bloom and carries hidden
within itself the light of these flowers.
Love so deeply that in each other's body lives the dense fragrance
that rises from the earth.
Love without knowing how, or when or from where.
Love simply without problems or pride.
Love this way because you do not know any other way of loving;
but this, where there is no I or you.
Love so intimately that your hand upon his chest is his hand.
Love so intimately that when you fall asleep it is her eyes that close.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Majority Loses

I have applauded this today.

Literally, I have put my hands together in response to the news. I don't think that's ethical, but while I rarely behave in a manner I consider unethical while conscious of it at the time, I didn't mind doing that. If we are to adhere to the gentleman's own beliefs, he's gone straight to his eternal reward and there's nothing wrong with cheering for that. If we are to adhere to my beliefs, cruel though it may be, I'm happier living in a world to which he no longer belongs. It doesn't mean I'm entitled to deride his family's loss, which I'm certain is considerable, as he was a father of three and grandfather of eight; it doesn't even mean I'm entitled to mock the loss his Liberty University students or his congregation may feel; but nor does it mean I'm in any way obligated to mourn his passing.

For the sake of respect for every human life, though, here are some good things about Jerry Falwell. By which I mean, here is a list of qualities I as a human being admire that Jerry Falwell as a human being displayed.

1) He was deeply committed to his beliefs and capable of fighting for them.
2) He wasn't afraid of conflict.
3) He was a passionate speaker.
4) He inspired a tremendous number of people to action.

I wouldn't mind a world where more people had those qualities. I would prefer that the qualities were used to other ends than those to which our Mr. Falwell used them—that is, ends that I don't find morally reprehensible in almost every way. Nevertheless, out of respect for those who suffer from this loss, whatever I think of the concrete actions he took, I offer him my respects for these abstract qualities.

On Leadership

My father and I long ago concluded that all art is manipulative—the difference between good art and bad art, then, is that good art manipulates you into going through a process, while bad art manipulates you into coming to a conclusion.

In a recent conversation, I concluded that the same holds true for leadership. It's not good leadership if you're not looking for some kind of outcome, hence the manipulation, but nor is it leadership, as opposed to, say, brute force, unless you are able to include the processes of those you are leading and do not force them into a foregone conclusion.

Which suggests that good leadership is an art, but also offers the far more enticing possibility that good art is leadership. More on that soon, but it's a thought I want to plant for the moment.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Friday Poetry: James Richardson

James Richardson
Vectors: Forty-five Aphorisms and Ten-second Essays

It's so much easier to get further from home than nearer that all men become travelers.

Of all the ways to avoid living perfect discipline is the most admired.

Idolators of the great need to believe that what they lvoe cannot fail them, adorers of kitsch, camp, trash that they cannot fail what they love.

Say nothing as if it were news.

Who breaks the thread, the one who pulls, the one who holds on?

Despair says I cannot lift that weight. Happiness says, I do not have to.

What you give to a thief is stolen.

Impatience is not wanting to understand that you don't understand.

Greater than the temptations of beauty are those of method.

Harder to laugh at the comedy if it's about you, harder to cry at the tragedy if it isn't.

Patience is not very different from courage. It just takes longer.

Even at the movies, we laugh together, we weep alone.

I could explain, but then you would understand my explanation, not what I said.

If the saints are perfect and unwavering we are excused from trying to imitate them. Also if they are not.

Easy to criticize yourself, harder to agree with the criticism.

Tragic hero, madman, addict, fatal lover. We exalt those who cannot escape their dreams becuase we cannot stay inside our own.

Every life is allocated one hundred seconds of true genius. They might be enough, if we could just be sure which ones they were.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder: then it is only distance that separates us.

How much less difficult life is when you do not want anything from people. And yet you owe it to them to want something.

Where I touch you lightly enough, there I am also touched.

If we were really sure we were one of a kind, there would be no envy. My envy demeans both of us—no wonder it is the hardest sin to confess. It says i am not who I think I am unless I have what you have. It says that you are what you have, and I could have it.

Laziness is the sin most willingly confessed to, since it implies talents greater than have yet appeared.

If you reason far enough you will come to unreasonable conclusions.

The one who hates you perfectly loves you.

What you fear to believe, your children will believe.

Of our first few years we remember nothing: experience only slowly gives us the power to be formed by experience. If this were not true, our characters would be completely determined by our infant hours of darkness, pain and helplessness, and we would all be the same. For her first six months my daughter cried continuously, who knows why. Yet she is as happy and trusting and kind as if all that had never happened. It never did.

The road not taken is the part of you not taking the road.

We invent a great Loss to convince ourselves we have a beginning. But loss is a current: the coolness of one side of a wet finger held up, the faint hiss in your ears at midnight, water sliding over the dam at the back of your mind, memory unremembering itself.

If I didn't spend so much time writing, I'd know a lot more. But I wouldn't know anything.

The wounds you do not want to heal are you.

When my friend does something stupid, he is just my friend doing something stupid. When I do something stupid, I have deeply betrayed myself.

If I didn't have os much work to keep me from it, how would I know what I wanted to do?

My deepest regrets, if I am honest, are not things I wish were otherwise, but things I wish I wish were otherwise.

I lie so I do not have to trust you to believe.

Opacity gives way. Transparency is the mystery.

To me, the great divide is between the talkative and the quiet. Do they just say everything that's on their minds, even before it's on their minds? Sometimes I think I could just turn up my head like a Walkman so what's going on there oculd be heard by others. But there would still be a difference. For inside the head they are talking to people like them, and I am talking to someone like me: he is quiet and doesn't much like being talked at; he can't conceal how easily he gets bored.

Anger has been ready to be angry.

It is easier to agree on the future than the past.

Only half of writing is saying what you mean. The other half is preventing people form reading what they expected you to mean.

They gave me most who took most gladly of my love.

Back then I wanted to be right about my estimate of my abilities. Now I want to be wrong.

Time heals. By taking even more.

Self-love, strange name. Since it feels neither like loving someone, nor like being loved.

What I hope for is more hope.

To feel an end is to discover that there had been a beginning. A parenthesis closes that we hadn't realized was open).

Friday, May 04, 2007

Friday Poetry: Robin Becker

Once more, repeat poet. And it's not July. But I like this poem, and I've been thinking about it a lot, and the last line stands out as one of the few moments of literature by which I have actually felt physically winded. I think I'll post a list of those soon. That would be neat.

Anyway, our dear Ms. Becker.

Robin Becker
Conversations in July

She said three towns away the smell of lavender lives for years
in the workman's shirts, like mushrooms in the trained dog's nose.
I said here and pulled some thyme from the rocks.
We didn't say anything. Bats circled in the olive trees.
She loved the broad boulevards of that city by the sea
and the cream-colored hotels. I said I think my father is dying,
he's turning away from the days of the week, he's afraid to talk,
to give anything away. She said the living bend
over the counter to speak with the butcher, she said pass me the wine,
she said where are the matches, she said go get some rosemary
for dinner, ther eis nothing you can do for him.
I said I want to be faithful.
She said a river splashes at the bottom of the gorge, listen.
We listened. Finally she said I can't imagine living without her.
Then we imagined it: a stone path leads to a stone house,
a whitewashed room with a small fireplace. A cat sleeps on the terrace.
With a wooden spoon she pushed the garlic across the sizzling pan.
She said I still can't imagine it, so I might as well watch
the figs growing fatter on the trees. We identified a few stars.
Shadows fell on the picnic table as the river at the bottom
of the gorge splashed through our lives.
Someone said go get some rosemary for dinner.
Finally the figs were an echo big enough to eat.

She said read to me from the guidebook.
I said, in the eighth century, elephants and tortoises upheld the sky.
Griffins guarded sacred tress. The ass played hte lyre,
the wolf dressed as a monk. As it should be, she said, go on.
In the twelfth century, the husband pruned his vine in February,
in March he blew on two horns, in May he set off
for the wars, in June he gathered fruit, in July he wore a hat
against the sun, he cut his corn with a sickle.
In August he repaired his barrels, in September he trod on his grapes,
in October he beat acorns from an oak,
in November he killed the fatted pig, in December he gathered fuel.
She said don't forget the one-legged, the dog-headed, the headless
with eyes and mouth situated on the breast.
Don't forget the freaks she said, they were created on the fifth day
and are therefore not in defiance of nature. Go on.
I didn't know you were religious, I said.
Watch, she said and became a fish with a horse's head.
How did you do that? I asked. She winked.
She became a peacock.
I said this isn't really happening.
She said you're right, this isn't really happening.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Save the Date!

For everyone:

Balls to Congress will go live sometime in the next two weeks. (It's not live yet, don't get mad at me.) Keep checking. It's gonna be awesome.

For the Chicagoans:

Balls to Congress will be hosting its launch party at Early to Bed on Friday, June 9th, from 9:00-11:30 pm. You should come to it. Even if you don't know me. I am swimming in excited. Send balls. Possibly encouraging senators to override the recent veto.