The Sore Throat, Aaron Kunin, the inevitable failure of concealing desires, crylaughing in gym class, disastrous phone messages, Swingers, and me.

I got a nice Powell’s review of The Sore Throat and Other Poems by Aaron Kunin in my inbox today and I think I’m going to have to pick it up. I’m surprised at myself lately–first Matthew Zapruder and now this Aaron Kunin guy–maybe I actually like contemporary poetry. Imagine that!

Or maybe I’ve always liked contemporary poetry but I’ve just never read it before because I’ve been biased by other people’s opinions of it. More than likely, I’ve been too busy reading novels and Romantic poetry, watching bad TV, drinking in bars, running on beaches, working and living, and occasionally sleeping to read contemporary poetry.

But no more. I am reading it now. Here’s part of what I read today:

The Sore Throat

I’m inventing a machine
for concealing my desire.
And I’m inventing another
machine for concealing the
machine. It’s a two-machine
system, and it sounded like
laughter. And I’m inventing
a machine for concealing
the sound. You, to me: “Why are
you concealing the beauty
of your machine?” Every machine
has more beauty than the last,
for everything whose purpose
is to conceal seems to change,
in the end, into a sign
of what it’s concealing. And
now the sound that once sounded
like laughter is so loud that
it seems more like sobbing or
laughter concealing sobbing.
All my inventing is a
complete disaster. It’s not
concealing my desire, it’s
talking about my desire
to conceal my desire, like
a voice on a message machine
that would say: “Hello. About
desire, I’d like to say a
word or two. It’s not your eyes,
it’s not the word you say, it’s
not your complaining voice that
I desire. All I desire
is your applause.” It’s hard not
to hear what the message is
saying, also it’s hard to
keep myself from inventing
another machine to keep
from hearing it. So invent
a machine for disinventing.
This will be the last machine
I ever invent, and its
purpose will just be to change
every machine into shit.
No more inventing (for me).
—What a shame. It once was a
wonder of a machine; now
it’s more like a disaster.
—I think he left a message . . .
—You’re wrong: he just left a mess.

Apparently Konin wrote all the poems in this 125 page collection using just 200 words. And the poems don’t even suck! (Well, the four I’ve read online so far don’t suck. To read more for yourself check out this poetry sampler.) But I really do like the poem above. And it’s an interesting idea this, “self-imposed semiotic limitation,” thing.

But that’s not really what interested me initially. Like always, I was more interested in my own reflection, or rather the identification of myself in an other (not to be confused with another). I know it sounds narcissistic, and it is. But I enjoy finding myself in art just as much as I enjoy losing myself there. (And the absolute best is when I can do both at the same time.)

But I’m getting off subject…

Question: How can I take this piece of art and somehow make it mine?
Answer: I know, I’ll make it all about me!

Any time I react to a poem on a personal level I get a little scared. It makes me think I’m turning into mush or maybe I’m being melodramatic and overemotional about something and I should watch myself before I start crying into my pillow or my long walks on the beach become just a little too introspective.

But then I give myself a break and I remember that part of the fun of a poem is the indulgence of it. (And part of reflecting outwardly on nature is that eventually it leads to reflecting inwardly on your own nature and soul and… Ooops, sorry slipping into the Romantic poetry thing again.) Moving on…

Lets start indulging shall we?

I like the poem above for a few random yet personal reasons. And since I’m so good at listing reasons for liking things lately (see the newspaper clippings post a few days back) I’ll go ahead and tell you them now:

  1. I invent things (bad stories, jokes, blogs) to conceal my desires.
  2. I inevitably end up revealing my desires while trying to conceal them. I think a lot of people do, but it’s nice to see this phenomenon of mine and the world’s communicated so clearly and concisely. (Yes, the world looks something like that to me too.)everything whose purpose
    is to conceal seems to change,
    in the end, into a sign
    of what it’s concealing

    All my inventing is a
    complete disaster. It’s not
    concealing my desire, it’s
    talking about my desire
    to conceal my desire

  3. I also have been known to conceal my sobs in laughter. This was an especially useful trick while in the sound that once sounded
    like laughter is so loud that
    it seems more like sobbing or
    laughter concealing sobbing.

    I remember one time in particular, when I was playing hockey in gym class, and Kevin Lawler sent the little plastic excuse for a “puck” sailing right into my face. And sailing isn’t really the right word. I don’t know what the right word is–careening, barreling, screaming, flying. Whatever the right word for it is, it moved with a great velocity and when it hit my face it hurt really bad. (My face not the puck, which I’m going to assume, being inanimate,  felt just fine.) I immediately dropped to the ground and I couldn’t help it–I started crying. But I didn’t want everyone in gym to know how much it hurt, or to think I was a total baby, so I started laughing. So, you know, it seemed like I didn’t care. Like I was laughing and crying at the same time. Because I wanted them to think I was so cool and carefree that getting hit in the face with a plastic puck was actually really funny to me. But really, I didn’t think it was funny–not at that moment anyways. Right then, it just really fucking hurt and it was embarrassing because I realized I had broken the number one rule of high school, and all school, and really the majority of life situations–never let them see you cry.

    Ha, so yes, the laughter was fake. And it probably didn’t even work. I’m sure everyone knew I was crying like a big damn baby.

    Hahahaawwwaaaaahh hahaha wwaaa hahahawwaa waaa he he (sniff sniff) (snot dripping)

    But it wasn’t that bad either. By 8th period when my friend pointed out that I still had a big round welt on my face in the exact shape of a plastic ball, I was laughing for reals. And plus, I had a slight bruise and a story to tell the rest of the week, which were both pretty cool.

  4. I leave disastrous messages on phones. I can’t leave a good phone message to save my life. I get nervous and I say dumb things. It’s almost as bad as this scene from the movie Swingers.(That I can’t even watch.)—I think he left a message . . .
    —You’re wrong: he just left a mess.
  5. I almost always feel like a mess.

So, I’m not sure if any of those connections had anything to do with the author’s intentions, but they’re there and they’re now a part of the piece and the impressions it left on me. Oh, and since I just had to share, maybe the impressions it left on you too.

Sorry about that.


Newspaper Clippings…

This week I had two people cut articles out of the newspaper and give them to me. I find this delightful for many reasons. I will list a few now…

  1. I love paper.
    Much to the chagrin of certain friends, I love words on pulp. I like something physical and real to hold onto. I completely agree that screens are powerful and convenient things, and yet there is something undeniably special about about a story on real physical paper.And newspaper clippings take time. You have to get out a pair of scissors and actually cut the article out of the paper. There’s something intimate about it. Something that makes it seem just a little bit like a gift.
  2. I love when people think of me.
    Like, duh. But it’s worth mentioning. I always feel that slight warmth rise within me when someone has read something or found something that made them think of me. I like that there are things in the world that I’m tied to in this way. It’s an odd and beautiful connection. A part of me is captured in these things–be they words or a scene or a conversation overheard–that my friends experience.
  3. The clippings themselves.
    Are interesting and fun and worth taking out a pair of scissors to cut and share.

Lets talk about them now eh?  Unfortunately, I can’t send you all the clippings (they are mine after all and will soon be tacked to walls and filed away in journals and notebooks) but I can link to them because they’re all available online . (Somewhat ironic, considering reason number one above. But like I said, screens are convenient and wonderful.)

25 ways e-readers can’t beat the old-fashioned book
by M. Allen Cunningham
Sent to me by my grandmother with the words, “Maybe you are right!!!” written at the top. The two of us have an ongoing debate about the Kindle vs. the real book. My grandma loves her Kindle. I avoid Amazon whenever possible. Something about this seems backwards.

Dickinson gets inside you, through it can be hard to get inside her house.
by David Biespiel
A short piece also sent to me by my grandmother. I liked this…

Emily Dickinson steers inward, and then by going inward into fancy, mind and spirit, she reveals her spectacular segment of the cosmos.

And thought it was a great way to sum up Dickinson. (You know, if you had to.) And the featured poem was perfect for this time of year…


As imperceptibly as grief
The summer lapsed away, —
Too imperceptible, at last,
To seem like perfidy.

A quietness distilled,
As twilight long begun,
Or Nature, spending with herself
Sequestered afternoon.

The dusk drew earlier in,
The morning foreign shone,–
A courteous, yet harrowing grace,
As guest  who would be gone.

And thus, without a wing,
Or service of a keel,
Our summer made her light escape
Into the beautiful.



I had to look up perfidy. It’s one of those words that I’ve heard before and feel like I should know but I’m usually too lazy to look it up so I’ve never learned it properly. Until now. It means, deceitfulness; untrustworthiness.


Found in Translation
by Michael  Cunningham
Left on my desk by my friend Camille. My favorite paragraph…

Here’s a secret. Many novelists, if they are pressed and if they are being honest, will admit that the finished book is a rather rough translation of the book they’d intended to write. It’s one of the heartbreaks of writing fiction. You have, for months or years, been walking around with the idea of a novel in your mind, and in your mind its’ transcendent, it’s brilliantly comic and howlingly tragic, it contains everything you know, and everything you can imagine, about human life on the planet earth. It is vast and mysterious and awe-inspiring. It is a cathedral made of fire.

A cathedral made of fire. What an awesome line.

Newspaper clippings are fun.

But weave, weave the sunlight in your hair…

In my inbox this morning I found the following poem…

La Figilia Che Piange (The Weeping Girl)
by T. S. Eliot

STAND on the highest pavement of the stair–
Lean on the a garden urn —
Weave, weave the sunlight in your hair —
Clasp your flowers to you with a pained surprise —
Fling them to the ground and turn
With a fugitive resentment in your eyes:
But weave, weave the sunlight in your hair.

So I would have had him leave,
So I would have had her stand and grieve,
So he would have left
As the soul leaves the body torn and bruised,
As the mind deserts the body it has used.
I should find
Some way incomparably light and deft,
Some way we both should understand,
Simple and faithless as a smile and a shake of the hand.

She turned away, but with the autumn weather
Compelled my imagination many days,
Many days and many hours:
Her hair over hear arms and her arms full of flowers
And I wonder how they should have been together!
I should have lost a gesture and a pose.
Sometimes these cognitions still amaze.
The troubled midnight, and the moon’s repose.

I like this poem. It’s short, it’s nice, and it’s very pretty. I arrived at my desk this morning, opened Outlook, and after erasing all the junkmail  I subscribe to (J. Crew, the Gap, and edWeek to name a few) I saw this. ( I can’t remember the mailing list that sent it to me now but I’ll give them credit later.) To be honest, I usually delete these poems but I like T.S. Eliot so I read it while finishing my coffee.

So the first thing that caught my attention was the line, “But weave, weave the sunlight in your hair.”

This is a beautiful line and a lovely image. I mean, I certainly wouldn’t mind weaving the sunlight through my hair.

After reading this I thought, Huh, this is a way I’d like to think of myself–as a girl, as a woman, weaving the sunlight through her hair. But not just that, because this phrase evoked many images–images of myself having triumphant moments, of standing on the edges of mountains or the tops of cliffs and looking down on things (things like oceans, lakes, trees, large bodies of water, valleys–you know, the usual) while the wind blew and the sun weaved through my hair. Because, for whatever reason, these were the  moments I felt like it would be appropriate for sunlight to weave in my hair. I thought about this for a while. I sipped more coffee. I held on to that line. I even took out a pink sticky note and wrote it down and posted it on the wall of my cubical.

But weave, weave the sunlight in your hair.

It sounds like an anthem doesn’t it? An axiom of sorts. Something meant to inspire. I think it stands alone rather well.

But then, of course, I went and reread to the poem to figure out what it actually meant. Because though I like to let things stand alone, eventually I get curious and have to know the whole story. I can’t help myself. I often react to life and literature in just this way.

Well, actually this way:

  1. Initial reaction
    I am struck by beauty and/or sadness.
  2. Interpretation based on initial reaction
    I usually shamelessly romanticize the event/story/poem/piece of art or life.
  3. Revisiting the initial inspiration
    I reinterpret the piece of life and/or literature based on (somewhat) careful analysis of actual events/plot/words/happenings. In other words, I un-isolate the beauty and sadness and put it back into context.
  4. Inevitable conclusion is reached
    Quite naturally, my conclusions are terribly confused and are really more of a beginning to an extended and ongoing exploration. However, no matter what I come up with in step number three, the initial impression still remains.  (Though I should probably mention that it is tainted and/or heightened by the complexities and confusions brought forth by my own failed attempt at finding meaning in something I don’t fully understand.)

I hope that made sense to someone out there other than me. It probably didn’t but it’s the only way I know how to explain it.


There’s this Virginia Woolf novel, that I love like I love all her novels, called, Night and Day. At the end of this novel two of the main characters finally realize their feelings for each other (which are romantic of course) when the man draws a picture of a dot with all these circles around it. I’m not explaining what this doodle of his looks like and can’t find the exact passage that explains it now but this is how I picture it:

(Which, oddly enough, also reminds me of the moon in a Van Gogh painting or an elephant’s eye.)

But yes, this drawing, this doodle that this man makes actually (in total Viriginia Woolf fashion) holds all the secrets of his soul. It is a doodle yes, but it is also the way he thinks of the world. This is the passage I did write down:

It represented by its circumference of smudges surrounding a central blot all that encircled glow which for him surrounded, inexplicably, so many of the objects of life, softening their sharp outline so that he could see certain streets, books, and situations wearing a halo almost perceptible to the physical eye.

So the woman sees him make this drawing and she has absolutely no idea that he is thinking these very profound and real thoughts. The man says nothing about the drawing or what it means to him–it’s just something he makes in the moment of silence that they’re having–and yet the woman looks at the dot with it’s surrounding smudges and says this:

“Yes, the world looks something like that to me too.”

And, oh man, isn’t that just perfect? She totally got it, she got him, and all from his stupid circle dot smudge thing. And then this happens:

Quietly and steadily there rose up behind the whole aspect of life that soft edge of fire which gave its red tint to the atmosphere and crowded the scene with shadows so deep and dark that one could fancy pushing farther into their density and still farther exploring indefinitely. Whether there was any correspondence between the two prospects now opening before them they shared the same sense of the impending future, vast, mysterious, infinitely stored with undeveloped shapes which each would unwrap for the other to behold; but for the present the prospect of the future was enough to fill them with silent adoration.

So yes, this is pretty much what I hope will happen every time I attempt to explain something to someone. I hope that somehow, someone, somewhere will actually understand what I’m saying or doing, will say to themselves, “Yes, the world looks something like that to me too,” and then love me for it.

Quite naturally, I am often misunderstood. Luckily, I also happen to think that failure is beautiful and poetic so it sort of works out no matter what.


Going back to the original point of all this…

Right now I am only at step 2 of the before mentioned way I react to life and literature.

So now it’s time for the exploration. Yay!

My questions after reading are this: Who exactly is speaking in this poem, who is he speaking to, and what exactly is going on?

And also, of course, the inevitable question that we all ask our poems: What does it all mean?

My first reaction, without really thinking about anything but the fact that the one line about the hair and the sun is really pretty, made me think it was a man writing to the object of his affection about his love for her and that it meant we should all, you know, love each other and frolic in the sun and be free.

But after actually reading the first stanza closely I realized that it’s so much better than that.

STAND on the highest pavement of the stair–
Lean on the a garden urn —
Weave, weave the sunlight in your hair —
Clasp your flowers to you with a pained surprise —
Fling them to the ground and turn
With a fugitive resentment in your eyes:
But weave, weave the sunlight in your hair.

So yes, okay, this was and is still beautiful. However, after rereading it I felt kind of silly because, well, it’s a little exagerated. I mean, wow, standing on a high (neigh, the highest!) stair, clasping flowers with pained surprise, throwing them to the ground, blaring angry eyes?! (I’m imagining a firey-haired woman now, maybe some screaming, definitely some foot stomping.)

It’s so dramatic!!! I mean, it’s so dramatic I just gave that last sentence three exclamations points. It’s so dramatic it could be a scene from a soap opera. Think about it…You throw flowers, or a drink, or you push a man in a pool, or you break the dishes, run the car into the side of the house. You are so angry!! You weave, weave, the sunlight in your hair! You dump his ass and walk away triumphant and beautiful and glowing!

But this scene, this throwing of the flowers, well, it’s a little overdone. And it made me sit up and think to myself, Ut oh, I think I read that entire poem all wrong.

So then I read on:

So I would have had him leave,
So I would have had her stand and grieve,

Oh, okay, I get it. So it’s how he WISHES she would have broke up with this man, this ex-lover. That makes sense. And the passage goes on to describe a scene that is incredibly un-dramatic. In fact, it’s almost the perfect breakup.

I should find
Some way incomparably light and deft,
Some way we both should understand,
Simple and faithless as a smile and the shake of the hand.

Now to me this sort of breakup is infinitely more depressing than the first but, okay, I could see how most people would think this was a nice way to part. But here’s where I got confused… Why is he saying, “I should find.” Does that mean he’s breaking up with her? He’s with her now and he’s planning on breaking up with her? I didn’t know, so I read on again…

She turned away, but with the autumn weather
Compelled my imagination many days,
Many days and many hours:
Her hair over her arms and her arms full of flowers
And I wonder how they should have been together!

So after reading this I went back to thinking he’s her current lover thinking about her past lover…She has walked away from him and her hair is over her arms and her arms are full of flowers. So I guessed that, no, she did not throw her flowers or toss her hair or have a tantrum and weave sunlight or whatever. She probably had a really calm, great breakup. And now he, the man speaking to us, wonders “how they should have been together!”

So is he distraught? Does he think they still love each other because their breakup was so great? Whenever I have questions I read on:

I should have lost a gesture and a pose
Sometimes these cognitions still amaze
The troubled midnight, and the moon’s repose.

So okay, ya, he’s upset. He’s up and midnight and he can’t sleep, he’s troubled and then, as the final kick in the ass, the moon is reposing (sleeping/resting) and he has to sit there and watch it be perfect and content while he tosses and turns all night. Totally sucky. And he has to think about his chick with this other guy that she had this simple and faithless breakup with. Sad right?

Poor guy. Poor poor T.S. Eliot.

And this was/is an okay interpretation. I could almost believe this. But the line, “I should have lost a gesture and a pose,” made no sense to me. And why did he say, “I should find,” in the second stanza? Why does he have to find a nice way to break up with her? He’s just her current lover. Right?

Who is this guy? I asked myself again.

T.S. Eliot, I answered trying to be a smartass.

And then I was like, No, that’s the author. Who’s the guy talking to us?

And then, I thought, Oh, ya, maybe it’s T.S. Eliot, the author T.S. Eliot.

And then I remembered this thing I learned a long time ago about how postmodern poets like to talk about how they’re postmodern poets. And then I reread the confusing parts again.

I should find
Some way incomparably light and deft,

The author, the writer, T.S. Eliot should find a good way for her to break up. Because maybe the poem is about an author writing a scene about a woman breaking up. And the first scene he comes up with is this great big beautiful dramatic scene with the weaving of sunlight that I so adore.  But then he feels bad, because this is a very dramatic scene. The woman is weaved in sunlight but she is probably breaking up inside. It is probably very hard for her. So he thinks he should find another way–a light and deft way. A clever  and skillful way. A better way.

So then after that, when he obsesses about her, maybe he’s just obsessing about how he made these two lovers break up, how he created this scene, this big dramatic scene for her, but now he wonders, “how they should have been together!”

The artist is doubting his decision! Was he too cruel to his character? Was he too cruel to his reader? Did he do the right thing? Did she? Should the lovers still be together? Would it have been better that way? Was it okay for him to destroy a love for art?

Because if they were still together he, “should have lost a gesture and a pose.”

Is it okay to destroy a love for a gesture and a pose?

We would never have had that moment. Her weaving, weaving, the sunlight through her hair would not have existed. I would not have read it and imagined standing on triumphant bittersweet mountaintops.

Either way–whether I think the man speaking to us is a lover or a poet–the result is still the same. He’s left awake at night thinking of a woman.

Ha, and isn’t that how every poem should end? (Well, not every poem, that would be boring.)

And it’s still a rather nice moment for the woman. Though, okay,  a somewhat bittersweet one. After all, she is alone. Either she is distanced from her current lover by his knowledge of her past or she’s, you know, alone and fake/fictional and being controlled by a man who likes to add waaaaaaaay too much drama to her life.

Also, I looked up “O quam te memorem virgo” and found this:

Here’s the literal translation of “O quam te memorem, virgo”, a quotation from Virgil, Aeneid, I, 326, where Aeneas addresses this way his mother Venus who had appeared to him disguised as a Carthaginian huntress so that he does not recognize her, though he thinks she is a goddess:

“O, how should I call you, virgin?”, i.e.:
“O virgin! or what other name you bear.

Does this mean she’s a virgin goddess too. Because that makes me think she’s even more alone but even more er… sought after and glorious and youthful and weaved in sun.

So now my mind is completely running away with itself and I’m just going to go with it…

I’m thinking of Ode to a Grecian Urn and how the two people are just on the verge of kissing and never get to and so they’re suspended in this beautiful perfect moment of young love and excitement and anticipation (which is sweet) but they are never going to actually kiss and complete the perfect moment (which is bitter). But then they’ll also never know what it’s like when that moment ends and the kiss is over and their love is no longer perfect and suspended and young and beautiful. (Sweet.) But they’ll also never know what it’s like to grow old together and love each other even when they’re ugly and smelly and fart in their sleep and poop their pants (which, believe it or not, is bitter).

And the woman in this poem could be kind of like that. I mean, for one, she’s a piece of art. Two, she’s (possibly) a virgin. We know she left her lover so we know she lost this great love and won’t know what it’s like to grow old with him. And then three, there is an urn mentioned in the second line, “Lean on a garden urn,” which might have nothing to do with Keat’s poem but, you never know, it made me think of it.


I always find I come up with more questions than answers when I try to interpret something. I used to write these  informal responses for a writing class of mine in college and I’d usually end each one with a series of Megan-type life questions brought about by the story. One time in particular, after reading Deborah Eisenberg’s, Some Other, Better Otto I went off. (I really liked this story and was kind of crazy and excited about it. Ha, kind of in the same way I’m crazy and excited about T.S. Eliot tonight.)  I saved this paper and just went and found it.

Here’s what I said (Yes, I am quoting my 20 year-old self. Sorry about that):

One of the last images is of Sharon and the doctor sharing a brilliant smile. So can people unite only in moments? “In this life (and, frankly, there would be no other) the hospital was where they would meet” (174). So in the end do we really only have one life, one real life, and that is all that matters, the now? Can we only meet in a hospital because ultimately we are all flawed? Can we heal each other? Perhaps, these are questions Eisenberg is merely trying to raise not answer. Perhaps it is simply a mystery like William’s face, the moon’s face, and the ultimate question posed by the last line of her story, “What are we doing here?” (174).

Huh, that’s better than I thought it would be. Good for me. I knew how to bullshit. But this isn’t what’s really important (though it was fun reminding myself that not much has changed in how I approach my literary conclusions and confusions over the past six years).

What’s important is what my professor wrote in response:

You’re willingness to live with these questions is all a writer could hope for.

And I’ve always remembered that for some reason. I think it’s a good point and I should remind myself of it more often. Sometimes writing, a piece of writing, isn’t supposed to have an answer or a meaning. And definitely not one big answer or one big meaning. I’m always acting like writing always has to mean something. That there is this great big purpose to everything in a story or a poem and that it all, all the words the action the characters the line and the meter, exists for a reason. And maybe it does to some extent. (I’m sure Eliot put that garden urn there for a reason.) But sometimes I think it is not so deliberate as I’d like to believe. Maybe sometimes a piece of writing just makes you think or feel something or raise more questions, or makes you look at your own life in a new way, bla bla bla, etc. etc. etc.  (Insert rant about the purpose of literature here.)

It’s still fun to try though. And to argue yourself in circles until your digging through old college reading responses at 1:03 in the morning looking for the exact thing your WR 301 teacher wrote down.

That professor’s name was/is Marjorie Sandor by the way. There were a lot of things she wrote and said to me that I kept and that I still think about and wonder about to this day. I could barely talk to her when I took her class and now all these notes of hers have somehow become the things I reference when I am having arguments with myself. It’s funny how someone can become one of the voices in your head like that. Ha, and I only had her for one class.

Well, I think that’s a nice way to end this incredibly long rant about a short little poem. (And well, a few other things as well.) So much for getting to my own writing tonight. Obviously, I felt like losing myself in someone else’s words.

I just hope I don’t get all sleepy tomorrow at work and have some kind of weird late-night poetry hangover.

The familiar rhythm…

Now begins to rise in me the familiar rhythm; words that have lain dormant now lift, now toss their crests, and fall and rise, and fall and rise again. I am a poet, yes. Surely I am a great poet. Boats and youth passing and distant trees, ‘the falling fountains of the pendent trees.’ I see it all, I feel it all. I am inspired. My eyes fill with tears. Yet even as I feel this, I lash my frenzy higher and higher. It foams. It becomes artificial, insincere. Words and words and words, how they gallop–how they lash their long manes and tails, but for some fault in me I cannot give myself to their backs; I cannot fly with them, scattering woman and string bags. There is some flaw in me–some fatal hesitancy, which, if I pass it over, turns to foam and falsity. Yet it is incredible that I should not be a great poet. What did I write last night if it was not poetry? Am I too fast, too facile? I do not know, I do not know myself sometimes, or how to measure and name and count out the grains that make me what I am.

The Waves, Virginia Woolf

Monday linklog

Vanitas by Aseem Kaul

“I was looking at my work desk, with items as described in the poem.”

No skull on this desk.

No fruit gleaming like gemstones
or globe pregnant with distance –
imperial balloon revolving
between two fixed ends.

Only the dull incandescence
of the computer – unreflective,
self-contained – three stubs
in the jaw of the ashtray,

and a venti coffee cup
that proclaims Caution
Contents May Be Hot.
A life stilled, arranged:

poems too fleeting, days too
quick; two squares of light
on the wall like post-its,
reminding me that somewhere,

outside this frame,
children are laughing
in a timeless sunshine,
traffic is flowing, birds are at play.

Look out the window:
it’s a beautiful day.

My parents’ bookshelves… Hurrah for that chocolate cat!

I was reading this article In Our Parents’ Bookshelves (one in a long line of articles lamenting the fact that physical books may become a thing of the past) the other day when it got me to thinking about my parent’s bookshelves and how much time I spent going through them as a kid.

I think every house should have a bookshelf like this to explore. There’s a whole world–or no, more than that, there are worlds upon worlds–in a shelf of books. And if they’re your parents shelves, or a loved-one’s shelves, well then there’s something else to consider isn’t there?

Some people say what we read is who we are, and to some extent I think that’s true. A collection of books can be and mean a lot of things but for me, and I suspect a lot of other people as well, a collection of books is almost like a personal history–a physical representation of who you once were, who you hoped to be, of your thoughts and dreams and studies, a map of your formal glorious (or not so glorious as the case may be) selves.

And, okay, I’m getting a little carried away but a bookshelf can tell you a lot about a person.

(What do you bookshelves say about you? Ha, there’s a cool feature in the New Yorker online–The Subconscious Shelf–you can check out for some clues.)

So, the house I grew up in had a large bookshelf that came to be and mean a lot of things for me. The downstairs of my family’s home was shaped like an L. However, this arrangement didn’t work for us so we turned this large L-shaped room into two smaller rooms by putting in a wall. Ah, but not just any wall…

Because the entire wall was a mass of built-in bookshelves. These shelves held many many things–not just books but records, mixed tapes, and photo albums–that came to represent this odd picture I had formed of my parents and the lives they must have lived before they had me.

I wasn’t the biggest reader as a kid, and I wasn’t obsessed with books the way I am now, but going through all those books was a way to pass the time. There was a lot about them that simply seemed unknown–like they held secrets of some sort. And not even the great big secrets of the world and how it works (the secrets I would later attribute to books and their weird book-magic) but the secrets of who my parents were and secrets of, I dunno, a sort of grownup knowledge that wasn’t yet my own.

So of course there are a few books that really stand out…

#1: Mom’s Human Sexuality college textbook

Ha, I bet you didn’t see that one coming. (Well, you should have with that whole secret knowledge bit.)

I cannot tell you how many times I took this book off the shelf. I simply couldn’t resist. It seemed so exotic and I felt so bad and rebellious while reading it. Is it too easy to call it the forbidden fruit? Because that’s exactly what it was even though it was right there on the shelf where anyone could grab it.

But yes, like all kids (and people in gardens) I was curious. I remember going through this book with friends at sleepovers –how we giggled at all the pictures which were these pencil sketches of men who for whatever reason had excessive amounts of facial hair. Later when boys came over it was an awesome flirtation device. There were so many naughty words and so much to discover. Ha, there was also a lot in there about other cultures and their conceptions of beauty and sexuality which, sadly, none of us really cared about at the time because we were too busy laughing over the word falice.

I do have one very distinct memory of  looking at a particular picture with a friend of mine and having this moment where we both realized the fundamentals of how two people can fit together and I’m pretty sure we screamed. Or we at least squealed. I think I might have said something like, “Oh my God!”  And then the inevitable coming-of-age conversation followed…

“You mean he sticks it there!”

“That is so gross!”

“Why would someone do that?”

(We hadn’t gotten to that part yet.)

#2: Seth Speaks by Jane Roberts

This books stands out, not because I read it and it made me think about spirituality, but because there was a picture of a woman on the cover that scared the shit out of me. Seth was a personality that talked through this Jane woman and it completely freaked me out–not the idea so much as the idea coupled with the horrible image on the cover.

I still hate this cover. I can’t even look at it. Part of me is tempted to go look it up so I can post a picture of it here so you can know, really know the horror that is this woman’s face, but it really does give me the creeps and I don’t want that picture anywhere near my blog.

I dunno, there is simply something really chilling about it to me. Maybe it just represents some weird devilish unknown but I hate to think of myself as scared of the unknown. (Or devils for that matter–they aren’t really that bad.) The woman’s eyes look so hollow though. And her mouth is open just so–like she’s moaning, or in pain, or is drooling on herself, or is doing all of the above. And it looks like something not quite right is going on. Like if she opened her mouth just a little bit wider she might suck me into her pain…

Or, you know, just drool on me and talk about her bad haircut.

#3: Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins

I read Still Life with Woodpecker but I’m sure I didn’t “get” a lot of it since I think I was in 5th- or maybe 6th-grade at the time. It’s weird how you can experience books–how you can read something and get something out of it completely different from what the author intended. Or even if the author didn’t have an intention, I find it interesting how you can read the same book two different times and have such different experiences of it.

As a kid I thought it was nice how the princess had a pet frog and I didn’t get why the narrator was so obsessed with this Remington thing (which confused me at first because even though I knew what a typewriter was I was not familiar with the brand-names). But I liked it. The man was funny and enthusiastic. Also, there was a love story and when you’re a young girl that’s all you really need to make a story interesting. There was a lot of talk about the moon too, which was kind of a thing for me at the time.

Is it really lame if I admit I was obsessed with the moon? Probably but oh well–I’ll admit it, I had a “thing” for the moon when I was younger. I mean, everyone has a thing for the moon–the moon is the moon after all–but I formed a sort of weird sleeping pattern around it.

I slept in this upstairs bedroom (this was before the wannabe ‘notes from underground’ stage I went through as a teenager) with the windows open every night because the moon would shine right on my bed and I looooved that. I just HAD to sleep in the little moonshadow (thank you for that word Cat Stevens), and if that moonshadow happened to be cast at the foot of the bed, well then I would curl up and sleep at the foot of my queen-sized bed happy as can be. Unless the dog was already there in which case some kind of compromise would be made.

I never told my parents about this. It was a weird and slightly embarrassing bedtime ritual, something I did knowing it wasn’t something “big” kids did. (Similar to the stage I went through where I had to say goodnight to every single one of my stuffed animals.) I don’t think my parents ever knew, but I wonder if they noticed. Parents always know more about you than you think they do. (Well, my parents anyway.)

But yes, since I’m admitting my deep dark moon secret tonight, I might as well tell you that to this day I would sleep with the windows open if I could. (Right now my windows open onto the street and there are too many people passing by late at night that could watch me and, you know, harass me or creep me out.) I don’t need it to be dark to sleep. Also, I can fall sleep in almost any position. And yes… if I happen to come across a bit of light that’s the moon shinning through the window I kind of have to fight the urge to go curl up in it.

So imagine being this weird moon-obsessed kid and then you come across a book with a lot of moontalk (new word!) in it–of course I was into it. Even if I didn’t understand the majority of what was said.

Robbins never made me question the purpose of the moon (though, I suppose he tried) but I do remember thinking the book was pretty, and I still enjoy this passage that I reread later in life…

Albert Camus wrote that the only serious question is whether to kill yourself or not. Tom Robbins wrote that the only serious question is whether time has a beginning and an end. Camus clearly got up on the wrong side of the bed and Robbins must have forgotten to set the alarm. There is only one serious question. And that is: Who knows how to make love stay? Answer me that and I will tell you whether or not to kill yourself. Answer me that and I will ease your mind about the beginning and the end of time. Answer me that and I will reveal to you the purpose of the moon.

How could you not want to curl up and drift off to sleep in a passage like that?

#4ish: The poetry books of Rod McKuen

Just look at that bright crazy cover and  you can see why a young girl could be so  drawn to it.

Neon Colors = Awesome.

Looking back, a lot of these poems weren’t the greatest thing in the world but they were short and they were in pretty books so I read them anyway. I’m sure I loved them at the time and my particular favorite was (and yes, I’ll admit it, still is) The Time of Noon

When you’re alone at night
and the old memories you call back
to help you do the things
that will put you to sleep
don’t work anymore
and even the aphrodisiac of magazines doesn’t help
and there is no place to go, no one to call,
try thinking about the sun.

The way it catches in the trees sometimes.
The way it follows you while riding in a car.
The way it plays in the hair of strangers on the beach.
The way it climbs the hills with you and pushes you from bed in morning.

Think about the time of noon when everybody’s just a little crazy.

Remember that the cliffs are white and steep
and you’ll grow tired climbing them
tired enough to sleep.

What you’re thinking about
isn’t really the cause of perspiration on your forehead
it’s only the sun.
It’s just the time of noon.

I read this and thought of, not the time of noon, but the time of dusk when everyone in my neighborhood used to go a little crazy. Do you know the time I’m talking about? I lived quite the suburban existence with lots of kids running and playing outside and sometimes in the summer we would all be outside and there would be this time when we knew our parents were going to call us in for dinner soon so we’d all ride our bikes with a tad more enthusiasm, try to make that last goal if we were playing soccer, make one more shot if we were playing knock out (a basketball game), or even just make that last good joke if we were sitting in the grass doing nothing. Because we knew, with our heightened little kid senses we just knew, that soon whatever game we were playing would be over and we’d have to go inside for the night.

I don’t have much trouble sleeping these days (as was mentioned before) but if I did and I thought about the time of dusk I bet it would help.

Okay, more books…

Lets see, there were my dad’s business books which I flipped through. There were some fixit books I used to explore. I remember the collection of National Geographics I used to take out every once in a while, mostly to look at the pictures. Oh, there was some other random titles. I remember thinking it odd that we had two copies of The Prophet. We always had the latest paperbacks from Micheal Crighton and John Grisham floating around. I remember picking up The Celestine Prophesy from those shelves. Ah, and Myra Breckinridge–another book I read not knowing or really caring what I was reading. Ha, that one’s pretty bad now that I think about it. My parents had some sexy books.

Moving on… The Hobbit, a collection of brown books my mom got from the printing press she worked for that I don’t think we ever took out of their plastic wrap,  The Little House on the Prairie series (which I didn’t like because I thought they were boring), a Louisa May Alcott title but I forget which one (I know it wasn’t Little Women), and oh…How can I forget?!

My absolute favorite–The bright orange Childcraft Books!

Some of my earliest memories of reading (and earliest memories period) are of these books. I only read the poem books though. I looked through the other titles but they didn’t appeal to me and I couldn’t even tell you what they where about.  (This probably says a lot about the type of adult I’ve turned into.)

And to be honest (yet again) the pictures were the main reasons I loved these books. But I shouldn’t be so hard on myself, like that’s some weird thing, of course I loved the pictures.

But oh man, my favorite poems that I would make my mom read over and over again (or later when I could read by myself I would read over and over again) were The Three Little Kittens, The Sugar Plum Tree, and The Duel. I think my mom really liked Eugene Field because she  kind of championed his poems and Wynken, Blyken, and Nod was always her favorite. (It didn’t become one of my favorites until later.) Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Swing was a big one too–I still love that poem.

At first I would go through the book with her and pick out the pictures that looked interesting to me (usually of things like mermaids, kittens, fairies, merry-go-rounds, or trees made out of candy) and then, after a while, I developed favorites and would request them, read them to her, or take the book out and read it on my own  over and over and over again.

So wow, I looked it up and I just found The Sugar Plum Tree…

and I’m such a dork but that pretty much just made my entire day. This image does not do the picture justice but it was really quite beautiful. I wanted to be that girl in the blue dress so bad. Ha, and I supposed I still do.  (Look at all that candy!)

And now I know how I have to end this post…

Have you ever heard of the Sugar-Plum Tree?
‘T is a marvel of great renown!
It blooms on the shore of the Lollipop sea
In the garden of Shut-Eye Town;

The fruit that it bears is so wondrously sweet
(As those who have tasted it say)
That good little children have only to eat
Of that fruit to be happy next day.

When you ‘ve got to the tree,
you would have a hard time
To capture the fruit which I sing;
The tree is so tall that no person could climb
To the boughs where the sugar-plums swing!

But up in that tree sits a chocolate cat,
And a gingerbread dog prowls below–

And this is the way you contrive to get at
Those sugar-plums tempting you so:
You say but the word to that gingerbread dog
And he barks with such terrible zest
That the chocolate cat is at once all agog,
As her swelling proportions attest.

And the chocolate cat goes cavorting around
From this leafy limb unto that,
And the sugar-plums tumble, of course, to the ground–
Hurrah for that chocolate cat

!There are marshmallows, gumdrops, and peppermint canes,
With stripings of scarlet or gold,
And you carry away of the treasure that rains
As much as your apron can hold!

So come, little child, cuddle closer to me
In your dainty white nightcap and gown,
And I ‘ll rock you away to that Sugar-Plum Tree
In the garden of Shut-Eye Town.

Thanks for all the books mom and dad.


Sometimes I fall for things like this. I can’t help it.

somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
by E. E. Cummings

somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond

any experience,your eyes have their silence:

in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,

or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me

though i have closed myself as fingers,

you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens

(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and

my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,

as when the heart of this flower imagines

the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals

the power of your intense fragility:whose texture

compels me with the color of its countries,

rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes

and opens;only something in me understands

the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)

nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands