A man comes to love the ground where he lives, yet how does this begin, in what sun-vanished split of time, what yellow leaf-fall, what graying scrape rain drags long the dirt road? I cannot hope to know who I am until I have learned what all seems to know in unfailing flow: moment by moment life is life, and death is more life. The braiding wallside cries of cardinals climb past where I lie, a boy, hoping I will go far, trying to dream its shape, know what I’ll know. What day is it I feel my father’s boat drift slowly out, then back, caught in the tidal shift? Pieces sail by, grass, paper, wood, frayed rope.
Dave Smith, from Fate’s Kite: Poems, 1991-1995 (Louisiana State University Press, 1995)
““Struggling and suffering are the essence of a life worth living. If you’re not pushing yourself beyond the comfort zone, if you’re not demanding more from yourself - expanding and learning as you go - you’re choosing a numb existence. You’re denying yourself an extraordinary trip.””
“But sadness is also beautiful, maybe because it rings so true and goes so deep, because it is about the distances in our lives, the things we lose, the abyss between what the lover and the beloved want and imagine and understand that may widen to become unbridgeable at any moment, the distance between the hope at the outset and the eventual outcome, the journeys we have to travel, including the last one out of being and on past becoming into the unimaginable: the moth flown into the pure dark. Or the flame.”
— Rebecca Solnit, from The Faraway Nearby (Viking, 2013)
“There are two birds in your head, raven and crow, and only one of them is yours. A ghost and a robot doing battle, singing like telephones, the phone is ringing, a headache word. You are dancing with the birdcage girl, banging your head against a cage that isn’t there. You want to say yes: yes to the bathtub, yes to the gumdrops, no to the laughing skullheads. The holes in this picture are not flowers, they are not wheels, and the phone is ringing ringing, a headache word, it’s ringing for you. This is in the second person. This is happening to you because I don’t want to be here. Is there anything I won’t put words around? Yes, there is.”
— Richard Siken, opening two paragraphs to “Black Telephone,” from the “Editor’s Page" of Spork (No. 1.3, Winter 2001-2002)
“It turns out, what we thought of as the soul is mostly sound; not song, but like a memory of birds or running water, the churn of a paddle, the flicker and dip of an oar, narrow boats butting the land on the quiet tethers, so death will be a slower, surer fade than any we imagine; no mere extinction, like the evening’s hush before the ducks come, dipping to the marsh in threes and fours, to find the darker ground, no moment’s pause, but absolute decay where absence is a form of generation.”
— John Burnside, from “section V La Brière of Saint-Nazaire” in Gift Songs (Jonathan Cape Poetry, 2007)
"Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back. That’s part of what it means to be alive. But inside our heads—at least that’s where I imagine it—there’s a little room where we store those memories. A room like the stacks in this library. And to understand the workings of our own heart we have to keep on making new reference cards. We have to dust things off every once in awhile, let in fresh air, change the water in the flower vases. In other words, you’ll live forever in your own private library."
— Haruki Murakami, from Kafka on the Shore (Alfred A. Knopf, 2005)
“Why is it we love so fully what has washed up on the beaches of our hearts, those lost messages, lost friends, the daylight stars we never get to see? Bad luck never takes a vacation, my friend once wrote. It lies there among the broken shells and stones we collect, a story he would say begins with you, with me, a story that is forever lost among the backwaters of our lives, our endless fear of ourselves, and our endless need for hope, a story, perhaps an answer, a word suddenly on wing, the simple sound of a torn heart, or the unmistakable scent of the morning’s fading moon.”
— Richard Jackson, closing lines to “Place Message Here,” from The Cortland Review online (Winter 2006)
“Novels remind us that the hard questions matter, they always have, and that we can’t ignore them just because we’re comfortable, well-fed, sheltered, and secure. Maybe those same comforts, which give us time and leisure enough to read novels in the first place, are the very reason why we need them so badly. A great novel is always felt as a kind of gift, and here’s the strange thing: these gifts are heartbreaks we wouldn’t suffer, tears we wouldn’t shed, agonies we wouldn’t undergo, if we simply left the books alone and did something else with our time.”
One time from a blind watching sandhill cranes we spotted something not a bird saunter out from dark covert of blackberry canes, coyote all lean-legged and cocksure, then two more, stretching, yawning, shaking rain from their yellow eyes, their yellow-brown fur before setting off at an easy jog across the wheat stubble, wading plumes of fog.
We watched them skirt the marsh, so negligent, ignoring the cranes and the goldeneye— stopping to smell old scat, examine bent stems of yarrow, crouch to satisfy an itch. Watching hard, we missed the moment their hunt began, the artful dodge, the sigh of yellow-brown grass. Death comes just that way: the casual approach, then the endgame.
See also this gorgeous, unexpected short story by Gloss, who is new to me. Stumbled on both of these when I was researching lambing for my own novel, and am psyched and grateful to have found her, despite that she writes in such a way as to make other writers throw up their hands in defeat. At least for a little while.
Through watching people force it — the point, the speed, the friendship, the work, the metaphor, the pain, the poem, the timing, the demonstrative id, the empathy, the affectation, the pathos, the connection, the plan, the anything — I’ve learned that much, at least. Not to force it.