"I can only speak for myself, but there’s something about writing at night that feels … sneaky. There’s an outlaw quality to it, combined, oddly enough, with a sense of being safe. It has an anaerobic, subterranean feel; it’s as if I’m working beneath the soil, toiling in secret, trying to cultivate something hidden and occult.”
“There are two types of waiting. There’s the the waiting you do for something you know is coming, sooner or later—like waiting for the 6:28 train, or the school bus, or a party where a certain handsome boy might be. And then there’s the waiting for something you don’t know is coming. You don’t even know what it is exactly, not exactly, but you’re hoping for it. You’re imagining it and living your life for it. That’s the kind of waiting that makes a fist in your heart.”
“Practically speaking, a life that is vowed to simplicity, appropriate boldness, good humor, gratitude, unstinting work and play, and lots of walking, brings us close to the actually-existing world and its wholeness.”
I do not know what gorgeous thing the bluebird keeps saying, his voice easing out of his throat, beak, body into the pink air of the early morning. I like it whatever it is. Sometimes it seems the only thing in the world that is without dark thoughts. Sometimes it seems the only thing in the world that is without questions that can’t and probably never will be answered, the only thing that is entirely content with the pink, then clear white morning and, gratefully, says so.
Mary Oliver, from Blue Horses (Penguin Press, 2014)
“Tell me the best fantasy lands aren’t deep, deep conversations. The one you had when everyone else was asleep at a slumber party when you were nine years old on the basement floor covered by a green outdoor rug next to her brother’s barbell stand. Or the one you had on the bus with that boy when you were fourteen who said girls didn’t go out with him because he had a paunch and didn’t play football. And you admitted a few things about yourself that didn’t sound good. Or the one that kept you in the dining hall so you missed all your afternoon classes in college. Or the one that led you to elope. Or the one last week when you talked about how you felt about failing and failing again until one of the children came running in because you’d forgotten dinner.
Tell me, aren’t the best fantasies where you have those conversations you don’t want to leave, like an island, ancient volcano, surrounded by jeweled waters, warm in the sunlight, icy in the shadow of its caves—a place you remember best for being rare, for being far in the middle of the sea, uninhabitable, or unbearably too inhabitable, left before we ruined it.”
Could it really be that only three light sessions of physical therapy have already corrected a four-year-long battle with my right leg and ankle? A hip upslip and scar tissue in the sacroiliac joint from a mountain fall injury in 2010 + peroneal tendonitis aggravated by that and a small deformity in the ankle bone on the same leg has had me dragging that leg behind me every run like a heavy, achy near-dead thing.
After all this time waving it off I finally gave in last month and agreed to 12 sessions of PT. At the first session the therapist re-aligned the hip upslip and used some medieval torture devices to break up some scar tissue, and gave me some targeted exercises for it all. On the second visit there was already a big improvement, reduction already in scar tissue, much less swelling in the ankle, smoother fascia in that leg, and the hip was good. I ran twice. No issues, no aching, I felt like that leg was 80-90% employed in both runs (vs. 40-50% most runs for the past four years). Speed is still complicated some by asthma and probably always will be, but I was about 30-45 seconds faster per mile than I’ve been in a long time.
On the third visit almost no evidence of prior issues, and I was discharged from PT early. “You don’t need me, girl.”
“As I speak, blood is coursing through our bodies. As it moves away from the heart it marches to a 2/4 or 4/4 beat and it’s arterial blood, reoxygenated, assertive, active, progressive, optimistic. When it reaches our extremities and turns toward home—the heart—well, it’s nostalgic, it’s venous blood (as in veins), it’s tired, wavelike, rising and falling, fighting against gravity and inertia, and it moves to the beat of a waltz, a 3/4 beat, a little off, really homesick now, and full of longing. When we first write our poems, how arterial they seem! And when we go back to them, how venous they seem!”
They don’t want to stop. They can’t stop. They’ve been going at it for days now, for hours, for months, for years. He’s on top of her. She’s on top of him. He’s licking her between the legs. Her fingers are in his mouth. It’s November. It’s March. It’s July and there are palms. Palms and humidity. It’s the same man. It’s a different man. It’s August and slabs of heat waves wallow on tarred lots. Tornadoes sprawl across open plains. Temperatures rise. Rains accumulate. Somewhere a thunderstorm dies. Somewhere a snow falls, colored by the red dust of a desert. She spreads her legs. His lips suck her nipples. She smells his neck. It’s morning. It’s night. It’s noon. It’s this year. It’s last year. It’s 4 a.m. It started when the city shifted growth to the north, over the underground water supply. Now the back roads are gone where they would drive, the deer glaring into the headlights, Wetmore and Thousand Oaks, and the ranch roads that led to the hill country and to a trio of deep moving rivers. There were low water crossings. Flood gauges. Signs for falling rock. There were deer blinds for sale. There was cedar in the air. Her hands are on his hips. He’s pushing her up and down. There are so many things she’s forgotten. The names of trees. Wars. Recipes. The trench graves filled with hundreds. Was it Bolivia? Argentina? Chile? Was it white gladioli that decorated the altar where wedding vows were said? There was a dance floor. Tejano classics. A motel. A shattered mirror. Flies. A Sunbelt sixteen wheeler. Dairy Queens. Gas stations. The smell of piss and cement. There was a field of corn, or was it cotton? There were yellow trains and silver silos. They can’t stop. They don’t want to stop. It’s Spring, and five billion inhale and exhale across two hemispheres. Oceans form currents and counter-currents. There was grassland. There was sugar cane. There were oxen. Metallic ores. There was Timber. Fur-bearing animals. Rice lands. Industry. Tundra. Winds cool the earth’s surface. Thighs press against thighs. Levels of water fluctuate. And yesterday a lightning bolt reached a temperature hotter than the sun.
“Get scared. It will do you good. Smoke a bit, stare blankly at some ceilings, beat your head against some walls, refuse to see some people, paint and write. Get scared some more. Allow your little mind to do nothing but function. Stay inside, go out - I don’t care what you’ll do; but stay scared as hell. You will never be able to experience everything. So, please, do poetical justice to your soul and simply experience yourself.”
“I’m obsessed with a woman and each day I invite the shadow shape— which obsession is—in the door. Lingerer, vague disamplitude, you’re like rain in the next county. I sense your presence on the breeze, smell your body in the damp clay.”
— Charlie Smith, from “Modern Art,” Jump Soul: New and Selected Poems
Amplitude is one of my favorite words, and this may be the first time I’ve ever seen disamplitude used. It has perfect power in the moment he chose it for.
“I’m not fascinated by people who smile all the time. What I find interesting is the way people look when they are lost in thought, when their face becomes angry or serious, when they bite their lip, the way they glance, the way they look down when they walk, when they are alone and smoking a cigarette, when they smirk, the way they half smile, the way they try and hold back tears, the way when their face says they want to say something but can’t, the way they look at someone they want or love… I love the way people look when they do these things. It’s… beautiful.”
Christine is off to Chapel Hill this weekend for the Merge 25 Festival (Neutral Milk Hotel! Teenage Fanclub! Bob Mould from Husker Du! So many more!), but before she goes, here’s a quick story to tide you over til next Monday. It’s from Steve Mitchell’s debut story collection, The Naming of…
“I’d just say to aspiring journalists or writers—who I meet a lot of—do it now. Don’t wait for permission to make something that’s interesting or amusing to you. Just do it now. Don’t wait. Find a story idea, start making it, give yourself a deadline, show it to people who’ll give you notes to make it better. Don’t wait till you’re older, or in some better job than you have now. Don’t wait for anything. Don’t wait till some magical story idea drops into your lap. That’s not where ideas come from. Go looking for an idea and it’ll show up. Begin now. Be a fucking soldier about it and be tough.”
Saturday night I read a collection of poems to a crowd of 40+ friends and strangers for the first time, and I didn’t die. They didn’t die. In fact, they actually seemed to love it. One woman asked if I’d be willing to come speak at a teacher’s conference. One stopped me on the street later that evening as I was walking back to my car to tell me how much she liked it. A couple of people were even talking about it on Twitter yesterday. All of that was unexpected—I only went in hoping I wouldn’t bomb it.
It’s been a heady, surreal weekend. I think maybe I’ll make myself do that again.
How long ago the day is when at last I look at it with the time it has taken to be there still in it now in the transparent light with the flight in the voices the beginning in the leaves everything I remember and before it before me present at the speed of light in the distance that I am who keep reaching out to it seeing all the time faster where it has never stirred from before there is anything the darkness thinking the light
— William Stanley Merwin
This is the kind of poem that takes me two or three reads to fully grasp, but when the grasp happens, it’s a hard clutch.
"What part are you on now?" “How about now?” “What’s happening now?” “Now? Now? Now?”
— What happens when my husband is reading a book I’ve already read and I’ve already finished my own book.
And this is why I married him: Because instead of being frustrated by it, he laughs and tells me in detail, sometimes even reads a few lines out loud. And then I’ll read over his shoulder for a while, until the next night when I have my own shiny new book and am silent/”away” again for that hour or two every night for another week or so.