When all my words have been stolen by the waking hours

Keeping Quiet
Pablo Neruda

(trans. Alastair Reid.)

And now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth
let’s not speak in any language,
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines,
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would not look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victory with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about,

I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,

perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.

Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead

and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve,
and you keep quiet and I will go.

The gifts of solitude

“Make your ego porous. Will is of little importance, complaining is nothing, fame is nothing. Openness, patience, receptivity, solitude is everything.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke


“The WPA was a national program that operated its own projects in cooperation with state and local governments, which provided 10%-30% of the costs. … [It] was the largest and most ambitious New Deal agency, employing millions of unemployed people..to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads. In much smaller but more famous projects the WPA employed musicians, artists, writers, actors and directors in large arts, drama, media, and literacy projects.” (more here)



The beach hisses like fat. On his left, a sheet
of interrupting water comes and goes
and glazes over his dark and brittle feet.
He runs, he runs straight through it, watching his toes.

– Watching, rather, the spaces of sand between them
where (no detail too small) the Atlantic drains
rapidly backwards and downwards. As he runs,
he stares at the dragging grains.

— from “Sandpiper“, by Elizabeth Bishop


In the echoes of others’ words

“The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity. (One is unable to notice something — because it is always before one’s eyes.) The real foundations of his enquiry do not strike a man at all. Unless that fact has at some time struck him. — And this means: we fail to be struck by what, once seen, is most striking and most powerful.” — Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser men so full of doubts.” — Bertrand Russell

“Whereas a work has something irreplaceable and unique about it, a product can be reproduced exactly, and is in fact the result of repetitive acts and gestures.” — Henri Lefebvre

“We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may
be the measure of our lives.” — Toni Morrison

“I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sat reclined;
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran.
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man…..”
— William Wordsworth



Shedding Skin
— Harryette Mullens

Pulling out of the old scarred skin
(old rough thing I don’t need now
I strip off
slip out of
leave behind)

I slough off deadscales
flick skinflakes to the ground

Shedding toughness
peeling layers down
to vulnerable stuff

And I’m blinking off old eyelids
for a new way of seeing

By the rock I rub against
I’m going to be tender again

Friday poetry

a little ditty from Rilke

Let This Darkness Be a Bell Tower

Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,

what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.

In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.

And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.


Have legs, will amble

It’s that time again, for branches to emerge as spindly remembrances of their former, leafy selves.

No doubt some of the former fall foliage was blown away by the storms of the past fortnight…

This, taken just days after Sandy blew through town. Awe, again.

So much we have to trust, simply to live through our daily day
without sinking through the earth!
Trust the snow clinging to the mountain slope over the village.
Trust the promises of silence and smiles of understanding,
trust that the accident telegram isn’t for us and that the sudden
axe-blow from within won’t come.
Trust the wheel-axles that carry us on the highway in the middle
of the three-hundred-times magnified bee swarm of steel.
But none of that is really worth our confidence.
The five strings say we can trust something else.
Trust what? Something else, and they follow us part of the way
As when the lights turn off in the stair-well and the hand follows
— with confidence — the blind handrail that finds its way in
the dark.

Another bit from Tranströmer’s “Schubertiana”


…is a funny thing. Not “haha” funny, more like “ain’t that a damn shame” kind of funny… The kind that leads one to drink or cry rather than belly laugh or giggle (and if one is belly laughing or giggling, it is often accompanied by the drinking and the crying). So funny in fact that I am starting to wish I was still pre-tenure, ever longing am I for the sort of busy-ness that I had grown accustomed to

And then someone tweeted this…

Outside New York, a high place where with one glance you take in the houses where eight million human beings live./

The giant city over there is a long flimmery drift, a spiral galaxy seen from the side.

— Tomas Transtromer, trans. Robert Bly

…and I received a reminder of this in my email…


By William Butler Yeats

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow, 
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a-glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.


… and all is really quite well. Having retreated momentarily to my mental Innisfree, summoning my muster to see anew, ’tis only a meeting that stands in the way between me and what I hope will be at least a monthly “spontaneous” department happy hour — that seems right: following each department meeting, the secret society gathers around libations in the cloak room. Or, the copy room. Whatever’s handy. (hear me, e?)



I admit it. When I first saw the email telling me that our university, like so many other institutions on the eastern seaboard, was closed, I experienced a distinct burst of giddiness. A day “off” is the thought I dared to allow out of my subconscious mind onto the stage of discernable thought. I awoke to little more than thick, cloudy, tannish grey skies and a wet mist that quickly grew into a steady drizzle. I ventured out to our local market — the corner bodega, for you city folk — to pick up some coffee, taking a few snaps along the way but I returned with little more to show for my adventure than a damp sweatshirt and an ample supply of caffeine. I optimistically set out to accomplish a herculean number of tasks. After all, we were “off.”

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Seven hours passed by in a swirl of phone meetings, email catch up, and some writing – not the kind I was aiming to do, but of the kind I needed to do… after the tinny sounds of raindrops falling against the air conditioner swelled into a single, agitated noise… I made an empty-the-fridge frittata, use-up-the-fruit crostata, and made decent headway with the consumption of assorted sweets and treats under the convenient guise of preparing for possible power outage by minimizing food waste… all the while, the anxious weight of the word “yet” hung in the air as I, like the rest of the city, awaited the mythic winds that would prove to be even more harrowing than the “Frankenstorm,” as the popular press has taken to calling Hurricane Sandy, of 1938 – the last time a hurricane that even approached the current conditions. From the Slate story:

Without warning, a powerful Category 3 hurricane slams into Long Island and southern New England, causing 600 deaths and devastating coastal cities and towns. Also called the Long Island Express, the Great New England Hurricane of 1938 was the most destructive storm to strike the region in the 20th century.

At present, we are in the thick of Sandy’s turbulent fury. Outside, the wind screams as if in pain, a protestation of a sinful sort. Mine is an interior apartment, my windows have unremarkable views, which today provides an additional layer of protection against the churning squalls. I offer a note of thanks.

It is impossible to do anything but be in this storm. By being, I mean following along on twitter and occasionally on facebook, via text and email to my siblings and spouse, and becoming unavoidably transfixed by links to images and video that are flooding my twitterstream of rising water and submerged NYC iconography, sparking wires and resultant fires, of building facades turning to dust. And this is what the wind map of the United States looks like at present.

Another inappropriate thought: How beautiful… like a painstakingly hand-drawn etching of this world rather than the otherworldly chaotic havoc that it signals.

Whatever sense of wonder I was lost in, I was wrested violently from its comfort by the sounds of sirens, honking cars, metal clanging as if something was tumbling down the length of fire escape, a phone ringing relentlessly next door… Neighbors’ voices and the opening and shutting of doors interrupt the windswept operetta continuing ad nauseam on the other side of surprisingly dense window glass.

Like many of our counterparts, our university is closed again tomorrow, as is the NYC transit system, city public schools, and apparently everything south of 23rd street – which has receded into darkness unwittingly. My giddiness has dissolved into a state of anticipation tinged with irritation, still somewhat laced with wonder but not free from unease that settles in when a situation remains unsettled.

Waiting … for the impending aftermath… for power outage… for the unpredictable…

Metal clanging again, more loudly this time. Wind makes its presence known, lest we attempt to retreat into our dreams to forget whatever nightmare may await us in the light of day. Wind and water, a lesson in humility…

Is it somehow fitting, then, that Neruda found his way into my reading today?

Ode To Enchanted Light
by Pablo Neruda

Under the trees light
has dropped from the top of the sky,
like a green
latticework of branches,
on every leaf,
drifting down like clean
white sand.

A cicada sends
its sawing song
high into the empty air.

The world is
a glass overflowing
with water.