There was a place on the floor where they could lie together, on the floor together, backs pressed to the carpet, where they could look out the window together and see only the tops of the trees. They would do this. They would lie on the floor and say things like Now we are in the country! or Oh, what a far away place this is! Then they would stand up and look out the window the way they usually did, the houses reappearing in the window frame.
Let me tell you a story about war:
A boy spills a glass of milk and his father picks him up by the back of the shirt and throws him against the wall. You killed my wife and you can’t even keep a glass on the table. The wife had died of sadness, by her own hand. The father walks out of the room and the room is almost empty.
The road outside the house lies flat on the ground. The ground surrenders.
The father works late. The dead wife’s hand makes fishsticks while the boy sits in the corner where he fell. The fish in the fishsticks think to themselves This is not what we meant to be.
Its roots in the ground and its branches in the air, a tree is pulled in two directions.
The wife has a dead hand. This is earlier. She is living and her dead hand feeds her pills that don’t work. The boy sleeps on the roof or falls out of trees. The father works late. The wife looks out the window and thinks Not this.
The boy is a bird, bad bird. He falls out of trees.
In this room I was born. And I knew I was in the wrong place: the world. I knew pain was to come. I knew it by the persistence of the blade that cut me out. I knew it as every baby born to the world knows it: I came here to die.
Happiness is simple. Sadness forks into many roads.
Before the time of Christ, Aristotle believed that the earth was the center of the universe because he needed a stationary reference point against which to measure all other motions: a rock falling, a star reeling through the sky, his heart beating against his chest like a club. He needed to believe in certainty, in absolute space. Without it, the world would not be known absolutely. Without it, the world cannot be known.
Twenty centuries later Hendrik Lorentz needed to believe that every single molecule in the universe must move through a stationary material called the aether, as every human being in his various turnings must move through God. Scientists looked everywhere for proof of this aether. And everywhere they found nothing.
I have only one purpose: to live intensely.
I wish I never met you and I wish you never left.
You taste like a river in June.
I’m going to say something important. Look at my face. Ignore my eyes. Just listen to me. But listen only to the timbre of my voice, not to what I am saying. They are different. They are two different rooms. The first is an exhibition of despair, the second only an explanation.
The first is all you have to listen to. So listen carefully because I cannot repeat myself:
“Everything/ one suspects to be true/ is true.”
To appreciate the value of land, one need only look into a painting: so much beauty. Buying land means buying the layers of beauty directly above it. It means buying the sky above it. And the birds above it, the clouds, the gods.
In truth you are buying a corner of the universe. You are saying: this is my room. You are saying: I live here. Here I exist.
How many words have you spoken in your life? How many did you mean? How many did you understand?
“There is a Funfetti smorgasbord! Werner Herzog is breakdancing!”—Peter, pulling out the big guns via text to get me to go a party full of people drinking shirley temples and swing dancing (it worked).
And once, you stopped on a dark desert road, to show me the stars climbing over each other riotously like insects; like an orchestra thrashing its way through time itself. I never saw light that way again.*
It comes before the pause but after the words hang in the air. Something slashing through the cold air with precision. He told me to stand on the edge today, to wait there, to not move to where it is safe. He doesn’t know that there is an old me there, frozen in time, and it’s why I’ve never been able to go back. What do we put our faith in. Words like little stubborn pebbles shoved under my nails, I only ever clutch at the earth, mourn the passing clouds. Is there ever a point where we just walk through life as echoes? Where we’ve said all the words we’ve ever had to say?
Lay down and tell me you can’t see behind. Let me scratch the itch you cannot reach, I’ll memorize its coordinates, I’ll keep you safe. What if we both said “yes” and it meant the same thing, for once. What if we tried to write it all down. Wait, we did that. What if we couldn’t find the words. But we did, and they cannot be undone. And now we just stare in silence at this awful knowledge.
Could I die, knowing what I know? We lay on our backs and I just wanted you to see what I saw. That cloud, how it agitated my heart. The lonesome pine. I want, I want, I want.
*Dorothea Grossman, from The Two Times I Loved You in a Car
“Sometimes you need to wait for the decision to be made internally. The decision might not be made at the exact moment you want it to be made. This also means that you need to put yourself in a situation, or place in the world, where the decision can be made, which is the hardest part.”—C. Simon, best friend
Watch out for love
(unless it is true,
and every part of you says yes including the toes) ,
it will wrap you up like a mummy,
and your scream won’t be heard
and none of your running will end.
Love? Be it man. Be it woman.
It must be a wave you want to glide in on,
give your body to it, give your laugh to it,
give, when the gravelly sand takes you,
your tears to the land. To love another is something
like prayer and can’t be planned, you just fall
into its arms because your belief undoes your disbelief.
“Lost again. Where was I? Where am I? Mud road. Stopped car. Time is rhythm: the insect rhythm of a warm humid night, brain ripple, breathing, the drum in my temple—these are our faithful timekeepers; and reason corrects the feverish beat. Maybe the only thing that hints at a sense of Time is rhythm; not the recurrent beats of rhythm but the gap between two such beats, the gray gap between black beats: the Tender Interval. The regular throb itself merely brings back the miserable idea of measurement, but in between, something like true Time lurks. How can I extract it from its soft hollow?”—V. Nabokov, from Ada, or Ardor
Hey. You know Peter, I know Peter. Bad ass Tumblr you got going here. Kafka On the Shore wrecked my head. I keep a bunch of poems beneath my mattress—Sheep in the Fog is one of them, as is Scheherezade.
Hello! Yes, more people should have Peter in common, I think. He has become a very necessary person in my life! Thanks for the compliment, and same to you, friend. I see you are creeping your way up that Creative Writing directory, which is as it should be.
I like the idea of keeping poems underneath your mattress. As though maybe the words might bleed into your dreams. I love Scheherazade, kind of unbearably so. It is, as Joan Didion once said about The Second Coming, the sort of compass through which everything makes sense.
1. This whole time (meaning the time in which I have been aware of wolverines. I’m not sure I can give you even a broad estimate of this), whenever I have conjured up a wolverine, I have always pictured a very sleek and tiny wolf.
“Then there’s the two
of us. This word
is far too short for us, it has only
four letters, too sparse
to fill those deep bare
vacuums between the stars
that press on us with their deafness.
It’s not love we don’t wish
to fall into, but that fear.
this word is not enough but it will
have to do. It’s a single
vowel in this metallic
silence, a mouth that says
O again and again in wonder
and pain, a breath, a finger
grip on a cliffside. You can
hold on or let go.”—
Margaret Atwood, from "Variations on the Word Love"
from an interview with Robert Kaplan, mathematics professor at Harvard and author of The Nothing That Is:
Is your argument that there is randomness in the universe but we cannot see it because of the human desire to see structure, or the stronger claim that there simply is no randomness in the universe?
I would not even use the word ‘desire.’ I would put it in Kantian terms. Kant says just as space and time are not out there but are our ways of making jigsaw puzzle pieces that our perception can put together, so too causality is our way of taking those space-time pieces and fitting them together. These causal chains have neither beginning nor end, so arguments for a first cause or a God will always fail. To think of randomness is terrifying to us; the difference between structure and randomness corresponds to the Kantian difference between the beautiful and the sublime.
“Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside of you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it, step by step. There’s no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling into the sky like pulverized bones. That’s the kind of sandstorm you need to imagine.”—
Dickens’s opening is the foggiest in all fiction and, before we meet any characters, we follow the fog through London. “Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon and hanging in the misty clouds”.
The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock, T.S. Eliot
"The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes / The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes / Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening".
Sheep in Fog, Sylvia Plath
"The hills step off into whiteness. / People or stars / Regard me sadly, I disappoint them". Only Plath could transform a foggy encounter with sheep on a Devon hillside into a revelation of psychosis. Perception is both muffled and intensified, and the poet is on the edge of "a heaven / Starless and fatherless, a dark water".
Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
"When the sun rose there was a white fog, very warm and clammy, and more blinding than the night. It did not shift or drive; it was just there, standing all round you like something solid". From its heart they hear a cry "of infinite desolation".
The Fog, James Herbert
Evil killer fog!
Fog, Amy Clampitt
Somewhere by the Atlantic, fog swallows the world in Clampitt’s poem, “the islands’ spruce-tips / drunk up like milk in the / universal emulsion”. Shrouding some things makes others more distinct: “the nodding / campanula of bell buoys; / the ticking, linear / filigree of bird voices”.