the quiet

“…you become the sound.” ~Luisa Igloria, “Liminal”

I strip the bed, put on the summer blanket and quilt; the overwrought, anxious-to-please smell of household cleaner still rises from the corners. The sink is empty and the drying rack full, the desks cleared, the herbs watered. It is night and I am alone, pictures gazing down or averting faces from this solitary industry. How quiet a pair of rooms becomes in the puddling afternoon, how much quieter following night’s seeping tide when houses curl upon themselves like mollusks. I hold this two-bedroom-plus-kitchen-and-bath to my ear and hear the rushing of my blood, rushing like the traffic on Massachusetts Avenue, rushing like thoughts in the estuaries of minutes. I could do laundry all night or scrub the bathtub or unpack the last boxes, but nothing can hold back the salty, pungent fingerlets of quiet. You will press me against the sheets, flutter the curtains, give me back dreams speaking in voices made strange by distance. I will wake in the morning–will my breath remember me, will my spirit be returned back from the rooms’ shell, caverns echoing and empty? Will I remember the outbound journey on the ruffled waters, the sly unmooring of self the quiet night accomplished? Or will I forget, as I sometimes want to, and become something simple and untinged by loss, or loneliness, or the ordinary greatness required to live on the shores of this unborn and unrelenting sea?

devour

Devour me
said the sky to the sun

bend me to your will
And it does, most cloudless days,

bending blue, an ache
both sorrowing and joyous.

Devour me
said the wick to the flame

let me burn, just that moment
So it does. I feel

something stir, like the wind just rising,
I cannot tell

if I hunger, or am hungered for.

Compline, Christ Church, Palm Sunday

I wrote you a poem because
I don’t believe in spells or prayers;
it was all I had.

from Twelve Simple Songs by Dave Bonta

The embryo of song, a single note. The ancestor of narrative, a single voice, first, against the smokey incensed dark. The ceiling has beams they are like ribs, this church is a body and the lights are dying low. I am dying low. In song words unfurl and with them meaning unspools like a dropped bobbin, rolling away to echo ping against the floor. And still the single voice holds tenuous but holds. Flicker. Shadows: tenebrae. This is love. This is not love. A single note is no longer held but falls. Before it resurrects into silence another voice catches, carries on. This is love. Still no resolution. Sound preceedes words, a lengthening spine of vowels and knobby consonants, a body that is all blood and muscle and no joints. Words do not coagulate into meaning. Hemophiliac love. Blessed are the poor in spirit. There is a draft from the door. The flames flicker but do not go out. Now the voices swell full. The Laozi said what is empty is full, emptiness is fullness. Barren. I am poor as an abyss, poor as the cracked land, brittle as the first skin of ice on the water, fragile as ash. Vowels and consonants don’t spell the words but they carry us over the long dark between the vault and the pricks of votive light. Was that a prayer? This is love.

come and drink your fill

My best friend sent me a Valentine’s Day email containing some poems by Hafiz, a 14th century Islamic mystic.

Oh Hafiz!

The Great Secret

God was full of Wine last night,
So full of wine

That He let a great secret slip.
He said:

There is no man on earth
Who needs a pardon from Me—

For there is really no such thing,
No such thing
As Sin!

That Beloved has gone completely Wild—He has poured Himself into me!

I am Blissful and Drunk and Overflowing.

Dear world,
Draw life from my Sweet Body,

Dear wayfaring souls,
Come drink your fill of liquid rubies,
For God has made my heart
An Eternal Fountain!

Happy Valentine’s Day. And may your heart and mine be full of the liquid rubies of liberation, joy, and love.

in medias res

home stilllife

2012 was an embroidered hem, 2012 was a frayed cuff, 2012 was a wide sea serged with a single thread. Time running like a chain stitch, a sovereign without an heir. Far shores glittered with snow. Last January’s footprints, salt-sodden and shapeless, point toward a horizon on a collision course with itself. There’s a thread in my hand, a crewelwork rosette on my tongue. Musa, mihi causas memora. We are always in medias res. The year is dead; long live the Year.

ebooks, pbooks, Homer, and LeGuin

“And yet there is a romance and a power and a beauty and a permanence and a sense of reality that actual printed books have, which also does not translate to electronic format for me.”

Wil Wheaton, the quietest and most constant of friends

I wrote a blog post yesterday on my iPad, because I wanted to try using the WordPress app to both upload pictures I’d taken with the ‘Pad and input text with my dad’s Bluetooth keyboard while I waxed poetic on reading classic epic poems (in ebook format on said iPad). But somehow the draft didn’t get saved and the post got lost and it was a good thing. Good because when driving up to Ketchum with my dad I dove into an explanation of how I ended up reading the Iliad that was far more impassioned than the post I’d been writing, and it forced a sense of shame on me for not being as impassioned a writer as I was a soapbox conversationalist. Good because I read some other people’s posts on the internets today on topics that seemed unrelated to either the Iliad or ebooks at first glance, but in my mind pulled together of a sudden like the borders of a woven shawl snagged on a nail. Good because sometimes losing things so that you can reconsider them from scratch is exactly what you needed.

It started with a book on the clearance table at The Strand bookstore in New York City. No, wait; it didn’t. It started with an iPad, my iPad, the one I got because I was tired of hauling around a heavy 17″ laptop everywhere when often all I needed to be able to do was check email, and also because I was getting tired of hauling piles of books everywhere (and more and more of the kinds of books I read are being published as ebooks, too), and also because I had been utterly charmed by an iPad over the summer and had since pined for a gadget of my own, among other reasons. When I landed a largish paying translation job, I used some of that money for an iPad. So it began there, because part of my argument for an iPad was that I could read books and PDFs on it, something of increasing importance to me.

But I hadn’t bought any ebooks. I download PDFs of available scholarly papers and scanned copies of academic books not yet available as ebooks, and I also read the free versions of books that are in the public domain (Austen, Shakespeare, etc.). At The Strand, however, standing in front of a table full of bargain mass-market paperbacks, all of them flaunting the same notice that the paperback price was less than the Kindle version of the book (fiscal economy over physical economy), I noticed Lavinia by Ursula K. LeGuin.

LeGuin is one of my favorite authors. She tells tales of worlds far removed from ours and yet the stories in the tales are always about us, about home. I’m thinking especially of The Left Hand of Darkness, which was for me, when I read it in my early 20s, a haunting, nuanced, and far more compelling exploration of gender and society than the Judith Butler I’d hung my hat on in college. So Lavinia, at a mere 5 dollars and neither thick nor heavy, won me over. I had 12 hours of travel ahead of me to get to Boise, Idaho. This book was the thing to help me get through a late night waiting at the airport and the underslept crusty-eyed morning of flying following it.

In Lavinia, LeGuin writes the story of Lavinia, Aeneas’ wife in the Aeneid. Virgil never has her speak in the poem; LeGuin imagines the life and world of Lavinia, both before Aeneas arrived on the shores of Latium, and after. The novel explores silence and voice, story-telling and agency, all of which I find of great importance in what we conventionally call the non-fictive world.

It wasn’t the most compelling novel I’ve ever read and not my favorite LeGuin novel by a stretch. In addition to being about giving voice to the voiceless, however, it’s also about antiquity and mythologized history. It’s about the world of the classical epics. Reading the novel, I realized I knew nothing about the Aeneid. Nor could I really remember the Iliad or the Odyssey, both of which I’d been required to read in college. I had taken a course freshman year that dealt with epics, and we’d gone from Troy to Dublin, ending with Joyce’s Ulysses, a novel I actually gave up on and one of the few I proudly admit I never finished. I took a seminar on Virginia Woolf and read her response (rebuttal?) to Joyce, Mrs. Dalloway. Later I took a course on Milton, and of course the majority of the course centered on Paradise Lost. At some point I’d read portions of Dante’s Divine Comedy, and somehow I had escaped the Anglophilic Yale English Department with only a passing knowledge of Spenser’s Faerie Queene. All of these are classed as epics, and with the exception of the modern novels, all are poems. Lavinia, thin novel though it is, plunged me back into the poetry of the epics and the conversations that have been happening between them for thousands of years.

I downloaded the Iliad while waiting at the gate at LAX. My first ebook, bought and paid. I felt some trepidation. I love books, and when asked to put my money where my mouth is, I have always bought paper books. (Pbooks? If we have ebooks?) Now, though, I’d crossed some line in my mind, the one demarcating my position as a merely opportunistic user of the electronic format to a committed consumer of the electronic format. I felt a little strange, and a little giddy, the way we usually do when we deliberately cross some personal threshold. Not reckless, but not entirely certain what new territory I had entered into.

More books followed over the week. The Odyssey. RipRap. Red Pine’s Lankavatara. And more will follow. Not all the books I like to read are available yet as ebooks. Regarding that, however, I have learned that for the price of mere patience, I can scan things for free at the library. (The librarians content themselves with posting notices about copyright laws and not looking over the shoulders of students at the scanner.) Even if all the books I wanted to read were available in electronic format, I still wouldn’t exclusively buy and read ebooks. There is the romance, the power, and the beauty of pbooks that does not translate to ebooks; so I move forward and I move backward: I read the classic epics on an iPad, I buy paper poetry chapbooks.

I believe this is the shape of things to come: a heterogeneous reading life, at least until the power fails and our batteries die.