February notebook

‘The whole culture is telling you to hurry, while the art tells you to take your time. Always listen to the art.’ -Junot Díaz

‘I do not so much write a book as sit up with it, as with a dying friend.’ -Annie Dillard, from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, quoted in The Art of Stillness, by Pico Iyer (p.62)

‘Stillness is not just an indulgence for those with enough resources -it’s a necessity for anyone who wishes to gather less visible resources. Going nowhere, [as Leonard Cohen shows us], is not about austerity so much as about coming closer to [our] senses.’ -Pico Iyer, The Art of Stillness, p.13

Making the eggs this morning I spied through the foggy kitchen window a blackbird hopping down the branches of the apple tree in the half dark, till it made the final bold leap to the bird feeder where it began stabbing at the feed. The sky was still early, blue-black, impossible to name. Then a robin in the half-light.

Now fully daylight I can see the scatter of black sunflower seeds on the patio below it, waiting to be hoovered up by the wood pigeons.

The neighbour of a friend calls their wood pigeon Paul.

‘He refused to excise the political from the aesthetic…They have to be written together.’ Adam Haslett on James Baldwin, Radio 4, Open Book.

Day of Song, Day of Silence

The strange crying sounds
of the peacocks on the private
school grounds echo on perfect
lawns, and I remember the unruly
feathered fowl of my earlier years
that draped the flimflam landscape
of the home of the first girl I ever kissed.
The students today make a vow
of silence to honor gay and lesbian kids
who’ve been bullied, so when we visit
and read poems, they can’t speak,
they are silent for those that are silenced.
And I’m thinking now of making out
with Sarah, and how later we made
pickle and mayonnaise sandwiches
and sat by the edge of her empty pool–
our legs swinging into nothingness,
the sun’s heat at our backs, the sounds
of peacocks screaming, at first harmless,
then like some far-off siren.

Ada Limón, from Bright Dead Things (Milkweed Editions, 2015)

Burning the Old Year

Letters swallow themselves in seconds.
Notes friends tied to the doorknob,
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.

So much of any year is flammable,
lists of vegetables, partial poems.
Orange swirling flame of days,
so little is a stone.

Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.
I begin again with the smallest numbers.

Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,
only the things I didn’t do
crackle after the blazing dies.

Naomi Shihab Nye, from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems (Portland, Oregon: Far Corner Books, 1995).

‘What will always stand out about this particular genocide is not the numbers of those murdered, but the purity of its design, the sheer attention to detail, down to the tiniest thing, shoelaces, hair, teeth.’ Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, Inherit the Truth concert, Exeter Cathedral

The bass clef of a hair, turning on the bathwater

the moon a perfect, half-eaten cheese, right out of Paul Klee

‘But the sensations of common relationship were missing.’ -Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (p.204)

 

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