Friday, July 3, 2009

Smoke


Treasured belongings:
when you have to move them
the things you own
own you.

But not only then
and not only
things

it’s true.

From Songs and Letters, originally published July 2, 2009.


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Update:
In the Forum: Crassus’s favorite poet.

6 comments:

RUDHI - DAILY said...

Bodys and forms are owned by themselfes; but the spirit (dwelling in them) keeps free or/and remembers, leads to the everlasting freedom (behind all belongings); as I understand your freedom-leading funnel-poem.

William Michaelian said...

Well, to say the least, our relationship with ideas and things is complex. At the risk of boring you and others, here are three related entries from Common Objects, Hidden Dreams, a journal I kept for two weeks back in the fall of 2005, and which is part of Songs and Letters.

October 29, 2005 — There are several dish towels on my mother’s counter. My two favorites have colored stripes on the ends and are old and worn. The towels were given to my mother by her mother shortly after my parents were married in 1943. In other words, my mother is using sixty-two-year-old towels. She also has a set of measuring cups from that era, worn and dented to perfection. Bread pans, clocks, canning implements, tea sets, tables, pictures — I really shouldn’t get started, because her entire house is a museum. Every once in awhile, she asks me if I think she has too many pictures. Her walls are covered with them, but there isn’t a single one that seems extra or out of place. I tell her no, then ask which ones she would take down. She smiles. None of them, of course. None of them, forever and ever, as long as the two of us shall live. Generations watch and listen from their places on the wall. Armenians, Swedes, lunatics. Farmers, poets, revolutionaries. Angry, happy, surprised, proud. In the dark of night, their remembered spirits leave the frames and drift about the rooms.

October 31, 2005 — I confess, I tend to think of a great many so-called common objects as being imbued with spirit, personality, and even dreams. My uncle’s pipe, my father’s watch, my mother’s dish towels, her father’s old wooden axe handle — these are ready examples. The words pipe, watch, dish towel, and axe handle themselves are rich in meaning, as are words like lamp, book, and album. Is it the words, then, that give objects spirit and personality? Or is it the other way around? Or is it a matter of perception? More to the point, am I crazy? Does a pocket calculator possess spirit? What about a car tire? A deck of cards? Bicycle spokes? A sagging wooden porch? Is the spirit in objects tied to the story told by the words that represent the objects, or does it operate independently? Calculator: boring. Sagging wooden porch: history, sadness, lives lived. Is it possible to see an object directly, and not through the filter of words? Is there any reason we should? Isn’t it in our nature to name things, and to describe them according to our perceptions? Doesn’t this indicate that we understand, at some deep level, that all matter is charged with life and interrelated, and that all objects retain a spark of that from which they were made?

November 1, 2005 — Maybe, maybe not. Because words can also be a prison. We know from simple observation that people with large vocabularies don’t necessarily lead a richer life than people with small vocabularies. Often, the more words we know, the less we are able to see things as they really are, with our own eyes, as if for the first time. The world is full of dull, educated people. It is also full of dull, uneducated people. The world is full of people, period — or comma, if you prefer — who have trouble with their colons. And yet an object is what it is, regardless of the name we give it, regardless of how we interpret that name. We interpret the world with our senses, and according to our natural inclinations and past experience. Language is driven by our need to explain and share our impressions. It is driven by our need to get along, and to get what we need to survive. Language — written, spoken, sung — is an amazing, beautiful thing. Words, melodies, poems, lamentations — aren’t they our best means of expressing and understanding what we already know deep inside? Don’t they remind us that nothing in the world is really ordinary?

Joseph Hutchison said...

We are not entirely at home in our interpreted world, as Rilke said. Excellent poem and excellent commentary!

William Michaelian said...

Thanks, Joe, and thanks for taking the time to read through. I guess our interpreted world includes our interpretations of ourselves....

RUDHI - DAILY said...

Your words make me enjoy to improve my English! Wpuld like to see your mothers place. And do you know the joke of Mr. Natural, asked by a helpless brain: What does it all means? DON'T MEAN, SHE EIT...

William Michaelian said...

Ah, yes. A fitting addendum....