Of all we’ve experienced and all we’ve learned, what of this year is worth bringing with us into the one ahead? This, I think: the understanding that we need only the barest of necessities that assure our safety and well being — food, shelter, companionship, solitude, love, and the freedom to discover and nurture the creative spark, in others and in ourselves. In a word, peace. The absence of any of these, for anyone, upsets the balance for everyone. Our precious energy, when spent in the pursuit of frivolous wants in the guise of pressing needs, is the same negative force we see at work daily in our schools and in our streets; it’s the very war we wage on what is foolishly termed “foreign soil,” when the truth is, there is no soil on this great wide earth that is foreign, just as there are no foreign cultures, hopes, or dreams, because they are all of us, and we are all of each other, and of the soil. Borders? Fences? They are all arbitrary — embarrassing symbols of our fear and greed. But still the world turns, and continues its patient journey around the sun — that very star which will itself one day die. And if something as ancient and powerful as the sun must turn to ash, what, then, of us? Do we sincerely believe we are more important than the sun? In each and every moment, we are, all of us, ripe and ready to fall. By the time you read this, I could be gone. My wish: may we be as nourishment for those who live, and those who come.
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Monday, December 26, 2011
For the fun of it yesterday morning, I posted several links to the following poem on Facebook. “A Christmas Wish” first appeared on my old website back in 2003, and was subsequently included in my book, Winter Poems (Cosmopsis Books, 2007). As fate would have it, it has been “borrowed” and republished online numerous times, in various formats, on scrolls, in frames, or in plain text. As is inevitable, some versions are complete, others aren’t. In this way, the Worldwide Web is like a giant refrigerator door or kitchen bulletin board, with messages overlapping and pinned down or held in place by advertising magnets. My opinion of the matter: the more fingerprints the better.
A Christmas WishWhat do I want for Christmas?Nothing to buy, nothing to sell.Family gatherings. Laughter. Music.Multitudes of happy children, warm and fed.An end to the current war, and to all wars.Water in the well, food on the table.Companionship for the lonely.Solitude for those in search of calm.Understanding for the prisoner.Compassion for those who judge.Strength for the belittled.Comfort for the torn.I want what everyone wants,But believes can never happen.Truth instead of lies.Generosity instead of greed.Knowledge instead of fear.Modesty instead of arrogance.An open heart, an open mind.To follow Life where it leads,With gratitude for hard timesAnd what they teach,And, when good times come,To pass them on for others to enjoy.But if these things are too much to ask,If I am silly or have somehow missed the point,There is still one thing I would like to see.A giant teddy bear for the wide-eyed world.
Friday, December 23, 2011
This year, I think I’ve been privileged to share in and witness more joy, pain, and accomplishment than any other: the birth of our second grandson back in early spring; the battles of friends with self-doubt, poverty, loneliness, mental instability, and terminal disease; the folly of selfishness and the subsequent harm to and tearing asunder of relationships; the tragedy of sudden, untimely death; new love; inspiring, triumphant works of art — and all, it seems, coming to pass in the blink of an eye, and just as soon to be swept on by the wind.
The question arises: What is a man to do, how is he to respond to such wealth? Most days, he begins by brushing his teeth and putting on his slippers or his shoes, then he continues by washing his grandson’s hands, or wiping the restless boy’s behind while Grandma makes lunch, and then he moves on to pretending he is a waterfall, made real by shimmering silvery hair. He cannot begin except at the beginning, but he also knows this is the precipice, the culmination of the entire history of the world, the result, the glory, the comedy, the reason, and the accidental, inevitable outcome of all that went before.
And then there is the night, which is his dream made visible to eyes other than his own, the phantom world where minds cross and bodies pass through walls. Affectionately, proudly, helplessly, he calls this his work.
He does not know — and perhaps this most defines him — where or if or how he fits into others’ lives, or even if such knowledge is desirable. He does not know where one thought ends and another begins, or if there is but one thought which encompasses and ultimately confounds all. He wonders if, in the next moment, he will be alive. He wonders if he will be missed or brushed aside. He remembers strange things at beautiful, inopportune times. He climbs a tree with his cousin just as someone passes the wild greens and rice — but at whose table, and in what far-off wreck of time? He considers, with humility, how he must once have been a donkey or a stone, and that he may well move on to river, bee, or hill. He says, almost without hearing himself, “I knew a man who was a wishing well.”
And what does he know? That fear and ignorance still bear thorns within his walls.
Outside, all around him, the gifts are piled high.
He recalls telling a priest once how much he enjoyed funerals, and the look of confusion on the poor man’s face when he tried to explain how people are at their best when they don’t know how to carry on. They were standing in a cemetery.
He is granted insight, and entrusted with despair. He is given help that chases darkness from his soul.
To know him, is to know yourself. But to love him, aye, that is the rub.
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Monday, December 19, 2011
A special thanks to a wonderful artist and dear friend,
on her blog, Nouvelles Coleurs. Great photos, Laura!
Sunday, December 18, 2011
Friday, December 16, 2011
1 at the center of which is Man,
said the woman unto him, laughing, her symphony a breath of hands.
2 There were walls in those days:
3 The cotton patch on one side, impossible to mend; her father at the window,
plotting murder; her mother knitting sandwiches:
4 Bolls, half open, scratchy to retrieve; the failed blood of Adam,
crying out to Eve; street signs, curbs, and gutters; the restless night brigade:
5 All the milk in heaven
in one swollen pale breast; the whispering of leaves:
6 The preacher in his trundle bed; the plumber with his bottle;
the widow’s magazine:
7 Presbyterians; Methodists; Lutherans; Catholics; Baptists;
the Four Square; the two-square; dodge-ball; hopscotch; tops; jacks;
monkey bars; jump-ropes; braids; and of course the scaffold,
8 For not all spirits break.
9 She sighed:
10 The birth of fiction; as if yes were a word and the owl
had known; as if need were the beginning and not before;
as if he were wheat in the field of her palm,
12 Gently, she eased his body down:
13 She sang it down, praised it down,
14 Cloth to the loin and thorns above,
15 As if many were chosen and one were called:
16 And he cried unto her,
17 I cherish the death that I have been given,
18 And explained in a breath how it had been prophesied by trees;
how he had carried a lamb through winding streets; how men had looked up
from their work and derided him; and how they had returned
to their dwellings and hung themselves,
20 On the spit of their own lives.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
I’m hidden away
from holiday visitors,
egg from plates wiped clean,
crumbs up from counter
brushed with efficient palm,
frying pan still warm
and slick upon the stove,
potato peels filed away,
scent of navel orange,
morning paper rearranged
according to topics best ignored.
Outside, rain. Parking lots.
Bell-ringers. Car exhaust. Distant hills.
Stubbled fields. Muddy heels.
We need a dozen eggs. Bags of tea.
Remember marmalade? Local honey.
Oatmeal — mush! the winter chill.
Behold, my empty wallet.
It’s still a long walk to Christmas.
A thousand strangers yet to greet.
A thousand sorrows line the street.
A thousand angels with ragged wings.
A thousand voices softly sing.
Hark the herald, something something.
Upturned faces. Outstretched arms.
Hands held warm around the world.
[From Winter Poems, Cosmopsis Books, 2007]
Note: Through the end of the year, all three of my Cosmopsis titles are available at a 10% discount. Use the following coupon code in your Cosmopsis Bookstore shopping cart: H7E99
Here are the store links:
A Listening Thing (Novel, Tenth Anniversary Authorized Print Edition)
Winter Poems (Poetry)
Another Song I Know (Poetry)
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
What worldwide benefactors these “imprudent” men are! How prudently most men creep into nameless graves; while now and then one or two forget themselves into immortality.
— Wendell Phillips, from Speech on Lovejoy
Note: “Wendell Phillips” is the last entry in Volume 7 of Elbert Hubbard’s Little Journeys.
Monday, December 12, 2011
Saturday, December 10, 2011
What spectacle confronted them when they, first the host, then the guest, emerged silently, doubly dark, from obscurity by a passage from the rere of the house into the penumbra of the garden?
The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit . . . .
I will go to my grave, no doubt, grateful for Joyce’s Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. I won’t say I understand them in any conventional, ordinary sense. In the presence of language of this depth, grace, and magnitude, I seek neither Reason nor reason: I listen with my life, and in my bones. Scholars have their approach. I have mine. In my mind, the books are as much music as they are literature. I embrace them as I embrace the symphonies of Beethoven.
I feel the same way about the Armenian language, which I’ve heard spoken throughout my life and have yet to master; which I taught myself to read when I was in my twenties; and which has always, in ways subtle, apparent, and obscure, informed my own writing, to the extent that what I write naturally lends itself to translation. I know this for a fact, having worked directly with Samvel Mkrtchyan, who has translated my work along with that of Faulkner, Eliot, Shakespeare, Saroyan, and now Joyce.
In terms of Ulysses, especially, I am staggered by his accomplishment. In giving this masterpiece of English literature to his native land, Mkrtchyan has also contributed immeasurably to world literature. His translation of Ulysses — a labor of many years, replete with notes, illustrations, and photographs, beautifully designed by his own hand — is truly a gift for the ages. When I think of the toil, the long nights spent with aching neck and bones, the restlessness, patience, and defiance that are part and parcel of such a task, I return to my own small life inspired and renewed.
It is, of course, logical to ask if and how I will read this book. Of the if we will quickly dispense: books live through their readers; it is my joy and responsibility to respond. And of the how: aloud, from cover to cover, in a voice that tells of my own memories and trials, almost but not quite laughing to the end.
Translated into Armenian
with a foreword and notes
“Translation of the unabridged republication
of the original Shakespeare and Company edition,
published in Paris by Sylvia Beach, 1922”
Chronology. Forty-eight Color Plates. Pictorial Appendix.
Chronology. Forty-eight Color Plates. Pictorial Appendix.
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Monday, December 5, 2011
The power of religion on the mind,
in retirement, affliction,
and at the approach of death;
exemplified in the testimonies and experience
of persons distinguished
by their greatness, learning, or virtue.
Saturday, December 3, 2011
I’ve mentioned, of course, the nice holiday discount available on all three of my Cosmopsis Books titles: A Listening Thing; Winter Poems; and Another Song I Know. To take advantage of the offer through the end of the year, simply apply this code during checkout: H7E99. When you do, 10% will be subtracted from your total purchase.
Meanwhile, another tempting offer has come to my attention. Lulu, which handles the printing and fulfillment of my Author’s Press Series, is offering a 25% discount on the print editions of all three volumes: The Painting of You; No Time to Cut My Hair; and One Hand Clapping. This offer, which is limited to $50 in savings, is good through December 14. During checkout, you will need to apply this code: BUYMYBOOK305.
The books do come highly recommended. For comments and links to reviews, visit the Cosmopsis Books and Author’s Press Series pages of my website.
Image: Detail from an untitled painting by Glen Ragsdale (1955-1974), front cover, The Painting of You