When I was very young, my Mother took me for walks in Humboldt Park, along the edge of the Prairie River. I have vague memories, like impressions on glass plates, of an old boathouse, a circular band shell, an arched stone bridge. The narrows of the river emptied into a wide lagoon and I saw upon its surface a singular miracle. A long curving neck rose from a dress of white plumage.

Swan, my mother said, sensing my excitement. It pattered the bright water, flapping its great wings, and lifted into the sky.

The word alone hardly attested to its magnificence nor conveyed the emotion it produced. The sight of it generated an urge I had no words for, a desire to speak of the swan, to say something of its whiteness, the explosive nature of its movement, and the slow beating of its wings.

The swan became one with the sky. I struggled to find words to describe my own sense of it. Swan, I repeated, not entirely satisfied, and I felt a twinge, a curious yearning, imperceptible to passersby, my mother, the trees, or the clouds.

~ Patti Smith, Just Kids

Photo: Swan by tatsuo yamaguchi (via Superbnature)

There is nothing, and there is not one bloody thing.


In September, 2007, Mary-Louise Parker adopted a child from an orphanage in Ethiopia.  The child’s Uncle walked a distance that Parker stated she would complain if she had to travel to in a car. The journey was made with his children, three of which were under 10. The baby was carried on his hip. This excerpt is from a letter written by Parker (“Dear Uncle“) as a tribute to him.  In their first meeting, he said: “I hope that she will be taken care of, go to school and perhaps one day be something, a doctor.”

There are so many reductive adjectives used to describe those materially less fortunate, words the privileged use to anoint them. Words like proud, or graceful…It never rings true. Having seen what I saw when you brought me to the hut where my daughter was born, and introduced me to the people in your village, I felt like I was hovering over every judgment of my reality and yours, unable to land. None of the families I met were intact, everyone had lost children, parents, or a spouse. There was not enough of anything for anyone. The only bounty was in categories of suffering or possible ways to die. I didn’t feel them looking at me with distance, they all smiled and shook my hand.

I hid my embarrassment at how stupid I felt when I entered your hut and was alarmed by the darkness that swallowed me despite it being late morning. Of course I knew there was no electricity, no light would be there except for what might creep in through that ceiling of straw. I knew it, but I couldn’t fathom it until I stood inside with you and stared at an actual nothingness and my eyes adjusted to near black. There is nothing, and there is not one bloody thing. As you pointed at different parts of the hut that were designated for the cows to sleep, or the spot where your family of twelve eats when there is food, or where you slept, I saw spots with absolutely nothing in them. There was an absence of comment on your situation that made you seem twenty feet tall. It’s something I could never know if I hadn’t stood there, with you showing me what life is like on another planet where there is no complaining, or showing disappointment. [Read more…]

Not a single feather trembles


Everything around it moves, as if just this one time and one time only, as if the message of Heraclitus has arrived here through some deep current, from the distance of an entire universe, in spite of all the senseless obstacles, because the water moves, it flows, it arrives, and cascades; now and then the silken breeze sways, the mountains quiver in the scourging heat, but this heat itself also moves, trembles, and vibrates in the land, as do the tall scattered grass-islands, the grass, blade by blade, in the riverbed; each individual shallow wave, as it falls, tumbles over the low weirs, and then, every inconceivable fleeting element of this subsiding wave, and all the individual glitterings of light flashing on the surface of this fleeting element, this surface suddenly emerging and just as quickly collapsing, with its drops of light dying down, scintillating, and then reeling in all directions, inexpressible in words; clouds are gathering; the restless, jarring blue sky high above; the sun is concentrated with horrific strength, yet still indescribable, extending onto the entire momentary creation, maddeningly brilliant, blindingly radiant.
There it is, in the middle of the Kamo, the water largely reaching up to its knees, hence the truly quite shallow weir, interspersed with small grassy enclaves, hence truly peculiar, if not the most bizarre river upon the globe, and the bird just stands, without a single movement, its body strained forward, waiting staggeringly long minutes for the day’s quarry, now already ten minutes, then a half-hour passes as well; in this waiting and attentiveness and motionlessness, time is cruelly long, and still it does not move, standing exactly the same, in exactly the same pose, not a single feather trembles, it stands, leaning forward, its beak bent at an acute angle over the mirror of the gurgling water; no one is looking, no one sees it, and if it’s not seen today then it is not seen for all eternity, the inexpressible beauty with which it stands shall remain concealed, the unique enchantment of its regal stillness shall remain unperceived: here with it, in the middle of the Kamo, in this motionlessness, in recognition that it is the one that gives meaning to everything around it, gives meaning to the spinning churning world of movement, to the dry parching heat, the vibrations, every whirling sound, scent, and picture, because it is a completely unique feature of this land, the unyielding artist of this landscape, who in its aesthetic of unparalleled motionlessness, as the fulfillment of unswerving artistic observation, rises once and for all above that to which it gives meaning, rises above it, above the frantic cavalcade of all the surrounding things, and introduces a kind of aimlessness — beautiful as well — above the local meaning permeating everything, as well as above that of its own actual activity, because what is the point of being beautiful, especially when it is just a white bird standing and waiting for something.

~ László Krasznahorkai, “Kamo-Hunter” from Seiobo There Below


Feel as if the top of my head were taken off

In 1870, Emily Dickinson was said to describe poetry this way:

 “If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only way I know it. Is there any other way?”

 And, then you read a book, that does exactly that.

[Read more…]

Dear Daddy


Going up Sixth Avenue in a taxi, your grandson said, “Mommy, aren’t there so many amazing things in the world? Aren’t we so lucky to be alive?” That’s you in him, Daddy. He’s so like you, full of extremes and heavy on the dream space. Both kids put their fists up for each other and I know that would make you happy.


My children may never see me hunched over a checkbook and sense my mounting panic, or come home late and find me in the street armed with a shovel as I take the driver of a car by the neck when liquor is smelled on him. They will watch me make much of their victories and hold a grudge until my last breath if someone treats them cruelly. This is your family I am running here. I can’t take credit for more than remembering to point to you when I do something right and for continuing to put one foot in front of the other when I lose heart. We all miss you something fierce, those of us who wouldn’t exist had you not kept walking when an ordinary person would have fallen to his knees. To convey in any existing language how I miss you isn’t possible. It would be like blue trying to describe the ocean.


Most of all to you, Daddy. That’s you in me, the far-off gaze. The poems are you, as are the good deeds and the jars of candy I hide everywhere. You are what makes me indomitable and how I know to keep walking when I feel crippled in every conceivable way.

~ Mary-Louise Parker, ‘Dear Daddy’ from Dear Mr. You

I bought this book yesterday and I’m finding it hard to put down.

“A wonderfully unconventional literary debut from the award-winning actress Mary-Louise Parker. An extraordinary literary work, Dear Mr. You renders the singular arc of a woman’s life through letters Mary-Louise Parker composes to the men, real and hypothetical, who have informed the person she is today.”

See NY Times Book Review: In ‘Dear Mr. You,’ Mary-Louise Parker Writes to Men, With Lust and Rue.  “That Ms. Parker’s book is so seriously good seems like overkill. But it is…”

I wonder what she prays for, and if you hear her.



When I got to the waiting room I saw your mother perched there with her incurable stare. She was in that place where the high probability of failure intersects with a two percent chance of success. Hope at its most corrosive. […]

How is your boy

She didn’t move or look at me, but there was graciousness in her tone when she said

He’s just not so good

When I returned the next day I peeked in to see my dad and then I darted over to look for those feet of yours. When I didn’t see them I stopped a nurse and said, the boy, the tall one, where is he? It was a nurse I didn’t recognize and she clearly didn’t know that you were supposed to be a big basketball star and live to be eighty, she clearly knew none of that because she did not look up and said flatly that they had taken your body away.

That day was over twenty years ago. I’ve been witness to great tragedy since but I’ve never forgotten you. I created different details to your narrative to go along with what I knew and it never seems like what I assume is inaccurate. I feel like by having some understanding of your latitude I can deduce your center, like quantum gravity, which I can comprehend about as much as I can a mother burying her son, but if certain scientists are correct and it becomes possible to bend time, then I’ll be able to ask you if any of my assumptions were correct. I don’t need answers until then, unless the idea of God becomes willing to explain itself, in which case I am up for that Q& A. Where your story intersects mine is at my refusal to accept things too sad for me to process; my reimagining endings that haunt me. It’s hard to reconcile that God is either entirely too secretive or has a totally deficient ability to prioritize. I hear people say, “It happened for a reason,” or “It’s part of God’s plan,” and I wish that made sense to me but it doesn’t. I carry you around still and who knows why. Perhaps there are no answers for us poor humans, but we know a handful of things. We know there exists a planet with four thousand versions of songbirds. Because that is possible and because on that same planet can exist sentient beings made up almost entirely of stardust, and because bonafide poetry erupts mightily from some of those beings, and there is music, sex, and babies that laugh in their sleep; because we are roaming a universe that may be a hologram, with another dimension consecutively projecting itself outside this construct of relativity and gravity; because of all that, there is no reason why my prayers shouldn’t be able to reach your mother whose name I didn’t even know. There is no reason why not, when nothing is completely harmonious with its description, not really, and there is a flaw in every theory of time and space.

From time to time I picture it. I see her watching while you go flying down that court. I see her shoulders moving almost imperceptibly to mimic your bobs and weaves around the other players. She is going where you go without thinking about it, tied to you, following and winning when you win, until you turn to wave and that puts her on her feet and beaming. I do know that if your mother is alive today she is thinking of you right this minute. I wonder what she prays for, and if you hear her.

~ Mary-Louise Parker, “Dear Mr. Big Feet” from Dear You 

Photo: derrosenkavalier titled Feet part ten

Browse among books like a crazed sheep


Although I steeped myself in an incredible amount of reading material, it merely expanded the void, fattened the darkness inside the cactus. Nothing was born from there… . Despite that, I read more and more, growing endlessly fatter of soul until I could not move because of my weight. Just as the mouth takes in food, my eyes avidly devoured everything. No doubt my brain was swelling up from its morbid, chronic hunger. Even after I came to that cottage, my daily task…was to continually browse among books like a crazed sheep.

~ Kurahashi Yumiko, “Ugly Demons

Notes: Quote: Literary Miscellany; Photo: Tilburg, Netherlands 2015 via Your Eyes Blaze Out

Amateurs. Seeking mastery? Here’s our Truth.


TRUTH. In a second.

He’s the spark for this share.  Greg Cowles, editor of the NY Times Book Review, reviews Mary Karr’s new book The Art of Memoir.  One sentence in his review (also titled The Art of Memoir) summarizes his thoughts on the book:

It is not, alas, a very good book. Repetitive, unorganized, unsure of its audience or tone, it can’t decide whether it wants to be a how-to guide or a work of critical analysis.

Here’s my review of the book review in fewer words: BAH!

Now on to the Truth, our Truth, Truth for anyone seeking mastery of anything – with the most illuminating excerpt from Karr’s new book.

[Read more…]

Brown is creeping up on us, take my word for it


Autumnal – nothing to do with leaves. It is to do with a certain brownness at the edges of the day… Brown is creeping up on us, take my word for it… Russets and tangerine shades of old gold flushing the very outside edge of the senses… deep shining ochres, burnt umber and parchments of baked earth — reflecting on itself and through itself, filtering the light. At such times, perhaps, coincidentally, the leaves might fall, somewhere, by repute. Yesterday was blue, like smoke.

~ Tom Stoppard




no cows to milk


Sometimes you wake up at four in the morning
with all this energy and no cows to milk.
So you just have to get up and
figure out what it’s there for.
Use it or lose it.
If you’re lucky
some part of you will know what to do,
but it’s not the part that thinks its steering.
Make sure you have your notebook and a pen.

~ Abigail Thomas, Thinking About Memoir

Photo: Anne with Where My Deepest Dreams and Desires Are Hatched