Riding Metro North. With Law & Order.

train-subway-motion-rails

Tuesday evening. Downtown Manhattan. I’m hailing a cab. Rich food swims in Chardonnay. Wind bursts chill the bones: Winter.

I flip on Waze with an eye out for a cab – 16 minutes to Grand Central.  The 8:36 train departs in 18 minutes.  Unlikely, but possible.

“Be great if I can catch the 8:36.” This is NYC Cabbie code – a much larger tip in it for you if you giddyap.  It’s the American Way: Proper incentives = desired behavior.  I buckle my seatbelt, grip the armrest and hope for the best.

“8:36?”

“Yes.”

He bolts through traffic – Rabbit with lock on the Carrot. Think bumper car or go cart sans contact, with the same weaving, bobbing, braking and jarring.

We arrive at the station at 8:36.  I run to the gate, hopeful for a train delay.  I watch the fading red tail lights down the tunnel, wheezing, trying to catch my breath. Damn!  Next train, 30 minutes.

I walk to the next gate, board the train, find a seat, and get comfortable. Chardonnay burns off. Fatigue rolls in, eyes are burning on four hours of sleep. I pop in my ear buds, turn on soft ambient music, lean my head against the window, and close my eyes. Just 10 minutes, please, just 10. 

The smartphone buzzes in my pocket, a text message. Let it go. Just let it go. [Read more…]

Riding Metro North. The Morning After…

train-tracks-paris-metro

Just another ordinary autumn morning in November. But, and it’s a big But, this one follows the U.S. Presidential election.

It’s the first train to Grand Central: the 5:01 am. The 1% fills this train. The traders, the bankers, the Suits, the professional class.

I am Them.

Overnight, the Earth has shifted, and cracked.

All heads in this train car are down.  The gleaming late model Apple devices beam the story lines. “Election results driven by the poor white…the rural vote…the non-college educated…”  These written words coming from the same college educated who got it all so wrong, are now anxiously explaining what went wrong and why, and they are soon to pivot to telling us what happens next. Stunned.

The Words coming from these pens and keyboards (and now digested by their Readers) are less confident today, less certain about outcomes, and fear a change of the status quo.  Mary Oliver describes the anxiety in ‘Sister Turtle’: “You can fool a lot of yourself but you can’t fool the soul. That worrier.” [Read more…]

My loyalty is to the inner vision, whenever and howsoever it may arrive

mary-oliver-upstream

It is a silver morning like any other. I am at my desk. Then the phone rings, or someone raps at the door. I am deep in the machinery of my wits. Reluctantly I rise, I answer the phone or I open the door. And the thought which I had in hand, or almost in hand, is gone. Creative work needs solitude. It needs concentration, without interruptions. It needs the whole sky to fly in, and no eye watching until it comes to that certainty which it aspires to, but does not necessarily have at once. Privacy, then. A place apart — to pace, to chew pencils, to scribble and erase and scribble again.

But just as often, if not more often, the interruption comes not from another but from the self itself, or some other self within the self, that whistles and pounds upon the door panels and tosses itself, splashing, into the pond of meditation. And what does it have to say? That you must phone the dentist, that you are out of mustard, that your uncle Stanley’s birthday is two weeks hence. You react, of course. Then you return to your work, only to find that the imps of idea have fled back into the mist. […]

It is six A.M., and I am working. I am absentminded, reckless, heedless of social obligations, etc. It is as it must be. The tire goes flat, the tooth falls out, there will be a hundred meals without mustard. The poem gets written. I have wrestled with the angel and I am stained with light and I have no shame. Neither do I have guilt. My responsibility is not to the ordinary, or the timely. It does not include mustard, or teeth. It does not extend to the lost button, or the beans in the pot. My loyalty is to the inner vision, whenever and howsoever it may arrive. If I have a meeting with you at three o’clock, rejoice if I am late. Rejoice even more if I do not arrive at all.

~ Mary Oliver, from “Of Power and Time” in Upstream, Selected Essays (Penguin Press, October 2016)


Notes:

Bubbles came up on the water. Then blood came up, and the water stilled.

annie-dillard

A writer named Lorne Ladner described it. Bubbles came up on the water. Then blood came up, and the water stilled. As the minutes elapsed, the people in the crowd exchanged glances; silent, helpless, they quit the stands. It took the Seminoles a week to find the man’s remains. At its best, the sensation of writing is that of any unmerited grace. It is handed to you, but only if you look for it. You search, you break your heart, your back, your brain, and then—and only then—it is handed to you. From the corner of your eye you see motion. Something is moving through the air and headed your way, on two white wings. It flies directly at you; you can read your name on it. If it were a baseball, you’d hit it out of the park. It is that one pitch in a thousand you see in slow motion; its wings beat slowly as a hawk’s. One line of a sonnet, the poet said—only one line of fourteen, but thank God for that one line—drops from the ceiling.

~ Annie Dillard, from “The Writing Life


Notes:

Monday Morning: Echo, echo, echo…

mem52

I want to write a poem
as simple as a glass of water
or as a piece of bread abandoned
on the table by a child
A poem transparent like a window
light like a winged ingot of lead and
yet heavy like butterflies among city lorries
A poem wrought of invisible words
Whose echo is heard for some hundreds of years
Murmuring like a river, forever.

Stefan Baciu, “Stylus,” trans. Robert Austerlitz, Poetry Northwest


Notes: Poem Source: Memory’s Landscape.  Photo: philippe conquet with mem 52

 

What is the most important thing that happened yesterday?’

marion-milner-diary

Eternity’s Sunrise explores Marion Milner’s way of keeping a diary. Recording small private moments, she builds up a store of ‘bead memories’. A carved duck, a sprig of asphodel, moments captured in her travels in Greece, Kashmir and Israel, circus clowns, a painting – each makes up a ‘bead’ that has a warmth or glow which comes in response to asking the simple question: What is the most important thing that happened yesterday?’

~ Introduction to Marion Milner‘s, Eternity’s Sunrise: A Way of Keeping a Diary

 

 

Pirr, a light breath of wind, a cat’s paw on water

Robert-McFarlane

This is a book about the power of language – strong style, single words – to shape our sense of place. […]

The ten following chapters explore writing so fierce in its focus that it can change the vision of its readers for good in both senses. […] A book that brilliantly shows how such seeing might occur in language, written as it is in prose that has ‘the quivering intensity of an arrow thudding into a tree’. And for over a decade I have been collecting place words as I have found them gleaned singly from conversations, correspondences or books, and jotted down in journals or on slips of paper. […]

Many of these terms have mingled oddness and familiarity in the manner that Freud calls uncanny: peculiar in their particularity, but recognizable in that they name something conceivable, if not instantly locatable. Ammil is a Devon term for the fine film of silver ice that coats leaves, twigs and grass when freeze follows thaw, a beautifully exact word for a fugitive phenomenon I have several times seen but never before been able to name. Shetlandic has a word, af’ rug, for the ‘reflex of a wave after it has struck the shore’; another, pirr, meaning ‘a light breath of wind, such as will make a cat’s paw on the water’; and another, klett, for a ‘a low-lying earth-fast rock on the seashore’. On Exmoor, zwer is the onomatopoeic term for the sound made by a covey of partridges taking flight. […]

There are experiences of landscape that will always resist articulation, and of which words offer only a remote echo – or to which silence is by far the best response. Nature does not name itself. Granite does not self-identify as igneous. Light has no grammar. Language is always late for its subject. Sometimes on the top of a mountain I just say, ‘Wow.’

~ Robert Macfarlane, from Chapter 1: “The Word-Hoard” in Landmarks


Note: Portrait –  Wharfedaleobserver

Permitting shame, error and guilt…

brian-blanchfield

Brian Blanchfield, 43, was born in Winston-Salem, NC and now resides in Tucson, AZ where he teaches at the University of Arizona. He is an award winning poet and recently published his second book of essays.  The essays from his new book “Proxies: Essays Near Knowing were written from memory, no referring to the internet or other “authoritative” sources. To give you a taste of his talent and his authenticity, here’s an excerpt from his opening “Note”. I shake my head in awe…

At the end of this book there is a rolling endnote called “Correction.” It sets right much— almost certainly not all— of what between here and there I get wrong. It runs to twenty-one pages. It may still be running. Susceptibility to error is a hazard inherent to Proxies. From the beginning…I decided on a total suppression of recourse to other authoritative sources. I wrote these essays with the internet off. I determined not to review again the books and other works I consulted in memory, and I did not stop thinking through the subject at hand to verify assertions or ground speculation or firm up approximations. Que sais-je?, Montaigne asked his library shelves one day late in the sixteenth century, and increasingly that seems a good start. Having determined that this would be unresearched essaying, analytic but nonacademic, I was almost immediately drawn to a second constraint— or, better, invitation: to stay with the subject until it gives onto an area of personal uneasiness, a site of vulnerability, and keep unpacking from there. The formula I found for titling the individual essays was generated very early on, to operate this request of self. Clumsy as it may be, I claim as part of a personal sortilege a devotion to the words I had bannered across the top of each new developing piece, an invocation of sorts, a ritual.

Permitting shame, error and guilt…

~ Brian Blanchfield, excerpt from his opening “Note” from Proxies, Essays Near Knowing (June, 2016)


Note: Find “Proxies” Book Reviews here – Goodreads.  Portrait from Poetry Foundation.

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

colette.jpg

My goal has not been reached; but I am practicing. I don’t yet know when I shall succeed in learning not to write; the obsession, the obligation are half a century old. My right little finger is slightly bent; that is because the weight of my hand always rested on it as I wrote, like a kangaroo leaning back on its tail. There is a tired spirit deep inside of me that still continues its gourmet’s quest for a better word, and then for a better one still.

~ Gabrielle Colette (1873-1954), shortly before her death at the age of 81 from “Earthly Paradise: An Autobiography of Colette Drawn from Her Lifetime Writings”


Notes: Quotes: Brain Pickings. Portrait: ecritsdefemmes.fr

Riding Metro North. With Curious Dog.


5:40 am train.
Metro North south to Grand Central.
Need to buy a ticket.
I look down the long platform. Four minutes to scheduled arrival. Gotta go.

He’s 25 yards up.
His right foot is lame. His gait is slow. Handicapped.
I close in on him.
He’s in his late teens.
Baseball cap.
Backpack slung over his right shoulder.

He stops and turns to stare at the billboard.
His chest is rising up and down – giggling.
It’s an ad for a Broadway play based on the 2003 best selling novel “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
I remember the book. And smile.
I take one last look as I pass him. His head leans on his right shoulder as he takes in the poster, playing back chapter by chapter.

I buy my ticket. The train approaches and I look for him. He’s the last to get on, the conductor urges him in. [Read more…]

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