A giant copper moon flares on the lake
in the early dark, and on the car radio, talk.
Talk trying to chew despair. Talk about fear
to hide fear. Talk about talk about talk.
Fifty cents, a dollar a word. It is all just talk
until it isn’t. A day may come soon when
we have to pay with our lives for the lives
of our friends. What else did we ever have
to pay with? What else were we ever for?
Each ripple on the lake is a lick of flame.
The snow storm today inspires me to post this poem again, from Emblem:
Boston snowbound, Logan closed, snowplows
and salt-trucks flashing yellow, drifts
tall as a man some places, visibility poor,
I sit by the window and watch the snow
blow sideways north-northeast, hot cup
in hand, robe over pajamas.
You have made me to seek refuge
and charged me to care for my brothers.
How cruel. That could only be You out there
howling, cracking the trees, burying everything.
What could I possibly want from You
that would not undo the whole world as it is?
Robert Birnbaum, who has conversed with many more illustrious persons and personages than yours truly, recorded our colloquy on his popular site OUR MAN IN BOSTON.
His previous posting included book recommendations from a number of readers, including me.
I think his whole enterprise of gathering, aggregating, curating is worth a reader’s time. You can keep scrolling backward and never reach boredom. But do so slowly, take it in. There’s a richness here, of eccentricity, perspicacity, and wit that you won’t find anywhere else. Enjoy!
Included in this remarkable issue is the panel, Confronting Our Fears: Turning Adversity Into Art, in which I participated along with Jo-Scott Coe, Meredith Hall, Renee D’Aoust, and Michael Steinberg
from the program:
“Seasoned memoirists know that writing about our personal misfortunes, fears, and demons can produce rich, even urgent, writing. But that is only true when we use those hardships and struggles not simply for confession or disclosure but as raw materials for creating literary works. Citing their own and others’ work, five writer-teachers offer strategies designed to show aspiring memoirists how to transform frightening, disturbing experiences into artfully crafted, shared human narratives.”
Rain, rain, go on
and rain. I’ve been given
this time by my mother.
I’ve known about water
forever, and fear
is no stranger either.
Rain. Go on. Rain.
The fires burn
no matter what I do,
the fires of my fathers,
and will sear me
one day, maybe soon,
and also you.
Burn, go on and burn.
We are not much —
light, ash, particulate
of the erotic and such
as interrupt it. To call us
seeds would serve,
or waterbeads, or sparks.
Go on. On and on.
— Richard Hoffman
This poem appears in the current issue of The Manhattan Review, Vol. 17, No. 1:
LIBERA NOS A MALO
(for Mark Ludwig)
A friend halfway around the world
refers to his home as his motherland.
His email asks me to understand,
but half a century in that last century
purged for me some arrangements
of words no matter who deploys them.
Fall-out, we call such consequences now.
I have lived here all my life but
never on just earth, rather
on a language landfill, mounded
and overgrown with tinder, dry,
inviting an errant spark, a cigarette
flicked from a fiction headed
elsewhere fast on cruise control.
Residue rumbles away on a signal
via satellite down iron tracks now
overgrown with grasshoppered weeds,
the smell of sun on creosote.
Who dies? Soldiers? Or sons?
Real boys, face down among
the scattered corpses:
in brown water at the cattle crossing,
wedged in a crevice in the rock,
scattered across a blasted field.
Then blessings, old school as a last
cracked chunk of naptha soap,
are chanted over graves (oh man,
hard work, fat city in full view,)
the mourners’ full measure of grief
the principle product
of what had once been wilderness.
The age of wonders was one short story.
Here is a riddle: if I am
a misgiving, tagged in a code
to scan, a son at the sky’s edge
waiting for love or money,
marked man from smoketown,
a lyric sung at zero db,
gravity’s own voice, perhaps
a little blue boy of a singular
urge, why was I born and why
do I feel foolish asking why?
The dead are noisy as a hedge of wrens.
I am ignored among them.
Whose is that face in the shadows?
The art of this inquiry is all night
work, done while weeping for them,
their separate woes, our common lives.
is undefined. I suspect the past
does not resemble its photos:
breath in a jar,
tremulous as a willow,
so long see you
a single parenthesis mark
in the long dialogue,
when the grass is straw,
and the ants, the bees, and all
the late languages
are ghosts, each one alone,
bewildered by the music
of creaking branches.
Deaf to the winter sun,
I returned where the grass
would never again be as tall.
Late messenger, the bare trees
whispered, pray for forgiveness.
All of my fathers are dying.
The archive is on fire.
The possible arts: resistance,
refusal, requiem, remembering,
require another schoolroom
where the work, parsing the syntax
of the ways things happen, scars
inadmissible, begins again.
Fixations and saccades:
certain movements of the eyes
redirected to luminous
ciphers, fixed like a laser
on the heart of the amygdala,
and our children, never
having read a word
of mercy, will be our jurors.
Once I no longer believed,
I could not say what it was
I had believed.
The words themselves
became delight, illuminating
a single yearning,
and I saw that darkness,
reassuring, undescribed, remained.
And I can still see paradise aflame
through all the days of obligation.