to find the animal
who tells the story
that destroys us;
he wants to interview
the angel with the teeth;
dolls of heroes, words
burnt into buried stones,
the molds for masks we
and wear for worship,
somber and nodding and
simpler than we know we are.
Look at the bloodless body
hanging from a rootless tree:
in our fear we carve it,
paint it, sing of it, and
pray to believe that only one
unlike ourselves is sanctioned
to attempt such things.
— from Without Paradise
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.
Our meandering, not to say rambling, conversation is HERE:
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!
ASSAY: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies, special conference issue
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