Thursday, August 20, 2009

Rebekah & Christina

ah, i am breaking pattern, speaking! my dear friend rebekah is now in london on a fulbright teacher exchange. her blog that i've linked: my year in the purple house. sounds like a novel to me. remember julie & julia. so it's a year of living vicariously as i read of her adventures down lavender lane. in honor of her being there, i'll post a christina rossetti poem:

A Birthday

My heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a watered shoot;
My heart is like an apple tree
Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these
Because my love is come to me.

Raise me a dais of silk and down;
Hang it with vier and purple dyes;
Carve it into doves and pomegranates,
And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
Work it in gold and silver grapes,
In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;
Because the birthday of my life
Is come, my love is come to me.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

from RELUCTANT GRAVITIES by Rosmarie Waldrop


Two voices on a page. Or is it one? Now turning in on themselves, back into fiber and leaf, now branching into sequence, consequence, public works projects or discord. Now touching, now trapped in frames without dialog box. Both tentative, as if poring over old inscriptions, when perhaps the wall is crumbling, circuits broken, pages blown off by a fall draft.

Even if voices wrestle on the page, their impact on the air is part of their definition. In a play, for instance, the sentences would be explained by their placement on stage. We would not ask an actress what anguish her lines add up to. She would not worry what her voice touches, would let it spill over the audience, aiming beyond the folds of the curtain, at the point in the distance called the meaning of the play.

The difference of our sex, says one voice, saves us from humiliation. It makes me shiver, says the other. Your voice drops stones into feelings to sound their depth. Then warmth is truncated to war. But I'd like to fall back into simplicity as into a featherbed.

Voices, planted on the page, do not ripen or bear fruit. Here placement does not explain, but cultivates the vacancy between them. The voices pause, start over. Gap gardening which, moved inward from the right margin, suspends time. The suspension sets, is set, in type, in columns that precipitate false memories of garden, vineyard, trellis. Trembling leaf, rules of black thumb and white, invisible angle of breath and solid state.

She tries to draw a strength she dimly feels out of the weaknesses she knows, as if predicting an element in the periodic table. He wants to make a flat pebble skim across the water inside her body. He wonders if, for lack of sky, it takes on the color of skin or other cells it touches. If it rusts the bones.

The pact between page and voice is different from the compact of voice and body. The voice opens the body. Air, the cold of the air, passes through and, with a single inflection, builds large castles. The page wants proof, but bonds. The body cannot keep the voice. It spills. Foliage over the palisade.

He has put a pebble under his tongue. While her lips explode in conjectures his lisp is a new scale to practice. He wants his words to lift, against the added odds, to a truth outside him. In exchange, his father walking down the road should diminish into a symbol of age.

The page lures the voice with a promise of wood blossoming. But there is no air. No breath lives in the mouth or clouds the mirror. On stage, the body would carry the surface we call mind. Here, surface marries surface, refusing deep waters. Still, the point of encounter is here, always. Screams rise. Tears fall. Impure white, legible.




My mother, she says, always spread, irresistibly, across the entire room, flooding me with familiarity to breed content. I feared my spongy nature and, hoping for other forms of absorption, opened the window onto more water, eyes level with its surface. And lower, till the words "I am here" lost their point with the vanishing air. Just as it's only in use that a proposition grinds its lens.

Deciphering, he says, is not a horizontal motion. Though the way a sentence is meant can be expressed by an expansion that becomes part of it. As a smile may wide-open a door. Holding the tools in my mouth I struggle uphill, my body so perfectly suspended between my father's push and gravity's pull that no progress is made. As if consciousness had to stay embedded in carbon. Or copy. Between camp and bomb. But if you try to sound feelings with words, the stone drops into reaches beyond fathoms.

I am here, she says, I've learned that life consists in fitting my body to the earth's slow rotation. So that the way I lean on the parapet betrays dried blood and invisible burns. My shadow lies in the same direction as all the others, and I can't jump over it. My mother's waves ran high. She rode them down on me as on a valley, hoping to flush out the minerals. But I hid my bones under sentences expanding like the flesh in my years.

Language, he says, spells those who love it, sliding sidelong from word to whole cloth. The way fingers extend the body into adventure, print, lakes, and Dead-man's-hand. Wherever the pen pushes, in the teeth of fear and malediction, even to your signature absorbing you into sign. A discomfort with the feel of home before it grows into inflamed tissue and real illness. With symptoms of grammar, punctuation, subtraction of soul. And only death to get you out.



We must decipher our lives, he says, forward and backward, down through cracks in the crystal to excrement, entrails, formation of cells. And up. The way the lark at the end of night trills vertically out of the grass gh and outside myself, though regularly consumed at high noon. So maybe I should grant the shoot-out: light may flood me too, completely. But it won't come walking in boots and spurs, or flowing robes, and take my hand or give me the finger with the assurance of a more rational being. And my body slopes toward yours no matter how level the ground.

If we can't call it God, he says, it still perches on the mind, minting strangeness. How could we recognize what we've never seen? A whale in through the window, frame scattered as far as non-standard candles. The sky faints along the giant outline, thar she blows under your skin, tense, a parable right through the body that remains so painfully flesh.

So pleasurably flesh, she says, and dwells among us, flesh offered to flesh, thick as thieves, beginning to see. Even the lark's soar breaks and is content to drop back into yesterday's gravity. Which wins out over dispersion, even doubt, and our thoughts turn dense like matter. The way the sky turns deep honey at noon. The way my sensations seem to belong to a me that has always already sided with the world.

from RELUCTANT GRAVITIES by Rosmarie Waldrop
New Directions, 1999

Saturday, August 08, 2009

The Writer's Almanac by Garrison Keillor

August 8, 2009

It was on this day in 1946 that Harold Ross wrote a memo about John Hersey's Hiroshima story that began "A very fine piece beyond any question; got practically everything. This will be … the classic piece on what follows a bomb dropping for a long time to come."

It was exactly one year and two days after the U.S. had dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima (the bomb was dropped August 6th, 1945) and The New Yorker was devoting an entire August issue to John Hersey's reporting. Hersey had been one of the first Western reporters to arrive in Hiroshima. To document the aftermath, he decided to write about how individual persons were affected, and he focused his stories on the lives of six people in Hiroshima at the time of the explosion.

The memo that Harold Ross wrote on this day was addressed to Joseph Wigglesworth, The New Yorker staff member whose job it was to compile the query sheets from various editors at the magazine on any given piece. Harold Ross had a reputation for turning in funny, quirky query sheets — and lengthy ones, too. For Hersey's Hiroshima article, Ross had written several hundred questions and observations. In the memo, he admitted, "I probably read it over-zealously."

Ross wrote: "There is, I think, one grave lack in this piece. It may be Hersey's intention that there be. If so, ask consideration for what I say anyhow. All the way through I wondered about what killed these people, the burns, falling debris, the concussion — what? For a year I've been wondering about this and I eagerly hoped this piece would tell me. It doesn't. Nearly a hundred thousand dead people are around but Hersey doesn't tell how they died. Would it be possible — if so, would be wise — to tell on Galley 7 where he gives the one hundred thousand people, how many were killed by being hit by hard objects, how many by burns, how many by concussion, or shock, or whatever it was?"

In the final version that was published, Hersey wrote: "Many people who did not die right away came down with nausea, headache, diarrhea, malaise, and fever, which lasted several days. Doctors could not be certain whether some of these symptoms were the result of radiation or nervous shock. … The doctors realized in retrospect that even though most of these dead had also suffered from burns and blast effects, they had absorbed enough radiation to kill them. The rays simply destroyed body cells — caused their nuclei to degenerate and broke their walls."

Harold Ross suggested mentioning the vomiting earlier and describing it more thoroughly. Ross also wrote "I would suggest that Hersey might do well to tuck up on the time — give the hour and minute, exactly or roughly, from time to time. The reader loses all sense of the passing of time in the episodes and never knows what time of day it is, whether ten a.m. or four p.m."

John Hersey's piece appeared a few weeks later, in The New Yorker's last issue of August. Hersey would later say, "What has kept the world safe from the bomb since 1945 has not been deterrence, in the sense of fear of specific weapons, so much as it's been memory. The memory of what happened at Hiroshima."