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I read a gorgeous article on Art Blart recently about the photography of Walker Evans. In it, he cites an article by Thomas Sleigh about Tomas Tranströmer, Too Much of the Air (see links below).

In it, Sleigh writes:

My first glimpse of Tomas Tranströmer was many years ago in Provincetown, Massachusetts as he ducked his head under the metal lip of a twelve-seater plane’s exit door, then stepped hesitantly down the stairs to firm ground. He seemed a little shaken, his long face blanched, his features reminding me, when I think of it now, of the circus horse in a late Bonnard painting: gentle, wary, potentially sad. “I don’t mind large planes or middle-sized planes (his English was slightly gutteral, his intonations lilting in a mild brogue), but small planes—you feel too much of the air under you.” That remark, direct, plainspoken, but also flirting with the metaphysical, has seemed over the years a keyhole into his work: a void; a sense of hovering above that void; the nerves registering each tremor with precision; the mind fighting back the body’s accelerating fear.

Thomas Sleigh’s article:

https://www.poets.org/m/dsp_poem.php?prmMID=19009 

Art Blart:

http://artblart.com/2014/02/20/exhibition-walker-evans-american-photographs-at-the-museum-of-modern-art-moma-new-york/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+ArtBlart+Art+Blart

The void always there, hovering—our bodies.

And how, my whole life, I’ve been afraid of things being taken away. This is a pretty natural fear, primal, human, animal—everyone has a survival instinct for both themselves and whom they love. What made the difference in my life was that people told me this would happen. That I would lose everything and everyone. The way this was presented to me was that this was a fact. I was very young when people started telling me this. And as I write this, it sounds like the beginning of a good detective novel or a psychological thriller, exciting, terrifying in the way of terror when you’re lying cozy in your bed, reading or watching TV. But when people you trust tell you that what is happening on the screen will happen to you if you don’t do certain things, that you are patently unsafe because of who you are, who you were born, that instills a habitual terror that never quite leaves you. Or that you spend a lifetime confronting and healing, over and over again.

The body reveals what the conscious mind doesn’t.

My nerves fighting with the air: delicate underbelly, sky’s reaching. I was never certain what was air or ground. These are terrors, fully embodied, but unspoken for many years. And it is raining outside now.

Of course, it is not raining inside.

Get it down on paper. This refuses the chugging blood pressure as the plane soars upward.

The red brick of the brownstones. Rain comes down on snowed-in cars.

When days change you, you give them space, give yourself time and space around that day. I spent the next two days after lying in bed, watching TV and resting. The first day, I wash the dishes. On the second day, I take out the trash, clean out the fridge.

Some days change you. I bought a battery-powered radio with my uncle on Tuesday. I put it on the tray I have on the heater on the side of my bed near the windows. The seated painted-black Buddha is in front of it, along with a red velvet box containing condoms, earbuds for the Roku, and Chapstick, a tarot deck, four remotes, a coaster.

It has been a week of seeing behind the veil of things— one veil, plural things. Got my blood drawn for annual tests on Monday, went through old papers and calendars and maps belonging to my great uncle on Tuesday. Maps of Africa and Poland and Europe and Maine and Peak’s Island, where his son now lives, a lobsterman, and where he and two wives used to summer. We found Xeroxed, stapled papers with a typed family tree, done simply in Times typeface with lines and arrows, and going for maybe five pages, each generation going further into the present as we turned the pages. Along with this very basic family tree were some marriage records from Bialystok, Poland, and three handwritten pages in Polish, in beautiful script. Inscrutable because neither of us know Polish. Lists of things to do, to buy in his late wife’s handwriting, business cards, typewritten lists of her paintings, with name and price, letters from her gallery about sales, the letter from the gallery of two paintings sold at her last show, put on after she died. Letters from about twenty organizations, human rights, animal rights, environmental, asking for money.

The deep, good heart of my great uncle, the way he cares about the world, really made an impression on me. I’ll never forget it. I see my father in him, see where in the bloodline this connection to the world comes from, this faith that ties us all together within the same fate, animals, humans, continents, lands. This knowing I grew up with and never doubted that we are all one and, that if one suffers, all do. This has been in me since before I could articulate it. The week of lost things. Lost things returning. Things we don’t even know are lost. He warmed up coffee from the morning, left on the coffee maker, and turned the machine on to heat it up. It was very good, actually. Tasted strong. What a strange, strange world we live in and our lives, too, are weird because they’re so intense and overwhelming, we fade in and out of them, hallucinate, remember and experience at the same time—memory and history and the present all at the same time—my legs ached after a while, standing at the table we were clearing for hours. At some point, my uncle sat down, exhausted by the standing as much as the weight of history.

We had a beautiful conversation that lasted all day. We talked about insomnia and waking up in the early morning—he said he listens to the radio, BBC News, news from around the world, and it makes him feel connected, even though a lot of the news is sad and sometimes awful, it makes him feel like he’s not giving up on the world. I will remember this for the rest of my life.

As we do, we change. It is inevitable. It is this inevitability that moves us forward towards grasp and branch. The dusk of forefathers and foremothers. Where does it say that the window’s light is not the breath of land? We are the open of the land. We creature permanency. There is no permanent redaction of the past. It holds us, trembling, in its little-bird branches. We are sewn into it. Sunlight picks through the underbranches creating force and catapulting loss into new fields. These fields of light destroy. Packed-in dirt from centuries of war and blood cold now, Addresses of the Wild Permanency, home now. We are not dead. We have lived with the dead for too long now. We let them go into a place we can’t follow. We look after them, as they blend into the surroundings, becoming less and less physical, to abandon all light by becoming part of the light. These creature-fields.

We are torn apart by light. We are torn apart by war.

We taper like candles.

Things have been really intense lately. Coming boom boom boom. Like firecrackers, leaving me deaf and blind for moments after the blasts, seeing rings and stars. Quavering and indulging in solitude. Processing or, more accurately, letting be what life is. Minutes pass gently, in relative silence. The rain helps. Opened all the windows and let in the fresh, clear air. Spring is coming!

Life is changing shape again. Shapeshifting. It does this. And every time, I’m sad, I resist, I feel such a deep sense of loss that I think I’ll fall into it. It’s hard, these changes. A lot is lost. Illusions, relationships, ways of seeing myself and the world. Right now, I’m at the beginning, or maybe the middle, of acceptance. I’m aware and I accept that certain things will never be the same.

Maybe this pain leads me again to where I need to go. Maybe with this mouth—with this dream—expressed without malady.

I’ve lost so much. Sometimes it seems everything is loss. The sky protrudes with it, the belly bloats with it, the speaking crows rebel into flock-dragons in a separating sky—where all separates into light and dark and the divine opens into itself, the huge mouth of destiny. I build and build and long periods of tearing down. I try to build things steady and strong, with brick-and-mortar foundations—all of this is impermanent and breaks my heart over and over again. Flocks of seabirds, city birds. The kiss is fleeting. Lips touch and fade. Bodies come together and break apart. This is what happens. A simple fact. All of this is certain. There will always be loss. But of the times in between that loss, the brightness is almost blinding. Loss and brightness make a whole—sweet as an egg—nest—

Poem or prose, it comes out the same. I’ve realized this, after months of writing against my natural grain—or what I thought was against—in sentences, that sequester lines—the problem is not form, but truth—where truth holds banister and crows—but the windows hold strong, the glass is steady in them, when it rattles, the wind always coming—I still have a house—language.

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What is the language of kindness, the one that has no words but resides inside us like a body within a body?

 

I am starting to live in this place. The one of kindness, not of fear and worry. I wonder so much about stability and impermanence and what they mean, how they show up in life. Why is it that we can feel stable and can’t build stable structures? That life sometimes feels as if it’s built on quicksand and crumbles regularly? Is this impermanence? Is this the soluble nature of things, that they sustain for the period they are meant to and then dissipate, dissolve, decay and become something else entirely? The becoming something else entailing a shape so alien to what was before that there is no comfort there, the body is still the body, animal, plant, human, breathing, gravity-bound, but the emotional attachment has nowhere to go, floats in space like an ache of itself. This is grieving, this is loss.

 

In spite of this loss, this amassed loss gathering in the heart, I am starting to live from courage, not fear. Living from fear amounts to not living, living halfway, stuck in a place, half-body. Who wants to live like that? I am finally consumed by what is most important and what has always been most important to me—to love. This has been a conscious goal. Loving is its own thing. It exists in all permutations and even outlives the dead. Because we still love the dead.

 

Their voices, once remnants, ashes found after everything is burned to the ground and the ground becomes itself again, in previous incarnations of dead ground—the sound of what remains, how it holds presence over us until we find some way of speaking for these ashes. And then it’s like this also—that we give our voices to those who are silenced and have no voice. This is also what it means to witness; to give voice to; to tell the stories of the voiceless.

 

I take the words of other women as strength. They make me strong. They shelter and they light. I am strong because of all the women before me who were strong. This is lineage and bequeathing and legacy. The mesh of inner worlds leaves ashes in its wake. The secret voices and letters and pains that connect us. The pain we don’t speak of, or maybe we half-speak of, or maybe we tell it all, an egg, cooked to where the shell breaks. We break so openly but sometimes the invisibility of our breaking makes it seem like we’re still whole and we want to believe that so much, we boil water for tea and go on as if nothing is removed or torn from us. We are whole in this place—this place of silence and speech that is our freedom. We make wilderness out of terror and courage—we are Home in the landscape. We prepare for wars but devote most of our tongue to peace. How does this work after a while, after the tunics and flags are stretched so taut, they show the outlines of faces and bodies and ghosts? How does this work, to remain silent when our bodies shudder for want and desire? What is this desire? Where in us does it live? In the shadow between fortresses, between ribs, aching and melancholy in the spine, in our tendons and bones, we reach forward out of not occupying space as partial recompense for drawing breath and having been born, to occupy our bodies and lives as fully as moths and otters and the light and water they seek. We are our own nourishment.

 

*
We toil in emptying our heads of ashes. Mothers and fathers fall asleep every night before cooking for their families.

 

When did these beings become so elusive, Light as fireflies trapped in a body. Fireflies in glass backs. We can see them flying around in there.

 

More and more, I am surrounded by strong, clear-voiced women, standing in their own bodies and their own power. They have a quiet about them and fire seems to burn off their skins. They are warriors and move with a stillness that can only be the stillness of conscious movement. They are their own counsel but listen deeply and with the utmost openness to others.

 

When women are ghosts. What refuges are left? Truth sustains us. Occupying our bodies sustains us. Love sustains us. But how do we recognize these? How do we know they are not transmogrifications of pored- through atoms that are so porous, they have ceased to exist? Sometimes the things that have ceased to exist are the most powerful. Death sustains us and gives us the language to use to start expressing ourselves from the bare skeletons of life, from the blood aches that make our hearts beat. Grief sustains us, measuring time in loss and conscience. We feel for one another, we console, we gather empathy as browning flowers from a field, knowing their beauty at every stage, now, when they’re fading away from themselves.

 

Our mothers taught us to be a strong women. Our fathers taught us to be strong men. We are confused about what “strong” means and are always considering the ways to be “strong.” Does it mean it’s your duty to bear all the hardship around you? Does it mean knowing when it’s not yours to bear and witnessing it but not hauling it around on your back? And how do you tell the difference and, once you tell these different loads and weights apart, how do you maneuver, how do you distinguish and measure, what are our responsibilities as witnesses? How much of life’s horror do we carry around with us?

 

There is so much we can’t write about, have been forbidden to write about and we honor that prohibition—but it’s like balancing the weight of ghosts that don’t have any weight. This prohibition is a link between us and our family, those whose secrets we have sworn to keep. But it is not easy keeping secrets. They weigh and bow inside, attribute mass in semaphoric patterns–but we love them and keep our promises. It is hard, though, as we reach parts of ourselves, our memories, our desires for the future, and think about and experience harder, deeper and more traumatic subjects and life events and heritage without being allowed to reference the origins. We can open these up with honor and respect and still keep our inner lives.

 

In this vein, I am wondering how to write about the raw places, reading Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds, about her mother’s blank journals like an extra heartache after a first death. What is voice? What is silence? Feeling sad and not letting the sadness settle because we are sick of this particular sadness, the ache to be with the people we love, with a love as passionate as the earth, where our bodies are the earth, their bodies are the earth—and looking for them as they disappear over and over again. We can go through life restless and frustrated and, mostly, exhausted. Tired of pretending we are upbeat all the time, when some days, we are just knocked down by the longing. We feel an active longing that is searching for those lost to us, doing the work for us, but we lie in bed awake or asleep or walk or rearrange our cupboards or closets, our hunger to be settled—if not in a place, then with those we love—constant because the ground under us shifts and shifts again.

 

As we find our power as women, as we find our power as men, the people who are our hearts find their way to us. This is the way it has to be. We see them because we have found our place in the world and own our own power and sustain ourselves there. We are our lives and our bodies, and because of this, we learn to love, over and over again.

 

The people who show up in our lives day by day and are there, the people who go through our lives with us are the people who matter.

*

They are the living proof of the curtains between worlds, when the windows are open. There is snow and the light is water, becomes water and returns to its remains.

*

Nothing less than the world.

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The Pioneers

Yet another as lush as foul play — limbs of the tree, centaur, granite in early evening light falling as stars would fall at the end of everything. I think about death a lot, it’s a practice, like a grid through which gravity and light fall.

 

Birds are buried in rows for easy carrion. The dead bury in rows. I am washed clean of ashes. This is the way nature reveals the intertwining of life and death and ecological economy. Nothing is lost or wasted, everything preserved and utilized to feed where there is hunger, to occupy spaces where there is destitution. Nature takes care of itself.

 

Yet another plush volley. — antlers recanting their reach.

 

I woke up in the middle of a field.

 

I swear. You are a tower.

I will show you as if your arms fling wide above me —

templed, steepled, guarded.

 

Everything has to go into a certain container with an uncertain future and a past like legs curled under a sitting woman. There is advantage to this, the way opposites polarize and attract. Sitting on different stones, facing each other in an ionized sea. The hound retreats. The shadow is gold-hinged.

 

And now because in that dull fire, he failed to spot a dove.

 

I am below ceilings and below emptiness.

 

I am in charge of regeneration.

 

I am the alien inspector for inquiring atoms. This requires a cereal box and some twigs—a nest of sorts to house reincorporating cells and molecules. This is all science. Hidden in a box, we find the needed flowers and electrical wires.

 

I fall off the wire into the sea. The water is deep and magical. Blue and autumnal. Winter hasn’t settled in yet. The water is based in an albumen scent of horizon and memory. I owe so much to Lem.

 

A pure infinite field comprehended to asps of the hovering quality of faith. This is an abstract, piled on by motion of feathered hands and many mechanical flies.

 

I inquire below the dust to find secret protons. The surge an incantation.

 

 

Homestead

 

I don’t feel alone for the first time in many months. It’s time to buy the whiskey and the tools. There is much to be done in this autumn harness—that the way the days flow is disappearance of multitudes into death. Winter is a beautiful death, the longer sleep affording us hibernation and hiddenness from all open lights—except the dazzling winter sun on snow.

 

I want to walk and walk and walk.

 

With meditative breaks in the atmosphere—we fill our fellow balloons.

 

Sleep like an angel. The angels help us. We feel their presence like translucent flies. There are no flies anymore, or not as many. This is where poems start–the disappearance of things. We are all aging now. We see age on our faces. What beautiful animals we are. I have known these people so long that we are growing old together, although we are all still young.

 

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buildinge

 

November 5, 2013

I visited the Lower East Side Tenement Museum yesterday and took the Sweatshop Tour. It moved me deeply. This is what I wrote at 4 in the morning as the stories of the families and images of the tenements ran through my head.

 

The Sabbath

translated from the Yiddish

 

Mother

The iconic dreams of restless nights of sleep. The dreams of angels. Doppelgängers. Men known in another life come back to haunt me and I am happy. The boats are ready. The kitchens are all the same but with different linoleum floors. The stoves are gas. There are no flowers because there is no extra money. There aren’t enough beds but all the male children sleep together on the couch, pulling the chairs in the room close to lay their legs. The youngest son goes to school. The older children work. The mother is the archetype of a mother. The prayer book and candlesticks never leave the table. The dresses are cut by hand. The sewing machine is operated by foot. There is no electricity. Light is produced by kerosene, which also creates smoke. There is light in the trees back home. There are fields and the balustrades are friendly. There is finally a window between the front parlor and the kitchen, a tubercular window, now mandated by law so that there is hazy light coming in to the kitchen. The bedroom has an air shaft window that looks into the gap between their bedroom and their neighbors’ bedroom. There are hand-sewn dolls with button eyes in the wooden crib.

 

Mother as seen by Father

The longing for children overtakes the mother and she is crying. But she is in public, first at the post office, when someone in line ahead of her reads a letter to his unborn son, and then at a guided tour of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum where she used to live. She doesn’t realize she is dead. The tears dampen her eyes, make them into pools, but she doesn’t let them leave her eyes. Her cheeks are dry, she remains attentive and composed to words of the tour guide, describing her family’s life, her husband’s dress shop in the parlor, her children’s habits as they grow into teenagers in a new country, reading romance novels and maybe smoking. But inwardly she trembles under her ribs with every maternal instinct and navigation of sorrow and womb, her womb an ache waiting to be filled. She has been looking for the father of her children and may have found him under the Yiddish newspapers or under the wooden stairs, their balusters solid after 7,000 pairs of hands, the trampling of generations up and down the unlit, claustrophobic staircases. But she wonders, how would that work? Or is it already working? Have we already created home in our minds, the imagination bringing into being a marriage and family? Where are we, in this new country, what is America? What is our freedom? We are not hunted here but we are haunted. We haunt ourselves and our children. We are not dying, but we crumble slowly under the weight of the weightless: our needles and kerosene, insubstantial, gas-like, not solid but taking up more room than our breath.

 

libertyandneone

 

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A biologist defines life, or determines it, by a series of divergent paths–the capability to think for one’s self, or sentience. Nocturnal soil is one such life. This takes into account leaves and how green they are and how they train towards sunlight to survive — there is a survival mechanism, a live instinct, to survive. It’s mechanical in the way it is physically embodied and requires the use and presence of musculoskeletal or similar systems. The error of life can never be. We are all patterned forms of the inevitable.

 

You never know what is going to lead to writing or orgasm so you follow all suits: quartz, hearts, spades, arrows, diamonds, clubs, pentacles, staves, swords and cups.

 

The road is stained dirt-red and the sky is onyx. The opacity projects a feeling of endurance — the endurance of darkness and light, palomino, unanswerable. The mystic insouciance. These mystic sounds from under the carpet or sidewalk; the truth is out there.

 

A moored, feathered balloon. (tethered)

 

But then you are left alone with food and you eat as if you’ve starved for forty years. The incalescence of horror fills your eyes.

 

One must read and write. One has mists and, from them, sun. One has pulmonary return and flowering lymph nodes.

 

You have clarified grammar. That is, where the dead are buried, because it’s like words, you think you’re in a song but the trees are dark and disappear like water. I am so far down. The tongue of the water is cold and I am deep into it, into this lake. I am a pattern of forests destroyed by fire; — the fires are natural, you say, in distress of all the ashtrays you left burdened by cigarettes and ashes. You left me.

 

The dead are hungry.

 

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Fever is composed of now, a starlight apocalypse that hasn’t happened yet. It is beautiful and tempting, the way death is. Death stands by the door, with food and love. The afterlife is hidden. It falls under trees and leaves, like so much moonlight. Recovering from death is heartache and prose, summarizing branches into lines of fortune. The stars go blind. The night sky collapses in so much mesmerism. Where facts hold sway and water. There is no tune that carries in this sky. The night is silent.

 

Instead of focusing on the next year or month, plant energy in the day that surrounds you. The ground holds so much water. The water is today and only today. The flood.

 

Intention & Magic

 

Surplus energy makes us feel vulnerable and sometimes lonely and afraid. That emptiness is an illusion of water. There is no emptiness. The fullness of the way time measures itself against one’s openness. How long does it take and how courageous we must be to follow not our habitual patterns but our souls. Needing to fill that space of longing, assuage that restlessness. The restlessness makes us feel so open, these fields of burning wheat and stakes.

 

Talismans are tools of intention and focus and faith in what might not yet be seen except in glimmers. Magic and intention must be paired with the hard work of making them into concrete entities in the world. These glimmers of faith in what is coming into being are powerful resources. There is no magic without right effort.

 

A miracle happened last night. It was one of those miracles with and without words, with bodily weight and light. Weightlessness and gravity as centrifugal and freeing forces.

 

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Inspired by «We spoke of people in shells, & I was / not clear. But I mean / the new-born chick, in egg, / is given – datum – only / a certain length of time, a certain time, / to break out of it. If she doesn’t / she dies. Is given: / so much food, only so much food, / in the egg, or system. I said / I was the voice outside singing / This way sweet bird this way / new born aenigma of yourself, / break through this way, / I tear / the marble of the shell off with my hands, frozen ocean of albumen, / this way new life. / Break through this way.» (RK)

 

With Pēteris Cedriņš.

 

A

 

We spoke of a certain time, and thought that was the end, a rope thinly disguised as days coming to a logical end at the end of a street with a sign and some stores and apartment buildings and no trees. Meaning, urban. How are these urban houses this time around? Sheltered possums. The light between the buildings like opium. Not knowing the circumference of evil. So it becomes an easy thing to make potions and wear lanyards to indicate rank and the important things go unnoticed in the breath of fuels and velocity. Stop then, and tell me what really matters. What takes up space in the heart and lungs and makes for a healthy cardiopulmonary system. The breath agitates. The movement of curtains in a light wind after rain. When the sky darkens in the afternoon and you’re cleaning your apartment, do you think of what it would be like to be any other object in the room but the human? Do your curtains brush against you like the touch of a hand? The space between fires, their distance, the linear conclusion of love and sadness and loss. Where evil exists in a world of freshly burnt tulips because the sky has descended and become a well. There is still time, but is there? The unknown of this is terrifying. We all know this and we bow our heads to the sun because it still exists, as does water and dirt, and we think, the line of ice, the radius, the horizon.

 

*

 

We spoke of certain thoughts on the horizon, the way of blood and tooth and motion settling into the casket. The dead move. They are not aliens and they move. Tongues tied eternally in a mortal blanket, communion with angels and skyhomed carrier pigeons, carrying threads of long lace. The fires in the distance between thumb and lung, that is, breath is a conduit, a meaning found in old drawers along with albumen and absinthe, hidden from the best of partners with a skewed eye to infidelity and lustfulness. These, and all beads, lead to heartache and sustenance. Because it is the heat of heartache that sustains. You didn’t know that, did you? You thought the parallel of love and faith was happiness, no, this is not it. Learn about Almighty Change in the cabin. It exists between the eyelids, on top of factories and millenniums. The dirt goes unnoticed. The dirt of pain and standard-issue ache and solace. The solitude of birds. Frantic calculations to build sheds and nests and using tools meant for building chairs.

 

P

 

& then the green onrush, so sudden, so that one must worry about fixing the mower after a mirror of deadness, & that side of the coin (the opposite of spaciousness — strangulation) — to come out of that into this, hard, & now the sky is indigo & there is no horizon, but every night a light show, crocus crocus, its denizens & damsels, for now unfurled like fiddleheads

 

*

 

A or a

“visceral strugge.”

Visceral struggle. Every night haunts a new moon edging out to sea a small boat union of opposites all that sky. You’ve never fully opened. You’re charged and released. The body is the viscera. The moon hangs like a tongue.

What is viscera? What makes matter? What takes up space in the heart, in the living room? In the kitchen?

No, I meant something else. It’s always something else. The darkness settles like. The moon creates shadows like. Moo.

Cow sealegs.

I am sound and broken and bells and hosiery.

Surrounding sea.

No. That is what keeps coming to me this morning, what is left of it. What is left of the release, of the feeling of freedom, as we struggle against the window screen. In Spring, we are all devils of pollination. No. This is it. No, no, no. Against the screen, puht-puht-puht. Knocking our many-eyed little heads. Fluht fluht fluht.

 

*

 

P:

Today narcissi & tulips & more swans than sea-stones & magpies swooping to devour the leftovers & gather silver.

& the neighbor, the poacher, slowly disappearing behind a screen of green (summer a different solitude, peopled by birds).

*

 

A:

 

This is what it’s like: the soft gathering of space.

 

We break the break. In the Shadow of Heaven, perfect flies. I grew up in a carriage house, or what used to be a carriage house, and then additions were built on top, so there’s a half-staircase of stone stairs that goes up into the floor of the living room, it goes nowhere, dusty, not-in-this-world nowhere.

 

We start with working ideas and then work them. Puttyballs. That’s what thoughts are. Big, floating terrariums.

 

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