Inhabited Simplicity

Inhabited Simplicity

"Holiness is reached not through effort or will, but by stopping; by an inward coming to rest; a place from which we can embody the spirit of all our holy days, a radical, inhabited simplicity, where we live in a kind of ongoing surprise and with some wonder and appreciation."

~ David Whyte

Arguing with America

"It's rather counterintuitive for poets to write in a sort of so-called patriotic way because it's the nature of good poetry to move towards mystery or uncertainty. If you say, I love America, you love America, maybe we're done and there's nothing to talk about. So for poets, a bigger tradition, I think, is the kind of poem that argues with America, that addresses America and in a way, that is our patriotism."

~ Tess Taylor, from "Celebrating The U.S., In Verse," All Things Considered, July 4, 2012

Map, Jasper Johns, 1961 

Immigrant Picnic
by Gregory Djanikian, from Poetry magazine, July 1999 

It's the Fourth of July, the flags
are painting the town,
the plastic forks and knives
are laid out like a parade.

And I'm grilling, I've got my apron,
I've got potato salad, macaroni, relish,
I've got a hat shaped   
like the state of Pennsylvania.

I ask my father what's his pleasure
and he says, "Hot dog, medium rare,"
and then, "Hamburger, sure,   
what's the big difference,"   
as if he's really asking.

I put on hamburgers and hot dogs,   
slice up the sour pickles and Bermudas,
uncap the condiments. The paper napkins   
are fluttering away like lost messages.

"You're running around," my mother says,   
"like a chicken with its head loose."

"Ma," I say, "you mean cut off,
loose and cut off   being as far apart   
as, say, son and daughter."

She gives me a quizzical look as though   
I've been caught in some impropriety.
"I love you and your sister just the same," she says,
"Sure," my grandmother pipes in,
"you're both our children, so why worry?"

That's not the point I begin telling them,
and I'm comparing words to fish now,   
like the ones in the sea at Port Said,   
or like birds among the date palms by the Nile,
unrepentantly elusive, wild.   

"Sonia," my father says to my mother,
"what the hell is he talking about?"
"He's on a ball," my mother says.

"That's roll!" I say, throwing up my hands,
"as in hot dog, hamburger, dinner roll...."

"And what about roll out the barrels?" my mother asks,
and my father claps his hands, "Why sure," he says,

"let's have some fun," and launches   
into a polka, twirling my mother   
around and around like the happiest top,   

and my uncle is shaking his head, saying
"You could grow nuts listening to us,"   

and I'm thinking of pistachios in the Sinai
burgeoning without end,   
pecans in the South, the jumbled
flavor of them suddenly in my mouth,
wordless, confusing,
crowding out everything else.


by Tim Nolan, from American Life in Poetry: Column 400

Thanks for the Italian chestnuts—with their
tough shells—the smooth chocolaty
skin of them—thanks for the boiling water—

itself a miracle and a mystery—
thanks for the seasoned sauce pan
and the old wooden spoon—and all

the neglected instruments in the drawer—
the garlic crusher—the bent paring knife—
the apple slicer that creates six

perfect wedges out of the crisp Haralson—
thanks for the humming radio—thanks
for the program on the radio

about the guy who was a cross-dresser—
but his wife forgave him—and he
ended up almost dying from leukemia—

(and you could tell his wife loved him
entirely—it was in her deliberate voice)—
thanks for the brined turkey—

the size of a big baby—thanks—
for the departed head of the turkey—
the present neck—the giblets

(whatever they are)—wrapped up as
small gifts inside the cavern of the ribs—
thanks—thanks—thanks—for the candles

lit on the table—the dried twigs—
the autumn leaves in the blue Chinese vase—
thanks—for the faces—our faces—in this low light.

Uninvited Holiday Guest

I don’t know how my resumé found out
we were staying in town for Christmas,
but he pulled up as soon as the girl left
to visit her mother’s side of the family.

He’s still driving the hail-damaged Corolla
with the broken muffler.
I accepted the foil-wrapped plate of assorted cookies
and invited him in for a bowl of soup.

We exchanged the details of our holiday plans
like presidents of small countries
offering economic updates and projected budgets,
implying confidence for growth in the coming year.

He still favors films outside the mainstream
in spite of the isolation that tends to cultivate,
and he was especially enthusiastic about poets
he had recently discovered.

We could tell he’s as curious and idealistic as ever,
and his assets remain primarily intangible.
He’s still second guessing his choices, lacking in confidence,
and haunted by a persistent aversion to boredom and risk.

He sight-read a few carols.
We didn’t point out the shakiness of his Brahms
and he didn’t tell us that our piano
had drifted imperceptibly out of tune.

He seemed underwhelmed by our gifts to each other
and we yawned when he solved my new Rubik’s cube.
When he finally left, we hurried out to see the new
Meryl Streep movie which promised not to resolve at the end.

Knowledgeable People

From Nietzsche’s prologue to On the Genealogy of Morals:

We don't know ourselves, we knowledgeable people—we are personally ignorant about ourselves. And there’s good reason for that. We've never tried to find out who we are. How could it ever happen that one day we'd discover our own selves? With justice it’s been said that “Where your treasure is, there shall your heart be also.” Our treasure lies where the beehives of our knowledge stand. We are always busy with our knowledge, as if we were born winged creatures—collectors of intellectual honey. In our hearts we are basically concerned with only one thing, to “bring something home.” As far as the rest of life is concerned, what people call “experience”—which of us is serious enough for that? Who has enough time? In these matters, I fear, we've been “missing the point.”

Our hearts have not even been engaged—nor, for that matter, have our ears! We've been much more like someone divinely distracted and self-absorbed into whose ear the clock has just pealed the twelve strokes of noon with all its force and who all at once wakes up and asks himself “What exactly did that clock strike?”—so we rub ourselves behind the ears afterwards and ask, totally surprised and embarrassed “What have we really just experienced? And more: “Who are we really?” Then, as I've mentioned, we count—after the fact—all the twelve trembling strokes of the clock of our experience, our lives, our being—alas! in the process we keep losing the count. So we remain necessarily strangers to ourselves, we do not understand ourselves, we have to keep ourselves confused. For us this law holds for all eternity: “Each man is furthest from himself.” Where we ourselves are concerned, we are not “knowledgeable people.”

Un Conte de Noël
(A Christmas Tale)

Arnaud Desplechin, the director of A Christmas Tale, interviews Catherine Deneuve in the November/December 2008 edition of Film Comment.

The Holy One

"The word Santa means holy. And Santa Claus is one of the true figures of imagination that we have left that children can really relate to. Adults can, too, but maybe not with the same sense of reality as children obviously. But I don't know if there are any other figures of imagination that have so much reality...I do think he embodies the real spirit of Christmas. And I'm speaking as someone who has really studied theology for a long time. I don't think we should give Christmas over to the theologians to discuss the intricacies of theology. I think that it's about a figure who understands what it means to give, to relate to children, to have a good spirit, create friendliness in the world, and bring the world together. He travels the whole world on Christmas Eve, it's not just one country. There's an awful lot in Santa Claus that I really love."

~ Thomas Moore, on Open Line with Fred Anderle (12.18.08)

You’ll Never Get It If You Don’t Slow Down

From “Auggie Wren’s Christmas,” by Paul Auster:

Auggie and I have known each other for close to eleven years now. He works behind the counter of a cigar store on Court Street in downtown Brooklyn, and since it's the only store that carries the little Dutch cigars I like to smoke, I go in there fairly often. For a long time, I didn't give much thought to Auggie Wren. He was the strange little man who wore a hooded blue sweatshirt and sold me cigars and magazines, the impish, wisecracking character who always had something funny to say about the weather, the Mets or the politicians in Washington, and that was the extent of it.

But then one day several years ago he happened to be looking through a magazine in the store, and he stumbled across a review of one of my books. He knew it was me because a photograph accompanied the review, and after that things changed between us. I was no longer just another customer to Auggie, I had become a distinguished person. Most people couldn't care less about books and writers, but it turned out that Auggie considered himself an artist. Now that he had cracked the secret of who I was, he embraced me as an ally, a confidant, a brother-in-arms. To tell the truth, I found it rather embarrassing. Then, almost inevitably, a moment came when he asked if I would be willing to look at his photographs. Given his enthusiasm and goodwill, there didn't seem any way I could turn him down.

Clips from Smoke:


[Link to this story found on Jonathan Carroll’s blog]

You're a Bittersweet Classic, Charlie Brown

I heard this great piece on NPR this morning about how A Charlie Brown Christmas almost never made it on the air for the first time in 1965. CBS thought that the jazz didn't mix well with traditional carols, that the voices should be provided by professional child actors, and that the tone and themes were too heavy for kids. It turned out that half of the people watching television across the country that night tuned in to watch.

The composer of the soundtrack, Vince Guaraldi, died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 1976. "He was found in a room at the Red Cottage Inn hotel, relaxing between sets at Butterfield's nightclub in Menlo Park, California. Guaraldi had just finished recording the soundtrack for It's Arbor Day, Charlie Brown earlier that afternoon."

He wasn't around to discover that his music had become modern Christmas classics. A remastered edition of the soundtrack, which has never been out of print, has been released this year.