Sunday, January 08, 2017

Does my haughtiness offend you? Still I Rise

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Friday, January 06, 2017

"So what moved him to not-say I-love-you?"

'I Love You'

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for Geraldine Monk
'I love you,' he wouldn't say: it was against his philosophy; I-love-you
didn't mean what it meant, plus the verray construction of the phrase
caused bad-old-concrete-lawman-vandal-verbal-mildew-upon-the-grape-
nications-devices damage; saying I-love-you damaged love, subject and
object; plus he could prove this in two dense and delphic languages
suitable for philosophy, opera, cursing, and racking the nerves of arti-
ficial intelligence machines that perhaps could love but would be
hard-wired giammai to dare say so. So what moved him to not-say
I-love-you? What wake-up-and-spoil-the-coffee ashtray-licking djinn? I
have to start to agree. The verbness of it impropriety (eyes glob up the
syringe when you're giving blood: semisolid spiralling); perhaps too
active... I-love-you, I sand you, I drill you, I honey and set you for wasps,
crimson you like a stolen toga, add value applying dye, fight owner-
ship, I cite you to justify skilled outrage, put your name as guarantor
on an astronomical mortgage, I admit desertification comes as a relief,
from I to O, O my oasis, O my mirage. Maybe the verb is a tending-to-
wards? A tightrope? A tropism? A station? But that's meeting him on
his own ground; plus I can't disprove entire languages; plus those
three little words aren't meant as saying. An icy drink in stormlight. A
looked-at leaf left to transpire its own way until... And sans I-love-you
the centuried moon rose above dinnermint stone; many men contin-
ued  talking; a woman lifted her sarsenet skirt, peed on green lilies and,
utterly gracious, walked through the archway to join the mixed group
delighting in — word! believe it! — fresh air.
Vahni Capildeo, "‘I Love You’" from Measures of Expatriation. Copyright © 2016 by Vahni Capildeo. Reprinted by permission of Carcanet Press, Ltd..
Source: Measures of Expatriation (Carcanet Press, Ltd., 2016)

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

In the Dark Room by Susan Faludi



In the summer of 2004 I set out to investigate someone I scarcely knew, my father.


"Haaallo?" my father said, with the protracted enunciation I'd heard so infrequently in recent years, that Magyar cadence that seemed to border on camp. Hallo. As my father liked to note, that telephone salutation was the coinage of Thomas Edison's assistant, Tivadar Puskás, the inventor of the phone exchange, who, as it happened, was Hungarian. "Hallom!" Puskás had shouted when he first picked up the receiver in 1877, Magyar for "I hear you!" Would she?


My sense of who I am, to the degree that I can locate its coordinates, seems to derive from a quality of resistance, a refusal to back down. If it's threatened, I'll assert it. My "identity" has quickened in those very places where it has been most under siege.


In March 1939, more than two years before Hungary even entered the war, the Hungarian government declared Jewish men unfit for military action. . . . Instead, the Hungarian Labor Service System, unique to Hungary, conscripted all male Jews between the ages of twenty and forty-eight (and later, eighteen and forty-eight) into forced work units. . . . Conscripts were deprived of army boots and uniforms (other than yellow armbands identifying them as Jews; white for Jews who were Christian coverts). . . .these men provided the slave labor. . . .marched ahead of the regular troops through mine fields. . . .the laborers died in epidemic numbers, forty-two thousand before the German occupation.

Jewish men, no matter how convincing their false identity papers, risked what was euphemistically known as "trouser inspection" every time they ventured out.


I thought often of Nobel laureate Imre Kertész's assessment of his former home: "Nothing has been worked through, everything is painted over with pretty colors. Budapest is a city without a memory."

In 2003, Hungarian legislators, intent on making their country one of the first post-Communist bloc nations to join the EU, hurried into law the Equal Treatment Act. . . . And, remarkably, "gender identity," which two human-rights NGOs managed to slip into the the legislation. Hungary became the first nation in the world to guarantee equal protection to transgender people. 
      On paper. On the street, any urge to celebrate Hungary's declared tolerance was undercut by fear.


With Trianon, Hungary shed not only landmass but ethnic diversity. A vast portion of the country's minorities--those restive Romanians, Slovaks, Croatians, Ruthenians, Slovenians--now belonged to other nations carved from its borders. . . .With the exception of ethnic Germans, strongly assimilated yet in their own way outliers, the populace had gone from a roiling rainbow quilt to black and white: Magyar and Jew. One way to read the collapse of the Golden Age--it's what happens when a fluid system becomes binary. Magyars now represented 90 percent of the population. There were no longer the only slightly-less-than-half demographic who needed the Jews to be Magyars in order to construct their majority. The Jews of Hungary now served another purpose, as scapegoats for the "amputation" of the nation, the "mutilated motherland."

I can't bear to type some of the passages I have underlined. This chapter is extremely powerful and important for readers.


"The power of editing!" she said. "Waaall, I have to edit everything I do."


"Identity is" -- she deliberated--"it's what society accepts for you. You have to behave in a way that people accept, otherwise you have enemies. That's what I do--and I have no problems." 


I studied my father's face, averted as it so often had been in life. All the years she was alive, she'd sought to settle the question of who she was. Jew or Christian? Hungarian or American? Woman or man? So many oppositions. But as I gazed upon her still body, I thought: there is in the universe only one true divide, one real binary, life and death. Either you are living or you are not. Everything else is molten, malleable.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Nutshell by Ian McEwan


Oh God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space--were it not that I have bad dreams.   Shakespeare, Hamlet


So here I am, upside down in a woman.


Let me summon it, that moment of creation that arrived with my first concept. Long ago, many weeks ago, my neural groove closed upon itself to become my spine and my many million young neurons, busy as silkworms, spun and wove from their trailing axons the gorgeous golden fabric of my first idea, a notion so simple it partly eludes me now. Was it me? Too self-loving. Was it now? Overly dramatic. Then something antecedent to both, containing both, a single word mediated by a mental sigh or swoon of acceptance, of pure being, something like--this? Too precious. So, getting closer, my idea was To be. Or if not that, its grammatical variant, is. This was my aboriginal notion and here's the crux--is. Just that. In the spirit of Ex muss sein. The beginning of conscious life was the end of illusion, the illusion of non-being, and the eruption of the real.


Instead, he hopes to succeed by kindness and self-effacing sensitivity to her needs. I hope to be wrong, but I think he'll doubly fail, for she'll go on despising him for being weak, and he'll suffer even more than he should.


We'll always be troubled by how things are--that's how it stands with the difficult gift of consciousness.


But here's life's most limiting truth--it's always now, always here, never then and there.


Adversity forced awareness on us, and it works, it bites us when we go too near the fire, when we love too hard. Those felt sensations are the beginning of the invention of the self.

God said, Let there be pain. And there was poetry. Eventually.


"Seizing the law into your own hands--it's old hat, reserved for elderly feuding Albanians and subsections of tribal Islam. Revenge is dead. Hobbes was right, my young friend. The state must have a monopoly of violence, a common power to keep us all in awe."

Words, as I am beginning to appreciate, can make things true.


Only satisfied desire could have freed him.

Each of us, from each different point of view, is gripped by what's not being said.


But it won't end, the bad will be endless, until ending badly will seem a blessing.


The man who obliterates my mother between the sheets obeys like a dog. Sex, I begin to understand, is its own mountain kingdom, secret and intact. In the valley below we know only rumors.


A toast to love and therefore to death, to Eros and Thanatos. It appears to be a given of intellectual life, that when two notions are sufficiently far apart or opposed, they are said to be profoundly linked. Since death is opposed to everything in life, various couplings are proposed. Art and death. Nature and death. Worryingly, birth and death. And joyously iterated, love and death. On this last and from where I am, no two notions could be more mutually irrelevant. The dead love no one, nothing. As soon as I am out and about I might try my hand at a monograph. The world cries out for fresh-faced empiricists.


However close you get to others, you can never get inside of them, even when you're inside of them.

But it's hard to be separate from her when I need her. And with such churning of emotion, need translates to love, like milk to butter.


Lovers arrive at their first kisses with scars as well as longings. They're not always looking for advantage. Some need shelter, others press only for the hyperreality of ecstasy, for which they'll tell outrageous lies or make irrational sacrifice. But they rarely ask themselves what they need or want. Memories are poor for past failures. Childhoods shine through adult skin, helpfully or not. So do the laws of inheritance that bind a personality. The lovers don't know there's no free will.


a wonderful passage on revenge, which you need to read in context.


No one exclaims at the moment of one's dazzling coming-out, It's a person! Instead: It's a girl, It's a boy. Pink or blue--a minimal improvement of Henry Ford's offer of cars of any color so long as they were black. Only two sexes. I was disappointed. If human bodies, minds, fates are so complex, if we are free like no other mammal, why limit the range?

A strange mood has seized the almost-educated young. They're on the march, angry at times, but mostly needful, longing for authority's blessing, its validation of their chosen identities.

I'll feel, therefore I'll be.

Feeling is queen. Unless she identifies as king.


She's memorising her memories.


A voice on the radio once told me that when we fully understand what matter is we'll feel better. I doubt that. I'll never get what I want.


And I'm thinking about our prison cell--I hope it's not too small--and beyond its heavy door, worn steps ascending: first sorrow, then justice, then meaning. The rest is chaos.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

A Poem on Election Day: Liquid Flesh

Liquid Flesh

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In a light chocolatine room
with blackout windows,
a loud clock drowns in soft dawn’s
syllables, crisscrossed
with a broken cloudiness
I’d choose as my own bedcovers
but cannot. My choice of sleep
or sky has no music of its own.
There’s no “its own” while the baby cries.
Oh, the baby cries. He howls and claws
like a wrongly minor red wolf
who doesn’t know his mother.
I know I am his mother, but I can’t
quite click on the word’s essential aspects,
can’t denude the flora
or disrobe the kind of housecoat
“mother” always is. Something
cunty, something used.
Whatever meaning the word itself
is covering, like underwear,
that meaning is so mere and meager
this morning. Mother. Baby.
Chicken and egg. It’s so obnoxious
of me: I was an egg
who had  an egg
and now I’m a chicken,
as usual scooping up
both possibilities,
or what I used to call
possibilities. I used
to be this way, so ontologically
greedy, wanting to be it all.
Serves me right.
My belief in the fluidity
of the self turns out to mean
my me is a flow of wellwater,

without the well, or the bucket,
a hole dug and seeping.
A kind of unwell, where
the ground reabsorbs
what it was displaced to give.
The drain gives meaning to the sieve.
As I said: a chicken who still
wants to be all potential.
Someone who springs
and falls, who cannot see
how many of us I have 
in me—and I do not like them all.
Do I like us? Can I love us?
If anyone comes
first it’s him, but how can that be?
I was here way, way first.
I have the breasts, godawful, and he
the lungs and we share the despair.
For we are a we, aren’t we? We split
a self in such a way that there isn’t
enough for either of us.
The father of the baby is sleepy
and present in his way, in the way
of fathers. He is devoted like
few fathers, and maybe hurts
like I hurt, like no fathers.
I don’t know what someone else
feels, not even these someones
who are also me. Do they hurt
like I do?  Why can’t they
tell me, or morse or sign: let
me know they know where and how
and why it hurts? Or something?
What is the point of other people,
being so separate, if we can’t 
help a person get that pain
will stick its shiv into anything,
just to get rid of the weapon
and because it can? For if we share
ourselves then they, too, must
also be in so much pain.
I can hear it. Oh, my loves.
The wood of the crib, the white
glow of the milk (which must
have siphoned off the one
and only pure part of me, leaving
me with what, toxicity
or sin or mush?), the awful softness.
I’ve been melted into something
too easy to spill. I make more
and more of myself in order
to make more and more of the baby.
He takes it, this making. And somehow
he’s made more of me, too.
I’m a mother now.
I run to the bathroom, run
to the kitchen, run to the crib
and I’m not even running.
These places just scare up as needed,
the wires that move my hands
to the sink, to the baby,
to the breast are electrical.
I’m in shock.
One must be in shock to say so,
as if one’s own state is assessable,
like a car accident or Minnesota taxes.
A total disaster, this sack of liquid
flesh which yowls and leaks
and I’m talking about me
not the baby. Me, this puddle
of a middle, this utilized vessel,
cracked hull, divine
design. It’s how it works. It’s how
we all got here. Deform
following the function . . .
But what about me? I whisper
secretly and to think,
around these parts used to be
the joyful place of sex,
what is now this intimate
terror and squalor.
My eyes burned out at three a.m. and again
at six and eleven. This is why the clock
is drowning, as I said earlier.
I’m trying to explain it.
I repeat myself, or haven’t I already?
Tiny self, along with a tiny self.
I’ll say it: he hurt me, this new
babe, then and now.
Perhaps he always will,
though thoughts of the future
seem like science fiction novels
I never finished reading.
Their ends like red nerves
chopped off by cleaver, not aliens,
this very moment, saving nothing for later.
He howls with such fury and clarity
I must believe him.
No god has the power
to make me believe anything,
yet I happen to know
this baby knows a way out.
This dark hole closing in on me
all around: he’ll show me
how to get through
the shock and the godlessness
and the rictus of crushed flesh,
into the rest of my life.
Source: Our Andromeda (Copper Canyon Press, 2012)

Friday, October 14, 2016



Monday, September 26, 2016

Top Ten

turkish delight

wide-brimmed straw hats in summer

jasmine pearl tea


outdoor fruit and vegetable markets

tepertős pogácsa

freshly ground peanut butter

baking bread

being in my body


Széchenyi Fürdő

my mother's dumplings

rocking chairs


giving books I love to people I think might love them too

The Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter


grandma Kelley's rice casserole

home made play dough

Le Mans Hall


baking muffins

Spencer Tunick

wool socks, knee-high, with stripes in the winter


"Coin-Operated Boy" by the Dresden Dolls

bread and butter


cooking split-pea soup


church bells

Gellért Fürdő

African chicken and peanut soup from the New England Soup Factory

martini with blue cheese stuffed olives

1059 Riverside

singing the ABC's as a lullaby


Greek yogurt with honey, in Greece

sneaking away from a sleeping baby

sneaking back into my bed where my four and five-year-olds are tangled up, deeply breathing


Book Club

Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins




Indigo Girls



Warren Dunes State Park

french fries


the fact that baking bread is so simple

clean pressed sheets


walking by a lilac bush in bloom

holding hands



Prairie Home Companion


hard wood floors

freshly squeezed ABC juice--apple, beet, carrot

handmade afghans


Jeune Homme Nu Assis au Bord de la Mer, by Jean- Hippolyte Flandrin

marching bands

my clever, funny friend

roasted chestnuts

Rachel flodnija

birdie sing in the tree, woo woo woo, wee wee wee, I love you and you love me

Henszlmann Imre utca, 5

cuckoo clocks

soft-boiled eggs in egg cups

potluck dinners

Kelet Kávézó

7-year-old Leo with missing front teeth

tabasco sauce


Amanda Palmer

the truth

Anna Moschovakis

[The challenge: to start]

Related Poem Content Details

The challenge: to start
not with theory but with tangible performance

You and others, approaching

We shall be asked for a way out

                to be fed

                to keep warm and dry

Starting with experience, magic 
genuine science

More than once we have been lost 
in a trackless wilderness

dwarfed and shadowed by mighty buildings 
subway trains wild as elephants

One goes blindly back to one’s desk

These moments come, their dark 

We glimpsed control 
and more tragic waste

We entered with 40,000,000 warriors 
with the dignity of cathedrals

The lake is upon you.
You have two canoes, your tent
The child has entered upon this desert

You have your axes

What, precisely, is your procedure?

Anna Moschovakis, “[The challenge: to start]” from You and Three Others Are Approaching a Lake. Copyright © 2011 by Anna Moschovakis. Reprinted by permission of Coffee House Press.
Source: You and Three Others Are Approaching a Lake (Coffee House Press, 2011)

Monday, June 13, 2016

America's Moral #Pulse

More love. More vulnerability. More kissing.

#SpencerTunick photo


America's Moral #Pulse