Poem for today: “Toward you, I thistle and I climb.”

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Reader unmov’d and Reader unshaken, Reader unseduc’d
and unterrified, through the long-loud and the sweet-still
I creep toward you. Toward you, I thistle and I climb.
I crawl, Reader, servile and cervine, through this blank
season, counting—I sleep and I sleep. I sleep,
Reader, toward you, loud as a cloud and deaf, Reader, deaf
as a leaf. Reader: Why don’t you turn
pale? and, Why don’t you tremble? Jaded, staid
Reader, You—who can read this and not even
flinch.

Excerpt from the beautiful, strange poem “sweet reader, flanneled and tulled” by Olena Kalytiak Davis, found via an article on The Poetry Foundation, which suggests an alternative reading: swap “reader” for “lover” for a new perspective on this strange and seductive poem. And a word of advice: you really should read it aloud. It rolls around in your mouth, sometimes fluid and smooth, sometimes twisty and thorny, words running together and hard to get out. Reading poetry is the perfect activity for a rainy Sunday. Take a moment and savor it.

Image: Embroidery and drawing by Spanish artist Ana Teresa Barboza. I’ve featured her art on my blog before, but I couldn’t find a better image for this poem—the lion-girl just fits the scary seduction theme so well, I think.

Clouds like poems and poems like clouds.

Mammatus_clouds_in_the_Nepal_Himalayas

Unburdened by memory of any kind,
they float easily over the facts.

What on earth could they bear witness to?
They scatter whenever something happens.

Compared to clouds,
life rests on solid ground,
practically permanent, almost eternal.

Next to clouds
even a stone seems like a brother,
someone you can trust,
while they’re just distant, flighty cousins.

From “Clouds” by Winslawa Szymborska, a Nobel Prize winning Polish poet who writes beautifully about the natural world and the human heart. Read the entire poem in English or in Polish here.

The clouds shown in the image above are mammatus clouds, also known as mammatocumulus. The name comes from the Latin word mamma meaning “mother” or “breast.” Beautiful breast clouds, swinging their udders in the sky.

Also, did you know that the World Meteorological Organization has a section called “Weather reports from the future?” I’m almost afraid to click on it, because I want it so badly to be something oddly magical or slightly silly. I assume it’s about climate change—an important topic! obviously!—but I wish it were stories from a future meteorologist, sending his weather reports back in time to us, boring dispatches about the sky from an unimaginable life form.

By the light of the moon.

Darren Almond Full Moon PhotographyPhotographer Darren Almond uses the full moon to light his landscapes, and the results are otherworldly, frothy and strange, with muted colors and streaks of brightness as stars move across the sky. “With long exposures, you can never see what you are shooting,” said in an interview with The Guardian. “But you are giving the landscape longer to express itself.”Fullmoon-Quatrain700

Moonlight has always felt rather magical; I think it helps reveal things that are normally concealed. It shows the landscape at its softest, most vulnerable. Like people, who undress at night and slip under the covers, turning toward each other in quiet intimacy, the earth slowly disrobes as the moon rises, shedding layers of shadow and light until only the thing itself is left. You have to strain your eyes and open your apertures to see it. You have to wait. Steady, still.  Continue reading

“When I follow the serried multitude of the stars in their circular course, my feet no longer touch the earth.”

Friend_A-03Sometimes, I think the stars come out at night because that is when we are tired and worn, when we feel threadbare from the demands of the day. Stars ask for nothing (and most pleasures do ask for something; even flowers beg to be smelled). They are the stalwart companions of the insomniac, steadfast enough to guide a ship. The night sky is the largest, most expansive thing I will ever see with my own eyes. I can look out across an ocean, but as the world curves, it turns and hides itself, coyly holding back a glimpse of my final destination. The night is a gift in that way, a brief time when hidden things become visible, a suitcase turned inside-out and upside-down. Those stars, bone-white and unfathomable, are infinite in a way that nothing in my life will ever be infinite. They are beyond me always; beyond the grasp of my mind, beyond the reach of my arms. And yet, all I need to do is walk outside and I can take part in that silent symphony. Always, I’ll have the stars. And never will I ever have the stars. I find this comforting. I find this to be true.

Image by photographer Amy Friend. More here.

Lost, dead, underused, untranslatable, and under-appreciated words: Part 1, M.

Greenland Drawing by Zaria FormanI don’t often start at the beginning, primarily because I rarely know where to find the beginning. As a writer, this is probably a bad habit, but I don’t care too much. Usually, it works out for the best—I find that starting at the beginning is the swiftest route to reader-boredom. I admit sometimes have trouble finding the end or figuring out how to wrap up an article, though I never have much trouble finding the punchline. I should probably just not write serious things and focus on telling jokes, but I am getting ahead of (behind? I’m not sure?) myself.

Anyway, the point is this: I am starting a new series of my blog of words that are lost, dead, underused, untranslatable, or under-appreciated. Basically, it’s going to be a bunch of cool words that I like and think others might enjoy.

I’m starting near the middle, because that’s what feels right (and because alphabetical order is great for glossaries, but not all that crucial for rambling bloggers). So today, I found three words that begin with M. Here ya go:

Montivagant (Noun, English)
This English word was used most often during the 17th Century and although it is considered a “dead” word, it’s not entirely forgotten. It describes a person who wanders over mountains and hills, a particularly ambitious vagabond. It’s someone who gains and loses altitude as they put one foot in front of the other, up and down, up and down. It’s a rambling man, a roadie without a band. In short, it’s how I want to live my life.

Mångata (Noun, Swedish)
This is a Swedish word that has no exact equivalent in English. It describes the “road-like reflection of the moon on water.” It’s that stairway to heaven that happens when you’re lakeside on a summer night and the moon rises big and slow and lazy.

Merrythought (Noun, English)
This word for the wishbone of a bird is extremely dated and sounds it (“Would you like to pull my merrythought?” asked no one ever). The first known appearance of “Merrythought” was in 1607. I’m squirreling this information away for use at Thanksgiving. When the dinner table talk inevitably and uncomfortably turns to politics, I plan to bust this one out to distract the quibblers.

Image: “Greenland” by Brooklyn-based artist Zaria Forman from her series “Chasing the Light,” which focuses on the interplay between light and water. I’ve blogged about her before, and I’m a huge fan of her work. See more here. 

Baring it all, body and soul. (Or, why poets are the bravest people on the planet.)

patti smith
Found today: “Poets Without Clothes.” It’s a website of—you guessed it!—poets without clothing. Some are half-naked. Some are nude. Some are showing their bare toes. Some cover their breasts. But they’re all vulnerable and rather sweet. The Tumblr was inspired, naturally, by Walt Whitman, he who wrote:

   Let us all, without missing one, be exposed in public, naked,
monthly, at the peril of our lives! let our bodies be freely
handled and examined by whoever chooses!
Let nothing but copies at second hand be permitted to exist
upon the earth!

I wonder, which feels more raw: stripping off your clothing for a photograph, or stripping bare your soul for a poem? Which tears at the fabric of your being more? Which induces more shame, which brings more joy? They’re similar acts, but not the same.

Here’s a good would-you-rather for your next party:  Would you rather bare your body in public, warts and all, or publish your most jagged and painful personal thoughts? Personally, I’d rather take my top off.

Above: Patti Smith in the nude. More here.

Sylvia Plath draws bulls and bull thistles.

bull sylvia plath“It gives me such a sense of peace to draw; more than prayer, walks, anything. I can close myself completely in the line, lose myself in it,” wrote 24-year-old Sylvia Plath in a letter to her mother. She describes coming upon a bull in a field (at least, she thought they were bulls for “they seemed to have no utters”) and sitting down on a river bank to draw those cows—”my first cows.” sylvia-plath-purple-thistle-drawingHer drawings aren’t perfect or particularly noteworthy. But Sylvia Plath is one of those writers who I admire reflexively. When I was younger, before I knew better, I admired her for her tragedy, for her sadness and her bitter bleak world. Now, I admire her language. She writes with the same sparsity with which she draws: simple, bold, present.

More here. Or buy it here.