Category Archives: Class
Somewhere in the Middle
I wanted to know, or at least to believe
that I knew, or at least to feel as if I knew.
So I searched through the vast emptiness
that stretched overhead and in every other direction,
through the pins of old light that remind us of distance,
through the wisps of vapor huddled together,
drifting across the sky, gathering until it was time
to return to the earth to grace the heads of the
grateful and ungrateful alike.
There was no sorrow in the empty streets with
their pale lights, nor was there joy or any of
those other fleeting human emotions, just
a tranquil chill that my heart tried and failed to mimic.
There were moments here, crystallized in the
ghostly cones of light, in the refuse that could
occasionally be found abandoned on the sides
of the road. The world suffered not the twang
of heart-strings, its disinterested, ceaseless flow of
energy a distinct, if not somewhat contradictory
reminder of constancy.
Would I know beauty’s face when it stared into mine?
Nature seemed a mess of contradiction, a beauty that
found its perfection in its imperfection, in the way
it sprawled across the earth without the art of rhyme
nor the precision of reason, only a detached poetry
written in moments for the restless eye or the twitching ear.
Beautiful in life, beautiful in death, beautiful in the circle
which united life and death, beautiful in the realization
that there was no life and death, just an eternal flow
of energy, come full round in spirals. Who can say that
they know what beauty is when it has so many forms?
Who can say that they do not know what beauty is when
it has so many forms?
An old itch was beginning to form, a memory of the idea
that knowledge rarely brought anyone any real happiness.
So I felt with my head and thought with my heart, and my soul
remained in its place, the world flipped upside down. Perhaps
there is no down nor up, just the feeling of things being the way
they should be. The universe was vast in its completion,
miniscule in its particulars, and I was left standing somewhere
in the middle of it all, precisely in a position to marvel at it all,
precisely in a place to admire the beauty of not knowing,
precisely where I should be.
A short, short story that I’m working on for class. It’s all rambly, and I’m going to need to make some cuts, but I figured I’d share it before I make any changes. Enjoy.
The Stranger on the Train
I thought that I had seen your face among the flashing windows and parallel lines, lines headed in the same direction, lines that would never meet even when they had arrived – perhaps I have not seen you but merely a hopeful illusion cast by searching eyes. Even so, the traces of life that seem to crowd around me hint that you have been here. Black, not quite-circles checker the dimpled, caution yellow platform edge. I know they paint the platform that color to protect passengers from the train, but I can’t help the feeling that it’s to protect the passengers from themselves, a not-so-subtle reminder that stepping any further might be a bad idea. The black dots suggest that the reminder had been largely ignored.
These dots patterning the platform had once belonged to restless mouths, rows of teeth gnashing the fruity or minty or cinnamon life from thin strips of dry rubber, only to cast them away to become the problems of other men. These dots had all once had their own color, artificially dyed to resemble something that might taste like whatever it was they were supposed to taste like. But they had long endured the journeys of a million pairs of feet, a million characters forcing their stories on the hapless substance which had all but forgotten its own color. The dirt had collected; the blackness had become permanent; time had left a visible sign of its passing.
I walk next to a million people and yet our parallel lines will never cross. I can walk behind, in front, above, under, and even diagonal of them and yet our lines will never cross. Shoes can only be worn by one pair of feet at a time. I can know the feel of sole against sole, the lightness of one’s weight against the unyielding earth, but I can know all of these things without knowing the feeling of shoes on feet that are not my own. They say “step into my shoes,” but I know that to step into your shoes is to step out of mine, and in my becoming of you there is the unbecoming of me, all that is left, you, The Stranger.
I sit next to the walls that people build around themselves: a newspaper, held full-spread; a pair of headphones, played full-volume; a phone, tapped full-speed. I myself am wall-less, but I know that even without them, there is unbreakable glass separating all of us. Eyes are glass lenses, barriers that harvest the world of light to bring to the feast of experience. But the truth is that the food remains on the other side, and the fear is that we may never know its taste from within these glass walls. So we gather food from within and prepare feasts of our own, waiting, hoping that this meal will be shared. We are destined to eat alone – the newspapers and headphones and phones are signs of our resignation to this fact.
Aboard the train, ghosts had taken up residence in every corner that one could occupy. You had come and gone, leaving only vague clues of your sojourn. I want to reach out and feel the ethereal, the overlapping of existence, but the feeling can be nowhere but in the glass walls of mind. You pass into me as a memory of a life that I know only through its traces, the visible signs of your having been there. It is through these signs that your feet leave their prints on my mind, dents decorating the forgetful snow, fast disappearing in the sheets that continue to lay themselves over your passing.
The train plows through the thick morning air, molecules desperately clinging to the night’s repose before the sun comes to set them to work again. I am writing, my eyes fogged from having seen the full cycle of night, when you suddenly speak to me through a mouth sitting across the aisle. You ask about my writing. I ask about your life. We are exchanging the recipes of our lonely meals, the only way we can ever hope to share the taste of our existences. We hope others will enjoy its flavor.
The face you are wearing now had once been beautiful, but here too time had left signs of its passing, other lives had left their traces, and what was left was nothing but fatigue. Perhaps, if the hour were different, this face would have other things to show, but right now it is at its most naked. To an observing eye, the distance of strangers can sometimes reveal more truth than the closeness of lovers. Perhaps it always does.
In another time one would have had to pay close attention to see the signs of destination’s approach, but the world of the human is much smaller than it was yesterday – it takes a seemingly endless stream of electronic banners, automated announcements, conductor declarations, station signs, and perhaps even a personal phone alert system to precipitate people back into the larger world at hand. You look out the window and perhaps spot a familiar tree and begin to gather your things before the assault begins. You say it is your stop, but I already know: just as a tree can be a signal to something greater, so too can a certain grasp of hand, or a certain motion of legs. We exchange our goodbyes, knowing full well that we will never see the other’s face again. There is an easiness in the parting of strangers, no sorrow nor trepidation, just faring well. This face is gone without a second glance and you, The Stranger, are again faceless.
The sun rises in another place, its impending arrival in my own signaled by the gentle gradation of the distant sky’s color. Scraggly trees in their winter repose slide over the rainbow background, their quickness against the seeming fixture of sky suggestive of the relativity of time, of space, of every concept that a human could imagine. The deep blue is the death of night, the smoldering red is the birth of day, but they are both of them the children of light, different only in a certain motion of waves. Yet even in their similarity is the inevitability of identity’s solitude: blue cannot know what it is to be red, for in its becoming of red is the unbecoming of blue. Here, as in all things that are not ourselves, is The Stranger. Our lovers and mothers and sisters and brothers are as separate to us as any other. They are all of them The Stranger, and they vary only in their strangeness.
The Stranger is a reminder of the spiteful truth that it is but a wistful lie to believe that you are not alone.
What more do atoms bind
than the eyes which do find
objects, an infinite fold,
their stories all untold?
Of what more do lips speak
than mountain spring and river creek,
than star fires all aglow,
than northern winds all ablow?
And what more, oh, what more,
of thumb and fingers four,
of their industry which doth make,
of their gall, their will to take?
Tell me then, what more of sun’s fire,
without man to ever tire?
What more of planets great
without soul, beauty its to create?
If it is only through nature that we be,
then why speak any more of humanity?
I wrote this poem in response to something someone said in my class. He claimed that we are just nature, that the things we make are all just a part of nature, and that in the end, we and the things we create are nothing but nature. Indeed I have been cited to claim that a TV is as much a part of nature as we are, like how a beaver’s dam or an ant’s hill are part of nature, but I do think that there is more to man than just nature. Man is animal, but man is also more, just as a square is also a rectangle, but something more. A sun is powerful, but what is its power without man to admire it or to enjoy it? Suns are powerful, but a sun cannot imagine, cannot create worlds that do not exist, cannot do all the things that our minds can do nor feel all the things that our hearts can feel. Man is a part of and yet apart from the universe. It is our gift from the universe to recreate it in our minds as something unique. We are gifted with a world that, while based on one world, is all our own. Our existence is made richer than anything else in the universe because we have the ability to perpetually enrich it with the universe.
It is through nature that we be, and it is through our humanity that we become.
Write a poem about a person who goes to a zoo that urgently wants to see an animal. It can be from the perspective of a human or an animal. It must end in a sound or a gesture.
I am perched atop the head of a
creature much clunkier than I, its
oafish charm drawing the attention
of all the children. They yell and scream
when he turns about in the cool mud,
when he widens his jaw, baring colossal teeth.
A little girl in pink denim overalls
runs to the edge of the pen and tugs
at her mother’s sleeves. “The hippos! The hippos!”
The mother looks down at her child and
knows that this has been a successful trip:
“Yeah sweetie, just like in your book!”
I stretch my neck to put on a show,
I stretch my wings to make myself known.
But alas they are not looking at me,
I know they are not looking at me.
For I am not a bird atop a hippo’s head,
but a hippo with a bird atop its head.
~~~EDIT 11/20/12: Very slight changes.~~~
Please write a poem that makes an apology
– You may not include the words “I’m sorry.”
– You must include the word “butter” or “dinosaur.”
– You must include the name of a state
I know how you so love
the chewy deliciousness of
a fresh, oatmeal raisin cookie.
I know how you like the taste,
the mellow hints of butter,
the tangy burst of tiny fruits.
I know how these circular delights
tempt you so, how you searched for
them longingly at that famous New York bakery.
I know all about your deep
affections for the delectable treats.
Yet there is only one left on the
plate, and I simply cannot help myself.