16march2011 glenn gould


4march2011 in praise of shadows

from In Praise of Shadows by Junichiro Tanizaki, anthologized in The Art of the Personal Essay, Phillip Lopate ed.

I would call back at least for literature this world of shadows we are losing. In the mansion called literature I would have the eaves deep and the walls dark, I would push back into the shadows the things that come forward too clearly, I would strip away the useless decoration. I do not ask that this be done everywhere, but perhaps we many be allowed at least one mansion where we can turn off the electric lights and see what it is like without them.

5february2011 berlin

A long walk through Pankow yesterday to the Soviet Memorial in Schönholzer Heide. We followed signs for the Mauer Weg skirting train tracks and somber buildings divested of their neighborhoods. Wondering who lived there, the sign on one for a Pension Norwegen with opening and closing times only further mystified my idea of the lives inside. Several times where the landscape seemed to be on the verge of disintegrating there was an Aldi market looking both overly optimistic and forlorn. We lost the signs as it grew dark. The old man we stopped for directions lifted the wool hat from his ear and motioned for us to speak into it. His voice was raspy. He closed his eyes tightly as he summoned the directions for us. He asked where we were from. When I said New York, he said take me! He moved beside me and put his arm through mine. Let's go, he said. The gesture made him seem young, and for a moment possible we could go to New York that way. I suddenly remembered once packing a suitcase as a child and asking to be let out the door to South America. Laughing he stood back again. Then touching us each on the head he said goodbye.

4february2011 long story

photos ketuta alexi - meskhishvili

22january2011 steak and skate at the standard grill

There's a new post on The Standard Blog about steaks and skating.

17january2011 soundtrack: sugar baby

a Dock Boggs cover

6january2011 tease

I was eating potato chips in the kitchen with my friend, when her dog came in and gave me a look. I said, sorry pup, and finished off the last of them. With a certain decisiveness the dog turned around and left. And went to the bedroom and ripped apart my dirty underwear.

4january2011 things that made it better/things that didn't

things that made it better:

when you hadn't had any word, finding a letter in your mailbox

when you regretted lending your car, seeing a full tank of gas

things that didn't:

when very slowly and carefully you couldn't get the zipper open, it was tried fast

when your boots gave you blisters, and someone taped your feet with maxi pads

2january2011 soundtrack: robbie basho, wine song

27december2010 millsdale

To the right of the barn, extending behind it in a row are eight black walnut trees. As I walk up and see them receding beyond it I imagine a road composed of parallel ruts driving through hills of empty countryside. Houses hem the property on all sides but are invisible from that one perspective, and there the distance appears undivided and unbroken.

The snow does to the country what the wind does to the city. It makes it unfamiliar. A traveller would have to be well covered today, would approach and vanish through swirling mists of blowing snow, moving stiffly in the cold, sinking and stumbling over mounds of frozen grass, such that if I didn't exist here in the house my own backyard could be the wilds in which he died.


14december2010 open city

A Description is published in Issue 30 of Open City

4December2010\\|||the LedGe||///

From its perch the house looked over all its land and yet the view was hard to appreciate right away. It sat midway up the side of a small basin and below it the woods were bare and brown. Neighboring suburban houses, each with a lawn withering at the edge of the property line, were visible through the spare woods. And between them the remains of old stonewalls seemed to suggest the scraps of something that was once more sumptuous. Further on the left the small swale became a pond.

Somehow the trees were easy to overlook.

You would say you saw the houses through the trees—that the trees obscured them, but it was really the other way around—it was the fact of other houses nearby that made you miss the trees—that drew your attention in ways the trees didn’t.

The beauty of a view seems related to its breadth—to the way it contributes to some overall gesture, larger than itself, which doesn’t need to be huge so long as the elements in sight feel like they contribute to its movement. But here it seemed impeded by the other houses. Also just then the light was flat and made it difficult to see. A loose crochet of clouds was letting sky through, but the air was still and didn’t move them much in relation to the sun.

To get to the bottom of the property you descended between the house and the old dairy barn—a small red structure with a bowed roof and blue trim—and immediately below you discovered four, huge, black boulders spilling from it. The small barn then, which looked so neat and easy to know from the side, suddenly had a wild face from beneath as though it were participating somehow in this huge suspended tumble. It was the first moment you saw the buildings of the farm in terms of nature, and soon after you saw everything differently.

I noticed the distinctive smell of wild chives—their rubbery green spears penetrating flaxen swaths of dead grass that lay matted over everything. The chives and straw were flattened down the slope as though a tide of water had recently rushed over them. Masses of straw were tangled in bushes. It lay like scarves around the tree trunks and covered the floor of the basin like skin crisscrossed by the vein-like mounds of fallen branches. And when I looked back up the hill again at the draped shapes of rocks and trees and tangled undergrowth, a strange herd of golden-pelted animals seemed to stare back down at me.

From below, the house was surprisingly diminished. Instead of a strong downward momentum, from beneath you realized the land’s motion was rising—flexing—and the downward pull seemed like the side effect, like released potential, of an enormous effort upward. You started to recognize the vitality on which the farm had fed itself, and suddenly the land didn’t seem like lost space between the houses anymore. You registered their haphazardness on the earth’s topography, and then you also appreciated the buildings of the farm more. It had a kind of modesty. You thought of a farmer climbing up the hill several times a day and couldn’t conceive of arrogance. You knew how aware he must have been of the land’s strength and demands—of the energy that formed him physically, and supported him, and then probably tested that strength when he was old.

28november2010.stealing from myself.

A significant part of my daily wardrobe went missing while I was in Paris this summer. One day things were lying around the apartment, and a day later when I went to repack, I couldn't find them anywhere. It was a pair of shoes, a black vest, three sweaters and a long-sleeved shirt and a hair brush. I was the only person in the apartment, and a friend who came to dinner, and I couldn't imagine why anyone would steal those things unless the point was to make me crazy. I tore the apartment apart looking for them, and then put it back fastidiously, as though they might turn up in order. I still can't believe they're gone. I feel like I must have elided a small chain of gestures during a telephone call maybe. Though the reigning theory has revolved around the snippet of a dream--I remember being very active in my sleep, and half-waking to myself talking and also getting out of bed. I think it may have rained. The windows were open. I felt like people were around. A breeze made me cold. I went to put another shirt on excusing myself to these visitors. I wish I could get it out of my head, but since the garbage is the one place I didn't look, I've been stuck on the idea I might have bundled them up in my sleep and thrown them out. And because some of the things were newish, and bought when I shouldn't have been spending money, it almost feels like I might have done this to myself unconsciously on purpose.

19november2010::: sepia 12c :

loves to dance

feels cold but prefers cold weather

and to be bundled up in a cold room

generally keeps the windows open

craves bitter things and crunchy texture

gets tired between 4 and 6

everything worse when washing dishes

feels better with exercise

longs for vinegar

hands are cold, perspiring

wakes frequently at night



A man asked his son what he was supposed to say when he got his candy, and the boy turned back slowly and looked at me, and then speaking as though the answer were very strange and distant said thank you. His father said he'd reminded him on every stoop.

In some way I feel like I also spend each day trying to remember the same answer I know perfectly well by the end of it.

29september2010 zzzzz dreamer

I love how Lincoln Center disappears from a performance to reappear again at just the right moment in all its splendor and extend the sense of transport. And the way it houses you through intermission between its buildings that make it seem like you are seeing the whole city through new eyes, which find everything beautiful.

At the ballet last week during intermission the plaza was cleared by rain and shimmering. It was opening night of the symphony and across the way men and women were milling around on the balconies in tuxes and gowns. We'd just watched Wendy Whelan and Gonzalo Garcia dance to Prokofiev's Opus 19 in Jerome Robbins' piece The Dreamer. But I only really remembered Whelan who stood out so much the other dancers seemed like they were doing steps that were meant to approximate her movement, but had about as much in common with it as a foreign language spoken phonetically.

19september2010 %%the dying animal%%

I almost stepped on a bird the other day on Houston St. that looked a bit like a sandpiper, and was definitely a stranger to the city. It started walking into the street as the light changed and I made a half-hearted attempt to grab it before the traffic arrived, but it flew off to the other side and nearly into a car making a turn. I watched it with my hands over my mouth, wandering over there in the street as cars flew by, until the light changed and then ran over, but only got half-way before it shot off again on another low, blind trajectory and crashed right into the top of an oncoming cab. The sound of its impact was surprisingly distinct from all the street noise. I could see the anxious look on the cab driver's face. And then a young man darted into the traffic and scooped it up, and ran back to a bench on the median where his girlfriend was waiting. I crossed over to them. They were Russian. The bird was limp and he held it lightly between his hand. It revived itself and he placed it between the flowers behind the bench where it flapped around desperately for a few moments and I hoped briefly that he might also be brave enough to kill it. It stopped moving again, but it wasn't clear whether it was dead or not, so I suggested that we take it to the garden by the church on Mott and Prince incase it woke up and tried to fly, so he picked it up and the three of us went off. Then halfway there he asked if I knew of a vet nearby. The bird looked very still, but he said it felt like it might still be alive, so we looked one up, and they hailed a cab.

In some way the concern for animals in the city seems inversely proportional to how difficult we've made it for them to live here. I remember another afternoon I watched a group of picnickers in Central Park huddle over a sickly squirrel with their cell phones until they'd convinced the veterinary science student friend of a friend of someone to come with a pair of rubber gloves and some tupperware. It seems like anyone who was used to animals in their natural habitat would have a better grasp of which ones were hopeless cases. And in part these extremes seem like a sort of denial, but then again this intense concern also seems like an important part of the way we keep the city human.


I only realized, trying to explain how it was coming back to New York, how few people I know who live in the place they grew up. I kept saying, Well you know it’s home, and being a little surprised to feel the word falter when I said it, or like the thing I meant wasn’t really obvious, or wasn’t even known—the way some people get by without a mother tongue.

In this case I think what's special about New York is that my home town feels like mine independent of my childhood—that I have both the city I knew as a child and the one I’ve made as an adult. While it seems at least partly like many people don’t live where they grew up because it doesn’t suit who they want to be.

I rarely feel like I’m in the city of my childhood—don’t feel any particular entitlement to the city I live in now coming from the fact that I was raised here. And actually there was a pretty painful period of adjustment, coming back from college, when I arrived expecting to take it for granted, and found myself a stranger to the place I thought I knew. Or realized I didn’t yet know the city of New York I wanted to live in, because New York is so much about what you make of yourself, and gets reorganized around who you want to be, which gives everyone their claim to it.

What I feel most now when I say home is a sense of future—a sense of permanence—an unquestioned sense of setting for what is next. The sense of a choice, though rooted by this fact of growing up here.

11august2010......::::la parure::::.........

I read La Parure yesterday, a short story by Maupassant about a girl born without access to the luxury she feels she deserves, who borrows a diamond necklace to go to her one-and-only-ball, only to loose it and go into ten years of debt to replace it secretly. In the decade of earning it back she looses all her beauty cooking and cleaning and scrimping, only to admit its replacement to her friend once she and her husband have paid it off finally, to which the friend exclaims that it was only a fake! Worth no more than 500 francs.

The story seemed hauntingly unfair, until I started to feel like the fiction was unfair. Without a big stretch of the imagination I thought the necklace might become her property, since it was worth more than a hundred times the one she lost. And she might sell it then, doubling her fortune, and have some access to all that comforts and pleasure that meant so much in the beginning. It read like her labor was all for nothing, but it seems more likely her values would have changed in the meantime. She would even seem a little trite and unsympathetic if the luxury she envied so much as a young woman had the same importance, and that she'd suffered just lusting over fancy clothes and parties. What seemed so interesting about her in the beginning wasn't her materialism, but the sense of some interior fineness at odds with the roughness of her surroundings. A fineness easily misguided by materialism, but that seemed like it ought to transcend in order to be proven.

The worst aspect of the story felt like it was actually just a constriction of likely possibilities. I thought of another scene, a few months later, sitting in her apartment, savoring the afternoon with a cup of tea served by a new maid, simply and tastefully dressed, her roughened hands healing, aged and less pretty, but more beautiful somehow, a little wiser and not so restless, and maybe even grateful for what she had.


18july2010______||}strangers in the dark(){}[]

It got dark the other day while I was running and I remembered a time in college walking to my boyfriend’s late at night when I’d first arrived in Boston and the emptiness of the streets made me nervous. Certain large isolated distances—like the pedestrian bridges crossing the highway—always seemed ripe for some kind of confrontation, and especially in the beginning I called him right before I left so that he’d expect me. I’d just crossed the bridge and was hurrying to a brighter area, not liking how worried I was, when someone jumped out of a doorway behind me and grabbed me around the shoulders. I screamed and stumbled with him into a mailbox before I realized it was my boyfriend. He told me he’d been watching the whole time, and to walk in the streets at night to be safer. And I think I worried less about strangers after that, because I felt like I already knew the worst maniac, and there was probably no one who’d confirm my fears better than a person who knew me.

12july2010 heat, coffee, shirt, farewell, etc.

I'm not sure if it's the heat, or the short time I have left in Berlin that makes me reluctant to describe things.

I spend the last moments in bed each morning feeling the heat overtake the breeze, and stay in all day with the windows closed and curtains drawn. All I want to eat is fruit. I pass the people I usually see running now at 9pm. I’m lazier maybe—tired all the time and not sleeping well—waking up twisted to daylight at 4 am—but I don't have so many impressions—which is either like being in the moment, or else like an extravagant forgetfulness.

I learned the Italian rituals of coffee last week, where the emphasis of goodness seems less on the provenance of beans, and more on its presentation. Espresso gets served beside a small pitcher of hot water so that you can dilute your own Americano—in ice coffee it gets shaken like a cocktail and poured in a martini glass.

And I learned a little about the funny intimacy involved in choosing a man’s shirt—the loving attention to the small difference between buttons and button holes, pale colors and miniscule stripes, between weight, weft and warp of cottons, the stiffness of collars, and roundness of hems and cuffs—deciding between them almost like a male sensitivity training.

Just a couple weeks left in this apartment and I keep thinking I should invite people before it’s all dismantled, but haven’t managed yet. In a way I feel like people can come with me, and what I want is just to savor the last bit of routine, and let time run out in an ordinary way.

24june2010 solitary rose

14 june 2010 fontanepromenade

The Fontanepromenade is a sandy walk flanked on both sides by the street and lined with maples and primroses—a causeway for a tide of undefined movement. A route for carrying a message, or reading a letter, for seeing the first snow—the place to sit after an argument or a loss, the news of a prize or a pregnancy. I can imagine myself in love stretching it endlessly—its variable length also suited to a hobbling heartache—to moments that detach themselves like a recitation or a song from the constant murmur. A little freedom somehow—a small independence for the young girl slowly walking her dog with a furry, pink pocketbook over her shoulder, for babies learning to walk and tall children earning their solitude—for people who don't fit in elsewhere, teenagers and drunks. Its parallel position to the streets is just what makes it so well suited to the minute but immeasurable distance of all these nearly nameless events from regular traffic.

2 june 2010 innocent like the rest of them

In New York a couple years ago I was standing in front of a crowded gallery with a beer in my hand when a police car pulled up...

the rest of this story of being arrested

26 may 2010 paris improbability

A naked woman floated above the Rue de Rivoli, sunning herself on a balcony, her legs resting on the window shutters. We watched her from a restaurant below eating strawberries with rum and shaved ice.


Rounding the corner of the Rue Dragon we came face to face with two cassocked priests, not at all unfashionable, almost dapper in the shimmer of their satin belts.


In a dressing room I got a nosebleed, and interrogated by the suspicious shop lady on our way out.


A man begging on the curb, held one hand open and a pain au chocolat in the other.


At the Bon Marché wondering whether some shoes were too conservative, two nuns came up to look at them.


A grandfatherly man in a suit and cane, making his way laboriously past our bench, stopped to ask us for a cigarette.


In the Jardin Luxembourg the lady who sold us water said that we were charming, and showed us some Lilly of the Valley given to her by an admirer. For a long time she said she’d been suspicious of men, but now she was reconciled.

nicolai lilin

text and tattoos by nicolai lilin

9 may 2010 +++ poetics of space + another thing about apple trees ++

From Gaston Bachelard, pg. 65—'To sleep well we do not need to sleep in a large room, and to work well we do not have to work in a den. But to dream of a poem, then write it, we need both...Thus the dream house must possess every virtue. However spacious, it must also be a cottage, a dove-cote, a nest, a chrysalis.'

Copying this I realized he imagined big rooms to dream in and close ones to write, but at first read I immediately wanted a small room to sleep in, and a big one to work in.

From Neruda's Book of Questions

'Don't you see that the apple tree flowers

only to die in the apple?'

7 may 2010 lame spring

The grayness of the days is too bright for lamps to counteract, too cold for them to warm so that only nighttime seems cheerful.

2 may 2010.......lilacs are blooming

Crossing the street I passed a middle-aged woman in a long, sky-blue dress and crocheted, lavender bolero showing off big mushy breasts. She looked precariously balanced on her heels, her hair brushed out and frizzy, she had on bright lipstick and blue eyeshadow. In some way it would have been easy to dismantle her lumpy, colorful awkwardness, and yet it seemed so evident the person she was meeting would find her beautiful that evening.

25 april 2010 NUN PLOT

A plot of nuns caught my attention in the graveyard.

Their thin grey stones cut with the same plain pattern of a habit,

Planted directly in the earth and settling at imperfect angles,

The grass around them poorly seeded in the shade,

Their utilitarian modesty now effortlessly achieved in death.

They were old—a couple even centenary.

Each had the numbers of a scripture beneath her dates.

I wrote them down thinking I’d look up what inspired them,

But found their last prayers instead—

Made in faith that strove for such humility

They avowed their blindness even at the final step.


16 april 2010 sprouting

Back to Berlin. Back to running in the park. I’ve never had a routine in New York that approaches the ritual my runs are here. When I write it’s often the only time I leave the house. They’ve coincided the last week with the only moments of sunshine. Day sets after I come home and from the close retrospect of dinner, I tend to forget the hours of fidgeting at my desk, plan to get up earlier, do more again the next.

The trees are flowering but it hasn’t gotten green. A cold snap has slowed things down. People seem a little like they’ve been grounded—kept in from near-by excitement—the carefree, lingering, languorous happiness of Berlin spring and summer hasn’t yet erupted.

Drumming has started in the park though. Two groups camp on opposite sides of the same field, differentiated mostly by the long, lazy groan of a tenor saxophone in one. Stout, head-scarved Turkish women and their adult sons are out with scissors collecting ramps and wild mustard greens. And I’ve been sprouting sunflower seeds, adzuki beans and chickpeas. A nice project when you work at home—multiple rinsings make good breaks. They sprout so quickly—a night in water straight out of their dry packages and the chickpeas showed signs of nascent stems—unrelated growth but a nice assurance of all that’s happening in the season.

14 april 2010

As an apple tree among the trees of the wood,

So is my beloved among young men. —Song of Solomon 2:3

15 march 2010 reading recording

Here the LINK to a recording of a short reading I gave at a PenTales gathering in NYC, February 24th, on the theme of Love and Heartbreak. (Scroll down to the middle bottom of the page.)

4 march 2010 sword in the stone

Strange return to a theme—one of my first entries, almost exactly a year ago was the poem The Pleasant Things of Taliesin, from The Four Ancient Books of Wales, and yesterday I began Robert Graves' The White Goddess, A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth which turns out to deal primarily with the Mabinogion the most famous collection of traditional Welsh romances, of which The Book of Taliesin makes up an important part.

In the romance a nobleman has a wife Cerridwen and they have two children—a beautiful girl, and a hideous boy, whom Cerridwen decides to make highly intelligent to compensate for it. She brews a potion a whole year and a day and puts a boy Gwion to stir it day and night. As he stirs near the end of the year, three drops fly out and land on his finger, which he puts in his mouth and immediately knows past and future and all the universe, and understands that Cerridwen plans to kill him when the time is up. If you've seen Disney's 1963 version of Sword in the Stone, you might recognize what follows. Here is what happens when Cerridwen finds out—

He fled and she pursued him like a black screaming hag. By use of the powers that he had drawn from the cauldron he changed himself into a hare; she changed herself into a greyhound. He plunged into a river and became a fish; she changed herself into an otter. He flew up into the air like a bird; she changed herself into a hawk. He became a grain of winnowed wheat on the floor of the barn; she changed herself into a black hen, scratched the wheat over with her feet, found him and swallowed him. When she returned to her own shape she found herself pregnant of Gwion and nine months later bore him as a child. She could not find it in her heart to kill him because he was very beautiful...

In the Disney version Merlin has a wizard duel with Madam Mim, in which this happens almost exactly except that Mim becomes a dragon at the end and Merlin finishes as a flu virus that infects her and leaves her in bed with a fever...I won't try to say something about the obvious shame of this, since I barely know the traditional texts myself. But there is something especially ironic about making this discovery in Graves' book, since his thesis is about how the language of poetic myth, current in the ancient Mediterranean and Northern Europe, was a "magical language bound up with popular ceremonies in honor of the Moon-goddess" that was tampered with by invaders who "began to substitute patrilinear for matrilinear institutions and remodel or falsify myths to social changes," and by the Greeks who saw it as a threat to logic, and the Christians for their own religion. Graves book then is about restoring as much as possible of the original meaning to the remaining fragments. I'm almost sure that in 1948 when he finished it he must have felt he'd staked a definitive marker over the remains, even if they were hardly read. He probably couldn't have imagined just how the coverup would continue in 1963.

2 february 2010 Genora Dollinger

Here is a transcript of an interview with Bill Moyers and Howard Zinn just a couple months ago before his death. They watch a clip of Marisa Tomei during the interview, re-enacting a speech made by Genora Dollinger who protested in the Union strikes of the 1930's. I don't know how it will read. As I read it now it, and even as I heard it, I couldn't say why it was particularly special, except that I was very moved. And when the interview resumed Zinn was also crying.

(The History Channel will premiere a 90-minute special, "The People Speak" based on Howard Zinn's book.)

BILL MOYERS: What do you think these characters from the past that we will see on the screen, what do they have to say to us today?

HOWARD ZINN: Well, I think what they have to say to us today is think for yourself. Don't believe what the people up there tell you. Live your own life. Think your own ideas. And don't depend on saviors. Don't depend on the Founding Fathers, on Andrew Jackson, on Theodore Roosevelt, on Lyndon Johnson, on Obama. Don't depend on our leaders to do what needs to be done.

Because whenever the government has done anything to bring about change, it's done so only because it's been pushed and prodded by social movements, by ordinary people organizing, by, you know, Lincoln pushed by the anti-slavery movement. You know, Johnson and Kennedy pushed by the southern black movement. And maybe hopefully Obama today, maybe he will be pushed by people today who have such high hopes in him, and who want to see him fulfill those hopes.

BILL MOYERS: One of my favorite sequences is in here, is when we meet Genora Dollinger. Tell me about her.

HOWARD ZINN: She was a woman who got involved in sit-down strikes of the 1930s. Those very dramatic moments when workers occupied the factories of General Motors and wouldn't leave, and therefore left the corporations helpless. But this was a time when strikes all over the country galvanized people and pushed the New Deal into the reforms that we finally got from the New Deal. And Genora Dollinger represents the women who are very often overlooked in these struggles, women so instrumental in supporting the workers, their men, their sweethearts. And Genora Dollinger just inspires people with her words.

BILL MOYERS: She was only 23 when she organized.

HOWARD ZINN: Amazing. Yes.

[MARISSA TOMEI as GENORA DOLLINGER]: Workers overturned police cars to make barricades. They ran to pick up the fire bombs thrown at them and hurl them back at the police. The men wanted to me to get out of the way. You know the old "protect the women and children" business. I told them, "Get away from me." The lights went on in my head. I thought I have never used a loud speaker to address a large crowd of people but I've got to tell them there are women down here. I called to them, "Cowards! Cowards! Shooting into the bellies of unarmed men and firing at the mothers of children." And then everything became quiet. I thought, "The women can break this up." So I appealed to the women in the crowd, "Break through those police lines and come down here and stand beside your husbands and your brothers and your uncles and your sweethearts." I could barely see one woman struggling to come forward. A cop had grabbed her by the back of her coat. She just pulled out of that coat and she started walking down to the battle zone. As soon as that happened there were other women and men who followed. That was the end of the battle. When those spectators came into the center of the battle and the police retreated, there was a big roar of victory.

30 j a n u a r y 2010 {}{}{}{}{} MoMa {}{}{}{}{}

27 j a n u a r y 2010.......learning....

What I wanted seemed completely untrustworthy for a time, like it conflicted constantly with what I was aiming for—as though drawing a body I argued with every line that strayed from what I thought I knew, so that I made image after image of flat illusions.

Merce Cunningham and John Cage's New York City loft.

17 j a n u a r y 2010///////\\\cunningham\\\\//

I took a class last week at the Merce Cunningham studio. It was the most fun, demoralizing thing. They have open classes called elementals, though the majority of the students are essentially professional. I think one woman was actually in the company. The teacher was Merce's choreography assistant.

The studio is incredible—the whole top floor of the Westbeth artist's community. Huge windows with views in every direction, the river and the village. Everything is painted a dingy cream color, there are signs taped all over, reminders and schedules, and notices like "holes in your socks? no shoes in the studio", old pictures of Merce hanging on the walls, there's a warm, steamy radiator smell mixed with sweat, people in dance outfits sitting on the floor, the sound of minimal repetitive tapping from the drum accompaniment, it was so intimate somehow, I had such a sense of the great loss his death is to that place.

Surprising how welcoming it was. I didn't feel attitude from anyone. Thought it wonderful how some place could be so self-selecting without having an attitude—open to everybody, deciding just on what can be endured or achieved. I haven't taken a dance class since high school and was so lost. My poor, overwhelmed brain couldn't distinguish left from right by the end. I was worthless on the floor combinations. The teacher was very sweet, gave my shoulders a squeeze when he saw my distress.

10 j a n u a r y 2010

Things I was too tired to think through, but that kept me from sleeping:

The temptation to mystify experience—like the temptation to take some small thing that didn't belong to you.

Spider dreams, night movements

Becoming young. And becoming plain. Realizing I am more sensitive than I thought.

The experience of loosing something and regaining it. The work involved in getting well.

Nothing wiser than understanding what sort of experience is out of reach and why.

The thought—these thoughts are less important than the sleep I would get by stilling them.

The letter I would like to write to Cormac McCarthy.

The place I'd like to live.

1JANUARY2 0 1 0









I find strange the sense of loss for things that never belonged to me. In Berlin, crossing Potsdamer plaz, I’ll suddenly mourn cafés I never knew. A friend wrote the other day and said a portrait of her grandmother, which hung for years in a dark corner, went at auction for a small fortune to an unnamed Russian. She is standing in a blue satin dress, her brown hair drawn back and parted in the middle, a straw hat hanging from her wrist, a vista like a canyon opening behind her. The sky is green. A few clouds are being hurried by the wind, as though it meant to have them out of sight before she looked again. A person people must have strived to impress—something direct in her expression, but soft, on the brink of smiling—whose esteem must have felt radiant. A quality to her that looks like it hasn't been fully captured makes the painting all the more desirable.


light and ironic

on serious subjects

without frivolity

The heading above from Ree Morton, whose show I was lucky enough to catch today at the Drawing Center on its last day. I’m brimming with a kind of everything stew being back in New York. It’s so easy to absorb things. There’s so much to absorb. I saw the Samurai exhibit at the Met. I loved the animal forms on the helmets—rabbit ears, crab claws, swallow tails—so realistic and specific, but also so essential somehow they were almost hard to recognize. I thought I knew what Westerners might have felt first looking at an elephant—so dazzled by the form you didn’t understand what you were seeing, and couldn’t see the whole picture, hence those weird first renderings of certain creatures. But the swords were equally impressive. Room after room of frozen gesture. Looking material only because they were paired with shadows. Each one like a statement so true and severe it was hard to believe they could be placed together without argument. I’m missing a picture of them. The little Chinese vessels are like cousins of a different element. There was a video of a 14th generation sword polisher. The man who accepts the work of so many ancestors must also have a rare conception of destiny and death. I went to the Strand and St. Mark’s books and bought nearly everything I lay my hand on just happy to be able to browse again and choose things that caught my eye, and to find the things I was looking for. So far I’ve read Dennis Cooper's God. Jr.. And that has mixed surprisingly well with Ree Morton and the Samurais, as well as the bright sky, sharp with cold, and the catenary of the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges also like the swords. I liked Cooper’s book very much for certain things. I like that the content is short enough to be a story, but could not be anything less than a book—he’s so deft at carving in that space between what’s written. Maybe he and Morton also share the quality of being personal but not confessional. Finding a way to convey an experience through the form of experience. Their orientations quite different, but which makes the pairing good to think about.


We were sitting in the grass when my mother stood and told me she was going. I understood the separation would be final because when I asked her how, she pointed at a book in my lap and directed me to a poem about night that made me sob as I read it. I watched until she disappeared at the end of the field, and then I went indoors to look at all the things bereft of her. With every thing I noticed I felt I shouldn’t have let her go so easily—things that smelled so strongly of her and still contained the warmth of her hands. So I went and came eventually to the edge of a lake where I found her getting into a boat. I said even if the leaving was inevitable she had to let me row her to the other side—to say goodbye—that it was too much for a poem to do, though poetry might say everything we couldn’t about this departure.

She let me in. The feeling was almost jovial as we paddled across. When we reached the other shore the weather turned bad, and I joked that I couldn’t go back now, that I would have to go on with her. But she showed me an olive leaf—just one, plucked from a branch—that looked very erect as she held it between her fingers. I understood then, as I never had before, that olive trees were evergreen. She seemed distant and impersonal, and I understood that on this shore there were nothing but eternal gestures, and everything I could still have of her was on the other side in her absence.

clara bow


2December2009______around the block_____


Amaryllis are in bloom.

Their trumpet-like blossoms remind me of Gramophones

broadcasting in all directions.

They seem like such an extravagance.

Those tall thick stems,

are actually hollow.

But you can find them in all the flower shops.

Yes, I think they even have them at the subway stations.

Afternoons between 1 and 2, Monday, Wednesday, Friday they build the fire at the bakery. A tall American with long arms and a deep voice fills the oven with wood. A domed, clay oven with two small metal doors. A crack runs overtop from the left side, which must have happened the very first time they heated it. Though it wouldn’t have been apparent all at once. The eyes scrutinizing all the new construction, so sensitive to imperfections, must have doubted it at first, like a worried hallucination. And then while still refining other details, accepted it with a sort of bitter reluctance over the next few firings. It grew and grew and then stopped getting any worse, and almost immediately the way it looked wouldn't have mattered because everything was working as it should. Why don’t I see a baker shouting? There are too many things to do. The fault and the realization happen over time. It’s all a ritual perfected by repetition. There’s a table right in front and the doors stay open as the fire is stoked. You can sit and watch it grow from a forest of separate little flames, into an entity with a single breath.

November was mild. The kind of fall we’d expected of October, which was astoundingly severe—rain and cold and impenetrably grey. There wasn’t any chance of waiting to turn on the heat. The leaves of one plant shriveled against the window. Today was unmistakably December—like marble cold and still and bright.

The psychiatric day-clinic looms large in my imagination. The size of one full block, yellow brick, a smokestack stemming from the middle of its buildings. Two-thirds seem unused. That fascinates me for some reason. The occasional inexplicable window is lit at night. The silence on the street around it seems thicker, as though the walls were a semi-permeable boundary into which all the quiet of the city osmosed—all speechlessness, all sleep, all bodily stillness.

One of my favorite cafes doubled in size over the weekend. The owner’s father arrived with the potted plants as I sat at my new favorite table, and restored them to the window. A small palm and a jade plant. They had lengths of red and blue ribbon tied and curled among their branches—for the occasion, or the season.

22november2009 /////laughter//;

In the street yesterday a woman passed me talking to herself. A few paces ahead of me she stopped and broke into shrieks of laughter. I was drinking yogurt and lost my appetite at the sound. She was tall and narrow and wore a long, jean skirt without tights that wound itself around her ankles like a towel as she walked. She had short, girlish, white socks and a pair of florescent orange sneakers and a quilted jacket. The thin strap of a pocketbook was slung across her back. She didn’t seem dressed so much as like she’d assembled articles of clothing that by chance resembled an outfit, or had what was requisite to seem clothed. Maybe because of the feeling in my stomach, I suddenly anticipated a smell. Her hair was chin-length and grey, and looked wet. At the end of the block she crossed the street and went to a building where she pushed a bell repeatedly. I passed and stopped paying attention before I saw if she was let in. It was hard to imagine what might be inside for her—what she would find anywhere. I think the idea that came to mind was sort of like a hope—that maybe she’d only just woken that morning to the onset of this craziness, like the aura of a migraine, and was rushing to someone who knew what to do for the episode, and that the shrill, bitter panic of the laughter was actually like still the sound of someone knowing and hating what was happening, and not the noise of complete delusion.

mario montez and cat with mario montez and moderator

7november2009...courage and cowards...

From Cormac McCarthy All The Pretty Horses,

That night I thought long and not without despair about what must become of me. I wanted very much to be a person of value and I had to ask myself how this could be possible if there were not something like a soul or like a spirit that is in the life of a person and which could endure any misfortune or disfigurement and yet be no less for it. If one were to be a person of value that value could not be a condition subject to the hazards of fortune. It had to be a quality that could not change. No matter what. Long before morning I knew that what I was seeking to discover was a thing I'd always known. That all courage was a form of constancy. That it was always himself that the coward abandoned first. After this all other betrayals came easily.

I knew that courage came with less struggle for some than for others but I believed that anyone who desired it could have it. That the desire was the thing itself. The thing itself. I could think of nothing else of which that was true.

And from Kierkegaard on The Present Age

If the jewel which every one desired to possess lay far out on a frozen lake where the ice was very thin, watched over by the danger of death, while closer in the ice was perfectly safe, then in a passionate age the crowds would applaud the courage of the man who ventured out, they would tremble for him and with him in the danger of his decisive action, they would grieve over him if he were drowned, they would make a god of him if he secured the prize. But in an age without passion, in a reflective age, it would be otherwise. People would think each other clever in agreeing that it was unreasonable and not even worth while to venture so far out. And in this way they would transform daring and enthusiasm into a feat of skill, so as to do something, for after all "something must be done." The crowds would go out to watch from a safe place, and with the eyes of connoisseurs appraise the accomplished skater who could skate almost to the very edge (i.e., as far as the ice was still safe and the danger had not yet begun) and then turn back. The most accomplished skater would manage to go out to the furthermost point and then do a still more dangerous-looking run, so as to make the spectators hold their breath and say: "Ye gods! He is mad, he is risking his life." But look, and you will see that his skill was so astonishing that he managed to turn back just in time, while the ice was perfectly safe and there was still no danger. As at the theater, the crowd would applaud and acclaim him, surging homeward with the heroic artist in their midst, to honor him with a magnificent banquet. For intelligence has got the upper hand to such an extent that it transforms the real task into an unreal trick, and reality into a play...Now the proper relation between the admirer and the object of admiration is one in which the admirer is edified by the thought that he is a man like the hero, humbled by the thought that he is incapable of such great actions, yet morally encouraged to emulate him according to his powers; but where intelligence has got the upper hand the character of admiration is completely altered. Even at the height of the banquet, when the applause was loudest, the admiring guests would all have a shrewd notion that the action of the man who received all the honor was not really so extraordinary, and that only by chance was the gathering for him, since after all, with a little practice, everyone could have done as much.

2november2009 revision

I am revising what I said a couple weeks ago about Rilke. I said his complaint about not being able to feel reassured by the natural world was maybe not so much a desire for a specific experience, but weariness and a description of estrangement—of an inner experience always trumping the external. And that's probably true, but only partially, because it's Rilke, and somehow if he hadn't been after a specific experience, he wouldn't have discovered what he did. If he hadn't believed that objects and nature could and should speak directly to him with all the proof and inspiration that he was looking for, then he wouldn't have seen such immediacy in the simple way things stand together, or achieved the same in his poetry.

His craving is a having, as Marilynne Robinson puts it:

(from Housekeeping pg. 152)

To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow. For when does a berry break upon the tongue as sweetly as when one longs to taste it, and when is the taste refracted into so many hues and savors of ripeness and earth, and when do our senses know any thing so utterly as when we lack it? And here again is a foreshadowing—the world will be made whole. For to wish for a hand on one's hair is all but to feel it. So whatever we many lose, very craving gives it back to us again. Though we dream and hardly know it, longing, like an angel, fosters us, smooths our hair, and brings us wild strawberries.

1november2009 a scene from the young life of stalin

From Young Stalin by Simon Sebag Montefiore

The males in each family, from children upwards, also paraded, drinking wine and singing until night fell, when the real fun began. This "assault of free boxing"—the sport of krivi—was a "mass duel with rules": boys of three wrestled other three-year-olds, then children fought together, then teenagers and finally the men threw themselves into "an incredible battle," by which time the town was completely out of control, a state that lasted into the following day—even at school, where classes fought classes.


The days grew so dark this week.

The sky came down from its summer height and buried us.

I heard the topic spread in conversation like a yawn across the café—

how we’ll all be muffled beneath the woolen wadding

of this grey the next six months.

In the mist the trees are stilled

as though they saw something and tried not to breath,

as though an exhalation might disperse the form in swirling, curling waves.

A forest has risen all around them.

They are transfixed.

The city has faded behind thousands of trees

all black and bare and thirsting.

Maybe it’s only difficult to see because of their own close resemblance

to these branches transformed by darkness,

who drink only from the mist against their skin, like roots.

The strain of looking takes a toll.

Day by day their leaves are growing old, yellow.

Occasionally in the stillness one leaf begins to flap

furiously, frantically as though it realized

what was happening and tried to wake the rest.

Everyday they become more and more

the thing they see.

All prayers should begin—I will die.

I wonder, as life recedes from the season,

what I’ve seen and remembered well enough to describe?

What I’ve understood well enough to make sense of

when it is transformed into its opposite?


I never liked the smell of lilies in the house,

but here I do

just because it reminds me of home.


i graffiti on your mosaic

11October2009/////////Rilke Correspondence

I’ve been reading Rilke’s correspondence with Lou Andreas-Salome. He often complains about not being able to take more pleasure from the natural world. “Never have I been so unreachable,” he says, pg. 282, “by the wind, by trees, by the mighty stars…” And I find myself getting impatient—as in what does he expect from these things? On pg. 284, copying from his notebook he writes, "He remembered the times when...he would grow aware of the star-filled nocturnal sky...how, if he but submitted to it long enough, it would be absorbed so perfectly in the clear solution of his heart that the savor of creation would be dispersed throughout his being." But even so I think the complaint is more of a description of his feeling of estrangement than the desire for a specific experience—the weariness with the inability to be in the world—of having a strong inner experience always trumping the external, of having no effortless enjoyment of your surroundings, of the beauty feeling unrelated, or noticed only with remembered pleasure.

Still I think I know why it bothers me. First, just because I'd like things to be different for him. Second, because I can enjoy trees right now, and don’t like to be reminded of when I haven’t or won't. But third is the problem of reading more than 300 pages of them writing almost entirely in these moments, and feeling simultaneously enticed by their urgency, but also like it's not the full picture. There are long periods when they don’t write, but then reach out again and almost always from the depth of exhaustion or else some high, high height of excitement to hear it chime in the other. I find myself wishing they would envelope that intensity back inside the ordinary world, instead of magnifying it, since each exhaustion seems to precipitate another. The tone of his poetry is so different from the experience in these letters, so transformed. The Rilke in these letters is so full of sharp, immediate crisis, so observant but without that perspective I know him for in his poems.

4October2009----------Fall, Falling-----\\\\\\\

Full moon tonight. High and white and far. It’s cold again.

I fell off my bike this week. No serious injuries—bruises, torn pants. My front wheel got stuck in the tram tracks and I tipped over in the middle of an intersection. A woman rushed over and asked if I was all right, but I think I might have said yes as though she'd offended me. I shoved my bike to the curb, and walked into the courtyard feeling furious and embarrassed. I remember, as I walked, having some thought about shock, but can’t piece it together now, because I can’t make sense of it. It seemed to be about accidents in general, and people experiencing shock in accidents—which is probably the best indication of actually being in shock—this arrival of the thought, as though from nowhere, about people in accidents being in shock, without making the association to yourself. I got flustered trying to lock my bike—close to tears when the key stuck for half a moment, but didn’t feel actual pain until I got to the stairs and discovered it was almost impossible to put any weight on one knee. German class started. The urge to cry surprised me. I felt like something completely unfair was being asked every time I had to answer a question—like I was being rushed to gather myself back inside too quickly.

I forgot what it was like to fall. People say we were used to falling as kids. But children cry. I started to think of school and realized my reaction to fallen classmates was usually unsympathetic. As a child I thought crying was just babyish—like it had to do with your tolerance of pain. I expected to grow out of it, the way I thought I would grow out of telling my parents I loved them. Still, sometimes you cried and went to the nurse’s office, often on the arm of another classmate, through quiet halls that seemed foreign without the teacher's guidance. The classmate reported the accident, but then nothing definite seemed to happen. You were patted and sat on a cot by the copy machine with a sandwich bag of ice, which you often sucked instead of applying to the injury. Gradually, as the fall faded away, you became aware of the surroundings, and then self conscious of being there any longer, and asked to return to class.

3October2009 walk at wannsee

black butterfly

23september2009 A Watery Look

Yesterday, a man selling street news came up to me at a café. I had a book open, and also happened to be writing, but felt him spot me from down the block. I said no, I couldn’t read German, but he gave me a look like water—like hardness would only be felt by the hand that slapped it—and said maybe I wanted to give him 20 cents anyway. He smiled. He might have been a fool but not dumb. There are people who sell these papers on the train who drone their spiel and run a cup indiscriminately past everyone, or sometimes the request is seething with aggression, or else they have a horrible politeness like the pantomime of children's manners. In all those cases it’s easy to refuse because the world is nothing but an indistinguishable mass for them—they can’t tell who gives, or why, nothing informs them—which makes it easy to disappear on the other side of their obliviousness.

20september2009 naked in berlin


This morning, my neighbor on his terrace watching the marathon runners go by.

Wednesday afternoon, a small boy in a café eating an ice cream cone.

In the Tiergarten, the splayed bodies of gay men tanning.

People nestled in the tree roots at water’s edge of the Schlachtensee.

The woman who smoked a cigarette with wet hands while the sun dried her after a swim, wearing a grayish-white thong, and looking somehow more naked for it.

My feeling, as I passed a girl sitting on a park bench, wearing a red skirt, her hair in a bun, a book in her lap, my own book under my arm, my own red skirt on my hips.

13september2009 pREAMBLE fROM tHE hEART

From Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling

Temporality, finitude is what it all turns on. I am able by my own strength to renounce everything, and then find peace and repose in the pain... But by my own strength I cannot get the least little thing of what belongs to finitude; for I am continually using my energy to renounce everything. By my own strength I can give up the princess, and I shall be no sulker but find joy and peace and repose in my pain, but with my own strength I cannot get her back again, for all that strength is precisely what I use to renounce my claim on her. But by faith, says that marvelous knight, by faith you will get her on the strength of the absurd.

Alas, this movement is one I cannot make! As soon as I want to begin it everything turns around and I flee back to the pain of resignation. I can swim in life, but for this mysterious floating I am too heavy. To exist in such a way that my opposition to existence expresses itself every instant as the most beautiful and safest harmony, that I cannot. And yet it must be glorious to get the princess, I say so every instant and the knight of resignation who doesn't say so is a deceiver...And yet it must be wonderful to get the princess, and yet it is only the knight of faith who is happy, only he is heir apparent to the finite, whereas the knight of resignation is a stranger, a foreigner. To get the princess in this way, to live in joy and happiness, in her company day in and day out—we have to allow, of course, that the knight of resignation, too, may get the princess, even though he has clearly perceived the impossibility of their future happiness—thus to live joyfully and happily in this way every moment on the strength of the absurd, every moment to see the sword hanging over the loved one's head and yet to find, not repose in the pain of resignation, but joy on the strength of the absurd—that is wonderful. The one who does that, he is great, the only great one, the thought of it stirs my soul, which was never sparing in its admiration of greatness.

Oh 9 Oh 9 2 Oh Oh 9

It’s surprising to understand so much detail at a distance, to get a whole picture in a glimpse. From a plane I saw a horse throwing its head and racing in a wild mood. To see the horse is one thing—but to understand the mood at that distance is surprising. To look and understand things so specifically at distances across which you feel like you can’t really see, seems revealing about sight and about what of seeing relates to the eye.

There's a lot of uncertain but convincing loveliness—the way a group of trees, neither especially old or tall, or unusual, with light that’s neither strong, or gold, or diffuse, compels itself without giving any reason for its special beauty. Like faces attractive despite ugliness, or an indefinite shape on a canvas, or the grating of a bow along with the note, a flower balanced between stages of a bloom, the roughened, or flattened timber of a voice, the misheard quality of a real compliment that catches you off-guard and confuses you with pleasure—all this liveliness of things that happens in their uncertainty, in their indefinite aspect.

30August2009/////]]]]piano man]]]]]\]\]\]

Wednesday this week outside Südstern station a man was playing an actual upright piano, and I think he probably made more money playing badly on his nice piano than all the other players in the subways who play really well, some of them, but on more portable keyboards. He was all spectacle—his preparations as much of a performance as the music. First he did some exaggerated organizing with a stack of sheet music, then opened the front panel, pulled out a towel, tested the sound of a certain hammer, put the towel on the ground, then, as if on second thought, picked it up again, stood, folded it neatly and lay it on his seat for cushion as though the use had never occurred to him before. He ran up and down some scales then stopped to light another cigarette. He played one song, and stopped again, stood, re-organized, took off his hat. The waiter from the café nearby came to offer him something to drink, and I heard him accept saying it would be a good effect, by which I understood he meant the way the tall-stemmed wine glass would look sitting on top of the piano, where it did sit when it arrived, and where it did look to good effect—better than a stein of beer would have.

But after all of that when he got down to playing he made some laid back, breezy approximations of Chopin and Liszt like he was having a cigarette break in his living room—just going through the music more than actually performing, like the piano was just for the illusion of playing. It wasn’t dramatic somehow. The street was pretty busy and people paused, but a crowd never formed. Good or bad piano playing isn’t important. I was struck by the flatness of the sensation. Like the thing he was doing wasn’t actually done.

The Times had an article this week about the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen who has written a critique of government efforts at “strategic communication” with the Muslim world. He says, “To put it simply, we need to worry a lot less about how to communicate our actions and much more about what our actions communicate.”

Indeed! It’s a strange characteristic of the current attitude towards lots of things that it’s not so important what you do or how you do it, but how you describe what you do. If I just say, a man was playing an actual piano in the street, it sounds wonderful, and to me it felt exactly like he was doing it for that description. Which makes the most important part of what he was doing just getting the piano out there.

28August2009 zürich

16August2009==++==++here's some proof++==++==

I rode home the other night around three. The streets were empty. At the rather large intersection of Markgrafen and Koch Strasse I stopped and let the lights change twice and still saw no traffic. Had it been a story I could have lain down, or bet something, or seen how many verses of a Dylan song I could sing. But I felt cold, a little achy. I only stopped to make a point about Berlin’s uncanny emptiness. And two lights felt like enough for conclusive evidence. I turned down Lindenstrasse then and saw a fox crossing the street near the Jewish Museum. Coolness and an earthy smell rose up from a lot as I rode past. I heard crickets. That makes three foxes since I’ve lived here. I’ve written already about the second one in the graveyard. The first I saw on a full moon last September trotting along the Neue Nationalgalerie. This one had a handsome tail with a white tip. I’ve learned he’s a Red Fox. The days of each sighting are vivid for me. It seems a like good sign for Berlin to be home to foxes.

9August2009----the italics are mine dot dot dot

This from my mom's file of renovation correspondence.

Hello again semi-colon

Well dash I've got good news colon on the health-front semi-colon I'm good to go semi-colon no further worries at all dash huge relief obviously exclamation point and then of course the not-so-good news colon I'm awfully behind with work exclamation point Anyway comma I'm here comma getting caught up comma trying to enjoy what's left of summer parenthesis been a short one up here end-parenthesis comma and curious how the quote commissioning end quote of your sauna is going question mark Parenthesis for instance colon roof plants comma log gaps comma the odds and ends list comma and colon were you able to get the final permit question mark end-parenthesis I looked at the picture you sent back in June and it really looks fantastic parenthesis despite the lack of the pond dash end-parenthesis I’d like to take care of whatever remains parenthesis I need to go back thru my list comma it has been awhile dash end-parenthesis I hope you are well and enjoying this incredible full moon dot dot dot

2August09/\\\\\\\\\\////guardian of the gate/////

We went to visit the Vieux Chateau. It was hot, and the sky nearly white. We crossed the drawbridge and greeted the young tour guide guarding the entrance. He was slight, tan, had large, lively grey-green eyes and light, wavy hair. Something boyish about him made his job seem more wonderful, like he'd captured the ruins from other children. He said you could only visit the castle with a guided tour, and the tours were 40 minutes long. I said, 40 minutes! There were six of us and no one else in sight. I asked if we could come in and wander around for 20 minutes instead? He said he couldn’t do it. He looked so friendly, so I pressed him? I said half of us didn’t even speak French, and I would have to translate. He said he couldn't, and got tense. I wondered if a supervisor was nearby, but it was clearly just him among the ruins. I said, look, if he give us half the time he might get an extra tour in. But he said no again like it was becoming a point of pride. This seemed so ridiculous that I didn't even care so much about seeing it anymore as about seeing how obstinate he was. I said, how about twenty minutes, and I double the price! But all he had to say was he was hired by the office of the mayor and had certain rules to abide by, and after that it seemed like a stupid place to want to visit by any means.

My tone reminded me of something and I've realized what. I was in Rome one weekend this winter. The weekend Rome was flooded and two people died in the river. It was pouring rain when I got off the bus and I went to a stand and bought an umbrella for 3 Euros. The next day was sunny and I left the umbrella at the hotel, but around dinnertime the rain caught us by the Trevi fountain where all the umbrellas were going for 10 Euros. We bargained with one of the vendors, who went down to 6, but halfway through the process I decided I would rather be wet than the owner of two cheap umbrellas, and so we started to walk away, and the man said 5! And we said no, no. And he said 3! And I said, no I didn’t want an umbrella anymore. And he shouted 3! 3! 2! 2! I tried to push through the crowd and he walked alongside, rattling umbrellas at me. Free! He said, Free! You can have Free! Take Free! You don't want Free!

28JULY09 loinel trilling says

From the preface of his book, Sincerity and Authenticity, Lectures as Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard, Spring 1970. He says--

When I chose as their subject the cognate ideals of sincerity and authenticity historically considered, I could not fail to be aware that no six lectures could conceivably encompass it. This encouraged me in the undertaking. By the time I gave the last of the lectures, my consciousness that they must inevitably be inadequate had by no means diminished, but it had ceased to be inspiriting through having become specific--I knew by how much they fell short and in what particular ways, and I was anything but heartened when I enumerated the important issues and figures they did not take into account. Now that I come to publish them, substantially although not exactly as they were given, I naturally return to the thought that the subject is so very large, virtually coextensive with the culture of four centuries, that even a merely partial investigation of it might be of some use in suggesting its extent and in remarking a few of the many ironies it generates.

I like that attitude. That the largeness of a task should be encouraging. And then to see the use in your contribution even while you're discouraged by the amount you accomplished.

24July09////////////adieu, adieu ma mignonne//\\/\/\/\/\/

Last night on the Port at sunset the sky did something unusually beautiful. Right above the horizon was a long string of small dense, white, dollop-shaped clouds, and then immediately above them another line that matched each cloud with ones almost identical so that not only did it give the impression of a false horizon but also made it seem as though it was mirroring itself in water. While the two strings of clouds turned lavender the sky behind became an almost florescent pink. Larger, white, cumulus clouds, took the pink on just one side as though ripening with it, and the water reflected it and mixed in blue that made it mauve and metallic. The whitewashed buildings of the port, posed at the edge of the water, seemed like porcelain at the edge of a table, and added that kind of tension—not exactly dramatic—of concern for the welfare of a pretty thing.

A troupe of older men and women were performing songs and dances dressed in traditional costume. The women had lace bonnets tied beneath their chins in big flouncy bows, and white lace-fronted shirts tucked into long black skirts. The men had black fedoras, black pants and black vests over white shirts. There were four men and eleven women, though one of them was also dressed as a man. I saw the end of a dance they did in couples, tapping their heels, then clapping their hands, then doing a sort of polka. An accordion, fiddle and bass accompanied.

Afterwards the group danced in a circle, and sang about a man trying to say goodnight to his wife in order to go off to his mistress. He says Adieu, Adieu ma mignonne, and she, keeping him Encore, encore un baiser! The circle turned left, then right, then left then right, without advancing in any direction. They swung their arms stiffly, as if they were trying to shake each other’s grip. A dancing I realize I’ve never done, with movements neither about grace, or sensuality, or self expression, but this act of joining—even while airing out an infidelity.

20July09////..//..//.seascape, the new truce..//..//..//////

I wish I could be so calm again after one of my own storms and meet my surroundings the way the sea has merged into the sky in perfect reconciliation. The night is utterly still. The horizon hardly discernible. There's not a hint of incompatibility as though the sea only ever wanted to live for the sky—to reflect its every perfect hue—and the atmosphere renounced all its provocations and now only wanted to be the soothing, taming force that made the sea so broad and generous and handsome. Maybe they decided the land was their common enemy. The shore looks very left behind. The two gloating lovers are holding all their favors from the beach—have exposed the rocks and left the sand with mounds of stinking seaweed. And meanwhile they are adoring each other with silver and gold, but also with precious blue metals that don't exist on land, and seem like an indisputable slight against the shore, which, for its part, looks very caught off guard, being made the butt of this truce—looks a little haggard and confused being dragged out to this show when it was just getting ready to settle in for the night.


The tide was very low tonight, and seaweed everywhere in long parallel rows--time-lapse of the receding water--like the furrows of a tilled field. The water--brown and purplish, almost animal, colored with dirt and silt still stirred up by the storm. It had the look of someone at the end of a long bad mood--hooded and dark, but bruised a little from its own effect. But maybe not quite finished yet. The sky still grey, a light but steady wind made the water ripple up like goose-flesh, like the hair on the back of the neck of a person still ready to bite.


Hard things get harder the better you get.


The graveyard nearby is nothing like American graveyards where the plots fall in neat, manicured rows. This is more like a park with a scattering of graves. You walk off the paths to get to them. The grass is tall and wild flowers grow. Roses climb from one grave to another.

My favorite graves. Amazing how they stand out—like kindred faces—just a few of them. #1 is sculpted in a loose style around a central column—a cleaved tree stump with an enormous pear, and beneath it a little car tearing away on a ribbon of road. A table branches out on the right with stone wine bottle and a stone wine glass. The grave belongs to a man, but the front has two figures—the man in some diaper-like boxer shorts and big relaxed hands, and a rough, squarish woman with big, ballooning breasts. There’s a television set between them with the dates inscribed on it. It’s hard to picture. You probably have to imagine it twice as lusty and three times humorous plus charming.

Another is a statue maybe two feet in height—an old lady in a long coat and a round hat. She has one hand in her pocket with a shopping bag on her wrist, and is holding a cane in front of her. Her features are lightly formed, but perfectly specific. I recognize her as if I’d seen her walking around the neighborhood all my life.

There is also a woman’s head on a concrete pedestal—it makes me think a self-portrait—sculpted in clay, cast in bronze. Around the sides of the pedestal are three plaques in low relief, one, a figure standing in profile, looking down at a ball. On the front the plaque has a crack in the center with, on one side, an artist by an easel, and on the other, a naked model. In the third the woman is holding a child. All very plain, with little detail, they look like they could have been done on the same day, there’s a sense of sureness, and short time.

The last year I’ve been going to the cemetery almost daily. The first time I’ve thought so much about death. Not morbidly. It’s the first I’ve tried every day to have the thought—I will die—and think of life in relation to some other state.


You’ve lived together for many years. You have cats, and art and furniture, but you haven’t had a marriage yet.

And after the wedding, when the guests go home, the sun will dim, white will gleam, dark will purple, and all will quiet.

In a room, the window glowing, you’ll sit, and feel—something, a presence, small but persistent, until maybe one of you wonders aloud if there’s such a thing as the ghost of a pet.

You will sit together with your marriage for the first time.

In coming weeks, again and again an empty chair will seem reserved, and moods that belong to neither one of you will join your days, and coming into a room sometimes you’ll find the quality of silence that follows laughter—and sometimes maybe the silence of an oath.

And when you’re alone—you’ll have the sense of being joined, not just by each other, but another—a third, your marriage.

Small at first, but growing, neither slow nor fast, but like a child, stronger, and like a child, independent. Like both of you, and like neither one alone. Something you will love in ways you never considered, demanding of you and comforting, and like anything brought to life—more than the sum of its parts.

You’ll come to know the life of your marriage as no other life you’ll come to know—what nourishes and fascinates, what irritates and weakens it, and maybe to more than any other life, you may bring pleasure to the life of your marriage.

So bring joy to your marriage!

Show it beautiful, curious things!

Bring challenges, and trust!

Bring work!

Bring ideas!

Bring patience and support!

Bring humor and above all bring love!

Like the most gracious friend your marriage will respond in kind and more.


Now that spring is here I can talk about Christmas and the blood in the stairwell. Now that there's even some relief in a grey sky-that you can stay in and not feel you’re squandering the sun—now that the grey is just like a cool interval of shade.

While the days were so dark it seemed distasteful to bring it up. It confirmed all sorts of fears about cities and pessimism about winter. And a person would have been justified to ask—was it so true anyway? Did the blood really mean anything? Did it say something I believed about the neighborhood? Did it change my mind about the people living around me? And the answer to all the questions would have been—no. No I didn’t feel unsafe, or like I’d misjudged the real character of the place. But at the time no one was around to put stern, practical questions to me. Berlin was empty for the holiday. Everything good and vibrant seemed to have left. Days were short, it was the middle of the holiday season, people seemed exhausted and there were still months ahead of winter. I wasn't sure there was enough light to get us through an uneventful winter, let alone an extra catastrophe, and the huge drain of energy the burden of proof would require.

But that was when the blood appeared—in the middle of the night, not exactly spilled, but starting in a corner of the landing, dripped, abundantly, down the first flight of stairs, and around the vestibule by the mailboxes, and then in the entrance hall in larger and larger drops until it was smeared on the edge of the door and disappeared outside the building. It was there for three days. One night the people upstairs—normally quiet and friendly—had a huge argument at 4 a.m. and blasted music through slammed doors. The cleaning service finally came, but only swished the blood around the entrance and left it everywhere else. And finally, late the next night, when I hoped no one would see me, I went down with a bucket of bleach and a brush, and scrubbed everything I could see. I made enormous damp stains, and discolored the carpet, and didn’t do much to the blood, but the dark spots seemed more like marks afterwards, instead of stains, and less personal, more like graffiti.

The day after next was Christmas. In the meantime my sister’s boyfriend shattered his arm and she spent the holiday in the hospital with him, a water main broke and flooded my father’s house, and my cousin had a miscarriage. So it seemed dark everywhere. And then somehow because of that, it seemed lighter again. The blood stopped looking so foreboding. Because there was no place I could have escaped to and that put things in perspective.

8May09;';';';';';'one time deal';';';'';';''

Precocious April and early May—three weeks of sun, inside which magnolias flowered, and cherry and apple blossoms too. The tiny lilac buds bloomed popcorn-like into heavy clusters and are already starting to fade, as well as tulips, hyacinth, forsythia, azalea, chestnut trees and rhododendron, plus all the things I can't name. The ground is covered with blossom litter. On my way to have a coffee I passed a man on a bench selling Lily of the Valley from a bucket, and made a note to get some afterwards. I chose a table where I could see him, but sitting it seemed imperative to go and get them right away, so back I went. Sure enough he disappeared ten minutes later without my noticing. And now those flowers are also fading where I’ve found them in the graveyard. It looks like they might be the only ones I get. Last year too, I only had one bunch.

15April09///\\the cold, an empty threat////////

It's been cool, but sunny. Sitting outside, winter habits have me counting moments until cold will win out, but I can feel the new persistence of the sun. And the desire to get out is more insistent. The cold is like a hand now raised so many times the threat at last feels empty.

The strange vibrancy of Spring—everything pale but unmistakable. Buds, leaves and shoots, in their nascent forms, so alien looking—waxy, shiny, reddened, creased—they seem so distantly related to the shapes they'll have in summer. The poplars—their adult leaves green and silver—first appear a shade of apricot. And it seems amazing that little figs emerge at the same time their leaves bud. The hierarchy I give to things is so arbitrary. In my book, first leaves would come, then fruit, then from the ends of fruit flowers would spring, and when they fell the fruits would be ripened. Instead, from the cold, it's flowers that come first—as though it's not the warmth that encourages their delicacy, but the delicacy of atmosphere that creates the environment for their bloom—that warmer or colder they wouldn't thrive—it's the very fine line between seasons that draws the ultra-light detail of spring blossoms—the lashes of cherry and apple blossoms, the fine veins of crocuses. Small stilled eruptions, they end at such tiny points, such light edges, it seems like they probably extend beyond sight at higher frequencies, since they already seem too fine to begin with.

The Most quality of Spring—this undefined aspect to everything. The stages of growing are not only mysterious, but I didn't know my eyes could see them—as though all winter spent looking at heavy, solid forms, I forgot what it was like to see anything else—forgot the dancing sensation of my eye over a flower's dimensionality, forgot the bounce of contrasting colors, the bend and flex, contraction/expansion of shapes on changing light, in a variety of light. It all seems impossible, but finally undeniable. You only need time to tell that Summer is coming, but Spring appears un-announced, intuition-like.


The Pleasant Things of Taliesin

from The Four Ancient Books of Wales, by W. F. Skene, 1858

A pleasant virtue, extreme penance to an extreme course;
Also pleasant, when God is delivering me.
Pleasant, the carousal that hinders not mental exertion;
Also pleasant, to drink together about horns.
Pleasant is Nudd, the superior wolf-lord;
Also pleasant, a generous one at Candlemas tide.
Pleasant, berries in the time of harvest;
Also pleasant, wheat upon the stalk.
Pleasant the sun moving in the firmament;
Also pleasant the retaliators of outcries.
Pleasant, a steed with a thick mane in a tangle;
Also pleasant, crackling fuel.
Pleasant, desire, and silver fringes;
Also pleasant, the conjugal ring.
Pleasant, the eagle on the shore of the sea when it flows;
Also pleasant, sea-gulls playing.
Pleasant, a horse with gold-enamelled trappings;
Also pleasant to be honest in a breach.
Pleasant, liquors of the mead-brewer to the multitude;
Also pleasant, a songster generous, amiable.
Pleasant, the open field to cuckoos and the nightingale;
Also pleasant when the weather is serene.
Pleasant, right, and a perfect wedding;
Also pleasant, a present that is loved.
Pleasant, a meal from the penance of a priest;
Also pleasant to bring to the altar.
Pleasant, mead in a court to a minstrel,
Also pleasant, the limiting a great crowd.
Pleasant, the catholic clergy in the church,
Also pleasant, a minstrel in the hail.
Pleasant to bring back the divisions of a parish;
Also pleasant to us the time of paradise.
Pleasant, the moon, a luminary in the heavens;
Also pleasant where there is a good rememberer.
Pleasant, summer, and slow long day;
Also pleasant to pass out of chastisement
Pleasant, the blossoms on the tops of the pear-trees;
Also pleasant, friendship with the Creator.
Pleasant, the solitary doe and the fawn;
Also pleasant, the foamy horseblock.
Pleasant, the camp when the leek flourishes;
Also pleasant, the charlock in the springing corn.
Pleasant, a steed in a leather halter;
Also pleasant, alliance with a king.
Pleasant, the hero that destroys not the yielding;
Also pleasant, the splendid Cymraec language.
Pleasant, the heath when it is green;
Also pleasant, the salt marsh for cattle.
Pleasant, the time when calves draw milk;
Also pleasant, foamy horsemanship.
And what is pleasant to me is no worse.
And the paternal horn by mead-nourished payment.
Pleasant, the directing of fish in the pond;
Also pleasant, calling about to play.
Pleasant, the word that utters the Trinity;
Also pleasant, extreme penance for sin.
Pleasant, the summer of pleasantness;
Communion with the Lord, in the day of judgment.

20March09/////a fox in the graveyard///\\//\////\

I’d just entered. I stopped at the Magnolia to see its velvet buds, then went up the path, past the flower stand, and stopped to wonder again when the fashion took on small graves of decorating them with pinwheels and whirligigs. I felt something behind me and turned to see a fox. I expected he would dart away, when he didn’t I almost did, but he didn’t flinch at all. He looked weary, trotted closer, crossed the path directly in front of me. He went down another path. I followed, fumbling with my coffee and camera. He didn’t go fast. I had no trouble keeping up. He didn’t seem so concerned about me but distracted in general.

The graveyard is just where I would have expected a fox, and yet seeing him, he looked much too big for it. I’m used to creatures that dart away. I realized a fox has too much presence to flee. And there are too many people to run from. I couldn’t get as close again as the moment I first saw him. He moved in and out of frame, changed direction, never pausing long enough to capture fully. A city fox evades. Perpetual motion is the weariness of a city fox.

I kept following, intent on a picture. Other people were nearby, but if they saw me they didn’t seem to see the fox. No one looks at each other in the graveyard. No one wants to see grief, or be seen looking at it either. But there’s another part of graveyard etiquette, less morose—the notion of a resting place, final for some, but for others, who come and go, a small escape from the constraints of living—a similar kind of delicacy around public nakedness, changing on the beach. A place where you avert your gaze from others is exactly the place to find a fox. I suddenly realized how indiscreet it was to go after him—the graveyard’s ample freedom, shrunken by my error. He went around a bend. I didn’t follow. I realized how quiet he was. How softly he went between things, how rare it was to see such precise movement in the city, each step carefully folded in origami of such mastery that the thing left behind mimicked perfectly what had been just before.

12March09/////first spring walk

The moon was full last night. I took a slow, voyeuristic walk back from the video rental listening to apartment sounds coming from (first) open windows. The sound of a small, restless baby was especially sweet. I stood behind a tree and watched the Papa go through rooms of the apartment, then do something around the child. Another person with a great bookshelf stood on her balcony with a cigarette. A few other people were talking around a computer. The pale colors of the lit rooms now seem to share something in common with the first crocuses breaking ground in all the parks. A few birds or bats were having an in-flight argument. It wasn't so much that these scenes seemed happier, but that they were audible at all—that the life of this city is noticeable again.


Two weeks before was snow. Around the graveyard incense from a recent burial lingered like smoke fire on a pillow. The park was a wilderness again, all paths erased, weighted evergreen bushes reaching the ground, the snow adding a liveliness, as though the disguise made them ready to move, go elsewhere, as though the stillness belied surreptitious breathing, a pulse. The sun out. People in the park—out to play, an elevated spirit. Birds knocking snow from the branches they sat on. The birds—calmer seeming than the humans, and the sense, looking at them, of the evenness in their response towards the weather, also the sense that my own activity should be less determined by the weather. I should dread it less—the rain, the snow—when I go running.

/////Just days ago the winter still seemed like it would never end, not in the cold so much as the grey. A feeling of pessimism, a mood more than the weather, gives the season its endless quality. Weeks from now it will be warm, sunny, people will sit outside cafes drinking sparkling juice and Berlin will be a different place entirely. Every rare day the sun comes out the good weather feels amplified by hopefulness. Still the winter, but changed. What would have been snow a few weeks ago is rain now. The birds are singing in ways they haven’t been. Even my own fed-upness—with the indoors, with the food, and the rutted paths of my routine—even that, I have to admit, is shot through with small rushes of unexplained excitement, a sudden craving for company and gaiety. I stepped outside after a late night dancing expecting daylight—feeling like the early dawns were hovering in reach.

catherine despont