Life’s what you see in people’s eyes; life’s what they learn, and, having learnt it, never, though they seek to hide it, cease to be aware of—what? That life’s like that, it seems.
—Virginia Woolf, from "An Unwritten Novel" in Monday or Tuesday. Hesperus Press, 2003
If I were not so cold I would go out
into that emptiness to fine pure words.
Instead I think of the snow piling up, how
it is like sugar falling through a floor crack
at the foot of a dark mountain, some house
abandoned, the work done, the family gone …
What I have seen, all night, is the white surge …
with its own form, its fate, to which
I am nothing watching. I should not stay here.
I should go where words make a clumsy shape
against this heavy drift, where the self
I am can speak its forgiveness in its own
house, in its own tongue …
Whoever I am, whatever words I badly use,
may we come to the pure heat of our bodies
and keep in ourselves the dark edges
no snow in this world ever softened enough
— Dave Smith, from “In Snow, A Possible Life,” in Floating on Solitude: Three Volumes of Poetry (University of Illinois Press, 1996)
the cicadas go looking for their shells
and put them on again and climb
back into the earth and the year
returns to February. And if
the air is chilly
she feels it - in fact, if you
put your hand on her arm
you would know she still remembers
how touching changed the weather,
how a hand skimming the wrist
was once a window
opening onto a better season
where people did better things
than be lonely, where the wind
was a river of candlelight
pushing the blue silhouettes of trees.
It doesn’t matter that everyone
thinks she feels nothing - in fact,
she prefers it like that because
more than anything else, right now,
she feels tired and would like
a moment to herself
while she tries to remember
the name of her sister.
But each letter is so heavy
that carrying a whole word
to the front of her mind
is hard, so she stays there
remembering the warmth of honey
between her toes, with her blood
not humming, with the sound
of the name almost always coming to her.
— Tim Seibles, “Each Letter” from Hurdy-Gurdy. Cleveland State University, 1992.
The melancholy river bears us on. When the moon comes through the trailing willow boughs, I see your face, I hear your voice and the bird singing as we pass the osier bed. What are you whispering? Sorrow, sorrow. Joy, joy. Woven together, like reeds in moonlight.
—Virginia Woolf, from "The String Quartet" in Monday or Tuesday. Hesperus Press, 2003
To read a book is to marry two solitudes, the way a conversation erases and erects, words prepare for wordlessness, a cloud for its own absence, and snow undresses for spring.
—Alvin Pang, Other Things in When the Barbarians Arrive. Arc Publications, 2012
“My love, I fear the silence of your hands.” —Mahmoud Darwish
Overnight, my heart, the forest has grown cold
and every leaf shivers with the sure knowledge of its fall,
shivers yellow and maple-red and mauve, Summer remembered
in vermillion dying. When I walk the river now
it bears merely the lightest press of feet, my body swaying
to keep balance in the whetted breeze. I had to leave you
on the absent shore, a warm bloom nesting in the reeds,
an unfixed, iridescent eye. How we part
only the morning knows, and what we said already dew.
Tomorrow after tomorrow we will find the tongue to
remember our silences, or borrow words from the night’s
vocabulary of sighs. Grief will teach you new names
and I will answer, hollow, in drumbeats and echoes,
in footsteps and softly closed doors, never looking
at you, never back. I place these words now in the vault
of sleep before it comes. Before the burial and the blood.
—Alvin Pang, Aubade in When the Barbarians Arrive. Arc Publications, 2012
It is a lonely idea, a lonely condition, so terrifying to think of that we usually don’t. And so we talk to each other, write and wire each other, call each other short and long distance across land and sea, clasp hands with each other at meeting and at parting, fight each other and even destroy each other because of this always somewhat thwarted effort to break through walls to each other. As a character in a play once said, ‘We’re all of us sentenced to solitary confinement inside our own skins.’
—Tennessee Williams, from “Person-to-Person,” in New Selected Essays: Where I Live (New Directions, 2009)
Clouds, like the hills of heaven,
Are nowhere in evidence tonight.
Sundown, an empty sky.
Except for the quarter moon, like a sail with no ship,
And no home port to come to.
Its world is without end.
—Charles Wright, from “24” in Littlefoot (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2007)
Far away the sea sounds and resounds.
This is a port.
Here I love you.
Here I love you and the horizon hides you in vain.
— Pablo Neruda, from “Here I Love You,” in Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair (Penguin, 1993)