O True Illusion

Telling the truth, one slant piece at a time……

Tag: National Poetry Month

Retreating Light

Creation has brought you
great excitement, as I knew it would,
as it does in the beginning.
And I am free to do as I please now,
to attend to other things, in confidence
you have no need of me anymore.

Louise Glück 

This is one of many persona poems from The Wild Iris. Here Glück writes in the voice of God – a God whom I initially imagined as a tired and put-upon mother, or the artist-as-mother who would perhaps like some time to be left to her own devices and write a story that isn’t for children. She’s impatient, but ultimately well-intentioned: she wants to see her children “like independent beings….dreaming by the open window / holding the pencils I gave you / until the summer morning disappears into writing.”

God here is somewhat like the Kabbalistic notion of God who withdraws from the world so that there is room for other beings, other wills to exist. God-as-artist is the deus absconditus, the hidden God, who steps aside to let humans to take over the creative work.


sally-mannThere’s something about the portrait of humans/children in the poem that reminds me of the photography of Sally Mann. The children in her famous family photographs have a combination of almost-adult knowing and a kind of raw innocence. They are both otherworldly, yet not rapidly becoming worldly….we can only hope they will not become merely tired consumers of this world, but participants in crafting beauty.


Retreating Light

You were always very young children,
always waiting for a story.
And I’d been through it all too many times;
I was tired of telling stories.
So I gave you the pencil and paper.
I gave you pens made of reeds
I had gathered myself, afternoons in the dense meadows.
I told you, write your own story.

After all those years of listening
I thought you’d know
what a story was.

All you could do was weep.
You wanted everything told to you
and nothing thought through yourselves.

Then I realized you couldn’t think
with any real boldness or passion;
you hadn’t had your own lives yet,
your own tragedies.
So I gave you lives, I gave you tragedies,
because apparently tools alone weren’t enough.

You will never know how deeply
it pleases me to see you sitting there
like independent beings,
to see you dreaming by the open window,
holding the pencils I gave you
until the summer morning disappears into writing.

Creation has brought you
great excitement, as I knew it would,
as it does in the beginning.
And I am free to do as I please now,
to attend to other things, in confidence
you have no need of me anymore.


I know the truth! (Poetry and truth)

Up to the age of four, as my mother testified, I told only the truth, but after that I must have come to my senses – Marina Tsvetaeva

In the last year, I read a review of a poetry collection which was centered around the poet’s wife dying of cancer. The reviewer initially assumed that it depicted the poet’s life, but when he attended a reading of the book, he discovered that the “plot” was a literary creation. There was no cancer, no dying wife. Even though he knew the book was a work of art with no compact to be sociology or memoir, he admits that he felt in some way betrayed. Something seemed cheaper about the emotion, the symbolism: the cancer, the death, the wife. Perhaps the portrait was “true” in the literary sense or in the sense of deeper truth, but the emotion manufactured, contrived, not earned, not real.

Tell the truth but tell it slant. – Emily Dickinson

Poets have a strange relationship with the truth. Like novelists, they are in some sense expected to be liars for the sake of truth. Even more so than of fiction, readers demand of poetry a distilled truth – the raw being of this world filtered and made, if not necessarily beautiful, into an aesthetic creation. Truth in artifice.

Rilke, Yeats, Stéphane Mallarmé, & co spoke of poets as priests of the modern, secular world. Wallace Stevens wrote that “The poet becomes ‘the priest of the invisible.'” Poets are to be the ones who bring mystery, meaning, grace to a world without an obvious God or order. Out of the raw materials of their lives – out of the welter of their emotions, loves, disappointments, sufferings – poets are supposed to make order out of chaos.

Poetry…is capable of saving us; it is a perfectly possible means of overcoming chaos. – I. A. Richards

Is poetry capable of “saving” us? What kind of truth does it get at? This brings to me one of Marina Tsvataeva’s most famous poems, in which she proclaims “I know the truth – forget all other truths!” or “I know the truth – give up all other truths!” depending on the translation. It’s a high claim, a claim befitting the priestess of poetry that she often speaks as.

I’ve mentioned Tsvataeva here before, and to know any of her history is to know that poetry did not save her in the literal or material sense. It didn’t spare her from any of the vagaries of history or turmoil in Russia. Her life was overshadowed by starvation, imprisonment and loss of family members, severe poverty and hunger, exile, death and despair. Was poetry the truth and redemption in that? Was it, if not enough, something powerful – a truth of its own?

What is the truth that she knows, the truth that makes her poetry sing? Does it balance out the truth of her life overcome by the awful sufferings of the twentieth century? Does the truth of poetry hold any weight against the fact that “soon all of us will sleep beneath the earth, we / who never let each other sleep above it.”?

I know the truth
tr. Elaine Feinstein

I know the truth – forget all other truths!
No need for anyone on earth to struggle.
Look – it is evening, look, it is nearly night:
what will you say, poets, lovers, generals?

The wind is level now, the earth is wet with dew,
the storm of stars in the sky will turn to quiet.
And soon all of us will sleep beneath the earth, we
who never let each other sleep above it.

Failing and Flying

Jack Gilbert

icarus and Daedalus

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It’s the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly. Read the rest of this entry »

Letter to Jerusalem

Letter to Jerusalem

by Elana Bell

To hold the bird and not to crush her, that is the secret. Sand turned too quickly to cement and who cares if the builders lose their arms? The musk of smoldered rats on sticks that trailed their tails through tunnels underground. Trickster of light, I walk your cobbled alleys all night long and drink your salt. City of bones, I return to you with dust on my tongue. Return to your ruined temple, your spirit of revolt. Return to you, the ache at the center of the world.

Keeping Things Whole

Mark Strand

In a field
I am the absence
of field.
This is
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.

When I walk
I part the air
and always
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body’s been.

We all have reasons
for moving.
I move
to keep things whole.

Posit (O Jerusalem)


Linda Zisquit

Ten measures of beauty came down into the world;

Nine were taken by Jerusalem, one by the rest of the world.”

Tractate Kiddushin


“Ten parts of suffering came down into the world; nine

were taken by Jerusalem, one by the rest of the world.”

Avot d’Rabbi Natan


Had Rachel not looked up

Jacob would not have seen her.

There would have been no water,

no winding dream,
no tribe or unrelenting

portion of sadness

dispersed on his land, his Jerusalem,

and I would not have promised
to gather then home. But Rachel

saw him and he loved her.

She was barren and she suffered

and she followed him.
So I have this heaviness

to bear. Her life before him

had also the dailiness of lives,

an hour at which she would rise and go
to the well. Then out of the blue

her future came crashing against her lids

when she looked up, those hours changed,

and I was moved to his, another well.

Dawn Chorus

by Sasha Dugdale

Every morning since the time changed
I have woken to the dawn chorus
And even before it sounded, I dreamed of it
Loud, unbelievably loud, shameless, raucous

And once I rose and twitched the curtains apart
Expecting the birds to be pressing in fright
Against the pane like passengers
But the garden was empty and it was night

Not a slither of light at the horizon
Still the birds were bawling through the mists
Terrible, invisible
A million small evangelists

How they sing: as if each had pecked up a smoldering coal
Their throats singed and swollen with song
In dissonance as befits the dark world
Where only travelers and the sleepless belong



Chana Bloch


Chana Block

And then I rose
to the dazzle of light, to the pine trees
plunging and righting themselves in a furious wind.

To have died and come back again
raw, crackling
and the numbness

That clumsy
pushing and wheeling inside my chest, that ferocious
I give myself to it. Why else
be in a body?

Something reaches inside me, finds the pocket
that sewed itself shut, turns it
out into the air.

Poetry Will Save Me (Naked Poetry of the Body and Soul)

“This is poetry at its hottest and most naked, beautiful poetry of the body and soul.”

So says James Tate of Brazilian poet Adélia Prado, born in 1935 in Brazil. Sometimes described as a “Catholic intimist poet,” Prado is unabashedly Catholic, physical, and fleshly in her poems. Daniel Bowman calls her almost embarrassingly incarnational and relates this wonderful story:

Prado was obscure in her own country until her public writing career began in the mid-70s by way of an unexpectedly grand gesture by Brazil’s elder statesman of poetry, Carlos Drummond de Andrade, who had been shown several of Prado’s poems. Andrade changed her fate overnight when he pronounced in the Rio de Janeiro paper of record that “Saint Francis has been dictating verses to a woman in Minas Gerais.” The pronouncement literally brought publishers to her door.

Read the rest of this entry »

We Break For Some Prose….

gabriel-garcia-marquez-one-hundred-years-of-solitude-04In memory of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who died in Mexico today at the age of 87, today this blog is turned over to prose. GGM’s prose carries some of the density of poetry – that quality of incantation or litany – if not its brevity! I have both great love and ambivalence toward his works, especially their treatment of women, but that man could certainly write a majestic sentence. Some of my favorite opening lines in fiction are his:


 Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.  


And from Love In the Time of Cholera, that first line evoking the bitterness of love and memory:

It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.


Another favorite line from Love: 

He allowed himself to be swayed by his conviction that human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.


And – I can’t resist one more!

There is always something left to love.