climbing

a woman precedes me up the long rope,
her dangling braids the color of rain.
maybe i should have had braids.
maybe i should have kept the body i started,
slim and possible as a boy’s bone.
maybe i should have wanted less.
maybe i should have ignored the bowl in me
burning to be filled.
maybe i should have wanted less.
the woman passes the notch in the rope
marked Sixty. i rise toward it, struggling,
hand over hungry hand.

“i am running into a new year” – Lucille Clifton

i am running into a new year
and the old years blow back
like a wind
that i catch in my hair
like strong fingers like
all my old promises and
it will be hard to let go
of what i said to myself
about myself
when i was sixteen and
twentysix and thirtysix
even thirtysix but
i am running into a new year
and i beg what i love and
i leave to forgive me

—Lucille Clifton (1936-2010)

“The Layers” – Stanley Kunitz

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

excerpt from “At the Sea Floor Exploration, Sarah Asks” – W.J. Herbert

Ghost fish, tail flapping
like a translucent scrap
of linen in the wind,
flag of surrender
with a spine inside,
eyes riding on slow
light through the deep
ocean’s darkness:

Do you know what my mother
was looking for? —

from “At the Sea Floor Exploration Exhibit, Sarah Asks”

“Memoir” – Vijay Seshadri

Orwell says somewhere that no one ever writes the real story of their life.
The real story of a life is the story of its humiliations.
If I wrote that story now–
radioactive to the end of time —
people, I swear, your eyes would fall out, you couldn’t peel
the gloves fast enough
from your hands scorched by the firestorms of that shame.
Your poor hands. Your poor eyes
to see me weeping in my room
or boring the tall blonde to death.
Once I accused the innocent.
Once I bowed and prayed to the guilty.
I still wince at what I once said to the devastated widow.
And one October afternoon, under a locust tree
whose blackened pods were falling and making
illuminating patterns on the pathway,
I was seized by joy,
and someone saw me there,
and that was the worst of all,
lacerating and unforgettable.

Excerpt from Bluets – Maggie Nelson

90. Last night I wept in a way I haven’t wept for some time. I wept until I aged myself. I watched it happen in the mirror. I watched the lines arrive around my eyes like engraved sunbursts; it was like watching flowers open in time-lapse on a windowsill. the tears not only aged my face, they also changed its texture, turned the skin of my cheeks into putty. I recognized this was a rite of decadence, but I did not know how to stop it.

91. Blue-eye, archaic: “a blueness or dark circle around the eye, from weeping or other cause.”

92. Eventually I confess to a friend some details about my weeping–its intensity, its frequency. She says (kindly) that she thinks we sometimes weep in front of a mirror not to inflame self-pity, but because we want to feel witnessed in our despair. (Can a reflection be a witness? Can one pass oneself the sponge wet with vinegar from a reed?)

93. “At first glance, it seems strange to think that an innocuous, inborn behavior such as crying could be dysfunctional or symptomatic,” writes one clinical psychologist. But, this psychologist insists, we must face the fact that some crying is simply “maladaptive, dysfunctional, or immature.”

94. — Well then, it is as you please. This is the dysfunction talking. This is the disease talking. This is how much I miss you talking. This is the deepest blue, talking, talking, always talking to you.

95. But please don’t write again to tell me how you have woken up weeping. I already know how you are in love with your weeping.

Excerpt from “A Wild Perfection” – James Wright

A Letter from James Wright to Mary Oliver

Cupertino, California
July 10, 1965

Dear Miss Oliver:

I hardly expect that you will actually read this note, because the address on the envelope is incomplete. But I will go ahead and write it for my own sake. I have loved your poems for a long time, but until I found and read your book (Poems to a Brown Cricket, No Voyage an Other Poems), I hadn’t realized how much they had come to mean to me. It is an extraordinarily beautiful book that you’ve written, and it haunts me in some secretly desolated place in myself where I had not hoped to see anything green come alive ever again.

Am I correct in remembering that you once wrote to me? Or am I simply imagining things? I recall a dreadfully unhappy letter from you, which heartened me. At the time I was quite ill; and, before I could answer your letter, I lost it. I hope you will forgive me. I have lost so many things. So many.

Till the very end of this summer I will be staying with a couple of very old friends here in California. I don’t know why I tell you this. Of course, I am a liar. I know perfectly well why. If you should receive this note, and if you should find a moment, and if you should feel patience, I would be truly grateful to hear from you. I have been laboring heavily from time to time on a new book of my own. It has been pretty jagged and difficult going, and the example of your book has given me some of he encouragement which I sorely need.

Wherever you are, and whether or not you even read my words, thank you for writing your book.

Sincerely,

James Wright

Excerpt from “A Season in Hell” – Arthur Rimbaud

Oh! Science! Everything has been revised. For the body and for the soul,–the viaticum,–there are medicine and philosophy,–old wives’ remedies and popular songs rearranged. And the pastimes of princes and games they proscribed! Geography, cosmography, mechanics, chemistry! . . .

Science, the new nobility! Progress. The world marches on! Why shouldn’t it turn?

«««

On highroads on winter nights, without roof, without clothes, without bread, a voice gripped my frozen heart: “Weakness or strength: there you are, it’s strength. You do not know where you are going, nor why you are going; enter anywhere, reply to anything. They will no more kill you than if you were a corpse.” In the morning I had a look so lost, a face so dead, that perhaps those whom I met did not see me.

«««

Out there, are they not honest souls that wish me well? . . . Come . . . I have a pillow over my mouth, they do not hear me, they are phantoms. Besides, no one ever thinks of others. Let no one come near me. I must smell scorched I’m sure.

«««

I used to make him promise never to leave me. It was as vain as when I said to him: ‘I understand you.’

“Ah! I have never been jealous of him. He will not leave me, I believe. What would become of him? He knows nothing; he will never work. He wants to live a sleep walker…”

A Shift of Western Sympathy in “The Great Gatsby” and Mehta’s “Fire”

                  For centuries, harmony has been the invisible wheel steering Eastern action and culture, which has prospered on the belief that good input will equal good output. Spiritual balance is maintained, for example, through external societal organization of class in the caste system. The socio-economic divisions separate people from the time of birth by wealth into distinct classes that they can not, at any point, transcend. India, for example, has maintained this caste system since ancient times. People followed the system to maintain social harmony. Only recently they eliminated the structural caste and welcomed the American ideal of “rags to riches,” evident in recurring themes of Bollywood films, suggesting that these boundaries can be crossed.

The film, Fire, directed by Deepa Mehta, in particular questions the Hindu’s boundary of duty. Without touching on the western ideal of “rags to riches,” the character strives for the western ideal of individual freedom that will allow her happiness, despite the unrest and disorder it causes the family. The protagonist, Radha, runs the household, takes care of the mother-in-law, works at the shop, and aids her husband in his practice of celibacy, for she is barren and any sexual relations for the sake of pleasure would be sinful. When Sita, her son’s new wife, who moves in with the family, challenges traditional duty, Radha comes to challenge her own purpose in life. She begins to challenge her husband and her work entirely. Sita and Radha find the love they need in each other, and the lesbian relationship forms in order to satisfy their needs. This whole social order is threatened by their intemperate actions, but their acts are portrayed as doing nothing wrong, that in the ending scene Radha survives the fire indicates that she is pure from any wrongdoing.

Traditional Eastern culture disapproves of the Western value of individual desire above communal desire, however Fire demonstrates a shift in Indian or Eastern mentality. They have adapted this way of thinking, eliminating the social structures that bind us and oppress us, to embrace individual liberation without regard to the community or even the family.

              The Great Gatsby similarly glorifies the aspirations of one to transcend caste boundaries, however, Gatsby’s desire is for power and not love.

That this movie is remade with current music and effects, indicates the social relevance it has today. The film resurfaces the question of whether one can truly surpass the social class they were born into. By influence of executive producer Jay-Z, the music plays a huge role in connecting the 1920s to modern day. The current music helps us associate that this story is most definitely a commentary on current American culture.

              Gatsby is one who dreams of becoming part of the elite caste, the “old money” society of propriety and status. However, close he gets to the “green light,” he will never be fully accepted into that culture. The Great Gatsby was commonly believed that  into social class.  India is a prime example for their social order of the caste system, which deeply impacted their culture. It was not until 

Whether we like to think this social ordering does not exist, it very well exists and cannot be fully eliminated as we naturally are creatures who function on the level of survival. We stick to those we trust, those who experience our same culture, who share our same values.