A Writer's Ruminations

Wiping ovals of breath from the windows
in order to see ourselves, you touch
the glass tenderly wherever it holds my face.

—Carolyn Forché, from “For the Stranger” (via Read a Little Poetry)

I killed a woman in me:
one I did not love.

—Gabriela Mistral, from “The Other” (translated by Randall Couch)

I have sat down in the middle of the Earth,
my love, in the middle of my life,
to open my veins and my chest,
to peel my skin like a pomegranate,
and to break the red mahogany
of these bones that loved you.

—Gabriela Mistral, from “The Abandoned Woman” (translated by Randall Couch)

I go out. I come back.

I am practicing my words, again:
A bouquet of wilting flowers.

Feigning English, barely

American in my waistcoat and fur
Thunder boots.

Swoon, I say
And the swallows fall from their elm,

I said I wished I were
Drowned. But this time
Not just in dream.

The clock clicks, I sleep on.

I swim past the breakers—a radio
Song unfurling in my head.

Daddy, will I ever see you again.

—Cynthia Cruz, “The Enchanted Snow

The boat of death moves soundlessly
Across the room.

Then the terrible gift:

The white veils lowering
Slowly before me.

A lifetime inside the killing,
And sweet

Darkness, she
Loved me so much: kissing

The glimmering
Hive of my mind, finally quiet.

—Cynthia Cruz, “Driven

The way back is lost, the one obsession.
The worst is over.
The worst is yet to come.

—Carolyn Forché, from “The Testimony of Light”

We think of hidden in a white dress
among the folded linens and sachets
of well-kept cupboards, or just out of sight
sending jellies and notes with no address
to all the wondering Amherst neighbors.
Eccentric as New England weather
the stiff wind of her mind, stinging or gentle,
blew two half imagined lovers off.
Yet legend won’t explain the sheer sanity
of vision, the serious mischief
of language, the economy of pain. 

—Linda Pastan, “Emily Dickinson” (via Phantom Verse and Free)

Of course it was a disaster.
The unbearable, dearest secret
has always been a disaster.
The danger when we try to leave.
Going over and over afterward
what we should have done
instead of what we did.
But for those short times
we seemed to be alive. Misled,
misused, lied to and cheated,
certainly. Still, for that
little while, we visited
our possible life.

Jack Gilbert, “Going There”

Tonight, nothing is long enough—
time isn’t.
Were there a fire,
it would burn now.

Were there a heaven,
I would have gone long ago.
I think that light
is the final image.

But time reoccurs,
love—and an echo.
A time passes
love in the dark.

—Robert Creeley, “The Tunnel”

When I walk all the things
of the earth awaken,
and they rise up and whisper
and it’s their stories that they tell.

And the peoples who wander
leave them for me on the road
and I gather them where they’ve fallen
in cocoons made of footprints.

Stories run through my body
or purr in my lap.
They buzz, boil, and bee-drone.
They come to me uncalled
and don’t leave me once told.

Those that come down from the trees
braid and unbraid themselves,
and weave me and wrap me
until the sea drives them away.
But the sea speaks endlessly
and the more I tire, the more it tells me …

People who are chewing the forest
and those who break stone
want stories at bedtime.

Women looking for lost
children who don’t return
and women who think they’re alive
and don’t know that they’re dead,
ask for stories every night
and I spend myself telling and telling.

I stop in the middle of the road
between rivers that won’t let me go,
and the chorus begins closing in
and they trap me in the ring.

At my thumb come those of the animals,
at my forefinger those of my dead.
Those of children, being so many,
swarm like ants on my palms.

The crackpot mariners
who ask for them sail no more,
and those they tell I tell them
in front of the open sea.

I had one that went like the flight
of albatrosses and scissortails.
You could hear the wind in it,
it lapped sea-salt contentedly.
I forgot it when I was inland
like a fish nobody feeds.

Where could the story be,
flying like a drunken gull,
that fell at my skirts one day
and left me blind from such whiteness?

Another faraway woman tells
a story that saves and frees,
maybe she has it, maybe she’ll bring it
to my door before she dies.

When the one I had took my arms
like this, they all would run
like rivulets of blood
through my arms all night long.
Now, facing East, I’m giving them
to that one as a reminder.

The old ones want them falsified,
the children beg that they be true.
They all want to hear my own story
which on my living tongue is dead.
I search for someone who remembers it,
page for page, thread for thread.
I’ll lend them my breath, give them my beat
to see if hearing it wakes it in me.

—Gabriela Mistral, “The Storyteller” (translated by Randall Couch)


Ann Hamilton's books used in Indigo Blue and Tropos performances/installations

Indigo Blue, 1991

The figure in performance sat reading the books back to front, clearing each page, by a gesture of wetting a Pink Pearl eraser with saliva, rubbing out a line of text, and collecting the rubber eraser crumbs in a line parallel to the uppermost edge of the book and the front of the desk.

Tropos, 1993

…With an electric burner in hand, (she) burned each line from the book, as it was read, causing the air to fill with acrid smoke.

Before us now the edge of the earth,
below us the nearly endless cold.
Around us nothing but shimmering
the miles of empty and sparkling blue.

For a few hours, the sail fills on
toward infinity. Shadows of
our delicate bodies ebb and flow
across the deck of our delicate boat.

What if the beautiful days, the good
and pacific temperate moments,
weren’t just lovely, but everything?
What if I could let it fall away
in the wake, that ache to extract
meaning from vastness?

Let this suffice; the ease of thinking
it all goes on, whether we’re here
to see it or not. The splashing waves,
the suntipped gulls arcing across
the radiant world.

—Kirsten Dierking, “Sailing on Lake Superior” (via Writer’s Almanac)

Tonight I want to say something wonderful
for the sleepwalkers who have so much faith
in their legs, so much faith in the invisible

arrow carved into the carpet, the worn path
that leads to the stairs instead of the window,
the gaping doorway instead of the seamless mirror

I love way that sleepwalkers are willing
to step out of their bodies into the night,
to raise their arms and welcome the darkness,

palming the blank spaces, touching everything.
Always they return home safely, like blind men
who know it is morning by feeling shadows.

And always they wake up as themselves again.
That’s why I want to say something astonishing
like: Our hearts are leaving our bodies.

Our hearts are thirsty black handkerchiefs
flying through the trees at night, soaking up
the darkest beams of moonlight, the music

of owls, the motion of wind-torn branches.
And now our hearts are thick black fists
flying back to the glove of our chests.

We have to learn to trust our hearts like that.
We have to learn the desperate faith of sleep-
walkers who rise out of their calm beds

and walk through the skin of another life.
We have to drink the stupefying cup of darkness
and wake up to ourselves, nourished and surprised.

—Edward Hirsch, “For the Sleepwalkers” (via Inward Bound Poetry)