\vər-ˈmil-yən\A variable color averaging a vivid reddish orange that is redder, darker, and slightly stronger than chrome orange, redder and darker than golden poppy, and redder and lighter than international orange.
On the poetry to be found in Merriam-Webster’s color definitions.
“The Gospel According to the Blind Man,” by Marie La Viña
“The Gospel According to the Blind Man,” by Marie La Viña
“I see people looking like trees and walking,” said the blind man,
after Jesus touched him the first time.
What he said baffled even the human god.
“They are walking around with arms outstretched,” he said.
“Their palms brush the sky. The stars slip through their long fingers.
The moonlight spills into a river and darts away like a school of silver fish
while the leaves moan in the trees in a hundred human voices.
Branches argue with wind. Locusts buzz in the night’s tangled hair.”
He asked in wonder, “Is this the world?”
Then the god lifted his holy palms, wet with spit,
and held them over the man’s eyes.
Twice touched by him, the man muttered, “Wait.”
But already he was healed.
“Geography Lesson,” Conchitina Cruz
“Geography Lesson,” by Conchitina Cruz.
Inside the story is a garden with a pear tree, the view of a house with a staircase and mahogany desks. Inside the house is a woman with her back against the windows, her body bent over her child inside a crib, her body leaning against a table as she fixes the fruit in a bowl.
From the back of the room, somebody mentions foreshadowing, somebody makes distinctions between image and symbol. The board is filled with words.
Inside the story is a dinner part the woman hosts, the idle talk of guests, the moment her husband leans toward the body of another woman. She watches her husband and his small gesture, the drawing room unable to contain her sudden knowledge. Inside the story, the woman turns away from the climax, turns to the windows and the pear tree outside, the symbol of her life, the tree in full bloom, the tree caught in shadows.
We talk about the tragedy of false notions, the link between discovery and despair, the joy of understatement. When there is a knock on the door, a request to take a minute of our time, I say sure. We are inside the story, and to the students outside, I say, sure, come on in.
What they pass around is a can, a sheet of paper, a request for loose change and volunteers to dig for bodies. A few miles away, the residents of a dumpsite are dead, their bodies buried in an avalanche of trash. Inside the story, the woman cries, what will happen to me now?
On the first day, the dying tried to raise their voices above the weight of their own tin roofs. The digging was slow, the voices stopped. Inside the story, the woman fixes fruit in a bowl — apples, oranges, and grapes. She arranges and rearranges fruit, draping the grapes on the rim, balancing the oranges on apples.
The relatives need bodies for a proper burial. The can grows heavy. The students pause carefully upon the sheet, and the others say think about it, we have a booth on the third floor, you don’t have to sign up now. Inside the story there is a woman, a house, a man, a pear tree. Inside the story is a house, a bowl full of fruit. Some students are braver than others. They write their names down.
The woman leans the sadness of her body against the window, tries to look beyond the pear tree. Inside the story, she sees nothing but darkness. She is ungrateful for the luxury of despair.
“Spaces,” by Arkaye Kierulf
“Spaces,” by Arkaye Kierulf.
In this room I was born. And I knew I was in the wrong place: the world. I knew pain was to come. I knew it by the persistence of the blade that cut me out. I knew it as every baby born to the world knows it: I came here to die.
Somewhere a beautiful woman in a story I do not understand is crying. If I strain hard enough I will hear a song in the background. She is holding a letter. She is in love with Peter. I am in love with her.
Stand on the floor where it’s marked X. I am standing by your side where it’s marked Y. We are a shoulder’s length apart. I’m so close you can almost smell the perfume. If I step ten paces away from you, there could be a garden between us, or a table and some chairs. If I step another 20 paces there could be a house between us. If I continue to walk away from you in this way, tramping through walls and hovering above water, in 80,150,320 steps I will bump into you. I can never get away from you, and will you remember me? Distance brings us closer. There is no distance.
In 1961 I was in Berlin. It was a dusty Sunday in August. In the radio news was out that Ulbricht had convinced Khrushchev to build a wall around West Berlin. I remember it precisely: By midnight East German troops had sealed off the zonal boundary with barbed wire. The streets along which the barrier ran had been torn up. I lived in that street. It was the day after my birthday. I remember the dust covering the sky. I remember being scared. Father had not returned from the other side. The Kampfgruppen der Arbeiterklasse had orders to shoot anyone who would attempt to defect. Father had not returned.
Happiness is simple.
Sadness forks into many roads.
Before the time of Christ, Aristotle believed that the earth was the center of the universe because he needed a stationary reference point against which to measure all other motions: a rock falling, a star reeling through the sky, his heart beating against his chest like a club. He needed to believe in certainty, in absolute space. Without it, the world would not be known absolutely. Without it, the world cannot be known.
Twenty centuries later Hendrik Lorentz needed to believe that every single molecule in the universe must move through a stationary material called the aether, as every human being in his various turnings must move through God. Scientists looked everywhere for proof of this aether. And everywhere they found nothing.
I have sometimes been accused of being a bore. I beg to differ: people laugh at my jokes, and I’m handsome. I would like now to talk more about myself: I don’t like going to airports and hospitals. They make me uneasy. In both cases, somebody is always going to leave. I was born in 1983, and have never been to Berlin. But I have a memory of being in Berlin in 1961. I have a memory of something that never happened.
I would like to elaborate on myself, but you will understand if I talk instead about the sky in Berlin in 1961: it was covered with dust. There were no birds. There was no sky.
Memory is brutal because precise.
She said: give me more space. I said: don’t you love me anymore? She said: give me more space. I said: why? Did I do something wrong? Is there something wrong? Is there someone else? When did you stop loving me? In what precise moment? In what room? What city?
I held her tight as one who’s about to lose his own life holds on. Then she said: give me more space. I said: no.
I have only one purpose: to live intensely.
I wish I never met you
and I wish you never left.
You taste like a river in June.
I’m going to say something important. Look at my face. Ignore my eyes. Just listen to me. But listen only to the timbre of my voice, not to what I am saying. They are different. They are two different rooms. The first is an exhibition of despair, the second only an explanation.
The first is all you have to listen to. So listen carefully because I cannot repeat myself:
“Everything/ one suspects to be true/ is true.”
In 1879 a boy is born in Germany. At age five he’d throw a chair at his violin teacher and chase him out. In time he would develop the capacity to withdraw instantaneously from a crowd into loneliness. At twenty-six he would publish his theory of relativity in Annalen der Physik. He looks crazy, but he is certain: there is no aether, no absolute space.
Sometimes they thought it was the words.
What they wanted to say could not be said.
They fixed the TV, vacuumed the rug,
dusted the furniture, looked out the window.
Sometimes she would purposefully lose hold of
a plate and it would smash to the floor.
Then they would have something to say,
only to begin to say it then stop.
Look at this box. It is empty except for a diary, a book, and this picture in my hand. Now look at this picture. It weighs nothing and occupies almost zero space. I can slip it in anywhere and it will fit: inside the diary, under the box, through a crack on the wall. If I tear it several times, it will occupy a different volume, many and various. It mutates, you see. If I burn it, it will smoke into the air. It will take up a whole expanse.
How many more times
are you going to let the world
My father is an incorrigible storyteller. He would tell the same stories in different ways. I wouldn’t know which ones to believe. So I believed all of them. “There is no story that is not true,” said Uchendu.
Father would point at the TV. He would repeat lines, rehearse the beginnings and ends, explicate with his hands the elaborate twists and turns of every road.
He said: “I am dying.”
I said: “But aren’t all of us dying.”
And I thought the world
was about this leaving,
not about anybody’s leaving
but about this leaving.
The next day it was the same.
A beautiful woman walks into a room. The room is dark. There are no windows. There is one light bulb but any time now it will go off. I pretend not to notice and look away, my heart beating against my chest like a club. If I strain hard enough I will hear a song in the background. What other forms of happiness are there than this?
In 1989 the Berlin wall falls down.
I believe in love only when it rains.
To appreciate the value of land, one need only look into a painting: so much beauty. Buying land means buying the layers of beauty directly above it. It means buying the sky above it. And the birds above it, the clouds, the gods.
In truth you are buying a corner of the universe. You are saying: this is my room. You are saying: I live here. Here I exist.
Your sadness is immaterial. You did
not come into the world to be happy.
You came to suffer/survive.
How many words have you spoken in your life?
How many did you mean?
How many did you understand?
Somebody picks up a phone. He dials a number. His voice travels a thousand miles into another country. On the other end somebody picks up and hears the voice. Who is this?– This is me. The phone is hung up. The voice travels back a thousand miles.
Elsewhere somebody picks up a phone and before he could dial forgets the number.
Sometimes wars are waged because there are too many people in too few rooms.
Memory is incomplete–lost.
The world is incomplete–vanishing.
Nothing more happens. You open your eyes and it’s over.
Memory is brutal.
Memory is precise.
In the next room people I do not know are talking with hushed voices. Their secret slips out the window like a cat. It is raining, and I press my ear to the wall. I imagine that one of them is smoking a cigarette. I imagine that one of them is covering his mouth in surprise.
When my aunt died the doctors said the fat clogged her arteries. Every week she visited the hospital, and every week the vein on her wrist had to be ripped out so a catheter could be stuck into her body to suck out her blood. You could see the plasma pass through a filter and then back to the body. If you put your ear to her wrist you would hear her heart.
Before my uncle died the heart attacks were so excruciating he said he’d prefer to just die. They transported him to the hospital, and on the way to the emergency room his heart gave. Mother said my uncle ate too much pork and drank too much beer. She wonders if he’s going to be happy in heaven.
In some house in some province in some country in some novel there is a story of a man a father a child a lover who dies because of too much sadness.
Nobody thought that what was wrong was the love.
She said: give me more space.
“Third World Geography,” by Cirilo F. Bautista
“Third World Geography,” by Cirilo F. Bautista.
A country without miracles
sits heavy on the map,
thinking of banana trees rotting
in the sunlight.
The man who watches over it
has commandeered all hopes,
placed them in a sack,
and tied its loose end.
He goes around carrying it
on his back.
When asked what is inside,
he says, “Just a handful of feathers,
just a handful of feathers.”
That’s how light the burden
of government is in peace time—
any tyrant can turn it into a metaphor.
You kneel on the parched earth
and pray for rice. Only the wind
hears your useless words.
The country without miracles
tries to get up from the page,
but the bold ink and sharp colors
hold it down.
“Unhappy Hour,” by Richard Siken
Going to a party where I knew you’d be,
dudes bobbing for boyfriends, eyes shining
like candy apples. I want to be a lamppost,
or the history of plumbing. I am tired of being
mysterious. You are drinking rum next to
the laughing skullheads and I am unhappy
because I am dead and I miss you. Once
a year, day of the dead, you think you’d think
of me more often. These people shoulda
dressed up as their best selves to mix and
mingle in the couryard garden. If everything
is green then why do I feel so blue? I would like
to be a plain-faced man, living with you quietly.
Leave the party but you can’t hear me you can
no longer hear me. The dead are boring.
Enlightenment is boring. We can read the minds
of dogs. We make the black cats scatter across
the grass. There is a better party where I am not
a ghost and you are not Aquaman. I am like
a pornstar, we are all of us pornstars aching
to get back into our terrycloth robes. Gives me
a headache, all this intellectual stimulation.
It’s cold out tonight. I am here by the back wall,
in the museum of the afterlife. I would like to
be a flickering cowboy. I like the live music—
we only get the recorded stuff here. I would like
to be alive again. I would like to say something
Let us live, my Lesbia, and love, and value at one farthing all the talk of crabbed old men. Suns may set and rise again. For us, when the short light has once set, remains to be slept the sleep5 of one unbroken night. Give me a thousand kisses, then a hundred, then another thousand, then a second hundred, then yet another thousand, then a hundred. Then, when we have made up many thousands, we will confuse our counting, that we may not know the reckoning, nor any malicious person blight them with evil eye, when he knows that our kisses are so many.
— Carmina V, Gaius Valerius Catullus
Lost, by David Wagoner
Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you,
If you leave it you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.
[Special shout-out to Presidents who said: “I can’t believe it’s been a year since I graduated from University. I still have no idea what I want to be.” And everyone else who feels the same way.]
The First Dream, by Billy Collins
THE FIRST DREAM
The Wind is ghosting around the house tonight
and as I lean against the door of sleep
I begin to think about the first person to dream,
how quiet he must have seemed the next morning
as the others stood around the fire
draped in the skins of animals
talking to each other only in vowels,
for this was long before the invention of consonants.
He might have gone off by himself to sit
on a rock and look into the mist of a lake
as he tried to tell himself what had happened,
how he had gone somewhere without going,
how he had put his arms around the neck
of a beast that the others could touch
only after they had killed it with stones,
how he felt its breath on his bare neck.
Then again, the first dream could have come
to a woman, though she would behave,
I suppose, much the same way,
moving off by herself to be alone near water,
except that the curve of her young shoulders
and the tilt of her downcast head
would make her appear to be terribly alone,
and if you were there to notice this,
you might have gone down as the first person
to ever fall in love with the sadness of another.
- Billy Collins.
Three years and a half years ago, we were in Dumaguete, at this 24/7 store. I smoked, then, with those plastic filters. He still smoked then. He let me listen to this wonderful poem, Billy Collins reading. I must have sighed before he and I helped each other commit the poem to memory.
A few days ago, I murmured, “The wind is ghosting around the house tonight…”
And he giggled and said, “You farted, didn’t you?”
[For the record, No.]
Landscape II, by Carlos Angeles
Sun in the knifed horizon bleeds the sky,
Spilling a peacock stain upon the sands,
Across some murdered rocks refused to die.
Its is your absence touches my sad hands
Blinded like flags in the wreck of air.
And catacombs of cloud enshroud the cool
And calm involvement of the darkened plains,
The stunted mourners here: and here, a full
And universal tenderness which drains
The sucked and golden breath of sky,
Now, while the dark basins the void of space,
Some sudden crickets, ambushing me near,
Discover vowels of your whispered face
And subtly cry. I touch your absence here
Remembering the speeches of your hair.
One of my favorite poems, one of the very few poems I know by heart. I’ve been thinking of getting that last line low on my nape. How self-referential.