By James Merrill
Brought down at last
From the cold sighing mountain
Where I and the others
Had been fed, looked after, kept still,
Meant, I knew—of course I knew—
That it would be only a matter of weeks,
That there was nothing more to do.
Warmly they took me in, made much of me,
The point from the start was to keep my spirits up.
I could assent to that. For honestly,
It did help to be wound in jewels, to send
Their colors flashing forth from vents in the deep
Fragrant sables that cloaked me head to foot.
Over me then they wove a spell of shining—
Purple and silver chains, eavesdropping tinsel,
Amulets, milagros: software of silver,
A heart, a little girl, a Model T,
Two staring eyes. Then angles, trumpets, BUD and BEA
(The children’s names) in clownlike capitals,
Somewhere a music box whose tiny song
Played and replayed I ended before long
By loving. And in shadow behind me, a primitive IV
To keep the show going. Yes, yes, what lay ahead
Was clear: the stripping, the cold street, my chemicals
Plowed back into the Earth for lives to come—
No doubt a blessing, a harvest, but one that doesn’t bear,
Now or ever, dwelling upon. To have grown so thin.
Needles and bone. The little boy’s hands meeting
About my spine. The mother’s voice: Holding up wonderfully!
No dread. No bitterness. The end beginning. Today’s
Dusk room aglow
For the last time
Still to be so poised, so
Receptive. Still to recall, praise.
I came across this line by J.D. Salinger and thought it was a line from a poem:
She wasn’t doing a thing that I could see, except standing there leaning on the balcony railing, holding the universe together.
It’s not a line from a poem. It’s from a short story, “A Girl I Knew.” The story is about a girl a young man knew. The girl later became a Nazi victim. The man returns to her apartment after the war, and realizes everything has change.
Somehow, I don’t care what the story is about. The line is enough.
Here are other beautiful lines to ponder.
John Ashbury’s essay, “The Heavy Bear: On Delmore Schwartz,” explores Delmore Schwartz’s life and poems and mentions his most famous short story (read above, oddly, by Lou Reed), “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities.” Ashbury writes of the story, here “the poet himself moves backward in time, dreaming he is in a movie theatre watching a silent film of his parents’ courtship at Coney Island years before. At a crucial moment, “I stood up in the theatre and shouted: ‘Don’t do it. It’s not too late to change your minds, both of you. Nothing good will come of it, only remorse, hatred, scandal, and two children whose characters are monstrous.’ ”
A Manner of Being: Writers on Their Mentors, edited by Annie Liontas and Jeff Parker, is a collection of essays by writers reflecting on the influence of their mentors (or lack of mentor). Most of the relationships were born in university classrooms, but despite this similarity, the experiences explored in Manner of Being are as varied as the collection of writers from which they’re drawn. The book delivers many lessons–in writing, teaching, life–and the lessons aren’t always delivered by writers (a nanny here, a bookstore owner there). There are some heavy hitters, though. Of the seventy essays, some of the writers represented are Pam Houston, Philip Levine, Mary Gaitskill, Gore Vidal, John Irving, Gordon Lish, Mary Jo Salter. There are also lesser known writers who have wonderfully told tales of their apprenticeships.
Click here for an example essay originally published in The New Yorker: George Saunders on Tobias Wolff.
Written over 400 years ago, from As You Like It. Has anything changed about the way we grow old?
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
There’s a wonderful interview with Henri Cole in The Paris Review–many insights on craft and the artistic mindset. Here’s a glimpse into how he wrote Middle Earth:
“I decided to try writing free-verse sonnets and bringing to them some of the qualities of Japanese poetry, valuing sincerity over artifice, frequent use of simile, the presence of nature as an emblem for interior states, and so on. The first poems I wrote were in a rather minimalist style, like a rock garden. I tried to write poems of pure contentment, because I was so deeply moved by the setting—the rice fields were being planted and were full of happy frogs that talked all night and accompanied my sleep. It was intense. And slowly, I wrote about it. And these were the poems that became Middle Earth.”