Questions for St. Isidore

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Does the glass cactus bloom for a velvet bee?

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If our days are numbered doors, does each door open on a different life?

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Why did the coyote cross the road?

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When they’re alone together in the broom closet, do the dust mop and the vacuum cleaner ever do the dirty?

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Why must the poor always give more than the rich, who regard every gift they receive as a payment justly due, and every payment they owe as an unmerited gift?

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Take a lesson from a Slinky: is life really an upward spiral, or a measured series of descents, ending in a snarl?

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If you have too much time on your hands, does it spread down your arms like a luxuriant pelt?

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Why should one walk the golden street in slippers? Why not in boots?

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St. Isidore is the patron saint of the Internet.

Iced fields

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…While iced fields of the Milky Way look on.
Paul Zweig

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Suddenly alluring, the world wears a bodysuit of ice.

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All cast from the same ice, the flash mob revels in its perfect fit.

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Whetted by the sun, a blade of grass springs free of its icy sheath.

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Grass or glass? Glitter shatters underfoot.

The blog in literature

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There is no pleasure to me without communication: there is not so much as a sprightly thought comes into my mind that it does not grieve me to have produced alone, and that I have no one to tell it to.
Montaigne

I rejoice in my spine, as in the firm audacious staff of that flag which I fling half out to the world.
Melville

The power of doing anything with quickness is always prized much by the possessor, and often without any attention to the imperfection of the performance.
Jane Austen

For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?
Jane Austen

There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth.
Mark Twain

We said there warn’t no home like a raft, after all. Other places do seem so cramped up and smothery, but a raft don’t. You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft.
Mark Twain

It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquillity: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it.
Charlotte Bronte

On day Lord Korechika, the Minister of the Centre, brought the Empress a bundle of notebooks. “What shall we do with them?” Her Majesty asked me. “The Emperor has already made arrangements for copying the Records of the Historian.”

“Let me make them into a pillow,” I said.

“Very well,” said Her Majesty. “You may have them.”

I now had a vast quantity of paper at my disposal, and I set about filling the notebooks with odd facts, stories from the past, and all sorts of other things, often including the most trivial material. On the whole I concentrated on things and people that I found charming and splendid; my notes are also full of poems and observations on trees and plants, birds and insects.
Sei Shonagon

There is nothing in the whole world so painful as feeling that one is not liked. It always seems to me that people who hate me must be suffering from some kind of lunacy.
Sei Shonagon

Read you my epigrams? No, you burn
not to hear mine, but for your turn.
Martial (William Matthews, tr.)

If an epigram takes up too much space,
you skip it. It’s not substance you crave
but speed. I combed the markets for this spread
and you eat nuts and candied violets.
Fuss on your own budget, reader, and have
taste enough to salivate for bread.
Martial (ibid.)

The weird sisters, hand in hand,
Posters of the sea and land,
Thus do go about, about.
Shakespeare

He appeared to enjoy beyond everything the sound of his own voice. I couldn’t wonder at that, for it was mellow and full and gave great importance to every word he uttered. He listened to himself with obvious satisfaction and sometimes gently beat time to his own music with his head or rounded a sentence with his hand.
Dickens

When I makes tea I makes tea, as old mother Grogan said. And when I makes water I makes water … Begob, ma’am, says Mrs. Cahill, God send you don’t make them in the one pot.
James Joyce

Yet he who grasps the moment’s gift,
He is the proper man.
Goethe

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Dickinson

Only he is an emancipated thinker who is not afraid to write foolish things.
Chekhov

Scraps from the scriptorium

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The morning starts out gray, dull as a stone in the driveway. “The stone is a mirror which works poorly,” Charles Simic once wrote. But mirrors of any kind bore me. They always give the same answer.

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The structure of the wood must influence how the bark beetles excavate their galleries, I think. Is this the tree’s calligraphy, or the insect’s? I pore over my images with the intensity of a Medieval monk.

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The sky starts to clear. Icicles formed by a waterfall’s spray dangle trumpet-shaped toes above the current.

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A swayback mare and her foal graze at the edge of a snowy pasture. The rusty trailer, too, was once a blank white.

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I spot a ribbon – the kind used to wrap presents – winding through the branches of a ridgetop oak. A balloon must’ve brought it here. The last blue scrap of it almost disappears into the sky.

Under the sign of Janus

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The way the snow returns to the sky
is far more painstaking than the way it falls.
Near the end, it turns from ground to figure,
from canvas to paint. It scales the ladder
of its own self-effacement.

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So the snow withdrew into a clef-shaped cleft
& waited for its cue. This winter could go
either way.

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The witch hazel measured itself against an oak.
I want to be a tree, it sang, when I grow up –
A bird perch,
An insect metropolis,
A gallery of lichens above,
And below, a husband to fungi.

True, I am all these things already,
But not as a tree.

Well

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The sky at the bottom of the walk-in stone well looks almost blue – an illusion. We have not seen the sun for days. The snow is mostly gone, dissolved by days of cold rain. Last night, my niece left us to return to Mississippi with her parents, and it seemed to all of us that her visit had been much too short. Between the rain and a bad head cold that she and I both got, we never got a chance to go sledding, build a snowman – even walks with her Nanna were few and far between. This morning my father and I took down the Christmas tree and put the boxes of lights and ornaments back up in the attic for another year. The tree went out on the back slope below the feeders to provide the birds with a shelter from the weather and a refuge from the sharp-shinned hawk.

*

Among the baby’s new books, there’s one with a small round mirror on every facing page, each replacing the head of a different animal. She points, chortles, repeats her one word, Dada.

The book is from a series called Baby Einstein, designed to make your child smarter. But what is the lesson? That other beings are nothing but ciphers? I think of Einstein fathering his own thoughts on a non-capricious G-d.

Dada. Very good! And see how it smears when you put your fingers on it? When you bend the page back and forth, see how it warps?

Viscera for breakfast

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Meanwhile, back on the mountain, the first snows of the season make the blues come down. I don’t want to say that these are my blues, necessarily, but there are always plenty to go around. I am thankful for the cold in which sound does not travel so fast or far; it’s quiet enough that you can hear the beech leaves whistling through their teeth.

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Wounds are harder to hide now. But those who cause the wounds are just as vulnerable, easy targets against the snow. If you need somewhere to take shelter & to sharpen your claws, baby, look no further.

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Here in the mountains, the sun can take a long time to reach down into every cove & hollow. Some places don’t see the morning sun until well past noon. We can sleep in late.

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But some days, you know if you lie down you might not get back up. The comforter is heavy with the breast feathers of geese that never got to fly south.

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I saw seven crows in an oak tree, silent, waiting for the hunter of images to go on past & for the sun to thaw their breakfast of viscera. Dense red muscle of the heart, stomach like a deflated balloon, the liver’s sour purple disc: everything about a deer is beautiful. Even the footprints of these eaters are thinner & more delicate than I would have expected.

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Look, here’s an empty seat. You could well say it’s nothing looking at nothing, & you might be right. On the other hand, the sun’s not as lonely as he looks: for those in the know, this is by far the best time of year to go sunbathing. You can sit fully clothed in the midst of all this nakedness & feel rich & lucky & happy to be alive.

Mid-term

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1. Tell me what language your left hand speaks while your right hand is busy here with the pen. Parse a sentence in it.

2. From dreaming about salamanders, can you remember how it felt to breathe through your skin & listen with the bones in your feet? Use both sides of the paper if necessary.

3. You wake to a thunderstorm on a hot August night; fear mingles with pleasure at the cooling breeze. If you were God, would you prefer being dead to a state of disembodied abstraction? Please provide etymologies for any neologisms.

4. A few snowflakes are sifting down from a clear dawn sky. It’s quiet. In another couple of minutes, the black lace will turn into ordinary treetops. If you wanted to stop time, how would you go about it? Show, don’t tell.

5. I’m curious about what you might have muttered before flushing down that mouse you found floating dead in the toilet just now. Please explain why I have no right to know.

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The house made of sunset, day before yesterday.

I’m traveling to Mississippi to visit my brother and his family; I won’t be back until around December 1. While I’m gone, please consider visiting some of the blogs listed in the column to your right.

Color

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Imagine if, like most mammals, we saw the world in black and white. We might know autumn as the time when the leaves try to match the cloudless sky in clarity, just before they free themselves from their tenuous attachments.

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Imagine – answers the cynic – if we didn’t see the world in black and white. Sharp contrasts are pleasing to the eye and the mind of a creature whose not-so-distant ancestors relied on depth perception to keep from falling, perhaps to their death.

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Imagine how different, how much more modulated our sense of the world would be if the nostrils were our main doors of perception. While our eyes can perceive only a narrow spectrum of colors, the number of smells our noses can distinguish is said to be virtually infinite. Given the troubles we have with leaders whose outstanding characteristic is a fondness for dichotomy, I wonder what would happen if we restricted positions of power to those with highly sensitive olfactory organs?

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Probably things wouldn’t turn out too differently. I can think of plenty of highly sensitive people – many poets, for example – who don’t know the first thing about compassion. It’s the heart that needs to learn more hues than red.

Postcards from home

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I carried my second-hand camera to the far end of the field; it carried the field back home in its little wafer of memory. I’m sorry it’s a little blurry. I had slept poorly the night before, & now everything seemed slightly out-of-focus.

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Leaves on a first-year catalpa sprout are almost big enough to serve as umbrellas in a pinch. Yesterday morning, though, as you can see, I used them as a welder’s visor to look at the sun. Expect major sunspot activity in the next few days.

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A white ash split down the middle by last January’s ice storm bravely sent up a few clusters of sprouts, but this summer’s drought has not been kind. The Virginia creeper climbs it with claws of shadow.

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As I started up the ridge, my tired kneecaps made little popping noises with every step. Then I saw how thickly the wild grapes hung, fat clusters weighing down a witch hazel bush at the bend of the trail. I found a ripe grape & popped it into my mouth. Thick skin, crunchy seeds, acid-sweet pulp – I eat it all. There’s something vaguely unsettling about a peeled grape.

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For you, oh reader, I’ll ford a river of white stones, for you I’ll grow a garden of lichens – don’t laugh. Marvel of marvels, a garden of lichens once gave me my best line ever: fungal integument chemically identical to an insect’s exoskeleton.

Dry? Of course it’s dry. This river is parched.

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When you read these words, do you hear your own voice, or imagine mine?