A Paraphrase of Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale

I am sad at heart, and numb to the world,
Like Socrates who drank hemlock,
Or as if I drank laudanum (like Coleridge)
Recently, and sank into forgetfulness:
Not because I envy you,
But because I am too happy for you,
That you, nightingale of the forest,
In some beautiful copse
Of shadowy beeches
Sing carelessly of summer.

Oh for a taste of really well-aged wine, that has been
Stored and cooled in deep earthen cellar,
Tasting of the Goddess of Spring, and greenery,
And dance, and folk tunes, and a hot day at the fair!
Oh, I wish I had some southern wine in a glass,
The good stuff, dark crimson, Continue reading

Coals

(This is a tribute to Dostoevky’s novel Crime and Punishment. For those who have not read the work, this man Raskolnikov is a murderer who has killed an old moneylender, and is suffering from guilt. He is being investigated by Porfiry, the astute and worringly intelligent police detective. Raskolnikov has a tendency to talk to himself, and frequently drifts off into philosophy. His whole goal was to transcend the laws of ordinary men by getting away with murder, and thus become extraordinary, but he has failed, for his conscience will give him no peace. We enter the story several nights after the murder.)

Raskolnikov was walking during the night. He was wearing a yellow coat, not the one from that night. This one he had borrowed from Razumikhin. The night was cold against his feverous forehead. He was talking to himself. The memory of the money which he had given away to that poor family for the funeral grated on him. Didn’t he have need for that money just as much as them? How would a truly extraordinary man do anything without the power, not even power, the basic necessity, of money? The cobblestone under his thin boots was cold and hard. He reflected on his own conscience. His heart was not like this cobblestone, was it? Or rather, was it not becoming like a cobblestone? He had murdered two women in cold blood, and that cold blood flowed through his heart this very moment. Could all the remorse in the world warm that cold-hearted moment again? “But what am I saying?” he exclaimed to himself. “What happened to my resolve? Am I truly planning on turning myself in? If anything could take away my cold heart it would be that. But that is the one thing I cannot do. No, I must stick to my resolve. But this misery…it is not to be borne. There must be an escape… a release for the man who thought himself extraordinary and broke himself over the laws of the ordinary man. For that is it! I am an ordinary man.” And he despised himself. But his thoughts fell around his mind like a cold twilight.

Suddenly Raskolnikov became aware that he was lost. Where had his thoughts led him so blindly? It was no part of the town that he frequented, but his stomach tightened and bile burned in his throat when he realized that he was only a short way from her house…what devil had drawn him so blindly towards the open grave of his guilt?…His guilt should have died with the old woman, but instead it rose again with blood on its head, and stalked behind him in the empty streets. He looked around himself and found that although it must have been past midnight at this point, there was a glow on the horizon. “Could it be the sun?” he asked in confusion. But that would be impossible: it must rather be some large fire that was giving off this light. The cold of the night and the shapelessness of his own musings pushed him towards the fire, like a moth to a candle flame that is sure to scorch it in the end. As he drew nearer, he could hear a hubbub rising over the rooftops and winding its way down the streets towards him. There were cries, and shouts of directions: plainly the fire had struck a house, and men were attempting to put it out. As he rounded a final corner, he saw that his deductions were correct. A large and rich-looking house was flaming like a star in the night. Its beams were blazing with a fierce flame, withering in the tumultuous destruction. The surrounding houses were in danger of catching fire, and men were dashing buckets of water over their walls, attempting to shield them from the destructive lashes of flame that burst out from the house frequently, as some wall or other collapsed inside. The wind was blowing the flames away from the rest of the house, so that it burned quite slowly. Continue reading

Fragment

I saw a – something-

What was it? No matter-

It fell like lightning, and blazed-

Shattered earth and grinding ground-

Glancing shards, some foreign hail –

Scattered, broken, gone.

A fire of mystery –

Where is it now?

Gone to nothing –

Visiting dust –

And disappeared as quickly

As life itself.

Breathing in the Graveyard

I took the time to stop tonight,
And walk in a nearby graveyard.
Whose ground this is I know,
But He does not mind my seeing it before
My time.
I came quietly as I could, though only the muse
Had arrested me.
I asked their pardon for the intrusion,
But said I meant no disrespect:
I came as a student, to learn how to be dead.
They were much better at it than I.
One vacant space was there.
I took my cap off, crossed my hands on my chest,
An amateur at dying.
Eyes closed,
World spins round my grave,
Myself temporarily withdrawn,
Touching this world the least I could.
Something told me not to sleep there,
Not to parody the masters of rest,
A gift they achieved before me.
My time is not yet come.
I left, again silent,
Like a child who does not understand many things.
And now to sleep.

After Rehearsal

Gleam-black beetles crinkle over the night-sidewalk
Seeking my brown shoes for shelter
From the orange light-throb.
The night is a sound-slate, black with silence
Ready to be filled with psalms
And the joy of sheer isness.
Measured step by purposed tread,
I wander home
Through fog and silent streets.
Echo claps back my shoebeat,
A pulse in the solitude.
I accompany myself.
Haydn rises to my beetle-audience.
I wonder if they hear me,
I wonder if later they will dance
As heaven’s music sinks into their tiny brains.

Hands

The night was old, and the pizza place was calling us. Working with drywall for a whole day had sanded us down to dusty, sagging remnants of blue-collar respectability. Flat greasy food was singing to us like a beautiful yellow siren of arterial blockage, and our work-weary minds felt no inclination to resist. So the empty streets and dark neon signs herded us like a series of negative sheepdogs, until we gave a cheer when we saw the sign glowing several streets over, and visions of cheese Frisbees soared through our heads.

The man standing behind the counter took our eager orders with equanimity. Apparently he saw this sort of thing a lot. He grabbed a dough globe and began to stretch and pound it out flatter, disappointing all sorts of aspiring bacterial Magellae. Then the newly flattened planet began to swirl through the pizza place sky, tossing off his spinning fingers, elegantly orbiting through the flour-dusted air. Then I noticed his hands.

They were twisted and malformed. Some birth defect had left him with fewer fingers than most, and less grace than most.

But despite the ugliness in his hands, the things they could do were beautiful. The dough touched them lightly, then leapt up to the ceiling again, dancing under his touch.

I asked him how long he had been throwing pizza dough for. He said he had been there seven years. “How long to get that good?” I asked. Tens of thousands of throws, he said.

There was a reason he wasn’t on day shift. Some people wouldn’t have wanted to eat pizza they had seen being tossed by those hands. Some people are morons.

I enjoyed that pizza more than many things I have eaten. I knew that it had been made beautifully, made by a man whose hands transcended their own fallenness.

Love bestows loveliness.

The crookedest hands made the best pizza.