November 20: “Perfection, Perfection”

I have had it with perfection.
I have packed my bags,
I am out of here.
Gone.

As certain as rain
will make you wet,
perfection will do you
in.

It droppeth not as dew
upon the summer grass
to give liberty and green
joy.

Perfection straineth out
the quality of mercy,
withers rapture at its
birth.

Before the battle is half begun,
cold probity thinks
it can’t be won, concedes the
war.

I’ve handed in my notice,
given back my keys,
signed my severance check, I
quit.

Hints I could have taken:
Even the perfect chiseled form of
Michelangelo’s radiant David
squints,

the Venus de Milo
has no arms,
the Liberty Bell is
cracked.

— Kilian McDonnell

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September 27: “On Distinction”

We won’t pretend we’re not hungry for distinction
but what can ever distinguish us enough?
This country, this language won’t last long, the race
will die, later the cockroach, earth itself,

and last this beer bottle: silicon fused by man,
almost indestructible, like a soul:
it will go spinning ever farther from the nearest thing
until space, continually deepening, drowns in itself.

Yet we keep a hungry eye on old schoolmates
and everyone born in the year of our own birth,
and spend the nights in ranting over them,
their money, fashionable companions, pliant critics.

To live just a little longer than they do:
that would be triumph. Hence exercise and diets,
and the squabble over who will write the history
of this paradise of demons casting each other out.

— A. F. Moritz

September 26: “How to Be Perfect”

                                                  Everything is perfect, dear friend.
—KEROUAC

Get some sleep.

Don’t give advice.

Take care of your teeth and gums.

Don’t be afraid of anything beyond your control. Don’t be afraid, for
instance, that the building will collapse as you sleep, or that someone
you love will suddenly drop dead.

Eat an orange every morning.

Be friendly. It will help make you happy.

Raise your pulse rate to 120 beats per minute for 20 straight minutes
four or five times a week doing anything you enjoy.

Hope for everything. Expect nothing.

Take care of things close to home first. Straighten up your room
before you save the world. Then save the world.

Know that the desire to be perfect is probably the veiled expression
of another desire—to be loved, perhaps, or not to die.

Make eye contact with a tree.

Be skeptical about all opinions, but try to see some value in each of
them.

Dress in a way that pleases both you and those around you.

Do not speak quickly.

Learn something every day. (Dzien dobre!)

Be nice to people before they have a chance to behave badly.

Don’t stay angry about anything for more than a week, but don’t
forget what made you angry. Hold your anger out at arm’s length
and look at it, as if it were a glass ball. Then add it to your glass ball
collection.

Be loyal.

Wear comfortable shoes.

Design your activities so that they show a pleasing balance

and variety.

Be kind to old people, even when they are obnoxious. When you
become old, be kind to young people. Do not throw your cane at
them when they call you Grandpa. They are your grandchildren!

Live with an animal.

Do not spend too much time with large groups of people.

If you need help, ask for it.

Cultivate good posture until it becomes natural.

If someone murders your child, get a shotgun and blow his head off.

Plan your day so you never have to rush.

Show your appreciation to people who do things for you, even if you
have paid them, even if they do favors you don’t want.

Do not waste money you could be giving to those who need it.

Expect society to be defective. Then weep when you find that it is far
more defective than you imagined.

When you borrow something, return it in an even better condition.

As much as possible, use wooden objects instead of plastic or metal
ones.

Look at that bird over there.

After dinner, wash the dishes.

Calm down.

Visit foreign countries, except those whose inhabitants have
expressed a desire to kill you.

Don’t expect your children to love you, so they can, if they want to.

Meditate on the spiritual. Then go a little further, if you feel like it.
What is out (in) there?

Sing, every once in a while.

Be on time, but if you are late do not give a detailed and lengthy
excuse.

Don’t be too self-critical or too self-congratulatory.

Don’t think that progress exists. It doesn’t.

Walk upstairs.

Do not practice cannibalism.

Imagine what you would like to see happen, and then don’t do
anything to make it impossible.

Take your phone off the hook at least twice a week.

Keep your windows clean.

Extirpate all traces of personal ambitiousness.

Don’t use the word extirpate too often.

Forgive your country every once in a while. If that is not possible, go
to another one.

If you feel tired, rest.

Grow something.

Do not wander through train stations muttering, “We’re all going to
die!”

Count among your true friends people of various stations of life.

Appreciate simple pleasures, such as the pleasure of chewing, the
pleasure of warm water running down your back, the pleasure of a
cool breeze, the pleasure of falling asleep.

Do not exclaim, “Isn’t technology wonderful!”

Learn how to stretch your muscles. Stretch them every day.

Don’t be depressed about growing older. It will make you feel even
older. Which is depressing.

Do one thing at a time.

If you burn your finger, put it in cold water immediately. If you bang
your finger with a hammer, hold your hand in the air for twenty
minutes. You will be surprised by the curative powers of coldness and
gravity.

Learn how to whistle at earsplitting volume.

Be calm in a crisis. The more critical the situation, the calmer you
should be.

Enjoy sex, but don’t become obsessed with it. Except for brief periods
in your adolescence, youth, middle age, and old age.

Contemplate everything’s opposite.

If you’re struck with the fear that you’ve swum out too far in the
ocean, turn around and go back to the lifeboat.

Keep your childish self alive.

Answer letters promptly. Use attractive stamps, like the one with a
tornado on it.

Cry every once in a while, but only when alone. Then appreciate
how much better you feel. Don’t be embarrassed about feeling better.

Do not inhale smoke.

Take a deep breath.

Do not smart off to a policeman.

Do not step off the curb until you can walk all the way across the
street. From the curb you can study the pedestrians who are trapped
in the middle of the crazed and roaring traffic.

Be good.

Walk down different streets.

Backwards.

Remember beauty, which exists, and truth, which does not. Notice
that the idea of truth is just as powerful as the idea of beauty.

Stay out of jail.

In later life, become a mystic.

Use Colgate toothpaste in the new Tartar Control formula.

Visit friends and acquaintances in the hospital. When you feel it is
time to leave, do so.

Be honest with yourself, diplomatic with others.

Do not go crazy a lot. It’s a waste of time.

Read and reread great books.

Dig a hole with a shovel.

In winter, before you go to bed, humidify your bedroom.

Know that the only perfect things are a 300 game in bowling and a
27-batter, 27-out game in baseball.

Drink plenty of water. When asked what you would like to drink,
say, “Water, please.”

Ask “Where is the loo?” but not “Where can I urinate?”

Be kind to physical objects.

Beginning at age forty, get a complete “physical” every few years
from a doctor you trust and feel comfortable with.

Don’t read the newspaper more than once a year.

Learn how to say “hello,” “thank you,” and “chopsticks”
in Mandarin.

Belch and fart, but quietly.

Be especially cordial to foreigners.

See shadow puppet plays and imagine that you are one of the
characters. Or all of them.

Take out the trash.

Love life.

Use exact change.

When there’s shooting in the street, don’t go near the window.

— Ron Padgett

September 14: “Thursday”

Because the most difficult part about making something, also the best,
Is existing in the middle,
Sustaining an act of radical imagination,
I simmered a broth: onion, lemon, a big handful of mint.
The phone rang. So with my left
Hand I answered it,
Sautéing the rice, then adding the broth
Slowly, one ladle at a time, with my right. What’s up?
The miracle of risotto, it’s easy to miss, is the moment when the husks
dissolve,
Each grain of rice releasing its tiny explosion of starch.
If you take it off the heat just then, let it sit
While you shave the parmesan into paper-thin curls,
It will be perfectly creamy,
But will still have a bite.
There will be dishes to do,
The moon will rise,
And everyone you love will be safe.

— James Longenbach

June 13: “Strawberrying”

My hands are murder-red. Many a plump head
drops on the heap in the basket. Or, ripe
to bursting, they might be hearts, matching
the blackbird’s wing-fleck. Gripped to a reed
he shrieks his ko-ka-ree in the next field.
He’s left his peck in some juicy cheeks, when
at first blush and mostly white, they showed
streaks of sweetness to the marauder.

We’re picking near the shore, the morning
sunny, a slight wind moving rough-veined leaves
our hands rumple among. Fingers find by feel
the ready fruit in clusters. Here and there,
their squishy wounds. . . . Flesh was perfect
yesterday. . . . June was for gorging. . . .
sweet hearts young and firm before decay.

“Take only the biggest, and not too ripe,”
a mother calls to her girl and boy, barefoot
in the furrows. “Don’t step on any. Don’t
change rows. Don’t eat too many.” Mesmerized
by the largesse, the children squat and pull
and pick handfuls of rich scarlets, half
for the baskets, half for avid mouths.
Soon, whole faces are stained.

A crop this thick begs for plunder. Ripeness
wants to be ravished, as udders of cows when hard,
the blue-veined bags distended, ache to be stripped.
Hunkered in mud between the rows, sun burning
the backs of our necks, we grope for, and rip loose
soft nippled heads. If they bleed—too soft—
let them stay. Let them rot in the heat.

When, hidden away in a damp hollow under moldy
leaves, I come upon a clump of heart-shapes
once red, now spiderspit-gray, intact but empty,
still attached to their dead stems—
families smothered as at Pompeii—I rise
and stretch. I eat one more big ripe lopped
head. Red-handed, I leave the field.

— May Swenson

March 11: “Limitations”

The subtlest strain a great musician weaves,
Cannot attain in rhythmic harmony
To music in his soul. May it not be
Celestial lyres send hints to him? He grieves
That half the sweetness of the song, he leaves
Unheard in the transition. Thus do we
Yearn to translate the wondrous majesty
Of some rare mood, when the rapt soul receives
A vision exquisite. Yet who can match
The sunset’s iridescent hues? Who sing
The skylark’s ecstasy so seraph-fine?
We struggle vainly, still we fain would catch
Such rifts amid life’s shadows, for they bring
Glimpses ineffable of things divine.

— Henrietta Cordelia Ray

January 12: “The House was Quiet and the World Was Calm”

The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The reader became the book; and summer night

Was like the conscious being of the book.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.

The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,

Wanted to lean, wanted much most to be
The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom

The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
The house was quiet because it had to be.

The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
The access of perfection to the page.

And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world,
In which there is no other meaning, itself

Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself
Is the reader leaning late and reading there.

— Wallace Stevens