The Miner's Pale Children Last book you read: The Miner's Pale Children

By W.S. Merwin on Monday, August 23, 1999 - 02:19 pm:

    "Make This Simple Test"

    Blindfold yourself with some suitable object. If time permits remain still for a moment. You may feel one or more of your senses begin to swim back toward you in the darkness, singly and without their names. Meanwhile have someone else arrange the products to be used in a row in front of you. It is prefereable to have them in identical containers, though that is not necessary. Where possible, perform the test by having the other person feed you a portion -- a spoonful -- of each of the products in turn, without comment.

    Guess what each one is, and have the other person write down what you say.

    Then remove the blindfold. While arranging the products the other person should have detached part of the label or container from each and placed it in front of the product it belongs to, like a title. This bit of legend must not contain the product's trade name nor its generic name, nor any suggestion of the product's taste or desirability. Or price. It should be limited to that part of the label or container which enumerates the actual components of the product in question.

    Thus for instance:

    "Contains dextrinzed flours, cocoa processed with alkali, non-fat dry milk solids, yeast nutrients, vegetable proteins, agar, hydrogenated vegetable oil, dried egg yolk, GUAR, sodium cyclamate, soya lecithin, imitation lemon oil, acetyl tartaric esters of mono- and diglycerides as emulsifiers, polysorbate 60, 1/10 of 1% of sodium benzoate to retard spoilage."


    "Contains anhydrated potatoes, powdered whey, vegetable gum, emulsifier (glycerol monostearate), invert syrup, shortening with freshness preserver, lactose, sorbic acid to retard mold growth, caramel color, natural and artificial flavors, sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium bisulfite."


    "Contains beef extract, wheat and soya derivatives, food starch-modified, dry sweet whey, calcium carageenan, vegetable oil, sodium phosphates to preserve freshness, BHA, BHT, prophylene glycol, pectin, niacinamide, artificial flavor, U.S. certified color."

    There should not be less than three separate products.

    Taste again, without the blindfold. Guess again and have the other person record the answers. Replace the blindfold. Have the other person change the order of the products and again feed you a spoonful of each.

    Guess again what you are eating or drinking in each case (if you can make the distinction). But this time do not stop there. Guess why you are eating or drinking it. Guess what it may do for you. Guess what it was meant to do for you. By whom. When. Where. Why. Guess where in the course of evolution you took the first step toward it. Guess which of your organs recognize it. Guess whether it is welcomed to their temples. Guess how it figures in their prayers. Guess how completely you become what you eat. Guess how soon. Guess at the taste of locusts and wild honey. Guess at the taste of water. Guess what the rivers see as they die. Guess why the babies are burning. Guess why there is silence in heaven. Guess why you were ever born.

By W.S. Merwin on Monday, September 6, 1999 - 03:39 pm:

    "The Sky Beetle"

    Shortly before dawn he burrows into the sky and begins to sing. One by one the stars turn to the other side to hear him, and their light leaves ours and fixes on the small black insect singing of the world that they will never see because it is on the side from which they have turned. As long as it is day here he sings to them and we do not even hear him. And as soon as our light has gone he stops and comes out and sits on the sky, having done his work, and then they turn one by one and try to see the world of which he has been singing. All night their faces burn through the darkness, empty but hoping.


    He who is wearing the helmet of Death is walking at the foot of the walls. The shadow of the enormous casque falls over his body like a bell. He lets others do his shouting for him. No one shouts. Wearing the helmet of Death, he turns. He waits.

    Around him the empty plain, and the dead, who have taken the form of doors, each standing by itself, locked, with no shadow. Large birds alight, bringing their own shadows to walk on, and disappear behind the doors. He is wearing the helmet of Death.

    While he wears it no weapon can touch him, no sound can startle him, no sight can move him.

    No one dares fight with him. The silence is his triumph.

    But Death has missed the helmet.

    "Humble Beginning"

    When he had learned how to kill his brother with a rock he learned how to use a rock to begin stairs. For both secrets he thanked the rock.

    He considered the rock further. It had always been there keeping secret what it could do. It had never so much as hinted at what it had already done. Now it was keeping all of its other secrets. He fell on his knees facing it and touched it with his forehead, his eyes, his nose, his lips, his tongue, his ears.

    He thought the rock had created him. He thought that.

By W.S. Merwin on Thursday, September 9, 1999 - 06:47 pm:

    from "The Lice":

    "When You Go Away"

    When you go away the wind clicks around to the north
    The painters work all day but at sundown the paint falls
    Showing the black walls
    The clock goes back to striking the same hour
    That has no place in the years

    And at night wrapped in the bed of ashes
    In one breath I wake
    It is the time when the beards of the dead get their growth
    I remember that I am falling
    That I am the reason
    And that my words are the garment of what I shall never be
    Like the tucked sleeve of a one-armed boy

    "The Room"

    I think all this is somewhere in myself
    The cold room unlit before dawn
    Containing a stillness such as attends death
    And from a corner the sounds of a small bird trying
    From time to time to fly a few beats in the dark
    You would say it was dying it is immortal

    "The Hydra"

    No no the dead have no brothers

    The Hydra calls me but I am used to it
    It calls me Everybody
    But I know my name and do not answer

    And you the dead
    You know your names as I do not
    But at moments you have just finished speaking

    The snow stirs in its wrappings
    Every season comes from a new place

    Like your voice with its resemblances

    A long time ago the lightning was practising
    Something I thought was easy

    I was young and the dead were in other
    As the grass had its own language

    Now I forget where the difference falls

    One thing about the living sometimes a piece of us
    Can stop dying for a moment
    But you the dead

    Once you go into those names you go on you never
    You go on

    "The Asians Dying"

    When the forests have been destroyed their darkness remains
    The ash the great walker follows the possessors
    Nothing they will come to is real
    Not for long
    Over the watercourses
    Like ducks in the time of the ducks
    The ghosts of the villages trail in the sky
    Making a new twilight

    Rain falls into the open eyes of the dead
    Again again with its pointless sound
    When the moon finds them they are the color of everything

    The nights disappear like bruises but nothing is healed
    The dead go away like bruises
    The blood vanishes into the poisoned farmlands
    Pain the horizon
    Overhead the seasons rock
    They are paper bells
    Calling to nothing living

    The possessors move everywhere under Death their star
    Like columns of smoke they advance into the shadows
    Like thin flames with no light
    They with no past
    And fire their only future

By W.S. Merwin on Thursday, September 9, 1999 - 07:24 pm:

    from "The Carrier of Ladders" (which won the 1970 Pulitzer for poetry):

    "The Owl"

    These woods are one of my great lies
    I pretend
    oh i have always pretended they
    were mine
    I stumble among
    the smaller lies
    as this night falls and
    my pretenses likewise
    and your voice begins

    who need no hope to
    hunt here who
    love me
    I retreat before
    your question as before my own
    through old branches who
    am I hiding
    what creature in the bowels quaking
    that should not be raised
    against the night
    crying its truth at last

    No I who
    love you
    find while I can some light to crawl into
    I will never answer
    though your dark lasts as my own does
    and your voice in it without hope
    or need of it
    calling what I call calling
    me me ~You
    who are never there~

    "The Different Stars"

    I could never have come to the present without you
    remember that
    from whatever stage we may again
    watch it appear

    with its lines clear
    having gone from there

    so that we may well wonder
    looking back on us here what tormented us
    what great difficulty invisible
    in a time that by then looks simple
    and is irrevocable

    pain having come from there
    my love
    I tend to think of division as the only evil
    when perhaps it is merely my own

    that unties
    one day the veins one the arteries
    that prizes less
    as it receives than as it loses
    that breaks the compasses
    cannot be led or followed
    cannot choose what to carry
    into grief
    unbinds will unbind
    unbinds our hands
    pages of the same story

    what is it
    they say can turn even this into wisdom
    and what is wisdom if it is not
    in the loss that has not left this place

    oh if we knew
    if we knew what we needed if we even knew
    the stars would look to us to guide them

    "The Hands"

    I have seen them when there was
    nothing else
    small swolled flames lighting my way at
    where they have waited for

    cut off from
    everything they have made their way to me
    one more day one more night leading
    their blood and I wake
    to find them lying at home
    with my own

    like a bird lying in its wings
    a stunned
    bird till they stir and
    open cradling a heart not theirs
    not mine
    and I bend to hear who is beating


    The president of shame has his own flag
    the president of lies quotes the voice
    of God
    as last counted
    the president of loyalty recommends
    blindness to the blind
    oh oh
    applause like the heels of the hanged
    he walks on eyes
    until they break
    then he rides
    there is no president of grief
    it is a kingdom
    ancient absolute with no colors
    its ruler is never seen
    prayers look for him
    also empty flags like skins
    silence the messenger runs through the vast lands
    with a black mouth
    silence the climber falls from the cliffs
    with a black mouth like
    a call
    there is only one subject
    but he is repeated

    "The Free"

    So far from the murders
    the ruts begin to bleed
    but no one hears
    our voices
    above the sound of the reddening feet
    they leave us the empty roads
    they leave us
    for companions for messengers
    for signs
    the autumn leaves
    before the winter panes
    we move among them
    doubly invisible
    like air touching the blind
    and when we have gone they say we are with them forever

    "The Plumbing"

    New silence
    between the end and the beginning
    The planet that was never named
    because it was dark
    climbs into the evening
    nothing else moves
    moon stars the black laundry the hour
    have stopped and are looking away
    the lungs stand
    a frozen forest
    into which no air comes

    they go on standing like shadows
    of the plumbing
    that is all that is left
    of the great city
    the buildings vanished the windows
    extinct the smoke with its strings of names
    wiped away
    and its fire
    at the still note
    the throwing of a switch

    only these pipes
    bereft of stairs of elevators
    of walls of girders
    awakened from lamps from roofs
    grow into the night
    crowding upward in rows
    to desolate heights their blind hope
    and their black mouths locked open hollow stars
    between the dark planets
    a famine a worship the heirs
    of the dials

    among their feet
    my heart is still beating by itself
    thinking it understands and might feed them

    "A Door" (from "Writings to an Unfinished Accompaniment")

    This is a place where a door might be
    here where I am standing
    in the light outside all of the walls

    there would be a shadow here
    all day long
    and a door into it
    where now there is me

    and somebody would come and knock
    on this air
    long after I have gone
    and there in front of me
    a life would open

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