Where I’m Calling From – Raymond Carver

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Photo above: S.W. Cosgrove

 

Listen Free to Where I'm Calling From: Selected Stories by Raymond Carver  with a Free Trial.

 

 

“I’ve crossed some kind of invisible line. I feel as if I’ve come to a place I never thought I’d have to come to. And I don’t know how I got here. It’s a strange place. It’s a place where a little harmless dreaming and then some sleepy, early-morning talk has led me into considerations of death and annihilation.”

 

Excerpt from the Raymond Carver short story, “Where I’m Calling From.”

 

 

Raymond Carver by delph-ambi on DeviantArt

I Sing the Body Electric – Walt Whitman

 

1
I sing the body electric,
The armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them,
They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them,
And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the soul.

Was it doubted that those who corrupt their own bodies conceal themselves?
And if those who defile the living are as bad as they who defile the dead?
And if the body does not do fully as much as the soul?
And if the body were not the soul, what is the soul?

2
The love of the body of man or woman balks account, the body itself balks account,
That of the male is perfect, and that of the female is perfect.

The expression of the face balks account,
But the expression of a well-made man appears not only in his face,
It is in his limbs and joints also, it is curiously in the joints of his hips and wrists,
It is in his walk, the carriage of his neck, the flex of his waist and knees, dress does not hide him,
The strong sweet quality he has strikes through the cotton and broadcloth,
To see him pass conveys as much as the best poem, perhaps more,
You linger to see his back, and the back of his neck and shoulder-side.

The sprawl and fulness of babes, the bosoms and heads of women, the folds of their dress, their style as we pass in the street, the contour of their shape downwards,
The swimmer naked in the swimming-bath, seen as he swims through the transparent green-shine, or lies with his face up and rolls silently to and fro in the heave of the water,
The bending forward and backward of rowers in row-boats, the horseman in his saddle,
Girls, mothers, house-keepers, in all their performances,
The group of laborers seated at noon-time with their open dinner-kettles, and their wives waiting,
The female soothing a child, the farmer’s daughter in the garden or cow-yard,
The young fellow hoeing corn, the sleigh-driver driving his six horses through the crowd,
The wrestle of wrestlers, two apprentice-boys, quite grown, lusty, good-natured, native-born, out on the vacant lot at sun-down after work,
The coats and caps thrown down, the embrace of love and resistance,
The upper-hold and under-hold, the hair rumpled over and blinding the eyes;
The march of firemen in their own costumes, the play of masculine muscle through clean-setting trowsers and waist-straps,
The slow return from the fire, the pause when the bell strikes suddenly again, and the listening on the alert,
The natural, perfect, varied attitudes, the bent head, the curv’d neck and the counting;
Such-like I love—I loosen myself, pass freely, am at the mother’s breast with the little child,
Swim with the swimmers, wrestle with wrestlers, march in line with the firemen, and pause, listen, count.

3
I knew a man, a common farmer, the father of five sons,
And in them the fathers of sons, and in them the fathers of sons.

This man was of wonderful vigor, calmness, beauty of person,
The shape of his head, the pale yellow and white of his hair and beard, the immeasurable meaning of his black eyes, the richness and breadth of his manners,
These I used to go and visit him to see, he was wise also,
He was six feet tall, he was over eighty years old, his sons were massive, clean, bearded, tan-faced, handsome,
They and his daughters loved him, all who saw him loved him,
They did not love him by allowance, they loved him with personal love,
He drank water only, the blood show’d like scarlet through the clear-brown skin of his face,
He was a frequent gunner and fisher, he sail’d his boat himself, he had a fine one presented to him by a ship-joiner, he had fowling-pieces presented to him by men that loved him,
When he went with his five sons and many grand-sons to hunt or fish, you would pick him out as the most beautiful and vigorous of the gang,
You would wish long and long to be with him, you would wish to sit by him in the boat that you and he might touch each other.

4
I have perceiv’d that to be with those I like is enough,
To stop in company with the rest at evening is enough,
To be surrounded by beautiful, curious, breathing, laughing flesh is enough,
To pass among them or touch any one, or rest my arm ever so lightly round his or her neck for a moment, what is this then?
I do not ask any more delight, I swim in it as in a sea.

There is something in staying close to men and women and looking on them, and in the contact and odor of them, that pleases the soul well,
All things please the soul, but these please the soul well.

5
This is the female form,
A divine nimbus exhales from it from head to foot,
It attracts with fierce undeniable attraction,
I am drawn by its breath as if I were no more than a helpless vapor, all falls aside but myself and it,
Books, art, religion, time, the visible and solid earth, and what was expected of heaven or fear’d of hell, are now consumed,
Mad filaments, ungovernable shoots play out of it, the response likewise ungovernable,
Hair, bosom, hips, bend of legs, negligent falling hands all diffused, mine too diffused,
Ebb stung by the flow and flow stung by the ebb, love-flesh swelling and deliciously aching,
Limitless limpid jets of love hot and enormous, quivering jelly of love, white-blow and delirious juice,
Bridegroom night of love working surely and softly into the prostrate dawn,
Undulating into the willing and yielding day,
Lost in the cleave of the clasping and sweet-flesh’d day.

This the nucleus—after the child is born of woman, man is born of woman,
This the bath of birth, this the merge of small and large, and the outlet again.

Be not ashamed women, your privilege encloses the rest, and is the exit of the rest,
You are the gates of the body, and you are the gates of the soul.

The female contains all qualities and tempers them,
She is in her place and moves with perfect balance,
She is all things duly veil’d, she is both passive and active,
She is to conceive daughters as well as sons, and sons as well as daughters.

As I see my soul reflected in Nature,
As I see through a mist, One with inexpressible completeness, sanity, beauty,
See the bent head and arms folded over the breast, the Female I see.

6
The male is not less the soul nor more, he too is in his place,
He too is all qualities, he is action and power,
The flush of the known universe is in him,
Scorn becomes him well, and appetite and defiance become him well,
The wildest largest passions, bliss that is utmost, sorrow that is utmost become him well, pride is for him,
The full-spread pride of man is calming and excellent to the soul,
Knowledge becomes him, he likes it always, he brings every thing to the test of himself,
Whatever the survey, whatever the sea and the sail he strikes soundings at last only here,
(Where else does he strike soundings except here?)

The man’s body is sacred and the woman’s body is sacred,
No matter who it is, it is sacred—is it the meanest one in the laborers’ gang?
Is it one of the dull-faced immigrants just landed on the wharf?
Each belongs here or anywhere just as much as the well-off, just as much as you,
Each has his or her place in the procession.

(All is a procession,
The universe is a procession with measured and perfect motion.)

Do you know so much yourself that you call the meanest ignorant?
Do you suppose you have a right to a good sight, and he or she has no right to a sight?
Do you think matter has cohered together from its diffuse float, and the soil is on the surface, and water runs and vegetation sprouts,
For you only, and not for him and her?

7
A man’s body at auction,
(For before the war I often go to the slave-mart and watch the sale,)
I help the auctioneer, the sloven does not half know his business.

Gentlemen look on this wonder,
Whatever the bids of the bidders they cannot be high enough for it,
For it the globe lay preparing quintillions of years without one animal or plant,
For it the revolving cycles truly and steadily roll’d.

In this head the all-baffling brain,
In it and below it the makings of heroes.

Examine these limbs, red, black, or white, they are cunning in tendon and nerve,
They shall be stript that you may see them.

Exquisite senses, life-lit eyes, pluck, volition,
Flakes of breast-muscle, pliant backbone and neck, flesh not flabby, good-sized arms and legs,
And wonders within there yet.

Within there runs blood,
The same old blood! the same red-running blood!
There swells and jets a heart, there all passions, desires, reachings, aspirations,
(Do you think they are not there because they are not express’d in parlors and lecture-rooms?)

This is not only one man, this the father of those who shall be fathers in their turns,
In him the start of populous states and rich republics,
Of him countless immortal lives with countless embodiments and enjoyments.

How do you know who shall come from the offspring of his offspring through the centuries?
(Who might you find you have come from yourself, if you could trace back through the centuries?)

8
A woman’s body at auction,
She too is not only herself, she is the teeming mother of mothers,
She is the bearer of them that shall grow and be mates to the mothers.

Have you ever loved the body of a woman?
Have you ever loved the body of a man?
Do you not see that these are exactly the same to all in all nations and times all over the earth?

If any thing is sacred the human body is sacred,
And the glory and sweet of a man is the token of manhood untainted,
And in man or woman a clean, strong, firm-fibred body, is more beautiful than the most beautiful face.

Have you seen the fool that corrupted his own live body? or the fool that corrupted her own live body?
For they do not conceal themselves, and cannot conceal themselves.

9
O my body! I dare not desert the likes of you in other men and women, nor the likes of the parts of you,
I believe the likes of you are to stand or fall with the likes of the soul, (and that they are the soul,)
I believe the likes of you shall stand or fall with my poems, and that they are my poems,
Man’s, woman’s, child’s, youth’s, wife’s, husband’s, mother’s, father’s, young man’s, young woman’s poems,
Head, neck, hair, ears, drop and tympan of the ears,
Eyes, eye-fringes, iris of the eye, eyebrows, and the waking or sleeping of the lids,
Mouth, tongue, lips, teeth, roof of the mouth, jaws, and the jaw-hinges,
Nose, nostrils of the nose, and the partition,
Cheeks, temples, forehead, chin, throat, back of the neck, neck-slue,
Strong shoulders, manly beard, scapula, hind-shoulders, and the ample side-round of the chest,
Upper-arm, armpit, elbow-socket, lower-arm, arm-sinews, arm-bones,
Wrist and wrist-joints, hand, palm, knuckles, thumb, forefinger, finger-joints, finger-nails,
Broad breast-front, curling hair of the breast, breast-bone, breast-side,
Ribs, belly, backbone, joints of the backbone,
Hips, hip-sockets, hip-strength, inward and outward round, man-balls, man-root,
Strong set of thighs, well carrying the trunk above,
Leg fibres, knee, knee-pan, upper-leg, under-leg,
Ankles, instep, foot-ball, toes, toe-joints, the heel;
All attitudes, all the shapeliness, all the belongings of my or your body or of any one’s body, male or female,
The lung-sponges, the stomach-sac, the bowels sweet and clean,
The brain in its folds inside the skull-frame,
Sympathies, heart-valves, palate-valves, sexuality, maternity,
Womanhood, and all that is a woman, and the man that comes from woman,
The womb, the teats, nipples, breast-milk, tears, laughter, weeping, love-looks, love-perturbations and risings,
The voice, articulation, language, whispering, shouting aloud,
Food, drink, pulse, digestion, sweat, sleep, walking, swimming,
Poise on the hips, leaping, reclining, embracing, arm-curving and tightening,
The continual changes of the flex of the mouth, and around the eyes,
The skin, the sunburnt shade, freckles, hair,
The curious sympathy one feels when feeling with the hand the naked meat of the body,
The circling rivers the breath, and breathing it in and out,
The beauty of the waist, and thence of the hips, and thence downward toward the knees,
The thin red jellies within you or within me, the bones and the marrow in the bones,
The exquisite realization of health;
O I say these are not the parts and poems of the body only, but of the soul,
O I say now these are the soul!

 

 

Remembering Thomas Wolfe: You Can’t Go Home Again

This is a photo I took of a farm that was once a thriving dairy farm just down the road from our farm in Northwestern Wisconsin.  I worked in that barn helping milk a herd of 80 cows and putting up hay in the loft.  Some 30 years later I revisited and this was all that was left, side boards flapping in the wind.  Bankers closed on the farm for debt, and the family who’d owned it for generations moved to town and did what they could to get by.

Remembering Thomas Wolfe: You Can’t Go Home Again

By S.W. Cosgrove

Can you can go home again?
You can go to the place you once knew,
and it will be there
Just not as you remembered, not really

Prepare yourself with vague, misty memories of farms,
green hills, deep woods, and shimmering ponds, eagles soaring above
A big river pulsing over the rocks, under bridges, wandering through riverine sloughs
Catfish lying still on the bottom, unblinking, wary of the hook

The old river still runs deep, still carrying its waters to the sea far away
But the hills have been leveled and covered with subdivisions,
the woods cut and thinned with no eagle nests towering above
The ponds filled and blacktopped

Yes, you can go home again, but
it’s not your home, anymore
It’s home to others who may one day return there
looking for their old home
And it will be there, but not really

A Moveable Feast – master class in writing. By Ernest Hemingway

A Moveable Feast is Hemingway’s memoir of his years as a struggling expat journalist and writer in Paris in the 1920s.

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.”

ErnestHemingwayHadley1922 Switzerland

Ernest Hemingway and first wife Hadley Richardson in Switzerland, 1922

The fireplace drew well in the room and it was warm and pleasant to work. I brought mandarines and roasted chestnuts to the room in paper packets and peeled and ate the small tangerine-like oranges and threw their skins and spat their seeds in the fire when I ate them and roasted chestnuts when I was hungry. I was always hungry with the walking and the cold and the working. Up in the room I had a bottle of kirsch that we had brought back from the mountains and I took a drink of kirsch when I would get toward the end of a story or toward the end of the day’s work. When I was through working for the day I put away the notebook, or the paper, in the drawer of the table and put any mandarines that were left in my pocket. They would freeze if they were left in the room at night.

It was wonderful to walk down the long flights of stairs knowing that I’d had good luck working. I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day. But sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.” So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence. Up in that room I decided that I would write one story about each thing that I knew about. I was trying to do this all the time I was writing, and it was good and severe discipline.

It was in that room too that I learned not to think about anything that I was writing from the time I stopped writing until I started again the next day. That way my subconscious would be working on it and at the same time I would be listening to other people and noticing everything, I hoped; learning, I hoped; and I would read so that I would not think about my work and make myself impotent to do it. Going down the stairs when I had worked well, and that needed luck as well as discipline, was a wonderful feeling and I was free then to walk anywhere in Paris.

vSg8LG1

Ernest Hemingway holding forth at a café in Paris 

 

 

 

Fly Away

cherry crumb cake

Fly Away

S.W. Cosgrove

While I was reading an essay on essays, sipping and inhaling the fragrance of a smoky Lapsang Souchong tea, the charry liquid washing down the last of my cherry crumb cake, a fly landed on the cake dish.

There were just a few scraps left, some crumbs and a drop or two of sugary cherry paste.

My first impulse was to flick the bothersome insect away, intruder, pestiferous fly.

But as I watched the little creature wax his translucent wings hopping over the plate, tasting here and there, I thought – lucky fly! What a find on this quiet evening: cherry crumb cake.

I watched the fly’s pleasure and greed at his unexpected, most wonderful treat. Possibly the best meal ever in his short life.

And I thought – that damned fly has as much integrity as any creature on this earth. Certainly in this room. Just earning an honest living and enjoying a nice supper, including desert. Cherry cake crumbs.  Pursuing a life of integrity.

He finished his cherry crumb cake while I finished my tea, then off he flew.  Fortunately, he didn’t send any of his comrades to finish the job.

I poured a whisky and returned to my essay on essays.

Balvenie12SB

Chop wood, carry water, shovel snow – a 20th century childhood on a 19th century farm

The farm I grew up on in Stillwater, Minnesota, was the center of my universe from the time I was born until my grandparents sold it when I was 13.  Development was getting too close to them – they bought another farm about 40 miles deeper into the northern countryside.  This change coincided with the natural break that came for me as I shuffled off childhood and entered teen turbulence.

The origins of the farmhouse were from before Minnesota became a state in the 1850s.  One of the first farmsteads in the St. Croix River Valley, the farm perched atop one of the highest hills around Stillwater.  From the front porch, I could see for miles across the valley, with Lake McKusick down below to the tree tops miles away above the St. Croix River.  A long, steep drive led from the winding country road – an extension of Stillwater’s Myrtle Street – to the house and barn.

farm and drive

The driveway was so steep that in winter it was often not possible to drive up or down after a heavy snow.  Try going down without shoveling and you could end up off the driveway in deep snow.  One side dropped off sharply into the sheep pasture.  If your vehicle ended up down there, out came the tractor or – if the snow was really deep – Old Bird, our Percheron draft horse mare, the biggest one horsepower you could imagine.  One of Grandpa’s friends thought he could make it up there after a snow.  It took them half a day to pull his pickup truck out of the fence and back onto the driveway – mainly because we had to shovel the driveway first.

Many a morning after a big snow, my Grandfather and I shoveled that driveway.  Grandpa was always up first to feed the stock.  His dictum was: animals eat first, then we eat.  No exceptions.  With a big snow, he’d be up extra early – usually by 4:30 – as water troughs had to be turned over to beat the ice out and fresh water pumped.  I often participated in this ritual.

I usually tried to laze around under the covers until 6 or 6:30.  Grandpa came in from chores and turned me out, saying every time: “You know, Steve, people die in bed.”  And I’d always reply: “Yes, but they sleep there, too!”  In the winter I usually slept on a massive overstuffed velveteen couch in the living room near the oil stove because it was too cold to sleep in the unheated rooms upstairs.  I’d run to the outhouse (no indoor toilet) for the morning ritual.  There’s nothing like a trip to the outhouse when it’s 20 degrees below zero to wake you right up.  I assure you: you won’t spend any longer in there than absolutely necessary.  While I was out, I’d stop by the hen house to gather fresh eggs for breakfast later.

Then we shoveled. Fortified with something hot to drink and a pastry, we trudged through the snow to the bottom of the drive with our oversize steel scoop shovels.  We then worked our way to the top, one shovel full of snow after the other, stopping to catch our wind, stretch our arms, and straighten our backs.  Grandpa showed me the most efficient way of shoveling the wet, heavy snow.  Here’s how it goes.

First, look at where you were shoveling from and determine where you want that shovel full of snow to land.

Then grasp the shovel from the handle on top with one hand, placing your other hand at the point on the shovel where you could maintain the most leverage when the shovel was full – in other words, determine the most effective fulcrum point so that you would expend the least amount of effort with each shovel full.

Next, plant your feet in a position that would allow you to swing back, bend your back, pick up a full load of snow in the shovel’s scoop, then follow through in one motion – unbending your back only as much as was needed to deliver that shovel full to your target area.

If you’d positioned yourself correctly, you could then take one small step forward or sideways as you were swinging the empty shovel back.  When your arms had reached the end of the backwards swing, you’d then be in position to repeat your actions.  The effect was like using the shovel as a kind of balancing pendulum, stepping back and forth, seesawing your way up the hill, down the path to the pump house, out to the barn, and back to the farmhouse.

The lighter and drier the snow, the better this worked.  Usually the dryness of the snow was also directly related to the temperature.  At 20 below zero, the snow was dry and left the end of your shovel in a flurry.  But at about 20 degrees above zero, the snow was heavy and tended to clump on your shovel.  We waxed our shovels before shoveling this kind of snow, encouraging the wet snow to leave the shovel at the end of the swing.

The dry snow and cold temperature made for the best shoveling.  You’d work fast enough to keep warm, barely breaking a sweat.

Oh, that wet snow, though.  It was far heavier than the dry stuff, and it didn’t like to leave the end of the shovel on your swing.  Sometimes it fell short of the mark and you’d end up shoveling it up again as you made your way – not efficient.  Soon you’d break into a sweat and have to take off a layer of clothing to cool down.  And pretty soon the heavy, wet snow would start to take its toll on your back.  It had to be shoveled all the same.

Shoveling the entire driveway took two to three hours.  Then it was back to the house for a big breakfast.  Grandma had been keeping an eye on our progress.  When she saw that we were almost to the top, she’d start the frying pan heating on the wood cook stove and get the water boiling on the gas stove.  By the time Grandpa and I had tramped the snow from our boots outside, left our outdoor clothing in the washroom, and cleaned up in the porcelain wash bowl in the sink, the air was filled with the alluring scent of eggs, bacon, hot bread or biscuits, and coffee.

Breakfast was a sit-down, family affair – a ritual.  No one at the table touched a bite until Grandpa was seated. We bowed our heads while Grandpa would said Grace.  Breakfast sometimes started with hot cereal – creamed wheat, creamed rice, or oatmeal, topped with brown sugar.  Grandpa and Grandma had their coffee, grounds boiled right in teh water.  I had hot chocolate mixed with cream – fresh cream skimmed from the top of yesterday’s milk.  Next came the main course.  This might be anything from smoked pork chops to thick sliced bacon to lamb chops.  There was also a big plate of soft-fried eggs in the middle of the table.  Both Grandpa and I ate three eggs each, Grandma usually only had two.  Sometimes there were potatoes, fried from last night’s leftovers.

Of course, there was bread and/or biscuits right out of the oven.  Grandma baked bread every day or two.  Grandpa wouldn’t eat store-bought bread.  Of course, all that was available then at the store was puffed-up white bread, which tasted like Styrofoam and had about the same nutritional value.  Grandma’s bread was whole wheat, light brown and somewhat dense, but fluffy inside that crispy crust.  I liked mine toasted.  So I’d cut an inch-thick slice, stick it with a long-handled cooking fork, take a cover off the wood stove and toast it over the fire.  Back at the table, I’d smother it with home-churned sweet butter and use it to mop up the remainder of the eggs and meat drippings still left on my plate.

It’s hard to imagine being hungry after that.  But if we were, there was always “smeckervesen,” as my German Grandma called it.  We had an orchard, and the apples would store in the cellar for most of the winter.  So Grandma would likely have some thick-crusted apple crisp available.  If not, the pantry was full of molasses or oatmeal cookies.

The big teakettle of water was always on the stove, too, moved to the cooler area to keep warm, and then moved to the hotter area to bring the water to a boil.  Often, a big pot of soup was simmering away, keeping just warm enough so you could always dip in for a bowl full.  It stayed there for days.  As we ate it down, Grandma added more ingredients – some lamb, some vegetables, some smoked pork.  Barley was usually the soup’s basis – my favorite.  To this day, I’ve never tasted anything quite as delicious.

The farm is gone now.  The hill where the farmhouse stood was leveled, divided into acre lots, and turned into suburbia.  There is no trace of the old place, except for a tall stand of trees my grandfather and I planted when I was a child.  Perhaps, on a chilly morning in early winter, with a dusting of fresh snow on the ground, a mist rises from the low-land pond that could not be filled, and the 19th century farm hovers on the horizon, ghost of winters past.  Gone, but not forgotten.

minnesota-farm

Man Was Made To Mourn: A Dirge – Robert Burns (1759–1796)

Man Was Made To Mourn: A Dirge

When chill November’s surly blast
Made fields and forests bare,
One ev’ning, as I wander’d forth
Along the banks of Ayr,
I spied a man, whose aged step
Seem’d weary, worn with care;
His face furrow’d o’er with years,
And hoary was his hair.

“Young stranger, whither wand’rest thou?”
Began the rev’rend sage;
“Does thirst of wealth thy step constrain,
Or youthful pleasure’s rage?
Or haply, prest with cares and woes,
Too soon thou hast began
To wander forth, with me to mourn
The miseries of man.

“The sun that overhangs yon moors,
Out-spreading far and wide,
Where hundreds labour to support
A haughty lordling’s pride;-
I’ve seen yon weary winter-sun
Twice forty times return;
And ev’ry time has added proofs,
That man was made to mourn.

“O man! while in thy early years,
How prodigal of time!
Mis-spending all thy precious hours-
Thy glorious, youthful prime!
Alternate follies take the sway;
Licentious passions burn;
Which tenfold force gives Nature’s law.
That man was made to mourn.

“Look not alone on youthful prime,
Or manhood’s active might;
Man then is useful to his kind,
Supported in his right:
But see him on the edge of life,
With cares and sorrows worn;
Then Age and Want-oh! ill-match’d pair-
Shew man was made to mourn.

“A few seem favourites of fate,
In pleasure’s lap carest;
Yet, think not all the rich and great
Are likewise truly blest:
But oh! what crowds in ev’ry land,
All wretched and forlorn,
Thro’ weary life this lesson learn,
That man was made to mourn.

“Many and sharp the num’rous ills
Inwoven with our frame!
More pointed still we make ourselves,
Regret, remorse, and shame!
And man, whose heav’n-erected face
The smiles of love adorn, –
Man’s inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn!

“See yonder poor, o’erlabour’d wight,
So abject, mean, and vile,
Who begs a brother of the earth
To give him leave to toil;
And see his lordly fellow-worm
The poor petition spurn,
Unmindful, tho’ a weeping wife
And helpless offspring mourn.

“If I’m design’d yon lordling’s slave,
By Nature’s law design’d,
Why was an independent wish
E’er planted in my mind?
If not, why am I subject to
His cruelty, or scorn?
Or why has man the will and pow’r
To make his fellow mourn?

“Yet, let not this too much, my son,
Disturb thy youthful breast:
This partial view of human-kind
Is surely not the last!
The poor, oppressed, honest man
Had never, sure, been born,
Had there not been some recompense
To comfort those that mourn!

“O Death! the poor man’s dearest friend,
The kindest and the best!
Welcome the hour my aged limbs
Are laid with thee at rest!
The great, the wealthy fear thy blow
From pomp and pleasure torn;
But, oh! a blest relief for those
That weary-laden mourn!”

Dharma. Billy Collins

Dharma by Billy Collins

The way the dog trots out the front door
every morning
without a hat or an umbrella,
without any money
or the keys to her doghouse
never fails to fill the saucer of my heart
with milky admiration.

Who provides a finer example
of a life without encumbrance—
Thoreau in his curtainless hut
with a single plate, a single spoon?
Gandhi with his staff and his holy diapers?

Off she goes into the material world
with nothing but her brown coat
and her modest blue collar,
following only her wet nose,
the twin portals of her steady breathing,
followed only by the plume of her tail.

If only she did not shove the cat aside
every morning
and eat all his food
what a model of self-containment she
would be,
what a paragon of earthly detachment.
If only she were not so eager
for a rub behind the ears,
so acrobatic in her welcomes,
if only I were not her god.