I have been writing too many condolence letters lately. I am using the same sorts of words and the words have
Become husks of what they used to be. Like the people
I am writing about. Who are there on the page, illusory
But adamant. Good thing for ritual. How else could we
Say anything without saying anything? Could it be that
Most of what we say aims at something other than what
We say? Could that be? We use words so casually, such
Flow and fluidity and panache, but what we want to say
Are the rocks in the stream, the occasional brilliant bird,
The serpentine mink, the lugubrious heron, the drowned
Ancient fungus-riddled salmon. I am writing about tyee,
The great chinook, the king of fish, and he held adamant
Behind a boulder for a while as he began to dissolve and
Now his time has come and he slips away and I type this
To his widow using words like my most sincere sorrows.
She knows and I know what I mean but for a moment all
I see on the page is the weary dignity holding in the pool.
It’s Valentine’s Day again. I got something for you.
No kisses. No chocolates. No flowers this year. Just a few of my other favorite things: poetry, animal trivia, and science. Really, they make the best gifts.
Offering #1: A fabulous poem by Tony Hoagland.
Rose read it at our wedding because, on principle, I’m always in favor of squeezing talk of penguin vomit and peacock butts into a formal occasion.
Romantic Moment By Tony Hoagland
After the nature documentary we walk down,
into the plaza of art galleries and high end clothing stores
where the mock orange is fragrant in the summer night
and the smooth adobe walls glow fleshlike in the dark.
It is just our second date, and we sit down on a rock,
holding hands, not looking at each other,
and if I were a bull penguin right now I would lean over and vomit softly into the mouth of my beloved
and if I were a peacock I’d flex my gluteal muscles to
erect and spread the quills of my cinemax tail.
If she were a female walkingstick bug she might
insert her hypodermic proboscis delicately into my neck
and inject me with a rich hormonal sedative
before attaching her egg sac to my thoracic undercarriage,
and if I were a young chimpanzee I would break off a nearby tree limb
and smash all the windows in the plaza jewelry stores.
And if she was a Brazilian leopard frog she would wrap her impressive
tongue three times around my right thigh and
pummel me lightly against the surface of our pond and I would know her feelings were sincere.
Instead we sit awhile in silence, until
she remarks that in the relative context of tortoises and iguanas,
human males seem to be actually rather expressive.
And I say that female crocodiles really don’t receive
enough credit for their gentleness.
Then she suggests that it is time for us to go
to get some ice cream cones and eat them.
Offering #2: A trifecta of Valentine-related scripts I wrote for SciShow this week. Here I bestow upon you the science of pheromones and love brain, and offer a gentle reminder that no matter how bad your dating scene might be, you are still 100 times better off than a poor lady bed bug.
About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just
walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy
Life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
It will happen like this for many of you, the house suddenly too
much, the garden so full you go out, maybe thinking of the way the earth
gives under your feet, the water makes circles around them if you have
to cross a river, leaves and branches lift up and then brush against you
when you have crossed, these things or the very structure of things, the
making of the hip joint, electrical plots in the heart, thalamus sending
reminders to the moving, you looking up into the still wings of gliding
crows on this day when you know in one second there is the power to give
things new names, so you decide this is not leaving but returning, that
ends are middles or that there are no points, no time, so by the time
you are miles away from leaving it is only the eternal very first moment
of anything, making a pound cake from scratch, moving your hand across
the hem of a new skirt, the slight fear and tremble when a sudden sound
hits your wall, like children throwing the ball against the fire escape
until it rattles like an empty skeleton, the hot shower where you are
alone until the memories step in with you, deep solitude of living
alone, falling to where you are connected with everything, and it
happens, the stepping out, mind full of seeing yourself move out into
the world without difference so you can see every move you make is a
change in the current, the arrangement of patterns under a brush, a
twisted calligrapher’s stroke, all these things, walking while the
bones of who you are become roots.