poetry, Reviews

A brief analysis of Celestial Music (by Louise Glück)

Celestial Music
Louise Glück

I have a friend who still believes in heaven.
Not a stupid person, yet with all she knows, she literally talks to God.
She thinks someone listens in heaven.
On earth she’s unusually competent.
Brave too, able to face unpleasantness.

We found a caterpillar dying in the dirt, greedy ants crawling over it.
I’m always moved by disaster, always eager to oppose vitality
But timid also, quick to shut my eyes.
Whereas my friend was able to watch, to let events play out
According to nature. For my sake she intervened
Brushing a few ants off the torn thing, and set it down
Across the road.

My friend says I shut my eyes to God, that nothing else explains
My aversion to reality. She says I’m like the child who
Buries her head in the pillow
So as not to see, the child who tells herself
That light causes sadness–
My friend is like the mother. Patient, urging me
To wake up an adult like herself, a courageous person–

In my dreams, my friend reproaches me. We’re walking
On the same road, except it’s winter now;
She’s telling me that when you love the world you hear celestial music:
Look up, she says. When I look up, nothing.
Only clouds, snow, a white business in the trees
Like brides leaping to a great height–
Then I’m afraid for her; I see her
Caught in a net deliberately cast over the earth–

In reality, we sit by the side of the road, watching the sun set;
From time to time, the silence pierced by a birdcall.
It’s this moment we’re trying to explain, the fact
That we’re at ease with death, with solitude.
My friend draws a circle in the dirt; inside, the caterpillar doesn’t move.
She’s always trying to make something whole, something beautiful, an image
Capable of life apart from her.
We’re very quiet. It’s peaceful sitting here, not speaking, The composition
Fixed, the road turning suddenly dark, the air
Going cool, here and there the rocks shining and glittering–
It’s this stillness we both love.
The love of form is a love of endings.

*       *       *

The poem opens by talking about a friend who believes in heaven and “literally talks to God”. This is a conversational journey between two friends who discover a caterpillar being eaten alive by ants. On a superficial level the poem pivots between discussion of God and nature. If you read deeper into the poem you will notice Glück is struck by her friend in her own dreams. In reality the friend criticizes her for being oblivious to God. In the dream world that same friend takes on a more maternal role. The title of the poem is born out of the dream world when the friend explains, “when you love the world you hear celestial music”.


Simply put, the friend is obsessed by God and heaven. Glück’s mind daydreams in nature and this is where she finds her spirituality. Even though the two friends have contrasting views of the cosmos, this doesn’t deter them from their friendship. One could argue that nature is the medium which keeps them together. Apart from the death of the caterpillar the pair are also struck by the sight of clouds, the sunset, the silence interrupted by the sound of a bird and the implied effect of nighttime on their surroundings.


The poem ends with many layers of self reflection. While Glück is able to sit quietly and (on some level) embrace the caterpillar’s death; her friend acknowledges it by drawing “a circle in the dirt”. We are told that the friend wants to make the ugly death beautiful. Because poem is written in the first person…we never get to fully understand what made her draw that circle. Maybe Glück has the poet’s curse of seeing an image (or semblance of meaning) in almost every emotion and ripple in nature. What if I told you that the friend drew the circle because that was her way of giving the poor creature a “funeral”. It was her way of saying goodbye, wasn’t it?


If you are left with more questions than answers by the end of the poem…you are not alone. The themes of God, friendship, motherhood and forces of nature are all woven along the same path. It is an ambiguous one. I tend to learn more as I walk.

A note on the text

I wrote this with a few things in mind. It serves as a short and simple explanation on the poem. I found it difficult to stay succinct. Poetry analysis tends to make me stabby. I fell in love with poetry through reading and scribbling on scraps of paper and many journals. I think poetry gets dissected in primary school and butchered in high school. I think very few people find meaning by staring at the entrails. If that’s your thing…you’d be better off listening to some Cannibal Corpse.

a few things worth mentioning

My original idea was to help a few plebeians decipher what this poem is all about. I also suffer palpitations of curiosity. Trust me…there is no cure for that. With that said I’ve decided to end off this post with some additional reading for those who find a few internet articles exciting at midnight. Before I get to that I’m gonna include a little more background on the poet.


You see she uses what I like to call the “unspoken voice”. I like to think of it as the gaps in silences rather than the words themselves.


In her essay from Proofs and Theories, titled “Disruption, Hesitation, Silence,” Louise Glück says:

“I do not think that more information always makes a richer poem. I am attracted to ellipsis, to the unsaid, to suggestion, to eloquent, deliberate silence. The unsaid, for me, exerts great power: often I wish an entire poem could be made in this vocabulary. It is analogous to the unseen for example, to the power of ruins, to works of art either damaged or incomplete. Such works inevitably allude to larger contexts; they haunt because they are not whole, though wholeness is implied: another time, a world in which they were whole, or were to have been whole, is implied. There is no moment in which their first home is felt to be the museum. … It seems to me that what is wanted, in art, is to harness the power of the unfinished. All earthly experience is partial. Not simply because it is subjective, but because that which we do not know, of the universe, of mortality, is so much more vast than that which we do know. What is unfinished or has been destroyed participates in these mysteries. The problem is to make a whole that does not forfeit this power.”

PhilosopherPoet



Further Reading


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Rantings

emails & heretics

I got the sudden urge to write. Goddammit, I’m gonna do something about it. I go through two types of writing phases…journaling and death-twitch typing. I’m sorry I have to subject you to the latter. I do know that you’ll persevere and keep on reading this to the end. Because this isn’t about me falling into the trap about writing about writing. I find that nauseating and I’d get more pleasure from running outside to stick my head in a snowbank and scream. Oh man, would I scream…

I’m here to type feverishly about something that happened today…between me and the internet. I logged onto my iMac and did my usual scan of social media sites, and deleted a few old emails. Deleting old emails sometimes means reading old emails, and that can be a baaad idea. I was scrolling through my old sent items and came across a few letters I sent to my ex girlfriend. I’ll call her Michelle for the purposes of anonymity.

When I come across an old memory I haven’t completely dealt with…I become a dog with a proverbial bone. Instead of deleting the emails I sent her, I copied the first part of her email address, opened my Twitter tab and searched. No luck. I typed out “Michelle Smith” and hit enter. Now I know you’re smart enough to know that Smith isn’t her actual last name. My point is if it was Smith I would’ve had the same abysmal odds of finding her. Still this didn’t stop me. I clicked on a few profiles, looked to see if the profile photo’s resembled the girl I once knew.

There’s only one a few things I’ve learned about my self when I start playing spy on the internet. I rarely get what I want and I waste time out of my day. This isn’t the first time that I’ve been chasing old memories like the wind. There’s something about the current and it’s intensity that grabs me every time. I think I’m getting better at catching the warning signs. This time I only spent about 15 minutes or so before a feeling came over me that said: Jon, you should think about doing something more productive.

That’s exactly when I got the itch to write. I was feeling a little restless and between things. I couldn’t shake off that feeling and decided that writing could very well be the cure that I needed. It was. I know that writing things down isn’t for everyone. For some it would take the same fortitude and patience I would have to summon to sit through an NFL game, completely sober.

I do it to get my thoughts onto the page, and it calms down the squirrels in their cage. I have a theory that people who struggle to finish a book, or sit down and write a few pages are the same people that struggle to introvert. It still blows my mind when I come across people who hardly ever pick up a book and read. I think it’s pure heresy and should be considered a crime against humanity.

Maybe that’s just me?

PhilosopherPoet

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poetry

shoelaces

Image
poetry

midnight tides

Image

poetry

dear moment

Image
Rantings, Thoughts

colours & spoons

Pink bothers me. It makes me feel too much before I’m ready. Yes, you could also classify me as a visual learner. I’ll give you another example because I’m venting and it feels right…

I was newly sober and I received a birthday gift from my brother. It was a calendar. It was not the manly kind. No cars. No guns. No girls. It was full of kittens. Yes, you heard me. A calendar full of cuddles. At this point my brain flick-flacked between poles. Warmth, annoyance, awww, and the sense this doe-eyed creature caught me where it’s vulnerable.

Forget the kittens and let’s talk about black. I still wear it. It’s a background blend that makes me feel safe. I like the shadow effect. I’m an observer instead of an embarrassing lamp post. Black makes me feel detached like the swirl of milk that hasn’t sunk into the guts of the coffee. Side note says…I maybe sober and yet I still chug a liter of coffee in the morning. Murder in the morning doesn’t look good on the resume. The kittens stuck a spoon in the works. I’m getting better at it. Now I love the kitties. I might learn to accept the spoon.

Now I need to talk about spoons. Relax this isn’t going to be a one star customer review because I’m bigger than that. Well…so far. I’m gonna be fancy and say catalyst. What happens the moment you get stirred up? Does it make you wanna throw rocks at cars? Maybe I write an angry letter. Every sentence progresses. First it’s barbed wire, and then bed springs that got into a fight. I crumple up the paper and burst into tears. I walk outside and suck on that cigarette like it owes you a mortgage. A wind hits my face and the tears turn cold and soft. Now everything is going to be okay.

My problems are as significant as a spoon. This also goes for success too. Courage comes before the drop and after every storm there’s that sun that holds me close. Okay, so this is a spiel about life. If you’re about to yawn go do it outside. Compliments are another thing. My ego is a young tree that sways in the wind. It rarely stands still. Tug-o-war is far more exciting. One more story, kiddo. I promise.

It’s time to dig. Ever cleaned out your french press (coffee-ma-jangle) with bare hands? Old grains cling to me. Much like my past, it takes a while to rinse off. I had this thing. It’s a pretty big thing. I want to feel cared for by others. I want that sunset friendship that’ll ripple into memory. Then I get a compliment out of nowhere. I bristle and wish I could beat that person with a heavy telephone. This is the way my brain works. It’s immune to spoons.

Let’s wrap it all up. I need to go eat more chocolate. I spoke of colours and spoons. What I meant was emotion in a tight spot. I can hear you saying – what happens next, genius? I need to accept the spoon I cannot change. Tides will run through me. I can never guess the direction. I know it will carry me until I see a message, somewhere.

I’m okay with that.

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Philosophy, poetry

being

i need to be high up to
know my feet are on the ground

i want my memory to
be stoic as a gravestone

i imagine a bird
will shit on it
and maybe i will
have wrinkles of moss one day

it’s not over until the old lady
comes with her bucket & brush
on Sundays
she gets lost in the sound of scrubbing

this is her music

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Humour, Philosophy, Rantings, Thoughts

When I inhale

I just felt like typing. I like the speed of my fingers when I do it. There’s a rhythm to it. When my fingers click on the keys it feels like thoughts galloping. You can’t make a mess like you can in a journal. I like to doodle skeletons that were left in the rain. Outlines or shapes and ideas that need more time around them, to find themselves. Maybe one day they’ll start a narrative.

I should will give you an idea of some of the things whirling around in my head. I’ll talk about smoking. So here’s a timeline to get you familiar with where (and why) I am here now…

I got sober. I stopped smoking weed and gulping down alcohol because, at the time, my survival depended on it. My future did not. In the first three months my brain lit up. Every kind of repressed voice, emotion and colour shot to the surface. My brain was a living and chaotic kaleidoscope of feelings, anxiety, energy and something worse…unpredictability. Years of substance and alcohol abuse kept me unconscious and unmanaged. Both of these play out in early sobriety. I can’t stop something small from making me cry or panic in seconds. There’s something else too. I can’t bring this to a dead halt without having a drink. I can dig deeper now I have some distance from the experience. I realize part of the reason I drank in the first place was to sedate the cerebral squirrels in their cage.

Two things happen after three months. The first is the anxiety, mood swings, and feeling “driven” starts to dissipate. Thank fuck. The next thing is I begin to realize that addiction is here to stay. You can move houses to change the view, but there will always be a storm. I don’t know why. I get this feeling that I always will have this urge to “tap out”. I used to use the words “take the edge off”. (I never used this phrase when I was smoking. It felt like I was apologizing for something that wasn’t there.)

In the beginning the first few cigarettes gave me a head rush and a calming feeling. After a while that rush became harder to achieve. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? My body adapts to whatever I throw at it. I’ll confess something out the gate, numbnuts. Of course I was aware of the cancer thing! The most obvious thing to me is lung cancer. I thought I’d be more transparent and I just googled some of the shitty things that happen. Such as:

  • smelly hair
  • anxiety and irritability
  • yucky teeth
  • bronchitis
  • chimney coughs
  • heart disease
  • horrible vision
  • lung cancer
  • constricted blood vessels
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • loss of appetite
  • increased risk of blood cancer, meh
  • etc, etc, ad nauseam.

Confession no. 2 – I didn’t care about the data above. As long as I could tap out for a few seconds and get the squirrels to stop scratching…I was okay with that. Remind me to come back and talk about COPD. I have a chilling story about that. Anyway I got the flu and my body and old ideas had a standoff. I was standing outside in the morning with a chest full of phlegm. Yes, I was hauling on a cigarette. Smart, huh? Even though I was feeling like dog’s balls, a part of my brain played that same narrative. You need a little more and you’ll feel better.

It turns out I had to test that theory. Four cigarettes later I sounded like a bagpipe full of bees. This culminated in a sentence or two. What the fuck am I doing to my body? I’m just making it worse. Dunno about you but I have the habit of waking up when I’ve pushed things to the limit. As well as the flu the COVID-19 pandemic is still raging. The weekend is a mixture of me cursing myself and contemplating my own mortality.

This anger morphed into action and I went to the pharmacy to buy some nicotine gum. This post got me pretty charged so I threw a piece into my mouth hole while I wrote the previous paragraph. I know you’re gonna ask about the gum. Everyone does. It’s not the same as cigarettes. It gives me a bit of that hit until I get this weird metallic taste in my mouth. It feels like I’m chewing on electric tinsel. Maybe that’s the point? Maybe they want me to throw it away like a guilty sock I jerked off into. I don’t want anyone to know…I just want to be done with it.

The first few days I was consumed by invasive thoughts. I like to refer to it as unwanted advertising. I need a smoke, I need a smoke. Look how nice the weather is bud! Perfect breeze to light your cigarette in. I don’t care you threw them all away. Look for someone puffing and ask them for one. You can make a plan shitbird. Thankfully the flu clawed at my energy levels. I slowly began to recover and feel less rotten like the underside of a log.

Turns out I’m caffeinated enough to share one more story with you. The old man with COPD. Easiest way to describe it is “smoker’s bronchitis” or emphysema. Both of these phrases get caught in your throat before they roll off your tongue. I worked with him while doing a part time general labour job. A carpenter tore up old flooring and I was the lemming that carted away all the debris.

At first the child in me bristled when I had to do simple things while he sat in the car. For example, close the trailer door or put cones around the car. Only when we were on lunch did the mallet of recognition smack me. It didn’t feel good. Now before I tell you how this happened, I need to point out one more thing. This man is fat. I can see you flinch when I spew the f-bomb. No I’m not talking about chunky, either. I’m talking about “when you get in a car and your stomach touches the steering wheel” fat.

During our lunch he picks up his wife and drops her off at home. I watch him waddle into his house. It’s dark inside. The couches are adorned with dog blankets and a glowing fish tank gives the living room a pulse. Apart from the trickle of fish and his dog that bounces around like a fresh tennis ball…everything else feels heavy. I come out of the toilet and I find, this man I’ll call Mike, folded on the edge of the couch.

Oxygen tubes curl into his face. He says something to me like “I just need a few minutes.” I watch his eyes get lost in the blue hue of the fish tank. I figure this must be a form of meditation for him. I ask him about the other tank in the room. I try make my question sound cursory and wondering. He shrugs it off like small talk he’s intercepted many times. I still remember one of his lines. “If you want to keep smoking, this is what you’ve got to look forward to.” At the time this didn’t cause a reaction. Later on it throbbed inside my head.

It’s time to leave. I walk out of the house and get into the car. I watch him take careful steps. The car door clicks. He climbs in and starts huffing and puffing. It reminds me of when I was a kid in the swimming pool. We’d play a game to see who could hold their breath the longest. I’d give up after my lungs were burning and I gasped to get my breath back…you know the rest.

Shock ignites my eyebrows. “Are you okay, Mike?” He gives me a proverbial shrug telling me it was just part of his routine. It wasn’t a game for him anymore. It was ingrained into his life. I thought about this for days afterwards. The logic played out into chilling patterns. I chose to ignore it. I’ve come to realize significant change comes when I’m at the edge of my own precipice. This doesn’t apply to all change otherwise I’d be a walking dumpster fire. And I should elaborate on the whole edge-of-the-cliff thing…

That precipice is where my urges and logic intersect. You can be fancy and call it consciousness. I like to think of it as intuition or knowing. It’s kinda like poker. You play for a while and the betting goes up. Three people fold. A small thought gnaws at you. It’s time to put down the cards and walk away asshole. There are other games to play.

Or maybe I’ll just step outside the house to feel the wind touch my face again? A few houses down I hear a kid yell and another laugh. I’m exactly where I need to be.

PhilosopherPoet

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Canadian nuances

Canadian nuances: Part 8 – I choose concrete

“Dress dry, there’s a storm coming tomorrow.”

The next day I arrive at work. My muscles complain like misplaced teenagers. I cradle a gas station coffee. With every sip the bulb behind my eyes flickers. The short answer is a smattering of subcontracted crews are building a multi-million dollar hotel. The long answer comes to me like as sobering slap. In the wrong hands…this could be chaos.

Pillars of cement stand out of the ground. Hedges of rebar hug the wall and they remind me of angry spears.This is no LEGO set. Only a hammer will fit in your hand or maybe a drill of some kind. Most material be it concrete, steel beams, scaffolding even the garbage can needs a few men (or sometimes a crane).

It all started with a hole in the ground. (Let me try that one again with dimensions…) It all started with diggers and giant trucks haulin’ ass to get the sand outta the way. This isn’t grandma digging a hole for her little seedlings. These are men strapped in high visibility clothing yelling at each other in the hopes the message is heard above the shriek of a circular saw. This is a two story underground parking hole.

 

I’ll rewind to the beginning…

I arrive on site and watch men work below me. I stare up. A white fog blocks the view of the mountains. I’m told that is a snow storm barreling towards up (around 12pm). My brother comes back, puts away his phone and asks me, “do you want to bash out concrete or patch up some holes?” I choose concrete. (Later I find out this is the tougher job.)

I walk to the far end of the site. There are no flat surfaces to stand on. You know those metal rods you see in cement? Well, these parallel rods (or rebar) are all I have. My boots clunk over tons of them. I get on my knees and start bashing at shards of concrete. It’s Friday…the end of a long week of roofing, lifting, swearing and trying to absorb as much detail as one can.

The bottomline is I worked through the snow and got the job done after an 11 hour day. At 6:35pm I go to a local bar and order a shot of jager plus a pint. I down the shot which lights up the old kindling in my eyes. I tip the bartender with a toonie that giggles when I put it down.

C’est la vie.

 

PhilosopherPoet

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poetry

thought closet

fix your thought closet
some hangers i will not reveal

yesterday i lent you a green one
its shoulders bent on the ends
plastic ones bother me, the
curled head juts out, with
the eyes of a mother.
she looks for laundry.

i look for a jacket to hide
my feelings. neither of us win.

the cupboard will outlive us.
heavy sweaters
pressed t-shirts
and a lego man
are all shards of stories.

the closet remembers, and
creaks when it closes.

 

 

PhilosopherPoet

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