On the Pleasures of Piercy (Part 1)

By Marge Piercy

Talent is what they say
you have after the novel
is published and favorably
reviewed. Beforehand what
you have is a tedious
delusion, a hobby like knitting.

Work is what you have done
after the play is produced
and the audience claps.
Before that friends keep asking
when you are planning to go
out and get a job.

Genius is what they know you
had after the third volume
of remarkable poems. Earlier
they accuse you of withdrawing,
ask why you don’t have a baby,
call you a bum.

The reason people want M.F.A.’s,
take workshops with fancy names
when all you can really
learn is a few techniques,
typing instructions and
somebody else’s mannerisms

is that every artist lacks
a license to hang on the wall
like your optician, your vet
proving you may be a clumsy sadist
whose fillings fall into the stew
but you’re certified a dentist.

The real writer is one
who really writes. Talent
is an invention like phlogiston
after the fact of fire.
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.


On the Pleasures of Dennis (Part 4)

By Carl Dennis

The big smile the waitress gives you
May be a true expression of her opinion
Or may be her way to atone for glowering
A moment ago at a customer who slurped his coffee
Just the way her cynical second husband slurped his.

Think of the meager tip you left the taxi driver
After the trip from the airport, how it didn’t express
Your judgment about his service but about the snow
That left you feeling the earth a tundra
Only the frugal few could hope to cross.

Maybe it’s best to look for fairness
Not in any particular unbiased judgment
But in a history of mistakes that balance out,
To find an equivalent for the pooling of tips
Practiced by the staff of the coffee shop,
Adding them up and dividing, the same to each.

As for the chilly fish eye the busboy gave you
When told to clear the window table you wanted,
It may have been less a comment on you
Than on his parents, their dismissing the many favors
He does for them as skimpy installments
On a debt too massive to be paid off.

And what about favors you haven’t earned?
The blonde who’s passing the window now
Without so much as a glance in your direction
Might be trying to focus her mind on her performance
So you, or someone like you, will be pleased to watch
As she crosses the square in her leather snow boots
And tunic of red velvet, fur-trimmed.

What have you done for her that she should turn
The stones of the public buildings
Into a backdrop, a crosswalk into a stage floor,
A table in a no-frills coffee shop
Into a private box near the orchestra?

Yesterday she may have murmured against the fate
That keeps her stuck in the provinces.
But today she atones with her wish to please
As she dispenses with footlights and spotlights,
With a curtain call at the end, with encores.
No way to thank her but with attention
Now as she nears the steps of the courthouse
And begins her unhurried exit into the crowd.

On the Joys of Teaching

One of the students in my ashtanga yoga class today—a devoted practitioner with a serene and gracious presence—asked me in a voice of earnest entreaty: What am I doing wrong? No matter how much I practice, I just can’t seem to do certain poses.

I asked her: How long have you been practicing?

Two years, she told me.

I smiled. You’re doing well. It’s taken me twice as long, practicing nearly everyday, to get to where I am—and I still have a long way to go.

You practice everyday? Another student asked, aghast.

Six days a week, for the last year, I said. And every other day in the three years before that. It’s all about practicing—and never losing heart. Even when you think you’re getting nowhere. Especially when you think you’re going nowhere.

They nodded then, satisfied and reassured. And for the nth time, I was profoundly grateful for the years of struggle, and for the ability those years had given me to look my students in the eye and say: It’s okay. I know what it’s like. You will get stronger and better. I know, because it happened to me. So be patient—and acknowledge yourself for how far you’ve come.

It’s on days like this that I remember all over again why I fell in love with this practice—and why I decided to become certified to teach it.

So to my students this afternoon—B., B., G., J., and L.—thank you for the reminder. You were my teachers this afternoon.

On the Pleasures of Brown (Part 3)

By Judy Brown

I have a brother who builds wooden boats,
Who knows precisely how a board
Can bend or turn, steamed just exactly
Soft enough so he, with help of friends,
Can shape it to the hull.

The knowledge lies as much
Within his sure hands on the plane
As in his head;
It lies in love of wood and grain,
A rough hand resting on the satin
Of the finished deck.

Is there within us each
Such artistry forgotten
In the cruder tasks
The world requires of us,
The faster modern work
That we have
Turned our life to do?

Could we return to more of craft
Within our lives,
And feel the way the grain of wood runs true,
By letting our hands linger
On the product of our artistry?
Could we recall what we have known
But have forgotten,
The gifts within ourselves,
Each other too,
And thus transform a world
As he and friends do,
Shaping steaming oak boards
Upon the hulls of wooden boats?

On the Pleasures of Brown (Part 2)

This has to be one of the most beautiful poems I’ve ever read.

By Judy Brown

There is a trough in waves,
A low spot
Where horizon disappears
And only sky
And water
Are our company.

And there we lose our way
We rest, knowing the wave will bring us
To its crest again.

There we may drown
If we let fear
Hold us within its grip and shake us
Side to side,
And leave us flailing, torn, disoriented.

But if we rest there
In the trough,
Are silent,
Being with
The low part of the wave,
Our energy and
Noticing the shape of things,
The flow,
Then time alone
Will bring us to another
Where we can see
Horizon, see the land again,
Regain our sense
Of where
We are,
And where we need to swim.

On the Pleasures of Brown (Part 1)

By Judy Brown

What makes a fire burn
is space between the logs,
a breathing space.
Too much of a good thing,
too many logs
packed in too tight
can douse the flames
almost as surley
as a pail of water.

So building fires
requires attention
to the spaces in between,
as much as to the wood.

When we are able to build
open spaces
in the same way
we have learned
to pile on logs,
then we come to see how
it is fuel, and the absence of fuel
together, that make fire possible.

We only need to lay a log
lightly from time to time.
A fire
simply because the space is there,
with openings
in which the flame
that knows just how it wants to burn
can find its way.

On the Ubiquity of Self

Every so often, a blog writer will take a moment to reflect on the status of her creation. This is apt to happen during a blog’s anniversary, or upon the provocation of a reader or following the absence of anything else to write about.

Putting aside the reasons that may have provoked this particular post (okay fine, it’s reason #2 and #3), I’ve always had the troubling awareness that Peripateia hasn’t quite fulfilled one of its original reasons for being. One of the major intentions behind setting up this blog was for me to have a venue for sharing stories about my travels. For the most part, however, it’s my rambles to the interior that have gotten a lot more limelight than my rambles to the exterior.

The more I think about it though, the less I’m surprised. Looking back, I’m not quite sure if I was ever truly present to most of the places I visited. On hindsight, traveling has mostly served as a means for me to renovate my mental interiors—appropriating the globe, as it were, to equip my cosy, self-enclosed world with more exotic items of furniture, more rooms, more floors, more annexes, more wings, more extensions and more grounds. Every foreign culture, ever foreign notion, every foreign language was about the acquisition of new ideas, of rendering the unfamiliar into the familiar, of stripping the world of novelty and risk, of finding the commonalities that had to cut across the surface diversity, of being able to say, I was there—not for the right to join an elite traveler’s club, but to simply annul one more source of otherness. Traveling, in other words, has been security: the steady conquest of the threat of the unknown.

In short, I’ve only ever really rambled across my interior. And the surprising thing is: even that wilderness is vast and untameable, and no amount of wandering across the world has or ever will make me feel at home inside or outside.

Hence, given the futility of the exercise, it’s best to give up all notions of security entirely, and to just enjoy the world (whether inner or outer) just the way it is.