Friday, February 27, 2009

Happy Birthday, Longfellow

The Cross of Snow

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

In the long, sleepless watches of the night,
A gentle face,the face of one long dead,
Looks at me from the wall, where round its head
The night-lamp casts a halo of pale light.
Here in this room she died; and soul more white
Never through martyrdom of fire was led
To its repose; nor can in books be read
The legend of a life more benedight.
There is a mountain in the distant West
That, sun-defying, in its deep ravines
Displays a cross of snow upon its side.
Such is the cross I wear upon my breast
These eighteen years, through all the changing scenes
And seasons, changeless since the day she died.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Short Story - Writer's Dream

The snow had fallen when I woke up from a heavy sleep. I was dreaming about meeting Ralph Fiennes in a coffee shop, talking about Sartre and the effect he had on our lives. I did not want that dream to end, because I had just ordered a large cup of coffee with just a touch of vanilla. When I awoke, however, I found myself wanting that cup of coffee. I dragged myself out from under the warm covers and walked into the kitchen, hoping that I still had some vanilla syrup left. I did not. All I had to drink for my morning was chamomile tea and coffee that I bought while in Jamaica several years ago. I knew that the taste would not be what I desired but I made a pot of it anyway. Today was an important day, and I wanted nothing to change or diminish it. Today was the first day of calling myself a writer, a full fledged writer. I had decided a week ago that I was no longer satisfied with my corporate job and that I wanted out from the machine. I had published a small novel several years ago and to my surprise, did rather well. The novel won several awards and my publishing company at the time wanted me to write three more within a year, if only I gave up my current job and life and turned towards a new one. I said yes. While the coffee brewed and I yawned and stretched, I thought about when I turned in my notice to my supervisor, telling him that while I enjoyed working for him, the life I had been thrown into was not the one I wanted for myself. He accepted the note and my words with a hint of a smile then turned to face his computer and began deleting my name from the records. I turned and walked out of his office, never to set foot in it again. So now, here I was, one published novel under my belt from several years ago and a new one freshly brimming in my mind and I wanted vanilla coffee like the one I had ordered in my dream with Ralph Fiennes. The coffee was taking too long to brew, so I went into my cold but satisfying living room and turned on my computer. After several seconds of black screen, the computer came alive with hisses and pops and I was ready. I sat down and began to type out the words even before my word processing program began to show on my screen. The coffee was ready but I had forgotten it. All I had on my mind now were my words. That was all I had now.

Idiot Psalms by Scott Cairns

Idiot Psalms
by Scott Cairns


A psalm of Isaak, accompanied by Jew's harp.

O God Belov├ęd if obliquely so,
dimly apprehended in the midst
of this, the fraught obscuring fog
of my insufficiently capacious ken,
Ostensible Lover of our kind—while
apparently aloof—allow
that I might glimpse once more
Your shadow in the land, avail
for me, a second time, the sense
of dire Presence in the pulsing
hollow near the heart.
Once more, O Lord, from Your enormity incline
your Face to shine upon Your servant, shy
of immolation, if You will.


A psalm of Isaak, accompanied by baying hounds.

O Shaper of varicolored clay and cellulose, O Keeper
of same, O Subtle Tweaker, Agent
of energies both appalling and unobserved,
do not allow Your servant's limbs to stiffen
or to ossify unduly, do not compel Your servant
to go brittle, neither cramping at the heart,
nor narrowing his affective sympathies
neither of the flesh nor of the alleged soul.
Keep me sufficiently limber that I might continue
to enjoy my morning run among the lilies
and the rowdy waterfowl, that I might
delight in this and every evening's intercourse
with the woman you have set beside me.
Make me to awaken daily with a willingness
to roll out readily, accompanied
by grateful smirk, a giddy joy,
the idiot's undying expectation,
despite the evidence.


A psalm of Isaak, whispered mid the Philistines, beneath the breath.

Master both invisible and notoriously
slow to act, should You incline to fix
Your generous attentions for the moment
to the narrow scene of this our appointed
tedium, should You—once our kindly
secretary has duly noted which of us
is feigning presence, and which excused, which unexcused,
You may be entertained to hear how much we find to say
about so little. Among these other mediocrities,
Your mediocre servant gets a glimpse of how
his slow and meager worship might appear
from where You endlessly attend our dreariness.
Holy One, forgive, forgo and, if You will, fend off
from this my heart the sense that I am drowning here
amid the motions, the discussions, the several
questions endlessly recast, our paper ballots.


Isaak's penitential psalm, unaccompanied.

Again, and yes again, O Ceaseless Tolerator
of our bleaking recurrences, O Forever Forgoing
Foregone (sans conclusion), O Inexhaustible,
I find my face against the floor, and yet again
my plea escapes from unclean lips, and from a heart
caked in and constricted by its own soiled residue.
You are forever, and forever blessed, and I aspire
one day to slip my knot and change things up,
to manage at least one late season sinlessly,
to bow before you yet one time without chagrin.

Happy Birthday to Weldon Kees!

What the Spider Heard
by Weldon Kees

Will there be time for eggnogs and eclogues
In the place where we’re going?
Said the spider to the fly.

I think not, said the fly.
I think not, sang the chorus.
I think not, said a stranger
Who mysteriously happened by.

Will they beat me and treat me the way they did here,
In the place where we’re going?
Asked the spider of the fly.

It is likely, said the fly.
Very likely, sang the chorus.
Extremely likely, said the stranger,
With an eager gleam in his eye.

O, why go there when we know there is nothing there but fear
At this place where we’re going?
Said the spider to the fly.

What a question! said the fly.
What a question! sang the chorus.
What a question! said the stranger,
Leering slightly at the spider,
Winking slyly at the fly.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Violin - A Flash Story

I play the violin at night because the darkness is better for my fingers. I can actually feel the night surround my strings like silk, and I am grateful for it. Tonight is a special night for me, since she will be there to hear me play. I was not sure about the invitation but after listening to her reasons for doing so, I told her yes. I am afraid and yet I know what I am doing. This is the moment I have waited for, the moment when my violin will be heard by not just me and the creatures of the night. However, I wonder what happen to me afterwards once the concert is over. She told me that it would be painless but I think differently. I am not knowledgeable about such matters but she told me that she has done it before and every time, the artist was forever grateful for what she did. Perhaps I am thinking like a frightened child rather than an adult who is no longer afraid of the shadows. I play at night so there is no reason for such fear. She will come when the moon is full and she will hear me play. And then, when the last note has been played by my calloused fingers, she will take me away. I think I shall close my eyes when it happens. May the god have mercy . . . no, perhaps it would be better if I leave them out of this. This is between her and me.