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There must be more than this provincial life…

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All the Light We Cannot See

I’m about halfway through this book and decided to read a bit more about the author, Anthony Doerr. Have any of you read this yet? I’m quite enjoying it so far. And look what I came across in this interview:

My goal might be only to shine a feeble light on some neglected corner of the world, or history, but ultimately my goal is to help us all appreciate the grandeur of this incredibly old and marvelous situation we’ve lucked into it, and that’s a political motivation. It’s the hope that through art we can be awakened; we can be shown the world with new eyes. I’m more interested in what Percy Walker called “the search” in The Moviegoer, that quest for authenticity that his protagonist Binx goes on.“The search,” Binx says, “is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life… To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is despair.” That’s what fiction writing does for me; it helps me feel like I’m onto something, even if I’m fumbling after it, even if I know I can never really grab hold of it.
I’m fumbling with ideas here that I can’t fully articulate, but that, I think, is the real responsibility for a literary writer; to strive toward complexity, toward questions, and away from certainty, away from stereotype.

I’m going to assume “Percy Walker” was a transcription error…

Three Short Poems About Winter

Winter Mornings in Transylvania
Mrs Dracula loved to hear
Mr (while he was enjoying his bowl
of fiber) Dracula hum
lullabies to their dear
vambini. Who then slept the whole
day in their hibernaculum.

The Ghost of New Year’s Eve Past
For winter, it was damn hot
in the middle of the shemozzle. Dead
it was most certainly not—
the crowd was loud, and totally sozzled.

Diana’s Rum Coffee
A better drink in winter you will not find:
along with fresh coffee, she gives you rum,
sugar, cinnamon, cloves, an orange rind,
and more sugar … ends in a tasty residuum.

Kevin Drum on Assisted Suicide

It would be unfair to call this “banging on”, but Kevin Drum of Mother Jones has written a very sad story backed up with all sorts of facts and figures, as well as charts to help marshal those facts and figures as a buttress for his argument in favor of assisted suicide.

Daniel Payne (I presume that last name is pronounced just like the word “pain”, with whatever association you’d care to make) has written a reply without as many facts or figures, let alone as much emotional punch, but with a whole lot of sound reasoning. Here’s a bolus:

It is a ghastly future in which people take their own lives to the gentle and smiling encouragement of their loved ones.
It is a ghastly future in which people take their own lives to the gentle and smiling encouragement of their loved ones who would rather just get the whole thing over with and move on.

I will pray for Drum, and you should, too. Pray his cancer disappears and he lives to be a grumpy, curmudgeonly old liberal geezer still talking nonsense about gun control and other progressive ballyhoos.

If his cancer should return, however, I pray he does not take the easier way out. I pray he gives his wife and his loved ones a final, priceless, and irreplaceable gift, a gift of himself that only he can give: the gift of needing their love, their attention, and their full and unconditional care in the twilight moments of his precious life.

Glory

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                                                                                             Glory – The brutes do not admire each other. A horse does not admire his companion. Not that there is no rivalry between them in a race, but that is of no consequence; for, when in the stable, the heaviest and most ill-formed does not give up his oats to another, as men would have others do to them. Their virtue is satisfied with itself.
                                                            – Pascal, Pensees, 401

One brother took up law; the other trooped
Away to endless war. I stayed home
As a bureaucratic bean-counter, duped

To think that riches played an easy game:
Addition, multiplication – each cooks
The books for future fortunes. All the same,

With squared-off cubits, office duty yokes
Existence to these ledger lines that spill
With columned figures. Fortune’s spinning spokes

Subtract from time, divide with iron will
What irony remainders. Would my years
Be sown in furrowed wax my styli till?

“There’s glory,” Primus said, “in foreign tours
Of duty.” So Secundus sought the heights
Of politics. But Tertius now secures

Them both in one: I poll these client states,
Reconquering for Rome. Hand-picked to lead
The census here in Palestine, I set my sights

On taxing tails for piles of Caesar’s head –
This skin game they’re calling his “Golden Fleece.”
(And who has time to calculate the dead

When the living offer glory’s increase?)
“The catgut of the state,” said Cicero
Describing taxes. Let that be the case –

To string and peg fame’s fingerboard just so.

Flies

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               The power of flies; they win battles, hinder our soul from acting, eat our body.
                                                                          – Pascal, Pensees, 367

I hate the thing I cannot be and yet
I know I’m not wrong for I’m never wrong.
I count the stars and one alone has set

Me going – all the rest can go to hell.
I didn’t make the flies, but I had put
Their song to good employment. Now they dwell

With me – and I should know, being the lord
Of the buggers, they make an easy sell
For cleaning up a butcher’s yard. Byword

Of light itself – I was it! But no more –
I’ve got a kitchen kingdom, fleshy sword
And flyblown maw instead to tend. I’m sore

At heart and hate the Jews – and Romans too.
But they can play very well together, or
I’ll see them die in their attempts. Then, through

The gates I see that star. That goddamn star.
No fly left out, no maggot stranded – no!
So how can stars be any different? Sure,

The cretins eat putrescence put in front
Of them, but never question it. Their care
For me – it knows no bounds! Each accident

Of nature, each festering harlot of
Ol’ Babylon, every mother-loving runt
Of a whoreson tabbed. Then I look above….

I’m not waiting around. No. Time to move.

Egypt

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                                                  Prophecies – The conversion of the Egyptians (Isaiah xix, 19); an altar in Egypt to the true God.
                                        – Pascal, Pensees, 724

My altars are ubiquitous. I touch
The shadows that they cast. Once river mud,
My soul’s basalt is baked and bricked from scratch…

The Greeks had heroes; Rome, its empire’s blood,
But revenant Cleopatra boasts death
As neither myth nor state. So Egypt stood

As proof: my lust and beauty forged its truth
In brickyards, straw or not. The pyramid
And temple praise me. Caesars raise a wreath

Upon my crypt, like writhing asps that bid
My granite-needled will and hang with thread
My womb, an empire’s balance pan, which hid

My heart and raised my feather far above
The reign of Ra. So Serpent Apep’s rule
Commands that woman crush such fleeting love

Upon the open market. Sell a mule
In memory of me, then; buy a colt
To free my soul. When strangers come, the cruel

Indifferent sun still blackens soil, and silt
That bleeds from holy Nile to middling seas
Still shapes my body, bringing to a halt

Advancing Roman altars. Prophecies
Are empty: Take the Jews – they came, they lost,
They conquered nothing. So my enemies

Abjure: I alone renovate this boast.

David

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                         A single saying of David or Moses, such as ‘God will circumcise their hearts,’ is a test of their way of thinking.
                         All their other arguments may be ambiguous and leave it uncertain whether they are philosophers or Christians, but one saying of this kind settles all the others, just as one saying of Epictetus settles everything else in a contrary sense. Ambiguity goes just so far and no farther.

                                           – Pascal, Pensees, 690

Consult philosophers, what do they say?
Some fiction flinging theories from the void.
So ask the oracles you say? Well, they

Would speak of crows in flight and cooling guts,
Then hide the gods in feathers, plucked away
And squibbed with blood. Enough’s enough. For what’s

The use of being emperor if truth
Has taken wing in ether realms or struts
In toga, scroll in hand, with garlic breath

To wilt a legion? Rather to my mind
Arithmetic’s the thing. So do the math –
An easy thing to lead – but from behind?

At Actium it was so. (Ply the wax
As styli scribble! What these censors find!)
The breezes blow and Antony’s heart cracks –

An egg for augur’s breakfast. Take the win
As lessons in empire: peace prefers a tax
To nails upon a cross. So Palestine

Has made a stink? That crazy Herod writes
About his lack of funds? There’s truth for you!
No David he, but still, his greed indicts

And makes a friend in Caesar. Numbers, Kings
Of Iudaea, never let you down –
So count each coin a friendly thorn that stings

And slays the words your heart might seek to crown.

Caesar

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Caesar was too old, it seems to me, to set about amusing himself with conquering the world. Such sport was good for Augustus or Alexander. They were still young men, and thus difficult to restrain. But Caesar should have been more mature.
                                                                          – Pascal, Pensees, 132

From emperor to god, distinction’s blade
Has cut me loose from earthly care and set
My star within a diadem that made

My shade regret its bloody ways (forget
The fact that I refused the crown with three
Dismissive waves). So three were keen to set

Upon me – brute ambition, envy’s glee,
And tilting pride – my own to think success
A measure tallied by eternity….

I wept at Alexander’s feats no less
Than now I laugh at what Augustus wants –
To valuate the empire’s populace

A victory subtracting weal from chance
In one decisive sweep of columned sums.
I told the pirates I’d be back to dance

Before their crucifixions; Pompey’s drums
Resolved my mettle. “Let Catullus sing
Of plows and flowers,” I said, “Caesar comes

From Gaul and India with arms to bring
About hic novus ordo.” This head
Is wizened, iron-willed, the only thing

That raises me above them all. Include
Among them, by the way, my wretched son
Who counts his greatest triumph as a god

A forced retreat of numbers back to one.

Babylon

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The rivers of Babylon rush and fall and sweep away.
O holy Sion, where all is firm and nothing falls!
We must sit upon the waters, not under them or in them but on them; and not standing but seated; being seated to be humble, and being above them to be secure. But we shall stand in the porches of Jerusalem.
Let us see if this pleasure is stable or transitory; if it pass away, it is a river of Babylon.
                         – Pascal,
Pensees, 459.

It wasn’t much at first. A sagging step,
Exaggerated bend of knee, the way
She’d reach with fluid motion and then stop –

I even caught her once before the well,
The water’s calm the perfect reach and scope
For vanity to hold her gaze… When ill

She’d sit a lot and take her rest instead
Of work – my own affliction could not tell
Of Sara’s lesson: Abraham was dead

And God no longer talks to us in signs.
Tradition filled my mouth but weighed like lead
To trip my tongue. So she would sing the lines

Of David then: God, our king before time,
Hath wrought salvation…
Now my mind inclines
To all kinds of hints: so the steady flame

Within the temple’s precincts trembles at
The shadows. Brother priests do not esteem
My company. Still, incense rises, mute

As priests and fathers suffered Babylon:
Now I too wish to sing with strings and flute,
To dance with timbrel like the halcyon

Who swoops and dives above the river’s flow…
So God’s own messenger, who stood upon
The altar, was pleased to let this father know

He’d be waiting on the porch of Sion.