they ooze and call each other “darlings”
they hire fortune tellers who lie
they frame pictures of the kid they’ve sent away
they call the old black bartender by his first name
they hire watered-down R&B bands and make them play acoustic
they frown on nude swimming
they confess to anyone who’ll listen
they each have an “oldest and dearest” friend
he’s usually the one they’ve confessed to the most
they hate being wished “Happy Birthday”
they love having not seen someone for such a long time
then they rush to the next one
their loneliness is covered with grins
their loneliness is smothered in a circle of “friends”
(From Motel Chronicles by Sam Shepard)
Insomnia is a chain
Insomnia is a loop
Insomnia is a vicious circle
Inside my skull
Inside the bones
My neck turns
I like the sound of my own bones
In the midst of this emergency
I think of you
And only you
In the midst of all this sleepless blood
Your pink lips
Your arms upstretched
I can’t breathe without you
But this circle of ribs
Keeps working on its own
(From Motel Chronicles by Sam Shepard)
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
Look, the world tempts our eye,
And we would know it all!
We map the starry sky,
We mine this earthen ball,
We measure the seasides, we number the seasands;
We scrutinise the dates
Of long-past human things,
The bounds of effaced states,
The lines of deceased kings;
We search out dead men’s words, and works of dead men’s hands;
We shut our eyes, and muse
How our own minds are made,
What springs of thought they use,
How righten’d, how betray’d
And spend our writ to name what most employ unnamed
But still, as we proceed
The mass swells more and more
Of volumes yet to read,
Of secrets yet to explore
Our hair grows grey, our eyes are dimm’d, our heart is tamed
— Matthew Arnold, “Empedocles On Etna”, 1852
"We do not what we ought;
What we ought not, we do;
And lean upon the thought
That chance will bring us through.”
— Matthew Arnold, Empedocles on Etna
"I dreamed I already…
By Yevgeny Yevtushenko, 1967
I dreamed I already loved you.
I dreamed I already killed you.
But you rose again; another form, but you,
a girl on the little ball of the earth,
naive simplicity, curve-necked
on that early canvas of Picasso,
and prayed to me with your ribs:
“Love me,” as though you said, “Don’t push me off.”
I’m that played-out, grown-up acrobat
hunchbacked with senseless muscles
who knows that advice is a lie,
that sooner or later there’s falling.
I’m too scared to say: “I love you,”
because I’d be saying: “I’ll kill you.”
For in the depths of a face I can see through
I see the faces — can’t count them —
that, right on the spot, or maybe
not right away, I tortured to death.
You’re pale from the mortal balance. You say:
“I know everything; I was all of them.
I know you’ve already loved me.
I know you’ve already killed me.
But I won’t spin the globe backwards:
Love again, and then kill again.”
Lord, you’re young. Stop your globe.
I’m tired of killing. I’m not a damn thing but old.
You move the earth beneath your little feet,
you fall, “Love me.”
It’s only in those eyes, so similar, you say:
“This time don’t kill me!”
No people are uninteresting.
Their destinies are like histories of planets.
Nothing in them is not particular,
and no planet is like another.
And if someone lives in obscurity,
befriending that obscurity,
he is interesting to people
by his very obscurity.
Everyone has his own secret, private world.
In that world is a finest moment.
In that world is a tragic hour,
but it all is unknown to us.
And if someone dies
there dies with him his first snow,
and first kiss, and first fight.
He takes it all with him.
Yes, books and bridges remain,
and painted canvas and machinery,
yes, much is sentenced to remain,
but something really departs all the same!
Such is the law of the pitiless game.
It’s not people who die, but worlds.
We remember people, sinful and earthly.
But what did we know, in essence, about them?
What do we know of brothers, of friends?
What do we know of our one and only?
And about our own fathers,
knowing everything, we know nothing.
They perish. They cannot be brought back.
Their secret worlds are not regenerated.
And every time I want again
to cry out against the unretrievableness.
— Yevgeny Yevtushenko, "No people are…", 1961
(Translated by Albert C. Todd)
Yevtushenko: The Collected Poems, 1952-1990
The Lip and the Heart.
One day between the Lip and the Heart
A wordless strife arose,
Which was expertest in the art
His purpose to disclose.
The Lip called forth the vassal Tongue,
And made him vouch—a lie!
The slave his servile anthem sung,
And brav’d the listening sky.
The Heart to speak in vain essay’d,
Nor could his purpose reach—
His will nor voice nor tongue obeyed,
His silence was his speech.
Mark thou their difference, child of earth!
While each performs his part,
Not all the lip can speak is worth
The silence of the heart.
— John Quincy Adams, poet and 6th President of the United States