"Lovers seek for privacy. Friends find this solitude about them,

this barrier between them and the herd, whether they want it or not. They would be glad to reduce it. The first two would be glad to find a third.

In our own time Friendship arises in the same way. For us of course the shared activity and therefore the companionship on which Friendship supervenes will not often be a bodily one like hunting or fighting. It may be a common religion, common studies, a common profession, even a common recreation. All who share it will be our companions; but one or two or three who share something more will be our Friends. In this kind of love, as Emerson said, Do you love me? means Do you see the same truth? - Or at least, "Do you care about the same truth?" The man who agrees with us that some question, little regarded by others, is of great importance, can be our Friend. He need not agree with us about the answer.

Notice that Friendship thus repeats an a more individual and less socially necessary level the character of the Companionship which was its matrix. The Companionship was between people who were doing something together - hunting, studying, painting or what you will. The Friends will still be doing something together, but something more inward, less widely shared and less easily defined; still hunters, but of some immaterial quarry; still collaborating, but in some work the world does not, or not yet, take account of; still travelling companions, but on a different kind of journey. Hence we picture lovers face to face but Friends side by side; their eyes look ahead.”

- C.S. Lewis, from ‘The Four Loves”

"Across the beach, the man with one leg had been joined by his young girlfriend,

a pale, blond woman with the usual number of limbs. She was helping him down to the water. Their movement, jerky and storklike, drew attention to itself, but I was looking because of something else. It was how . . . sexual they were together. I don’t know how else to put it, or what that means, exactly, except that they were playful with each other, as adults rarely are. Theirs was a performance of a sort. They had established clarity on the point, and such clarity can be important. It is, for instance, important to me at times, when I find myself at dinner with my mother, to announce loudly to the waiter, “This is my mother,” or an equivalent expression that makes our relationship unambiguous.

Celeste was still on her phone, so I walked to the water by myself. My thoughts had turned to the couple’s sex life. What was under the man’s bathing suit, and how had the woman responded when she first saw him naked—with aversion, or arousal, or something more mixed and subtle, a curiosity and an arousal that were inseparable from or somehow part of the shock or fear that we feel in the presence of difference? It was, of course, possible that the absence of his leg did not enter into it, and that, as we are taught to believe and no one, I think, believes fully, the matter of love transcends all superficial considerations. But who is to say what is superficial and what isn’t? No, more likely, I thought, entering the water and feeling the warm salt liquid envelop me, cooling nothing but seeming to focus the sun’s rays more penetratingly on my skin and eyes and lips, more likely the woman enjoyed the idea of herself as someone who chooses an unusual partner; or—for that was only one possibility—she understood that we are all incomplete versions of an unafraid self trying to be born, and that our apparent wholeness only blinds us to this more substantial insufficiency. If Celeste had been there with me, I would have remarked that this couple had taken up arms in the fight against death—not because an incomplete body represents death, but because normalcy represents death. Because every decision that conforms to expectations, that raises no eyebrows, prompts no outrage or whispering or gossip, that merely reprises the ambered templates forged as prisons by those who have come before—every action taken under this regime of fear is the prefatory enactment of death.

And Celeste would have said, “I see we’re back on your favorite subject.”

And I would have said, “I want to talk about death. And other big things, like life and the soul and tax policy. I want to tromp around in boots in the china shop, where you’ve laid crystal figurines on the ground and dressed the halls in lace that someone went blind to stitch.”

“You’ve made your position clear.”

“My position isn’t clear to me! ” I’d shout. “My position isn’t clear, because my position depends on you.”

“Then talk to me. And don’t speak for me in imaginary dialogues in your head.”

“But you’re not here,” I said, and watched her tumble into the blackness of my mind, spinning like a falling figure in an old movie.

There I go, speaking for everyone when I’m alone, naming all the animals and plants as though my words could turn them into something else.”

- from Greg Jackson’s story, “Poetry,” from The New Yorker: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/04/29/poetry

The Anactoria Poem

Some say thronging cavalry, some say foot soldiers, 
others call a fleet the most beautiful of 
sights the dark earth offers, but I say it's what-
            ever you love best.

And it's easy to make this understood by 
everyone, for she who surpassed all human 
kind in beauty, Helen, abandoning her
            husband—that best of

men—went sailing off to the shores of Troy and 
never spent a thought on her child or loving 
parents: when the goddess seduced her wits and
            left her to wander,

she forgot them all, she could not remember 
anything but longing, and lightly straying 
aside, lost her way. But that reminds me
            now: Anactória,

she's not here, and I'd rather see her lovely 
step, her sparkling glance and her face than gaze on
all the troops in Lydia in their chariots and
            glittering armor.

   - Sappho 

[we are]

we are
prayer in the long boat

                                               a rhizomatic scream
                                               surrounded by the dark dagger
                                                                        of the ocean

                         scripture
                         in its entirety
                         is anticipation of the lilt
                                                   and yet

there is no word
for the rhythm
             we endure
             across this dirtless moment

                                                    antibird, we sing like birds
                                                    textured and untrained

             rugged the love
             that claps
in the chasm of our black palms

- Quenton Baker

The Boy

My older brother is walking down the sidewalk into the suburban
    summer night:
white T-shirt, blue jeans— to the field at the end of the street.

Hangers Hideout the boys called it, an undeveloped plot, a pit
    overgrown
with weeds, some old furniture thrown down there,

and some metal hangers clinking in the trees like wind chimes.
He’s running away from home because our father wants to cut his hair.

And in two more days our father will convince me to go to him— you know
where he is— and talk to him: No reprisals. He promised. A small parade
    of kids

in feet pajamas will accompany me, their voices like the first peepers
    in spring.
And my brother will walk ahead of us home, and my father

will shave his head bald, and my brother will not speak to anyone the next
month, not a word, not pass the milk, nothing.

What happened in our house taught my brothers how to leave, how to walk
down a sidewalk without looking back.

I was the girl. What happened taught me to follow him, whoever he was,
calling and calling his name.

- Marie Howe

The Girl

So close to the end of my childbearing life
without children

—if I could remember a day when I was utterly a girl
and not yet a woman—

but I don't think where was a day like that for me.

When I look at the girl I was, dripping in her bathing suit,
or riding her bike, pumping hard down the newly paved street,

she wears a furtive look—
and even if I could go back in time to her as me, the age I am now

she would never come into my arms
without believing that I wanted something.

- Marie Howe

Dragons

We gathered in a field southwest of town,
several hundred hauling coolers
and folding chairs along a gravel road
dry in August, two ruts of soft dust
that soaked into our clothes
and rose in plumes behind us.

By noon we could discern their massive coils
emerging from a bale of cloud,
scales scattering crescent dapples
through walnut fronds,
the light polarized, each leaf tip in focus.

As their bodies blotted out the sun,
the forest faded to silverpoint.
A current of cool air
extended from the bottomlands
an intimation of October,
and the bowl of sky deepened
its celestial archaeology.

Their tails, like banners of a vast army,
swept past Orion and his retinue
to sighs and scattered applause,
the faint wail of a child crying.
In half an hour they had passed on
in search of deep waters.

Before our company dispersed,
dust whirling in the wind,
we planned to meet again in seven years
for the next known migration.
Sunlight flashed on windshields

and caught along the riverbank
a cloudy, keeled scale
about the size of a dinner plate,
cool as blanc de Chine
in the heat of the afternoon.

- Devin Johnston

[marry at a hotel, annul ’em]

marry at a hotel, annul ’em
nary hep male rose sullen
let alley roam, yell melon
dull normal fellow hammers omelette

divine sunrises
Osiris’s irises
his splendid mistress
is his sis Isis

creole cocoa loca
crayon gumbo boca
crayfish crayola
jumbo mocha-cola

warp maid fresh
fetish coquettish
a voyeur leers
at X-rated reels

- Harryette Mullen

Father

In paradise I poised my foot above the boat and said:
Who prayed for me?
But only the dip of an oar
In water sounded; slowly fog from some cold shore
Circled in wreaths around my head.

But who is waiting?
And the wind began,
Transfiguring my face from nothingness
To tiny weeping eyes. And when my voice
Grew real, there was a place
Far, far below the earth. There was a tiny man—

It was my father wandering round the waters at the wharf.
Irritably he circled and he called
Out to the marine currents up and down,
But heard only a cold unmeaning cough,
And saw the oarsmen in the mist enshawled.

He drew me from the boat. I was asleep.
And we went home together.

- James Wright

False Patriots

"[False patriots] may by propaganda encourage a demoniac condition of our sentiments in order to secure acquiescence in [their] wickedness...this sure mark of evil: only by being terrible do they avoid being comic."

- C.S. Lewis, from “The Four Loves”

Filling Station

Oh, but it is dirty!
—this little filling station,
oil-soaked, oil-permeated
to a disturbing, over-all
black translucency.
Be careful with that match!

Father wears a dirty,
oil-soaked monkey suit
that cuts him under the arms,
and several quick and saucy
and greasy sons assist him
(it’s a family filling station),
all quite thoroughly dirty.

Do they live in the station?
It has a cement porch
behind the pumps, and on it
a set of crushed and grease-
impregnated wickerwork;
on the wicker sofa
a dirty dog, quite comfy.

Some comic books provide
the only note of color—
of certain color. They lie
upon a big dim doily
draping a taboret
(part of the set), beside
a big hirsute begonia.

Why the extraneous plant?
Why the taboret?
Why, oh why, the doily?
(Embroidered in daisy stitch
with marguerites, I think,
and heavy with gray crochet.)

Somebody embroidered the doily.
Somebody waters the plant,
or oils it, maybe. Somebody
arranges the rows of cans
so that they softly say:
esso—so—so—so
to high-strung automobiles.
Somebody loves us all.

- Elizabeth Bishop

Lovely White Flowers

He went inside the café where they used to go together.
It was here, three months ago, that his friend had told him:
“We’re completely broke—the two of us so poor
that we’re down to sitting in the cheapest places.
I have to tell you straight out—
I can’t go around with you any more.
I want you to know, somebody else is after me.”
The “somebody else” had promised him two suits,
some silk handkerchiefs. To get his friend back,
he himself went through hell rounding up twenty pounds.
His friend came back to him for the twenty pounds—
but along with that, for their old intimacy,
their old love, for the deep feeling between them.
The “somebody else” was a liar, a real bum:
he’d ordered only one suit for his friend,
and that under pressure, after much begging.

But now he doesn’t want the suits any longer,
he doesn’t want the silk handkerchiefs at all,
or twenty pounds, or twenty piasters even.

Sunday they buried him, at ten in the morning.
Sunday they buried him, almost a week ago.

He laid flowers on his cheap coffin,
lovely white flowers, very much in keeping
with his beauty, his twenty-two years.

When he went to the café that evening—
he happened to have some vital business there—the same café
where they used to go together: it was a knife in his heart,
that dingy café where they used to go together.

- C.P. Cavafy

Elderly Couple

Those last two weeks of August before we too are married, before we

recognize another soul in town, we meet them walking here at evening,

nod, and smile hello. Until we don't awhile, then never again. Small rabbits

tensely watch us pass from the long uncut grass between headstones

where they believe they are safe. They have gone to school with stones to

learn patience and motionlessness. Rapidly graying, dissolving into one

substance with the dusk, they are so still they tremble. They are troubled

by a fear whose source they have no way of comprehending, combined

with the equally incomprehensible delight of children playing hide-and-

seek as it gets dark, sooner, enormously, with every passing day, and they

become aware in waves of being older than a person they were only

yesterday. While the trees sway soundlessly high overhead, the breeze

and first visible stars seem, if anything, younger. Mothers stand in yellow

kitchen windows pretending to listen to fathers quietly, inconsequentially

droning on behind them in the deepening evening, even when they are

the voices of men no longer alive. They say things like "Any day above

ground is a good day..." And what would they have known about that?

The mothers stand completely still, they will never turn around. Standing

with his back to a tree, barely breathing, a boy wonders if he is going to

be the one abruptly struck down from above, swiftly carried aloft over the

first soft lights of town by huge wings, never to be seen again, and decides

that he probably won't, and for a minute is perfectly happy.

Mt. Feake Cemetery, 1999

-
Franz Wright

Just Yesterday


Before prayer in the schools we had the Crusades
and we cleaned out the stockpot once a year.

Virtually everything we ate induced narcosis,
a condition we often confused with god.

Some told of a river that ran outside the city walls
and of how it moved to avoid their touch,

a giant serpent twisting forever away. If it wasn’t the devil
it was the work of the devil, like everything else we wanted.

Remorse held us together until we died young
and most of us never realized we were mammals—

indeed we were suspicious of birds but rats, well, rats
we found charming, with their eyes so full

of sympathy, their need for warmth like our own. We also
wanted love to suffice. Flies that collected on the lesions

of the dying: angels one and all: no one could be too careful.
It seemed a flood was forever rinsing ideas from my tongue

so I said nothing or spoke louder, I was always drowning.
I couldn’t have changed anything.

All right there was the alchemist
and I loved him but I could not save him.

Once I dreamt of electricity. Was this the river,
the one that altered its course like a wounded thing?

We had no trees, only sticks.
Huge gears turned in the sky.

- Mark Bibbins

The pool scene from Philip Roth's "Goodbye, Columbus"

It was very dark, the sky was low and starless, and it took a while for me to see, once again, the diving board a shade lighter than the night, and to distinguish the water from the chairs that surrounded the far side of the pool.

I pushed the straps of her bathing suit down but she said no and rolled an inch away from me, and for the first time in the two weeks I'd known her she asked me a question about me.

"Where are your parents?" she said.

"Tucson," I said. "Why?"

"My mother asked me."

I could see the life guard's chair now, white almost.

"Why are you still here? Why aren't you with them?" she asked.

"I'm not a child any more, Brenda," I said, more sharply than I'd intended. "I just can't go wherever my parents are."

"But then why do you stay with your aunt and uncle?"

"They're not my parents."

"They're better?"

"No. Worse. I don't know why I stay with them."

"Why?" she said. "Why don't I know?"

"Why do you stay? You do know, don't you?"

"My job, I suppose. It's convenient from there, and it's cheap, and it pleases my parents. My aunt's all right really ... Do I really have to explain to your mother why I live where I do?"

"It's not for my mother. I want to know. I wondered why you weren't with your parents, that's all."

"Are you cold?" I asked.

"No."

"Do you want to go home?"

"No, not unless you do. Don't you feel well, Neil?"

"I feel all right," and to let her know that I was still me, I held her to me, though that moment I was without desire.

"Neil?"

"What?"

"What about the library?"

"Who wants to know that?"

"My father," she laughed.

"And you?"

She did not answer a moment. "And me," she said finally.

"Well what about it? Do I like it? It's okay. I sold shoes once and like the library better. After the Army they tried me for a couple months at Uncle Aaron's real estate company—Doris' father—and I like the library better than that ..."

"How did you get a job there?"

"I worked there for a little while when I was in college, then when I quit Uncle Aaron's, oh, I don't know ..."

"What did you take in college?"

"At Newark Colleges of Rutgers University I majored in philosophy. I am twenty-three years old. I—"

"Why do you sound nasty again?"

"Do I?"

"Yes."

I didn't say I was sorry.

"Are you planning on making a career of the library?"

"Bren, I'm not planning anything. I haven't planned a thing in three years. At least for the year I've been out of the Army. In the Army I used to plan to go away weekends. I'm—I'm not a planner." After all the truth I'd suddenly given her, I shouldn't have ruined it for myself with that final lie. I added, "I'm a liver."

"I'm a pancreas," she said.

"I'm a—"

And she kissed the absurd game away; she wanted to be serious.

“Do you love me, Neil?”

I did not answer.

"I'll sleep with you whether you do or not, so tell me the truth."

"That was pretty crude."

"Don't be prissy," she said.

"No, I mean a crude thing to say about me."

"I don't understand," she said, and she didn't, and that she didn't pained me; I allowed myself the minor subterfuge, however, of forgiving Brenda her obtuseness. "Do you?" she said.

"No."

"I want you to."

"What about the library?"

"What about it?" she said.

Was it obtuseness again? I thought not—and it wasn't, for Brenda said, "When you love me, there'll be nothing to worry about."

"Then of course I'll love you." I smiled.

"I know you will," she said. "Why don't you go in the water, and I'll wait for you and close my eyes, and when you come back you'll surprise me with the wet. Go ahead."

"You like games, don't you?"

"Go ahead. I'll close my eyes."

I walked down to the edge of the pool and dove in. The water felt colder than it had earlier, and when I broke through and was headed blindly down I felt a touch of panic. At the top again, I started to swim the length of the pool and then turned at the end and started back, but suddenly I was sure that when I left the water Brenda would be gone. I'd be alone in this damn place. I started for the side and pulled myself up and ran to the chairs and Brenda was there and I kissed her.

"God," she shivered, "You didn't stay long."

"I know."

"My turn," she said, and then she was up and a second later I heard a little crack of water and then nothing. Nothing for quite a while.

"Bren," I called softly, "are you all right?" but no one answered.

I found her glasses on the chair beside me and held them in my hands. "Brenda?"

Nothing.

"Brenda?"

"No fair calling," she said and gave me her drenched self. "Your turn," she said.

This time I stayed below the water for a long while and when I surfaced again my lungs were ready to pop. I threw my head back for air and above me saw the sky, low like a hand pushing down, and I began to swim as though to move out from under its pressure. I wanted to get back to Brenda, for I worried once again—and there was no evidence, was there?—that if I stayed away too long she would not be there when I returned. I wished that I had carried her glasses away with me, so she would have to wait for me to lead her back home. I was having crazy thoughts, I knew, and yet they did not seem uncalled for in the darkness and strangeness of that place. Oh how I wanted to call out to her from the pool, but I knew she would not answer and I forced myself to swim the length a third time, and then a fourth, but midway through the fifth I felt a weird fright again, had momentary thoughts of my own extinction, and that time when I came back I held her tighter than either of us expected.

"Let go, let go," she laughed, "my turn—"

"But Brenda—"

But Brenda was gone and this time it seemed as though she'd never come back. I settled back and waited for the sun to dawn over the ninth hole, prayed it would if only for the comfort of its light, and when Brenda finally returned to me I would not let her go, and her cold wetness crept into me somehow and made me shiver. "That's it, Brenda. Please, no more games," I said, and then when I spoke again I held her so tightly I almost dug my body into hers, "I love you," I said, "I do."

- Philip Roth

Fragment from John Ashbery

“…Summer is all about being a season.
I’m not sure I can take too much more
of it, but while it lasts I’m along
for the ride. I’d be a jerk
not to be especially since there’s no
alternative, it just keeps coming,
and we take it in, like a barn accepting
bales of hay from a hay wain, until
they’re gone. That will have to do.
Besides (did I mention it?), I’m tired.
This day’s a wrap. Others will happen along,
maybe fall in love with one. But that’s another story.
We’ll find a new wand, horizons will be bright
and anxious. A friend will give us
what we’re owed and something extra,
something we couldn’t have imagined,
a space like a dream.”

- John Ashbery

A Warm Day

Today the sun was shining
so my neighbor washed her nightdresses in the river—
she comes home with everything folded in a basket,
beaming, as though her life had just been
lengthened a decade. Cleanliness makes her happy—
it says you can begin again,
the old mistakes needn’t hold you back.

A good neighbor—we leave each other
to our privacies. Just now
she’s singing to herself, pinning the damp wash to the line.

Little by little, days like this
will seem normal. But winter was hard:
the nights coming early, the dawns dark
with a gray, persistent rain—months of that,
and then the snow, like silence coming from the sky,
obliterating the trees and gardens.

Today, all that’s past us.
The birds are back, chattering over seeds.
All the snow’s melted; the fruit trees are covered with downy new growth.
A few couples even walk in the meadow, promising whatever they promise.

We stand in the sun and the sun heals us.
It doesn’t rush away. It hangs above us, unmoving,
like an actor pleased with his welcome.

My neighbor’s quiet a moment,
staring at the mountain, listening to the birds.

So many garments, where did they come from?
And my neighbor’s still out there,
fixing them to the line, as though the basket would never be empty—

It’s still full, nothing is finished,
though the sun’s beginning to move lower in the sky;
remember, it isn’t summer yet, only the beginning of spring;
warmth hasn’t taken hold yet, and the cold’s returning—

She feels it, as though the last bit of linen had frozen in her hands.
She looks at her hands—how old they are. It’s not the beginning, it’s the end.
And the adults, they’re all dead now.
Only the children are left, alone, growing old.

- Louise Gluck

How I Shaded the Book

I was in the town before my end.  I knew more deeply
than before I was in trouble with drinking.
I received a copy of a Graham Greene novel, The End of the Affair, in the mail.
I sat down to read it one night, sure I would not like it,
but I could not stop reading.
I felt the romance of the book was validating one more wild prolonged fling,
alcohol at the center of the fling. I had no one in mind but I knew there would be
someone. And I knew it would be trouble.
The novel made me feel as if I could see it all.

In the middle of the night there was a knock on the door.
A neighbor—I had met no one in the few days I had been in town—
asked if I would drive her and her daughter to the hospital.
Her daughter was sick, she had no car. She had seen my light.
For some reason I was glad to do so. I took the book.
The wait was long, the mother finally told me I could leave,
she could call a relative if they had to leave the hospital.

I saw them on the street days later—she hardly spoke—I wondered if it was because
we were of different races. She simply nodded when I asked if her daughter
was all right.
They left their house within a month. The house became a place for itinerants.
Six families in six months. One afternoon I heard screaming and cackling
and looked out the window to see an overweight man who could hardly walk
limping and tilting away from the old woman on the porch.
She both screamed and cackled. The overweight man finally
hobbled off like an old wagon.

I want to thank the woman and her child for interrupting my reverie.
Although I proceeded to wildly continue an affair for drinking
I feel that couple as a pull from life, a pull
from a source I was for a final time denying.
The book meant more than life. How I shaded the book
meant more than anything, anyone.

- Michael Burkard