From The New Yorker (May 4, 2020)
From The New Yorker (May 4, 2020)
I did not expect to survive,
earth suppressing me. I didn’t expect
to waken again, to feel
in damp earth my body
able to respond again, remembering
after so long how to open again
in the cold light
of earliest spring–
afraid, yes, but among you again
crying yes risk joy
in the raw wind of the new world.
Ay, the pain it costs me
to love you as I love you!
For love of you, the air, it hurts,
and my heart,
and my hat, they hurt me.
Who would buy it from me,
this ribbon I am holding,
and this sadness of cotton,
white, for making handkerchiefs with?
Ay, the pain it costs me
to love you as I love you!
As when we awaken startled from a long, damp sleep
and realize that what we thought was love
was not love was not even the hollow kindness we show
a neighbor five doors down when we say “so sorry for your loss”
and think we can leave it at that was not even
a “there, there” we offer a friend of a friend whose husband
took up with a slinky redhead was not even the feigned
pity we show towards a second cousin once removed
who tells a cousin on our mother’s side about her stepbrother
who fell down two flights of stairs, broke his neck, and left behind
an ample wife was never even like
the small gasp that leaves our lips when through a car window
we see a blur of black bird with an injured wing
hop helpless in the road.
Anyone who has left love,
who has stepped out of the boat, onto
the water, learns what they had not known
or wanted to. Anyone
who turns their back on love, as if
it might not take too long for them to go
all the way around and come up behind it—
anyone who lets love go,
opens their hand while walking through
a crowd, as if getting, piece by piece,
rid of evidence, will lose,
along with evidence of the thing,
the thing itself. Anyone
who sets love down, and takes their eyes
away, anyone who travels far
when love is home, anyone
who homes alone when love is far,
will lose what cannot be found. Maybe they
thought love was the earth under
the road, or the road under the sole
of the shoe or the foot under the body but by now it is
back there. It was a bush like a fire,
and now—no more fragrance or light
will be inhaled, or seen, as when
you die you will not see the world again.
Even if you thought you had not
believed you were loved, something in you
knew that you were—and you stepped right off love’s roof.
by Jim Harrison
This year we have two gorgeous
yellow warblers nesting in the honeysuckle bush.
The other day I stuck my head in the bush.
The nestlings weigh one-twentieth of an ounce,
about the size of a honeybee. We stared at
each other, startled by our existence.
In a month or so, when they reach the size
of bumblebees, they’ll fly to Costa Rica without a map.
Even if they’re hawking something worthy, ads generally annoy me, but all last week I couldn’t get enough of the promo for the most recent episode of “The Big Listen,” a “broadcast about podcasts” that can be heard on WAMU, the DC metro area’s public radio station.
In it, we hear host Lauren Ober ask Starlee Kine of the popular podcast “Mystery Show“ about her favorite TV programs, and she mentions several — though only one, Law and Order, fetches an irrepressible “I love it” from Ober’s guest.
Unfortunately, the “I love it” part was cut from Kine’s segment (35:39), which is sad because just reading those three words here will not give you any understanding about why it was such a wonderful, and wonderfully nuanced, moment for listeners. Or at least for this listener.
Somehow, you see, that three-word sound bite managed to convey Kine’s passion for great storytelling, and it captivated me because I share that passion to my very bones. I also share her love of Law and Order, but you are the first to know this.
I wasn’t sure how I would write about my almost childlike reaction to this sound morsel until I heard “Virtual Reality: The Wearable Movie?” on The New Yorker Radio Hour. In this most recent episode, staff writer Andrew Marantz focuses on how artists and technologists are working together to create an interactive, “immersive” narrative.
One innovative narrative project Marantz features is Blackout, which uses a “computer-rendered environment” and also uses real actors to tell a story about a New York subway that breaks down and leaves its passengers in darkness. Especially compelling is the fact that DepthKit, a new software and film-making technique used in this project, enables participants to walk around inside the story, to see actors from different angles, and to hear the thoughts of people on the train simply by turning their heads and looking at them.
In an interview with Marantz, Justin Cone, creator of Motionographer, says, “People are searching for some kind of Holy Grail that unites the best of passive storytelling with the best of interactivity,” and it appears the team involved in developing Blackout may well be on the right path.
Still, I find myself wondering whether passive storytelling would always pair well with immersive, interactive technology. It is clear that sound, for example, can add a layer of richness to a story, as was the case with my being able to hear Kine say “I love it” in her very particular way. In fact, I might not have remembered anything about her interview, a portion of which is now indelibly etched into my memory, had I only read a transcript of it.
Yet, while it is true that great storytelling engages all of the senses, it is also true that great storytelling must maintain a certain air of mystery if it is to be successful. I remember, for instance, how downhearted I felt when, after having become completely mesmerized by the performance of a lead actor in a production of South Pacific, I saw him change his costume in the wings. I saw, too, that he was out of breath. And therefore human.
Granted, I was only ten. But the memory of that shock has stayed with me all these years, and I can’t help but think that dropping someone inside, say, a narrative poem could be equally shocking and could destroy the fragile world a poet seeks to create. While the very best of this kind of poetry invites us to participate in the storytelling by, for example, parsing an image, contemplating the meaning of a line, or studying the form itself, it loses something ineffably essential when we are told (or shown) how, exactly, we are meant to understand it. Even here, when I post a poem I have written, I pause over whether or not to include a visual image with it for fear I will be giving you too much direction about how to interpret its meaning.
Perhaps I am old-fashioned about wanting to maintain the ethereal in my own work and about fearing that immersive technologies could threaten the delicate mystery poets work to weave. Or perhaps the fear is simply a failure of my limited imagination. Or perhaps it is both.
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.
from Words under the Words: Selected Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye
It is as if you had arrived in a brown basket on a porch near St. Paul, a piece of bonnet poking out the one side and a wintry mix coming down. You couldn’t help but look up, mouth an O, but all you could see were four sets of dark eyes staring back down, blinking. Or more like a great tumbledown from a brilliant sun to a duller one, the fall through space across a frigid crosshatching of having-all-but-given-up-on-yourself and for what: a guest room with a busted lock and a Princess phone?
Shook elms lining the sloped
edges of a pitted road drop
their dying leaves while
Simon with Sam heave-ho
the grounded ones then
threaten each other with
pellets and rope.
Somewhere above the
one songbird calls to
a white-winged friend:
and feeds her slick babies
black beetles and yarn.
What was once
dark was gray
after became hope
wanting to wind
its way down
to the ankles of
and lap at the feet
of the widow who
longed for that fat
girl Sanne to return
home and lie about.