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QUINTESSENCE

Good Bread

The ponies of Shetland Island

Today I yearned for a clean, direct, open moment on the page, my friends.

To write something simple. To tell you something as I felt and thought about that something, without intellectualizing, filters, deeper or attenuated meanings. Like a sandwich. Start with good bread, crisp lettuce, garden tomato, your choice of deliciousness in the middle. Nothing complicated about a sandwich.

Why? Maybe because it's summer, the seasonal reminder that a peach plucked directly from the branch is the peach that is simply most worthy. Like you, I am chafing under the unbearable weight of the news of the world in all its foolishness, waste, and loss. I am also writing this morning in the lingering shadow of a pre-dawn dream of my mother and my dog (both long gone). A dream I did not understand but clung to like driftwood on the open sea upon waking. What is that but feeling the hard edge of life, the ache of what we cannot comprehend?

The hunger to pen sentences that lean against the door jamb, hands in pockets, at ease, reflects in part a working year of constructed essays, edits, and trenching in lines on the page - what it is to be a working writer. But I wonder, does this wish for ease hint at a sea change within? Toward a way of being and writing less constructed but warmly essential? Less clever, a little bit messy? Maybe there is a part of me that needs to sow a handful of words and let them bloom where they fall, full of will and wildness.

Poetry will always speak of life far truer than my words. The ways of poetry hold us bathed in the starlight of distant stars we do not yet see. In a poem what is, is given shape, a doorway. So I begin here, with this powerful poem by the late Philip Levine. Enjoy.

THE SIMPLE TRUTH
by Philip Levine

I bought a dollar and a half's worth of small red potatoes,
took them home, boiled them in their jackets
and ate them for dinner with a little butter and salt.
Then I walked through the dried fields
on the edge of town. In middle June the light
hung on in the dark furrows at my feet,
and in the mountain oaks overhead the birds
were gathering for the night, the jays and mockers
squawking back and forth, the finches still darting
into the dusty light. The woman who sold me
the potatoes was from Poland; she was someone
out of my childhood in a pink spangled sweater and sunglasses
praising the perfection of all her fruits and vegetables
at the road-side stand and urging me to taste
even the pale, raw sweet corn trucked all the way,
she swore, from New Jersey. "Eat, eat" she said,
"Even if you don't I'll say you did."

Some things
you know all your life. They are so simple and true
they must be said without elegance, meter and rhyme,
they must be laid on the table beside the salt shaker,
the glass of water, the absence of light gathering
in the shadows of picture frames, they must be
naked and alone, they must stand for themselves.
My friend Henri and I arrived at this together in 1965
before I went away, before he began to kill himself,
and the two of us to betray our love. Can you taste
what I'm saying? It is onions or potatoes, a pinch
of simple salt, the wealth of melting butter, it is obvious,
it stays in the back of your throat like a truth
you never uttered because the time was always wrong,
it stays there for the rest of your life, unspoken,
made of that dirt we call earth, the metal we call salt,
in a form we have no words for, and you live on it.


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