Oct 4, 2014

First Grade: Handwriting Practice

Were you there when
they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when
they crucified my Lord?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me
to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when
                                    (turn over)
they crucified my Lord?

—Lydia Davis, The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis, 356


Jun 8, 2014


Long before daybreak
none of the birds yet awake
rain comes down with the sound
of a huge wind rushing
through the valley trees
it comes down around us
all at the same time
and beyond it there is nothing
it falls without hearing itself
without knowing
there is anyone here
without seeing where it is
or where it is going
like a moment of great
happiness of our own
that we cannot remember
coasting with the lights off

—W. S. Merwin, The Shadow of Sirius, 104


Apr 20, 2014

Paradiso, XXXI, 108

Diodorus Siculus tells the story of a god that is cut into pieces and scattered over the earth. Which of us, walking through the wilight or retracing some day in our past, has never felt that we have lost some infinite thing?

Mankind has lost a face, an irrecoverable face, and all men wish they could be that pilgrim (dreamed in the empyrean, under the Rose) who goes to Rome and looks upon the veil of St. Veronica and murmurs in belief: My Lord Jesus Christ, very God, is this, indeed, Thy likeness in such fashion wrought?

There is a face in stone beside a path, and an inscription that reads The True Portrait of the Holy Face of the Christ of Jaén. If we really knew what that face looked like, we would possess the key to the parables, and know whether the son of the carpenter was also the Son of God.

Paul saw the face as a light that struck him to the ground; John, as the sun when it shines forth in all its strength; Teresa de Jesús, many times, bathed in serene light, although she could never say with certainty what the color of its eyes was.

Those features are lost to us, as a magical number created from our customary digits can be lost, as the image in a kaleidoscope is lost forever. We can see them and yet not grasp them. A Jew’s profile in the subway might be the profile of Christ; the hands that give us back change at a ticket booth may mirror those that soldiers nailed one day to the cross.

Some feature of the crucified face may lurk in every mirror; perhaps the face died, faded away, so that God might be all faces.

Who knows but that tonight we may see it in the labyrinths of dream, and not know tomorrow that we saw it.

—Jorge Luis Borges (trans. Andrew Hurley), from The Maker (1960), in Collected Fictions, 316


Jan 14, 2014

I remember when this song made a chapel of Belgians cry.


These are words to build a life on. These are your words, help them to be mine.


Jan 7, 2014

Deep Breath. Now Exhale: Ohio


Today’s blog post author is Devin Bustin, one of our staff writers, and recent transplant to Cincinnati. Enjoy! (Photo by Colton Williams)


No lines, no lines / The river is a river is a river / Not a line

—Patty Griffin, “Ohio”

I am not the one to write about this town.

I grew up in Montréal. Went to high school in Toronto. When I dream those archetypal dreams, I lose my teeth playing hockey and I can’t find my clothes at the arena. I believe in gun control and public health care. 

And yet.

Here’s how it happened.  We were living in Chicago, my wife and I. She was teaching at the Old Town School of Folk Music. I’d just finished a degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Please recognize the importance of these institutions by the length of their names.

We had two kids. We had five or six part-time jobs. The average income in our city was over a hundred grand.  This must have been why my advisor at writing school made every graduate promise they wouldn’t commit suicide. We’d done our writing inside the Art Institute, in the presence of Monets, Renoirs, and Picassos. We’d received weekly coaching from the most compelling poets and novelists in the the country. Our classroom overlooked Michigan Avenue, Millennium Park, and the lake. All this could be ours.

“Find somewhere quiet and cheap,” she said, “and do your work. You don’t need money as much as you need time.”

In Chicago, we needed money. Everything was beautiful and brimming with ambition— and borrowed. We felt false. Sooner or later, our real lives would begin, right? If only we could find somewhere livable. Just that:  Livable. And small.

Hello, Ohio. 

They named Cincinnati after Cincinnatus, a ruler in the Roman Empire. Twice, this man was called upon to steer the empire. Twice, he stepped down the moment he was no longer needed. They crowned him with power and deity. He chose his small farm in obscurity. He chose a livable life, the story goes, far from the spotlight, close to reality.

One day in January, I came in from shoveling the rented driveway and sat down at the rented kitchen table of the house we were renting. My wife put a kettle on the rented stove. 

“You know, we can go at any time,” she said. “We don’t have to wait for permission.”

No one wanted us to leave Chicago. The experimental school where I taught was expanding. The young church we pastored was doubling its services and expanding to two locations. To survive Chicago, you have to build an empire.  Or go. 

We left. 

My wife left the hundreds of musicians at the Old Town School for free bluegrass on Sundaynights at the Comet. I left my friends and mentors who were publishing their work at the School of the Art Institute to simply—take—a—breath. There’s time here to be healthy, time to play music, time to read. 

Half the artists in my graduate program wanted to move to New York City. We live overlooking a valley and a river in a town—no kidding—called Loveland. Our rent is laughable. My wife’s boss gets mad at her if she works an evening away from her family. My business gives us family getaways as a Christmas bonus and I see children every day at the office. We aren’t building any empires, but our lives belong to us. 

There’s something of my homeland about that. We’re content to be ourselves, to leave the enterprising to others. This is the closest I’ve ever felt to home.


Jan 2, 2014

The Book of Disquiet, §197, by Fernando Pessoa (trans. R. Zenith)

I sorely grieve over time’s passage. It’s always with exaggerated emotion that I leave something behind, whatever it may be. The miserable rented room where I lived for a few months, the dinner table at the provincial hotel where I stayed for six days, even the sad waiting room at the station where I spent two hours waiting for a train—yes, their loss grieves me. But the special things of life—when I leave them behind and realize with all of my nerves’ sensibility that I’ll never see or have them again, at least not in that exact same moment—grieve me metaphysically. A chasm opens up in my sou and a cold breeze of the hour of God blows across my pallid face.

Time! The past! Something—a voice, a song, a chance fragrance—lifts the curtain on my soul’s memories… That which I was and will never again be! That which I had and will never again have! The dead! The dead who loved me in my childhood. Whenever I remember them, my whole soul shivers and I feel exiled from all hearts, alone in the night of myself, weeping like a beggar before the closed silence of all doors.


Dec 19, 2013

Beethoven, Große Fuge, op.133, string quartet (animated score)


Dec 15, 2013
Sufjan Stevens - Justice Delivers Its Death

Silver and gold, silver and gold
Everyone wishes for it
How do you measure its worth
Just by the pleasure it gives
Here on earth

Oh I’m getting old, oh I’m getting old
Everyone wishes for youth
How have I wasted my life
Trusting the pleasure it gives
Here on earth

Lord come with fire, Lord come with fire
Everyone’s wasting their time
Storing up treasure in vain
Trusting the pleasure it gives
Here on earth

Oh I see the end, oh I see the end
Everyone’s waiting for death
How do you measure its worth
Justice delivers its gift
Here on earth

Silver and gold, silver and gold
Silver and gold, silver and gold
Silver and gold

Silver and gold, silver and gold
Silver and gold, silver and gold
Silver and gold


Nov 18, 2013
It is not merely because it veers to the right rather than to the left that desire creates difficulties for human beings.
Jacques Lacan (trans. Bruce Fink), Écrits, 636

Nov 17, 2013
We cannot confine ourselves to giving a new truth its rightful place, for the point is to take up our place in it. The truth requires us to go out of our way. We cannot do so by simply getting used to it. We get used to reality. The truth we repress.
Jacques Lacan (trans. Bruce Fink), “The Instance of the Letter in the Unconscious,” in Écrits, 433

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