Announcing: Morning Lights

Welp, spring is creeping up on us and wriggling its little butt, ready to pounce. The elms in my neighborhood are plumping up to bloom and I have laid in a stock of Flonase for the season. I haven’t had any blog-post-sized things to say recently, just plugging away at work and words by turns.

But today I do have an announcement. For those of you who follow me on Facebook, I’ve been posting morning photos that I take while my tea is steeping — mostly of things in my apartment or the views from my window, but spring is likely to change how much I’m outside beyond trash day. A friend remarked that she found comfort and hospitality in the photos I shared, and that clarified a thought that I’d been having for a while. Which is that I have felt very much the loss of being able to practice hospitality, both in my physical space and my mental working space.

So I have started a “newsletter,” which sounds a lot more portentous than what it is: just a daily note, with my favorite of the morning’s pics, and a snippet of thought with a link, a poem, or a piece of music. When I have long-form blog posts here, I will link them out, as well as any author news that comes down the pipeline. It’s simple, it’s free, and it’s not subject to any goddamn rent-seeking algorithms you don’t have to wait for your social media feed to show it to you. You can sign up at the landing page here, or using the form I have embedded in the sidebar. It’s an experiment, so I’m sure this little project will evolve with time.

As Gregor Vorbarra likes to say: let’s see what happens.

Meet the main cast

Sometimes I forget, after years of working with my characters and nattering about them to any friends who are willing to stand still, that all everybody else has by way of introduction to them is the cover blurb and jacket copy. So here is a brief introduction to the five characters who serve as our eyes for the story of Ryswyck.

Stephanie Speir

Speir was the first character to develop a viewpoint in the embryonic story, and she is our ‘in’ to the world of Ryswyck Academy. By necessity she’s capable of reflecting on what she encounters, but given a choice, she really wants something to do. She has the fighter’s addiction to total abandon — in whatever arena she finds herself in. Her greatest strength (and greatest weakness) is her drive to set things right for people she cares about. Her motivating force is velocity.

(Disclaimer: The person in this picture is a real swordfighter and not an actor, and though I’ve been fascinated by this image ever since I first encountered it, I don’t know how much she’d appreciate being made the avatar of some rando’s original character. So I use it with cautious respect. Forgiveness, permission, &c.)

Walter Douglas

My first outline notes for “the Academy story,” to my amusement, contain the parenthetical aside: Is any of this in Douglas’s POV? It takes a while to draw him out, but once his presence unfolds, the pull of his gravity is irresistible. Continuously aware of the big picture, Douglas is not hasty to act, but when he does, it’s decisive. He loves deeply, and so can be hurt deeply. He’s not a visionary by nature, but he is a determined idealist. His motivating force is integrity.

(The image: Luigi Lucioni, Paul Cadmus, from the Brooklyn Museum.)

General Thaddeys Barklay

Ah, Barklay. In this story, everybody has an Opinion about Barklay. And nearly all of them are right. Like many visionaries, he is wilfully blind to his own compromises, and skates over the discrepancies between his visions and reality. Is he a good man who does terrible things, or a bad man who does some good things? My advice: don’t get hung up on the question. I write from his point of view because I wanted to evoke what it feels like from the inside to want to be justified, even when you know you shouldn’t be. His primary grace? He knows it’s not about him.

(The image: Hugh Bonneville, looking appropriately seedy.)

Emmerich du Rau, Lord Bernhelm

One of these days I’ll write a post about the collapsing option trees of choosing a structure. And du Rau will be at the center of it. An elusive man, du Rau is the Lord Executive of the country of Berenia, the antagonist of Ilona, the island country of my other characters. I wanted to write from his POV because I was tired of stories in which the enemy is the Other whose perspective is either given no place or depicted as evil. Forget that. Du Rau knows intimately the desperation of his water-starved people, and has leveraged all his leadership behind his plans to make Berenia stable and safe. He has more than one secret weakness, which he guards from view with the help of his wife, Lady Ingrid. In his youth he was friends with Barklay, before the war. Now he is an implacable enemy. Like every other member of the main extended cast, he is indispensable: without him, the ultimate situation would utterly deteriorate.

(The image: just imagine Diego Luna here aged up a little.)

General Eamon Inslee

In this landscape of idealists and antagonists, Inslee is just a practical man trying to run a military installation on an inhospitable rock. He views the Ryswyckian culture of courtesy with an ironic skepticism tempered by suspended judgment. Wise and (mostly) patient, he has a sneaking admiration for passionate skill, but that’s not going to stop him from doing what he has to do. His POV is there to remind us that there’s more than one valid approach to the grind of military duty, even if those approaches come into conflict. Plus, I really enjoyed writing his dry sense of humor.

(The image: it’s hard to find a good type of what my idea of Inslee looks like, but here’s Kevin McKidd doing his level best.)

So there you have it: the people whose perspectives open the world of Ryswyck to our eyes.

The language of the camera

I have some more serious thoughts about our slow-rolling world war sitch, but they will keep. Here instead is a gallery of shots from recent mornings and walks.

I have hung some orange halves in the hope of attracting orioles, but my expectations are extremely moderate. But to my joy, the white-throated sparrows are back. I haven’t so much as glimpsed one in the years I’ve been here, but ever since I found out who sings their sweet song, I’ve listened out for them in the spring and fall.

Meanwhile I’ve cleared off my deck in preparation for this year’s garden. I wonder if there are blue and yellow flowers that will grow in shade?

The Mudsillers

Last week I posted about the despicable aims of authoritarians both at home and abroad, and how our definition of “The Bad Guys” has to recalibrate for a new age. Since then, I’ve discovered more about what that means. Yes, it’s a new age, and old terms are not a perfect fit. But the past is prologue to the story we’re in now.

This week in the war in Ukraine:

These conscripts dug trenches in the Red Forest of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, and probably got their lifetime rads, and then some, within the hour. Some reports say they didn’t even know what the Chernobyl complex was when they occupied it. What a boneheaded move, one might say. What terrible tactics. And how can you not know what Chernobyl was?

But it turns out that it’s really quite simple. The Russian command simply does not regard the safety or support of its rank and file, and this is, I am told, a longstanding posture going back to the USSR. They throw bodies at their theatres of war until they win — or founder. According to President Zelensky, he tried to get Russian command to collect their dead from the streets of contested cities; they wouldn’t.

Surely this can’t be true — it’s too horrifying. But the evidence piles up in independent reports and social media uploads; and the treatment of cities like Mariupol, a testament of rubble to undeniable war crimes, confirms the logic. These conscripts are trained in trauma that apparently makes Full Metal Jacket look like a stroll in the park; shoved across the border with armor and provisions that are the crumbs left over from grift; and bid to pay forward as much cruelty as they can. And many of them do.

To be honest, though I consider myself as a writer to have a fairly robust invention of horrors, I had simply never conceived this. Cruelties toward the enemy, I could imagine; but not a corresponding abyss of disrespect for one’s own troops. Even in Ann Leckie’s Justice trilogy, the Radch empire’s ancillaries are fed into the maw of war only after being converted from human POWs to ships’ apparatus.

But there is one aspect of those books that illuminates this real-world enormity. Early in Ancillary Justice, two officers are talking about ancillaries and the imperial project. One officer, who is of a much higher caste than the other, says: “Here’s the truth: luxury always comes at someone else’s expense….When you grow up knowing that you deserve to be on top, that the lesser houses exist to serve your house’s glorious destiny, you take such things for granted. You’re born assuming that someone else is paying the cost of your life. It’s just the way things are.” The way things are is a statement with religious overtones in Radch society; it is pious to believe that both luxury and misery are wholly deserved by the people who experience them.

This has a direct correspondence in real life to the idea of the mudsill people, an analogy devised by a South Carolina senator to not only justify but celebrate the institution of slavery. The mudsill, the lowest foundation of a building that keeps it stable and protected from the elements below, is essential to the stability of the building; as southern landowners saw it, some groups of people had a divinely ordained destiny to be the sill plate for their metaphorical houses. Slaves were slaves because they deserved it as inherent inferiors to the people who lived on their backs.

Thus while many arguments in democratic societies center around how to develop the economic and social infrastructure to eliminate reliance on groups as mudsills — sweatshops, migrant fruit pickers, miners, factory and food service workers, to name a few — authoritarians are infuriated to see anyone escaping mudsill status and are determined by any means possible to undo all safety nets, all acknowledgments of minority rights, and all the operational structures that make people freer.

If your very sense of self depends on having people set below you and degraded for your benefit and convenience, then no doubt the flourishing existence of healthy democracy is an existential threat. If you regard a sovereign nation as neither sovereign nor a nation, no doubt you will do colossally stupid things like invade it with a picked-over force and camp out in a nuclear exclusion zone of your predecessors’ own creation. But just because it’s colossally stupid doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous. And just because it’s not our cities being shelled doesn’t mean we’re not in it up to the eyeballs. We might equip and train our army better, but we’re fighting mudsill malevolence just as much here as Ukrainians are there.

We have less to fear than the mudsiller authoritarians. But we also have more to lose. Look to your sovereignty, and watch your neighbor’s back.

The Bad Guys

A few days ago, in my trawls for reliable bits of Ukraine news on Twitter (I manage to stay off Twitter for weeks at a time, and then the obsession returns like a fit), I ran across this comment on a clip from one of Putin’s speeches:

Yes, that’s Mike Godwin, of “Godwin’s Law” fame. If you need a refresher, Godwin’s Law refers to the end stage of an argument on the internet, when someone brings up Hitler or Nazis or the Holocaust, out of all proportion to the topic being discussed. At the dawn of the public internet, in the late 80s and early 90s, that was a meaningful observation: the Soviet empire was on its way out, and totalitarian movements were (we thought, at least in the West) a disproportionately evil memory, a bugaboo for whiners to invoke when they don’t get their way.

Godwin’s Law, like the post-Cold War era, now has an end date on its tombstone.

When we thought Nazism and fascism were dusted and in the past, invoking them became a way of administering a moral shock to someone whose behavior we were opposing. Everybody knows Nazis are the quintessential bad guys, after all! By degrees, the word’s meaning eroded: at its most specific, it came to mean “someone who fought for Germany in World War II” or “undirected anti-semite.” At its least specific, it meant “bad guy.” And in Putinist Russia, apparently, it means “someone who hates Russia.” The whole Third Reich, apparently, is defined by its attacks against the Soviet state. Jewish people apparently don’t signify much in this definition, which is why some Russians apparently see no problem with calling Volodymyr Zelensky, a scion of Holocaust survivors, a “Nazi” leader.

Thus one instance of the death of Godwin’s Law. The other is here at home.

People still object to being called “Nazi.” But it is now impossible to shame those people who espouse what Nazism actually stood for. They’re not ashamed of it. They’re not ashamed of the idea of suppressing queer communities, not ashamed of treating women like so many milling cattle, not ashamed of rounding up undesirables and deliberately insulting their humanity, not ashamed of training police to deliver white wrongdoers to the inside of a courtroom and black wrongdoers to a grave, not ashamed of randomly accusing people of being pedophiles so as to stigmatize whatever aspect of the person’s identity draws their contempt. They’re not ashamed of putting barbed wire around ballot boxes, not ashamed of looting the public weal on the grounds that they deserve to take and have, not ashamed of being cruel to people in public; not ashamed of sabotaging public health if it’s likely to lead to the deaths of people they hate.

And they measure the rest of us by their own crooked beam, and assume that we would do the same to them and worse.

A lot of us think that this rank outgrowth of evil is due to a lack of education. And it’s true that there’s some staggering ignorance in some of the things these terrible people say. By all means let us upgrade the education of as many people as possible; but it’s my conviction that other people is the education we’re looking for. I recommend Tara Westover’s Educated, and point out for those who’ve read it that it wasn’t Westover’s curriculum that changed and liberated her, it was the influence of reality in the form of the new people she met. The curriculum hardly made a dent until the people in her life gave her the capacity to grasp it. It is not the capacity to understand a treatise that makes the difference. Stupid people are not naturally cruel. I know one young man who has never so much as spoken a word and will be under basic needs care for the rest of his life; yet what capacity he has for trust and concord, he says yes to, in Hammarskjold’s phrase. The most ignorant tweet was written by a person smarter than he is; but they have refused the education of other people that leads to a welcome for reality.

I know that coalitions suck. I know that the best that can be said of some of us is that we’re Not The Bad Guys. I know that we crave a protagonist person or group to rally around. In that sense Ukraine has done the world a massive favor by demonstrating their willingness to fight to the death for their own independence. They are literally on the front lines of democracy. And what is democracy but the education of other people translated into the rule of law?

This, in my view, is the only potent antidote to the cynicism and cruelty the bad guys would tempt us with. It’s the reality that we must constantly set against the fog of lies. The bad guys are not ashamed of themselves: but they sure as hell resent that we think they should be. The Great Litany of the Book of Common Prayer contains a petition to God — “that it may please thee to forgive our enemies, persecutors, and slanderers, and to turn their hearts”; all of which is work for the Almighty. It is not fit for us, and we are not fit for it. We can’t make the enemies of democracy ashamed of themselves; they are not in their present state capable of it. We can, however, fight for reality and truth against delusions and lies. Glory to the heroes.

And now, as a palate finisher, some pictures.

Now the green blade riseth

The thing about the impossible, is that it continues being impossible right up until it isn’t anymore.

That goes for many kinds of things, and it cuts in more than one direction. But right now I’m mostly thinking about world events. There are tipping points accumulating in all sorts of places, and suddenly I don’t think we’re fighting a rearguard action against fascism, cruelty, and cynicism. I think we have a potential for a rout on our hands. But we have to build up the possible.

When an online friend asked his audience, “What do you think you can do, right now?” — he was crowdsourcing answers to get a full perspective on the current state of the possible. I thought of what another friend has been saying about the videos of songs and performances coming from within Ukraine and outside of it: that music is resistance. Every platoon has its ditty; every arena has its chant; every polity has its anthem, to be sung in times of joy and times of anger. Lift every voice and sing — or if you have to, lift every chair and swing!

So what I’m focusing on is art, as nourishment of the possible. I’m thinking of ways to mobilize the art at my hands — whether that’s buying it, playing it, displaying it, or writing it — to continue compiling substance toward that tipping point. And if this idea speaks to you, I encourage you to do it too. Or — if you have a different idea of how you would build up the possible: do that.

If this idea coalesces into something more organized, I’ll update here. Watch this space.

Fresh as the shriven snow

Happy Mardi Gras to all who celebrate, and may your Lent bring you a blessing. Lent, in its original incarnation, was the time set aside for those preparing for baptism into the Church; since I spent most of Epiphany season preparing for a medical procedure, Lent’s arrival doesn’t feel like an ambush to me this year. My house is clean, my larder stocked, I did my errands (carefully), avoided covid exposure, and took lots of “prehab” walks. Now the procedure is in the rearview and so far, the prep work has been paying off.

Something else is different about Lent this year: I’ve come out of the pandemic with a changed perspective. Not a change in beliefs or opinions, really — but a re-saturated perspective on what it means to take on penitence.

In Dante’s Purgatorio, the first thing Dante is bid to do is wash his face with dew, reflecting a doctrine that we don’t really subscribe to anymore: the doctrine that the first duty of a penitent is to be cheerful. It’s always seemed so weird to me that the gospel for Ash Wednesday is the one from Matthew about not making a big production about it when you are fasting or giving alms — as we have ash crosses drawn on our foreheads and put the kneelers to extra use and play hymns in a minor key.

But shouldn’t we be sorry for our sins? I hear the reproach. Why, certainly — but isn’t it so relieving to get started tidying up, to begin pointing one’s feet toward home! Shouldn’t we remember that we are but dust? Yes, but why the long face about it? I just watched a TikTok video of a young Ukrainian girl demonstrating how to start, drive, and make off with a Russian tank. I bet she remembers she is but dust: and the video was funny as hell.

In a time when some people are demonstrating how unrepentantly wicked they’ve chosen to be, I think it is imperative that any penitence we undertake is purposeful, to the point, and above all cheerful. We are good. People are good. We might feel broken from time to time, but nobody is broken on a fundamental level. I escaped thinking that about myself, and I am determined to free the other prisoners.

Pancakes today, fasting tomorrow: and a smile for both.

Cat paralysis Sunday

Or, well, the cat is doing her best, but I’ve been doing laundry and collecting up recycling this afternoon, so she had to wait for me to flop back down to seize her chance.

Here is a gallery of recent photos taken on walks and for morning shots.

I’ve been doing some work to make Future Me’s life easier — decluttering the house, removing a science experiment from the fridge, stocking up to cook more at home again — all of which makes Present Me happy too. The pandemic really helped it to sink in that all those polymaths and prolifics in past ages had wives to take care of all the logistics of living for them; and if they were wealthy, they had servants too, and didn’t have to work a full-time job. Having accepted that working full-time, maintaining my own household, and also writing prolifically is not a reasonable expectation, I find it easier to savor the little victories. Plus, I’ve got more threads of the skein in my hand, and with luck, I’ll soon see the striations of the plot of TLT work together better.

Well, we can hope. Happy Sunday!

Warmish Take: What is a community?

Hello and welcome to my semi (very semi)-regular series of Warmish Takes: ruminations of impeccable (cough) wisdom on topics that are almost certainly past their sell-by date. Takes that are, let’s say, the quintessence of l’esprit de l’escalier.

Today’s take is about representation, particularly where it intersects with creative work and its audience. Now, I’m on record here as saying that recognizing and celebrating more authors from marginal groups is a good thing, not least because exposure to writers and artists who are outside the dominant norm expands our ability to recognize good work when we see it. Soliciting their insight and spotlighting their work is not only just, it’s enriching.

All the same, I am extremely chary of describing myself as an OwnVoices author or anything like it. For one thing, my use of a label like “aro-ace” is casual; it’s shorthand for an explanation that normally would have a lot more syllables. I described myself as “asexual” in a medical context recently and was startled to see the word appear in the clinical notes readout of the visit afterward. I thought, “Do I…want…to be known as Asexual in my medical chart? Isn’t that going to invite some assumptions?” I could already feel myself wanting to prepare some pre-explanations for future scenarios.

It’s the same with writing. If I say that I’m “representative” of the aro-ace marginal group, will people think that limits my insight into other people’s experiences? Will they assume I don’t know how to write sex, or can’t delineate the shape of a romance? Of course, in this case all I would have to do to avoid being pigeonholed is keep my mouth shut. Writers who are people of color, for example, don’t have such a luxury.

The thing about marginal groups…is that they’re marginal. Every human being is fully representative of humanity: there should be nothing prescriptive or limiting about the fact that they may also be an example of a non-dominant group. We ought to value the contributions of marginal writers, not because they are marginal, but because they exist. The margin only exists to be turned inside out.

In my view a lot of this is due to an irksome habit people have of throwing around the word “community” like it means the same thing as “demographic.” Like, “the gay community,” for example. Which one? Where do I show up for the meeting? Who takes the minutes? Who presents the treasurer’s report? What most people mean when they say something like “the gay community” is “various and sundry gay people you run into in online spaces,” and that’s not a community. A demographic is a counter that any person can have a spectrum of experience with; a community is always actual and specific people who interact with each other on purpose.

The compounding of technologies in the Internet Age has left our human brains struggling to catch up in a lot of ways. We used to have to go to some place to encounter a community, or to meet people outside it. Now, you don’t even have to join another social media platform to have someone screenshot a tweet into your Facebook feed. Little wonder that we would try to use the language of hospitality to make this limitless landscape of encounters make sense.

Community is human messiness and drama and blood and marrow and tears and helpless laughter, and you know with whom you are doing it. Representation as such is just public demographic presence; it’s not activism and it’s definitely not community engagement. But neither is it mere tokenism. Representation at its best disturbs ossified categories and clears space for real engagement. It is not the work; it is the ground-clearing for the work.

It’s important to make this distinction because communities have authority over their members and over their message, and we therefore expect whole demographics to police their members, issue coherent statements and intentions, and feel individual responsibility for how the whole demographic is seen. But those things aren’t possible because a demographic isn’t a fucking community.

So while this isn’t all there is to be said about the subject, I definitely want this statement to have a memorable impact, so I’ll stop here. By the way, the seed of this Warmish Take was germinated in one of my Morning Lights newsletters, so if you want your Warmish Takes a little warmer, by all means subscribe.

And now for a g-&-t.

Monday miscellany

First, a small gallery of recent photos:

I’ve been bitten by the Clutter Bug and have started systematically going through my house to clear off surfaces one by one. I hope to have reduced the surging piles of stuff in the next couple of weeks. So in a similar spirit of neatening, here are a couple links to things I have been enjoying during the time I neglected the blog.

If you have not already been following it, NASA and its peer institutions in Canada and Europe launched the James Webb Space Telescope on Christmas Day. It has now been fully deployed and inserted into orbit around the Lagrange 2 gravity point, and is now in cooldown mode prior to starting its mission. You can keep track of Webb’s progress here.

My favorite Youtube fact purveyor did a recent roundup of the life of Mary Shelley on the Biographics channel, following one he did on Byron, my guilty favorite of the Romantics. Thanks to yet another video on his Geographics channel, we can thank Mount Tambora and the Year Without a Summer for the epic rain in Switzerland that stuck Byron, the Shelleys, and John Polidori indoors and forced them to come up with a couple little things like, you know, Frankenstein.

I attended a KC Symphony concert recently which included on the program Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, conducted by a young guest conductor who has a podcast on classical music, which I highly recommend, even if like me you haven’t always got the attention span for podcasts. You can find out how Shostakovich saved his life and the life of his family in Stalin’s regime by the writing of this symphony here.

And finally, a link to a website I intend to come back to and talk more about in future posts — A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry, which is pretty much what it says on the tin: a youngish professor of Roman history comments on SFF media and books, among other things. I really want to write a full-length post on his series on The Fremen Mirage and the worldbuilding pitfalls it creates — because when do I not want to talk about worldbuilding? — so I’m leaving this link here to remind myself.

(Also, having read a good portion of the interesting articles on the site, I notice that our pedant has a Patreon, as so many folks do these days. Very enterprising, but then he’s very disciplined about posting weekly.)

And that’s the roundup for today.

The turned page

Oh, hello, 2022. Didn’t see you come in, there.

I’m not sure I have anything evaluative to say about 2021, other than that for me it was the year of adrenaline blowback. I did a bit of mental writing and not much else besides watch a lot of recuperative television and obsess over the La Palma volcano.

But the volcano is done erupting, a new year has come, and change is in the wind. I wouldn’t say I feel existentially rested, but the promise of forward momentum on several fronts has lifted my senses a bit.

All of which has reminded me that I have a website that deserves a steady infusion of Genuwyne Quality Content. So here is a small gallimaufry to kick off the new year.

A thing I started doing early last year was to take a handful of photographs while my tea was steeping, and then post them to Facebook as a start to the day. Over the ensuing months I’ve collected quite a few photographs, anywhere from five to ten a day depending on how many interesting things I found in my environs every morning. I have toyed with posting a regular selection here, but didn’t want to commit. However, the server changes from last winter are complete, and I’ve discovered I can upload images from my phone. So here’s an initial selection of morning pics from recent weeks.

But although I did not commit to posting images to the blog, I did start and maintain a mini-newsletter for my readers. Each missive contains my favorite of that morning’s pics; a link to some magpie thing of interest; and a brief meditation, a rumination on my current writing labors, or a (we hope, dear reader, entertaining) bout of recreational complaining, plus the occasional doting dispatch on the antics of my cat. Most if not all of the images above appeared in Morning Lights.

What I’m saying here is that even if this blog falls into neglect again, you can still get a little Morning Light in your inbox every day, for free, without having to look me up on Facebook and hope their thrice-cursed algorithms actually show you the morning pics I post. (Every creator you know is bitter about Facebook.)

I might expand the scope of my newslettering in the future, but for now, I’m keeping it simple. Meanwhile I leave you with the latest custom ambient noise generator I’ve made on MyNoise: Consort of Stars, a homage to the vibrations of stars and galaxies across the universe.

And at the moment, that is all the news that’s fit to print.

An autumn poem

It’s a beautiful fall day, with the wind shaking leaves out of the trees and carrying them where they will. So I’m in the mood to post an old poem of mine on the same theme, along with a few of my morning pics. Enjoy!

Temperance: To the Artist (Psalm 147)

The scent of rain sidles in
As you notice the wet spots appear on the pavement:
First one, then three, then many,
Then they overlap, then the light dry spots
Are the exception. Before you know it,
Your hair is wet and the runnel of water
Is flowing along the curb.
You put your bare foot into it,
And watch it change the flow.

At Christmas you lie in bed,
Looking rapt out the window.
Outside the dark, quiet house
The sky is a silent riot of stars,
The Big Dipper huge and haloed,
Vincent van Gogh having his way with nature at last.
You trace its lines with your finger
Before you close your eyes.
Van Gogh was on to something.
Even if things break loose and roll
In your cluttered attic,
You can’t stop the stars from singing.
They will sing all night long,
While you sleep draped in the window-shaped
Quilt of starlight.

In the fall when the wind moves
And the leaves tumble like confetti,
You must have noticed what beauty
There is in the throwaway gesture.
A leaf, brilliant red, in the wet street,
Run over by all the neighborhood cars,
Is still a study in careless perfection.
The work of the leaf is to grow;
The art of the leaf
Is to fall.

The stories you tell are like this.
You know to wait for the unforced gesture,
The quick-dealt outflung pirouette
Which may be seen by only a few
Or none at all. You wait for the thing
That is complete and perfect even in its flaws,
For the thing that knows itself as you toss it out
To be caught by the wind and carried away,
Lost to you and therefore never lost.

Sometimes the waiting is hard.
But it’s the only way you know
To imitate the one you love.