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Quick Meditations

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By David Lehman

January 31, 2017


 

The “quick meditation” is proving to be a worthy prompt. I would trace it back to Frank O’Hara’s “Meditations in an Emergency”—modified perhaps by John Ashbery’s “Quick Question.” For this week I proposed writing on an aphorism from G. C. Lichtenberg: “There is a great difference between still believing something and believing it again.”

Of the many high-quality entries, I have divided first-place honors between Angela Ball and Ricky Ray.

In “The Difference” Angela takes the aphorism head on and then writes, with heartbreaking pathos, of a day in which the survivor of a trauma or a loss may be “able to note / some trivial thing / in passing, an orange // cat—upright, /quiet-white feet / white / neckerchief.”

The Difference (for G. C. Lichtenberg)

between those who have
witnessed the ruin
of a loved body

who have had to abandon it
to the rubber bag
approved for “cadaver
management”

and those
who haven’t

may be the difference
between “still
believing” and “believing again”—

the day you are able
to note some trivial thing
in passing, an orange

cat—upright,
quiet-white feet,
white
neckerchief.


Ricky Ray’s “Differences of Belief” hooks the reader with the questions it boldly asks at the outset and with the tenderness in conclusion:

Differences of Belief

I

How much belief does it take
to wake up in the morning?
How much to get out of bed?

Say it again: sleep’s an act
of faith. Tomorrow. Rest.
Restoration. Says who?

II

If beliefs were clothes,
would you leave the ones
full of holes and split
seams and missing buttons
broke zippers and three sizes
too small never small enough,
would you leave them hanging
in the closet? Hanging on
the dowels of your bones?
Leave them hanging and return
to open the door sometimes,
look at the corners,
look at the corners,
adjust to the crawling
dark scuttle and creep
that could be spiders
or memories asking what
you did to them. To look
down the line of fray
and finger the fallen fabric
of your form, the thread
from god what field
praise what creature
ouch what finger
what underpaid clerk
what lightening purse
what silkworm spun
the neckline
that always knew
just how to swallow
your clavicle.

III

Would you wear
the one I like
because it knows
what I think
of your waist.

IV

If belief comes again,
no matter its tatters,
like the taste of one’s start,
wasn’t it always there?

V

It’s dark. There may
be no more light.
Reach out, believe
you can take my hand


Runner-up: Linda Marie Hilton  for “the City of Light Figures”:

the study of light reveals conductivity
the study of wood reveals non conductivity
the study of trees reveals they pattern themselves
after traces left by lightning on surfaces of nonconductors.
what cleverly sublime beings are trees
what clever sophisticated trees
what clever survivalists are trees
the great difference is a stopped dead pattern, a still living tree.


For next week, go to an art museum—or to the website of New York’s Metropolitan Museum—and write a sonnet about the painting you name in your title. Remember to pivot after line eight, whether you rhyme or not.

Deadline: Sunday night, February 5, midnight any time zone.


David Lehman is a poet and the general editor of The Best American Poetry series. He teaches at The New School in New York City.

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