how could these makers of so many books that have given so much to my life—how could they possibly be strangers?

  • From Upstream, by Mary Oliver

Out-circling interest, sympathy, empathy, transference of focus from the self to all else; the merging of the lonely single self with the wondrous, never-lonely entirety. This is all. The rest is literature: words, words, words; example, metaphor, narrative, lyricism, sweetness, persuasion, the stress of rhetoric, the weight of catalog.

  • From Upstream, by Mary Oliver

The beauty and strangeness of the world may fill the eyes with its cordial refreshment. Equally it may offer the heart a dish of terror. On one side is radiance; on another is the abyss.

  • Upstream, by Mary Oliver

Once, a world where animals, all animals
were wild, Then eventually the concept of “pet.”
I’d guess, said Jen, the line between those two occurs
at approximately the same time as the line between the forest or jungle and “lawn.” Sounds right. Especially if “approximately”
or “circa”: ways we engineer some wiggle-room
into otherwise inflexible demarcations. There are lines
like these that slice across the walkways of our lives
by the bajillion, invisibly. Who knows (any more than did
the fish that clambered onto land or, turning back
the land beast that reverted to a whale) when we’ve crossed some
evolutionary line? – it’s not like tripwire
setting off automatic confetti and horns, and yet
a line, by any definition, should be drawable enough.
Between the zygote and the next stage up. Between the side
of the girlie club with G-strings and the side with total nudity.
In her crazyass sex-up heyday Jen was a dancer.
Then eventually the concept of “wife”. For seven years
she worked at that: and still one night walked back out
to her earlier life where wide-eyed men with dollar tips lined up for her.


  • Goldbarth, Albert, Everyday People : Linear

How many promises, scattered to the winds
that were the province of the wind gods
of the Hopi, Blackfeet, Najavjo, Cheyenne?

How many hands were shook and names were signed
and pipes were passed congenially in a circle,
before the first of the used-car dealerships rose up
on the ground where the gods had walked?

What did we say to the oil-bearing nations?
What did they say in return, for a gun,
for an antibiotic, for a slice of processed cheese?
Some pledges, of course, are kept: my parents
mde theirs under the chuppa and kept it alive
for as long as they were alive. But others … a girl
on the news, in a land I’ve never been to,
with a face that’s marked by falling stone
from enemy fire. We’re either the girl
or the enemy: this war is too confusing to know
such details as the lines of culpability.
Oaths of butter, oaths of mildew, of steel
of putrefied skin, of juju bones, of shadow, of uranium,
oaths of gravel.

Goldbarth, Albert, Everyday People : A Typo for “Paths of Gravel” on page 17 of Jack Williamson’s Demon Moon 

Last night a TV show with a typically long-limbed Nordic supermodel,

every inch of pale, gemmed, and pampered five-nine stature unnecessarily

boosted in six-inch heels / click / and a Bantu pygmy

over her pounding-stone and her millet …

If your life depended on coming up with a tally,

if you could straighten its numbers into a flexible line

around the moon and back a dozen times,

a hundred … still you couldn’t count the planets

that cohabit this planet.


Goldbarth, Albert, Everyday People : Round, Polished Stones

We all desire

“more” and “better”, Melville adds that final “e”

to the family name, and Faulkner adds the “u”, in quest

of a signified gentility. My friend Damien

(fake name) won A Certain Literary Award, and

at the stellar after-ceremony party, in the swank hotel’s

swank atrium, he found a leggy literary groupie

noshing caviar under a swankily lush mimosa,

and in under an hour his own swank room could boast

the golden statuette, the evening’s lovliest woman, and 

the silver serving platter of five-star caviar,

and if you think this story’s moral lesson is

that satiation is ever attained, you don’t understand

the protoknowledge we’re born with, coded into our cells:

soon soon soon enough we die. Even before we’ve seen

the breast, we’re crying to the world that we want;

and the world doles out its milkiness in doses. We

want, we want, we want, and if we don’t then

that’s what we want: abstemiousness is only

hunger translated into another language. Yes

there’s pain and and heartsore rue and suffering, but

there’s no such thing as “anti-pleasure”: it’s pleaure

that the anchorite takes in his bleak cave

and Thoreau in his bean rows and cabin. For Thoreau,

the Zen is: wanting less is wanting more.

Of less.

  • Goldbarth, Albert, Everyday People : Photographs of the Interiors of Dictators’ Houses