Rae Armantrout, “Dark Matter”

Dark Matter

1

Who am I
to experience a burst
of star formation?

I know this –

after the first rush
of enthusiasm

any idea
recedes and dims.

2

Each one
is the inverse
shape of what’s
missing.

3

One might try
summing
the matter up

in a single
Judas kiss,

all bitter-sweet
complicity

and feigned ignorance

I first encountered Rae Armantrout’s poetry after her book Versed won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. It was considered an unlikely winner, as Armantrout specializes in opaque, language-centered poetry rather than the conventional lyric poetry that the Pulitzer committee tends to recognize. (When I say “language-centered” poetry, I’m using a shorthand to describe postmodern philosophical and poetic currents going back to the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E school of the 1970s.) I picked up Versed and was immediately hooked. Armantrout is now one of my favorite living poets. Her poems never fail to simultaneously delight and challenge me.

Many of the poems in Versed emerge from Armantrout’s battle with adrenal-cortical cancer. (You can read more about her experience battling cancer in this three-part interview.) “Dark Matter” comprises three parts that at first seem to have little to do with one another. The first begins with the interesting image of experiencing a “burst of star formation.” Then the poet talks about the idea receding and dimming, which makes it seem like the “burst” was perhaps the idea itself, the proverbial light bulb turning on as someone makes a discovery or has a sudden stroke of insight. But another way to understand the image is as a reference to radiation therapy. The poet is describing the enthusiasm of beginning treatment, and the technological mysticism that accompanies the idea of shooting charged particles through a person’s body to damage cancer cells. We have harnessed the very power of the universe.

carinanebula-2

Star Formation: Carina Nebula

The second stanza would make a brilliant poem on its own. It’s like a little zen koan, a meditation on what it means that things exist, that matter is present in space and time. We usually think of emptiness as the inverse or negative of matter. But here the poem asks us to consider matter as the inverse or negative image of nothingness. It reminds me of this poem by Mark Strand. I particularly like the enjambment of the second stanza, with the line breaking on “one.” One what? Person? Object?

The third stanza introduces another idea and image altogether. It also begins with “one,” but this is “one” as a pronoun. We might initially take “dark matter” as a reference to the theory in astronomy of a substance filling apparently empty space so as to explain otherwise inexplicable gravitational phenomena. But when the poet talks about “summing the matter up,” we realize that the entire poem is pivoting on the other meaning of “matter,” an event, thing, affair, or circumstance that is of some concern to someone. The matter in this poem, of course, is death, or at least the threat of it. But that’s hardly a topic for polite conversation. It is acknowledged only in passing, only by putting a brave face on, by feigning ignorance.

This turn in the way we read the word “matter” ties the entire poem together. Imagine the poem as an extended answer to the question, “what is the matter?” one that riffs on the question to also consider its close cousin, “what is matter?” The two questions are pretty intimately tied together, after all, since from one perspective to contemplate death is to contemplate the end of existence. Given this idea, the three parts of the poem actually correspond to birth, life, and death: the burst of “star formation” in the first part, the miracle of existence in the second, and the terrible end of existence in the third.

I keep coming back to that first stanza of the poem. It’s another wonderful use of enjambment, as the first line constitutes its own, provocative question, “who am I?” that then becomes the very different question, “who am I to experience a burst of star formation?” The second question is formulated in such a way as to indicate the poet’s sense of humility and wonder. “Who am I to …” suggests that anyone could have been chosen to experience this miracle. Why me? Once we know what the “matter” of the poem is, however, that initial burst of enthusiasm becomes grimly ironic. It becomes a statement of existential despair. Who am I? Why must I, of all people, confront this dark matter of death?

This is a brilliant poem, but also an uncomfortable one, a poem that should make us squirm. That’s why I think it’s so valuable. We live in the age of what Philippe Ariés famously called “invisible death,” where hospitals and long-term care facilities have removed the specter of the dying from our everyday lives. The poem is coy about who or what the Judas-kiss in the third part refers to, but I think it could refer to the poet, who must repeatedly convince herself that treatment will work, that she need not die, though this is finally not true. Everyone will die. Or alternately, it could refer to the false or performed cheeriness of well intentioned friends, family, or visitors. “Complicity” seems a harsh word in this context, but I think it refers less to real culpability — no one is responsible for the poet’s death in the way a murderer is for his victim’s — than to the resentment the poet feels against the way that life just goes on. In this way, the poem hints at the verb form of the word “matter,” as in, will my death really matter? Will it be of concern to anyone?

It’s a dark matter, a sad poem, but I do think that the poem enfolds some hope within itself. That second stanza suggests that at least in the present moment (note how we refer to the “present” with a word denoting presence) our existence does matter. Our existence is literally matter, and metaphorically the only thing that matters. I like to think of the second stanza as the poet thinking about other people. It is a vision of plenitude. At least in the present, we are surrounded by so many people who are not missing, who are the inverse shape of what’s missing. They matter.

*This post is dedicated to my tía Rosa, who lost her own battle with cancer earlier this week. We love you and miss you already.

Joseph Massey, “Last Spring”

When I teach my students to close read poetry, I like to demonstrate using Ezra Pound’s famous poem “In a Station of the Metro,” which is only two lines long (three if you include the title). Students have usually encountered the poem before in high school, and with so little material, you’d think there would be nothing to talk about, but I’ve led probably a dozen discussions about it now, and they’ve never lasted less than 45 minutes. The point is that a lot of great poetry works through compression, and the reward comes from dwelling in the poem, reading it over and over, testing its shallows, and plumbing its depths.

Here’s a poem I love by Joseph Massey, from his wonderful collection Areas of Fog:

Last Spring

On the horizon
what you thought
was exhaust
from the pulp mill
was rain frayed
over the mountains–
mottled blue,
black–caught
in the foreground
locked by eucalyptus.

Length-wise, it’s not much more substantial than Pound’s. I’m initially tempted to dismiss the poem as simply an invocation of a beautiful image. Honestly, I don’t think a poem has to do anything more than that. But this poem does.

I have no frame of reference for exhaust from a pulp mill, but I imagine something like exhaust from other kinds of factories or refineries. Rain frayed over the mountains, on the other hand, I know very well, as does anyone familiar with the spectacular vistas of the Wasatch Mountains. It makes me think of coming up to the top of Victory Road  and seeing a storm stretched out on the southern edge of the Salt Lake Valley, or rounding the point of the mountain and seeing rain backlit against the Oquirrh Mountains to the west. A beautiful sight, and a far cry from the mundane, gray nastiness of factory exhaust.

Oquirrh Mountains and rain, mottled blue and black

Oquirrh Mountains and rain, mottled blue and black

So this is a poem not about a momentary beautiful sight, but about the act of perception itself, how it changes depending on our vantage point, our state of mind, and our memory. Notice how the poem toggles among different scales of perception. First it invokes the horizon, far away and vast, then moves to “the pulp mill,” a reference that sounds local in its specificity, but then back to “the mountains,” another big, perhaps distant point of reference. One thing that’s happening is the poem is describing our poor ability to distinguish depth at a distance under certain conditions. What is far away in the poem, the rain, looks like it’s something nearby, and in fact at the end of the poem, it looks like it’s trapped in the foreground, “locked” by eucalyptus.

The title of the poem concretizes these difficulties in perception: “Last Spring.” Here is a moment that the poet has held on to for how long? A month? A year? I imagine him turning it over and over in his mind, wondering how he could have mistaken the rain for the mill exhaust, then wondering how the image of the rain could appear locked in by the trees the way it did. (I’m thinking of the poem as an interior monologue here. That is, I’m assuming the “you” is the poet himself, that he’s talking to himself. But that’s not necessarily the case. It’s interesting to think of him talking to someone else, reflecting on a shared moment of (mis)perception.)

I always think of UCLA campus when I think of eucalyptus.

I always think of UCLA campus when I think of eucalyptus.

The poem subtly reveals something about the poet’s state of mind. (When I say “the poet,” I mean the voice speaking the poem, not necessarily Massey himself. And definitely not “the Poet” that sometimes gets invoked in church talks.) Why is the poet so quick to think that this haze on the horizon is exhaust from the pulp mill? Why assume it’s something ugly? Even when he does perceive it for what it is, he uses metaphorical language to transform the image into something dark, almost violent. The rain is “mottled,” or splotchy, blue and black, an image that evokes bruising to me. And it’s “caught,” “locked” in the foreground by the eucalyptus. (I love that repeated /c/ consonant. So harsh, so cutting.) But that’s impossible. It’s not really caught; it only appears so to the poet.

Having read the other poems in Massey’s book, I know that the pulp mill is important here, that the poet’s general attitude toward what he sees is colored by his thoughts about environmental and labor issues. The poem makes me wonder how my own perceptions of the world are refracted through my thoughts, feelings, biases, and/or mood swings. Am I really seeing what I think I’m seeing? Did I really see what I thought I saw?

“When God Was a Woman” by Carmen Giménez Smith

A poem title to catch your attention.

This poem comes from one of my favorite contemporary poets, Carmen Giménez Smith, who teaches at New Mexico State University and edits the literary journal Puerto del Sol. Giménez Smith has published four poetry collections and a beautiful memoir, and this poem comes from her most recent collection, Milk & Filth.

When God Was a Woman

When God was a woman,
empire was meh.
When God was a woman,
we built Schools of Listening
and every week we sat quietly
until we could hear
each other’s thoughts.

No shadows when God
was a woman. Little girls
had great dominion,
and grandmothers
were venerated.
Sky was the giant
bellows of her inside.

The grace of God meant
flowing and willowy. This
was when God was a woman.

She played harmless pranks
because she liked keeping
things light. She made it rain
on our collective good hair days.
When she met someone
who seemed fun
and a little mysterious, she invited
him into heaven,

then she made her daughter
blind for a week, which in retrospect
was kind of mean, but her
daughter made the best of it.

The poem’s tone is so conversational and light-hearted that it’s easy to miss some of its careful turns. I love the short third stanza, for example, in which the repeated /w/ sound enacts the “flowing and willowy” grace of God. W is a special kind of English consonant known, fittingly, as a “glide.” Because the lips don’t come together and the tongue doesn’t quite make contact with any part of the mouth, the consonant has a special flowing openness to it.

You could easily imagine this poem with the word “if” instead of “when” in the title. After all, the poem is engaging in a kind of playful thought experiment. But I love “when” for the way it suggests a sense of loss, as if the poet were talking about the way things used to be in some pre-lapsarian past. Milk & Filth is a defiant, feminist collection of poems, and certainly this poem operates under the conviction that we might be better off without the aggressively masculine, domineering gods of so many religions throughout history, from the vengeful god of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament to the capriciousness of Zeus, Ares, and their ilk.

"Goddess" by Galen Dara

“Goddess” by Galen Dara

I’ve thought about this poem a lot lately with the attention given to gender issues in the LDS church. I have wondered, and I know I have friends who have also wondered, why we don’t talk more about Heavenly Mother, one of the most beautiful and unique Mormon doctrines, but one that is for the most part muted in church culture. (I’d love to read a Mormon feminist version of this poem. The title would need to change, since the issue is not “when God was a woman,” but the fact that God, or at least god, is a woman.) In particular, I have more than one friend who has expressed that because of negative experiences with fathers, teachers, or male priesthood leaders, they find it hard to relate to the idea of a loving Heavenly Father and wish that they could openly embrace a relationship with a female deity. (It’s a special blessing in my life that I have a great dad and haven’t had this problem.)

I love the lines in the second stanza that say when God was a woman “little girls / had great dominion, / and grandmothers / were venerated.” Maybe this is because I have little girls in my family, and I think the world would be a pretty fun, creative, and overall compassionate place if they had great dominion. The lines only make sense, though, in a culture in which little girls have very little dominion, and grandmothers are not venerated–in other words, American culture. We are taught that we were created in the image of God, but I also think it’s the case that we tend to create God in our image. That is, our ability to understand God is constrained by our experience, values, and imagination. What happens when our experiences and values lead us to think that the most powerful beings in the world are aggressive men? We can only imagine that God is like that as well.

So this poem invites us to start over and imagine a world in which God is not a powerful man but a compassionate, albeit slightly mischievous, woman. I’ve heard various, mostly unsatisfactory, reasons for why we don’t talk more about Heavenly Mother in the church. The most convincing to me is that we simply don’t know much about her (though that never stopped any high priest group I’ve been a part of). That’s why I love this poem, because I think revelation depends on desire and imagination. We need to want to know things, and we need to begin to study them out in our minds, i.e., use our imaginations, among other critical capacities.

One last, slightly unrelated point. I love the idea that the God of the poem lets into heaven anyone who strikes her as “fun and a little mysterious,” rather than just those who are good or righteous. It seems like we do everything we can to suck the humor and joy out of religion. I’m all for a god that lets it back in.

Poetry and Revelation: Tennyson’s “In Memoriam A.H.H. 54″

K and I had our fourth child on June 30th. He’s a healthy and sweet baby, but the delivery was slightly more difficult than with our other three children. His shoulder caught on the way out, and the doctor asked the nurse to call for some backup right at the moment he was being born. Suddenly, eight other hospital personnel rushed into the room, and I was pushed aside as the nurses helped K get into the proper position and make it through the difficult moment. After he was born, another doctor-nurse pair examined him under the warming lamp. It was a minute or so before we breathed a sigh of relief at the sound of his tiny voice crying out for the the first time.

I’m so grateful for our beautiful baby boy and that K is healthy and recovering fully, but I’ve thought more than a few times in the weeks since the birth how easily things could have gone wrong. I’ve been reminded of the following poem, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Oh, yet we trust that somehow good
Will be the final end of ill,
To pangs of nature, sins of will,
Defects of doubt, and taints of blood;

That nothing walks with aimless feet,
That not one life shall be destroy’d,
Or cast as rubbish to the void,
When God hath made the pile complete;

That not a worm is cloven in vain;
That not a moth with vain desire
Is shrivell’d in a fruitless fire,
Or but subserves another’s gain.

Behold, we know not anything;
I can but trust that good shall fall
At last – far off – at last, to all,
And every winter change to spring.

So runs my dream: but what am I?
An infant crying in the night:
An infant crying for the light:
And with no language but a cry.

Obviously, the repeated reference to “an infant crying” in the final stanza is what I have been thinking of after our baby’s birth. It’s made me think of how fundamentally human the impulse to pray is, and how important my faith is to me. When you strip away all of the forms of religion, the rituals, the hours of meetings, and the cultural quirks, each of us is just an infant crying in the night, crying for the light.

Tennyson published this poem in 1849, sixteen years after the death of his beloved friend Arthur Henry Hallam, who suffered a cerebral hemorrhage while traveling in Vienna in 1833. In Memoriam A.H.H. comprises 133 separate cantos, most of them about the length of this one, number 54, and all of them written in the same form: four-line stanzas (or quatrains) with an abba cddc etc rhyming pattern. The entire poem is an extended meditation on Tennyson’s crisis of religious faith after his friend’s senseless death. You can hear his yearning in these lines. Surely if “not a moth” will be “shrivell’d in a fruitless fire” in God’s eternal scheme, then Hallam’s death will also have some ultimate redemptive meaning.

Tennyson (left) and Arthur Henry Hallam (right)

Tennyson (left) and Arthur Henry Hallam (right)

A lot of you who read this blog are already familiar with another section of In Memoriam, canto 106, which appears in the LDS hymnbook as #215, “Ring Out, Wild Bells.” It’s one of the two semi-official New Year songs that gets sung typically once a year. Most people I know hate it because it sounds so mournful, and because the rhyme scheme is unconventional. I actually love the minor setting and the way it resolves into a perfect D-major chord at the end of the third verse, when we sing, “Ring in the Christ that is to be,” emphasizing that only Christ has the power ultimately to resolve the contradictions and disappointments of life.

That kind of hope isn’t really present in canto 54. The poem ends simply by declaring that we are no better than infants. I love the last line, “And with no language but a cry.” It’s kind of ironic, since it comes at the end of a poem. Clearly Tennyson has a lot of language at his command. But I feel just the same way at times, like any words I might say in a prayer or blessing are ultimately worth nothing more than a baby babbling. Particularly in moments of despair, I think that language always feels woefully insufficient.

I love that we have a Tennyson poem in our hymnbook. In a Sunday School lesson about a month ago, we were talking about the psalms, and I started thinking how cool it is that a bunch of poems have not only been canonized as scripture, but have come to be regarded by many people as the most beloved scriptures of all. Jesus quoted from the Psalms all the time, even on the cross. (What better endorsement could you want for the value of poetry?)

It’s funny, though, because most poems, and the psalms are no exception, aren’t intended to teach us things, nor do they generally make any claim to be divine revelations. Why is it that these attempts to craft a language for ideas or feelings or memories should come to be regarded as scripture? It’s not that Tennyson’s poem or the 23rd Psalm necessarily reveal things about God that we didn’t know before. It’s because these poems catalyze a relationship of intimacy with God through a feeling of sympathy with other people. There’s something about reading In Memoriam, even the expressions of doubt (especially the expressions of doubt) – I feel a stirring inside, as if I were a chapel, and the poem were a song that matched my acoustics perfectly. Not only does someone else understand, but he’s managed to articulate my yearning.

At such moments, I feel as if the poem were revealing me to myself. And this is why I think it’s not surprising that poetry has made its way into scripture, both ancient and modern. We think of the scriptures as revealing God to us, but I love Paul’s promise that when the veil of this life is rent away, we will know even as we are known (1 Cor 13.12). It implies that before we can know and understand God perfectly, we will have to come to know ourselves. The best poems, like the best scriptures (and yes, I think some scriptures are definitely better than others) are the ones that catalyze this process.

Drawing Circles

When I was in high school my dad clipped a passage for me from a book or newspaper. I don’t remember where he got it, and I wish I still had the clipping, which contained a homily about God’s universal love for his children. I do remember that the clipping quoted this short poem by Edwin Markham:

Outwitted

He drew a circle that shut me out–
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!

I was shaken last night by this news. I shed some tears, and I know that many people are troubled and grieving. I don’t think it’s my place to weigh in on the specifics of these cases. This post on BCC articulates my feelings pretty well. However, I do have a strong opinion about a disturbing phenomenon I’ve witnessed in internet comments, FB posts, and private conversations: schadenfreude. Glee. Gloating. I find it sickening that anyone would be happy to see a brother or sister leave our ranks. John Donne famously wrote that he felt diminished by any man’s death. We should feel similarly diminished by any loss, no matter how it comes about.

I went for a nice long run this morning and got drenched in the fog. I felt refreshed by the quiet and the beauty of the forest preserve where I run. I recommend it to anyone feeling wounded right now.

As I ran, I kept repeating Markham’s epigram in my mind. I don’t think it’s great poetry. If I encountered it for the first time today, I might dismiss it as sentimental doggerel. But it’s a great sentiment. I’m glad my dad passed it on to me. I want to draw bigger circles, not smaller ones.

calligraphy_circle_black

Elizabeth Alexander, “Baby”

K is eight months pregnant with our fourth child. She told me this morning that she dreamed the child came out as big our three-year-old son. She kept holding him and getting confused, wondering, “Am I holding the baby or C?”

K has specialized in bizarro pregnancy dreams ever since 12 years ago, during her first pregnancy, when she dreamed that she had given birth, and the doctor presented her with our first daughter in a casserole dish, tiny and smothered in enchilada sauce.

I thought that was pretty unsettling until a couple of years later, when I read Elizabeth Alexander’s Antebellum Dream Book as part of a graduate seminar on African American poetry. (You might remember Alexander from this.) Among other things, the book collects poems based on dreams that Alexander recorded while she was pregnant, Such as the following:

Baby

The doctor handed me a parfait dish
of melting pink and coffee ice cream
and said, “Congratulations! A girl!”
This bewildered me; I had not been
pregnant, but I kissed the dish and put her
in the deep freeze to see if she’d take shape.
I knew there was a baby in there somewhere,
her tiny arms and legs in vaguest outline.
The doctor frowned, then smiled again:
“Congratulations! A boy!” This one
had a mammoth head and a full set
of teeth. I named the babies Vincent and Louise.
Meanwhile, my father fluttered about
the room and discouraged visitors.
My mother-in-law said, “I made you turkey
breast and rice. You didn’t eat.” My husband
slept deeply on my brother’s bunk bed.
I talked about the dream and later thought
about something someone told me, that
giving birth is all about yourself.
I am formless and fanged, boy and girl both,
food and baby at the very same time.

“Giving birth is all about yourself,” and so, we believe, is dreaming. This poem is so similar to K’s enchilada dream, that I can’t help but wonder how many women dream that their unborn children are food. It would make sense, I guess, life growing inside your belly, some confusion between consumption and cultivation. But that’s all guesswork on my part.

I like how Alexander’s poem expresses the familiar anxiety that expecting parents have about the unknown. We’re experiencing that right now. It’s such a leap of faith to have a child. You don’t know what they’ll be like, what physical, emotional, or spiritual challenges they might have. How their personality will simplify or disrupt your family dynamics. Before the baby is born, he or she is more a mass of anxieties than a real person. That’s why I love it in the poem when she says, “I knew there was a baby in there somewhere, / her tiny arms and legs in vaguest outline.” As inchoate as it might be, the promise that there is a germinating human somewhere behind those anxieties is soothing.

Our Number 4 - NSFW

Our Number 4 – NSFW

I think the poem articulates something very particular to a mother’s experience too, which is the feeling of giving life and simultaneously being consumed and transformed by that little life. When she says, “I am formless and fanged, boy and girl both / food and baby at the very same time,” she is speaking metaphorically but also in some ways literally. I can only imagine the strange paradox of being two bodies in one. If she is having a boy, then she is literally “boy and girl both” for a time. And while she nourishes the fetus (and afterward) she is his food, and he is part of her body.

Finally, I like that the poem is funny. At least, I think it is. Something about that “mammoth head” with a “full set of teeth” captures how terrifying and alien babies are. They’re weird and gross in so many ways, even though they’re also beautiful and sweet. I especially love giant baby heads on floppy baby necks.

And always in these dreams, there’s a doctor who just takes everything in stride. “Ah yes, here’s your baby. She’s an enchilada.” As if it were the most natural thing in the world. The weird thing is, I remember K telling me about that dream, and mostly just feeling hungry.

Czeslaw Milosz, “A Story”

I have to thank my good friend from LA, Peter J., for introducing me to the work of Czeslaw Milosz, a Polish poet who won the 1980 Nobel Prize for Literature. Pete served an LDS mission in Poland and had Milosz’s Collected Poems sitting prominently on his shelf in his living room. I used to pick it up and browse it every once in a while when hanging out at his apartment. Eventually I broke down and got my own copy.

I really like poetry that is fragmentary and minimalist, and Milosz’s poetry is not that. He’s kind of the opposite: discursive and big. His poems unfold in long lines and sentences, and often tell a story. For example,

A Story

Now I will tell Meader’s story; I have a moral in view.
He was pestered by a grizzly so bold and malicious
That he used to snatch caribou meat from the eaves of the cabin.
Not only that. He ignored men and was unafraid of fire.
One night he started battering the door
And broke the window with his paw, so they curled up
With their shotguns beside them, and waited for the dawn.
He came back in the evening, and Meader shot him at close range,
Under the left shoulder blade. Then it was jump and run,
A real storm of a run: a grizzly, Meader says,
Even when he’s been hit in the heart, will keep running
Until he falls down. Later, Meader found him
By following the trail–and then he understood
What lay behind the bear’s odd behavior:
Half of the beast’s jaw was eaten away by an abscess, and caries.
Toothache, for years. An ache without comprehensible reason,
Which often drives us to senseless action
And gives us blind courage. We have nothing to lose,
We come out of the forest, and not always with the hope
That we will be cured by some dentist from heaven.

The title of the poem, “A Story,” and the first line, where the poet promises to tell “Meader’s Story,” at first appear to refer to the same thing. But if this were really Meader’s story, we would expect the “moral” to be something very different, perhaps the importance of not judging another’s actions. Isn’t that what Meader learns, that despite the bear appearing ferocious, in fact its motivations were simple and, tragically, innocent?

0575b742-682_1361012a

This misdirection is what makes the conclusion of the poem so powerful. That switch to the first-person plural “us” in the fourth-to-last line suddenly thrusts readers into the position of the bear. We no longer imagine ourselves as Meader confronting this dangerous but misunderstood force. Instead, we imagine ourselves as dumb animals, tortured by incomprehensible pain and unable to find relief except in our own deaths. The ending is truly haunting. What are the simple but incomprehensible pains–physical, emotional, or spiritual–that drive us to act the way we act?

Milosz knew something about pain and despair. He was born in 1911 in Lithuania and was part of the resistance against the Nazi occupying forces in Warsaw during WWII, then defected from Communist Poland to France in 1951, later coming to the United States in 1960, where he lived for the remainder of his life. Much of his early poetry deals unflinchingly with the horrors of war, and the difficulty of finding beauty in a world of mass destruction and savage inhumanity. His poetry is deeply moving, and I return to it frequently.

K and I spent many a late night hanging out with Peter, Jean, Mal, Melissa, Joey, Katie, Scott, and Jennie, among many other close friends we made during our six years in LA. I remember endless, ranging conversations about books, movies, religion, parenting, music, and food. This doesn’t have much to do with the poem, except that it feels like a part of Milosz and other poets when I read them, these conversations. I love reading and reflecting on a poem in solitude. But I also love when the poem opens up into an encounter that transforms and deepens a friendship.