Questions of Travel, a poem by Elizabeth Bishop, was written in Rio and published in 1956 about five years after she first moved there.
There are too many waterfalls here; the crowded streams
hurry too rapidly down to the sea,
and the pressure of so many clouds on the mountaintops
makes them spill over the sides in soft slow-motion,
turning to waterfalls under our very eyes.
–For if those streaks, those mile-long, shiny, tearstains,
aren’t waterfalls yet,
in a quick age or so, as ages go here,
they probably will be.
But if the streams and clouds keep travelling, travelling,
the mountains look like the hulls of capsized ships,
slime-hung and barnacled.
Think of the long trip home.
Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?
Where should we be today?
Is it right to be watching strangers in a play
in this strangest of theatres?
What childishness is it that while there’s a breath of life
in our bodies, we are determined to rush
to see the sun the other way around?
The tiniest green hummingbird in the world?
To stare at some inexplicable old stonework,
inexplicable and impenetrable,
at any view,
instantly seen and always, always delightful?
Oh, must we dream our dreams
and have them, too?
And have we room
for one more folded sunset, still quite warm?
But surely it would have been a pity
not to have seen the trees along this road,
really exaggerated in their beauty,
not to have seen them gesturing
like noble pantomimists, robed in pink.
–Not to have had to stop for gas and heard
the sad, two-noted, wooden tune
of disparate wooden clogs
carelessly clacking over
a grease-stained filling-station floor.
(In another country the clogs would all be tested.
Each pair there would have identical pitch.)
–A pity not to have heard
the other, less primitive music of the fat brown bird
who sings above the broken gasoline pump
in a bamboo church of Jesuit baroque:
three towers, five silver crosses.
–Yes, a pity not to have pondered,
blurr’dly and inconclusively,
on what connection can exist for centuries
between the crudest wooden footwear
and, careful and finicky,
the whittled fantasies of wooden footwear
and, careful and finicky,
the whittled fantasies of wooden cages.
–Never to have studied history in
the weak calligraphy of songbirds’ cages.
–And never to have had to listen to rain
so much like politicians’ speeches:
two hours of unrelenting oratory
and then a sudden golden silence
in which the traveller takes a notebook, writes:
“Is it lack of imagination that makes us come
to imagined places, not just stay at home?
Or could Pascal have been not entirely right
about just sitting quietly in one’s room?
Continent, city, country, society:
the choice is never wide and never free.
And here, or there . . . No. Should we have stayed at home,
wherever that may be?”
Photographs by William Eggleston
By Robert Lowell
It was a Maine lobster town—
each morning boatloads of hands
pushed off for granite
quarries on the islands,
and left dozens of bleak
white frame houses stuck
like oyster shells
on a hill of rock,
and below us, the sea lapped
the raw little match-stick
mazes of a weir,
where the fish for bait were trapped.
Remember? We sat on a slab of rock.
From this distance in time
it seems the color
of iris, rotting and turning purpler,
but it was only
the usual gray rock
turning the usual green
when drenched by the sea.
The sea drenched the rock
at our feet all day,
and kept tearing away
flake after flake.
One night you dreamed
you were a mermaid clinging to a wharf-pile,
and trying to pull
off the barnacles with your hands.
We wished our two souls
might return like gulls
to the rock. In the end,
the water was too cold for us.
By Sylvia Plath
Love, the world
Suddenly turns, turns color. The streetlight
Splits through the rat’s tail
Pods of the laburnum at nine in the morning.
It is the Arctic,
This little black
Circle, with its tawn silk grasses – babies hair.
There is a green in the air,
It cushions me lovingly.
I am flushed and warm.
I think I may be enormous,
I am so stupidly happy,
Squelching and squelching through the beautiful red.
This is my property.
Two times a day
I pace it, sniffing
The barbarous holly with its viridian
Scallops, pure iron,
And the wall of the odd corpses.
I love them.
I love them like history.
The apples are golden,
Imagine it —-
My seventy trees
Holding their gold-ruddy balls
In a thick gray death-soup,
Gold leaves metal and breathless.
O love, O celibate.
Nobody but me
Walks the waist high wet.
Golds bleed and deepen, the mouths of Thermopylae.
Four portraits by Man Ray:
By Lawrence Raab
Lawrence Raab, “Marriage” from What We Don’t Know About Each Other
By Billy Collins
You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker,
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.
However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.
It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general’s head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.
And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.
It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.
I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.
I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman’s tea-cup.
But don’t worry, I’m not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and – somehow – the wine.
Here some roses from a very different garden sit?, lie?, stand?, gasp, dream?, die? – on white linen. They may serve you tea or coffee. As I saw them take shape on the canvas I was amazed by their solemn colors and their quiet mystery that called for – seemed to demand – some sort of phantoms. So I tried to give them their phantoms and their still-lifeness. Did I succeed? Clearly they are not going to tell me, but the white linen gave me a good feeling as if I had folded it myself, then opened it on the table.
(Dorothea Tanning: Birthday and Beyond, exhibition catalogue, Philadelphia Museum of Art 2000, n.p.)