Monthly Archives: May 2012

Billy Collins: Aristotle

In which Carrie is on a poetry kick and wants to put Aristotle up tonight too…

Guest Poet: Billy Collins


This is the beginning.

Almost anything can happen.

This is where you find

the creation of light, a fish wriggling onto land,

the first word of Paradise Lost on an empty page.

Think of an egg, the letter A,

a woman ironing on a bare stage

as the heavy curtain rises.

This is the very beginning.

The first-person narrator introduces himself,

tells us about his lineage.

The mezzo-soprano stands in the wings.

Here the climbers are studying a map

or pulling on their long woolen socks.

This is early on, years before the Ark, dawn.

The profile of an animal is being smeared

on the wall of a cave,

and you have not yet learned to crawl.

This is the opening, the gambit,

a pawn moving forward an inch.

This is your first night with her,

your first night without her.

This is the first part

where the wheels begin to turn,

where the elevator begins its ascent,

before the doors lurch apart.

This is the middle.

Things have had time to get complicated,

messy, really. Nothing is simple anymore.

Cities have sprouted up along the rivers

teeming with people at cross-purposes—

a million schemes, a million wild looks.

Disappointment unshoulders his knapsack

here and pitches his ragged tent.

This is the sticky part where the plot congeals,

where the action suddenly reverses

or swerves off in an outrageous direction.

Here the narrator devotes a long paragraph

to why Miriam does not want Edward’s child.

Someone hides a letter under a pillow.

Here the aria rises to a pitch,

a song of betrayal, salted with revenge.

And the climbing party is stuck on a ledge

halfway up the mountain.

This is the bridge, the painful modulation.

This is the thick of things.

So much is crowded into the middle—

the guitars of Spain, piles of ripe avocados,

Russian uniforms, noisy parties,

lakeside kisses, arguments heard through a wall—

too much to name, too much to think about.

And this is the end,

the car running out of road,

the river losing its name in an ocean,

the long nose of the photographed horse

touching the white electronic line.

This is the colophon, the last elephant in the parade,

the empty wheelchair,

and pigeons floating down in the evening.

Here the stage is littered with bodies,

the narrator leads the characters to their cells,

and the climbers are in their graves.

It is me hitting the period

and you closing the book.

It is Sylvia Plath in the kitchen

and St. Clement with an anchor around his neck.

This is the final bit

thinning away to nothing.

This is the end, according to Aristotle,

what we have all been waiting for,

what everything comes down to,

the destination we cannot help imagining,

a streak of light in the sky,

a hat on a peg, and outside the cabin, falling leaves.

By Billy Collins, (1941–)
Hear him read it via the Poetry Foundation.

Pablo Neruda: Ode to Criticism I

In which one of Carrie’s favorite poems is on her mind in a productive manner regarding herself and her friends…

Guest Poet: Pablo Neruda


I wrote five poems :
one was green
another a round wheaten loaf,
the third was a house, abuilding,
the fourth a ring,
and the fifth was
brief as a lightning flash,
and as I wrote it,
it branded my reason.

Well, then, men
and women
came and took
my simple materials,
breeze, wind, radiance, clay, wood,
and with such ordinary things
walls, floors, and dreams.
On one line of my poetry
they hung out the wash to dry.
They ate my words
for dinner,
they kept them
by the head of their beds,
they lived with poetry,
with the light that escaped from my side.
came a mute critic,
then another babbling tongues,
and others, many others, came,
some blind, some all-seeing,
some of them as elegant
as carnations with bright red shoes,
others as severely
clothed as corpses,
some were partisans
of the king and his exalted monarchy,
others had been snared
in Marx’s brow
and were kicking their feet in his beard,
some were English,
plain and simply English,
and among them
they set out
with tooth and knife,
with dictionaries and other dark weapons,
with venerable quotes,
they set out
to take my poor poetry
from the simple folk
who loved it.
They trapped and tricked it,
they rolled it in a scroll,
they secured it with a hundred pins,
they covered it with skeleton dust,
they drowned it in ink,
they spit on it with the suave
benignity of a cat,
they used it to wrap clocks,
they protected it and condemned it,
they stored it with crude oil,
they dedicated damp treatises to it,
they boiled it with milk,
they showered it with pebbles,
and in the process erased vowels from it,
their syllables and sighs
nearly killed it,
they crumbled it and tied it up in a
little package
they scrupulously addressed
to their attics and cemetaries,
one by one, they retired,
enraged to the point of madness
because I wasn’t
popular enough for them,
or saturated with mild contempt
for my customary lack of shadows,
they left,
all of them,
and then,
once again,
men and women
came to live
with my poetry,
once again
they lighted fires,
built houses,
broke bread,
they shared the light
and in love joined
the lightning flash and the ring.
And now,
gentlemen, if you will excuse me
for interrupting this story
I’m telling,
I am leaving to live
with simple people.

-Pablo Neruda, (1904-1973)

The Philosopher’s Snag

In which Carrie examines her ever-changing relationship to philosophy as a creative mode of interweaving metaphors and as an expression of her felt inadequacy of bridging logic and love…

When you go walking with me, I’ll warn you, we won’t get far.  That’s a true statement for these days.  Back then, in those days, I was more interested in physical endurance, the thrift by which I could go from point A to X; I wanted to check the little box called “summit” and feel good about what reserves I needed to tap in order to get there.  Now I am seized easily by distraction.  I must halt, often, but not for lack of breath: because I am breathless.  I can travel twenty yards with you, a distance which might take an arthropod a whole day, so that we can examine more slowly what might be ignored by most.

One object in nature which magnetizes me to it is the snag: a dead and decaying tree.  They are miniature ecosystems, which is to say they are complex, and, for me, they are little ideas full of holes and life and potential which is why they belong to the philosopher.  They are passed by easily on the way to the bottom-line summit, and rarely command attention as, say, a herd of startled deer might.  Back then I, too, failed to notice seemingly inanimate structures in nature: the mycelium running, the lovely lichen, animal scat, the way the light changes with shifts in the heavens, an oily sheen on a blackberry leaf, slope and aspect, a bird’s warning.

Like the million thought prompts Wisdom presents us with in any given moment, the Philosopher’s Snag stops me each time.  I’m in love with it, though this is not particularly logical.  To be fond of a mass of dead carbon, to admire an idea as old as the pre-Socratics or new as the latest media craze, seems unlikely on my way through the world, yet it always happens for me. And this is why I question myself.  Can I live in equal parts: heart and mind?

The Philosopher’s Snag as I’m conceiving of it, is, yes, and object in nature worth study.  It also stands as a symbol of an uneasiness I have been feeling for some years.  Who am I?  A rational animal?  I wonder about the questioner, the curious creator, the wondering wanderer.  What purpose does the philosopher serve?

So much of society, at least American society as I conceptualize it, is concerned with utility.  And, if something isn’t readily “useful” it may well be “useless.”  In short, it may have little or no value.  There is an inherent logic to this, whether true or false.

Contrast a stand of live trees, for instance.  This body holds a lot of measurable potential– both scientifically* and economically**.  But what of the snag?

My eyes are trained to pick out the snag in a forest, from love and curiosity, and because I see it can become the very foundation on which civilization rests.

Oh, it has economic value too with the emerging biofuel technological advancements, whereby we can create energy from pounds of carbon to fuel our lights and screens.  But what I see, when I pick out the snag in the stand of live trees, is a metropolis.

Woodpeckers, those great excavating engineers, build large cavities in the snag in their hunt for insects…also building and changing the snag’s ecosystem…and consequently provide nesting sites for small mammals and other birds.  The insects themselves burrow and eat the wood surrounding them, striving to survive, and create masses of wood dust which even smaller organisms dine on at the base of the snag.  The excrement which results in the digestive processes of the woodpecker and arthropod then become an extension of the soil–and aid in soil health.  If soil were just the multiple pounds of startdust which enters our atmosphere from burned out meteors in space, or mineral particles from rocks which cyanobacteria transformed in its slow erosive process by lichen colonies, we would still have foundation for civilization, but less land for nutrient rich vegetative life.

And it is this foundation which presently concerns me.  Before there were humans, there needed to be a place for them to  stand.  The Philosopher’s Snag is one object in nature, used metaphorically here for civilization’s foundation: we’d be nothing without dirt. This passed-by thing is, to me, like the body of philosophical thought often ignored or minimized in our search for the summit at X: as if getting to the top is enough, or even possible, without stopping to see the snag for the forest.

And so I find myself caught, and caught up in distracted thoughts.  Who is this philosopheriturist but a third philosopher, a third biological organism, and a third literary artist?  And is it possible to categorize myself so neatly, to partition my utility into such mathematical precision?  What purpose does philosophy hold for me, next to a life lived in the full throes of a love for life?  I argue for the sake of my Philosopher’s Snag as serving my extensive quest for authenticity, and the philosopher-becoming as a body who guides me away from quickly attained, perhaps shallow, conclusions regarding the meaning of existence.

*”Scientifically” trees presence and/or absence alter climate patterns and expire oxygen, for instance.

**”Economically” trees give people lumber which is useful for trade.

Invasive Species (in the U.S.)

In which Carrie’s  youngest cousin raises awareness of  invasive species prevalent in Oregon, the north American continent and beyond, while demonstrating strength of character and academic honesty in research and writing…

Guest Post: Sarah

Himalayan Blackberry, English Ivy, Morning Glory, and Scotch Broom all have one thing in common, they are all invasive species. They were all brought here; Himalayan Blackberry was introduced to America from Europe but is from India. English Ivy came from England, Morning Glory came from China, and Scotch Broom came from Scotland. They all take over environments in the Pacific Northwest. Himalayan Blackberry grows in thick hedges that choke out other species. English Ivy is a vine that climbs up trees and eventually kills them. Morning Glory is also a vine, but one that covers the ground and chokes out plants living there. Scotch Broom creates thick hedges that choke out other plants. These three species are considered invasive by all three definitions.

The three definitions include a small, restrictive definition, one definition that is sometimes too broad, and one that is somewhere in between. The first and very restrictive definition says that only non-native species that take over an environment are considered invasive.

The second definition expands the first to include native species that take over the environment. This is the one that I like the most. This is because a native species can still take over an environment if the things that eat it start to disappear.

The third definition also expands the first to include all non-native species. This definition is often too broad. For example, the common goldfish; though outside its native environment, it rarely causes harm to its new environment.

The first example of an invasive species is Himalayan Blackberry. It was brought here because of its big, juicy berries. People tried to keep it contained but soon birds started eating the berries and spreading the Himalayan Blackberry seeds. Before long it was way out of control. This plant has huge thorns and pink-red stems.

A second invasive species is English Ivy. It climbs up trees, fences, or just about anything else. It has dark green leaves and was often planted next to roads before people knew it was invasive. It was brought here from England as an ornamental plant. One thing I didn’t learn for quite some time about the plant is that once it gets to the top of the tree it flowers and creates a fruit.

Morning Glory, a third invasive plant, is still found in plant stores today. When it was brought from China, its main use was for its seeds medical uses. The most common Morning Glory has an indigo flower and light green leaves. It is often found in gardens.

Scotch Broom has bright yellow flowers and needle-like structures rather than leaves. It is often found next to roads. It also has some nifty adaptations. For example, its seeds can stay dormant underground for fifty years, its seeds can travel on cars, and when the plant sprayed while it is blooming, the poison will go the blooms and the plant will live.

There are also invasive species in the kingdom animalia (the kingdom that all animals are in) these include Zebra Mussels and one we would never admit, humans. Zebra Mussels came on the bottom of the ships coming to the west coast. They can be found in the Columbia River.

We only qualify an invasive species by one definition, but we sure do take over environments. We have left very little of the native landscape alone. Not to mention the fact that we brought over most of the invasive species that are in America today.

There are three definitions for invasive species and five examples of invasive species that qualify under all definitions are Zebra Mussels, Scotch Broom, Morning Glory, and English Ivy. According to one definition we are even considered invasive ourselves.

(Author Biography: Sarah is a budding Naturalist with unique talents relating to identifying plants, observing soil and rock differences, and empathizing with the myriad of animal life around her.   She is a sixth grader who enjoys reading, glassblowing, crossing the creek over logs, softball, basketball, choir, going to summer camps, and spending time with her family.  She does not enjoy writing, but her cousin notices how much she is improving every day and enjoys reading her thoughts any chance she gets. )