Category Archives: James Merrill

It’s The Little Things

As all of you know [or as you should know, if you have a heart in that chest of yours, and not a slab of granite], Sunday was Father’s Day. I hope you gave your pa a telephone call, if you live apart from him, and were not able to fête him with grilled meat and gift-wrapped gardening trowels. I called mine. “How was your weekend, Pa?” I said. My family lives in Indiana, and so things have been Flood n’ Wind Central there of late. Just LOOK at this picture of my aunt’s street:

No mail for them, I’ll tell you what!

Anyway, my parents had planned to join a crack team organized by Our Lady of the Greenwood Church to assist flood victims on Saturday morning. Alas, a strong wind came along on Friday, and took it upon itself to knock down some trees in our front yard: no small feat, if you have seen these trees. My father had to summon a cabal of uncles and cousins over to help him chop things down.

“Nothing like running a chainsaw and having a beer!” said my father.

Then he said: “No, no–I waited until after I was done with the chainsaw to have the beer.”

Oh, dads!


On Friday night I saw–wait for it–


My friend Aimee had obtained free tickets, and a gaggle of us descended upon Navy Pier’s Pepsi Skyline Stage to view the show. Aiiiiiiiii! Something else, these cirque-sters. We ooo-ed and aaaah-ed aplenty. I don’t know how many times I uttered the sentence “My God, my God, I do not understand how that is happening!” but I feel certain that it numbered in the thousands. These people laughed in the face of gravity–or “gravity schmavity”, as they call it, behind gravity’s back. Einstein himself would have torn his hair out, I tell you! “My God, my God, I do not understand how that is happening!” he would have said, or rather “Mein Gott, mein Gott, verstehe ich nicht! Wie geschieht das?”, because he was German.

Mean Age, Cirque Shanghai Performer


What I Kept Grabbing

My face



Something This Show Made Me Long For

The ability to perform a backflip

Something This Show Did Not Make Me Long For

The mysterious East

Most of the Music



The night before that I was driving with my roommate down 90/94, and the traffic was wretched, and the air was full of exhaust fumes and things. I had my window rolled down. At one point, in the midst of a dead stop, I looked out of it, and saw the moon glittering beautifully on some unidentified body of water, flowing near a particularly gruesome example of a highway overpass. It was covered up, in part, by a stand of trees. I looked and looked until we had to drive forward. I do not know the future of that body of water, but it made me happy.


Wonderful website: If I may: OMG. This weekend, I created a paper replica of Mt. Rushmore. You can make a paper Big Ben, and a paper Brooklyn Bridge, and a paper Ferrari Testerossa! There is a paper Great Pyramid sitting on my desk right now, next to my computer.  All you require is scissors, glue, and your innocence. Do not tell me that your innocence is gone. You have some in there. I can see it.


There will be no blog next week, gentle readers; I have important life matters to which I must attend, which will keep me from my writing. Hopefully, I will return the following week, rested and ready to start again. Until then: a-doo [“adieu”].

My sister, during a phone call the other night*:

MY SISTER: Give that back to your brother! [Pause.] Yes, I know that it’s a meat thermometer. But he was playing with it.


If not, why should the willow bend? It bends
High in the air, but to the stream descends
Dipping its as-we-call-them finger-ends

In weedy water, trailing to the touch:
A weeping tree, we say–but with not much
Of willow in the figure, once to such

As we long limbs had lent, though covertly,
Movements more suave, guiding what pangs there be
Into a bearable choreography:

Our hands wrung changes on the mute charade
Of willows: from the simple noises made
By creatures come to drink in the trees’ shade

Came sound of women weeping into their hands,
Yielding to hurt’s pure flow, depths and demands
The littlest child remembers, understands:

Because of this we never could recall
What we did bear, as under water all
Becomes a silvery weightless miracle

In which, presuming on the certitude
Of bodily grace, whatever impulse wooed
Profounder levels rose to air renewed:

Thus, rocked by sorrows, never could we tell
How grave they were, our bodies knowing well
The signs to charm them, alter or dispel:

At times we thought, Gesture is all that grieves:
The hand has slanted (like the willow’s leaves)
From touching faces it alone conceives

Downward to drop its pennies on shut eyes
Before the habit fades of their surprise
Past blood and tissue where remembrance lies.

James Merrill

*My sister would like everyone to know that she is a good mother and was, in fact, watching her children while making their dinner, which I believe involved noodles.




Filed under Brothers and Sisters, James Merrill, My Parents, Poetry

“Why Did I Flinch?”

Last night–as happens every night–long before my cell phone alarm clock was due to bury its wake-up call in my ears like a pole-axe, I woke up. The reasons for this generally differ. Sometimes the people across the way have inexplicably switched their Klieg-level upstairs light on at 2:47 a.m; sometimes a Loud Scary Noise has taken place, and I must spend some time convincing myself that an Amorphous Scary Monster intent on nothing good is not in my living room, thinking, “Ought I to eat these throw pillows? Wait, I eat people! Better go into that bedroom, where that person is! Ha ha!” Most of the time, however, my reasons for waking are meaningless. I’ve come to accept that I wake up, no matter what, be the conditions for sleep as still and felicitous as the Mississippi River on a warm summer’s night. Or something.

In any case, when I woke last night, the winds were picking up something fierce. I went to the kitchen for water, and saw them blowing the mysterious cables which stretch over our backyard [what are these cables FOR? NO ONE KNOWS] hither and yon at a great rate. “Alack-a-day,” I thought, tiredly. For I knew that these winds brought with them, no doubt, the ill-heralded change in today’s temperature. Memorial Day was so beautiful that it became hilarious, a parody of good weather. If you had picked a day out of a weather catalogue, it would not have been better. You would not have been able to afford yesterday, if you had ordered it. “Too bad I would need the contents of Fort Knox to afford this day,” you would have said; “it sure looks terrific.”

But: When I walked to work this morning, and rounded the corner at Chestnut Street, I saw that the lilac bushes outside my building had finally, finally bloomed. This lilac-blooming is one of my favorite parts of spring, and I did not believe that it would occur this year. I had waited for so long for them, the lilacs, and they never came. It is too bad that a day like today–a day where the wind is so ireful and ceaseless that I would punch it in the mouth if it possessed a conscious self–ushered them into my life, but I’ll take it. I would have stopped to smell them for lots and lots longer, but metaphors were dropping out of the sky around me like anvils and I had to get indoors double-time.

I went to the Harold Washington Library on Saturday for the first time in a loooo-ooooo-oooong time, and it was an adventure, all right! An adventure regarding which I’ll spare you the details. Mainly, I had forgotten just how much I love it there, and how silly it was that I’d stayed away for the length of time that I had. I was literally joyous on a cellular level. O the books! O the faint smell of Honey Nut Cheerios, which never quite dissipates [go there and breathe of the air in the literature stacks, and just try to defy me on this point]. Go to the library. You will be happy.


Recently–a few months ago, now?–one of my brothers, Andrew, announced his intention to enter the priesthood; this brings the percentage of my brothers who intend to become priests up to 50%. We are all happy as very happy clams for Andy and Ben, who will both be top-shelf men of the cloth. This weekend Andy “got back in the saddle”, as my mein mama put it, and served a Mass with Benjamin. My father sent me pictures on my telephone after the fact, featuring them in their long black cassocks.

Ben on the left, Angebo on the right.

O my brothers!

I told my mother, when I saw this picture–well, never you mind what I told my mother, except that it involves the words “Andrew”, “looks like” and “assassin”.

This is a really great James Merrill poem that I’ve loved for ages, with terrific imagery and the word “belladonna”. Why throw it up today? Who knows? The wind knows. Oh Lord, it’s windy! I mean, my hair looks like I rolled around in an invisible tar pit.

The Mad Scene

Again last night I dreamed the dream called Laundry.
In it, the sheets and towels of a life we were going to share,
The milk-stiff bibs, the shroud, each rag to be ever
Trampled or soiled, bled on or groped for blindly,
Came swooning out of an enormous willow hamper
Onto moon-marbly boards. We had just met. I watched
From outer darkness. I had dressed myself in clothes
Of a new fiber that never stains or wrinkles, never
Wears thin. The opera house sparkled with tiers
And tiers of eyes, like mine enlarged by belladonna,
Trained inward. There I saw the cloud-clot, gust by gust,
Form, and the lightning bite, and the roan mane unloosen.
Why did I flinch? I loved you. And in the downpour laughed
To have us wrung white, gnarled together, one
Topmost mordent of wisteria,
As the lean tree burst into grief.

James Merrill

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Filed under Brothers and Sisters, James Merrill, Poetry