the charming string of its history

Magnus Plessen, Figure holding light, 2001. Oil on three pieces of paper, MoMA.

Magnus Plessen, Figure holding light, 2001. Oil on three pieces of paper, MoMA.

Distance and a Certain Light

by May Swenson

Distance
and a certain light
makes anything artistic—
it doesn’t matter what.

From an airplane, all
that rigid splatter of the Bronx
becomes organic, logical
as web or beehive. Chunks

of decayed cars in junkyards,
garbage scows (nimble roaches
on the Harlem), herds of stalled
manure-yellow boxes on twisting reaches

of rails, are punched clean and sharp
as ingots in the ignition of the sun.
Rubbish becomes engaging shape—
you only have to get a bead on it,

the right light filling the corridor
of your view—a gob of spit
under a microscope, fastidious
in structure as a crystal. No contortion

without intention, and nothing ugly.
In any random, sprawling, decomposing thing
is the charming string
of its history—and what it will be next.

“Distance and a Certain Light” by May Swenson, from Collected Poems.

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wider than one once envisioned

Robert Adams, East from Flagstaff Mountain, Boulder County, Colorado, 1976. Gelatin silver print. MoMA.

Robert Adams, East from Flagstaff Mountain, Boulder County, Colorado, 1976. Gelatin silver print. MoMA.

Patience

by Kay Ryan

Patience is
wider than one
once envisioned,
with ribbons
of rivers
and distant
ranges and
tasks undertaken
and finished
with modest
relish by
natives in their
native dress.
Who would
have guessed
it possible
that waiting
is sustainable—
a place with
its own harvests.
Or that in
time’s fullness
the diamonds
of patience
couldn’t be
distinguished from the genuine

in brilliance

or hardness.

“Patience,” by Kay Ryan, from Say Uncle.

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some glad morning

cherry blossoms at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

cherry blossoms at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Some Glad Morning

by Joyce Sutphen

One day, something very old
happened again. The green
came back to the branches,
settling like leafy birds
on the highest twigs;
the ground broke open
as dark as coffee beans.

The clouds took up their
positions in the deep stadium
of the sky, gloving the
bright orb of the sun
before they pitched it
over the horizon.

It was as good as ever:
the air was filled
with the scent of lilacs
and cherry blossoms
sounded their long
whistle down the track
It was some glad morning.

“Some Glad Morning,” by Joyce Sutphen, from Naming the Stars.

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this we were, this is how we tried to love

Ogden M. Pleissner, Backyards, Brooklyn, 1932. Oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum.

Ogden M. Pleissner, Backyards, Brooklyn, 1932. Oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum.

from Twenty-One Love Poems

By Adrienne Rich

No one’s fated or doomed to love anyone.
The accidents happen, we’re not heroines,
they happen in our lives like car crashes,
books that change us, neighborhoods
we move into and come to love.
Tristan und Isolde is scarcely the story,
women at least should know the difference
between love and death. No poison cup,
no penance. Merely a notion that the tape-recorder
should have caught some ghost of us: that tape-recorder
not merely played but should have listened to us,
and could instruct those after us:
this we were, this is how we tried to love,
and these are the forces they had ranged against us,
and these are the forces we had ranged within us,
within us and against us, against us and within us.

from “Twenty-One Love Poems” by Adrienne Rich, from The Dream of a Common Language

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the ill-matched threads

Textile with Animals, Birds, and Flowers, Eastern Central Asia,  late 12th–14th century. Silk embroidery on plain-weave silk, Metropolitan Museum.

Textile with Animals, Birds, and Flowers, Eastern Central Asia, late 12th–14th century. Silk embroidery on plain-weave silk, Metropolitan Museum.

I, 17

by Rainer Maria Rilke

She who reconciles the ill-matched threads
of her life, and weaves them gratefully
into a single cloth—
it’s she who drives the loudmouths from the hall
and clears it for a different celebration
where the one guest is you.
In the softness of evening
it’s you she receives.
You are the partner of her loneliness,
the unspeaking center of her monologues.
With each disclosure you encompass more
and she stretches beyond what limits her,
to hold you.

“I, 17″ by Ranier Maria Rilke from Book of Hours: Love Poems to God

a bit about the object

This textile demonstrates the longevity of motifs in eastern Central Asia. The placement of animals—a spotted horse, a rabbit, and two deer (or antelope)—at its cardinal points is a compositional device that began to appear in the region during the Han dynasty. The birds on the piece, especially the parrot, entered the Central Asian repertoire during a second period of strong Chinese influence, the Tang dynasty. The floral background’s central motif of lotus blossoms, a lotus leaf, and a trefoil leaf was seen in Central Asia and North China but became widespread during the Yuan dynasty.

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good sense and thoughtfulness in little things

Andy Warhol, Empire, 1964. 16mm film transferred to video (black and white, silent), 8 hours 5 min. at 16 frames per second, MoMA.


Andy Warhol, Empire, 1964. 16mm film transferred to video (black and white, silent), 8 hours 5 min. at 16 frames per second, MoMA.

Superbly Situated

by Robert Hershon

you politely ask me not to die and i promise not to

right from the beginning—a relationship based on

good sense and thoughtfulness in little things

i would like to be loved for such simple attainments

as breathing regularly and not falling down too often

or because my eyes are brown or my father left-handed

and to be on the safe side i wouldn’t mind if somehow

i became entangled in your perception of admirable objects

so you might say to yourself: i have recently noticed

how superbly situated the empire state building is

how it looms up suddenly behind cemeteries and rivers

so far away you could touch it—therefore i love you

part of me fears that some moron is already plotting

to tear down the empire state building and replace it

with a block of staten island mother/daughter houses

just as part of me fears that if you love me for my cleanliness

i will grow filthy if you admire my elegant clothes

i’ll start wearing shirts with sailboats on them

but i have decided to become a public beach an opera house

a regularly scheduled flight—something that can’t help being

in the right place at the right time—come take your seat

we’ll raise the curtain fill the house start the engines

fly off into the sunrise, the spire of the empire state

the last sight on the horizon as the earth begins to curve

Robert Hershon, “Superbly Situated” from How to Ride on the Woodlawn Express.

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