Timothy O’Grady and Steve Pyke’s I Could Read the Sky

Since I am composing a book of poems and photographs for my undergraduate these, my advisor suggested that I read a book called I Could Read the Sky. This is a novel and series of photographs jointly composed by novelist Timothy O’Grady and photographer Steve Pyke. The images and the novel tell the story of Irish emigration through the particular story of one man who moves from the West coast of Ireland to the cities of England.

I have a few significant praises for the book. First it does combine these to media, image and word. And it doesn’t merely combine them, but does so decently well, without it feeling forced. My second praise is that the novel does possess a lyrical quality that sadly many novels do not possess.

My main issue with the book is that it feels untethered. It’s not until the last two or three chapters where any real sense is made. The novel walks a line between pleasant ambiguity and unhelpful vagueness, and sadly, I believe it favors the latter.

The Prose

I hold onto myself for anchorage. (p. 3)


“The mad may be blessed.” (p. 17)


“We are the immortals,” says P. J. He has a few jars on him. “We have one name and we have one body. We are always in our prime and we are always fit for work. We dig the tunnels, lay the rails and build the roads and buildings. But we leave no other sign behind us. We are unknown and unrecorded. We have many names and none are our own. Whenever the stiffness and pain come in and the work gets harder, as it did for Roscoe, we change again into our younger selves. On and on we go. We are like the bottle that never empties. We are immortal.” (p. 69)


What I couldn’t do.
Eat a meal lacking potatoes. Trust banks. Wear a watch. Ask a woman to go for a walk. Work with drains or with objects smaller than a nail. Drive a motor car. Eat tomatoes. Remember the routes of buses. Wear a collar in comfort. Win at cards. Acknowledge the Queen. Abide loud voices. Perform the manners of greeting and leaving. Save money. Take pleasure in work carried out in a factory. Drink coffee. Look into a wound. Follow cricket. Understand the speech of a man from west Kerry. Wear shoes or boots made from rubber. Best P. J. in an argument. Speak with men wearing collars. Stay afloat in water. Understand their jokes. Face the dentist. Kill a Sunday. Stop remembering. (p. 71)


I will never again have such a respect for a living person and now that he is no longer here I will not be able to stop things falling from their places. A sadness reaches like a clawed hand into my bones and organs. It fills the spaces between. It is heavy and strong. I believe that this sadness can never leave me. (p. 74)


The month of my mother’s death is November. Dark clouds rolling into the hillside as I walk with Carney’s spade across the neck of sand to the graveyard. “They opened her up and the cancer was everywhere,” said Dermot’s wife. “She was black with it. It was a mercy she went.” I find Da’s grave and begin to dig. In the earth there’s splintered wood, a button from a woman’s dress, nails, shells dropped by gulls, a shard of blue delft, a coffee can from America. They opened her up and she was black inside. How much of this can I bear? Everything is shaking. I dig until I come to Da. The force of the air seems enough to break my bones. I dig around the coffin and I haul it up. Don’t spill out, I beg him. It begins to rain. I get back in the grave to dig some more. I kneel. I ask for help, help from anywhere. When the grave is deep enough I try to get out but I slip in the mud. I grab at clumps of grass and the edges of the gravestones, I pull myself up and I edge the coffin closer to the mouth of the grave. I lie in the mud and guide it down. Please God the wood will hold. I hear him rolling inside. I get the coffin to the base of the grave, I right it and I cover it with grass. What is this thing that is on me? I remember anger from when the paymaster in Blackheath wouldn’t pay me what was owed. I remember Kate Creevy boarding the train. I remember loneliness and the walls of Quex Road. I remember pure sadness. This is not any of those but some of all of them maybe and more. What is the more, though? I see myself running around the graveyard, up over the wall and into the sea. There would be no comfort in sleep or in drink. It is like something is covering me that threatens my breath. It is like something is moving that will break things inside me. (p. 109)


I am seeking the darkness. (p. 112)


I could seek the darkness. (p. 113)


I could lose the music. (p. 113)


“I read a book once,” he says. “I read many one time. The thing about a book is that the man who is writing brings all the lives from all the different places and makes them flow together in the same stream. As they move down towards the end it’s like they have loops and holes and shapes that all fit together just nicely so that they’re just one big piece really. You can look back and see how all of them got where they are. That’s the time the writer brings the book to an end and there’s no seeing past it. I’d like to meet the man who wrote a book like that so I could ask him where he got those lives. I never met anything like that in all my time. I look back and I see a big field full of mud, people and animals sliding and me sliding with them. There’s no end. There’s just times when some are standing and some are fallen.” (p. 117)


I know then that you play not for what you can give anyone or what they think of you but only for the sake of the tune itself. (p. 123)


The meaning of a thing that brings you pleasure can come slowly but I got the fullness of this picture just when I saw it. (p. 144)


Music happens inside you. It moves the things that are there from place to place. It can make them fly. It can bring you the past. It can bring you things that you do not know. It can bring you into the moment that is happening. It can bring you a cure. (p. 146)


Then without warning there was Maggie and there was light and there was a road ahead to receive us. (p. 150)


There is no comfort or no ending of anything with the earth settling over her where she rests but there is pity and there is peace, or maybe a picture of a peace that will be one day. (p. 154)


I walk now with nothing along with me, no sounds, no pictures, nothing of what was in happiness or in pain. I walk in forgetfulness, all that I pass seeming to vanish as I go. (p. 159)


This is a time of forgetfulness and after comes a time when you know again what you can do. There can be a time too when the work is complete.
In the morning light I let go. (p. 160)

The Photographs


Portrait: Bearded Man

Portrait: Man with Hat

Portrait: Two Women

Portrait: Old Man


Portrait: Man with Plaid Hat

Man in Train Tunnel

Woman on Staircase


Final Picture: A Beachside Landscape


Christian Wiman, Every Riven Thing, The Mole

So I caved in and decided to return to Christian Wiman before moving on to a new contemporary poet. I previously read Christian Wiman’s collection of poems, Once in the West (2014). Now I have begun Every Riven Thing (2011), and I have finished the first part (of four parts) of this book of poems.

Part One includes these poems:

  • Dust Devil
  • After the Diagnosis
  • Five Houses Down
  • To Grasp at the Mercury Minnows Are
  • Sitting Down to Breakfast Alone
  • All Good Conductors
  • It Takes Particular Clicks
  • The Mole
  • Darkcharms
  • Every Riven Thing
  • This Mind of Dying
  • One Time
    • 1. Canyon de Chelly, Arizona
    • 2047 Grace Street
  • From a Window

I have colored my favorites red. Wiman seems to be slightly more bent toward the formal. He more often has regular stanzaic structure, and more often than not employs a consistent rhyme scheme.

My return to Wiman has proven him to be a resonant voice in my library.

Here is “The Mole” from the first section of Every Riven Thing

After love
discovers it,
the little burn
or birthmark
in an odd spot
he can neither see
nor reach; after
the internist’s
downturned mouth,
specialists leaning
over him like
diviners, machines
reading his billion
cells; after
the onslaught
of insight, cures
crawling through him
like infestations,
so many surgeries
a wrong move
leaves him leaking
like overripe fruit;
after the mountain
aster and ice
wine, Michigan
football, Canes
Venatici and
the Four North
Fracture Zone
shrink to a room
where voices grow
hushed as if
at some holy
place, and even
in the kindest

eye there lurks
the eternity
to which he’s been
commended; after
speech, touch,
even the instinct
to eat are gone,
and he has become
nothing but
a collection of quiet
tics and twitches
as if something
wanted out
of his riddled
bones, the carious
maze of his brain;
as the last day 
glaciers into his room
glass and chrome
so infinites-
imally facet-
ed it seems

he lives inside

a diamond, he breaks
into a wide
smile, as if joy
were the animal
in him, blind,
scrabbling, earth-
covered creature
up from God
knows where to stand
upright, feasting
on distances, gazing
dead into the sun.

Geoffrey Brock, Weighing Light

As I have said before, I am working on my undergraduate these, a book of poems and photographs paired together. I have been working under working poet and editor and professor Geoffrey Brock. I recently finished his earlier book of poetry, Weighing Light.

Here is what Richard Wilbur himself said about this work:

Geoffrey Brock’s poems are delightful in ways which are all too rare nowadays. I am grateful for their freshness of attack, the play and interplay of their words, and their speaking voice, which talks so often in the key of rueful comedy.

I think Brock balances well cutting sincerity with humor well in this book of poems. As he is trained in prosody, he writes in ways in tune with traditional forms. He does so in ways not heavy-handed but masterful. I enjoyed most of all, his multipart poems: “More Light Verse,” “Mundane Comedies,” “My Austere and Lonely Office (Soliloquies),” “Orpheus Variations,” “Ovid Old,” “Speak Now (Soliliquies),” and “Transit Gloria Mundi.”

I wanted to feature one or two of his poems. I think I will choose his two soliloquy collections (mentioned above). In these his humor and sincerity overlap most clearly and perfectly, in my opinion. And perhaps I have a weakness for collections of short poems.

My Austere and Lonely Office (Soliloquies)

The Ashtray

Back then, I hated my job:
the heat, the mess, the smell.
Now my life’s too clean, too tame:
I am the Keeper of Paperclips
and I burn for the days of flame.

The Clock

I have three misshapen hands: the first hand
is the second hand, the second hand
is the minute hand, and the third hand
(the minute one) is the hour hand.
I can never keep them straight.

The Cordless Phone (Ringing)

I know, for what it’s worth,
the sacred secrets of lovers
and felons, of prostitures
and poets, but can repeat
only this ragged cry I’ve known since birth.

The Incense Burner

I think
the ashtray
has a crush on me —
I’ll send up
a signal.

The Letter Opener

I long to be a tempered sword, or even a knife
with a real edge. With every envelope
I open, I imagine bright flesh
rending, my thin body
bathed in blood.

The Mechanical Pencil

Gray matter funnels
through me and out,
translates itself into
strange abstractions.
The peristalsis of all.

The Paperclips (In Unison)

If you find the Stapler’s governing philosophy
unsettling, even fascistic (as we do), then consider
that our gentler methodology allows you to form
more peaceful unions, looser confederations,
and protects each member from harm.

The Scissors

I am plural. To become one
with my purpose, I must cut
something in two. This is how

I am made. Divided against my
self, I want everything divided.

The Stapler

The many who have become one in my embrace
can never deny their common bond, it’s true
or forget
their place,
but I see order, not violence, in that — don’t you?

The Wineglass

Only when I am full of wine
do I recall how empty I have been.
And only when I recall how empty I’ve been
do I know how empty I’ll be again.
Only when I am full of wine.

Speak Now (Soliloquies)

The Bouquet

No one ever talks about
what becomes of the bride’s bouquet
after I’ve been flung and caught
by blossoming girls on a sunny day.
(They know, of course. They just can’t bear to say.)

The Cake Statuette

We’ve posed all day in formal dress,
feet iced, arms intertwined.
And though you’d never guess
from our perfect, plastic smiles,
we mind.

A Champagne Flute (Slightly Drunk)

You don’t have to be Phi Beta Kappa
to look at this pair and know
true love is sometimes faux
(It ain’t champagne, mon frére, 

if the grapes were grown in Napa.)

The Garter

The pulse and musk of her in this dark tent —
life will never again be as good as this.
After he hikes the dress, what then? A year or
maybe two (brief afterglow of bliss!)
of hanging limply from his rear-view mirror.

The Getaway Car

I’ve never looked so dumb in all my life.
I thought the man had balls.
I thought he liked things my way.
A wife! Before we reach Niagara Falls
I swear I’ll drop my trannie on the highway.

The Knife

Let’s admit impediments:
I tire of my diet of cake and more cake.
What about some cheese, some steak?
(Once I nicked a bride’s tongue, just to try it —
I haven’t been sharpened since.)

The Photographer’s Camera

These gigs are just to pay the bills, you know?
I’m actually an artist. Experimental?
I did once have a show, which went quite well.
The thing is, though, I’m into the accidental —
my stuff’s not decorative enough to sell.

The Rice (in Dirge-Like Unison)

We have been known to feed
the poor. Yet here we’re thrown
into the laughing, shouting faces of the rich. . .
And if we sprout, it’s only as a weed
rising from birdshit in a ditch.

The Veil

I’m gifted: I see them as they are,
yet hide them from their spouse-to-be.
Until I’m lifted, what they mostly see
(as each embroiders the other’s face
with swatches of my lace) is me.

The Wedding Ring

I’m glad you like my rocks.
But I feel what Snow White
must have felt when her prince
finally showed: delighted
just to get out of that damn box.

St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation, Conclusion

A quotation and two questions from the concluding section of St. Athanasius’ treatise, On the Incarnation.


You will also know of his second glorious and truly divine manifestation to us, when he comes no longer in lowliness but i his own glory, no longer with humility but in his own magnificence, no longer to suffer but to bestow thenceforth the fruit of his own cross on all — no longer judged, but judging all according to what has done in the body, whether good or evil, whence there is laid up for the good kingdom of heaven, but for them that have done evil, eternal fire and outer darkness.


Particular Question
What is meant by the word “inspired?”

Universal Question 
If the second coming fully ushers the kingdom of God, what exactly did the Cross do?

St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation, Refutation of the Gentiles

A quotation and two questions from the penultimate section of St. Athanasius’ treatise, On the Incarnation.


Properly, therefore, the Word of God took a body and used a human instrument, in order to give life to the body and in order that, just as he is known in creation by his works, so also he might act in a human being, and show himself everywhere, leaving nothing barren of his divinity and knowledge. Again, I repeat, resuming what we said before, that the Savior did this in order that as he fills everything everywhere by his presence, so also might he fill all things with the knowledge of himself, as the divine scriptures say, “The whole earth was filled with the knowledge of God” (Isa. 11.9).

§45, my emphasis

I chose this passage because I appreciate this image of Christ not leaving the earth barren of the knowledge of God. Rather the world is now, because of Christ, pregnant with this knowledge.

Particular Question
Why is the body related the universe in these sections? (§41-43)

Universal Question

… in their youth they are temperate, in temptations they endure, in toils they persevere, when insulted they forbear, and deprivations they disregard, and, what is most wonderful is that they scorn even death and become martyrs for Christ.


These points are descriptions for the “disciples of Christ” in this section of On the Incarnation. I know that these behaviors can come to characterize the lives of Christians. Nevertheless, are these behaviors actually descriptive of the lives of Christians?

Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop

Several days ago, I concluded my reading of Willa Cather’s novel, Death Comes for the Archbishop. It is a novel about Bishop Jean Marie Latour, the new Bishop of New Mexico, and his Vicar, Father Joseph Vaillant. The narrator tells of the founding and building up of this new branch of the Catholic church, the friendship and eventual distancing of these two men, and strings of heaven clear in these relationships and this land.

I enjoyed my time reading this novel. It took me quite a while to read though. My engagement with literature is slightly backwards – I usually find it easier to read overtly complex works rather than *seemingly* simple ones. Cather is a complex novelist, but her language is nothing like Joyce or McCarthy. And that’s a good thing! I just had a hard time adjusting.

It was also difficult for me to read for reasons of temperament. I naturally sympathize with minds tragic and cynical. So, when a work tends the other way, it can be difficult for me to shift to that register. Yet, it is intensely good for me to read books with slightly more comic modes in order to train me in the way of Christ.

Quoting Cather

The Cardinal had an eccentric preference to beginning his dinner at this time in the late afternoon, when the vehemence of the sun suggested motion. The light was full of action and had a peculiar quality of climax – of splendid finish. It was both intense and soft, with a ruddiness as much-multiplied candlelight, an aura of red in its flames. It bored into the ilex trees, illuminating their mahogany trunks and blurring their dark foliage; it warmed the bright green of the orange trees and the rose of the oleander blooms to gold; sent congested spiral patterns quivering over the damask and plate and crystal. (p. 4)


The blunted pyramid, repeated so many hundred times upon his retina and crowding down upon him in the heat, had confused the traveller, who was sensitive to the shape of things. (p. 18)


Of all our Lord’s physical sufferings, only one, “I thirst,” rose to His lips. Empowered by long training, the young priest blotted himself out of his own consciousness and meditated upon the anguish of his Lord. The Passion of Jesus became for him the only reality; the need of his own body was but a part of that conception. (p. 20)


He had persevered in this sandy track, which grew ever fainter, reasoning that it must lead somewhere. (p. 23)


“[…] To-night we are exiles, happy ones, thinking of home. […]” (p. 36)


“I am not deprecating your individual talent, Joseph,” the Bishop continued, “but, when one thinks of it, a soup like this is not the work of one man. It is the result of a constantly refined tradition. There are nearly a thousand years of history in this soup.” (p. 39)


Many painters had visited the shrine and marvelled that paint could be laid at all upon such poor and coarse material. (p. 49)


“[…] Doctrine is well enough for the wise, Jean; but the miracle is something we can hold in our hands and love.” (p. 50)


“[…] I do not see you as you really are, Joseph; I see you through my affection for you. The Miracles of the Church seem to me to rest not so much upon faces or voices or healing power coming suddenly near to us from afar off, but upon our perceptions being made finer, so that for a moment our eyes can see and our ears can hear what is there about us always.” (p. 50)


She took her black shawl from a peg and followed him. Just at the door she turned and caught the eyes of the visitors, who were looking after her in compassion and perplexity. Instantly that stupid face became intense, prophetic, full of awful meaning. With her finger she pointed them away, away! – two quick thrusts into the air. Then, with a look of horror beyond anything language could convey, she threw back her head and drew the edge of her palm quickly across here distended throat – and vanished. The doorway was empty; the two priests stood staring at it, speechless. That flash of electric passion had been so swift, the warning it communicated so vivid and definite, that they were struck dumb” (p. 68)


There was no way in which he could transfer his own memories of European civilization into the Indian mind, and he was quite willing to believe that Jacinto there was a long tradition, a story of experience, which no language could translate to him. (p. 92)


The country was still waiting to be made into a landscape. (p. 95)


Ever afterward the Bishop remembered his first ride to Acoma as his introduction to the mesa country. One thing which struck him at once was that every mesa was duplicated by a cloud mesa, like a reflection, which lay motionless above it or moved slowly up from behind it. These cloud formations seemed to be always there, however hot hot and blue the sky. Sometimes they were flat terraces, ledges of vapour; sometimes they were dome-shaped, or fantastic, like the tops of silvery pagodas, rising one above another, as if an oriental city lay directly behind the rock. The great tables of granite set down in an empty plain were inconceivable without their attendant clouds, which were a part of them, as the smoke is part of the censer, or the foam of the wave. (p. 95)


Already the Bishop had observed in Indian life a strange literalness, often shocking and disconcerting. The Acomas, who must share the universal human yearning for something permanent, enduring, without shadow of change, – they had their idea in substance. They actually lived upon their Rock; were born upon it and died upon it. There was an element of exaggeration in anything so simple! (p. 98)


The wind, he knew, was blowing out of the inky cloud bank that lay behind the mountain at sunset; but it might well be blowing out of a remote, black past. (p. 124)


The two priests rode side by side into Los Ranches de Taos, a little town of yellow walls and winding streets and green orchards. The inhabitants were all gathered in the square before the church. When the Bishop dismounted to enter the church, the women threw their shawls on the dusty pathway for him to walk upon, and as he passed through the kneeling congregation, men and women snatched for his hand to kiss the Episcopal ring.In his own country all this would have been highly distasteful to Jean Marie Latour. Here, these demonstrations seemed a part of the high colour that was in landscape and gardens, in the flaming cactus and the gaudily decorated altars, – in the agonized Christs and dolorous Virgins and learned that with this people religion was necessarily theatrical. (p. 142)


“[…] No priest can experience repentance and forgiveness of sin unless he himself falls into sin. Since concupiscence is the most common form of temptation, it is better for him to know something about it. The soul cannot be humbled by fasts and prayer; it must be broken by mortal sin to experience forgiveness of sin and rise to a state of grace. Otherwise, religion is nothing but dead logic.” (p. 146)


This mountain and its ravines had been the seat of old religious ceremonies, honeycombed with noiseless Indian life, the repository of Indian secrets, for many centuries, the Padre remarked. (p. 151)


Observing them thus in repose, in the act of reflection, Father Latour was thinking how each of these men not only had a story, but seemed to have become his story. (p. 183)


His prayers were empty words and brought him no refreshment. (p. 211)


He received the miracle in her heart into his own, saw through her eyes, knew that his poverty was as bleak as hers. (p. 218)


The peace without seemed all one with the peace in his own soul. The snow had stopped, the gauzy clouds that had ribbed the arch of heaven were now all sunk into one soft white fog bank over the Sangre de Cristo mountains. (p. 219)


Elsewhere the sky is the roof of the world; but here the earth was the floor of the sky. (p. 232)


But when he entered his study, he seemed to come back to reality, to the sense of a Presence awaiting him. The curtain of the arched doorway had scarcely fallen behind him when that feeling of personal loneliness was gone, and a sense of loss was replaced by a sense of restoration. He sat down before his desk, deep in reflection. It was just this solitariness of love in which a priest’s life could be like his Master’s. It was not a solitude of atrophy, of negation, but of perpetual flowering. A life need not be cold, or devoid of grace in the worldly sense, if it were filled by Her who was all the graces; Virgin-daughter, Virgin-mother, girl of the people and Queen of Heaven: le reve supreme de la chair. The nursery tale could not view with Her in simplicity, the wisest theologians could not match Her in profundity. (p. 256)


“[…] death has brought us together […]” (p. 265)


He often quoted to his students that passage from their fellow Auvergnat, Pascal: that Man was lost and saved in a garden. (p. 267)


“I shall not die of a cold, my son. I shall die of having lived.” (p. 269)


Yes, Sangre de Cristo; but no matter how scarlet the sunset, those red hills never became vermilion, but a more and more intense rose-carnelian; not the colour of living blood, the Bishop had often reflected, but the colour of the dried blood of saints and martyrs preserved in old churches in Rome, which liquefies upon occasion. (p. 273)


There is always something charming in the idea of greatness returning to simplicity […] (p. 282)


For my thesis, a book of poems and photographs I am composing, I am reading many books of contemporary poetry and some other contributing literature. Yet, I also have the chance to study specific photographers. I here will show samples of each of the photographers I have gotten to study so far (in order of their influence upon me):


  • a photographer who started out with street photography, spent most of his career with studio portraiture (mainly for Vogue), and finished by experimenting in the darkroom with alternative processes.
  • Source: Irving Penn, Beyond Beauty, ed. Merry A. Foresta.
  • Favorite photograph: Mouth (for L’Oreal), New York, 1986.L.2013.9.55_1.tif


  • an architectural photographer mainly focused on the modernist architecture of California, who was intensely atuned to the geometry of man-made made place and nature.
  • Source: Julius Shulman, A Constructed View: The Architectural Photography of Julius Shulman, ed. Joseph Rosa
  • Favorite photograph: Duffield’s Linonc-Mercury Showroom, 1963, Long Beach, Killingsworth, Brady, and Smith, 1963.



  • a photographer undeniably famous for his photographs of Yellowstone National Park. He mainly took landscape photographs, especially of National Parks, and was a part of a group known as the “F-64 Group.”
  • Source: Ansel Adams, 400 Photographs, ed. Andrea G. Stillman
  • Favorite photograph: Saint Francis Church, Ranchos De Taos, New Mexico, c. 1950.



[I am now beginning a book of photographs of Richard Avedon (Avedon, Fashion: 1944-2000, ed. Carol Squiers and Vince Aletti)]