Gilead, Part 3, Existence

Part 3, Existence

There’s a shimmer on a child’s hair, in the sunlight. There are rainbow colors in it, tiny, soft beams of just the same colors you can see in the dew sometimes. They’re in the petals of flowers, and they’re on a child’s skin. Your hair is straight and dark, and your skin is very fair. I suppose you’re not prettier than most children. You’re just a nice-looking boy, a bit slight, well scrubbed and well mannered. All that is fine, but it’s your existence I love you for, mainly. Existence seems to me now the most remarkable thing that could ever be imagined. I’m about to put on imperishability. In an instant, in the twinkling of an eye.

(p. 53, emphasis added)

I have been thinking about existence lately. In fact, I have been so full of admiration for existence that I have hardly been able to enjoy it properly. As I was walking up to the church this morning, I passed that row of big oaks by the war memorial – if you remember them – and I thought of another morning, fall a year or two ago, when they were dropping their acorns thick as hail almost. There were all sorts of thrashing in the leaves and there were acorns hitting the pavement so hard they’d fly past my head. All this in the dark, of course. I remember a slice of moon, no more than that. It was a very clear night, or morning, very still, and then there was such energy in the things transpiring among those trees, like a storm, like travail. I stood there a little out of range, and I thought, It is all still new to me. I have lived my life on the prairie and a line of oak trees can still astonish me.

I feel sometimes as if I were a child who opens its eyes on the world once and sees amazing things it will never know names for and then has to close its eyes again. I know this is all mere apparition compared to what awaits us, but it is only lovelier for that. There is a human beauty in it. And I can’t believe that, when we have all been changed and put on incorruptibility, we will forget our fantastic condition of mortality and impermanence, the great bright dream of procreating and perishing that meant the whole world to us. In eternity this world will be Troy, I believe, and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets. Because I don’t imagine any reality putting this one in the shade entirely, and I think piety forbids me to try.

(pp. 56-57)

The first excerpt, especially, recalls to my mind a passage from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, of which I have only Books VIII and IX:

…for life is by nature a good thing, and to perceive the good present in oneself is pleasant; and living is a choiceworthy thing, especially to those who are good, because existing is good for them, and pleasant, for in simultaneously perceiving what is good in itself, they feel pleasure. And if as the serious man stands in relation to himself, so he stands also in relation to a friend (for a friend is another [or different] self) – then, just as one’s own existence is choiceworthy to each, so also is the existence of a friend, or nearly so. Existing is, as we saw, a choiceworthy thing because a person’s perception that he is good, and this sort of perception is pleasant on its own account.

(p. 205)

The first passage I quoted also reminds me of a scene from one of my favorite movies of all time, Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Ash has always struggled with finding approval from his father, Mr. Fox, who seems to love Ash’s cousin even more than him. Yet, nearing the end of the movie, Ash and Mr. Fox have a conversation:

MR. FOX: The whole time I was putting paw over paw with your mother digging beside me [i.e. digging their foxhole], and I thought to myself, I wonder who this little boy…

ASH: Or girl!

MR. FOX: Right, ’cause at the time we didn’t know. I wonder who this little boy or girl is gonna be? Ash, I’m so glad he was you.


Christian Wiman, Once in the West, Sungone Noon, We Lived

CT ct-prj-christian-wiman06.jpg

Currently, I am reading a book of poems written by contemporary poet Christian Wiman. He has titled the collection, Once in the West. This is my first real experience with contemporary poetry, and I am glad I have entrusted myself to Wiman. The book of poems, with the exception of the introductory poem entitle “Prayer,” is separated into three parts: “Sungone Noon,” “My Stop is Grand,” and “More Like the Stars.” I have just finished the first part, and I wish to quote one poem from this group of poems:

We Lived

We lived in the long intolerable called God.

We seemed happy.

I don’t mean content I mean heroin happy

donkey dentures,

I mean drycleaned deacons expunging suffering

from Calcutta with the cut of their jaws

I mean the always alto and surely anusless angels

divvying up the deviled eggs and jello salad in the after-rapture

I mean

to be mean.

Dear Lord forgive the love I have

for you and your fervent servants.

I have so long sojourned Lord

among the mild ironies and tolerable gods

that what comes first to mind

when I’m of a mind to witness

is muriatic acid

eating through the veins

of one whose pains were so great

she wanted only out, Lord, out.

She too worshipped you

She too popped her little pill of soul.

Lord if I implore you please just please leave me alone

is that a prayer that’s every instant answered?

I remember one Wednesday witness told of a time

his smack-freaked friends lashed him

to the back of a Brahman bull that bucked and shook

until the great bleeding wings the man’s collarbones

exploded out of his skin.

Long pause.

“It was then,” the man said, “right then…”

Yes. And how long before that man-


began his ruinous and (one would guess) Holy Spirit-less affair?

At what point did this poem abandon

even the pretense of prayer?

Imagine a man alive in the long intolerable time

made of nothing but rut and rot,

a wormward gaze

even to his days’ sudden heavens.

There is the suffering existence answers:

it carves from cheeks and choices the faces

we in fact are,

and there is the suffering of primal silence,

which seeps and drifts like a long fog

that when it lifts

leaves nothing

but the same poor sod.

Dear God –

Irving Penn

In preparation for my Senior Thesis Project, I have begun to study the work of great photographers. I began this exploration by looking into the photographs of Irving Penn, a 20th Century photographer, mainly famous for working for Vogue Magazine.

I just finished looking through a book of Penn’s photographs: Beyond Beauty, a collection of Penn’s photographs amassed and organized by Merry A. Forresta. I will of course study his photographs in more detail within the next year-year and a half. But for now, I wanted to select several photographs that stood out to me explain why.

  • Veiled Face (Evelyn Tripp), New York, 1949


[I enjoy this photograph for a few reasons. First, the light source is behind the subject (Evelyn Tripp), relative to the camera. In my opinion, the copy of the picture in the book I purchased (Beyond Beauty), the light source has a greater effect on the subject of the photograph. It is nonetheless captured in this version of the photograph. The invasion of that light gives the photograph an ethereal character, and increases the contrast. Another reason I noted this photo lies in Tripp’s left eye looking toward the onlooker as only her profile is captured. This adds mystery to the composition of the photograph.]

  • Cecil Beaton, London, 1950


[A friend of mine who takes photographs said that portraiture can tell a story like no other form of photography because the human face naturally tells its story (this is not verbatim). I might agree. This is what drew me to this picture of Cecil Beaton (another photographer). Beaton’s countenance and wears invited me to imagine the story behind this man’s life.]

  • Cretan Landscape, 1964


[This photograph communicates to me, above anything else, motion. Capturing motion in a photograph can be difficult, considering that it is in the nature of a photo to be still. Nevertheless, Irving Penn does it so well. Yes, it’s blurry – but that is part of the intrigue. Like literature, music, and other forms of art, what draws me to it is its ability to take me somewhere. this photo does that for me.]

  • Single Oriental Poppy, New York, 1968


[I love this photograph for mainly two reasons. First, this shows Penn’s eye for texture. Texture might be what I seek most in a photograph. Second, Penn creates an increasingly beautiful photograph with a dead poppy – something that might be considered ugly or broken.]

  • Mouth (for L’Oreal), New York, 1986


[This photo, along with previous photo and the following photo, shows Penn’s talent for finding and displaying different textures. Here you see the smooth skin, as well as the short soft hairs of the model’s face. Then you see the painted texture on the lips. The contrast not only displays itself via texture, but also via color. The viewer sees the white-painted face in contrast to the eight or so differing lip cosmetics.]

  • Issey Miyake Fashion: White and Black, New York, 1990


[Lastly, this photo from 1990 combines three of my previous favorite pictures. Like the picture of Evelyn Tripp with the veil, this picture contains a woman with one eye showing. Second, this picture details an interesting texture, as the poppy and the mouth photos – the dress looks both stiff and free-flowing. Third, this motionless photo capture motion magnificently, as in the picture of the Cretan landscape.]

29 #Strafford APTS

The second song from Bon Iver’s third album, 22, A Million, that I am posting about is ’29 #Strafford APTS. This song includes a sort of ‘breaking up’ of vocals effect throughout the song, especially in the third and final chorus.

Sharing smoke
In the stair up off the hot car lot
Sun shine hard on the video spot
Hm, mm, mm, mm
Sure as any living dream
It’s not all then what it seems
And the whole thing’s hauled away

A womb
An empty robe
You’re rolling up
You’re holding it
You’re fabric now


Hallucinating Claire
Nor the snow shoe light or the autumns

Threw the meaning out the door
(Now could you be a friend)
There ain’t no meaning anymore
(Come and kiss me here again)

A womb
An empty robe
You’re rolling up
You’re holding out
You’re bent prize


Motor up and yeah, you’re own, ooh
And yeah you’re on your own

(Marijuana has you talkin’…)

Fold the map and mend the gap
And I tow the word companion
And I make my self escape

Oh, the multitude of other
It comes always off the page

I hold the note
You wrote and know
You’ve buried all your alimony butterflies

Sub find
Some night

[see Genius]

This is how the lyrics appear in the album’s booklet:


One thing that I noticed when returning to this song and it’s lyrics was how this album has a major thematic shift. On the one hand, Bon Iver’s previous albums, especially his second album (see the track-listing), focused on places. On the other hand, this album seems to focus on people, on the other – see the third and final verse (“Oh, the multitude of other”).


I am going to feature three songs from Bon Iver’s most recent album, 22, A Million. These three songs are my current favorites on the album, but I enjoy each song on the album and the album as a whole immensely.

This song is the third track on the album, entitled 715-CRΣΣKS. This is the way the lyrics were printed in Bon Iver’s booklet for the album:


This is how Genius represents the lyrics:

Down along the creek

I remember something
Her, the heron hurried away
When first I breeched that last Sunday

Low moon don the yellow road
I remember something
That leaving wasn’t easing
All that heaving in my vines

And as certain it is evening ‘at is NOW is not the Time’


Toiling with your blood
I remember something
In B, un—rationed kissing on a night second to last
Finding both your hands
As second sun came past the glass

And oh, I know it felt right
And I had you in my grasp

Oh, then how we gonna cry?
Cause it once might not mean something?
, a second glance

It is not something that we’ll need
Honey, understand that I have been left here in the reeds
But all I’m trying to do is get my feet out from the crease

And I’ll see you
Turn around, you’re my A-Team
Turn around, now, you’re my A-Team
God damn, turn around now
You’re my A-Team

I heard a complaint/argument concerning this whole album. The music critic felt unenthused about how none of the songs feel whole, how they don’t have a beginning, a middle, and an end. I love songs that have “a beginning, a middle, and an end.” However, a song doesn’t have to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Bon Iver might actually be getting at truth when he makes songs that don’t feel complete. Humans don’t feel complete. We do not feel whole. I think that an album like Bon Iver’s 22, A Million might be picturing reality when he makes a fragmentary-feeling album – an album that in its fragmentation still remains one of the most beautiful albums I have heard.

I do understand that someone could dislike the album for many reasons. However, those reasons might actually be an intention act on the side of the artist, Bon Iver/Justin Vernon et. al. On example would be the fragmentary feel of this album (which, I might add, exists in the lyric writing Bon Iver and For Emma, For Ever Ago). 

Music and Coffee

A song and a coffee I have enjoyed this week.

Song: Fantine by Penny & Sparrow


I would normally attach a youtube video, but the studio version of this song has no musical accompaniment, which is a main reason why I like the song. So here is a link to listen to the version of the song that is actually on the album ‘Struggle Pretty.’


You’ve never been weighed and then measured found wanting,
You’ve been seen, found tough, and let be.
So before I go saying you make a bad lover,
I think that I’ll let you kiss me.

I cannot in good conscience wear white if I’m honest,
My wedding dress needs to be black.
I’ve seen too much skin and the souls that live in it,
I fear I’m the bride you’ll give back.

You take and you give,
You give and you take,
It’s a simple give and take.
The cash on the dresser is money I’ve made.

I love how you told me I was pretty,
They all do.
And it makes this smile easy to fake.

I act like you walked out the day that you found out,
I only had six months to live.
But the truth of my sickness is honest, you caused it,
So I’d know you take and you give.

You take and you give,
You give and you take,
It’s a simple give and take.
I’ll grow back good if I break.

Until the day that I know I’m no better alone,
I guess this is just what it takes.

(From Penny & Sparrow’s website)

This song is a song based on a character from Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, Fantine. I have not read the novel, but from the song, it seems clear that Fantine is some sort of promiscuous woman/prostitute. One line catches my ear:

I’ll grow back good if I break

It reminds me of this passage from Charles Dickens’ novel Great Expectations:

“But you said to me,” returned Estella, very earnestly, “‘God bless you, God forgive you!’ And if you could say that to me then, you will not hesitate to say that to me now,—now, when suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but—I hope—into a better shape. Be as considerate and good to me as you were, and tell me we are friends.” (The final chapter of the novel)

Coffee: Columbia Las Magaritas Pacamara (Pour Over)


This is a coffee from Onyx that is naturally processed. It’s flavor notes: Raspberry Jam, Malted Chocolate, Lime Zest, Syrupy.


Music & Coffee

A song and a coffee I have enjoyed this week.

Song: All Delighted People (Original Version) by Sufjan Stevens



Tomorrow you’ll see it through
The clouded out disguises put you in the room
And though I wandered out alone
A thousand lights abounded on our home
And I remember every sound it made
The clouded out disguises and the grave
So yeah I know I’m still afraid
Of letting go of choices I have made

All delighted people raise their hands

And I took you by the sleeve
No other reason than to be leading your leading man
And you woke up with a fright
Our lives depended on the visions through the night
All we had always, all we had always wanted to before
The hurricane inclined us, grappling on the floor

All delighted people raise their hands

Still the force of nature spurned
Ideas of strength and style abated by the burning basement
All delight people raise their hands

I’m not easily confused
The trouble with the storm inside us grew
But I had so much to give
In spite of all the terror and abuse

And the people bowed and prayed
And what difference does it make for you and me?
All delighted people raise their hands

And the people bowed and prayed
And what difference does it make?
It doesn’t matter anyway
The world surrounds us with its hate

Hello darkness my old friend it breaks my heart
I’ve come to strangle you in spite of what you’d like
And don’t be a rascal, don’t be a laughing dog in spite of odds
All I’m deciphering from the spirits in the light within
All delighted people raise their hands

In restless dreams I walked alone I walked alive
The clouded out disguises left me in a dream of lightness
All delighted people raise their hands

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And what difference does it make?
I love you so much anyway
And on your breast I gently laid
Your arms surround me in the lake
I am joined with you forever

And the people bowed and prayed
And what difference does it make for you and me?
All delighted people raise their hands

I’m not easily confused
I feel alive I feel it glowing in the room
All delighted people raise their hands…

And the people bowed and prayed
Oh I love you a lot; Oh! I love you from the top of my heart
And what difference does it make?
I still love you a lot; Oh! I love you from the top of my heart
And on your breast I gently laid all my head in your arms
Do you love me from the top of your heart?
I tried my best I tried in vain. Do you love me a lot?
Do you love me from the top of your heart?

And the people bowed and prayed
Oh! I love you a lot; Oh! I love you from the top of my heart
And you can see through my mistakes
Oh! I’ll tell it to you now; Oh! I’ll tell it from the top of my heart

And what difference does it make
If the world is a mess; if the world is a mess?
And on your breast I gently laid
Oh! I’ll tell it to you now; Oh! I’ll tell it to you now

(When the world’s come and gone shall we follow our transgressions
Or shall we stand strong?)

I tried to save the things I made
Oh! But the world is a mess, Oh! But the world is a mess
And what difference does it make if the world is a mess?
If the world is a mess!
I tried my best I tried in vain
Oh! But the world is a mess!
Oh! But the world is a mess!

(Suffer not the child among you or shall you die young…)

Genius Lyric Annotations to All Delighted People

Coffee: Coffee Phosphate (Onyx Coffee Lab)


Ingredients: Soda Water, Vanilla Syrup, Acid Phosphate, Cream, Onyx Red Queen Espresso, Orange Oil Aromatics