When Giving is All We Have

One river gives
Its journey to the next.

We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.

We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.

We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it—

Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.

Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,
But we read this book, anyway, over and again:

Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,
Mine to yours, yours to mine.

You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me

What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give—together, we made

Something greater from the difference.

Alberto Ríos

Stan

As I was helping Đạo with his writing assignment, I wanted to explain to him the art of storytelling. To give him an example, I let him listen to Eminem’s “Stan.” I was not sure if it was helpful, but he was hooked on the song. This song brought back so much memories for me.

Dear Slim, I wrote you, but you still ain’t callin’
I left my cell, my pager, and my home phone at the bottom
I sent two letters back in autumn, you must not’ve got ’em
There probably was a problem at the post office or somethin’
Sometimes I scribble addresses too sloppy when I jot ’em
But anyways, fuck it, what’s been up, man? How’s your daughter?
My girlfriend’s pregnant too, I’m ’bout to be a father
If I have a daughter, guess what I’ma call her?
I’ma name her Bonnie
I read about your Uncle Ronnie too, I’m sorry
I had a friend kill himself over some bitch who didn’t want him
I know you probably hear this every day, but I’m your biggest fan
I even got the underground shit that you did with Skam
I got a room full of your posters and your pictures, man
I like the shit you did with Rawkus too, that shit was phat
Anyways, I hope you get this, man, hit me back
Just to chat, truly yours, your biggest fan, this is Stan

Dear Slim, you still ain’t called or wrote, I hope you have a chance
I ain’t mad, I just think it’s fucked up you don’t answer fans
If you didn’t want to talk to me outside your concert, you didn’t have to
But you coulda signed an autograph for Matthew
That’s my little brother, man, he’s only six years old
We waited in the blisterin’ cold
For you, for four hours, and you just said “no”
That’s pretty shitty, man, you’re like his fuckin’ idol
He wants to be just like you, man, he likes you more than I do
I ain’t that mad, though I just don’t like bein’ lied to
Remember when we met in Denver?
You said if I’d write you, you would write back
See, I’m just like you in a way: I never knew my father neither
He used to always cheat on my mom and beat her
I can relate to what you’re sayin’ in your songs
So when I have a shitty day, I drift away and put ’em on
‘Cause I don’t really got shit else
So that shit helps when I’m depressed
I even got a tattoo with your name across the chest
Sometimes I even cut myself to see how much it bleeds
It’s like adrenaline, the pain is such a sudden rush for me
See, everything you say is real, and I respect you ‘cause you tell it
My girlfriend’s jealous ‘cause I talk about you 24/7
But she don’t know you like I know you, Slim, no one does
She don’t know what it was like for people like us growin’ up
You gotta call me, man, I’ll be the biggest fan you’ll ever lose
Sincerely yours, Stan—P.S. We should be together too

Dear Mr. I’m-Too-Good-to-Call-or-Write-My-Fans
This’ll be the last package I ever send your ass
It’s been six months, and still no word—I don’t deserve it?
I know you got my last two letters, I wrote the addresses on ‘em perfect
So this is my cassette I’m sendin’ you, I hope you hear it
I’m in the car right now, I’m doin’ 90 on the freeway
Hey, Slim, I drank a fifth of vodka, you dare me to drive?
You know the song by Phil Collins, “In the Air of the Night”
About that guy who coulda saved that other guy from drownin’
But didn’t, then Phil saw it all, then at a show he found him?
That’s kinda how this is: you coulda rescued me from drownin’
Now it’s too late, I’m on a thousand downers now—I’m drowsy
And all I wanted was a lousy letter or a call
I hope you know I ripped all of your pictures off the wall
I loved you, Slim, we coulda been together—think about it!
You ruined it now, I hope you can’t sleep and you dream about it
And when you dream I hope you can’t sleep and you scream about it
I hope your conscience eats at you and you can’t breathe without me
See, Slim—shut up, bitch! I’m tryin’ to talk
Hey, Slim, that’s my girlfriend screamin’ in the trunk
But I didn’t slit her throat, I just tied her up—see? I ain’t like you
‘Cause if she suffocates she’ll suffer more and then she’ll die too
Well, gotta go, I’m almost at the bridge now
Oh shit, I forgot—how am I supposed to send this shit out?

Dear Stan, I meant to write you sooner, but I just been busy
You said your girlfriend’s pregnant now, how far along is she?
Look, I’m really flattered you would call your daughter that
And here’s an autograph for your brother; I wrote it on a Starter cap
I’m sorry I didn’t see you at the show, I must’ve missed you
Don’t think I did that shit intentionally just to diss you
But what’s this shit you said about you like to cut your wrists too?
I say that shit just clownin’, dawg, come on, how fucked up is you?
You got some issues, Stan, I think you need some counselin’
To help your ass from bouncin’ off the walls when you get down some
And what’s this shit about us meant to be together?
That type of shit’ll make me not want us to meet each other
I really think you and your girlfriend need each other
Or maybe you just need to treat her better
I hope you get to read this letter, I just hope it reaches you in time
Before you hurt yourself, I think that you’ll be doin’ just fine
If you relax a little, I’m glad I inspire you, but Stan
Why are you so mad? Try to understand that I do want you as a fan
I just don’t want you to do some crazy shit
I seen this one shit on the news a couple weeks ago that made me sick
Some dude was drunk and drove his car over a bridge
And had his girlfriend in the trunk, and she was pregnant with his kid
And in the car they found a tape, but they didn’t say who it was to
Come to think about it, his name was—it was you
Damn…

Eminem

The Secret of Poetry

When I was lonely, I thought of death.
When I thought of death I was lonely.

I suppose this error will continue.
I shall enter each gray morning

Delighted by frost, which is death,
& the trees that stand alone in mist.

When I met my wife I was lonely.
Our child in her body is lonely.

I suppose this error will go on & on.
Morning I kiss my wife’s cold lips,

Nights her body, dripping with mist.
This is the error that fascinates.

I suppose you are secretly lonely,
Thinking of death, thinking of love.

I’d like, please, to leave on your sill
Just one cold flower, whose beauty

Would leave you inconsolable all day.
The secret of poetry is cruelty.

Jon Anderson

Grief

You choose
the flowers
without petals.
The vase
with
murky waves.
You started
to explain
and then
stopped.

Ben Niespodziany

Insult

Insult is injury
taken personally,
saying, This is not
a random fracture
that would have happened
to any leg out there;
this was a conscious unkindness.

We need insult to remind us
that we aren’t always just hurt,
that there are some sources—
even in the self—parts of which
tread on other parts with such boldness
that we must say, You must stop this.

Kay Ryan

The Best of It

However carved up
or pared down we get,
we keep on making
the best of it as though
it doesn’t matter that
our acre’s down to
a square foot. As
though our garden
could be one bean
and we’d rejoice if
it flourishes, as
though one bean
could nourish us.

Kay Ryan

Losses

Most losses add something—
a new socket or silence,
a gap in a personal
archipelago of islands.

We have that difference
to visit—itself
a going-on of sorts.

But there are other losses
so far beyond report
that they leave holes
in holes only

like the ends of the
long and lonely lives
of castaways
thought dead but not.

Kay Ryan

Hope

What’s the use
of something
as unstable
and diffuse as hope—
the almost-twin
of making-do,
the isotope
of going on:
what isn’t in
the envelope
just before
it isn’t:
the always tabled
righting of the present.

Kay Ryan

Age

As some people age
they kinden.
The apertures
of their eyes widen.
I do not think they weaken;
I think something weak strengthens
until they are more and more it,
like letting in heaven.
But other people are
mussels or clams, frightened.
Steam or knife blades mean open.
They hear heaven, they think boiled or broken.

Kay Ryan

Maya

We are the slow smoke that ascends
from a nonexistent fire:
neither dirt nor water can put us out.
The soul is irreducible as doubt.

Maurya Simon (An excerpt from “Maya”)