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Took a break the other day to read around in the Contemporary volume of the Norton Modern Poetry set, to see what I maybe don't know I don't know. The only one that stood out as more than momentarily moving in a couple hours of random flipping was one I knew already:

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?

No idea how I felt about that one before four years ago (what did I know? - maybe one iteration expresses a real confusion) past that I remember it well, but I can't not see it as perfect now. Seeing the poetry of old in your own old days, the sadness that all days are old twinned with the wonder that all days are poetry - but all of that as background to or extrapolation from the more personal thing. Pure Empsonian pastoral, a sickening stomach fall of unhappy realization made just supportible by its immediately enabling something else, something badly missed your whole life until then, to fall into place.

Frost's great "Tuft of Flowers" is behind this, but the modifications are all improvements. It's closer in.
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And how have I used rivers, how have I used wars
to escape writing of the worst thing of all—
not the crimes of others, not even our own death,
but the failure to want our freedom passionately enough
so that blighted elms, sick rivers, massacres would seem
mere emblems of that desecration of ourselves?

Never knew quite what to make of her, despite her detailed instructions about what to make of her.
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From Krugman, best short version of the real political news of my lifetime:

Clearly, it’s all mutually reinforcing: the closing of the Chicago [Economic School] mind both reinforces and is reinforced by the patronage of the mega-wealthy. And the end result is a completely hermetic system, into which contrary evidence cannot penetrate.

I used to think the other mutually reinforcing phenomena of (widely differential) American prosperity and the exporting of exploitation to other countries was the real story, but I think the lathe of ideas Kr. describes is the bigger problem. And definitely the longer term one, the one that will have to be fought even when everyone in Africa has an iPad.
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Continuous Cities 4 ["Cecilia"], Calvino

You reproach me because each of my stories takes you right into the heart of a city without telling you of the space that stretches between one city and the other, whether it is covered by seas, or fields of rye, larch forest, swamps. I will answer you with a story.

In the streets of Cecilia, an illustrious city, I met once a goatherd, driving a tinkling flock along the walls.

'Man blessed by heaven,' he asked me, stopping, 'can you tell me the name of the city in which we are?'

'May the gods accompany you!' I cried. 'How can you fail to recognize the illustrious city of Cecilia?'

'Bear with me,' that man answered. 'I am a wandering herdsman. Sometimes my goats and I have to pass through cities; but we are unable to distinguish them. Ask me the names of the grazing lands: I know them all, the Meadow between the Cliffs, the Green Slope, the Shadowed Grass. Cities have no name for me: they are places without leaves, separating one pasture from another, and where the goats are frightened at street corners and scatter. The dog and I run to keep the flock together.'

'I am the opposite of you,' I said. 'I recognize only cities and cannot distinguish what is outside them. In uninhabited places each stone and each clump of grass mingles, in my eyes, with every other stone and clump.'

Many years have gone by since then; I have known many more cities and I have crossed continents. One day I was walking among rows of identical houses; I was lost. I asked a passerby: 'May the immortals protect you, can you tell me where we are?'

'In Cecilia, worse luck!' he answered. 'We have been wandering through its streets, my goats and I, for an age, and we cannot find our way out....'

I recognized him, despite his long white beard; it was the same herdsman of long before. He was followed by a few, mangy goats, which did not even stink, they were so reduced to skin-and-bones. They cropped wastepaper in the rubbish bins.

'That cannot be!' I shouted. 'I, too, entered a city, I cannot remember when, and since then I have gone on, deeper and deeper into its streets. But how have I managed to arrive where you say, when I was in another city, far far away from Cecilia, and I have not yet left it?'

'The places have mingled,' the goatherd said. 'Cecilia is everywhere. Here, once upon a time, there must have been the Meadow of the Low Sage. My goats recognize the grass on the traffic island.'
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Oh, also noticed last week that this must be Pullman's source for his angels:

Large Red Man Reading

There were ghosts that returned to earth to hear his phrases,
As he sat there reading, aloud, the great blue tabulae.
They were those from the wilderness of stars that had expected more.

There were those that returned to hear him read from the poem of life,
Of the pans above the stove, the pots on the table, the tulips among them.
They were those that would have wept to step barefoot into reality,

They would have wept and been happy, have shivered in the frost
And cried out to feel it again, have run fingers over leaves
And against the most coiled thorn, have seized on what was ugly

And laughed, as he sat there reading, from out of the purple tabulae,
The outlines of being and its expressings, the syllables of its law:
Poesis, poesis, the literal characters, the vatic lines,

Which in those ears and in those thin, those spended hearts,
Took on color, took on shape and the size of things as they are
And spoke the feeling for them, which was what they had lacked.

Stevens was one of the few poets on his favorite books list, I think. And I know Lindsay was--pre-Galatea, I wonder?

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Delta, Eugenio Montale (tr. Samuel Beckett)

To thee
I have willed the life drained

in secret transfusions, the life chained
in a coil of restlessness, unaware, self-angry.
When time leans on his dykes
then thine
be his allconsciousness
and memory flower forth in a flame
from the dark sanctuary, and shine
more brightly, as now, the rain over, the dragon's-blood
on the walls and the green against the branches.

Of thee
I know nothing, only
the tidings sustaining my going,
and shall I find
thee shape or the fumes of a dream
drawing life
from the river's fever boiling darkly
against the tide.

Of thee nothing in the grey hours and the hours
torn by a flame of sulphur,
the whistle of the tug
whose prow has ridden forth into the bright gulf.

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I had a love affair, short and surprising. It began when a man at a party said I have to see you again - he said this all of a sudden (I knew him vaguely) in a conversation with other people about other things, dark green room, and it surprised me and I walked out into the night and went home surprised and didn't see him again for a year and then it began. It ended when he said I had damaged his soul. Also surprising! Love and hate are side-by-side surprises, are they not. I mention this because it is a universal puzzle and also because Empedokles had a theory of it, which may give some comfort. Empedokles tells us that the forces of Love and Strife roll through the universe organizing all reality into the actions and sufferings we call our lives. Yes they tear us apart but otherwise nothing would ever happen. Yes we are to blame for it but way back at the start of being us, not now. Back when the deep trees were still shivering in long joy their human arms. And the tones of each soul had just been brushed on - like a sudden clearance of snow we felt we could exist without lack! But soon the relics begin to stir - and certainly this cheats and baffles reason, how there can be relics at the dawn of time - yet we all know, as one moves into love, it gradually becomes impossible to identify with the other's innocence. From somewhere, almost inside it, stains soak through. Who am I? His tears exasperate me. You are good at being cold he says and I say Alas and the famine is all around us.

One of the best moments in Carson, hidden in Answer Scars, an 'annotation' to various artwork titles provided by some idiot narcissist that Carson blithely segues into her own concerns, mostly at the time her identification with Holderlin.

First time I read the lovely bit about the impossibility of identifying with the other's innocence, I think I thought of the uninnocence as being a kind of scheming. It's like they're out to get you, and taking it like that makes you out to get them. Inflects differently for me now: the uninnocence is their habits, their history, the ways they're not like you (or too like the bad you, the outer). You can't afford to not read their history in them, since they're in so much of your life which you have to live. But identifying them with that history, limiting them to it is such a loss. Such a slight adjustment and it works perfectly well but the inventory you've taken is all that's left of them, and who needs inventory.

Love the gnosticism. So close to Poimandres, Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, that early Frost poem about choosing life before birth--but she's getting it from the source. Holderlin did that too, hence her obsession with him: took things back to early Greece and etymology, not so accurately but it's the need more than the scholarship that frees the movement.

Another gratification, this Holderlin quote, from The Death of Empedokles, I think in her translation:

yes I know everything, the world is mine
and subject to me are all its powers....
What would the sky be and the ocean,
the islands and stars
if! what would they be these lifeless strings! without my giving them music and speech and soul?

Pure Shelley: "Hymn of Apollo" and "Mont Blanc" especially. Was she thinking of Shelley? The phrasing of the latter may also color her summary of Empedoklean Strife and Love.

A gift to know that these stranger friends think the same thoughts, ignorant of one another or not. The same stars, inside and out, of the dying astronomer's gesture.
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"Yes, Bunny would feel like that about forbidden doors."

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I decided to read Inferno in the 20-poet translation rather than Pinsky's. The separation between poets and dabblers is pretty clear in it. Richard Wilbur wins by miles.

I watched a vile, six-footed serpent dart
toward one of them, and then, with never a pause,
fasten itself to him with every part.

It clasped his belly with its middle claws,
its forefeet clutched his arms as in a vise,
and into either cheek it sank its jaws.

The hindmost feet it dug into his thighs,
and twixt them thrust its tail so limberly
that up his spine its clambering tip could rise.

Never did ivy cling so to a tree
as did that hideous creature bind and braid
its limbs and his in pure ferocity;

And then they stuck together, as if made
of melting wax, and mixed their colors; nor
did either now retain his former shade:

Just so, when paper burns, there runs before
the creeping flame a stain of darkish hue
that, though not black as yet, is white no more.

That's some sweet damned Inferno. Perfection, really--wasted on merely good French comedies, and his merely good own poems these last couple decades,

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Comus props:

1. Amongst the rest a small unsightly root,
But of divine effect, he culled me out;
The leaf was darkish, and had prickles on it,
But in another country, as he said,
Bore a bright golden flower, but not in this soil:
Unknown, and like esteemed, and the dull swain
Treads on it daily with his clouted shoon,
And yet more med'cinal is it than that Moly
That Hermes once to wise Ulysses gave;
He called it haemony, and gave it me,
And bade me keep it as of sov'reign use
'Gainst all enchantments, mildew blast, or damp
Or ghostly Furies' apparition.

2. And first behold this cordial julep here
That flames, and dances in his crystal bounds
With spirits of balm, and fragrant syrups mixed.
Not that Nepenthes which the wife of Thone
In Egypt gave to Jove-born Helena
Is of such power to stir up joy as this,
To life so friendly, or so cool to thirst.
Why should you be so cruel to yourself,
And to those dainty limbs which Nature lent
For gentle usage, and soft delicacy?
But you invert the cov'nants of her trust,
And harshly deal like an ill borrower
With that which you received on other terms,
Scorning the unexempt condition
By which all mortal frailty must subsist,
Refreshment after toil, ease after pain,
That have been tired all day without repast,
And timely rest have wanted; but fair virgin
This will restore all soon.

Marlowe in 1, Spenser in 2. Tom's song here (?):

But now my task is smoothly done,
I can fly, or I can run
Quickly to the green earth's end,
Where the bowed welkin slow doth bend,
And from thence can soar as soon
To the corners of the moon.

Interesting Nature/Mangod/Nature procession in the Lady's response to Comus' temptings. "In unsuperfluous even proportion"--a line that slows itself amusingly to demonstrate its message.

Comus is so strange. At first it seems unreadably slight, then ridiculously well-written, then rather moving as a case for justice (Milton's denunciation of the draft of pleasure is as much on communist as self-control grounds). Every time it's like that. I wonder what its players made of it. They must have felt something important was going on.

And the writing. Thoroughly Spenser, thoroughly Shakespeare, thoroughly Milton. One brief burst of all three at once. Just one.
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Oh, and:

Bless Hardy for this:

Every branch big with it,
Bent every twig with it;
Every fork like a white web-foot;
Every street and pavement mute:
Some flakes have lost their way, and grope back upward when
Meeting those meandering down they turn and descend again.
The palings are glued together like a wall,
And there is no waft of wind with the fleecy fall.
A sparrow enters the tree,
Whereon immediately
A snow-lump thrice his own slight size
Descends on him and showers his head and eyes
And overturns him,
And near inurns him,
And lights on a nether twig, when its brush
Starts off a volley of other lodging lumps with a rush.
The steps are a blanched slope,
Up which, with feeble hope,
A black cat comes, wide-eyed and thin;
And we take him in.
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from "Mr Coleridge" in The Spirit of the Age, Hazlitt

The present is an age of talkers, and not of doers; and the reason is, that the world is growing old. We are so far advanced in the Arts and Sciences, that we live in retrospect, and doat on past achievements. The accumulation of knowledge has been so great, that we are lost in wonder at the height it has reached, instead of attempting to climb or add to it; while the variety of objects distracts and dazzles the looker-on. What niche remains unoccupied? What path untried? What is the use of doing anything, unless we could do better than all those who have gone before us? What hope is there of this? We are like those who have been to see some noble monument of art, who are content to admire without thinking of rivalling it; or like guests after a feast, who praise the hospitality of the donor 'and thank the bounteous Pan'--perhaps carrying away some trifling fragments; or like the spectators of a mighty battle, who still hear its sound afar off, and the clashing of armour and the neighing of the war-horse and the shout of victory is in their ears, like the rushing of innumerable waters!


Mr. Coleridge has 'a mind reflecting ages past': his voice is like the echo of the congregated roar of the 'dark rearward and abyss' of thought. He who has seen a mouldering tower by the side of a crystal lake, hid by the mist, but glittering in the wave below, may conceive the dim, gleaming, uncertain intelligence of his eye: he who has marked the evening clouds uprolled (a world of vapours) has seen the picture of his mind, unearthly, unsubstantial, with gorgeous tints and ever-varying forms--

'That which was now a horse, even with a thought
The rack dislimns, and makes it indistinct
As water is in water.'


What is the little he could add to the stock, compared with the countless stores that lie about him, that he should stoop to pick up a name, or to polish an idle fancy? He walks abroad in the majesty of an universal understanding, eyeing the 'rich strond' or golden sky above him, and 'goes sounding on his way,' in eloquent accents, uncompelled and free!

Persons of the greatest capacity are often those, who for this reason do the least; for surveying themselves from the highest point of view, amidst the infinite variety of the universe, their own share in it seems trifling, and scarce worth a thought; and they prefer the contemplation of all that is, or has been, or can be, to the making a coil about doing what, when done, is no better than vanity. It is hard to concentrate all our attention and efforts on one pursuit, except from ignorance of others; and without this concentration of our faculties no great progress can be made in any one thing. It is not merely that the mind is not capable of the effort; it does not think the effort worth making. Action is one; but thought is manifold. He whose restless eye glances through the wide compass of nature and art, will not consent to have 'his own nothings monstered'; but he must do this before he can give his whole soul to them. The mind, after 'letting contemplation have its fill" or

'Sailing with supreme dominion
Through the azure deep of air,'

sinks down on the ground, breathless, exhausted, powerless, inactive; or if it must have some vent to its feelings, seeks the most easy and obvious; is soothed by friendly flattery, lulled by the murmur of immediate applause: thinks, as it were, aloud, and babbles in its dreams!

A scholar (so to speak) is a more disinterested and abstracted character than a mere author. The first looks at the numberless volumes of a library, and says, 'All these are mine': the other points to a single volume (perhaps it may be an immortal one) and says, 'My name is written on the back of it.' This is a puny and grovelling ambition, beneath the lofty amplitude of Mr. Coleridge's mind. No, he revolves in his wayward soul, or utters to the passing wind, or discourses to his own shadow, things mightier and more various!
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The splendours of the intellect's advance,
The sweetness of the home with babes and wife;

The social pleasures with their genial wit:
The fascination of the worlds of art,
The glories of the worlds of nature, lit
By large imagination's glowing heart;

The rapture of mere being, full of health;
The careless childhood and the ardent youth,
The strenuous manhood winning various wealth,
The reverend age serene with life's long truth:

All the sublime prerogatives of Man;
The storied memories of the times of old,
The patient tracking of the world's great plan
Through sequences and changes myriadfold.

Far, far out of context piece of "The City of Dreadful Night." I'd presumed Stevens got the phrase "of mere being" from Hegel or Jung, but who can say? Reminds me a bit of the Rossi litany that's epigraph to "Evening Without Angels."
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What a strange path I took to get to you, O Jeanne.

You've been a long way away...Thank you for coming back to me.

You've made my life a song...Bless you for coming back to me at last.
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What Cosmic jest or Anarch blunder
The human integral clove asunder
And shied the fractions through life's gate?

Whatever brute and blackguard made the world.

There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will.

The something that infects the world.

The sound was behind me instead of before,
A sleepy sound, but mocking half,
As of one who utterly couldn’t care.
The Demon arose from his wallow to laugh,
Brushing the dirt from his eye as he went;
And well I knew what the Demon meant.

Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat and live for ever--

And surely your blood of your lives will I require: at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man, at the hand of every man's brother will I require the life of man.

Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language: and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.

Though thou art worshipped by the names divine
Of Jesus and Jehovah thou art still
The Son of Morn in weary night's decline
The lost traveler's dream under the hill.
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The path by which we twain did go,
Which led by tracts that pleased us well,
Thro' four sweet years arose and fell,
From flower to flower, from snow to snow:

And we with singing cheer'd the way,
And crown'd with all the season lent,
From April on to April went,
And glad at heart from May to May:

But where the path we walk'd began
To slant the fifth autumnal slope,
As we descended following Hope,
There sat the Shadow fear'd of man;

Who broke our fair companionship,
And spread his mantle dark and cold;
And wrapt thee formless in the fold,
And dull'd the murmur on thy lip;

And bore thee where I could not see
Nor follow, tho' I walk in haste;
And think that, somewhere in the waste,
The Shadow sits and waits for me.

Tennyson, note punctuation.
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"For if you go beyond this and allow the honeyed muse to enter, either in epic or lyric verse, not law and the reason of mankind, which by common consent have ever been deemed best, but pleasure and pain will be the rulers in our State."

"Divinity must live within herself:
Passions of rain, or moods in falling snow;
Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued
Elations when the forest blooms; gusty
Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights;
All pleasures and all pains, remembering
The bough of summer and the winter branch.
These are the measures destined for her soul."
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from Areopagitica, Milton

Truth indeed came once into the world with her divine Master, and was a perfect shape most glorious to look on: but when he ascended, and his Apostles after him were laid asleep, then straight arose a wicked race of deceivers, who, as that story goes of the Egyptian Typhon with his conspirators, how they dealt with the good Osiris, took the virgin Truth, hewed her lovely form into a thousand pieces, and scattered them to the four winds. From that time ever since, the sad friends of Truth, such as durst appear, imitating the careful search that Isis made for the mangled body of Osiris, went up and down gathering up limb by limb, still as they could find them. We have not yet found them all, Lords and Commons, nor ever shall do, till her Master's second coming; he shall bring together every joint and member, and shall mould them into an immortal feature of loveliness and perfection. Suffer not these licensing prohibitions to stand at every place of opportunity, forbidding and disturbing them that continue seeking, that continue to do our obsequies to the torn body of our martyred saint.

We boast our light; but if we look not wisely on the sun itself, it smites us into darkness. Who can discern those planets that are oft combust, and those stars of brightest magnitude that rise and set with the sun, until the opposite motion of their orbs bring them to such a place in the firmament, where they may be seen evening or morning? The light which we have gained was given us, not to be ever staring on, but by it to discover onward things more remote from our knowledge. It is not the unfrocking of a priest, the unmitring of a bishop, and the removing him from off the presbyterian shoulders, that will make us a happy nation. No, if other things as great in the Church, and in the rule of life both economical and political, be not looked into and reformed, we have looked so long upon the blaze that Zuinglius and Calvin hath beaconed up to us, that we are stark blind. There be who perpetually complain of schisms and sects, and make it such a calamity that any man dissents from their maxims. 'Tis their own pride and ignorance which causes the disturbing, who neither will hear with meekness, nor can convince; yet all must be suppressed which is not found in their Syntagma. They are the troublers, they are the dividers of unity, who neglect and permit not others to unite those dissevered pieces which are yet wanting to the body of Truth. To be still searching what we know not by what we know, still closing up truth to truth as we find it (for all her body is homogeneal and proportional), this is the golden rule in theology as well as in arithmetic, and makes up the best harmony in a Church; not the forced and outward union of cold, and neutral, and inwardly divided minds.
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from Theism, John Stuart Mill

The belief, however, in human immortality, in the minds of mankind generally, is probably not grounded on any scientific argu­ments either physical or metaphysical, but on foundations with most minds much stronger, namely on one hand the disagreeableness of giving up existence, (to those at least to whom it has hitherto been pleasant) and on the other the general traditions of mankind. The nat­ural tendency of belief to follow these two inducements, our own wishes and the general assent of other people, has been in this instance reinforced by the utmost exertion of the power of public and private teaching, rulers and instructors having at all times, with the view of giving greater effect to their mandates whether from selfish or from public motives, encouraged to the utmost of their power the belief that there is a life after death, in which pleasures and sufferings far greater than on earth, depend on our doing or leaving undone while alive, what we are commanded to do in the name of the unseen powers. As causes of belief these various circumstances are most powerful. As rational grounds of it they carry no weight at all.

That what is called the consoling nature of an opinion, that is, the pleasure we should have in believing it to be true, can be a ground for believing it, is a doctrine irrational in itself and which would sanction half the mischievous illusions recorded in history or which mislead indi­vidual life...
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Old Earth, Samuel Beckett

Old earth, no more lies, I've seen you, it was me, with my other's ravening eyes, too late. You'll be on me, it will be you, it will be me, it will be us, it was never us. It won't be long now, perhaps not tomorrow, nor the day after, but too late. Not long now, how I gaze on you, and what refusal, how you refuse me, you so refused. It's a cockchafer year, next year there won't be any, nor the year after, gaze your fill. I come home at nightfall, they take to wing, rise from my little oaktree and whirr away, glutted, into the shadows. I reach up, grasp the bough, pull myself up and go in. Three years in the earth, those the moles don't get, then guzzle guzzle, ten days long, a fortnight, and always the flight at nightfall. To the river perhaps, they head for the river. I turn on the light, then off, ashamed, stand at gaze before the window, the windows, going from one to another, leaning on the furniture. For an instant I see the sky, the different skies, then they turn to faces, agonies, loves, the different loves, happiness too, yes, there was that too, unhappily. Moments of life, of mine too, among others, no denying, all said and done. Happiness, what happiness, but what deaths, what loves, I knew at the time, it was too late then. Ah to love at your last and see them at theirs, the last minute loved ones, and be happy, why ah, uncalled for. No but now, now, simply stay still, standing before a window, one hand on the wall, the other clutching your shirt, and see the sky, a long gaze, but no, gasps and spasms, a childhood sea, other skies, another body.


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