“Life is neither good or evil, but only a place for good and evil.”
– Marcus Aurelius.
Sometimes, very occasionally these days,
I feel as though I were an aristocrat whose title,
unpronounceable and subtle, was bestowed by no Authority.
On days like this I think of Stephen Pearl Andrews story,
that one called The Dinner Party, and I wonder about
Utopias based on children’s games, and about how
arriving an hour late to work or accidentally destroying Washington,
Beijing, New Delhi, or Tehran would make so little impact
on anything that actually mattered. Lives would be lost I suppose but,
and don’t think me callous, in those moments –
those moments when I feel the spontaneous descendent
of some pacifist military caste whose existence comes from nowhere –
in those moments of relaxed vertigo I am lulled into blissful indifference
by the notion that all lives are lost long before they breathe first breaths.
You’re on the outskirts of the city while I’m thinking this.
Here there are fields of an experimental type, a farm for researching…
what do can you research on a farm? And you’re walking along an empty road,
occasional cars pass as if trying not to wake a sleeping child.
The Sun is high. The air is pleasant. You don’t care much for anything
but it isn’t that you don’t care. It is something between these things that that word,
Indifference, can’t quite paint.
You think about Place, recalling fragments of the places
you have called home. Where is that now? Does it have dimension, extension,
and is it really a solid state mass? Yes, you’re sure it is
but the question of for how long tongues the lobes of your ears.
It’s a pleasing feeling and you close your eyes as you walk.
In the kitchen while you drank cheap coffee and talked uselessly,
after cleaning away the evidence of he body’s dis-integration from the brain,
you find yourself discussing possible Theologies; the futurity of a God
yet to come, and who may have already died.
The man behind the newspaper, glasses coming off as he looks up
from behind the headlines and the pictures, he leans over slightly and gives a prayer:
‘One day biotechnology will make all this redundant
and we’ll live like children whose bodies are toys to be picked up
and thrown merrily away’. You shudder at the thought,
you want to scream a mountainous jagged No
but instead just sip more coffee.
Later, in the small room where the dying huddle to fix their gazeless eyes
on some invisible repeat, you will take out a scrap of paper
and with the pen you stole from someone you’ve forgotten you will write these words:
Should I crumble and wither and shit myself all day,
with cups of tea being offered regardless of the absence of any thirst
except one that can’t be named or quenched,
don’t straighten my tie or comb my hair when visitors come,
or call me by my preferred name. When my eyes receive data and no magic,
when my ears hear only raw and indistinct sounds,
give me a little dignity of the truer type, recognise and honour my descent,
my return to the simple animality I never knew
and make temples out of my unprovoked and pointless tears.
Sometimes you feel like nothing that doesn’t happen
on the scale of the cosmic is entirely irrelevant,
as if only the burning of stars and the orbits of gas giants,
the cradling nebulas giving birth to still massless galaxies, are the only moments
that Time really ever records. And sometimes you feel like
it is right that those who tend the dying, who provide their last comforts
and try to entertain their last slivers of hope, should have murder in their hearts.
And then I remember that I can’t even tie my own shoes,
that I’ve never before bathed another human being,
that I’ve never even once felt the heart beat of a tiny broken winged bird.
I remember that all the places I’ve called home are entangled
in a thousand other things, a thousand lost lives, a thousand unredeemed dreams.
I remember the vision of fists and soft faces and how it broke my tiny heart
a thousand nights in a thousand ways.
What is the Cost Principle of a black hole, the Labour Principle of a fledgling star?
Is this an element, a symbol, a fact, or a sign?
Everything is happening so fast, I’m not sure where I am;
ecstatic, you take off your uniform and sit on the steps of the square
outside the theatre. You have pressing concerns, things that must be done,
but you can’t help wonder if the sky was meant to be
and whether tranquillity’s allure was always a fraud. You are waiting
until you see her again, waiting with these light and frivolous thoughts,
skimmed like stones onto the surface of volcanic lake.
What am I trying to say?
You wait in the sunshine reading a book and deliberately,
but without working up a sweat, throw off pretensions to knowledge
or to truth. A swelling in the void, a skin irritation on the universe,
you mouth to yourself that any man who tries to convince another
of some Vital truth does so because he himself doesn’t and can’t believe;
missionaries produce the believers they wish themselves to be.
While you sit there waiting, feeling as vague and reluctant as
a summer cloud, you are convinced of the beauty and necessity
of everything and there is nothing you do not believe.
I feel like I could abolish obituaries, devour all places
and leave them intact.
I will form a new religion from this simple mantra:
I cannot even tie my own shoelaces.