Excellence in the midst of agony; the only protest that tears the heart, not the flesh, that binds as no chain can, no violence can corrupt. Not to overcome, but to transform, to be the lily in the swamp that breeds it, not the weed that crowds the water out. It’s a deal you can strike with pain; an embassy you can open up in hell with full diplomatic immunity. Make something beautiful and true that can churn the black fallout of a radioactive heart into a star. Shape a piece of wood and fix the broken paling on the gate. Turn a pot. Walk well. Master the art of extracting honey from a funeral bell without disturbing a bee. Show up with a bucket and mop, or pen and bottle of ink, brush and palette, and lend your lustre to the clarity of everything you see. There are horrors in the world, murder, starvation, suffering, inequity, hatred, war, disease; there are teenagers hanging from the limbs of ironwood trees, and children seeded in the salted soil of unbearable perversities, lambs gathered and sheered like clouds in the sky by the new shepherds who walk through the valley of the shadow of death with a rifle and a cock and an ideology, an incubus of the eyes, that sips the light from the face of a child and desecrates flesh to blood its crazed abstractions. Shock, grief, revulsion, and even the silence astonished into the deepest reserves of itself, and the light honed like a razor to slash back at the tragic derision that looks up from the mess of its ravage, and grins for the vision. And you say the world should end like a man condemned for unspeakable atrocities, and then you cringe in the apocalyptic shadow of the thought that it might. You sit in the ambiguous electric chair that’s wired to the chakra circuit-breakers of your own serpent fire like a spinal cord that’s about to pull the switch, and you die without a twitch. Martyred by your own party-line. Not death enough to till the grave, nor silo in the seed to save. Even the worm gathers the lumber of its chrysalis, its house of transformation, its cradle-tomb, from the rubble and the wreckage of the wounded seasons that wash ashore, and inching its way in like an hour hand or a threshold, emerges a black dragon unfolding its scintillant wings like the gilded diplomas of time. Why do you shuffle your doubts at the door? Do one thing well and all things out to the furthest star are elaborated perfectly. If you don’t know what to say, no word could abide the day, bury your voice in your wound and arise from the blame and the shame like the theme of a sweeter eloquence. Let the sun and the moon weave a finer sky than the auroral silk of your windproof illusions, a tent of fire, a water mirror silvered by its own tears, a palatial space where the comets and the peacocks open the eyes they trail in their wakes as if the inconceivable vastness that confounds them were urgent with stars and rain falling to find them. Life delights in itself when there’s no one on T.V.; the practise and the practitioner, an alloy of light and water more inseparably supple than the blade of the moon when it’s drawn from its sheath of blood and laid like a truce at the feet of another provisional answer. And you’re right. There really isn’t a choice because there’s no need to choose. All things by their very nature outgrow themselves creatively to advance the loss of themselves like a river in the night. Suffering is the mercy of the left hand that bleeds like a dark joy for the roses smeared on the palatte so they might flourish like seeing itself in the eyes of those elated, spontaneously, by the grace of their fallible excellence. Because it’s not the cut of the eye in the polished gold of the finished ring that shines; that’s a flower without a root; it’s the jewel in the stone, the pearl in its nacreous dream, the moon in its cloudy ore, the human in the aftermath, that adorns the blood on the thorn with a rose that congeals like a holy book in the heart of the fire.