WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?
The opinion of a weak man.
Another philosophical cannibal
who ate the heart of Hannibal
trying to transcend himself homeopathically
like an elephant high in the Alps.
And what does it make you stronger for?
More of the same lame supremacy
hobbling across the stage
like the wounded iamb of a crippled king
suffering played with like a toy
who tore the wings off things like a spider?
As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods
they kill us for their sport.
And some people root well
in the manure of suffering
and tell me that it makes them grow
and I could easily believe it does
if I were a vegetable
but the apple is not more beautiful for its bruises
the child is not ennobled by his hunger
and if you’re truly alone
who is there to liberate you from your solitude?
Is the water more beautiful when it’s tormented
by the things it flows through around and under
than it is when it’s left to find peace all on its own?
There’s a dumb blank stupid face on pain
when you look in the mirror
and the mirror turns to stone.
There are memories.
There are scars.
There’s Auschwitz Gaza and Darfur.
There are lifeboats that jumped ship like plague rats
and ran aground in Genoa like the middle ages.
There are thorns and nails and skulls
and the sacred relics of the unholy atrocities
that burn people in fire to keep them from going to hell.
For all the people killed by cannon
as many have been killed by bells.
But no honey in the holyland
when you beat the stars out of
the golden dome of the hive like a pinata.
Inured to suffering like the least of all possible worlds
you may have learned to grow a garden in a snakepit
but the rose is not defanged
nor the thornapple of its antidote less venomous.
Some tears fall on barren ground.
And some tears are famous.
And it could be we suffer at our own hands
open our bellies and veins
as a way of putting a good face on a bad space
that’s got us down and out
in Ottawa and Osaka
and it’s amazing to watch honour overcome life
but it’s still just a way of opening a loveletter with a knife
and when all is dead and done
taking no for an answer.
Suffering might go into remission for awhile
and concentration camps turn into constellations
and a good rain wash the blood off the flowers
and the geraniums you planted around the house
keep away snakes
and the poppies bleed like junkie donors
trying to make a few bucks at the blood bank
that can’t thank them enough for their bloodstreams
but the wheel of death and birth
is always out of alignment
like most of the planets
and things come back again
like the second run of a storm
or a tidal wave that rises like a dragon
from the dream of an underground watershed
shaken by an earthquake from a deep sleep.
And I can’t see how any of this makes me stronger.
You might feel exalted by the power
in the bulldrums of the thunder
but you won’t like the taste of the lightning in your tea
when you’re rhapsodically high on your own overview
like a flag above the best
and the mountain loses its nerve
and turns into quicksand under you
and the sun stops still at noon above the walls of Jericho
and the horns of the prophet aren’t blessed
and you ask yourself in your helplessness
like a guitar that’s forgotten how to open its mouth and scream
why pain is always the black kool-aid of change
why suffering always spins the cocoon
around our transformations
as our fingernails go black as the new moon
that started out trying to make butterflies
but wound up sealing mummies in a tomb.
Can’t love do as much and more?
Isn’t joy as much of a magician as sorrow
Isn’t wonder as much of an elixir today
as it will be tomorrow
or compassion as much of a grail
or truth as much of a feather
in the scale of things
or beauty as much of a potion
to change the course of our wind blown waterwings
on the great ocean of suffering
as the rose that drowned in its own blood
like the undertow of the dream
that was swept under heavy Aztec eyelids like syphilis?
Every angel in the way
was first called Satan.
They were all Satan.
They were cops at roadblocks.
They got in your face
to keep you from harming yourself
by going down the wrong path.
They turned your eyes around and sent you back
the way of all light in the night.
Jacob wrestled with the angel in the way
and walked away with a limp
like Hephaestus and Richard the Second.
Satan dislocated their hips.
Did they hobble away stronger
because they were the divinely wounded kings
of crippled things?
Or was Satan weakened by his victory
and humans strengthened by their defeat?
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
is a slave’s notion of how to endure the unendurable
and grow like revolution from defeat to defeat.
History is laced with the sententious pragmatism of chaste scars.
Victory heals and smiles and doesn’t hesitate.
Defeat heals and scars and waits.
A war between two sides of the same gate
neither side ever walks through
into a bigger overview of things
that brings peace to the war of wings
over who was captain of the bird
that circled like a lapwing on the runway
but neither victory nor defeat
however high the control tower
ever got off the ground.
It’s just that way with power.
It likes to march.
It doesn’t fly.
But if you ever do make it through
those flightless gates
into the space beyond the common ground
you’re trying to take a stand on
to keep from being knocked down
like the Colossus of Rhodes
or the flyweight lighthouses
of Atlantis and Crete
you won’t need any kind of move
to pin your opponent by his shoulders
like Atlas to the earth
in a UFC clash of the titans.
You can’t be brought to heel
like a starmap kneeling in the dirt
nursing blackholes like daggers underneath your scars.
Our endless igneous wars
are just a bad dream of Vulcan
Venus wakes up from in the arms of Mars
and delivers herself in the nick of time
from a death thrust of rust
that assays everything that’s won as lost
to fire’s version of frost.
In this place where nothing’s overcome
and nothing’s lost or won
there’s no triumph or defeat
or anything that makes you stronger
by disdaining to kill you like the Buddha in the road
it met coming the other way
no stern angel blocking your passage
like Moses forbidden the promised land
or Adam and Eve driven out of Eden
by vicious militias of cherubim
no lamb led to the slaughter
no lion maimed by the meek
and no one blinded by what they seek
because there’s no way
you can knock someone off their feet
who’s walking on stars
as if they were jewels of water.
And the winds of war
aren’t the measure of your next breath
and life doesn’t grow stronger by living longer than death.