SOME PEOPLE JUST HURT TOO MUCH
for Dave Richardson (a.k.a. Fuzz)
who is suffering terminal cancer
Some people just hurt too much
to want to go on living
and others are just angry
that they were ever born.
Sophocles at ninety
handsome rich athletic genius Athenian
at the end of a superlative life:
Never to have been born is best.
And I forget which caliph it was
Abbasid or Ummayad
Al Mutakkil perhaps
but after a long life
full of women and conquest
with the soul of an Arab poet
and the mind of a Persian knife
and the honesty of a Tuarig warrior
who knows that life
is sand and wind and water and stars
at the height of the Islamic empire
said in a letter at the end
for all the privileges of life he’d known
he could count no more
than thirteen days of happiness in all.
Makes me think.
Makes me wonder.
For years I’ve tried to shake the shadow
of what these people might have seen.
Is there nothing in the heart of life but sorrow?
The phoenix dreams of fire
and wakes up in its own ashes?
No joy in the mere sentience of being alive?
The bread of life we all labour for
a harvest of thorns?
That much suffering
nothing but a purposeless torment
by a self-fulfilling absurdity
that doesn’t know about us?
And what do we know about
the intimate individuality
of all the ants
we’ve stepped on in a lifetime?
Are the symbiotics of death
the same as those of life
or is life a bacterial parasite
that thrives on our breath
like a dying atmosphere sickens the earth?
One hundred and fifty million years of dinosaurs
gone with the impact of one stone
ten kilometers wide out of nowhere
sucker-punching the Gulf of Mexico
and knocking the wind out of the planet.
And you can line up the skulls of the hominids who died
on their way to us like masks that were discarded
trying to find one that would fit us
like the Medicean brain-cap
of Brunellesci’s dome
on a rainy Renaissance cathedral in Florence.
But it’s arrogant and presumptive to think
they ever had us in mind
like some distant future
that would one day return
to drink from the same river
you can’t step into twice
and see in the false idols
of our own stone-cold faces
thousands upon thousands of the dead reflections
that blossomed and perished long before us
like apple trees and harvest moons
and Pithacanthropos afrensis robustus.
We still consult the bones of things
like prophetic skulls
that look to the dead for answers
the living can humble their questions to
like a catastrophe to the crisis of surrender
that is the lesser of two evils
at the crux of the matter.
We’ve come a long way since yesterday.
From Clovis point to ballistic missile.
From St. Paul to Paul Pot.
From Attila’s brother Atolf
to Adolph Hitler.
You can say what you want
we’re still more at home with war than peace.
You can put out fire with fire.
You can put out pain with pain.
But there’s something suspiciously inferior
about a bigger brain
that lives in a skull-bound interior
like a grain of wheat or sand
and understands less and less
about the universe within itself
the more it expands.
Show me the apocalypse
that’s the antidote to the Big Bang.
Show me the serum
that’s poison to the poison of the opposite fang.
You can’t pour the universe out of the universe
to put it out like an arsonist in a volunteer fire-brigade.
There’s no inside or out to it.
There’s no red neon sign
glowing like hell
above an emergency exit
and if there ever was an entrance
to the garden of Eden
those gates to paradise
closed behind us long ago like water
without leaving any stretchmarks or scars.
But what is most appalling
and dangerously liberating of all
is to see how little human values
amount to anything more
than the intimacy of a few random fireflies
and unstable atoms
with the abysmal darkness behind the veils
of the visible universe
that conceals the black matter
of its unknown origins
by attributing its beginnings to hindsight
so that life could only be experienced
moment after moment after that
as a kind of afterlife
without a future.
Before the earth was called earth
it collided with another planet called Thea
and they made the moon
and it was stillborn
and upon the earth
there was one great continent
from pole to pole
that eventually broke up
like Humpty Dumpty’s skull
that wasn’t cosmic egg enough to cover
the whole soft head of the earth
in synarthritic sutures of bone.
Everyone’s been trying
to get it together
on their own ever since
changing one shape for another
jumping from one skull to the next
The predators get eyes
and everyone learns to hide
on the dark side of their seeing
like a lot of soft attitudes
under the hardening shells
of the turtles and cathedrals
the world stands on
like quicksand cornerstones.
But one look into the unrelenting depths
of the highs and lows
in the abyss of the dragon’s eyes
and you stop making distinctions
among myriad lucidities
and earth-born snakes take to the sky
like circumpolar constellations with wings.
You look at the stars
and you see fireflies.
You look at the fireflies
through a reflecting telescope
and you see stars at the bottom of a well
looking back at you
in awe of the impossible distances it takes
to reach the nearest human.
The shadows teach you
as much about life as the light
and wisdom that hasn’t been enlightened like a star
enhanced by the deepening night
is the last asylum
of the shore-hugging fools
who feed it like a fish-farm.
They cultivate their minds
like deep seas
that aren’t ready for life.
They nibble at it in little dainty bites
like crustless cucumber sandwiches
like keystones in a Roman arch
leapfrogging across the landscape
like waterclocks and aquaducts.
They go on and on like haikus
that won’t take no for an answer.
The moon on the Tay river.
The date-rape drug in my drink.
And since they’ve learned to think
they’ve forgotten how
to chug the whole river in a single gulp
without getting in way over their heads
and drowning us all in self-pity
as if it’s for sure
it’s a shame we were lost
washed out to sea
in the undertow
of a sunami of tears
and there weren’t enough time after us
to measure the cost of our absence in lightyears.
But I can easily see
how nature keeps a budget
and we’re an unnecessary expense.
And it makes sense.
But this is precisely how things got
so brutal and empty inside us in the first place
even the elements couldn’t endure for long.
It’s one thing to be a god
but it’s wholly another
to survive against the odds
of your own creation.
You don’t need to ask a church about that
like a blind witching wand
twitching for holy water
when the mystery of life
shines out of the darkness in each one of us
like the divine truth
of the godless fact
we call intelligence
and look upon life
as if it were the last act
of a dangerous imagination
that left us on our own
in a huge empty room
with strange lights
moving across the wall
and the portraits of dead insights
outside in the hall
casting shadows under the door
like threatening loveletters
from someone we never think about
and don’t really want to know.
Dilemma paradox the human condition predicament
how haven’t we laboured
to anesthetize our pain
by trying to define life
in the abstractions we draw
like the last breath
of unsuccessful exorcists
giving up the ghosts
of our suffering
by looking in the mirror backwards
and giving them names as they disappear into the abyss
like birds into their adventurous homelessness?
All of space is contained within each of us.
All of time.
The whole of the beginning that never ends
and the extremities of the end where everything begins.
All you me her them
so many faces blown from the black boughs of dark matter
like Japanese plum blossoms
torn from the orchards of the moon like eyelids
that couldn’t keep hid
what wanted to be known
like a flower in a waking seed
or the universe that is engendered by a human
and disappears back into him like a dream from the night before.
And we do this every day and night
of our lives upon this earth
We take things in.
And we let them out.
We’re like the full moon
when it lies down upon the waters
whole in the sky
but scattered on the waves
like feathers waiting for a bird that knows how to fly.
Death is the dark inspiration
that muses on the possibilities
of realizing life within itself
like the potential of an undiscovered poet
suddenly coming to light.
Life emerges like a star deep in the night
like a firefly at the window
and it is we who are expressed by it
not the other way around.
It lives its way into us like earth and water
like a river
like a wind
that dances like a mad dervish
in a frenzy of stars
when he discovers he’s just another mirage in the desert
drinking from the eyes of his own reflection
to achieve illumination.
On the peripheries of life
he suffers his destruction as a circumference
to be centered in creation.
Enthroned in the circle
there are no gates or windows or doors
no paths or roads
for anyone to pass through
no locks on anything
no starwalks on the way to enlightenment
no body to cast off
as if you could turn your back on matter
no spirit to put on
like the tantric stovepipe of the Mad Hatter.
there’s no more need
to seek liberation
than there is for a thief
to steal from his own house.
But one good guess deserves another
and it’s as wise to be kind to your delusions
as it is foolishness
to try to grasp the truth
without keeping one eye on the facts
and the other on compassion.
So I hope you’ll forgive me for going on as I do
about things I know nothing about
but thinking of your death
has ripped a hole in me
and all the stars are pouring out
like a parallel universe looking for space
and I’m trying hard not to cry
for the death of physics as we’ve known it
without going insane.
I’ve been trying to turn a sandstorm
into a windowpane full of stars
as the tears fall
like slow glass from my eyes
in a vain attempt
to lighten the room up with chandeliers.
But it’s just as dark as it always was.
And I’m just as angry at a god
I don’t believe in
for not being there
and think it’s probably better
he shouldn’t exist
inconceivably or not
if he’s behind this lottery of death
that keeps coming up with all these ways
of killing us
as if there was nothing about being a human
that had any more individuality
What was it about our original creation
that god should have so run out of breath
he couldn’t get past death
in the making of us?
Why can’t we live forever
like the angels and the demons do?
They aren’t struck down for good
by wars and cars and cancer.
What’s wrong with us?
Is there a gene missing from our embryos
like a long pause
at the end of the unfinished sentence
where god forgot what he was going to say
and we had to make it up as we went along
the rest of the way on our own
against the odds of ever getting it right?
the strangers we are to ourselves
what haven’t we tried to second-guess
witching for water with lightning in an open field
like rootless trees
trying to get a foot in the door
of a habitable planet
that’s more abbattoir than arboretum?
And I’ve lost count
of the number of holy books
I’ve thrown into the fire
but the fire hasn’t gotten any wiser.
And no matter how many nights on my own
I re-read the shadows like letters from home
I still haven’t found my way back
to where I began as the child
of a sungod and a Mayan calendar
that were always
one tiny firefly of apocalypse
shy of cosmic doom.
Attired in space and time for the occasion
one size fits all
like a funeral.
Infinite richs in a little room!
The rain on your window someone left open.
The pearl of the moon
that’s been growing under your tongue
like a secret you’ve kept to yourself for ages.
And there are corners of life
where we all sit at right angles
to the writing on the wall
like a dunce among sages
with more than a hundred and eighty degrees.
Everyone has their selfless and selfish reasons
for being who they are.
The blossom doesn’t have to look very far
to find its own roots
mired in the starmud
that feeds the dead to the living.
What goes around comes around
and everything is looping
so way ahead is just behind us
and we who inch along in the present
keep getting lapped by the future
like the tortoise by the hare.
The one who wins
is the one who doesn’t keep score.
The best of archers always hits the mark like rain.
It aims for a lot of zeroes.
An abundance of nothing.
The spine of the arrow
already in the heart of the yew tree
that’s fletched it with singing birds
and draws it back like a compound bow
and lets it go to follow its own path
to the dead center of wherever it might be found.
When the heart isn’t a flight plan
it’s a blood-bath.
But you’re missing the point
if you think it’s a target.
You’ve only got one eye open.
This short breath of life we take
like footsteps we follow one after another
isn’t a long road to a narrow one-way door called death.
Death isn’t the return address of your mother.
There’s no wandering threshold
of homesick prodigal sons
returning to the flocks of their fathers
like one lost black sheep among a hundred.
There’s no third eye of a needle
to squeeze through like the caravan
of a fat rich man
trying to bribe his way into heaven.
It isn’t the last night of a cosmic insight
though I’m sure we’d all enjoy life more
if we approached it like a last meal
with the appetite of a condemned man on death row
instead of turning a feast into a last supper
as if the wine of the thief
didn’t turn into the blood of a god
deep in his cups
lamenting what he’d come to.
Eloi! Eloi! lama sabacthani?
My God! My God!
Why hast thou forsaken me?
The nightbird in the tree on a hill of skulls
never stops singing to the dead.
And there’s always a voice
in the mouth of the prophetic head of Orpheus
that knows how to charm its way into the underworld
to retrieve the coin lost to the river like the moon
from the river
without asking for anything.
It’s one thing to know how to fly
like an angel
but it’s another altogether
to know how to lose your feathers
like a bright demon
in a dark human
and fall toward paradise
as if there were no up or down to heaven
and no way in or out of hell.
Life’s a magician that can’t break its own spell
like Prospero broke his wand across his knees
and drowned his book
to get back to more estranged realities.
From the moment we were born
it’s all been one long last look
to see where we might be going.
But what effect does death have on time?
The past and the future
both suckle at the breasts of the dark mother
that sustains them like the Milky Way of the moment
on the nectar of gods and ghosts
to keep them from being swallowed up by time.
The old gods
might eat our gravestones
and think that they’re well served
if they gorge on their own children
dip the bread in the wine
and say it’s flesh and blood
but there is something
so unmystically specific
about our bodies
it’s hard to go on cosmically barefoot
down the long road ahead that fits us
like one pair of shoes for all.
And it’s as oxymoronically strange
as everything else is
but the only continuity in a world of change
is change itself.
That’s what we are.
That’s what we do.
That’s what intelligence is.
Change trying to get a fix on itself
like a star in eleven dimensions
and an infinite number of parallel universes
where every atomic nuance and possibility
of who we are and aren’t is true.
It’s how everything we ever knew
and will be
How the atoms give birth to the galaxies.
This mind we have now
full of thoughts and feelings
we think of as our own private possessions
though all we’re ever doing is grasping at butterflies
and setting up bird nets for the wind
constellations to entrap the fireflies
is merely a rumour of life in the sun.
A lamp in a tent seen from a far hill.
and every drop is an insight
of light and water
cleaning your leaves
and easing your roots
as you flow upward like a fountain
to kiss the sky
and summon the birds
to put their singing voices like music
to your words.
We can say it.
We can play it.
But that doesn’t mean
the insight the music or the water is ours.
We’re not the message.
We’re the expression of the moment
in a cosmic medium
and then we get to be something else
that is us but not ours.
What we see in everyone
and everything else
is the face we see in the mirror.
There are as many strangers
as there are friends
in everyone’s reflection.
As many lives as there are deaths
in every breath we take
as many saints as sinners
as many losers as winners
as many lovers as those
who know what it is to live without love
making up alibis about why they’re alone
sitting at a computer screen
as they used to sit at an upstairs window
looking down at the street
longing for something they’re too proud to need
that would ennoble their solitude
with the inconceivable ending of it.
Julala Din Rumi once wrote that he had
spent his life
knocking on a door
looking for answers.
The door opened.
He was knocking on the inside!
We ask a question
and wait for the answer.
But we don’t recieve the answers.
The answers receive us
just as a river makes its way to the sea
with news of the mountains
and what it’s like to fall from the stars
in single drops of rain
and then be gathered up again into the flowing
as if our separation
had only advanced
our coming together again with a new zeal.
All those threads of water
woven into the one sea
like a single great tapestry
that’s just as quickly undone again
by the moon or Penelope
like a wound that never mends.
We might leave the solar system
like a deep space probe
when we die
looking for signs of sentience
And you might feel
like a cold lonely machine on Mars
roving across a desert
millions of miles from home
under the purple sunsets and pink skies
of a strange planet
looking for water and life
like Kilroy was here on a rock.
And you might see things
that no one’s seen before you
that will change like the light
when it passes through an eye
deep into the starless darkness of a human being
that transforms imageless illumination into seeing
so that the light reveals more
than just that which was hidden.
But even if you should feel sometimes
you’re just whistling to yourself
alone in the dark
as you make your way
like a solitary explorer through a new mindscape
that doesn’t wear a body like a battery pack
don’t think that we won’t be listening
to what you send back
like a postcard from the edge of nowhere
that hasn’t lost touch with home.
Like the dove and the crow
released from this ark of flesh
that carries two of every kind
to look for land
across the wide vast depthless expanse of our gaze
flatlining on the horizon of an unappeasable flood
we’ll be waiting for the crow to come back
with a sprig of olive in its beak
to let us know that you’ve found
what we all seek.