ADVICE TO POTENTIAL SUICIDES WHILE WE’RE STILL ALIVE
The worst vice is advice
and I’m not certain I have the right to speak
about a blackhole my light hasn’t entered yet
or even that you have
given death isn’t something that’s lived through
and you still might know as little about it all as I do
here on the near side where the sun is still warm.
But I tried several times when I was young
and once in middle-age
to disgorge myself like a cosmic egg from a serpent’s mouth
finding it impossible to believe in my resentment as a way of life.
Whiskey and sleeping pills for the big events.
And a lot of subjective risks
I took like a samurai committing hiri kiri
so I could live up to my image of John Keats
who always made a gracious bow
at the end of a poem
he wrote on his deathbed in water.
But the worst trespass
against the Bushido laws of anger
when they turn on themselves
is to turn them into the farce
of a tragic sentiment
trying to put a good face on its flaws.
Things don’t have to be that severe to be true to themselves.
You don’t have to put barbed wire around the rose
to protect it from its thorns
or die like a rodeo clown
to keep the moon from being gored on its own horns.
You don’t have to add your darkness to the darkness to brighten the light.
You don’t have to snuff the shining to see a better way through the night
than the door you’ve been knocking on from the inside
on the threshold of your homelessness
as if you had already died
and the news was late in coming.
The trick is
not to expect chaos to come to your rescue
but to outwit death like the mystics
and find a way of dying that kills you into life.
I’m sixty-three this year
and I’ve had a lot of friends and lovers
I was expecting to die of old age among
kill themselves along the way
and that’s even before I consider those
who died of natural causes
and the usual accidents
for the best of reasons
making gestures of sympathy
at the wake of a dead absolute.
No meaning to life?
No response to yours?
No direction to go in
that hasn’t got its head up its ass
like the beginning of the end?
Can’t tell the difference between purpose and panic anymore?
Did you set out looking for a new continent
or a northwest passage to fame
and after you drowned like Atlantis
one night in a storm
those on shore
who watched you go down
ended up naming a lifeboat after you?
Tired of the squirming bag of skin you’ve been living like a snake in?
Time for a new straitjacket on the corpse in the coffin?
Is your Sisyphean avalanche still trying to crawl back up the mountain
like a country bumpkin
to the laughter of sophisticated pyramids
amused by upstart civilizations
that haven’t learned how to outlive themselves yet?
Has the loveletter that wished you well in leaving
evaporated like the ghost of a snowflake in the mouth of furnace?
I know how despair can make everything go mad but your sorrow.
How space can suddenly convulse
into a seizure of glass
and turn your face into a lunar landscape
where yesterday has nothing to do with tomorrow
because nothing ever changes the way you look at yourself
when you’re more brittle than the mirror you’re holding up to nature
to see if there were any defining feature
that was better than the creature you are?
I know you don’t want anyone listening in on you
but that doesn’t mean
that it still isn’t crucial to be heard from time to time
like a man living upstairs you’ve never met
opening a window.
I saw a man jump from an attic window
and land on a white picket fence
when I was ten.
At seven in a garage I was trying to break into
I found a Salvation Army major in full uniform
hanging by his neck.
I didn’t know what to say then
and I don’t really know what to say now.
Exotic memories of a deranged childhood
whose first transgression
was its own innocence.
The way you take your life
says a lot about how you lived it.
Suicides always seem to come in through the back door
of their own house
when no one’s around
and leave by a window
as if they’d stolen something from themselves
and everyone else
that no one could put a value on
and no one would ever get back.
Come on now.
Take some time with me.
It’s not running out.
There’s only so much
and then there’s forever.
And we’ll all be dead soon enough anyway.
Every tree baby bluejay and blade of grass.
All the onceness of life in its mystic specificity
all that sacred indelibility
gone just like that
in a hundred years or so.
A watercolour in blood washed out by the rain.
And here’s something that might make you mad enough to live
or give you pause in your extinction
while you’re waiting for the next asteroid.
All suicides are control freaks
who insist on having the last word
like the silence they impose on all of us
that cannot be taken back
like the ad hominem of a bad argument.
Suicide is a nuclear winter
that can’t be aimed at any one species.
When you kill yourself
it comes down on all of us
and the sun isn’t seen again for years.
Suicide is a way of passing the buck
to someone else
for an astronomical catastrophe
no one can afford.
You die quick
but the rest of us have to endure your agony
like work you left undone.
The candle has a bad dream
and wakes up
and puts a pillow of smoke
over its face
to stop the light from breathing.
A shattered fortune-cookie isn’t fate
anymore than a cracked egg is a bird.
It’s the same with your heart when it’s broken.
You say the world lies to you
but open your own mouth
and see if your word is as true to the voice you heard
before you spoke it.
Even if life were one long interminable sentence
who could read to the end
of its unrepeatable content
and think that all that was meant
was the endstop of a punctuation mark
that poked a blackhole in the balloon of an expanding universe
like the womb of a pregnant voodoo doll
who looked upon life as a curse?
It’s important not to break faith with your delusions.
If you throw bad meat down a wishing well
bright with stars and fireflies
why should you be surprised
if the only thing that seems true to you
is a fossil of Tinkerbelle?
Come on now live with me awhile longer here on earth
as if you had already achieved your death
and there were nothing left to bind you
to what’s been left behind you
or what’s up ahead.
Let’s live as if rigor mortis had nothing to do with freedom.
Let’s live as if life were a lover who couldn’t care less what we meant
and our thoughts were merely the ashes of the ropes that bound us to the stake
of persecutors who don’t wake up with us when we do.
Let’s live as if it weren’t important
that no one else in the world
ever knew pain as intimately as we did.
Let’s live this once and forever together
as if all our agonies were transformative
and even in the deepest snakepit
where the light is thin
if you grow enough
you can shed the universe like skin
and strut your stuff in a new one that fits you better
than that whale-bone straitjacket with a spinal cord for a lace
you wore in the last one.
Let’s give ourselves all of time and space to shine
and bend the light like Einstein
into a gravitational lense
to keep an eye on our absence
while we disport ourselves among the fixed stars
like homeless delinquents
like firefly freedom fighters
liberating them like captive constellations from their mason-jars.
Let’s throw roses in our path instead of thorns just this once.
Let’s not jump from the same old bridge we did last time.
Let’s not fall to earth again like bitter green apples
that couldn’t get over the loss of their bloom.
Let’s get a little colour on our skin
to go with the autumn
before we give in.
Let’s take advantage of the opportunity
to transcend death
by adding ourselves like a third extreme to life
without expecting our ghosts to notice the difference.
If hanging on has got you down
letting go won’t bring you up.
Think for a moment before you jump.
If you’ve really overcome the biological imperative to live
and you’re as free to go as you are to stay
just like the buddhas you met on the road
and killed along the way
why waste all that power and freedom on the dead?
You can come at enlightenment
from the dark side of the mirror
as easily as the bright side at the front.
What you take in.
What you let out.
The same breath.
You’re the living edge of a great spiritual warrior
without a religion to fall back upon.
You don’t need to draw first blood to prove your sincere.
you can be the one that defused the bomb.
you can be the one that turned around and went home.
You can be a great Zen samurai
and lead an army of grass
up to the gates of the trees
to accept their surrender
like the blossoms of spring
or you can take pity on the living
and add the clarity of your darkness to their night
to help bring their stars out
like fireflies of spontaneous insight.
You can do anything.
If you can’t find a meaning to live
you can make a meaning of yourself
and get behind someone else’s good guess
like a nightwind going in the same direction.
It’s easy to see the rabid madness of the world.
Even if you’ve freed yourself not to be in or of it.
That’s only step one.
That’s not true extinction.
That’s only the ashs of nirvana.
Live a little longer.
Wait a bit.
And you’ll feel the dragon
rising out of its own immolation
with a spirit of serpent-fire
and a wingspan that transcends
the highest and the lowest
the worst and the best
east and west
life and death.
Step two is to see deeply
into the sublimity of human folly
and reanimate your death with desire
to bring the rain
because you know water
is a more generous element than fire
with more staying power to heal
what’s left of the fire
long after it’s gone out.
One fang stings.
One fang heals.
The assassin plays doctor to death.
The doctor cries over what the assassin feels
and the dead get their coffins off their chest.
Step three is seeing the finality in transience.
The crazy wisdom in the absurdity of our ignorance.
The complicity of our innocence.
What’s unindictable about our guilt.
How lame a blessing is without a curse.
How the best emerges from the worst
like a waterlily from a reeking swamp.
Torn down like pillars of quicksand
with the world on your shoulders
like hair down your back?
Beaten up humiliated scorned by the bullying world?
Violated and dispossessed?
Thieves in your treasure-chest?
Lost touch with your self-image
like a snake that’s lost touch with the last skin it’s shed
or a river that runs down a windowpane like rain
trying to make it back to the sea
without getting to the roots of anything?
Tired of witnessing what’s irrational about rationality
and losing your mind over it?
All your noble ideals gone slumming with their counterparts
and you’re left like the jack of hearts
without a punchline in the parking lot?
Tired of coming home
to the immensity of your loneliness
and finding out you’ve been robbed in your absence?
You don’t have to be these shadows of yourself
behind closed doors
taking pathetic stabs at the tragic
to turn a voodoo doll
in the likeness of yourself
into a clown that doesn’t feel real.
There’s no history of the future you haven’t lived through
that hasn’t already absolved the mystery of you in tears.
Not afraid to die
isn’t the same thing
as having the courage to live.
It may well be the birthright of a suicide
to raise its own assassin
like a messiah of the dead
come to convert the living
with the jaw-dropping prophecies of prophetic skulls
preaching the original sins of a new religion
trying to rise to its feet
and fall toward paradise
with an umbilical cord around its neck
knotted like a noose
instead of a cross
but suicide is an indefensibly human excuse
for thinking life is what is happening to you from the outside
like a battered planet
or the great sea of life
were picking on you personally
like the tiny embryo in the womb of a drop of water
hanging on by a thread of itself
to the tip of a blade of stargrass
in a categorical hurricane.
Sensitivity makes you sensitive.
A house divided cannot stand.
Neither can human nature.
That’s why the waters of life
everywhere in all forms
at all times
in every space
in every face
just like reality
or the mind
all share the same features of being
in the same mirror
on the same wall.
Life isn’t a privilege a right or a choice.
It’s a calling.
is one among myriad answers.
Infinite petals of the efoliate rose.
Life summons everyone in their own voice
like the light of the sun and the moon
in the accents of the flowers.
Five petals open.
One flower blooms.
It’s the same way with our mouths when we speak.
Or this dream that keeps urging us to wake up
and see for ourselves
whether it was lying or not.
Life is the kind of hidden treasure
you can’t know the value of
until you seek it.
The longer you look
the more the search is worth it.
Hear me like an echo of starlight in your unremitting gloom.
Hear me like the creeking of a floorboard in an upstairs room.
Listen like the flowers listen to their dark root
or frightened children in the dead of night
listen to the wind
as if they lived in tents.
Don’t waste your suicide on death.
Die deeper into life than you’ve ever been before.
Whether you’re walking in sand
or walking on water
they’re all just waves of your own mindlight
making mirages where you can bed down for the night
and show your face to the stars
like the good omen of a full moon without nightmares.
Don’t snuff the light.
For every life that goes out
we’re all cast into a deeper darkness
than the shadows we wandered in before you appeared.
If the dead look less lonely than the living do to you now
peacefully composed and ordered under their gravestones
in close company with other books in the library
let the story run on a bit.
Take the dead silence for a muse
and let it inspire you like the night inspires your eyes
to be the genius of your own life
and mustering your courage
like an extreme form of desperate trust
let your feathers say jump
and your falling take flight
like the master of a new medium
like the lonely heroine of an original beginning
who has nothing but her own wingspan
for a true horizon
and the wind beneath it for a map.
The dead haven’t learned yet
how to take the example of her creative freedom
without turning it into a crude simulacrum of the cliches
that despair of any happy ending
that doesn’t compare with their own.
If the wine’s gone bad in the grail
pour yourself out on the ground if you must
but trust your emptiness
like the new moon in the old moon’s arms
and you will be filled up again
and life will heal itself and thrive in you
like a new word added to your vocabulary
that just like water in a running stream
or the wind in the leaves
through a birchgrove at night
doesn’t know when to shut up.
There’s no rapture in death.
Death isn’t a joy
that’s caught up to itself
breathless with anticipation.
The mountain when it speaks
isn’t any less sincere at its peak
than it is at the bottom of its valley.
The same is true of water and mind.
It’s the same in the shallows
as it is in the depths.
Aren’t all your senses
all your thoughts emotions insights intuitions
all the arts and skills of your heart and mind
your prophetic vision
whether another cosmic storm’s on the way
or it’s just another spider
the flat eye of your television
thinking the earth’s still round.
Aren’t all these curses gifts and blessings
of the way life takes compassion on itself?
Maybe your next breath
is a holier inspiration
than death ever could be.
You breathe in.
And the dead look upon you in awe.
The questions themselves might be the answer
to why people are walking around on the earth.
And this agony of being with climactic interludes
might be the life of a play
with comic relief
composed by a tragic hero
with a sense of humour
like a pantomime for the blind
after he tore his eyes out
enraged by what they’d seen.
But trying to understand yourself
isn’t like trying to explain laughter
to an audience of skulls
and the compassion that follows insight
like fruit follows the blossom that’s flown away
isn’t just a matter
of lowering lifeboats for lemmings in a bad dream
or being kind to the weather when no one else will.
You can cut your heart out like the core of an apple
you bit into when it was green and bitter
and spit it out
like the wisdom of a snake
but you can’t cut the tree out of the seed
anymore than you can stifle the creativity of your worst mistake.
If your life isn’t a reflection of anything worth seeing
maybe it’s time you learned to paint.
If you can’t stand the sound of your own voice
listening to itself anymore
maybe it’s time you learned to express yourself like music.
If you’ve burned your feet on life like your last firewalk
and the dark jewels you trampled into the starmud
hoping they’d turn to wine
don’t shine anymore the way they used to
when you held them up to the morning like grapes on the vine
maybe its time to bring your own to the wedding
instead of pinning all your hopes on water
like tails on the donkeys of all the miracles
that didn’t come true.
You might get higher on death
than you ever did on life
but don’t fool yourself.
You’re just changing one dealer for another.
And life’s been clean for five billion years
like the evolution of an addiction
to an addiction
that craves nothing else
than your present state of mind.
Just because you feel like a big star
that gravitationally imploded into a black dwarf
that warps space into a circus of mirrors
that make a farce of the light
doesn’t mean you’re any less of who you are
or you’ve lost face on the dark side of the moon.
If no one’s ever lifted your veils
to look into your eyes
and feel the shining
maybe you’re Isis.
Maybe you’re the Queen of Heaven
and your star
is tatooed on the palms of left-handed sailors
who look to you to keep them from drowning.
Or maybe you’ve been looking for togetherness
in the dismembered body parts of your son-consort
blazing like Sirius on the distant horizon
like your last measure of hope.
There’s no stream of conciousness
in which you can wash your life away
in the waters of death
as if it were all one long incommensurable sentence
that’s having trouble dealing with punctuation.
There’s no black river in hell
in which you can wash the light off
anymore than a star can keep a secret from the night
or a period can interrupt
the flow of your thought.
If you meet the Buddha in the way
and you’d rather die than kill him
don’t try swimming through stone.
Listen to the mermaids singing to you
about love and the sorrows of life.
But don’t just listen with your ears.
Listen with your life.
Drown in the sublimity of the music
that tastes like the meaning of tears
and fall upon the rocks
you’ve been summoned to
like water that can’t be wounded by their voices.
It won’t help to weave another straightjacket
out of your elaborate choices
that isn’t so long in the sleeves
so you can fit right in with the rest of your peers.
If you don’t like what you see
when you look at your reflection in their eyes
be a light among mirrors
that one man’s face is another’s disguise
and there are deathmasks walking anonymously among them
that don’t look like anyone
until someone puts them on.
What can a rose be
if it never sheds its petals?
Or a tree
if it begrudges the wind its leaves?
It’s good to look up sometimes and feel the stars on your skin
dancing like angels on the head of a pin
or the riot of thoughts in the head of a human
who understands that heaven’s always been as close as that
not lightyears of insight away
and opens the door from the inside
out of compassion for the living
and lets the whole of the night in
like a guest playing host to himself.
Take a look around you.
It’s the best show in town
and the ticket was free
even if you had to pop in
through a flap in a circus-tent
you learned to call mother.
The life of the mind is a feast of awareness.
Whether you’re sitting at the head
below the salt
or begging scraps down under with the curs
you’ve still got a place at the table
that’s as big as a universe
that’s been personally reserved
just for you
and you should approach it with good spiritual manners.
You should be as grateful as time
and as gracious as space
and exalt in the company of all things
as if you were among friends.
You should accommodate yourself like space
and embrace everything you are and aren’t
as if you were being a good host to yourself
and sit down with the least of us
as you would the most
and laugh as if it weren’t always winter outside.
Too many shoulds I know
but I’d rather get them off my chest now
than later say when it’s too late to say them
I should have.
I’d rather sit down at the table with you now
while we’re alive
while there’s still pain and beauty and insight in our eyes
to laugh at what we’re living
or cry over the disappointed lies
than wait for a knock on the wall
and try to believe it’s you.
I don’t want to break bread with your ghost
at a seance or an exorcism.
No one ever brings much to the table
when they sit down to talk to the dead.
The living aren’t left out like the dead are.
Whenever you see people gathered together
and you’re not one of them
that’s because they’re all lonelier than you are.
It’s our separation that brings us together.
It’s our solitude that makes us all one.
It’s a uniqueness we all have in common.
It’s like the strong rope of a river
being unwound by a precipice
into a million little weak threads and drops of water
each one measureable and self-contained
feeling how lonely it is to be falling through space
bound by nothing to nothing but the nothingness around you.
Each one of them reflects the whole of the universe
as if they were millions of tiny eyes
though they can’t see it
in the same way our eyes can’t see themselves.
You say you’re trying to find yourself
but who’s doing the looking?
Your looking for your lamp with your lamp.
Fireflies with fireflies.
Your mind with your mind.
Water doesn’t grow a witching wand to go looking for itself.
Even when we’re standing alone like whole notes
without any flags to surrender
how can we ever be separated from the music
when even the silence plays its part?
You can’t pour the universe out of the universe.
You can’t rise up like a wave
and sucker-punch the sea.
You can’t take your own life without killing me.
Without killing the trees the birds the flowers the stars
that depend on you to see what they are.
There’s never been a river that flowed out of itself
like a bloodstream.
There’s never been a mind
however far out at sea it might be
in bad weather
that’s ever returned to shore
whether this side or that
like a lifeboat
without someone in it.
Put it on auto-pilot.
And let the wheel turn you for a change of direction.
Take that bit you’re teething on like a nine millimeter
out of your mouth
and learn to speak for yourself
in your own accent.
Why harness Pegasus to a deathcart
and then envy the birds their inspiration?
Does the eagle envy the swan its wings?
The depth of the valley of death is a measure
of the height of the world mountain we climbed.
The brighter the light.
The deeper the darkness.
And the victory is only worth so much as we had to overcome
to achieve it.
So even in full eclipse
when you’re lost in a sea of shadows on the moon
and you’re emotional life
moves you like a snakepit of dangerous portents
look around for the nightlight nearby
that’s casting its spell on the darkness.
Take the highest and the lowest of yourself
and bring them together like the winners and the losers
who engender themselves like opposites
and let your contradictions consume themselves
like the snake that ate so many birds
it sprouted wings
and flew away
not like an eagle with a snake in its claws
not like predator and prey
obeying natural laws
but like a dragon of life
a sage of blood
with light in its veins
one of the fire-swallowers of life
who bring the rains.