However We Embrace It Intimately To Humanize It - Poem by Patrick White
However we embrace it intimately to humanize it
and make it ours, ingratiate it into our hearts and minds,
to understand it, and through understanding befriend it,
suffering remains impersonal, oblivious to tenderness,
faceless, a dragon without compassion for our appeals.
As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods:
they kill us for their sport. Shakespeare. But suffering
is not what we think about it, not the way we feel,
or the little human why of the fact that it exists at all
we shriek into the unlistening abyss, or keep to ourselves
and cry behind whatever lifemasks we care to put on it
as if it were happening to someone else we didn't recognize.
These are my eyes and they're weeping blood.
This is my mouth but the tongue's been torn out
like the flame of a black candle at a mass for the mute.
And the holy men say suffering purifies. The poet
makes something transformatively creative out of it
as if he had a reptile for a muse that can shapeshift
all around him like a caduceus but doesn't cure his ills
however he try to dull the pain with an anodyne of symbols.
Two women electrocuted in a pool of water running
to rescue a woman in a car on fire that's just
brought down a powerline like a cobra from a branch.
The noisy bliss of a school bus smashed at a train crossing
like a beer can in a drunken fist that spares no one,
regardless of age, innocence, karma or the satin in the coffins
to prove that heaven's a better place than this one
where all we ever see is bloodstains on favourite cotton dresses
little girls with ribbons in their hair are killed in every day.
I've opened myself up to the suffering of others
and I've seen the waterlilies of compassion
gaping at the stars as if waiting for an explanation
that would make it all beautiful and sane again.
I've seen friends go methodically mad trying
to gnaw through the glass lenses of the telescopic eyes
they feel they're caged in like a spider mount
or a live rat in an aquarium with an exotic trophy snake
blunting the bullet of its head off the walls
until one of the ricochets strikes its exhausted mark.
One man's agony is the way another makes up for
a personality deficiency by enjoying the kill.
Thirty dead wolves in a pick-up truck culled
by two redneck goofs with egos like guns
to protect the cattle on their way to the abattoir.
And when I drove cab, every morning from six
until noon when even the shadows had to turn away,
I was amazed at how many sick and injured people,
young and old, I drove to the hospital as if there were a war
going on somewhere not far from here,
but the only way you could tell was by
the number of wounded and refugees being carried
back from the front lines to the War Memorial Hospital in Perth.
I was the mobile stretcher bearer for the pilgrims
of the Canterbury Tales seeking salvation from pain
in a secular shrine of excruciating cures.
And I grew angry at a god I don't believe in
that so many, if not all, were born to suffer
in this way at the whim of a psychopath at play.
And for what? To refine a bit of character
like a nugget of wisdom out of a ton of dark ore?
To attribute a loving cause to a tragic effect?
Clinging to desire in a passing world
might explain a lot and get you by for awhile
in the specious present of mirroring thought-moments
but when you realize you're just dogpaddling in space
off your leash, and that attachment too is a Buddha activity,
who would dare sit at the bedside of a dead child
and void bound in its absence, quote desire
as the cause of nine cancer treatments
that didn't send suffering into remission?
War, genocide, disease, poverty, ignorance, perishing,
lock-step ideological synchronicities of power-mongers
murdering whatever they set out to govern
that uphold the very principles their power base
was founded upon by the opinions of their inferiors.
And lovers on either side of the river, their hearts arcing
like bridges Running Bear and Little White Dove
will later jump off of. Pain as transcendent as oxygen.
Mice nibbling through the insulation of the wiring
between the walls like the nervous system of an arsonist
shorting out like a chemical fuse to burn
this hovel of a fire trap in ashes to the ground
and rise from annihilation like a culpable mystic in hell.
Maybe I wasn't raised to be a good bell, a fire-alarm,
or even an air raid siren hoarse with warning,
and my voice is as useless as a lighthouse on the moon,
and I don't know enough about any gods
to spiritually gossip behind their backs about
who's on the nightshift of the terminal wards
and who's shining like a night light in the morgue
and who's walking in soft shoes as if
the whole world were a hospital that could attend upon
but not mend a heart that's ticking like a time bomb
walking through a minefield covered in snow
pushing an electric chair to the edge of futile despair
intent on giving suffering some of its own medicine
like a lethal injection of what we've been compelled
to live through with smiles on our deathmasks most of our lives.
I want to see the horror in its eyes, I want it to become
the empath I have, I want it to taste its own tears
pacing a widow walk on its hand and knees
waiting for the sea to give up the drowned.
I want to wound reality for making the pain the rule
and the joy of life a school that doesn't maintain a teacher
to ask a guru how to dance again without fear
its happiness is going to be shackled to a spider
by a dancing master on the other side of the mirror.
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