Their Names Are Prick'd
(But it can never, never be achieved … )
Among the gifts of age is peace.
The major form of peace is that
of forgiveness. They shuffle,
your enemies, in the room prepared by time
(like the hall for a low-rent bar-mitzvah),
grazing the buffet. Most are unclear
on the concept, some few
embarrassed; none has thought of you
for years, or ever. They’ve gained weight
or tragically lost it. Children call
on their cells, or, more likely,
they call, and (it’s the way of these affairs)
draw near for an air-kiss, a few, final,
fragmentary words – happy to leave,
though they were perfectly glad to be here.
And, left alone again among
the plastic cups, you resolutely turn
towards death, its invitation
long open. But it is still so noisy
and crowded ... you
prefer your party, which can be resumed
at will. That braying voice
forever in the right, forever wrong;
the nameless blonde whose parting
remark confirmed eternity
by soiling it; those children whom
as a child you didn’t see
as children and don’t,
but as a secret government:
all still there, drinking blood and eating night.
So you lock the doors and the fun starts.
The name of the game remains
forgiveness, but the cards are in your hands;
in theirs the bones to which they strip
as balloons sink and lights dim.
It’s a life, as they say. They say,
he who desires revenge digs two graves. –
He who achieves it empties all of them.
Remember the file that contained
what you romantically called
your life, which
was lost, the whole office searching
at first professionally –
apologizing for the state
of the shelves, the poor
computers, the whole underfunded
mess; then gradually,
as the file
refused to be found, becoming defensive,
until you imagined it
in a landfill.
It is the humor of the past
that dies. It’s hard to explain
blackface, the first cartoons
and suffragettes, the special meaning
of “sausage, eggs, and ham”
during rationing. One night in the ‘80s,
the screen went dark on my old
black and white
set, and I heard
the canned laughter.
Therefore I have not learned
“lightness,” but cling
to a pose (itself hilarious)
of martyrdom. Better to plod undead
than to flare up and out with the wise.
The pilgrim in that Bruegel,
gray-cowled, an eyeless nose, thinks
Because the world is so faithless
I go my way in silence
while having his purse snatched
by a grinning dwarf in a crystal orb,
himself, now, inscrutable.
“I have been brutalized. Brutalized!”
he cries. But the word
sounds, to us, too,
too … If he wouldn’t
ordinarily use it, can he be
in such bad shape,
using it now? If he would,
is he the sort of person
we know? The voice is
high-pitched. Does it
connect with the deep belly-feeling,
the truth, of self, his
and ours, or is it
a kind of surface-layer,
and was it put there
by the shock and pain
he is presumably in, or do we
chronic, an affectation;
and if so, should we care?
Pity is, after all,
a gradual force
like that which changed
a dog’s throat-tearing
impulse to that
of herding: it is an admirable,
mutation. The fingers wave,
clutch; this ambiguous
though admittedly disturbinggesture decides the issue. Is too much.
Author of two book-length narrative poems, THE ADVENTURE and HAPPINESS, both published by Story Line Press. Other poems in print and online journals. Adjunct professor creative writing George Washington University.