Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Nature of Tragedy


We get so excited
By our quarrels, squabbles,
Face-offs over access
To space and resources,
Who deserves what, when, how,
Us, them, I, me, mine, now.

I suppose it matters,
Given lives are at stake
And the winners' offspring
Inherit the scorched earth.
We're all here as offspring
Of quarrels and squabbles

Won thousands and thousands
Of times, generations
Ago--little wonder
We all think we're winners,
All derived from those same
Old bloody combatants.

Our paltry glands excrete
Plenty of spit and hate.
Our little brains debate
Imaginary selves
In lonely beds all night.

When we win, winners hug,
Feeling righteous and smug.
When we lose we fight on,
Tearing our minds apart,
Chewing dead arguments,
Horrifically hungry.

We know we've won nothing,
But means to keep fighting,
Lost nothing but the need
To keep what others won.
Still the hint of a fight
On the breeze stirs our rage.


And the result of so much loss
Is gain, life burned on the pyre
Of lives burned on the pyre
Of lives burned on the pyre
Of life. Down the torn road

From the humongous pit mine
Crawling with monstrous trucks
Fueled by compressed, extracted,
Redistilled remains of extinctions,
Piloted by stubble-jawed men
Peering out from under worn visors,

Raising rolling clouds of gritted dust,
The waves of the glaucous lake,
Spin mist in the wind around
The rippling stalks of winter marshes
That appear not to compete
For any tomorrow at all,

Being only here, rooted and sere
In the midst of all this dust
As if they floated on the rough
Water and were not sucking it
From the rich and seething mud.

Neither ever only savage, nor
Ever truly servile, the things
That live, as these grasses live,
As drivers of the greasy big rigs live,
Hunkered down, all the same,
All gripping for an edge,
Nourish each others' need.

There is peace in the valley
Of the shadows of life,
There is peace in the shadows
Of the valley for me, this day.


All the great and minor characters,
The playwright and the players, 
The musicians in the orchestra,
The owners of the theater,
The builders of the stage,
The president in the balcony,
The assassin in the wings,
And all their plots and faults
Are gone, long gone, good and dead.

We brush off their fossils,
Brought back to light, we pick 
At the hard parts with trowels.
We want to know what happened 
Here, we want a story for how
These storytellers fell, we want
To make it part of us, we want
To make it ours. We don't 
Know why we want it so,
Or how it could possibly help us,
But we want it, that we know.

Around the salvage operation,
Where we make a new past 
Of the past, orderly orchards
Grow in their rows, leaves brushed
With the dust from the big digs
Up the road, and fruit farmers
By ones and twos, in pick-ups, troll
For any sign the lovers of the past
Might be expanding the excavation
Onto more productive land. 

A slight tinge of hostility,
Mingled with curiosity, always hangs
In the air around here. The ancestors
Of the farmers may have, after all,
Slaughtered the storytellers buried
Here, whose ghosts may rise up
For vengeance in the form 
Of a new story, displacing 
The farmers and their heroics
From the land God gave unto them,
Chosen for the just, just for growing
Cherries and apples, rewards
For deserving, hardworking piety 
Making use of a bountiful land.
There's always that chance.

The diggers in the dirt, the dirt,
The drivers of the trucks, the grass,
The hills cut up for the trucks,
The lake sloshing over the graves
Of other storytellers from other
Imaginary pasts, the fruit trees
Of the eternally ephemeral gardens,
The farmers, the fossils, the stories,
However awkwardly woven
To make a dignified shroud for it all,

Are us, not ours, no more
Than flocks of angels singing
Noisily in the grass are ours,
No matter how well we can
Imagine them. Look around.
Look at all these words if you must.
We will inherit none of this.
This is what we are.

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