“There is a freedom in having a regular place to return to—it takes away the need to think about it and allows a person to rest”
The figure here called consolation is real,
Is actual, coincidental, standing sandstone,
Half-arch, half-hoodoo, tilted, stooped
In an outline against the sky, suggesting,
At least to the human engaged in this
Composition, an older, slump-shouldered
Person who is reaching out an arm to rest
A huge stone hand, bracing an eroding cliff,
Face to face, as if in consolation. That’s it.
Whenever I could not move, we were free.
When nurses politely, kindly, locked me
In a room without a window, we were free.
When the numbers all were negative,
And the banks, to survive as thriving banks,
Had to come for anything positive from me,
We were free. When I, on my gurney, finally
Finished being wheeled a long-hall journey
Into surgery, after waiting a week, we were
Free. When the seatbelt was buckled more
Tightly across our waists to secure us
And there was nothing to do but to sit
And watch the uncontrollable scenery scroll
Past us, we were free. Our one consolation,
One inexplicable sensation: now, we’re free.
If your shame among the humans, who
Have built lives and civilizations, empires,
An entire species, entire global ecosystem,
Of shame, becomes sufficiently intense,
You will, if you do not die from shame, snap
Back in your own breathing and feel free.
Maybe that consolation comes from loving
But ignoring human beings being human
Among other things worth being, worth
Loving and ignoring, just as fear of other
Humans being human means fearing other
Humans, the fear that being human brings.
Here I sense that hoodoo bending in me,
Slumping, weathered, stooped with thinking
These things, these always wearing, human
Being things. How human of me, imagining
I am a crumbling rockface being comforted,
And an accidental buttress, tilted, cracked,
Barely standing but, as yet, still capable
Of reaching out an arm, a weathered hand
To rest upon the cliff that I am comforting.
It is possible. It may be necessary, to be
Incapable of moving and to remain subject
To being moved, like stone, but unlike stone
To know it, to be human and to yet feel free.
By the wayside, smaller winds were tuning
Dry grasses and trees as reeds and woodwinds.
Comfortably seated in shade-mixed sun,
Free for the moment from bodily pain,
From hunger, thirst, or pressing human claims,
I basked in the gold glow that warmed my ribs
Through my clean, soft shirt and was contented.
“What does contentment mean when life is full
Of the unexpected and unwanted?”
Asked Yiyun Li, and not rhetorically,
At least not entirely. Like well-being
And satisfaction, contentment can seem
Smug and secondary, a lowly thing.
Why? Since, during whatever interval
It lasts, we experience no striving,
And even the non-selves of the Buddhists,
The hermetic wanderings of Taoists,
Come laced with the arsenic of striving
In assumptions whatever we’re doing
Or not doing as we ought is to blame,
Is the reason for all our suffering.
Contentment, whatever it means, must lack
A grippable edge for aspiration.
Worse still, contentment is temporary,
On par with mere pleasure, therefore low-born
In the human happiness hierarchy.
Aspiration aspires eternally
And can’t relax until eternity.
Aspiration reeks of nobility,
Saintliness, wisdom, and humility.
Contentment reeks of contentment only,
And is physical, internal to one,
A glossy, well-fed cat curled in the sun.
What can it mean, this temporary thing,
Knowing however often it returns,
The unwanted will return as often,
Unexpectedly, to take It away?
It means nothing, nothing but that it is
Possible to feel, despite everything,
Contentment and, then, contentment again.