Thursday, October 27, 2022

A Retrospective Life Can Be as Long as You Please

Let’s say you were well-off in Uruk,
Fifty-five hundred years ago, few
Generations before cuneiform.

You had what all your neighbors wanted—
Plenty of meat, dates, linen, and wool,
Even your own cylindrical seal.

Who knows how many people’s labor,
How many bodies you owned as well?
Life was good. The only problem was

Your own body itself. Fed and clothed
And anointed assiduously,
Nonetheless, you found yourself aging.

Nonetheless, you felt yourself aching,
Decrepitude ever increasing.
You had everything, and not enough.

Not even other people’s envy,
Much as it pleased and comforted you,
Stopped the environmental decay

Of the breathing creature that was you,
Of the sagging creature that was you,
One hundred lifetimes or so ago.

Now, for fun, let’s say your offerings
To An, Enki, and Inanna worked.
Miraculously, you stopped aging.

Still vulnerable, you hid yourself
Away, town to town, to the mountains.
You became a myth of the mountains,

And you’re still a myth of the mountains,
Bestial wild-man said to haunt them.
Maybe you were Enkidu’s model,

Maybe the model for Humbaba.
You were born before writing, why not?
You have broken nature’s sacred law,

Living without aging, with complete
And successful replacement of parts.
But now we need a moral for you,

Something to console ourselves for you,
For your actual nonexistence.
We can imagine you unhappy.

We can imagine you wanting death.
Something about not wishing for this.
But then why do you still hide from death?

The life you practically invented,
The life of cities, urban elites,
Continues to garrote your mountains.

You’re down to a single small grotto
And the mouth of a cave you don’t leave
Often, don’t dare to. And yet, you’re free.

Why not? Let’s say you still enjoy life.
Within your constrained circumstances,
You still savor the quieter hours,

Addicted as ever to living,
Concentrating on moments of peace.
How are you different from anyone

Vulnerable in a small compass,
Who, let’s say, reads the books on your time,
Detailing dates, meat, wool, and linen?

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