So here’s another geeky aspect to me. Sometimes when I’ve got an emotion I need to find an expression for or need to pinpoint the source of, I’ll write poetry. This one was written a year ago after a vile fight with one of my very closest friends, and written in the certainty that we’d never talk to each other again. Took us over six months, but we did patch things up, and we’re closer than ever. However, with events in the past couple weeks, suicides and deaths of dear friends in San Francisco, New York, and Paris, I’m posting this. You’re under no obligation to read this; this post is more for me.
His initial impression is of a distant sweetness,
Perhaps more tasted in the air than smelled,
Redolent of apricots, of heliotrope, of hashish;
He inhales deeply, imbuing his corpse
With the vapor wafting unseen on the breeze.
The aftermath is differently beautiful.
No birds sing, no animals prowl;
Not even ants creep among the dusty remnants of grass.
Trees stand leafless, their wood dry and white
Where the bark has eroded away.
No corpse is left; only bones,
Bleached grey in the unyeilding sun,
Lying in discontigous piles, fractured and splintered,
Twisted, and tinged black along dagger-sharp edges.
Knots of what was once hair and feather
Blow in the scentless wind. Decades hence,
When starving dogs first return to this dishallowed ground,
They will refuse these gnawings,
Preferring to chew the dessicated soil.
Those colorless, fragrant clouds
Pass over unseen, like a Pesach angel,
Mordant, bearing malaise across once-verdant lands,
Stripping, defoliating flower and tree,
Dropping both hawks and bees from the air,
Still in tormented guises of flight;
Turning horse as easily as vole aside,
Slavering at the mouth as to rid themselves of the taste.
They die as do insects, their twitching legs
Pawing at the air above, attempting to run, to burrow,
To flee the death they cannot see,
The angel’s flaming sword apparent only
In the line of life overtaken.
Centuries ago, in another dry blanched land
So ostentatiously given to our father’s fathers’ fathers,
The local harpist king once quipped at dinner,
“The number of our years are three score and ten;
And the fullness of those is labor and sorrow.”
When no guest cracked a smile, he harrumphed,
Realizing that only he would ever understand the joke.
His best friend, nay lover, was compelled to forsake him;
His wives conspired and played him for a fool;
His own much-loved son betrayed him, and was slain.
This tragedy played out on a stage only he could attend;
In generations since, most men fail to see the proscenium at all,
And hence never understand that, relatively,
His life was a comedy compared to theirs.
It matters not what to what means we resort;
All human interactions end:
All friendships, marriages, businesses, emnities, treaties.
Men grow distant, or are driven asunder; they quarrel;
The gossamer threads, these ductile anchors,
So anxiously thrown in hope
Of securing an enduring bond,
Like a harpsichord string are so easily overtuned
And played too fiercely, they snap;
Or like an elastic band, they harden by exposure
Until in an unobserved moment they crack
And crumble away like unfired clay.
The only constant in our human experience
Is the ever-renewed disappointment
That no meaningful, worthwhile, or pleasurable connection
Thus, as all isthmi wash away,
Eroded by the unappeasable surge of the brine-heavy sea,
Does each man become an island.
The only things he sees:
The colorless, cloudless sky arching above him,
And the unsetting sun,
Scorching the unending dead plain stretching waterlessly ahead of him
As far as his myopic and cataracted vision can discern.
The only things he feels:
The crumble of the harsh dead grass under his calloused, gnarled toes,
Hardened by constant wandering beyond the ability to bleed,
And the sting of the wind-borne dust on his grisled, rosacea’d face.
The only things he hears:
The irregularity of his own slowly slowing heartbeat;
And the rasping exhalation of the rank vapor
Issuing from his grey, chapped, split lips,
Seeming faintly sweet to his own nose.
And the only thing he knows
Is that he bears a guttering, malodorous flaming sword
And thus he styles himself an angel.
Value everyone around you. Take time to say you love someone. Don’t wait to find peace after an argument; do it now. You just never know when all further opportunity will be taken away. In the past four years I’ve lost over twenty friends, from people I just knew and liked to my nearest and dearest. It doesn’t get easier, it doesn’t get any less painful. And there’re always things left unsaid.
RIP William, James, Marcel, and Eric. I love you guys.
Edwin Howland Blashfield, 1893