Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"Harmless Poem": powerlessness and transcendence


There are days that start that with a bad mood, a sour disposition, a curse on the breath as you leave the house to make your living, and most of us are lucky, most of the time, that these bad starts abate and a lighter view comes over us as we interact and engage our encounters on their own terms, not how we wished they were.

There are those days that start bad and stay bad, when each and every small thing that hits a sour note on what we demand be a perfectly tuned keyboard just grates at us, sends a falling current down the spine. The day becomes a down escalator down a bottomless shaft for the rest of the day and into the night , and the litany of those who have sinned against us, the material things that impeded our path, slowed our advance toward a short sighted goal-- the stop lights , the traffic signs, the intruding phone calls of people who need help, the cigarette smoke and the barking dogs-- all become a conspiracy to lower our spirit, to distract us from grasping whatever it is that is just beyond our reach.

It's a bad situation and I am glad they don't haunt me as long as they did when my certainty about how the planet ought really to spin caused me nothing but arrogant exasperation. In my experience, the especially dispiriting part of these bad-mood binges, these black holes of being, was that there was nothing tangible I could name , no incident nor reciept of bad news, that would have triggered a unified field of gloomy perception; the senses that a mysterious God had given me to learn about and get by and be creative in the world were now the source of an unlimited number of soul-killing annoyances. How things, looked, sounded, felt, smelled were my sources of torment.

My mood was such that each person and thing by simply and dutifully existing as they were, unmindful of my presence (and certainly unaware of my unease). You guessed it, I was full of my own presumptions, nothing seemed worth doing, there was no point in going on. This was nothing to laugh at because I had no sense of humor. To those in the know, these were the symptoms of forgetting Rule 62.

What appeals to me about Stuart Dischell's poem "Harmless Poem" is that it contains the sort of rolling, incantational swerve of a powerful prayer that beseeches something greater than the speaker's wits can muster on their own for a relief the bondage of self to have a sense of humility and the attending sense of humor restored. I've no idea what inspired Dischell to write this poem, but it does sound like someone attempting to lift himself from a grossly generalized negative world view by admitting the absurdity of his complaints of objecting to people, places and things for being merely what they are. The poem is well paced, arresting , with a mounting set of things and their faults listed in increasingly surreal depiction,

Forgive the web without its spider
The houseplant with few or many flowers
And the stars for hiding in the daytime,
Forgive astronauts for distance
And surgeons for proximity,
Forgive the heart for the way it looks
Like something a dog eats from a pan,
Forgive goat-gods and wine-gods
And the goddess bathing in her pond,
Forgive the sea for being moody,
The air for its turbulence, the stomach
For its vomit, forgive the insistence
Of sperm, the greeting of the ovum,
Forgive orgasms for their intensity
And the faces they make in people's faces,
Forgive the music of liars, forgive autumn
And winter and the departure of lovers.
And the young dead and the persistence
Of the old, forgive the last tooth and hair.

This is a chain of association of a mind that gathers up the evidence of offenses, makes notes of things and the results they get and makes the connection to the next link that is effected and made to make fragile concept of harmony shakier still. This is the confession of a man admitting that he is powerless , after all, over what gives him aggravation and that his life is unmanageable in the cumulative misery these otherwise inconsequential irritations give him.

The title seems more ironic than anything else; what it implies is that the "harm" we all need "less" of is the result of when we pass constant judgement and create for ourselves an ongoing condition that culminates in deeper depressions, more anger, poor decisions, meaness for its own sake, and the poem's entreaty is for relief from this toxic turn of mind. I sense someone taking deep breaths as they speak these words, and fingers grasping rosary beads. Dischell is smart to compress the process to the concluding prayer, the litany like entreaty the poem is modeled after. This is the fabled by very real Moment of Clarity, when one realizes the exact nature of their wrongs as they are and is able, for a moment, capable of getting to a personal truth unobscured by defense and denial. The truth is this; nothing in the world will sit right with him until all his forgiven and accepted as being exactly they way are.