An Expired Doctorate
Riding down the hillside along this lovely tree-lined street,
early evening liquid sun
oozing through the dancing cracks in the mosaic vista of the distant bay,
a luminous weave darting through a trembling fabric of leafy green
masking the immense face of the ripened sky behind its rippling veil,
and filling sight,
as susurrus of rushing air fill sound,
and reflections of lost promise fill mind.
How marvelous to be alive, to be aware, to feel the light,
to ride my breath through this eternal now.
How fortunate to have such balm to soothe the sting of failure.
Not a major failure to be sure,
only that of work and ego to achieve any useful end or recognition,
to see the raw promise of youthful ambition,
distilled by fine education to a potent extract,
now become a weak vinegar – sour and watered –
and a passionate vocation reduced to hireling occupation,
the reductionism of mind to mere calculator.
So I find myself
engrossed in the minutiae of a superfluous part
in an unnecessary weapon
within the excessive arsenal
of an insensate empire.
While I speak this poem – or you read it –
about fifty children in our world
will die from easily preventable disease,
and one hundred women will die or suffer disability
in pregnancy or childbirth
for lack of simple remedies and care.
To overcome such tragedy only requires
one quarter of the military costs of the third world,
or ten percent that of the United States.
so few less bullets, so much more life.
I look into my little daughter’s eyes
and think of those mothers and those fathers suffering such loss.
I look into my little daughter’s joyful dancing eyes
and draw purpose in each day of pointless employment,
as a trivial cog in the sprawling machinery of blind empire,
a Cyclops gone mad with lack of vision,
ravening the world with unquenching power.
I work among a swarm of aphid zombies,
each focused on his own proboscis
oblivious by intent, trained through rigorous education,
to even the agony of one beside being chewed alive
in mandibles of political expediency
by preying mantises invoking greater imperial glories,
the whole an infestation withering the vine of life.
I marvel at such voluntary unanimity in the degradation of human soul,
at such profound denaturing of awareness,
at such complete filtration of compassion from human hearts –
are they even still human?
Can it be true that so many accede to such enslavement?,
emptying themselves of their spiritual birthright
solely to tremble in fear as hollow vessels of mindless desiring
for things metered out by owners of a vampire economy?
Those quick of mind, well educated, articulate,
mouth such perfidy and platitudes to curry favor, to move up-class –
parasites in a parasite empire –
with no moral anchor
to drag along the course of their ambition.
How well did Yeats write:
“The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”
Could I somehow liberate myself
to do some greater good – however minor –
yet still support my family?
How many others feel like me?,
engaged in our pangs of conscience
being rich enough to support such luxury,
and too weak to live on principle alone.
How much simpler the logic of life without such impediment,
yet what an opulence of poverty.
One in ten, surely not that many,
one bullet out of ten,
one French fry out of ten in a soldier’s mess,
one warplane out of ten,
one general out of ten.
Surely we would never notice,
surely we could train that marvelous capacity for unseeing
to shield consciousness from any perception
of such a trifling reduction of opulence.
Yet, wouldn’t even these willfully unseeing
feel the smile of grace for a transformed world
from the face of every child?
To open your mind and heart to this world is to go insane –
certainly if alone –
to survive one needs refuge in community.
Like a Christian in the Roman legions nineteen centuries ago,
I, too, will rejoice with the fall of empire.
How can I not pray for revolution,
even knowing how fearful a thing that can be?
My demeanor is resigned, my soul is in rebellion.
3 May 2001