Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Therapeutic Poetry and the Death of John Lennon

I live with pain, depression, and poverty. I worry what affect that has on my son. I am reminded of one of my favorite poets, Phillip Larkin, who has advice for young people on this score:

This Be The Verse

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.

The coastal shelf is pretty deep these days, sinking into the crust like an ocean liner in the north Atlantic. The whole damn planet is rushing toward catastrophe faster than anyone can possibly imagine (except, perhaps, for Dimitri). All the deniers of the impending doom, funded by the deep pockets of the oil and defense industries, seem very happy with the well-furnished sandy hole into which they've buried their heads, and are proudly proclaiming that this awesome vessel called humanity is unsinkable, so they're burning the life boats.

When I was younger, Imagine was a wonderful thought exercise John Lennon gave us. It was full of hope for a more just, reasonable, caring world. Now, imagining just leads to despair, grief, uncertainty, and anger. John Lennon is gone 29 years today, a victim of a reality that is so random, so uncaring, and so dark that his immortal song has become a kind of joke to me, a Medusa I dare not look directly at, lest it kill me. Imagining the world the way he did just fills me with more remorse and grief over the direction the world has actually gone.

Hunter S. Thompson wrote, in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, a passage known as The Wave Speech:
And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting — on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . . .

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark — that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

That high-water mark for me, being a generation behind Thompson, was Lennon's Imagine. It's been all downhill from there. On this sad anniversary of the death of a man who just had to let his ride on the merry-go-round go, I find myself going back to poems that my favorite teacher, Jim Whitehead, loved, like Aubade, by Phillip Larkin, which I read now and see as a metaphor for the whole human race, especially this bit:
And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small, unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.

This dysfunctional family known as homo sapiens have burned enough fuel that we've raced right up close to that "small, unfocused blur" and it's a little clearer now. People like John Lennon and Martin Luther King are murdered, and Dick Cheney is still promoting torture. Deniers of global warming are given the same credibility in the media as the careful scientists who have spent their lives proving that we're screwing this planet up beyond repair.

And I sit and watch the snow and imagine that it could have been different, if it weren't for all the assholes that I hope can't ice skate, because my moat is frozen.

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