Stillness, well defined.
Existence, at the center of time.
More than dead.
Less than alive.
Crouched, hidden, furled,
Fisted, unbidden, curled.
Why end? Why begin?
No answer but the childish Because.
Another universe explodes.
Propelled into the void;
No meaning. No meaning
Through the coarse dark,
Against the clay roof,
Around the cruel stone.
Crust of white;
In the clarifying
Sucking at the air.
Tugging at the world.
Why begin? Why end?
No answer but the childish Because.
"Goodbye! Bye! Happy birthday!"
"Thank you! Thank you for all the presents!"
"You're welcome! Thank you for the cake and ice cream!"
"You're welcome! Goodbye! Bye!"
My niece, whose birthday it is, stands on the front porch in the
twilight, calling and waving. One hand is stuffed deep into
the pocket of her pants; her shoulders are hunched against the chill.
But her face is beaming, alight with the afterglow of her party, which
has been a great success. She grins at me, grins at her parents
standing beside her, grins at her grandmother and grandfather as they
slowly grope their way through the gathering darkness towards the
car. She grins and hunches her shoulders against the chill of
the evening, standing as one with the adults to say the thank-you's
and the goodbye's – for she is ten years old now, into the double
digits, and old enough to begin taking her place beside the grown-ups
in their grown-up world. Old enough to someday remember this night
not just as one of the many fragmented bits and pieces of a half-forgotten
childhood, but as part of a greater whole. Old enough to begin
remembering her way into adulthood. Will she turn this day's events
over in her mind as she lies in bed waiting for sleep, reliving it,
struggling to grasp its shape and meaning, trying to sort out the
true natures of its players from her own egoistic intent, as I used to
do when I was her age? And, thus remembering, will she think
only of the pleasure her presents gave her, of her pride at being the
centerpiece of her family's celebration this night; or will her pleasure
and her pride be tinged with a child's fear and sorrow at the memory of
this goodbye? For goodbyes must sooner or later always be said;
and each goodbye, as every child must learn to recognize sometime, may
just possibly be the last.
I get into my parent's car, shivering slightly. The air smells
damp, earthy, and of a stale coldness, for there are still some lingering
patches of snow on the ground. Spring has only just arrived.
We all begin to wave and call one last time; but now my niece, finally
succumbing to a child's impatience, gives an exaggerated, exasperated
sigh, flings herself round and darts off into the house – lured
back, perhaps, by the thought of playing one of the new games she's
been given with her younger sister. The night's excitements aren't
over yet! Seeing her so taken, so suddenly overwhelmed with the
spirit of rebelliousness in the face of the slow, formulaic rituals
of which adults are so fond, I am reminded of how strong and fierce
my own emotions ran when I was her age. They swept through me
in great waves then, possessing me entirely. Anything might
happen; at any moment anything might happen – didn't the grown-ups
know? But the grown-ups, it seemed to me, lived comparatively
stunted lives: they were almost always placid and bland and
correct, smiling often but not laughing nearly so much. How
was it, I wondered, that they grew so tame? I would never let
that happen to me! And yet, what did I feel this moment, tonight,
as I rode in my parent's car down the dark drive and turned out onto
the country road that would lead us home? Contentment, merely:
a satisfying enough sensation but rather a dull one too; and was
undisturbed by the knowledge that yes, this goodbye might just possibly
be the last. Probably it would not be – but then again, you
This is a knowledge I have grown used to. It is a knowledge I
accept. Yet despite my calm assumption of its potential dangers,
I will not even now permit myself to agree to the idea that the excitement
and expectation with which I once greeted life has diminished to
nothing more than a settled, routine complacency. It's only that,
somewhere along the way, I came to realize that the real excitement lay
not so much in the risks that life might take with me, but in those risks
that I was willing to take with life. All I needed, I reminded myself
as I rode along on down the road, was a little courage. A little
courage, and a great deal of patience.
"Careful! Careful!" my mother cries, leaning forward
in her seat. "There – do you see?" We've
just reached the end of one country road and are making the turn out
onto another. Darkness lies dense and still over an empty field
as the car's headlights sweep over it.
"Yeah – yeah, I do. Geez, look at 'em all!" my
father says. A number of deer are standing in small groups scattered
in the near distance; we can see their eyes glowing yellowly as the
headlights catch them. Their shadowy bulks move stealthily by,
wading through clumps of withered grass.
"One, two, three . . ."
"And there's some more back towards the trees."
"And – oh, look! There's two more of them, standing
there along the edge of the road! Careful they don't jump out in
front of the car!"
My father slows to a halt and backs the car up, then gently rolls it
forward again. Again the headlights run over the length of the field
and we take a quick count. There are ten of them at least – no,
twelve, thirteen – perhaps more.
"Think of that!" my mother says as the deer, having gazed at
us for several long seconds, lower their heads and calmly begin grazing
again. "They aren't even afraid of us!"
"No-o," agrees my father, slowly, assessingly, "they
aren't. Well . . . they just don't know any better, I suppose."
Again he backs the car up and rolls it forward, allowing the headlights
to sweep over the field. I'm beginning to weary of this game.
"They're just ignoring us! They aren't afraid of us at all. . . ."
my mother murmurs; and I sense in her a growing wonderment not unmixed
with pity. "Goodbye, deer!" she calls out softly as we pull
away. "Don't get hit by any cars!"
"Lucky it's not hunting season," my father comments.
"Of course, if they weren't hunted . . ."
"There'd be too many of them and they'd starve to death. I
know." We are all familiar with the litany of this
rationalization. "Poor things. Seems like they were
just made to be killed."
We fall into silence. There's little else to be said on the
subject. Deer have become, for us as for many of the people who
live around here, a symbol of all that humanity has lost on its obsessive
trek towards civilization: their twisted carcasses at the side of
the road bear ample testimony to that. To some, the fragility of
their existence represents all the beauty – and all the futility
– of nature; to others, it merely provides testament to a sort of
excessive bounty. It would be too much, I suppose, to ascribe
to the deer – not to mention the opossums, skunks, raccoons,
hedgehogs, squirrels, chipmunks, and birds whose bodies litter the
roadside – a certain bravery, as that of fearless soldiers fallen at
the front. I myself have learned to view these corpses with a
certain coldness. It's not that I have grown callous, but
rather that I sense an injustice here so profound it has turned me
bitter, my helplessness in the face of it freezing my capacity
for response and giving me the facade of neutrality. I am, I
suppose, like the deer in a way, for I too have run out of
choices. But how, I wonder as we continue careening down the
road, did it ever come to this? How has it come to be that the
only options left for the deer to take – that of being hunted down
with rifles, starving to death, or being struck by a speeding truck
or car – are likewise the only options we have left to offer?
No one, of course, hits a deer because they want to. Apart
from anything else, they cause too much damage to the car. It's
only that, when they come leaping out of the darkness and catapulting into
the road with such unexpected suddenness, there is not time enough
to avoid a collision. I remember one day driving out along some country
road – it must be some ten years ago now – and coming upon a
recently hit deer. The car that had struck it had pulled over just
a little ways beyond; several people had gotten out of the car and were
standing around looking into the ditch where the stricken animal lay.
It was not dead.
As I drove slowly by, studying the accident scene and not quite knowing
at first what it was that I saw, I noticed the deer – a buck –
flailing his long, spindly legs and rocking his body forward as if trying
to stand. As he did so I saw that he had a great gash running vertically
down his chest, a long, deep crevice that gaped open to reveal thick
tendrils of bleeding muscle within. The deer fell back, his
legs again flailing wildly; rocked himself forward and again tried to
stand . . .
What must it be like, I wondered, to have some great ferocious beast
with savage metal teeth bring you down, deliver a mortal blow – and
then, not finish the task, but simply settle itself nearby and wait?
What must it be like to see that beast disengorge itself of some sort of
apparently parasitical creatures living within it, who likewise did
nothing, made no effort to finish the kill, but simply stood to one
side, watching and waiting?
I confess that scenes such as this do more than "haunt my memory,"
or "wring my heart with pity." They twist and squeeze my
heart until it is left feeling ragged and sore. They deliver, into
the body of my spirit as definitively as into the chest of that deer,
a mortal wound. Something profoundly wrong is happening here.
The human species is, at this moment of history at least (for I like
to hold to the possibility, for the sake of my emotional well-being
if nothing else, that it's our relative place in evolutionary time
rather than some more fundamental lack that has brought us to our present
crisis), constituted of profoundly perverted creatures. We have
extended our physical prowess in ways that are, quite literally, beyond
our control. Products of the Industrial Age, the Computer Age, the
Age of Technology, we watch the havoc we wreak without much sense of
personal responsibility. We have become as mere spectators,
paralyzed by the power we have been given but have not earned, to the
acts we commit. Will we outgrow this historical moment successfully?
Will we be able to suffer within our hearts, within our minds, within
our bodies and our souls, the damage we have inflicted upon the earth?
For, sooner or later, I think we must prepare to do just that, or else
perish from those wounds which, being rendered upon nature, are likewise
rendered upon ourselves, who are also nature's children.
My head pounds furiously with the knowledge of our ignorance.
My heart races with rage over the many injustices we cannot seem to
stop ourselves from committing. We have, I believe, no hope at
present for gaining control over our destiny; as a species we are
simply being borne along with the tide of events. Yet we are
loathe to acknowledge the limitations of our understanding, and are
eager to endorse the biases of a human-centered perspective. Thus
it is that we become the servants of selfishness.
And thus it is that I come to a point at which I feel I have no
other choice but to turn my back on what I see human beings doing to
this world. I turn my back not with the helpless, hopeless
despair of the victim, but with the righteous anger of one who sees
the limitations of the era in which he lives as having resulted from
the ignorance, and the arrogance, of both the masses and their
leaders in the face of what they are doing, of what they have done.
It leaves me with but one conviction: that the problems we face
are so large, and our capacity to solve them so inherently limited,
that there is no help for me to give, unless I be willing to sacrifice
myself to what appears to be a futile cause. And this I am not
willing to do.
Still, if I determine that society's governing systems are antagonistic
to the health of this member, if I find its operational mechanisms to
be so complex, interwoven, and interdependent that all attempts to
change them lack efficacy, do I not then become morally free to exert
upon society whatever pressures it takes to release me from its grasp?
I am become a lawless creature – yet I am also bound by unseen
chains. And still I refuse to acknowledge that I owe moral servitude
to anything but that which serves the highest purpose to which nature
may put me. I am the Watcher. I am the Witness. And
in this record of what I see, I take my stand.
A world that's filled with injustice –
Everywhere I look, there is no escape.
And this anger that's burning inside me
Has dried all my tears