‘. . . “Of all illusions,” said the man with the tubes up his nostrils, IVs, catheter. . .’

Of all the illusions. . .

Of all the illusions. . .

.

.

.

.

.

I want to be a poet so when I feel the need to call attention to the futility of our communal understanding of what’s good, what’s to strive for, what makes a person happy according to Maslow, what good citizenship means, what makes a person successful, what gives meaning to one’s life—all of those things JumpFly and Slingshot and the Richards Group and LEVELTWO and 180 LA and (most importantly) Campbell Mithun tell us we must experience, have, think, or feel—no one will accuse me of being negative or depressed; rather, everyone will think I’m a genius because I’m so artistic and say things so well, and never get it that I’m really trying to be a latter-day Cassandra or Amos—that I mean everything we strive for is pointless, and we keep day after day fucking up our lives because we think owning the next-generation communications gizmo is going to make us authentic and happy human beings.

“Success is counted sweetest” (112), by Emily Dickinson

Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.

Not one of all the purple Host
Who took the Flag today
Can tell the definition
So clear of victory

As he defeated – dying –
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Burst agonized and clear!

(Dickinson, Emily. The Poems of Emily Dickinson. Edited by R. W. Franklin. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1999.)

We read stuff like Dickinson’s poem and get exalted pictures in our mind of the poor dying soldier lying on the battlefield thinking about how much better it would have been to have joined the victorious army in their celebration of defeating the enemy, and we get all goose-bumpy about the brilliance of Dickinson’s language, and we totally forget that the teacher who introduced us to Dickinson in high school committed suicide the year after we went off to college to earn our success so we can count it sweet.

We absolutely without reservation believe that

. . . after climbing
exhaustedly up
with pitons and ropes,
[we will] arrive at
last on the plateau
of walking-level-
forever-among-
moss-with-red-blossoms
.

(Hall, Donald. “Tubes.” White Apples and the Taste of Stone. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006.)

The other day I was watching a program on TV about the building of the new One World Trade Center. It has now been definitively crowned the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat “height committee.”

All through the program I kept thinking, “What hubris.” Of course, the replacement for the World Trade Center Towers would unquestionably have to be the tallest building. America[ns] could not possibly, under any circumstances be reduced to the same experience

As he defeated – dying –
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Burst agonized and clear!

A contrarian thought lodged itself in my mind. “In the great scheme of things, in the reality of the magnitude of the earth, which itself is not even a dot in the galaxy which is one of billions of such swirls of matter in the universe, how can any human take such pride in building something bigger than any other human can build?” I’m not a poet, not a wordsmith. I can’t build an image in the style of either Emily Dickinson or Donald Hall. But what is the point? What is the purpose of building something remarkably tall by human standards and taking pride in it when in reality it is utterly insignificant?

Cambell Mithun Tower - not the tallest by a long shot

Cambell Mithun Tower – not the tallest by a long shot

[Timothy] Johnson [Chairman of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat] said the council had studied [architect David] Childs’ plans for the building, and noted the symbolic height of the spire and the beacon that will shine from it – which is designed as a complement to the light at the top of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. “So conceptually it is definitely, from the architect’s point of view, a major part of the building, and we agreed,” Johnson said.

Ah! I get it. The beacon to complement the beacon at the top of the Statue of (former) Liberty. The ultimate symbol of chauvinism in our absolute conviction that our “purple Host Who took the Flag today Can tell the definition So clear of victory” that we deserve the tallest building. The tallest, most expensive, finest, newest Everything! We will “take [our enemy’s] flag today.”

Remember playing “Capture the Flag” as a kid? Maybe only boy scouts did that, and only those who are now very old. We learned. Take the flag! Defeat the enemy. Kill Al-Qaeda. And why? So we can have success—success as defined by Campbell Mithun. A fine poet may define success differently.

“Tubes,” by Donald Hall

           1

“Up, down, good, bad,” said
the man with the tubes
up his nose, ” there’s lots
of variety…
However, notions
of balance between
extremes of fortune
are stupid—or at
best unobservant.”
He watched as the nurse
fed pellets into
the green nozzle that
stuck from his side. “Mm,”
said the man. ” Good. Yum.
(Next time more basil…)
When a long-desired
baby is born, what
joy! More happiness
than we find in sex,
more than we take in
success, revenge, or
wealth. But should the same
infant die, would you
measure the horror
on the same rule? Grief
weighs down the seesaw,
joy cannot budge it.”

           2

“When I was nineteen,
I told a thirty-
year-old man what a
fool I had been when
I was seventeen.
We were always,’ he
said glancing down, ‘a
fool two years ago.'”

           3

The man with the tubes
up his nostrils spoke
carefully: “I don’t
regret what I did,
but that I claimed I
did the opposite.
If I was faithless
or treacherous and
cowardly, I had
my reasons—but I
regret that I called
myself loyal, brave,
and honorable.”

           4

“Of all illusions,”
said the man with the
tubes up his nostrils,
IVs, catheter,
and feeding nozzle,
“the silliest one
was hardest to lose.
For years I supposed
that after climbing
exhaustedly up
with pitons and ropes,
I would arrive at
last on the plateau
of walking-level-
forever-among-
moss-with-red-blossoms.
But of course, of course:
A continual
climbing is the one
form of arrival
we ever come to—
unless we suppose
that the wished-for height
and house of desire
is tubes up the nose.”

. . . the wished-for height and house of desire. . .

. . . the wished-for height
and house of desire. . .

 

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