Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Spark

A tiny spark, a candle flame, a fire
suggests the possibility of pain.
A burning house, a city wreathed in flames
surpasses the compass of our anguish.
An atom bomb, volcano or the Sun
Exceed human measures of agony.
A nova, the birth of a galaxy
transcends imagined torments of our gods.

A pinprick, a nasty cut, a migraine
are afflictions most of us have known.
Arthritis, broken bones, an accident
may test the limits of our tolerance.
Executions, murders, or an earthquake
breed suffering that we could never bear.
A plague, a widespread war or genocide,
are woes mocked by singular empathy.

Experience of pain, or fear of it,
finds deathly limits to our suffering;
beyond these we cannot honestly go.
The summits of possible agony
seem infinite mountains to the victim,
 but can never reach the imaginary
summum maleficium of worldly pain
posited by philosophers and priests.

As if the pain and suffering we know
were not enough, they must construct a world
of fanciful torments to disgust
and harden our soft sensibilities
to the unnecessary agonies
caused by the institutions that they serve:
this Man-God, standard-bearer of our ills,
Hell, a realm of pain for his enemies.

By what divine accountancy must we
balance our joys against the sum of pains,
or for each bit of happiness offset
a thankless life of toil and misery?
The body knows its rightful boundaries,
the self, seeking to increase its empire,
applies its tiny spark to the kindling
of others to create a reckless fire.

By hateful word and angry glance the nerves
dance hot from eye to eye and ear to ear,
until the groping hands grip throats, or pull
at knives, guns or the levers of despair.
Cool bureaucrats ensure the strong prevail,
as smoke grenades and rubber bullets hail
upon the fleeing mob, nursing new hatreds
from the stinging blows of their master's boot.

Pain, then, is the governor of desire
and so too of joy, that surplus extreme
that persists after nature's tasks are done.
No wonder then that men of power Invest
in the pain of others and constrain their joy,
all in the interests of good government.
Money, token of desire, decides who
shall suffer and who will be relieved.

Living together in society
has not increased capacity for pain
or pleasure but overfills the amphorae
with vinegar or musty wines of joy.
Ascetic or sybarite must adjust
to the accountancy of boom and bust
as the spark falls through dust and smoke to be
quenched at last in oblivion's dark sea.

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