Poem: Better Angels
whatever passes for Nature
I – which means you-me-we-us – you were doing what you always do on gentle mornings
cinematically sunlit from the back:
you were noticing. Walking and noticing
energy organizing in most attractive and repellent ways. Seeing a fraction of the all and, overwhelmed
by the majesty and the emptiness,
the majesty of the emptiness,
you sigh smile
stepping once more into the opposite of the abyss.
Earlier this morning you returned the phone message of
someone who calls you only when she wants something.
(She wanted something; you tried to be generous.)
Later today you’ll rendezvous with
someone who meets you only when he wants something.
(You will try to be generous.)
Now you’re at the stoplight, waiting to cross the Boulevard thrumming with the echoes of Kenyan feet.
Karmic accounting whirs and clangs, spitting out a viewpoint, like a vending machine
disgorging the illusion of food.
Can I do better? Have I treated my brothers and sisters
goldenly, according to the only rule that matters?
Shall the self-congratulation commence, or should you look deeper for your sins and hypocrisies
pinning your returning soul to the Must Improve board
as a butterfly is impaled for exhibition.
Ten yards away, a first down marker’s distance of undefended turf, a man is talking on a device and smoking a cigarette and holding the sinewy leash of a black bull terrier bitch
What he looks like is not important now or ever, because this is not a story about
ethnicity or social class. This is a story about you
doing what you can, which often seems to be much more than
what most people can, which you suppose makes you extraordinary or special or different,
which you also suppose means that specialness isn’t necessarily rare
of difficult. Just hidden sometimes.
But you know how to discover. That’s your talent, apparently.
The dog is squatting now, a kind of sausage machine
making mounds of brown atop sidewalk grass
green from last week’s rains and irrigation systems and clever worker slaves from South of here
who do our work and keep up appearances.
The owner man smokes and talks, tugging the dog to return
but the black bitch isn’t done, and so he talks and smokes while she once more does her thing, that letting go she does so well,
considering she’s the size of a champion watermelon.
Her master man looks at you looking at him, seeing what you’re seeing, knowing what you’re knowing.
Minds converging, harmonies ringing!
Understanding to some extent what is real and what is pretend –
that’s the beauty of it: the communion.
It can happen, you know. Anywhere. In temples grandiose and beside the street
where dogs shit.
And now she’s finished and scampering back to him, having ably executed her part in today’s moment
Cigarette in mouth, hands on leash and phone, he turns his back and walks away,
leaving you and the leavings all behind him
where nothing matters.
You sense a scream
caught between the cauldron from which it rises,
and the exosphere into which you might belch the gas.
Behind the fumes, lurking, the phrase “better angels” occurs,
presenting itself without introduction, appearing providentially,
of equilibrium and equanimity massaging away the rage
with satin feathertips.
There he goes, and there’s the crap, and there you are on a gentle morning
staring into the dark, where light cannot escape, and somehow – and maybe you really are special —
you detect the sun.
The warmth. The shadows from a fervent fire. Something good upon your back and on the pavement,
illuminating our path, yours and mine and his and hers, the man and his dog – us.
You discard ugly fantasies of triumphant confrontations,
of lessons learned,
of wrongness being righted,
of justice finally and finely and properly discerned.
Instead you watch him go, blithe as privileged children, untroubled as his dog.
He is your benefactor, willing you fresh resentments in his absence.
The kind of furies that inspire the foulest tableaux: you and that pretty good baseball arm
you once had, hurling feces at the offender,
for you are an ape, a great one, great enough
to escape a cage.
“Better angels. Better angels,” and on you walk
boulevard of unfinished dreams, some of them indeed broken.
Be here. Simple and impossible and necessary.
Back to noticing, a return to the prestidigitation of being – and there
he is, just over there, turning into a small strip mall
with the dog.
You note the hideout store, you hatch a plan, so many plans, all leading to one conclusion:
something must be done.
Forces of the dark, ye shall be conquered by we of the light.
Repeat. Repeat. We of the light.
Which side are you on?
Why has throwing, throwing hard with a smack and shprazzle when it hits the wall,
why has this recurred and recurred when you’re repeating and repeating?
Flinging. Projecting. Rejecting.
Dropping it with a plop in his workspace.
Smearing it on his window. The glass door! The one customers walk through, certain –
because this will all be clear somehow –
that the man who owns the dog is responsible for this fecal outrage
and all this unpleasantness could have been prevented if only he had been a decent person
and picked up after his dog as a decent person does
when she is thinking of someone other than herself or
the person on the phone she is talking with while smoking and watching her animal empty its bowels
on the public vegetation.
So this how enlightenment feels!
You find a bag and some paper on the ground, which isn’t hard to do
and you collect the shit, a softball’s worth, perfect for the task,
and you walk up the street to the strip mall where the offender, the perp
the miscreant, the twerp
is still smoking and phoning, already forgetting
that he has been watched and known by someone who cares
yet said not a word, someone with an interest in getting better incrementally,
momentarily, in each successive moment that wasn’t before.
That scream that you subdued with a psychic hammerlock, the one that never came – now you know
it will never come.
You’re not going to raise your voice. You will be calm and joyful.
You won. You lost. It’s the same and it doesn’t matter.
You take that bag of someone’s ugliness, someone else’s dogshit,
you take it with you, in your hand, like a purse you take to the opera,
and with your righteous monologue fully composed and ready for entitled declamation
you walk into the sunlight,
looking for a trash bin,
carrying a smelly reminder that something is almost always
more than nothing.