Everyone’s talking about death and dying these days. Well maybe not everybody but there’s Frank, our Greek drama teacher, in a discussion about Euripides’ revenge play, Hekabe. And my friend, Fred, in our phone conversation about.. I forget what. And, of course, when I think of Mitch Mc…and his lot it feels like a death of the soul. And then there’s our book group reading Lincoln in the Bardo set in a cemetery. At this age I suppose mortality is never far from one’s mind. In the meantime the banana in the fruit bowl moves toward a speckled blackness and rot.
Add to this the inexhaustible supply of murder mysteries from Netflix. Every time I see a victim I think of the poor soul who got his/her start in theater as a walk-on dead body. How do they manage to stay still during those fake autopsies… with a tag on their big toe? I’m imagining a lot of giggles after the final take.
In the introduction to her translation of the Greek play Anne Carson references Beckett who regards the great human tragedy as having been born in the first place, astride the grave. As long as we’re all doomed we might as well make the best of it so have a piece of fruit. Rousseau said something about the most miserable people are not those who have endured the most pain but those who experience the least pleasure.
The latest David Grossman novel, A Horse Walks into a Bar, is nearly 200 pages of a stand-up comedian’s monologue described by one reviewer as a meeting of Lenny Bruce and Franz Kafka. On top of that the guy is emotionally naked. To identify with him is to attend one’s funeral. Peggy and I are reading it aloud. Tough going. He has us in his brilliant clutches and we're squirming.
Life is cyclic. Consider the vibrancy of the new counter-culture if one is willing to allow that this oligarchy/monarchy of Donald the First is a culture at all. The seeds of coming attractions make their way into the moribund body politic.
Think of Arts, Science and geo-politics as one organism, a single stretched membrane. Touch it at any point and the whole web trembles. A medical breakthrough which enhances well-being is no less important than some draconian measure in Trumpdom to destroy it. The charged words of a poet can cause fingers on keyboards around the world to pause and suddenly see the world from a new angle.
So let me end this litany of morbidity with some words by Theodore Roethke whose greenhouse poetry traces his childhood experience in the family nursery.
The urge, wrestle, resurrection of dry sticks / Cut stems struggling to put down feet / What saint strained so much / Rose on such lopped limbs to a new life?
Roethke’s potent lines could describe our country today rising against the Republican miasma. In the poet’s language it is a place of scum, dank with malevolent forces in a congress of stinks. Yet also fecund as it lays down rhizomes and roots from out of the mulch and slime.
If we look hard we can see a new radicalism; not necessarily on the horizontal political spectrum but down in the vertical, reclaiming the old meaning of radical as root, the way one acts out of his core values rather than some old slogans and prescribed behavior. It may find resonance with an unarticulated sound aligned with our bones. Or it may involve wonderment as if seeing things for the first time.