The Deadly Force of Chance

Species - The Force of Chance - devil may care - I Know Not Seems - Lear - Khayyam

 

Species
 

The hammer of inevitability
Breaks the hardest backs,
From ankylosaurus to the cockroach.
And we're far more fragile than these.

 

 

The Force of Chance      

 

To die, to sleep, / To sleep, perchance to dream; aye, there's the rub, / For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come, / When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, / Must give us pause ...  the dread of something after death, / The undiscovered country, from whose bourn / No traveller returns, puzzles the will ... (Hamlet 3.1)

 

Atheism is the corner in a room

that one doesn't really choose

for who would choose

to die and never come back

anywhere?

 

Where is that country beyond whose bourn?

Where has that traveller gone?

 

To be and then not to be

only to sleep

perforce dreamlessly

at which dreary point

you’ll wish you were a microphage

even the type that does’t move

one-sixteenth of an inch

 

devil my care

 

i have to admit he looked pretty cool

smoking that cigarette

as if telling the world that he didn't care

he wasn't afraid of anything

he was beyond all that

the whining and the sniffling

the cardiogram and the radiation

he had super-powers that would protect him

from vomiting

and drowning in his own blood

 

the devil may care, but he didn't 

I Know Not Seems

 

Seems, madam? Nay it is. I know not seems. / 'Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother, / Nor customary suits of solemn black, / [...that] can denote me truly. These indeed seem, / For they are actions that a man might play: / But I have that within which passes show, / These but the trappings and the suits of woe. (Hamlet 1.2.78-89)

 

To be is always better than not to be

although no cables stretch from one side to the next

(it's only in children's tales 

that one can go through a mirror

or enter a magic wardrobe

that takes you, as if in a conjurer's trick

to another world, wide as England)

 

You can never see both sides at once

unless you’re like that little boy in the movie

who has a magic sixth sense

I see dead people

or unless you believe the religious dreamers

whose dreams seem to mean all sorts of things

And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold, the angels of God ascending and descending on it. (Genesis 28.12)

It’s so hard to see the things they dream about

that one might conclude there are more things in the starry heavens

and on the watery Earth than are dreamt of in their theology

 

In the mean time

while we're still wearing these inky cloaks

here on the lowest rung

dreams are only dreams 

and to be is not to seem

 

And so it seems to me that being , not seeming

may be the most authentic thing to be

 

All those other numbers

the 7 veils of mysticism, the 12 tribes

and the 666 evils of the secular world

all dissolve upon closer inspection

 

Yet still, they sound so fine

when they add up to Perfection

and when Plato’s mathematics climb

like spiritual bodies

in a laddered Resurrection

Lear

 

The grown man becomes a baby,

the King a pauper, the athlete a paraplegic.

We live in the glory, or at the mercy, of chemistry and physics.

Sooner or later, King Lear will rage in the waste land,

and beg for scraps. He’ll tell trembling Edgar:

Unaccommodated man is no more but such a poor, 

bare, forked animal as thou art.

And yet we cannot stop ourselves from dreaming

that we understand,

that we grasp what's going on,

and that in some way we control the storm, 

standing tall on our barren heaths.

 

 

Khayyam

 

The meaning of life may well lie somewhere else,

but until it does, genetic codes and facts will have to do.

It's a working theory

that Farid ud-Din* had yet to scent —

an attar of the field rose

uncapitalized

undressed in gauze or gold.

 

The dream of an ordered cosmic space —

from the Sufi's twirling Atoms

to Augustine's City of God

with its golden spires piercing the firmament

and Vishnu floating in outer space —

must yield, for now, to the telescope's prying eye.

The wondrous yoke of soul and sense

must yield to medicine, habit, and chance events.

 

The circle of life may yet be found

to make a greater meaning, round and round. 

One day all things incomplete may be released

into some greater Scheme of Things complete.

Yet time has never been a prophet's friend

and where we started is not, alas, where we will end.

 

They told him God would be his friend

and be there with him to the end.

They told him seek and he would find,

yet when he got there in the end

he didn't know what God was, nor what was mind.

 

The human machine runs up, runs down

and leaves us hobbling on the ground.

 

———

* Farid ud-Din Attar was a Persian Sufi poet who wrote The Conference of the Birds (1177). Attar was a pharmacist, and the word attar (fragrance) comes from Persian. While Attar shared some of Khayyam's imagery, he didn't share the latter's secular and sensual sensibilities. 

 

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