it’s wonderful how men are not found out
It’s miserable how many miserable are
over the world spread at this tick of time.
These mysteries that I’m
rehearsing in the dark did brighter minds
much bother them through the ages, whom who finds
guilty for failure?
Up we all rose with dawn, springy for pride,
trying all morning. Dazzled, I subside
at noon, noon be my gaoler,
and afternoon the deepening of the task
poor Henry set himself long since to ask:
Why? Who? When?
—I don’t know, Mr Bones. You asks too much
of such as you & me & we & such
fast cats, worse men.
My cat, Hidey, was the most athletic cat I’ve ever known. She would climb up the big ash tree out front and bound around amidst the limbs thirty feet off the ground, without a care in the world, utterly fearless. Not courageous—the facing and conquering of fear—she was fearless, in that it never even entered her little feline head that what she was doing was crazy. On a family vacation passing by the Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Colorado, my dad and I gingerly held onto the railing and looked over the edge, 2000 feet straight down over cliffs of dark granite, watching a dozen golden eagles circling far below us. Some ground squirrels were scampering over the rocks at the edge, jumping over crevices with nothing but a half mile of thin air beneath them, and not a clue entered their oblivious innocent rodent heads that one slip and they would become Rocky the Flying Squirrel for a minute or so, and then a brief pink smear on some boulder in the river below still too small to make out from up here. I’m sometimes amazed at pigeons, who will perch on a high-tension cable stretched two miles long and four hundred feet high over a valley and a highway, sleeping in thin air. No fear. When I was a kid, a public swimming pool in my grandmother’s neighborhood had a 5- and 10-meter diving platform. I could dive head first off the 5-meter, but the 10 was always closed. I made a vow, at 12 years old, that if I ever found myself some day on the edge of a 10-meter platform, I would dive head first. In grad school one summer, living in Bloomington, the IU pool had a 10-meter platform, and it was open. I stood at the edge, looked down, remembered my vow, and jumped. So much for childhood vows and macho boy-bravery. It was way too high to go diving—hitting that water head first from that height would have torn all the hair off my head, rattled my molars loose, snapped my neck, popped my eyeballs like stomping on a ripe plum. Not a chance.
Spelunkers sometimes come across deep undiscovered cave shafts open to the sky above, littered at the bottom with the bones of jaguars, extinct cave lions, giant beavers, dire wolves, all these careless Ice Age animals not possessed of the wariness to avoid such a yawning pit and who paid for it with their lives. I just bet if you travel along the Gunnison River in a raft, and pull over at the bottom of the Black Canyon, and get on your hands and knees at the bank with a magnifying glass, you’ll find tiny granules of water-smooth squirrel bone mixed in with the sand.
Animals bound about, untroubled, because they don’t understand what a fall means, or else they know they can fly. Humans fear heights. We’re too well aware that we can’t fly. We sit, head leaning on a hand, at tables, at a desk in a book-lined study, and we ask things like, Why? Who? When? What’s waiting at the bottom? We started that morning “springy for pride”—like a cat, like a squirrel, and by the time the afternoon rolled around, we’ve found ourselves at the edge of the 10-meter. We back away or else take a safe, timid, graceless step forward, end with a splash, and then go recover on a soft towel in the sun slathered in baby oil.
But the most amazing thing of all? We fly all the time if we want to. Rockets, planes, helicopters, para-sails, balloons. In Yosemite, on another family vacation long ago, I looked up, puzzled by the teeny red dot circling over El Capitan. After a half hour—watching the whole time—I realized it was a guy in a hang glider. The National Park Service allows experienced hang glider pilots to launch their craft from the rim, 7000 feet up, and fly to a particular meadow on the canyon floor. Launch times are between 7 and 9 o’clock in the morning and gliders have to be on the ground by 10—which means that the day’s last launch has to be on the ground an hour later. An hour!
Why are human beings so often such slobs and murderers? B. is asking this question. It’s basically what he’s doing for 385 poems. What makes me such a slob? I don’t know the answer to that, but I can agree there’s nothing special about it. Maybe it’s that so many of us are afraid—of losing something precious, of being not-loved, of being treated unfairly. Of being disrespected. Lost. Of crashing in bloody fragments on the canyon floor. We’re graceless and timid and our courage wavers. We hurt and we hurt others. We gaol ourselves with our fears, and wonder what the hell is happening behind these stifling bars. Hatred and contempt and envy. Isolation and loneliness. Others—we climb, we leap, we fly. It’s dangerous. So what?