Contented As the Eye

Today’s poem arrives at a time when the energy feels poised over the tipping point into something new. Have had this nagging hunch lately that a significant shift is about to occur. It’s like the smell of rain in the air while the sun is shining. There is nothing obvious to suggest a change, but the hint is there below the obvious stuff.

#305, c. 1862

The difference between Despair
And Fear — is like the One
Between the instant of a Wreck —
And when the Wreck has been —

The Mind is smooth — no Motion —
Contented as the Eye
Upon the Forehead of a Bust —
That knows — it cannot see —

The lines telescope into a single moment when all is lost. Fear comes later, when you look at the wreckage and review what you’ll have to do to fix it or live with it or walk away from it. Despair is that whoosh, the floor falls out from beneath your feet. The airplane cuts into the tall building. The flood wall crumbles into the canal. Someone says, “No.” It’s a stunning and empty moment. The mind is smooth, and we become like stone. No thought. Thinking comes later. After a time, we’ll construct a narrative that makes sense or at least a story. We’ll string together events in words so that we can know where it began and where it ended.

In that no-time, no-thought space, when it all cracks open, there is no narrative because we are helplessly borne along on events. We are outside our own control. This is despair. This emptiness left after someone cuts the strings, and we go into free fall. Can’t see where we’re going or where we’ll land.

Fear produces a narrative because it carries a sense of the past and future. Fear runs the language to discuss what is lost and what might be gained. Despair takes us beyond time and space into nothingness where our verbal and intellectual grip on our circumstances becomes irrelevant.

There is a purity in despair that would appeal to an artist. It’s neat and clean. That simplicity opens one to the possibility of a new creation. Poets love that sort of thing. Interesting that Em would notice the contentment. If we were at all honest we’d have to acknowledge the perverse satisfaction in giving up our grip on circumstances. We can make wry jokes about how we’re all going to hell in a handbasket, but that despair is the embodied experience of it. That place where words, wry jokes, etc. fall away like a dry carapace, leaving raw skin and bone. In our despair, we are animals again. Something in us wants that now and then.

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