I'll make a broken music, or I'll die.
- Theodore Roethke, from "In Evening Air"
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The only measure of poetry that matters is its ability to startle, to plunge a knife and keep moving.
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The task set before us is to live the life we have: the one with the imperfections, losses, fears, strengths, joys and desires that are unique to our shape, our skin, our presence. There is no other work for us. What we call work is the carving and parsing of that essential task. What we call ambition or hope is the manner in which we go about being in the world. There are lots of answers, lots of ways to respond. We travel through various forms and stages trying things on, trying them out, believing without knowing why, knowing why, but not believing. We move through our days often, it seems, on a conveyor belt to the next thing and the next thing and the next thing. It is as if our feet are still and the world whirs and spins on ball bearings: mere passengers, we.
This is the how and why of being fucked: a lack of agency. Which is bullshit, of course, because that is the one thing that always remains, always is at hand, a tattoo on your soul: choice. For you always retain the freedom to choose how you will respond to the unbidden facts of your days. If you glide by, that's your choice. You did that. That's yours. It will remain in place as long as you allow it to. But if you want to unfuck, what's gotten fucked, then read poetry:
Waking's my care-
I'll make a broken music, or I'll die
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None of it is easy, but it can be beautiful. Easy is the glidepath to your grave. Beautiful demands your commitment. It is a daily thing, an hourly thing, a breath by breath thing. It is never fixed in the sky, but changes as you change, moves as you move. What is static is dead and gone. What pulses creates. By your wit and will you bring forth the future. You alter it by adding your voice. Nothing is predetermined. Should you remain silent, another voice will take the place you could have held and the thing you could have given will be lost, unused. Should you give half, then half is all we'll know. And if you hesitate because you are unsure of yourself, or find that your voice cracks, or is somehow, in your mind, lesser than the gifts of others you've misunderstood the question. All music is broken. All of it. What Roethke called music is simply his voice, his life standing where he could, John the Baptist-style, and crying out what it was like to be in that skin, with that soul, at that time, in that place.
It is what each of us, in our own ways, are called to do.
Roethke wrote. Constantly. Less than 2% of the lines he wrote made it into the final poems. He burned, burned out and burned again. My father, no poet, but an embalmer, put his hands to over 10,000 deaths, 10,000 lives, families, hundreds of thousands of friends and acquaintances. He could give one last look, when one last look was the way things were, and he helped bridge the sudden gap. That, too, is a broken music.
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You are here to move your body in space. You are here to fill the wilderness with your voice, broken as it may be. Its brokenness its virtue. We bring forth life when we do so. Neglecting it, or working against it brings misery and desolation. That is why the easy glide to the next and the next and the next must be resisted, fought against. That sort of matriculation does not serve you, but serves the well-worn grooves of the powers that be: the cults of youth, money, politics, religion. No, to serve the truth that only you can express requires one thing of you, a choice: make a broken music, or die trying.
But, if the choice is so stark, why bother?
Easy: you don't know who is listening and what effect you might have on their lives, their music.
When you are awake to this, when you see this in your own way, by your own effort, you will see that instead of being just one voice, you have become a choir - no heavenly host, but flesh and bone birthing the future.
* * *
I wish you well.