I went to the Mutter Museum last weekend with John and Teresa. It was a revelation. Not one I was looking for but a revelation. They have a wall of skulls. The man who donated the skulls had an idea he might deride the idea of racial affinities, etc but nonetheless classified each of the skulls with their race and reason for demise.
Gypsy, Imbecile, Murderer, Suicide.
All of them dull yellow gaping bits of bone.
I'd seen them before in the mirror.
When I was very ill they looked much like me but I had a thin covering of flesh.
Oh and I still retained the cartilage of my nose and my eyeballs.
I'd like to think my teeth were generally better but I know they're not.
It was a window into my past and into my future. Our future.
All of us will be skulls. And bones. And sad descriptions of our lives. He died despondent over the death of his lover. He hanged himself when his wife left him. Suicide. Cancer. Heartattack. Shot in the battle of whatever in wherever.
All gaping bones. All sad men and women in a sideshow disguised as a museum.
Their souls departed. The hard facts of their lives left behind. Syphillis and cancer and foolishness. It amounts to nothing.
I spent the evening tonight with Teresa and John talking about poetry and art. About how you know what you write is good. About writers photos and publication dates and the joys impending publication and the vagaries of publishers.
I called Johanna and told her I loved her.
My dogs jostled over rawhide bones. Fought so hard I had to separate them.
Those skulls are just like the leaves we stepped on in the way into the exhibit. Dead reminders of something once alive.
The imbecile had a mother and a father and was treated however they chose or didn't chose to treat him.
The suicide made one really stupid decision but it doesn't matter.
He'd be here one way or the other.
Why should you write poetry?
Or play football?
Donovan McNabb is out for the season.
He seemed strong and sure and all looked well.
What good is poetry?
That's the topic of a talk I gave this summer in New Hampshire.
Here's what good is poetry.
It tells the story of those skulls better than their bones.
It tells the story of why they walked the earth better than their bones.
It is more important than the cancerous growths or syphillitic teeth or weirdly enlarged colons or monsters that might come from our wombs.
It talks about what was in the skulls before they were skulls.
It talks about what fills the earth.
Skulls, rocks, shells, dead leaves, granite have nothing to do with poetry.
Poetry is talk and roil and life.
Poetry is anger and sadness and grief and joy and dissatisfaction and glory.
It walks and talks over the centuries and it mocks the skulls in the Mutter Museum.
Somewhere in East Africa the skull of Arthur Rimbaud lies muldering in the dirt.
But everywhere in the world he rocks in a drunken boat.
Jack Kerouac might be a pile of bones in a grave in Florida or Massachusetts or wherever the fuck they laid him to rest but
people everywhere get up and get in a car and go in search of...
Life is the earth.
It fills the earth.
It builds on the skulls.
It builds on the garbage and the shit and it makes us happy and sad and dumb.
I almost died once.
When I look in a mirror I see my skull.
Not like most people do.
There was hardly anything left on my skull.
Just a thin covering of skin.
There was something that leaped and roared and laughed and cried and got bored at work and took the bus and ate bad food and loved men and women and sex and words and books and music and
You get the point.
The point is.
Everybody and everything dies.
What happens next nobody knows about.
But while you're here pay attention.
It might not be redemption but it's as close as you can get.
Pretend you're a great football player and you're going to go back for one last long pass.
You see the approaching linemen.
You know you're going to get hit hard.
You know it might end your career.
Throw it far and straight and with luck someone will pull it down.