Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Floating in Space

I suppose my mood is being affected
by a lot of dying right now. I'm reading death poems
by the saints and angels, the Zen masters
who on their deathbeds would dictate one last poem,
haiku, tanka, Chinese syllabic quatrain, whatever.
The enlightened masters gave one last lesson
when departing. One of the greatest of masters
left us with the haiku: "Now that I'm enlightened,
I'm just as miserable as ever." I suppose that must
be true, or at least hopeful. Meanwhile I read poems
from Jim Harrison, of late life, the darkest things
I've read from him since "Letters to Yesinin," where
he wrote to Sergei as a way of not joining Sergei,
not killing himself and becoming another dead poet.
That whole book, and one other, inspired me to do the same,
not kill myself, when I was dying, or so close to it
that I didn't want to live. I didn't care. Nothing
was less fun than living, just then.
And today the news is full of the last words
from another saint, David Bowie. Someone once asked
John Coltrane what he wanted to do, now that he had changed
the entire face of jazz. He said, "I want to become a saint."
And he did. THere's a church in San Francisco
dedicated to Trane's sainthood, where they wroship
with an all-day free jazz jam. I can't think what's more fitting.
Now Bowie. I'm not sentimental. I never cry when expected.
I reserve my tears for when I cannot prevent them,
which is rarely the usual suspects or times.
Some movies will make me weep consistently, who remains
dry-eyed at most funerals. The truth is, when you're too full
of feeling it stops you up rather than brims over.
When it's too much, you go numb, at least for awhile,
and nothing can come out without explosives.
The tributes that get to me are the ones as weird as
who inspired them: like Chris Hadfield singing
on the International Space Station, a free-fall rendition
of "Ground Control to Major Tom." Hollywood, never the best
at being tasteful or sublime, couldn't pay for a backdrop
or special effects like that. Actual guitars floating in space.
Now this long distracting mournful stretch of a day
is ending. All day I've tried to focus on what must be done,
and never got as far as chores or duties. I was stuck
on the cusp of contemplation, a tired man sitting on a stump
in a desert thunderstorm, weeping.
What else is there to do? I'll tell you:
If you want to make a tribute to the artists who have changed
your life, do something at least as amazing as what they did
that changed yours, or at least inspired you.
DOn't settle for weeping with the herd. Make a fire.
Here's a random guitar. Place it on the funeral bin,
or set it slowly spinning down the length of the tin can
out there in space, with the Earth rotating out the window.
Don't imitate, steal. Be just as good as your gods.
After all, that's the minimum tribute they deserve.



Chris Hadfield performing Bowie's song "Space Oddity" on the Space Station

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