Michael Gottlieb / Letters to a Middle-Aged Poet / 16


What happens when the day comes when finally, irrevocably, we must accept our station in life?

Do we ever come to the conclusion that we’ve even arrived at such a place? Is it when things stop happening for us, whatever that means, or stop happening so quickly, or is it when new opportunities, possibilities, however we deign to deem them, no longer arrive on our doorstep?

Or is it when we come to believe that we’ve run out of gas when it comes to driving for more, for the next step? Or when it comes to our art, our careers – is it when we stop believing that there is indeed any such ‘next-step,’ at least for the likes of us? And then, what happens then? Is that when finally we are truly free… to do, to write, however we please – assuming of course that we haven’t been writing that way all along?

Or for some of us, is that the final insult? The officer unholstering his pistol and stepping in front of the squad, all now looking down, seeing to their carbines and perhaps, depending on the occasion of the moment, collecting their spent cartridges as souvenirs.

For how many is that the most enraging of all the blows? The realization that this, this finally is it. It is this and nothing more? Forget about everything that one has, has done, has accomplished, put all that to the side, right now that counts for nothing. “Look at how much he or she, or those guys over there, how much they have, and why don’t I have that… that much?” “They don’t deserve that, they can’t.” It makes this entire project a joke, a lie. It’s been a lie since the beginning. Hasn’t it?

All of those wins, the first one, the ones that followed... How shallow, how false, how derisory. The illusions that unfolded, which led, one to another. And with each, the compromises, the lies that one is obliged to tell oneself; how they crowd upon each other. Like convicts in some bankrupt republic’s overwhelmed penitentary, built by some benign-seeming – by comparison – colonial power. The cell seemingly commodious enough at first… then more of prisoners show up, and more and more, and soon the sleeping in shifts begins.

And so it all comes to make perfect sense, doesn’t it? How can it be that this should be all that there is to show for all those decades of toil, of dedication, of sacrifice? Clearly, we were robbed. There’s been some malfeasance somewhere. It’s not fair that we have so little and others have so much. And it is so lousy that no one listens, and no one cares.

And that last part, indubitably, is true.

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