Paideia

Maximus Daniel Greeson

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(email me)

In Memoriam: Gillian Rose

1
I have a question to ask for the form's sake:
how that small happy boy in the seaside
photographs became the unstable man,
hobbyist of his own rage, engrafting it
on a stock of compliance, of hurt women.
You do not need to answer the question
or challenge imposture.
Whatever the protocol I should still construe.
2
There is a kind of sanity that hates weddings
but bears an intelligence of grief
in its own kind. There are achievements
that carry failure on their back, blindness
not as in Brueghel, but unfathomably
far-seeing.
3
Recap on words like compassion that I
never chanced in your living presence;
as empathy and empowerment.
I did not blunder into your room with flowers.
Despite the correct moves, you would have wiped me
in the championship finals of dislike.
4
You might have responded to my question,
one will never know. You asked not to be
cheated of old age. No kidding, it is an
unlovely parley, although you
could have subdued it and set it to work,
met it without embracing. Edna
with her prosthetic jaw and nose
prevails over these exchanges.
5
Your anger against me might have been wrath
concerning the just city. Or poetry's
assumption of rule. Or its rôle
as wicked governor. This abdication
of self-censure indeed hauls it
within your long range of contempt,
6
unlike metaphysics which you had time for,
re-wedded to the city, a salutation
to Pallas, goddess of all polemics,
to Phocion's wife — who shall be nameless —
in Poussin's painting, gathering the disgraced
ashes of her husband. As you rightly said,
not some mere infinite love, a finite act
of political justice. Not many would see that.
7
If there is a healing of broken love it is not
as dyslexia's broken, learning to read signs.
In broken love you read the signs too late
although they are met with everywhere
like postcards of Manet and Monet, Van Gogh's shoes.
There are many rites exordinate to the occasion
8
though you have to choose one and get down to it —
it may involve grovelling or tearing of garments.
The just city is finally of some interest,
chiefly in the base senses of curiosity
and self-serving, if you understand me. You
do, of course, since I am using your three primers,
9
Mourning Becomes the Law, Love's Work, Paradiso:
a good legacy, you should be proud of it
except that pride is forever irrelevant
where you are now. So it continues,
the work, lurching on broken springs
or having to be dug out or jump-started
or welded together out of two wrecks
or donated to a good cause, like to the homeless
10
in the city that is not just, has never
known justice, except sporadically:
Solon, Phocion — and they gave him hemlock
and burned his body in an unhallowed place.
And his ashes were taken up and smuggled
into his own home, and buried beneath the hearth.
11
A familiar rare type of resistance
heroine, like that woman, is required by justice.
Whether the omens are propitious or unpropitious
the Lysander takes off, heads south, the Maquis
line out the chosen ground, the landing strip,
with their brave vulnerable fires.
12
Sometimes the Gestapo are waiting, sometimes not,
and she gets clear. But the odds are heavy.
The odds are heavy-set against us all
though medics call the chances symbiosis
in their brusque insolent manner that denies
self-knowledge as the sufferer, her formal agon:
that word you chose to use, a standard term
but not despicable in context of Love's Work.
13
Poetry's its own agon that allows us
to recognize devastation as the rift
between power and powerlessness. But when I
say poetry I mean something impossible
to be described, except by adding lines
to lines that are sufficient as themselves.
14
Di-dum endures formally; and the pre-Socratics.
Phocion rests in his lost burial place.
Devastated is Estuary; devastation remains
waste and shock. This ending is not the end,
more like the cleared spaces around St. Paul's
and the gutted City after the fire-raid.
I find love's work a bleak ontology
to have to contemplate; it may be all we have.

~~~~~~~~

By Geoffrey Hill