Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Life is Happy

by Albert Goldbarth

I suddenly understand; I'm watching you chop away
at a cabbage, you're humming, the kitchen is light
and knife-thrust, light and knife-thrust,
lightslaw, airslaw, and humming. That would be the way
Life gets its blade out, then goes at it
with a human heart: maybe like somebody hacking
jungle undergrowth, so the whole heart's lost in a minute,
ribbons, pulp; or maybe making an exquisite show
of almondlike slivers, holding up
the fussy ricegrain-sized inscribings, studying
its artistry from many angles, taking years,
taking seventy years; but humming
in an absentminded, pleasurable way, no matter
the time involved, or what the technique -- happy. This
was the lesson, now I remember, carried by the moted light
of the bulky, asthmatically-purring projector
they used for grade school "nature films." The room
was darkened, our tittering hushed, and then a voice,
a grave yet understanding, deeply male voice, came forth
from that machine, while on the screen a grainy lion
brought a grainy zebra down, and this was followed
by a few frames of its running with the bowel. This
was "the law of the jungle," "the law of fang and claw," and
so we understood that what we saw
as horrifying slaughter -- and that zebra's widened jaws
and splayed gray teeth would bray inside my brain
for years -- was part of a governing system, a balance:
there was pain, but it was ordered pain, and Life
was in the greenish jungle vapor, or the sky, all the while,
surveying its handiwork, calmly. Not a life, but Life
was happy, standing grandly in the kitchen
with its tools and its purview, neither king nor cabbage
more endeared to it, the knife out, at some moments
even looking like love, its hair, its hips,
its smooth, assumed efficiency,
its dearly off-key humming.


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