Through love’s great power to be made wholeIn mind and body, heart and soul—
Through freedom to find joy, or be
By dint of joy itself set free
In love and in companionhood:
This is the true and natural good.To undo justice, and to seek
To quash the rights that guard the weak—
To sneer at love, and wrench apart
The bonds of body, mind and heart
With specious reason and no rhyme:
This is the true unnatural crime.– Vikram Seth
we had goldfish and they circled around and around in the bowl on the table near the heavy drapes covering the picture window and my mother, always smiling, wanting us all to be happy, told me, ‘be happy Henry!’ and she was right: it’s better to be happy if you can but my father continued to beat her and me several times a week while raging inside his 6-foot-two frame because he couldn’t understand what was attacking him from within.
my mother, poor fish, wanting to be happy, beaten two or three times a week, telling me to be happy: ‘Henry, smile! why don’t you ever smile?’
and then she would smile, to show me how, and it was the saddest smile I ever saw
one day the goldfish died, all five of them, they floated on the water, on their sides, their eyes still open, and when my father got home he threw them to the cat there on the kitchen floor and we watched as my mother smiled
Ride a wild horse with purple wings Striped yellow and black except his head which must be red.
Ride a wild horse against the sky – hold tight to his wings
before you die whatever else you leave undone once ride a wild horse into the sun.
Hannah Kahn (1911-1988)
I came across this poem many years ago, in a Reader’s Digest story about a child growing up with Down Syndrome. There is something so urgent about these lines. It remains one of my favourites to this day, even though I don’t really get the opening stanza. Why must the horse be purple and yellow and black, or any other colour?
But the rest of it – oh! It sings to me: at least once in your life, you must do something wild and unimaginable, something that you will be remembered for for the rest of your life. Whatever else, you leave undone, once ride a wild horse into the sun. At some minute level, I feel this is my purpose in life: to do that one impossibly crazy thing that will change something fundamental in the world. Am I setting myself up for failure with an aim so lofty? Will I ever do something that momentous? Who knows? All I can do is try.
Hannah’s daughter Vivian had Down’s syndrome and Hannah spent much of her spare time working with the differently abled. In the Reader’s Digest story, What Love Can Build, the boy’s mother takes courage in knowing that the poet too faced the tribulations she did. Her son Agustin loved trucks and cranes, and her husband decided to build a tractor along with him, even though how much his son could be a part of the project was uncertain. The poem, she felt, expressed perfectly why she decided to go with her husband’s proposal: “… everyone should have a chance to make one impossible dream come true.”
I leave you with a gorgeous scene at the end of Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, where Spirit, the wild mustang, leaps across the canyon and into the sun:
I don’t fear that I may cease, To be. I fear when I no longer am, She may forget to forget me, Searching for a face, In my broken mirrors, And then slashing her lines, In these scattered glass fragments, Of my old photograph.
I fear they may print my name, In small obscured letters on page three papers, Just below the adverts of my killers, On anniversaries obituaries, To be erased the very next day, By hordes of people, Rushing for the brazen indelible mark, On their finger nails, Auctioning their souls once more.
I fear she may behold, In her frozen moments, My scarred face, That has turned to dust, Long after mother stood alone, On that solitary window, Awaiting my, never to be, return.
I fear the kid, Who grew tormented by poking bunkers, And watched his sister molested, By the dark uniform, blacker heart, gun trotter,
The wind rattled through the windows
Strewing papers everywhere
The skies were ablaze in white fire
The heavens raged and flared.
The torrent that followed, the fury, the wrath,
The night was not one to forget.
It was cold. The sun a mere disk
Of iridescent white;
a moon against the morning sky
No clouds. A funereal shroud
Thrown afar, rooftop to rooftop
Pigeons roosting on the satellite dishes
Taking flight, twirling and swirling
Crazed and confused.
Eagles soaring; smooth and powerful,
their outstretched wings
Cutting clean the frigid air
Knowing, with no sun; where to go.
The pigeons don’t. They keep turning round.
And settle back on the rooftop.
They hear everything in the streets
And behind closed curtains
And gossip among themselves.
Wonder what they heard today?
Whose wife cheated on him, who beat his kids
Who died of aspirin overdose;
Who loved, who lost; who struggled in the fog
That luckless winter afternoon.