The Question of Upbringing

Your consciousness is like a pond
reflecting what you know—
its surface shines so brightly back
you can’t see much below.

They say you think too hard and long.
Why, what is it they fear?
That you might get the answer wrong,
Or that you’ll get too near.

                           Written around 1990



Say there were no such thing as truth
But only your word versus mine;
Say crowing victors were correct
And victims wrong because they whine;
Say there were no such thing as truth,
Just rebels and the party line:

You’d lick your story into shape
Till I believed it with my eyes—
Your telling it would make it so—
You’d gag the baby when it cries,
You’d lick your story into shape,
And there’s be no such thing as lies.



I’m getting old—so what shall be my final fling?
Before I die, I want to write down everything
That I have learnt, or had to learn, to live this long,
or live at all. Unlearn, perhaps—the something wrong
with how I lived and was. I was my parents’ son.
Knowing my story might—or might not—help someone.

Chapter 1
In the beginning was no word, but just a chance
of you, as cells move blind in microscopic dance.
And then, as sperm meets egg, you’re dealt a set of genes
from the family pack. No choice and no escape, which means
no conflict: truth holds sway in purest Buddha-hood.
Fed through a tube, you do not breathe, but it feels good
until you’re born of course, and then all hell breaks loose.
You gasp, cry, wave your arms and suck, but it’s no use—
Though hints remain, that state of bliss has gone. Who stole it?
Your world is yours, is you, and yet you can’t control it
at first. But soon you learn that pleasure’s nice, that pain
isn’t, that if you want what’s nice to come again,
you have to pull this lever, press that button…but
you also learn the ghastliness that comes with glut.
What’s more, when nice has gone, or can’t be had, there’s loss,
sharpened by memory of nice, which makes you cross
and cry, which sometimes brings nice back and sometimes not.
But you will never learn contentment with your lot.

Chapter 2
to be continued

* * *


I’ve met a poet who seriously believes
in thanking Autumn for its yellow leaves,

expressing gratitude in Ritual
and Prayer. His mindful mind is full,

but of what? Stood on calm Loch Lomond’s bank
doing his usual, this time to thank

the Loch for being there, he said he saw
a pulse of wind-whipped ripples just off-shore

making straight for him. I said,
“Coincidence!” The poet shook his head.

“No, dialogue.” But his implies that he
and nature are best mates—which cannot be.

We want nature to care. Why should it care?
or lakes reply when we recite some prayer?

A Dostoyevsky tale on which to brood,
tells of a man who died of gratitude.

It’s published in translation by Gollancz.
Well, is it for itself or just for thanks

that we perform our little kindly acts?
What’s animism, set beside the facts?

Admire the vast sweep of that heaving sea,
it doesn’t give a damn for you or me;

and in the forest, stream and moss and fern—
if they give, they want nothing in return

except, of course, for us to let them be.