It takes the faith of a stripper and the bravado of a monk to build a civilization, so civilization is not the goal. We can do better. Love may be the most obvious but wisdom is another: most of our needs will not be met by commerce or anger. And if our first poets determined Eros was first among the gods—before all things save chaos and a world—who wants experience or science enough to disagree? Pick some garish jungle flower, loud as a train, petals thick as tongues, and let that fragile, impractical bloom serve as your role model: beautiful, absurd, harmless. To long for more and to disregard the beautiful before you are not the same.
It is the newest suburb of an ancient city and what your ex-husband’s ex calls “romance” is scarce. The neon was wrong: no Piano and what little there is of a Bar is closing too soon. In the corner sit Good and Evil— beerbreathed, bifocaled, pearshaped as the rest of us— reworking the same tales of youth and conquest they’ve heard too often. Too little time for what we want—bartenders and our tiny lives are too much alike: a damn hurry to get home and no idea where that is. Even the sitter is certain she has someplace better to be. Or not to be, right? The wrong questions have always been our problem. The answers we had down from the get go.
And why not ridicule the tourists? Careful to conceal our desire to be tourists too, anywhere lush and loose and elsewhere. Arrivals, departures, delays—knowledge can get you precisely how far and how fast, begs thy snot-dripping toddler between fits of rage and genius. Peter Quince, “truth makes all things plain,” but isn’t that the problem? The relatives will turn up eventually; the drive home as familiar as any plot twist. A blend of monotony and terror, we call it “home” but mean something like “test market.” Centuries ago, you and I were already too old for this. Three years in this town: drought, flood, drought. Knowledge gets you how far? And why not ridicule the tourists? Careful.
Everything—love, lust, even our alphabet— was young once. If only to amuse death we should have paused more for photographs. Or less. Having reduced their immediate desire to ten items or less, the young lovers before us in line remind us of blameless lives our mothers and doctors dreamt for us before these small crimes that we call a career—the romance of life in this provincial outpost is no romance. Eros, that deathless, heartless god of hearts, taught us to make our own sweet trouble by abandoning us as he abandons all in time. Our time alone together: a lucky marriage of sweat and song, life held close, with purpose, if only to amuse death.
Christopher Cessac has published two collections of his poems, Eros Among the Americans (Main Street Rag 2010) and Republic Sublime (Zoo Press 2003), which won the Kenyon Review Prize in Poetry. His poetry has also appeared in Antioch Review, Black Warrior Review, Cimarron Review, Kenyon Review, Sycamore Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and elsewhere. His website can be found at www.republicsublime.com.