A man said the terrible thing; that is the news today.
It was months ago, it seems — dim words mumbled in secret,
Only there is no secret, not for him, not for anyone.
So we disguise our delight with outrage, again.
We abhor him for his sin, except we don’t.
We love him, secretly thank him for being the ugly we aren’t —
Only there is no secret, not for us, not for anyone.
Our disgust is our song of gratitude: praise the fool that I’m not him!
And his words are indeed a fool’s — cockeyed, clanging.
The absurdity of his transgressions, sensational.
Which is quite how we like our offenders —
What good are they if not for giving sensation?
We’ll take fear now and then, a disruption of our boredom,
But we prefer inflated indignation, the gateway to our secret world
Where we dabble in the profane under the cover of shock;
Only there is no secret, not for us, not for our senses.
And yet we try, exhausting the vocabulary of offense,
Feebly disguising our relief that there is one more half-wit
With half our wit and twice our exposure
Or at least one whose missing half was exposed before ours.
And that is the secret where there is no secret,
That his shame is our sigh of relief.
More eyes on someone else’s secrets,
A stay of my execution, my own uncovering.
But someone does die now, and not just the fool.
True moral instinct is gasping its last,
Bled dry by the repeating refrain:
We’ve never seen worse; who could be worse?
Worse than an old man, afraid of dark skin?
Afraid of his own wife — or of fidelity, at least?
Worse than nonsensical rambling about
How his world is still flat, the universe revolving about it?
But we know; we know this sad coot is the relic, not the root.
We know this is the knucklehead stuff, but convenient,
Pitiful enough to demand the damning and
To distract the bleating herd from the other.
So the other stays secret until it finds that there is no secret,
There is only the drunken illusion, fueled by our binging
On the sensation of the fool: I am not worse.
But there is no secret, not for me, not for you.
Epilogue: As I endeavor to grow as a writer and a human, I’m pushing into some new territory like this – verse, poetry, song(lyric)writing, and so forth. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been collaborating with someone else on something that actually culminated in something finished and something pretty good. Perhaps one day you’ll even get to hear it. For now the point is that something in that process helped me finally unlock a door I’d been trying to find a way around for a long time. I’m not sure how much is on the other side of that door or what it will be good for, but for the time being, I’m not too worried about that. It’s just nice to have a new room to explore.
And because I’ve always operated in prose, one of the tricks of getting into this space for me is, at least some of the time, trying to write what it is I’m trying to communicate in as clear a “how I would say it” way as possible. Ross has tried to push me in that way for a long time, and Andy Gullahorn, who is a ninja of a songwriter, offers that counsel to others constantly: Just write it like you would say it. That’s often not the final form, and it’s almost always woefully inadequate, but it sort of melts the ice enough for the water to start flowing. And, by the way, that inadequacy is, I think, is one of the cases for verse and poetry. There are things that can’t be said in prose that poetry, while it also cannot exhaustively express them, can offer a window through which we can see what can’t be said.
Anyway, for those interested in the process and/or for those who find poetry too nebulous and prefer someone to just say what they mean at all times, below is the very rough, more straightforward bit I wrote that helped me find my way into this. It is purposefully unedited, first-thought sort of stuff.
When someone does something really awful, especially in an area that culturally we have labeled as particularly shameful, we suddenly become indulgently moral creatures. Never mind that minutes before we learned of that person’s offense, we dabbled in “smaller” immoralities: spending money we should give away, tweaking the truth just so to preserve the .2% of our reputation that the truth might cost us, wishing we had what she had, wishing we had her to gratify our own desires. We didn’t do what this guy did. We didn’t speak the unspeakable. (We just did the unspeakable in a small, secret way.) This is the convenience of a world in which famous indiscretions are available to us in never ending supply and excruciating detail, though decidedly inconvenient for our souls. We get drunk on the brokenness of others so as to numb ourselves to our own accommodations of brokenness in our hearts. And the more we drink, the more we lose of both our own truth and of our collective sense of authentic moral indignation.