Six Liberties of Compassion

Six Liberties of Compassion

I. RESTRAINT

Are we all prophets without honor
in the homeland of our inner lives,
weeping Jeremiahs haranguing

our resentments, pathetic outbursts,
sly lusts, our sweet teeth chattering?
What a joy it would be to have no need

of self-restraint. To be so true to life
that we are, with ease, just right.
But we know restraint’s a tease.

Habits we deplore rule us without effort.
The sympathy we feel for our lonely better selves
disperses without mercy until we think we are

fated to be the objects of our self-derision,
destined to sculpt our ideal selves from blocks of marble
using only toothpicks like a million monkeys might.

But we go stale without prevailing
until some sainted rascal of restraint
whispers in our ear the rule of joy

we all can follow without fail:
Kindness is such an easy lesson to be learned
because it is so easy to return.


II. BECOMING

We perceive and we imagine all at once.
No observation is without opinion.
The galaxies in their glory are not glorious to all.

Black holes are irresistible to those depressed,
swallowing light to prove that chemistry is a destiny
we can’t escape. We’re never free of what we are.

“We believe and we become.”
The cat dies and we fall apart, as if the whole
world had crashed into another world we didn’t see.

In the same way that death can never be wrong,
there cannot be an inside without an outside,
a before without a now and a now without an after.

Just born, just dead, we are timeless in between.
Becoming new is how we see it.
Everything’s easy if you want it to be,

even dying on the vine, even falling into a crack
in the memory of the times. Imagination
lasts and lasts; it’s what we do with who we are.

We don’t need a Virgil to teach us our little hells.
Kindness is such an easy lesson to be learned
because it is so easy to return.


III. EMPATHY

When the caverns of our consciousness,
dark as the void the stars invade, transform into
sewers of hate or fear, when radiant interiors,

filled with forms of things unknown, become for each
a cloaca for the roaring Shadow of the Age,
empathy as compassion, a gift to all,

dulls into an empathy of us and them,
forcing some to scrub the streets on their knees,
while others are given the golden peace

of living without fear gnawing at their faces.
When empathy excludes, adoring some
as soapy babies, boiling others in pits

of blame they don’t deserve
when we cannot cut all others
the same slack we cut ourselves,

we become vaults slammed shut and locked.
Hope bounces off us like a hammer on a block of steel,
and holy monsters of the mind make caves of wonder

into bowels of pain – we must choose which one prevails.
Kindness is such an easy lesson to be learned,
because it is so easy to return.


IV. EUPHORIA

Epiphanies of glee, of unexplainable joy,
our sense that life is our perfect fate,
rapturous and overwhelmed on deadly cliffs,

staring out into the desert hopeless as the sky
and knowing we are nothing more or less
than Everything that is, atom born – those euphorias

come to us like our first escapes on bikes
up summer streets when we were eight.
Such inner soundings of belonging

turn the world from right and wrong
into the freedom of trust without an answer.
And we feel the cosmos that’s within us,

the Exactly Who we are, wants to give
itself through us to the Everything Else that is
in which nothing is out of place, not even our judgment of it.

The whole mystery left to us is learning how to live
truth to the perishable Only Once we are, adding the best
that we can be, that Never Again, to the whole of the All

before the end comes our way. Desiring the goal
is what truly matters. Kindness is such an easy lesson
to be learned, because it is so easy to return.

 

V. FRIENDSHIP

It took one word and she knew
exactly what I meant. Old friends in love
are a culture of two, a tribe on a lonely veld

where new languages spring up like shadows
that define, unique codes of inside jokes, taboos,
“you had to be there” ways of being true.

We are a form our freedom takes. We know
what to say and what not to say,
and when and where to say it and to not.

It takes a look, one shift of a shoulder, one
glancing off at the tree tops to say
a sonnet worth of sympathy

in an exhalation of relief – like loyalty
through the slippery wobblings of accident
and history’s trap teaches us to understand

the echoes of our inner lives that sound
between us, as real as when we have befriended
who we are, ourselves, without constraint.

Banish accusation and unrequited gloom.
Kindness is such an easy lesson to be learned,
because it is so easy to return.


VI. THE MAP OF JOY

    We chart our lives disaster by disaster, through cycles
of declining ages, the evidence of death and war.
We hardly ever build a map of joy with trails of ecstasy
    elation, moments filled to the brim with satisfaction,
admiration, boundless happiness in knowing, now at last,
the compassion of joy is nothing less
     than a cosmic truth for all – like the day
when you felt in your cells the universe was simply just
the way it was, and nothing could go wrong with anything,
    like the day your mother plucked you out from school,
sipped sodas with you by the sea, and you felt fully
and completely loved by the goddess,
    the moment when the secret life of the world
was shown to  you in a paper bag with a geode
opened up inside, or the first time you fell madly in love
    with the scent of hot sunshine on bare
pine needles one afternoon when you were four.
Our joys define us more than our calamities,
    the hells of the world that we let in,
but our wiring treats happiness as a cheap thrill
and grief as a catechism of life and death.
    The body just plays the deep strings of sorrow
to prepare us for letting go. And when we chart
the course of our lives by the constellations of our joys, we see
    the true message of the mystery that the Books
have missed so badly in translation, that kindness is
an easy lesson to be learned, because it is so easy to return.

 

(Photo derived from image scan by Cori Kindred / CC)




This piece was written by:

V.B. Price's photo

V.B. Price

V.B. Price is editor and co-founder of New Mexico Mercury. He is the former editor of Century Magazine and New Mexico Magazine, former city editor of the New Mexico Independent, and long-time columnist for the late Albuquerque Tribune. His latest book is The Orphaned Land: New Mexico’s Environment Since the Manhattan Project. He retired as the editor of the Mary Burritt Christiansen Poetry Series at UNM Press in 2010. He has taught in the UNM Honors Program since l986.

Contact V.B. Price

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