Our habitual experience is a complex of failure
and success in the enterprise of interpretation.
If we desire a record of uninterpreted experience,
we must ask a stone to record its autobiography.
Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality
One day the world’s unhappiest man decided to just stuff it all. His business partner had cheated him out of a fortune. His wife had left him. For the business partner. His son was in Rehab. His best friend had gotten himself elected to Congress . . . Republican. Every day the post delivered another stack of rejection slips. “Screw it,” said the world’s unhappiest man.
The world’s unhappiest man had read that scientists had discovered the world’s happiest man living in a small monastery in Nepal, so he tossed an extra pair of socks into a backpack and got on a plane, a bus, a donkey cart, a yak, his own two feet. As he walked upward through the mountains he gave his last rupee to a beggar, but he wasn’t happy. He recalled the happy days with his wife and truly wished for her to be happy again, but he wasn’t happy. He finally figured out that his son was going to have to take responsibility for his own life, but he wasn’t happy. He totally forgot about politics and for a minute he was almost happy. It occurred to him that he would probably write a poem about all this and he thought, “I’ll be happy if it’s any damn good.”
A funny thing happened. The clean mountain air, the music of singing birds and laughing brooks, the mighty Himalayas on the horizon – yeah, yeah, whatever. He wasn’t happy.
The world’s unhappiest man finally arrived at the monastery with holes in his shoes, holes in his socks, holes in his heart. He crept into the chilly closet where the world’s happiest man lived and waited while the monk finished his meditation. When the monk opened his eyes, he smiled and welcomed the world’s unhappiest man and said, “People have called me the world’s happiest man, but now that you are here with me my joy is complete.”
The world’s unhappiest man sat down next to the monk and began thinking about that.
* * * * *
What does it mean to be happy? God knows.
But what does it take to be human? Sitting down next to another.
These poems by Richard Krawiec in his new book, Women Who Loved Me Despite, are not often happy, but there is joy in these lines. Not the easy joy of summer mornings and wrens singing, but the hard-won joy of darkness and pain shared with another.
And there is mercy here, dropping as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. Mercy for the writer who has walked the unforgiving mountain and now sits down to consider. Mercy for us, the readers, who share that walk and that considering and discover, not happiness, but the possibility that we might still be connected, each with the other.
* * * * *
by Richard Krawiec
I stand on the corner of a downtown street
tapping my feet to a klezmer trio
frenzied strokes of bass and fiddle,
rolling runs from a concertina,
conjuring twirling scarves and gypsies.
In five minutes the bells will strike,
so I turn and race to my friend’s concert,
enter the Cathedral of All Souls
breathless and sweaty as the singers
begin to raise their voices in Lux Aeterna;
the hush builds until the sopranos
pierce the dark inner encavement,
arched steeple-space misted green
and blue from the stained glass robes
of Mary, Joseph, the infant looking down.
Seated to the side of the main aisle,
I watch an aged man’s breathing
start to slow; he slumps sideways,
caught by a woman’s surprised hands.
Two men dressed in choirboy robes,
rush to comfort; one presses the pules
the other encircles shrunken shoulder,
hugs close a gray-crowned head.
Come Holy Spirit the choir sings,
the mass continues, through cleanse . . .
heal . . . joy everlasting . . . broken loaves
of brown wheat. The singers repeat
the sermon litany . . . blessed are . . . blessed are . . .
while EMS, clad in black, rush in and
crimp the man sideways into a wheelchair.
I leave the wine for the darkened streets.
One girl, a mountain Dorothy,
ripped leggings and shiny shoes,
gutter-throats an Appalachian lament
to the faceless mannequin in a storefront
window. It’s wearing a party dress
woven from condoms, black skirt accented
with white. The girl turns away from the bills
I flutter, finger-picks a banjo run of escape
taps a rhythm on the brick sidewalk,
toe plates sparking. Above her, night-scattered
stars loom down. She closes her eyes to embrace
everything as light, and nothing as eternal.
* * * * *
Richard Krawiec – poet, novelist, playwright; editor, publisher, educator – lives in Raleigh, North Carolina. Women Who Loved Me Despite is published by Press 53 in Winston-Salem, which also published an earlier collection by Richard, She Hands Me the Razor.
Richard is the founder of Jacar Press in Raleigh.
* * * * *