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At times … I wish
I could meet in a duel
the man who killed my father
and razed our home,
expelling me
a narrow country.
And if he killed me,
I’d rest at last,
and if I were ready—
I would take my revenge!


But if it came to light,
when my rival appeared,
that he had a mother
waiting for him,
or a father who’d put
his right hand over
the heart’s place in his chest
whenever his son was late
even by just a quarter-hour
for a meeting they’d set—
then I would not kill him,
even if I could.


Likewise … I
would not murder him
if it were soon made clear
that he had a brother or sisters
who loved him and constantly longed to see him.
Or if he had a wife to greet him
and children who
couldn’t bear his absence
and whom his gifts would thrill.
Or if he had
friends or companions,
neighbors he knew
or allies from prison
or a hospital room,
or classmates from his school …
asking about him
and sending him regards.


But if he turned
out to be on his own—
cut off like a branch from a tree—
without a mother or father,
with neither a brother nor sister,
wifeless, without a child,
and without kin or neighbors or friends,
colleagues or companions,
then I’d add not a thing to his pain
within that aloneness—
not the torment of death,
and not the sorrow of passing away.
Instead I’d be content
to ignore him when I passed him by
on the street—as I
convinced myself
that paying him no attention
in itself was a kind of revenge.

April 15, 2006


Just over a year ago I went to a poetry festival and heard this poem for the first time.  It has stayed with me, and I thought others might like to read it again, or for the first time.

It seems a shame when something that should be framed, hanging on the wall, a constant beacon, gets lost under a virtual pile of papers.  I’m glad the poet’s name stands out in the Tag Cloud I’ve added to the side bar on my blog.  I like the way the cloud is made up of all the things I’ve written about, that matter to me, so that the words come to define me, accidentally, without me noticing.

This year some friends went to the same poetry festival, and came to eat with us afterwards, but nothing seemed to have grabbed their attention like this forgiving poem on revenge, though the poetic lawyer read a few of his poems – a memory of his father, and the obligatory poem about a cat. I asked him, as a joke, whether he had a poem about a cat, because poets always write about cats (and I don’t like cats very much and wonder if this means that I won’t like poets very much), and, unsurprisingly, he had written about cats, and so he read that. I’d print it here, but it’s too rude.

In the summer we took our daughters to hear Margaret Atwood recite some of her poems. We sat on the floor, and could barely see her as she hid behind her lectern.  She read several about cats, including one about her favourite cat who always came and slept on her face, and she described his neat little pink bum hole. And Lola B only remembered that one line from all the poems that Margaret Atwood had read, and I laugh as I remember, because it seemed like her revenge on her parents who were trying to educate her, and because I cannot remember any other lines either.

Our lawyerly poet also coined a new way of describing our daughters which I liked very much though it took me a long time to decipher his handwriting.  I wonder if all poets have illegible handwriting too.

[With thanks to Sami for the loan of a photo that I’ve wanted to use for a while.]



Samuel Taylor Coleridge

(Beareth all things.—1 Cor. xiii. 7.)

Gently I took that which ungently came,
And without scorn forgave:–Do thou the same.
A wrong done to thee think a cat’s-eye spark
Thou wouldst not see, were not thine own heart dark.
Thine own keen sense of wrong that thirsts for sin,
Fear that–the spark self-kindled from within,
Which blown upon will blind thee with its glare,
Or smother’d stifle thee with noisome air.
Clap on the extinguisher, pull up the blinds,
And soon the ventilated spirit finds
Its natural daylight. If a foe have kenn’d,
Or worse than foe, an alienated friend,
A rib of dry rot in thy ship’s stout side,
Think it God’s message, and in humble pride
With heart of oak replace it;–thine the gains–
Give him the rotten timber for his pains!