We spend a lifetime losing the perfection of the instant

[Poem from my second collection Requiem (Picaro Press 2012). The photo is of First World War conscientious objectors, the forgotten heroes, those not celebrated in these years of various nationalist First World War commemorations. The poem is about my generation of 1968 and carrying on the ancient living tradition of dissent and utopian dreaming without suppressing its possible dark sides.]

We spend a lifetime losing the perfection of the instant

or moment we felt the swirl & energy of the general
student assembly at Munich, the smoke & surge
of direct democracy in action, no dry abstraction but
the thrilling theatre of posture & eyes, the honest lies

& raising of arms & bodies swaying like seaweed
in the flow of heady rhetoric, again the old delight
to be alive to the new horizons just out of sight
opening over a world about to change in ways

we could not even imagine but knew to be true
to the unknown god that reigned sublime & knew
us in our denied & deepest currents even as
lovers of change include the worst of men.

Ok, granted, we were a generation of fucked-up kids
who got TV instead of tit, un-bonded, narcissistic,
coddled like delicate eggs, ripped down the middle
with yawning holes of missing wrapped in plastic

we were what Eliot meant in The Hollow Men
& Wasteland, or Beckett’s waiting tramps & urns
even as our hips yearned like Elvis or Jagger,
sang of street fighting & yellow submarines.

So what, every generation’s got its baggage
& ours was lit up by Hiroshima & malls,
some turned to terrorism, some to THC on tap,
most trudged the long march through institutions

joined humanity punching eternal time clocks
in multifarious office blocks as far from Petrograd
or Eden as My Lai was from Bethlehem
& King on the steps of the Capitol.

Yet briefly we drank the anxiety & hope
in that god’s nectar, read tracts & books
that shared the inebriation of his raptures
spread over centuries of revolt’s rude gestures

the first ecstatic moments of revolutions
before reaction & the fear of our own godliness
set in & we become hostage to the facts
of history & self, the need to work, act,

love in a world of violence & the reign of things
that makes love & solidarity exceptional
to our state as Eden-unready as both heaven & hell,
the daily descant of compassion & hate.

Was it something like that you imagine, placing
your heart in, receiving from, those that came
many times before – the sweat & breath
of the ecclesia at Athens where excellence was

in the passionate tongue & reasoning mind;
the Iroquois federation sitting the equal circle
of nature till the spirit moved & all had spoken;
the peasants & Diggers who doffed their hats

to no man &, reading the Christ in everyman,
found no gentlemen when Adam delved & Eve span
& uprising as necessary as the free rise of breath;
the first generations of factory workers everywhere

carrying their former independence of sod or tool
into the mine & mill revolting against cold
Capital’s impersonal kill of community & kin,
dignity, the moral economy that bore only fair price

& wage unrelated to the market & logic of more;
was it like this among the sans-culottes of 93 & 71,
the St Petersburg soviets of 05, 17 & Kronstadt 21,
right through the self-managed miracles of farm

& factory in Spain, that short summer of living
anarchy in 36 that proved peasants & workers
needed no civics to run the show; in Budapest
the armed workers’ councils in 56 heroically

resisting totalitarian tanks for democracy & bread;
the spontaneous general strike not for bread
but some intensity beyond dead life all over
France in le joli mai of 68 that defined our time?

You have no idea. The baggage remains, the fatal
flaws in all these shattered mirrors of the human
dream, violence, demagoguery, misogyny, power
trips & triumphalism synonyms for rudderless despair.

But between two breaths or some bird’s call,
a pause in a conversation or a train of thought
the flame is there, the memory passed on untaught,
a torch across time & place between perfect strangers

in active struggle or reading books, the perfection
of the instant we imperfect ones are together free
& truly human, humbly sketching the eternally failed
& quivering outline of our rising god to be.

[Note: the title of this poem is a line taken from Peter Boyle’s poem ‘Wilfred Thesiger Reaches the Uaso Nyero River’, in his 2004 collection Museum of Space. The italicised line is from Sonnet XXVII in Chris Wallace-Crabbe’s Modern Times suite in his 2001 volume By and Large.]


~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on August 12, 2017.

2 Responses to “We spend a lifetime losing the perfection of the instant”

  1. Amazing Peter…don’t know how you manage to put so much history and feeling into one piece…an artist with words instead of tactile materials, you poets…

    Sent from my iPhone


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