Friday, January 23, 2009

The Lesson of the Moth

I was talking to a moth
the other evening
he was trying to break into
an electric light bulb
and fry himself on the wires

why do you fellows pull this stunt i asked him
because it is the conventional
thing for moths or why
if that had been an uncovered
candle instead of an electric
light bulb you would
now be a small unsightly cinder
have you no sense

plenty of it he answered
but at times we get tired
of using it
we get bored with the routine
and crave beauty
and excitement
fire is beautiful
and we know that if we get 
too close it will kill us
but what does that matter
it is better to be happy
for a moment and be burned up with beauty 
than to live a long time
and be bored all the while
so we wad all our life up
into one little roll
and then we shoot the roll
that is what life is for
it is better to be a part of beauty
for one instant and then cease to 
exist than to exist forever
and never be a part of beauty
our attitude toward life
is come easy go easy
we are like human beings
used to be before they became 
too civilized to enjoy themselves

and before i could argue him
out of his philosophy 
he went and immolated himself 
on a patent cigar lighter
i do not agree with him
myself i would rather have
half the happiness and twice the longevity

but at the same time i wish
there was something i wanted 
so badly as he wanted to fry himself


Last night I watched "Man on Wire," a documentary about Philippe Petit, the man who walked a tightrope between the two towers of the World Trade Center.

Petit had a burning need to perform an act so daring that in the moment of action he would exist in both life and death at the same time, willingly, compulsively.  It was so obvious to me that the walk itself was an ecstatic experience for him--in the mind-blowing sex sense of the word, but in the religious sense as well--that he had entered a place of "mystical self-transcendence."  He could only get there by suspending his regular life and going to a weird extreme that would be difficult for us to understand.  But it was his weird extreme.  For others with this tendency it might be something else...flying into a flame, for instance...I watched it and related so strongly that I began to wonder some strange wonderings...

Sarge, who loves Petit, and also has an encyclopedic store of poetry in his head, as well as an extensive collection of poetry books, and always the perfect quote for the moment, found this passage from "archy and mehitabel" and presented it to me today.  And we discussed the idea of these two styles of being--the moth, and archy.  Sarge, whose personal history includes a remarkable amount of adventure and bravery, although he wouldn't like me to say so (oops, flagged for blogging rule violation) it's true anyway, says he's archy through and through.  I asked him if he thought that I was archy or the moth, and no matter how hard I begged, he wouldn't bite.  He said that each person has to know that for himself.  So with that in mind, I've decided that somehow, I don't know how yet, or maybe I do but I can't remember, I'm the moth not archy.

So do you "shoot the roll"? Did you ever? Do you want to? Will you? Is your tightrope over the abyss a man you loved, a woman, a pursuit? Was it liquor or art? Did you put one foot on the wire and then hate it and turn back? Did you continue with clenched teeth or with reckless abandon? Or are you an onlooker on the ground, 100 stories below, whether like archy a bit jealous, or just happy that it's not you up there...


kylie said...

in the grand scheme of things i am archy.
in just one area i am the moth

this is a wonderful post leah
i've never had a love of poetry, i dont know why, maybe i havent read the right stuff but this makes me wonder what i have missed out on

are you going to tell us what your abyss is? :)


awiese said...

Or: Ennis del Mar or Jack Twist?

The Idle Devil said...

I am the onlooker...wondering why ppl do crazy things as walking a tightrope...but then the moth explains us why. It's wonderful reasoning.

Maria said...

I used to be this daring, fearless woman. And then my daughter was born. Now, I am still daring and fearless, but only when it involves protecting her.

Alan Rickman said...

Come on baby, light my fire

Jimmy Bastard said...

I like where your mind is at these days. Very tranquil thoughts indeed. I'd have to associate myself more with the moth.

Leah said...

Kylie: I seriously couldn't imagine a life without poetry--it has been a constant for me since childhood. For Sarge too. We spent a couple of years together in a job where we catalogued poems and edited collections, and in some ways it was a dream job. You should check out "archy & mehitabel" at any rate--it's funny and wonderful, more story- than poem-like, but still poetry.

As for your question, I'll have to ponder it awhile...I'm not entirely sure of the answer...



Leah said...

Allison! Of course, I didn't even think of that! Poor Ennis. In some ways he was the moth, though, too. Maybe even more than Jack. I'm not sure.

But I think I'm Jack, which are you?

Anonymous said...

I'm Jack Twist, too, I think (though of course it's the qualifications and nuances that make this game fun...)

In a funny replay of your household's "which house would you be in if you went to Hogwarts" game, I think I once yelled at W, accusing him of squandering both of our happiness by being.... Ennis del Mar.

Maybe I'm only Jack in my head.

Thanks for reminding me of Archy, something my mom read to me when I was little.

Toujours gai, toujours gai!



Karen ^..^ said...

I think we'd all like to think we are archy.

I'm not, though. I was born with too much self preservation, I think. So I play it safe.

Plus, I brought two people into this world, who it is my responsibility to be there for, for as long as I can.

The poem was great. Did you write it?

Leah said...

Karen: I wish so much I'd written that poem, but it's from a most wonderful book called "archy and mehitabel" by Don Marquis. It's very philosophical, very inspirational, written many decades ago, and still profound and current. You should totally check it out!


Leah said...

Idle Devil: I wonder if it's possible to be both onlooker and tightrope walker at the same time! It just occurred to me...

Leah said...

Alan Rickman, just who are you? Who-who? Now I'm very curious.

Leah said...

Maria: well, me too in some ways, I guess. Maybe I'm now just daring and mothlike in my fantasies...

Leah said...

Jimmy, thanks babe, I'm kinda liking where my mind's at these days too...

Old Knudsen said...

Alexander the Great had the choice of a short and glorious life or a long one in obscurity. I follow his method everytime there is a question about fear: Fortune favours the bold!

I have studied fear and bravery in order to understand my own self and have cum to the conclusion I'm stupid, just like the moth.

Leah said...

Kugels, no question you're the moth my man. I can just tell.

Megan said...

How can people be awake so early on a Sunday?


Me for the spectator every time...

Effortlessly Average said...

Ok, first: I'm totally going to steal that poem. How insanely poignant. I'm definitely the moth when it comes to women; a habit I'm trying to break earnestly.

I'd have to profess a desire to be wasted, bruised, and scarred when the sunset of this life turns my way. If there were such a thing as a final horizon, I'd be the one trying to find it. heh.

Problem is, I tend to meet women who are exceptionally good looking, but equally shallow in their understanding in just how satisfying it can be to share a sweeping curve of life with one person. Where do I meet that woman? Heh.

**I followed you here from "Pitfalls." I love your writing!**

Leah said...

Effortlessly Average: may I say, awesome handle--

It is a great poem, isn't it? If you haven't read the whole book, I know I'm repeating myself, you should get yourself a copy pronto.

Your comment was interesting because I was thinking even before I read it that, yes, the place where we are most mothlike (in both the delights and the agonies of that state) is in love relationships. Maybe the trick is to find someone who understands about flying repeatedly against the bulb but not ending there?

...or something like that...

Cece said...

I am archy. I am very conservative, and I always weigh the consequences before jumping into the pool. If I have an abyss, it would have to be my song writing. I wish I were the moth when it came to that, but.......

Queen Goob said...

......where's the procrastinator in all this because that's what I am.

Leah said...

Cece: I wonder if one can cultivate a mothlike quality for one's art...

Leah said...

QG: I am a procrastinator too. In fact, I'm doing it right now! I think one can procrastinate as an archy, but can one do it as a moth? I'm not sure...

Suzanne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Suzanne said...

I had to delete it because if my sister ever read it she'd kill me. Hope you had a chance to read it. XO Great post!