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Obligation

January 5, 2011

We turn because we have to, not because we want to.

So, I don’t consider myself much of a poet.  I’ve taken a few classes and I’ve written a number in my time, but it’s not a medium that I’m always that comfortable working in.  However, one thing that I’ve always liked about poetry is that it’s kind of sneaky.  Since poetry often needs to get its message across in fewer words than prose, the imagery has to be packed into little bundles that convey a larger meaning than the sum of its words.  Sometimes the words aren’t even obviously related to the poet’s intentions, but the overall effect that they have upon the reader is more important than functional description.

While I was in Manila over the holidays, I was struck by sudden inspiration in a fairly morbid location:  a cemetery.  My girlfriend and I (along with her mother) had gone to visit some of her deceased relatives.  While we were there I felt overwhelmed by this very specific image of a boy sitting through a funeral with an embarrassingly bored look on his face.  I kept trying to figure out why I couldn’t shake this visual from my mind, and, after some time, I decided that I really needed to try and find a way to convey this feeling to other people.  Poetry seems such a natural venue for emotion transference that the words just started flowing into my head.  As we got back into the car to drive home, I felt incredibly claustrophobic because I really needed to get these words down, and I had no paper to work with.  As soon as we arrived, I rushed in and started typing up this poem.

Now, I’m not super happy with how it turned out (although, nobody ever is really satisfied with something they’ve created), and I may decide to make some changes in the future–but I thought I’d share it with you, because it seemed so visceral at the time.

Anyway, here it is…

Obligation is the death of sincerity.

It is the boy standing at the side of his grandmother’s grave

His face a gaunt visage of boredom

The emotion is true and honest.  Yet his indecency is scolded.

What warrants more the lash?

A deluded mirror of expectations or an earnest failure of empathy?

 

It is the obliteration of the self

The socialite who has sacrificed her most precious of commodities—

Time.

For nobody can have her time unless she relinquishes it herself.

Even in isolation or the last gasps of life, that is hers alone.

Yet she submits this gem as an offering to the monstrous god of propriety.

The iron deity we worship with manufactured necessity.

As the gears turn and the steam-whistles bellow, we drown out the chanting:

“Well, dear… we’ve been avoiding them for so long.  We really should show up this time.”

 

It is the obfuscation of meaning

The rituals and ceremonies that require a lifetime to complete.

The tests we take to go to the schools we like so we can study the course we want in order to get the job we desire so we can make the money we need to impress to people we admire and have the love we crave to fill the voids we carry so we can validate our ability to procreate and bring forth more people that we can force to…

Obligate.

 

But where is the purpose?  The reason?  The explanation?

Where are the big answers?

In the end we still feel like the boy at the foot of that coffin,

Not yet old enough to be tasked with the responsibility

To carry that weight.

In the end, we still follow that socialite’s example

And let those interlocking metal teeth grasp the sleeves of our shirts

Pulling us closer and closer to the furnace that will mould us into ice cube trays of ambition,

Some of us a bit shorter, taller, flatter, rounder, but

In the end all of us fill the same basic shape.

The universe will remove us from some colossal freezer and twist the plastic.

Some of us—the lucky ones—will shatter and we will scatter into the sink

While the remaining saps will be dropped one by one

Into the largest rum and coke you’ve ever seen

And will be left there, cooling the libations that our miserly host

Is obliged to serve its guests.

Anway, I think I might cut the fourth stanza.  I’m not sure it quite fits the rest of the poem.  Regardless, this is what came to me at the time.  If you have any constructive criticism, please let me know–maybe I can make into something worthwhile with a bit more tinkering.

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