Yesterday, the morning of December 14, 2012, a young man in Connecticut murdered his mother. He then drove her car to the elementary school where she had been a kindergarten teacher. There, he murdered the principal and five other adults. He also murdered twenty children. Most of them had been in his mother’s class. It was horror, and the wanton TV Eye of this brutal nation had one more crashing, collective orgasm, teased to new heights of ecstasy as, bit by tongue-tipped bit, the story was breathlessly delivered, retracted, revised and salaciously licked onto the camera’s lens by ranks of comely stringers; for, if it bleeds, it leads. The president performed our public penance with a becoming degree of difficulty. I gave him 8.5 out of ten. A governor spoke. Ranks of cops were implored to deliver just one unit more of their arcane syntax. Preachers and priests were interviewed, and psychologists in the hire of media outlets solemnly offered professional wisdom, for free, to a gasping nation, now grieving in the afterglow.
Yesterday also, I discovered a poet, new to me; a Welshman named R. S. Thomas. Here, from the collection, Later Poems 1972-1982, is the second piece:
And I standing in the shade
Have seen it a thousand times
Happen: first theft, then murder,
Rape; the rueful acts
Of the blind hand. I have said
New prayers, or said the old
In a new way. Seeking the poem
In the pain, I have learned
Silence is best, paying for it
With my conscience. I am eyes
Merely, witnessing virtue’s
Defeat; seeing the young born
Fair, knowing the cancer
Awaits them. One thing I have asked
Of the disposer of the issues
Of life: that truth should defer
To beauty. It was not granted.
It was a long, sad day in what has so very suddenly been revealed as a long, sad life. The third poem in the Thomas collection is:
Oh, I know it: the long story,
The ecstasies, the mutilations;
Crazed, pitiable creatures
Imagining themselves a Napoleon,
A Jesus; letting their hair grow,
Shaving it off; gorging themselves
On a dream; kindling
A new truth, withering by it.
While patiently this poor farmer
Purged himself in his strong sweat,
Ploughing under the tall boughs
Of the tree of the knowledge of
Good and evil, watching its fruit
Ripen, abstaining from it.
[ insert ‘What a long, strange trip…’ here ]
UPDATE: It is now being reported that the murdered mother was not a teacher at the school where the shootings took place, and may have had no formal connection to the school at all. It is also reported that the guns used in the massacre, or at least some of them, were purchased by the mother. All of this does damage to the symmetry of the story, as it was being reported last night; but it is what it is.