coloring book (a wake)

a box that’s made of pain, 
wrapped up in soft confusion, 
hides sitting on a table in the middle of the room.

a small hand grasps a larger, a spark jumps ‘cross a gap.
a piston clicks, a lager foams, and the children start to laugh.

a smile cracked in vain – 
the face of an illusion – 
projected from the grave beyond the origin through the womb.

a dewdrop evanesces; all memories sublime.
now go outside and play all day; crayon across the lines.

2 thoughts on “coloring book (a wake)

  1. the image i wanted to share here is that of children laughing at a funeral, as well as the larger image of living a happy life in the face of sorrow, pain, and death.

    on a literal level, the box ‘hidden’ in the middle of the room could be the dead guy.

    on a symbolic level, the ‘box made of pain and wrapped in confusion’ could also be a barrier between childhood and adulthood. the transition from childhood to adulthood is painful and difficult. i see childhood not as something that dies, but as a sense of joy and wonder that adults carry with them, protected from the outside world by memories of how painful it can be to trust the world and get hurt.

    we adults are all children who have grown up and seen the ugly parts of the world; most of us choose to hide the parts of us that wonder at the stars and are afraid of the dark and want to curl up in mommy’s lap. i’ve tried to live only through that facet for too long; i recognize the purpose and the need of that box, though it pains me to say that.

    on the literal level, while they’re at the wake, the adults are still able to drink beer and give each other fake smiles, while the kids are running around laughing, because they’re kids. the hands reaching and the spark crossing the gap are about the children reaching up to their parents, sharing the joy and sense of wonder that children carry around with them.

    on the symbolic level, the hands reaching and the spark are a reference to michaelangelo’s “the creation of adam” – the ‘piston clicking’ and the flow of beer preceding children’s laughter are meant to convey the sense of the fall from paradise at the start of civilization. technology and beer both played a huge rule in early civilizations, as did providing a safe place for children to play.

    i spent some time in ukraine in summer 2011. i was on a beach in mariupol, an old soviet industrial town. i kept thinking about how different this place was from where i grew up, and i kept remembering phrases like ‘evil empire’ and ‘soviet union’ as they were used to describe the place i was in. on this beach there was a big metal statue of the gingerbread man, painted for children to smile and laugh at. it was beautiful to me, to imagine some old soviet bureaucrat, getting the money spent on this thing. parents everywhere want their kids to be happy. no place where parents want a happy childhood for their kids is evil.

    it’s almost as if the whole world is run by children, for children, to make childhood a good place. maybe the costs of this are tremendous, and we pay these costs as adults, trying to maintain a safe place for wonderful minds to grow up, a paradise in hell.

    the dewdrop has intense personal meaning for me; it’s an image i’ve borrowed from zen and written about before. ‘all memories sublime’ could mean, at a literal level, ‘no one speaks ill of the dead’ – that after we’re gone from this world, all that’s left of us are the positive memories. there’s also the physical notion of sublimation; when a solid object turns directly to gas, it sublimes. the physical body of a dead man becomes vapor, ideas and clouds, part of the atmosphere. it’s no longer solid, it’s gas, it’s the clouds and the air passing from lung to leaf and back again.

    the children are told “go outside.” get out of the box; pass through the pain and confusion of adolescence, and go draw in the coloring book of the world. don’t be afraid to make mistakes. even if they cause horrendous pain and suffering down the road, don’t be afraid to make them.

    i like to think that this world, earth, humanity in the early 21st century, is in a sort of cosmic childhood. i don’t think us leaving earth and travelling among planets in the stars will be some golden age where nothing goes wrong; i think there will certainly be wonderful things for us to experience, but there will also be nightmares and terrors we can’t comprehend. i think mental illness, psychosis, the mind and death will become much bigger and much more important aspects of our daily lives, and the attitude we can adopt here on earth – “well, worst case scenario, i die horribly. that’s not too bad” – it won’t work any more out there.

    we’re kids here. war and genocide are horrible, but maybe we’re in a state of evolution that’s akin to childhood, and if we make it past this stage, we’ll look back on genocide with the same way adults look at a child who has skinned his knee.


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