Transparent spots on the black keys
Sucked down the marrow of my life
Through code I forget, poems I lost,
Long drunk snake-winding essays
Fallen prey to quote-sniffing interns,
Rimbaud days on the nineties Usenet—
I remember nothing. Text is a drug.
And not the only drug—dear reader,
You are a vampire. You have drunk
More of me than exists, or ever did.
I have met you—you think so much
Of me! The writer, any writer, is thin
As a fishbone. Meet him for dinner:
You can read the menu through him.
Everything he knows he has said at
Least three times—it is chewed clear,
Like God’s gum. You get the flavor;
The author retains the mucilage.
The writer just imitates the books,
An actor, an Elvis impersonator,
Only technically the actual auteur—
What counts is the rights to the brand,
The address on the mailbox money—
If there is any money lol. It’s writing.
Let’s be clear about categories here:
Writing is a disease, and not a career.
The study of any writer will reflect
The progress of this inexorable pox.
You may ask: why write? “Only a fool
Ever wrote, except for money.” We add
That only a fool ever wrote for money
So long as making money was his duty—
Only a fool ever wrote, except for duty—
This, but for all of art; this same thin;
This sense of duty, this kamikaze.
You write because it is a duty to write,
Not because the duty is easy or cheap.
Any real writer knows exactly what
It once meant to live for the Emperor.
One of the facts I have seen by middle
Age is that there are only two ways
People succeed: by luck, or by duty.
Ambition never works, or works
So seldom you can fold it in with luck.
In my unfortunate experience,
Most systems of introspection
Mainly produce confabulation
And general omphaloskepsis—
Their alumni seem more mysteries
To themselves, than masters of the universe—
But there is nothing fancy about duty.
Why do I write all this shit? Why
Did I write all that code? Neighbor,
I found it was my duty. What is yours?
Anyone who learns this lesson learns
To seek duty; to crave it; to embrace
Whatever burden they may find to bear,
Whatever doable task weighs the most—
And not all such burdens are rewarding.
Note that I am actually terrible at this!
I am so bad at duty that I fired myself
Twice as CEO. But just the idea,
Regardless of character, gets you to mediocre,
Hence way better than most
In this damp and frivolous age. The
Major alternative to living in duty
Is living for sensory experience—
“Sensuous pleasure,” as Cavafy had it—
And it is an iron rule of history that
The pleasures of the most refined
Are the most refined pleasures—before
You knock them, knock Cavafy; but
It was Cavafy’s duty to write. He did.
First he had to go to the gay brothel.
The best one—something special.
This sensuous pleasure was not his duty
But a means thereto. What is yours?
Any duty can grind your teeth to gums;
Any duty, done seriously, will; still,
Won’t pleasure spit you out too?
Time, the merciless bitch of the north,
Will rake away your carcass anyway.
Frederick the Great, at the battle of Kolin,
Asked his troops: “do you want to live forever?”
So many for whom the answer is yes!
I do too. Do I expect to? Death
Is the soul and essence of every duty.
I cannot want a thing I can’t have.
When we win, it will be because
We know that even death is beautiful—
Not as some turgid freshman poem,
An ironic abstraction out of Empson,
But because we looked it in the eyes
When it became our duty to do so.