Problems of Evil
Abnormal men are wholly good
Or wholly evil. The former are soon
Consumed by the latter: knowing no evil
In themselves, they unsee it in others
And insist on petting every last wolf.
In every other heart the human line
Separates us in the usual division,
Leaving even the best with some
Residue of the demon gland—mostly
Inactive except in stress, then raining
Sparks or poisoned ice as per its way.
Men in my line go cold in anger;
Such my father, such my son,
Such my grandfather I remember.
Startled into unreined rage, I
Will not light up the living room
With streams of silver napalm, but
Choke it in a black acid river
Of ice. In me by the grace of God
These glaciers are little flakes,
Storm-caps on a tropic volcano,
Quick things that melt at a breeze.
My father’s feuds are works of art,
Whole Greenlands of the soul, miles
Deep and as old and gray as rock.
They knew birds when birds wore
Scales. They are fully prepared
To outlive the planets and the stars.
My brother makes mules look
Malleable, and even my blond son,
Though twice diluted by shiksas,
Will hate any book I tell him to like.
These secret coils coiled in our cells,
Greater then the gods, silently alive
With perfect molecular motors, know
The reasons we do wrong; the problem
Of normal men in the forest of purpose,
The programming of our aesthetic regard.
The power of these bases demands
Religious respect and sincere pronation.
Nothing can flip them: nosce te ipsum.
But a man by midlife must be master
Of his own material. Any residue
Can serve a high or low purpose.
The purest good, mad and unyoked,
Is the devil’s favorite weapon and toy.
Some say evil is God’s punishment,
Often for convict and executioner both.
The passions are holy winds; to spurn
Or mock them is to stone stained glass.
But a man is a boat and a boat is not
A scudding leaf; helm and rudder,
Boom and keel, compass and sextant
Can make Tahiti in a full typhoon,
True to course in any wave or wind.
No man can ever say he was blown
While hand and lip obey the brain.
As soon as the valley breeze melts me
My regrets are, if anything, too cheap.