A man disappearing into a cracked chamber pot with the legs of a woman, 1791. Image: Wellcome Library
From a series of poems by David Ray in our Fall 1977 issue.
I gave up some of my bitterness. Let me tell you why. Because you can prove the world is a good place, but you can’t prove it a bad place, that’s the truth, unless you’re willing to go to someplace like Hanford, Washington, where they keep the nuclear wastes that’ll be spilling into the Columbia River and then into the Pacific; the iodine alone’s enough to finish off the human race. I gathered up evidence for years sure to prove not only the intentions, but the achievements, of evil. But all I did was accumulate a houseful of sickening data, like dusty plastic flowers of terrible colors with no intensities. (You’ve seen those scrapbooks of wallpapers made from old aunts’ skirts.) The facts are indisputable and beyond doubt. The facts are beyond question. That’s why they’re called facts. Who’s questioning the facts? I could prove some things, in fact, about the slab of human viscera left in the Norge refrigerator in the autopsy room, and I wouldn’t even have to put it under the microscope to do so. (Did I tell you, the green light’s on any time an autopsy is in progress. Next time you’re strolling down the corridor, just wander in and watch. It’s free. And when the autopsy’s over, they turn off the light.) But why bother? Who wants to put a piece of something like that under the microscope? That’s what I did to my life for years. And I know too that the breath of the city can make a computer’s printout dance a regular ballet, just from the poisons, a skein of fiberglass right across your nose. But to hell with it. One might as well try to recover the knuckles of a young concert violinist, knocked apart against pines airliners have slammed into on frozen hillsides. Better to forget one’s mission and enjoy the cool shade of hillsides that don’t mind serving happiness as well. Better to forget one’s mission and enjoy the cool shade of those pines, the crazy moonlight through the branches. As soon as I forget a few more facts I shall doubtless find myself, as they say, delighted.
It is true, as I have implied, that everyone should give up his mission, whether it’s to save the world, as mine always has been, or to live the life of a Don Juan. I’ve tried that too, but it did and it didn’t work out. I tried to cure myself time and time again, like that Don Juan in the Japanese story who tried to cure his lust by stealing a beautiful woman’s chamberpot, thinking that if he made himself smell it, he’d be cured. He managed to get hold of it (a wonderful gleaming porcelain pot) and began smelling its fumes deeply. But they merely made him swoon with ecstasy, and he realized he’d have to look more closely to sicken himself. A closer look revealed an aromatic brew much like beer, with turds of sandalwood floating round. He knew he’d simply have to eat the stuff to be done with thoughts of this lady. He ate one of the turds as if it were a cinnamon stick. But he loved the taste. And that’s how it worked out with me too, me and the world.—Though I feel like a fool, proving that shit is delightful, and I’m not going to make another mission out of proving it to anyone else.
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