On climbing

I began writing a story called “What Hogarth Saw”
and I made good progress with it until
for some reason, I stopped.

It was a real story
insofar as it was made up and had characters
and a plot of sorts and quite certainly a point.

After a while though the whole idea became clear
and I mapped out what was left to write
the majority of it, and that was the end of it,
at about ten thousand words
as though words were somehow similar to altitude
and I’d just lost breath, become listless and frozen to the page.

Another writer will come along
with satire based on the same idea
see my body fading into outline and then, with a nod
move up into the unmarked snow.

It is like mountaineering and although I’m way below the summit,
deep in cold, I’ve imagined the mountain entirely.

There is a responsibility to continue
not because of anything that will be completed
but, in the same way as I imagine religion
because one is part of the whole, a piece in the machine.

It is for the Appendix to append
(or whatever it does, perhaps uselessly)
and the Liver to work and the Brain to do so also.

All these pieces, like all the writers of this generation
as others, must continue
and those few who successfully arrive
carry liner notes from all us
as surely as if we’d stitched our little names
into the linings of their coat.

(The premise of Hogarth’s story was simple: What if all the people who aren’t so clever formed a club and there were so many of us we could be in charge? Tip O’Neil died today. He’d been in charge for far too long.)

[January 5, 1994]