Wild Haired And Half Dressed
I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.
And I watered it in fears,
Night and morning with my tears;
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.
And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine.
And he knew that it was mine,
And into my garden stole
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretched beneath the tree. – William Blake, “A Poison Tree”
I miss my anger. Decades go by
when all I can muster is absent-minded invective,
you know, directed at the news;
or a brief fantasy
of shoving someone in front of a bus. Yesterday
I slammed my fist on my desk
and then apologized, to the desk.
Consider the tapestry of the seven deadly sins, at Saint-Denis:
Anger, wild-haired and half-dressed,
picked out in blue and silver thread bunched
against the crimson,
rough against the fingertips, she
rides a black boar dappled with blood
and waves her double-headed axe —
Yes, I remember her.
I always lie when I always say
I didn’t know the gun was loaded. – April Bernard, “Anger”, Stanza III
Looking out at the world, most days I feel an abundance of blessings flowing over me. There are those moments – and sometimes more than moments – however, during which the best course of action for me is to stay behind locked doors, and silence my best friend. I can become filled with this white hot rage that wants nothing more than to be released, like an emotional cyst, spewing its poison out into the world.
We all get angry at times. The wrong word spoken by the wrong person at the wrong time. The insolent child refusing to listen. A stupid remark made by a public official. These are enough to make anyone miffed. These are, by and large, no big deal.
And, of course, this is not the subject of this post.
I know, deep inside me, dwells something awful. It is red. It blinds sight, hijacks reason to suit its own ends, revels in the pain of others brought down by my own self-righteous right hand. I have sat and stewed in this noxious mess, sometimes for a few minutes, sometimes for hours, enough times to know it is more than mere displeasure or frustration.
Most of the time, I’m gentle to the point of being perceived soft. Most of the time, I cannot bring myself even to kill an insect or spider. I tell my daughters that spiders inside are our friends, keeping the population of troublesome bugs under some kind of control. When the cats are playing with a mouse, if I can catch it before they’ve done to much damage, I will take it outside to run free rather than allow it to be killed. The thought of killing a human being, most of the time, is beyond my comprehension.
Then there are those moments when the rage comes. The muscles tense. The teeth grind. I am flooded with adrenaline, and cannot sit still. The pacing starts. I feel the redness in my face, and I revel in the sense of power. I look at my clenched hands and wonder how it would be to hit, to pull apart. I wonder what my eyes would see at those last moments when, my rage spending itself upon its object, I see all resistance to my outburst end. At those moments, I so hope I see fear.
I know everyone will say, “Oh, I know what you’re talking about. I have those moments, too.” Which is, of course, both irrelevant and part of my point. This creature lives inside all of us. At the moment, however, I can only speak of the creature that dwells beneath and within me. I would brag that it is shackled. I would insist that, over the years and decades, I have come to control this monster. I would rest easily in my conquest of my own rage. Except, of course, I can do none of these things. Not out of fear.
When I was learning to swim; when I was learning to shoot a firearm; both these activities brought with them the same advice: Don’t fear (the water/the gun). Respect it because it can kill. Always assume that is what it wants to do, and you are learning the tricks to prevent that, but never let your guard down around (the water/the gun). I feel much the same way about that rage that I know could find any chink, any weakness, any opportunity, to worm its way to the surface. It is not defeated, or even controlled, so much as it is recognized as something I should respect because it wants to kill. I assume that is the goal, the end toward which it would push me. All I ever can do is learn a few tricks to prevent that.
The difference between me and the killer in the mug shot? Blind luck on days like these. That’s all. Not grace. Not control. Not any meekness or softness on my part. Simple luck.
I pray every day my luck holds.