We hold it against you that you survived. People better than you are dead, but you still punch the clock. Your body has wizened but has not bled its substance out on the killing floor or flatlined in intensive care or vanished after school or stepped off the ledge in despair. Of all those you started with, only you are still around; only you have not been listed with the defeated and the drowned. So how could you ever win our respect?-- you, who had the sense to duck, you, with your strength almost intact and all your good luck.
Orwell says somewhere that no one ever writes the real story of their life.
The real story of a life is the story of its humiliations.
If I wrote that story now—
radioactive to the end of time—
people, I swear, your eyes would fall out, you couldn’t peel
the gloves fast enough
from your hands scorched by the firestorms of that shame.
Your poor hands. Your poor eyes
to see me weeping in my room
or boring the tall blonde to death.
Once I accused the innocent.
Once I bowed and prayed to the guilty.
I still wince at what I once said to the devastated widow.
And one October afternoon, under a locust tree
whose blackened pods were falling and making
illuminating patterns on the pathway,
I was seized by joy,
and someone saw me there,
and that was the worst of all,
lacerating and unforgettable.