A History Without Suffering By E. A. Markham
In this poem there is no suffering.
It spans hundreds of years and records
no deaths, connecting when it can,
those moments where people are healthy
and happy, content to be alive. A Chapter,
maybe a Volume, shorn of violence
consists of an adult reading aimlessly.
This line is the length of a full life
smuggled in while no one was plotting
against a neighbour, except in jest.
Then, after a gap, comes Nellie. She
is in a drought-fisted field
with a hoe. This is her twelfth year
on the land, and today her back
doesn’t hurt. Catechisms of self-pity
and of murder have declared a day’s truce
in the Civil War within her. So today,
we can bring Nellie, content with herself,
with the world, into our History.
For a day. In the next generation
we find a suitable subject camping
near the border of a divided country:
for a while no one knows how near. For these
few lines she is ours. But how about
the lovers? you ask, the freshly-washed
body close to yours; sounds, smells, tastes;
anticipation of the young, the edited memory
of the rest of us? How about thoughts
higher than their thinkers?...Yes, yes.
Give them half a line and a mass of footnotes:
they have their own privileged history,
like inherited income beside our husbandry.
We bring our History up to date
in a city like London: someone’s just paid
the mortgage, is free of guilt
and not dying of cancer; and going
past the news-stand, doesn’t see a headline
advertising torture. This is all
recommended reading, but in small doses.
It shows you can avoid suffering, if you try.
Source: Human Rites: Selected Poems 1970-1982 (Anvil Press Poetry Ltd., 1984)