Mike O’Connor

THE HUMANIST
—In Memoriam, T.G.

 

At Sea Breeze Trailer Court
(in mill-smoke range),
my friend, the old professor states:
“TV’s my babysitter now;
please, take a seat.
I’m always glad to see you.”

Wrapped in wool sweater
on a wooden built-in couch,
legs draped with blankets,
oxygen tubing curled at his feet . . .

“I’m breathing better now,”
he says. “My mood improves, but
I can’t sleep. Whatcha
been reading?”

Heart surgery, arthritis, pleurisy—
he declares he misses coffee
with the writing gang.

“Oh, you’ll be back,” I tell him.
“We all expect it.”

The trailer’s light is dim
as on a trans-Pacific flight.
I fetch a cup of soda for him
and a pill.

Remote in hand,
he changes channels.
“Here’s the Discovery station,”
and I look:

a pride of female lions
(muscled, eager)
splits off a bovine
from a grazing herd.

“Cats right out of Gaudier-Brzeska,”
I observe.

Terrified, the ox
brandishes its horns; then turns
and tries to lumber off,
its big hindquarters
easy for the cats.

One lion springs upon the ox’s withers;
a second climbs its haunches.
Both getting teeth and claws in,
ripping chunks of flesh and hide.

A third tears at the ox’s underbelly;
a fourth, bounding ahead,
seizes the ox’s snout
(briefly, we see the ox’s eyes)
to suffocate it, as the beast
is ridden to its knees
in the sub-Saharan grass.

It will take some time,
notes the narrator,
for the ox to die
while it is being ripped apart alive.

Some of the hunt is shown again,
and in slow motion
when a point of science
merits emphasis.

I see now at the end,
the African sun setting
on the scene, forming silhouettes
of the statuesque cats
as they finish eating on their prey.

Some folks speak coolly of “things as they are”;
others, like Jeffers, of the “beauty of God.”

But the old professor—
incorrigibly humanist—
changes channels

and remarks, “If I were God,
I would have made things differently.”

 

Mike O’Connor, a native of the Olympic Peninsula, Washington State, is a poet, writer, and translator of Chinese literature. Beginning in the 1970s, he engaged in farming and forest work, followed by a journalism career in Asia. He has published eleven books of poetry, translation, and memoir, including Unnecessary Talking: The Montesano Stories; Immortality; and Where the World Does Not Follow: Buddhist China in Picture and Poem. O’Connor is a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Literature, an International Writers’ Workshop Fellowship (Hong Kong), and a Washington State Artist Trust Fellowship.


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