To Conceal the Piercing Light

For a few weeks Heart lugs about an antique possum

by the name of Mike. Piss-poor, piss-ugly, pissed-off,

and incontinent to boot, Mike is for Heart a study

in humility, which Heart thinks he needs. To himself

Heart says, You are too vain, too proud, too arrogant.

So he carts Mike in a cardboard box hoping that a bit

of Mike’s insignificance will stick to him. The possum

stumbles over his feet and spills his food. I need this,

Heart concludes, I need to give up my shortcomings.

He thinks when he’s truly humble he’ll wear only white.

He will walk with a cane even if he doesn’t need one.

He will speak so softly people will say, What? Say what?

He’ll only eat nuts. He practices the phrase, But tell me

what would you like. He waits for Mike’s direction.

But Mike is unable to accept the gravity of his mission.

He fights the dog and raids the trash for juicy scraps.

Instead of playing dead, he strops the tips of his claws.

He wants to go back to the forest to fornicate and hunt.

You’re too decrepit, shouts Heart. But Mike disagrees.

With his remaining teeth, he snaps at Heart’s fingers.

So Heart takes him back to the woods and sets him free.

Mike shuffles off between the oaks to seek his last battle

and to make a meal for crows. He won’t even say thanks.

The mistake, Heart decides, was to try to take my lesson

from any living thing. He crouches before the doormat.

Tell me what life is all about, he asks. But the doormat

lies there sullenly until Heart gives it a kick. Sorry, sorry.

says Heart, feeling contrite. Perhaps humility, he thinks,

trying once again, means concealing the piercing light

of one’s being. It’s not that Heart can shine any less,

he can only make his shines less bothersome to others,

which implies humility isn’t a matter of vision but display.

Heart buys a big hat. He carries an umbrella in all weather.

Isn’t humility just a form of silence? To pass through life

like one on a secret errand, that’s Heart’s new obligation.

Heart puts a finger to his lips. Meanwhile his mind races.


—Stephen Dobyn, Pallbearers Envying the One Who Rides, 1999