June 29 2015

What Is Good

“What is good?” Czeslaw Milosz asks himself in a poem. His answer, “Garlic. A leg of lamb on a spit. Wine.” A similar sensibility rules in me.

What is good? A plate of lovingly-prepared Roman pasta, a well-dressed salad, Mom’s pot roast. What is evil? Ostentatiousness, cheapness, hoggishness.

What is good? Smoking a cigar on the porch. What is evil? Addiction.

What is good? Poetry, painting, astronomy, biology, geometry, music. What is evil? The various fires that consume the liberal arts: the fire of oppression, the fire of ignorance, the fire of distraction, the fire of bad art, the fire of inert knowledge.

What is good? Friendship, the party crowded in the kitchen, the pleasures of Eros. What is evil? The million ways we find to pervert these jewel-like ends into mere means to an end, including various so-called moral principles that drain the colors of love.

What is good? Wine, one of the clearest and truest joys, capable of making everyone in its vicinity more beautiful, more charming, and more intelligent. What is evil? A drunk, who can be one of the most hideous things on the planet.

What is good? The individual, the family, the local cheese. What is evil? The masses, those who drone on about family values, the chain restaurant that pawns itself off as homey.

What is good? Understanding that the line between good and evil, however you choose to draw it, always splits us in two. What is evil? The obsession with evil.

What is good, therefore, is respect, and, failing that, compassion, and, failing that, tolerance. What is best of all? Laughter and forgiveness.

What is good? Garlic. A leg of lamb on a spit.
Wine with a view of boats rocking in a cove.
A starry sky in August. A rest on a mountain peak.

What is good? After a long drive water in a pool and a sauna.
Lovemaking and falling asleep, embraced, your legs touching hers.
Mist in the morning, translucent, announcing a sunny day.

I am submerged in everything that is common to us, the living.
Experiencing this earth for them, in my flesh.
Walking past the vague outline of skyscrapers? anti-temples?
In valleys of beautiful, though poisoned, rivers.

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