Learn to manage anger, parrot, she said.
The speaker before me had just wrapped up
A long discourse on some hot topic,
On his new no-effort weight loss plan,
Or how sell anything to anyone,
Or zen and the art of paving driveways,
Or maybe just free associating
On revised fire safety regulations
When the tidal wave of stagefright struck.
By light that came through strange graffiti
Acid-etched on glass meant to show saints,
I could see the congregation was immense,
Although mostly composed of rowdy drunks.
The sheer intensity of pure attention,
The sheer volume and force of pure judgment,
The sheer withering, derisive scrutiny
Would feel like Godhead himself watching.
The thought of that focus left me quaking,
Weak and flushed and unable to address
Even myself without rapid stammer.
My own attention became as oppressive
As that of that imagined spectator.
I was caught in negative feedback loops,
The worse I felt, the more I reacted,
The more I reacted, the worse I felt.
And then, at last, it was my turn to speak.
But, as I staggered up to the lectern,
I noticed something truly remarkable:
This audience paid me no attention.
They were talking and laughing among themselves,
Eating lunches, and completely distracted,
Like wild asses in the season of rut.
They'd made gods of their own appetites,
Food, drink, opposite sex, clothes and toys,
Books they read, films they watched, thoughts they thought,
The jokes and rumours they passed back and forth,
The leaders they followed, scapegoats they burned,
Laws of physics they obeyed without grudge.
And these sinners deny the day of doom
Or else believe its dawning so delayed
That there's plenty of time left for fun.
Yet today is their resurrection day,
Just as was tomorrow and yesterday,
The day their gods depart and idols melt,
The day that Godhead's rainfall returns
To germinate seeds and quicken dead,
The day judgment cleaves a pigeon in two
And lunch, served late, is not fit to eat.
This audience sounds to me like workers,
The ones who drive forklifts and stack crates,
Who gather after shifts to eat their meals,
Warehouse workers, taking a long break.
My stagefright instantly disappeared,
To be supplanted by procedural questions.
The fish had given me the spell to utter,
Yet it seemed too brief; so large a crowd
Would undoubtedly expect a large message,
A loud, lengthy, closely-argued sermon.
My four lines would prove anticlimactic.
But what? An anecdote to break the ice?
No, the occasion was far too solemn,
Or would be, if they would all stop laughing
And exchanging crude jokes among themselves.
We needed somehow to get to solemn.
Nothing, of course, is more solemn than doom,
The death and damnation of all present,
But some might find it a breach of etiquette
To mention such an unpleasant prospect,
To stand behind pulpit and just blurt it out
Without more gradual exposition
Without getting into the finer points.
Plus, bad news is best broken slowly,
With a few understated hints to start,
To get them thinking, mulling things over,
And then begin closing in on the truth,
Growing ever broader, more explicit,
Ever more heavy-handed and brutish,
Then ending with one last hammer blow
That leaves damned fools speechless, stunned and shocked.
Liber Jonae Contents