An Old Friend
The pangs of conscience came later
like an ancient dog,
blind and arthritic,
that he could not bear to destroy.
Though a good few paces behind him,
and forever late,
it always arrived,
knowing no one else would have him.
Even if the old man could find sleep,
when he opened his eyes
the dog would be there,
its pearly gaze transfixing him.
17 October 1986
I’m not a bad person. I tell myself I’m not a bad person. Some people think I am. I’ve done bad things—who hasn’t?—but does that make me bad? And who’s to say what’s good and what’s bad. If you’re a Christian that would be God and there’s not much he’s not expressed an opinion on over the centuries—theft, murder, fornication, idolatry—but he’s never been big on explaining why certain things are bad for us.
Eleven years after I wrote this poem I did a bad thing. According to some. I started living with a woman who wasn’t my wife. My mother point blank refused to meet Carrie until we’d tied the knot. Perhaps she couldn’t stop us living in sin but she was sure as hell not going to sanction the union by breaking bread with us. Carrie understood on an intellectual level—on an emotional level she was upset—but we were all adults and we got over it. At least we got on with it. When my mother was dying—not that we realised that was the case until it was too late—both me and my wife were there and Carrie did most of the practical work. Before she died Mum called Carrie her “angel”. Which she was.
People can and do spoil things. They do it by trying to impose their own set of standards on others. Often they’re well-intentioned—my mother certainly was—but even when we do get to do our own thing somehow they manage to sully it. We don’t just want to do our own thing. We want people to approve of us. From the new book (the 'Jim' is not me but there's a lot of me in him):
[F]ornication was a sin he had found both need and opening to commit on a number (albeit a small number) of less than ideal occasions before although not for some years and, as he recalled (it was not that long ago), it was a mightily enjoyable sin, one of the classier ones that didn’t involve oxen or asses, if you discounted the post-coital guilt that always followed. That he had renounced his parents’ moral code, opting to decide for himself what was right and wrong, was one thing. Living with their disapproval was another. Not that they ever knew. It didn’t matter that they never did and they never would. That was neither here nor there. What mattered was that had they known they would have disapproved. More than that, they would have been hurt, mortally wounded. They would have sat there with otter eyes, hanging their heads wondering where they went so wrong.
Today, by the way, is our eighteenth wedding anniversary. The photo is of the card I gave her. And, yes, they’re pencil shavings.