A Public Thank You To A Town Drunk

While in casual conversation at a birthday party, an astrologist called me airy. She explained that in the astrology lexicon it’s a (non-offensive) term for a person who relates and connects to the world through abstract ideas and analytical thought. Being someone who views astrology, karma, and religious beliefs as superstitions from our past, their rattling chains still haunting our world with the same sounds as the witch-theory of disease, and angry-Gods-bad-weather hypothesis, I questioned, in friendly humour, how she is so quickly able to categorize someone. And if a person is airy are they necessarily less earthy? Had I spent the day shoveling dirt and cleaning the chicken coop, or baking bread and listening to music, would that have changed my classification? Is it credible to believe that through the relationship of birth-months and celestial bodies people fall into reliable categories characterizing their personality, how they relate to the world and will do so in the future? Or perhaps humans and their environment are so complex and the dynamics of interacting with others in a changing world of infinite variables do not lend themselves well to a type of pigeonholing. But regardless, a person could see analytical thought, the arts, science, nature, and labour as equally valuable without contradiction. I said that for me both logical argument and art give meaning and help navigate a world of uncertainty. There’s occasion when rational conclusions can dictate a person’s actions. But on another, choices could be made from values inspired through movies, paintings, photos, songs that sparked feelings of connection and then helped illuminate what’s important. Perhaps unconvinced by my line of thought, or simply curious to probe the depth of my bullshit, she made an eccentric request for such a piece of art.

Sixteen years ago while attending the University of Manitoba, I was assigned a poem to analyze for Canadian Literature class. Stuck interpreting a stanza, I emailed the living authour, a professor in Vancouver, not thinking he would actually reply. He did.

And so Patrick Friesen, your work is still serving me well, to settle argument and raise goose bumps. I continue much obliged.

The poem:

you don’t get to be a saint

like stars snow’s falling all over town
headlights are passing on the walls
a god’s walking barefoot through the drifts

the town drunk’s leaning against a tree
he sees a dead hand in the snow
and reaches down to offer his own

you don’t get to be a saint the dead man says
you get to warm your hands for a moment
you get to catch your breath and say one thing

I can make you a wizard he says
I can give you life forever
but I can’t take the price off your head

I don’t want to be a wizard says the drunk
I live with the price and I don’t mind dying
I just want to sing a lullaby

he clears his throat and sings the dead man to sleep
then he turns into stillness
like none ever heard ever more still than snow

* I have nothing against astrologists (and this one seemed quite lovely). My prejudices lie against questionable belief systems that tend to lead us astray.
**So far, for me, "You don't get to be a saint", is near the top in the category of human created beauty. Having recited it to myself many times a year for more than a decade, I still get nuanced interpretations. It has tenderness, selflessness, sweetness that I love. I marvel when one person's efforts can have big, lasting impacts and I think the authour added something to our world. If nothing else, this post gave me an excuse to try and blow a tiny wind into any sails that might carry that beautiful writing along.

Tom StewartComment