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A Flock of Sparrows for Majel: The Tragedy of Fool’s Gold

A Flock of Sparrows for Majel

(About an 8 minute read)

Jana was nearby,
For a decade, always nearby.
But I was not close to her.

She became my wife
And we shared a house.
We shared a bed.
We shared our bodies,
And we told each other
We shared our hearts and minds.

In truth, she was that spot on my back
That I never could see,
And that I never could reach
No matter how often,
And no matter how hard
I stared into the mirror,
And turning this way or that,
Tried to spot her.


I still don’t know who she was.

But I know she was gorgeous,
Physically drop-jaw gorgeous.
The third best looking woman
Out of the 800 in her university dorm.

I first noticed her because the cafeteria
Suddenly quieted. It didn’t hush,
But it abruptly quieted. Abruptly enough
That I instinctively looked for the cause.
It was her, of course. She’d just entered,
And perhaps half the heads were already turned towards her.

Let me be honest, for what is the point of this if I am not true?
So let me be honest, let me confess, O Priest
(Or perhaps, Priestess), for I have sinned.

Yet please, conserve your penances
For those who believe penances can make right the past,
And your condemnations for those who find them useful.

If you are a just person who would seek to do my honesty justice,
Then lend me only your understanding,
And your understanding alone.

Do you think her beauty inspired me
To appreciate her? To cherish her?
To hold her as precious, as precious as any kind of beauty
In this tragic world is?

Or to even care for her? Truly care?

The fact is her golden beauty
Inspired me to clip her wings and cage her
Against her taking flight.

Of course the result was inevitable
And would have been predictable to a wiser man.
She tightly bonded to me,
But her spirit sickened and died.

Her story is one — and only one —
Of the stories I have witnessed
That have shown me what you posses you destroy,
And what you do not destroy,
You debase.
And what you do not debase,
You make sick.

I know of men and women
Who think they grow wise from their mistakes.
No doubt you know of some, too.

They talk of how their errors
Led to their ascending the throne of wisdom.
I do not shame them for their thinking,
I can see how someone could think that,
But I have a different view.

Once a professor told a group of students
That I was neither a Christian nor a Heretic.
“Paul has yet to hear of Christ”, he said,
He still awaits the Good News.
He sees the world through pre-Christian eyes.
He is an ancient Greek, and maybe the last.”

Of course, his remark was all Greek to me.
I hadn’t a clue what he was talking about.
But I have since learned it’s sorrowful name: Tragedy.

The Christian believes in progress and salvation,
Sees beyond my eyes a different destination,
A refuge in the end where he or she comes to rest secure.

I myself am myopic.
I see only what looms large in front of me,
And what looms most large in Jana’s case
Is that I can never be certain,
Never certain in this life.

The fatal flaw in my human nature can not be sufficiently erased.
No pain or suffering is great enough to cut that flaw from me.
Not even with a knife ground to a razor
On the hardest stone,
The hardest stone of experience.

I live in constant apprehension
That the many guards I have set
Against ever again repeating my sins
Will all of them fall asleep,
Fall asleep in the tired hours of the night.

Fall asleep and allow the enemy to return
To breech my city’s walls and steal its gold and treasures.


I have tasted evil, for who among us escapes it?
Like you, I know its taste, Like most, I have gagged on it.
Never would I will to alienate someone from themselves.
The taste of doing that would raise the memories from their graves.
But I fear my eyes might fail me in their myopia,
And I unwittingly inflict harm.

In the end, the consequences of our actions
Always outrun our understanding and our wisdom,
And every race is won or lost
In ignorance of it’s ultimate outcome.

Ironically, Jana loved me and she love well.
She loved me better than all but a few people have.
When her love was young her eyes would dance when they looked to me.
Like so many people in love, she made instinctive sacrifices
Without placing any demand or obligation upon me.
I think a Jesus would have found in her love inspiration.
Perhaps even some sort of muse. Surely he would have returned
Love for love. I take him as a man, but a much wiser man than I was.

Sometime before Jana,
I loved a lithe and graceful woman.
She recalled to me a peregrine falcon
For its breathless flight.

She was skillful in the wisdom of the East
And learned in the sciences and literature of the West.

Her eyes seemed to look inside me,
Through my masks and through my lies.
Her gaze could make me feel I was naked,
For in the instant that her eyes met mine,
They seemed to first dismiss, and then sweep on past
All of my facades and my false fronts —
As if she thought them merely children’s toys.

Her voice was soft and pure as a young girl’s,
And her laughter held no more scorn
Than the innocent waters of a mountain spring.

She catalyzed in me a selfless love,
A kind of love I had not known.
But when we parted, perhaps tragically, I failed to move on.
That was all before I had learned
How the phoenix must die to live on.

I tried so hard to enshrine her memory.
I tried to carve and sculpt it into stone.
I thought I was preserving my love
By clinging to it in sorrow,
But I was only chasing shadows.

Much worse, I made her memory my measure,
My gold standard for everyone.
I judged them all against my memories of her gold.

No one like her have I ever seen again.
No one like her ever measured up to her.

I wasn’t wise to see how all my measuring and my judging
Made less real sense than comparing space craft to banjos
According to which of them tasted saltiest.

More than twenty sorrowful years past
Before I had the insight that I was clinging to fool’s gold,
Cherishing fool’s gold.
Scorning the treasures, all the treasures offered me.
To cherish fool’s gold.

Now, I hope I have learned how standards can blind,
How they can create smoke without fire,
How they can create judgement without insight,
How they can create a spot on our backs we can’t see.

And I hope I have learned the evil, the choking evil,
Of attempting to possess a man or woman,
Of trying to lay chains on the human heart,
Or of trying to build concrete channels
To tame the rivers of someone’s mind.

Those are my hopes,
But hope is not really my coin.

For it seems to me we are not fated in life to travel
Forward to happier shores where thrones might be secure,
Where we can own a lover’s heart without crushing it,
Where we can clip and cage a bird without destroying its beauty.
Or where we can live in the past without scorning the present.

I do not hope. Not really.
I don’t think I will always be sure I know now
Which ore is gold, and which ore is for fool’s.

Yes, we sometimes can attain to understanding.
I ask only if our understanding is ever enough.

I am honestly uncertain of the answer.
I know only that I am Sisyphus.
Resigned, but also committed, to ever laboring
The boulder up the mountain,
Though never attaining the peak.


To Whom It May Concern: Soon following our separation, Jana came to life in another man’s arms, a man who genuinely loved her.  The lights returned to her eyes, she regained her confidence in herself., among many other positive things. Human resilience can be astonishing, and is beautiful in its own right.

12 thoughts on “A Flock of Sparrows for Majel: The Tragedy of Fool’s Gold”

  1. Not many people would write that poem, let alone publish it. It’s raw in its honesty and full of pathos the ancient Greek would well have recognized. Here your signature style shines, even if this simultaneously is nothing like your other poems; it has voice, and the kind of voice that’s hard to pin down line by line, so I’m not even going to attempt to. To me evokes the speech of a fallen hero, the kind of Heracles, you used to find in epics of love and struggle.

    It’s heavy, yes, potentially even overly heavy-handed in some places, but simultaneously I can’t think of ways I would change it. It undulates from one tone to another, bringing the theme of fool’s gold excellently to the reader, and having these brief moments of whimsy that are directly followed by references to religion, gods, and the hubris of mankind. The story mirrors that of Sisyphus, forcing the reader through the ending to reframe the narrative one more time in a poem that already has added layer upon layer on an event many of us have experienced: that of betraying the trust of someone we love.

    It’s very human, and without that raw honesty, it wouldn’t be art. I commend you.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you so much for such a thoughtful comment, Serafia! So much to think about!

      This sentence here sent shivers down my back:

      “To me evokes the speech of a fallen hero, the kind of Heracles, you used to find in epics of love and struggle.”


  2. Paul this poem is so tragic and so uncertain. Even wisdom is lost. But (in my opinion) there is a light in the tunnel! Really there is actual wisdom in it. Not controlling one’s partner and creating high standards; though you might think its all for naught, i think this is a brilliant step in understanding that all we know is nothing, which reminds me of Socrates’ words, adding more Greek philosophy to an already profound poem.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Wow, Paul, this poem is enthralling! As I read it I was carried away by some of the verses, sucked into the text. You’ve outdone yourself with the vibrant imagery. The poem has soul and brutal honestly, and it feels like you’ve put a lot of your heart on display here. Bravo!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you! In this case, your assessment means more to me even than it usually would, Prikhit. I think the poem will be a bit too brutal for some readers. That you see it as “commendable” means so much. Especially, that you do.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. 🙂 It does take a lot of effort, a lot, to delve deep into ones heart and mind and pen those emotions. And the honesty, simplicity, with which you have penned them only makes me wonder at your strength. I am looking forward to the other sparrows to take flight soon. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. This piece is exceptional! As always with worthwhile poetry, I read it aloud. It’s the only way to fully appreciate the pattern. I think you spent some time on this – unless all the tricks of poetry flow unconsciously through your mind. It could be so; this poem is worked, but not overworked. That’s a balance I find hard to maintain in my work. Some might call your words brutal, but there can be beauty in brutality, and there is certainly beauty in honesty. You achieve a perfect balance between wisdom, emotion and intellect.

    Or to put it another way, I bloody love it!

    Did I do good? Will you let me out of the cupboard now? Please?

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Jane! Thank you for the praise. But especially — especially — thank you for this thought provoking observation: “Some might call your words brutal, but there can be beauty in brutality, and there is certainly beauty in honesty.”

    I certainly agree with you about honesty. It is striking to me about brutality. I had never thought of that! I’m going to study that nugget of wisdom from you. It’s almost as if you have finally learned a thing or two about aesthetics. Thanks again!

    Also, I appreciate your taking a moment from your busy day. That means a lot.

    You are so right about my putting more work into this than usual. It deeply cut into my wank time, but I made sacrifices — i.e. I worked my butt off on this one. I think you will understand when I tell you the hardest part by far was writing and rewriting and rewriting aiming to make it as honest and true as my memory of events allowed. God, the temptation to white wash! What a black hole pull that was!

    What encouraging and insightful feedback.

    Six days liberty from the cupboard! And double your current consulting fees!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Your honesty is astounding, Paul, and your narrative captivating.

    I especially love this:

    “I live in constant apprehension
    That the many guards I have set
    Against ever again repeating my sins
    Will all of them fall asleep,
    Fall asleep in the tired hours of the night.”

    In fact, it would make an excellent poem in and of itself.


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