Wall, Cave, and Pillar Statements, After Asoka


In order to perfect all readers
the statements should be carved
on rock walls, on cave walls,
and on the sides of pillars so
the charm of their instruction can
affect the mountain climbers near
the cliffs, the plainsmen near
the pillars, and the city people near
the caves they go to on vacations.

The statements should, and in a fair
script, spell out the right text and gloss
of the Philosopher's jocular remark. Text:
"Honesty is the best policy." Gloss:
"He means not ‘best' but ‘policy,'
(this is the joke of it) whereas in fact
            Honesty is Honesty, Best
            is Best, and Policy is Policy,
            the tree terms being not
            related, but here loosely allied.
What is more important is that ‘is'
is, but the rock-like truth of the text
resides in the ‘the'. The ‘the' is The.
            By this means the amusing sage
            has raised or caused to be raised
            the triple standard in stone:
the single is too simple for life,
the double is mere degrading hypocrisy,
but the third combines the first two
in a possible way, and contributes
something unsayable of its own:
this is the pit, nut, seed or stone
of the fruit when the fruit has been
digested: It is good to do good for the wrong
            reason, better to do good for the good
            reason, and best of all to do good
            good: i.e.: when the doer and doee
            and whatever passes between them
            are beyond all words like ‘grace'
            Or ‘anagogic insight,' or definitions like
            ‘particular instance of a hoped-at-law,'
            and which the rocks alone can convey.
This is the real reason for the rock walls,
the cave walls and pillars, and not the base
desires for permanence and display
that the teacher's conceit suggests."

            That is the end of the statements, but,
            in order to go on a way after the end
            so as to make up for having begun
            after the beginning, and thus to come around
            to it in order to include the whole thing,
add: "In some places the poignant slogan,
‘Morality is a bad joke like everything else'
may be written or not, granted that space
exists for the vulgar remarks, the dates,
initials and hearts of loves, and all
other graffiti of the prisoners of this world."


Alan Dugan, Poems Seven: New and Complete Poetry, Seven Stories Press, 2003.