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Best Minds

Lesley Choyce
From:   Beautiful Sadness. Victoria, B.C.: Ekstasis Editions, 1998.

Best Minds
for Allen Ginsburg

I've seen the best minds of my generation zoned out on Windows
        gone Microsoft in the head and lost like cattle
        in the perimeters of happiness without a clue
        as to the way back home;
who loiter in the shopping malls at lunch hour
        pressing thumb and forefinger against
        Tommy Hilfiger casual wear,
who can't find spare change from their fashionable pockets
        for street musicians or sympathy for bag ladies
        collecting Pepsi cans form the garbage.

I've seen the best minds of my generation zoned out
        in front of Seinfeld reruns
        secretly admiring George Costanza
        and tolerating unimaginable TV commercials selling garbage
        for the mind and body,
who finally, frustrated and angry, can only rage
        at the remote control
        for not being able to make the entire world go mute.

I've seen the best minds browbeat by bureaucratic barbarism
        chained to desks and ergonomic chairs
        and losing valuable days of their lives
        staring at fax machines and
        waiting, waiting for a missive from Montreal or New York
        so they can take one step forward or backward
        or maybe nowhere at all,
who settle for new Japanese cars with staggering options
        instead of freedom from career paths
        etched in the ethereal circuitry of the internet
        where gigabytes of information wait to pounce
        like sleepless lions on the unaware clueless victims
        and then drill codework into the left hemisphere of the brain,
who forgot the lessons of Vietnam and Nixon and Mulroney and Mars
        but instead steal away to ClubMed to fake euphoria
        while frying their pale skin beneath the cancerous sun
        while sipping white zombies
        and listening to watered down reggae music;
who came home to the city to chow down
        at fashionable ethnic restaurants selling artificial foods
        instead of home grown organic fare with lots of fresh herbs
        from the garden,
who deal out moments of their lives
        like cards in a stacked game of chance,
who arm wrestle the stock quotations in the Daily News,
who stare glassy-eyed at the video lottery machines
        in smoky bars at 8 pm,
who squelch even harmless daydreams
        with easy listening music
        or drown themselves in espresso and cappuccino,
who retire from challenges of intellect
        for the safety of stadium spectator sports,
who ignore the kids starving in Africa and Asia but wonder
        if there's profit in selling soap
        and powdered milk to emerging markets,
who sift through junkmail looking for cryptic clues
        to the meaning of life as if
        the Publishers' Clearinghouse Sweepstakes
        has some answer in the fine print,
        some respite from the hollowness felt in the bones of loners.

I have seen the best minds of my time
        stop trying to react to impossible, intrusive goals
        and settle down to dream the dream
        of Calvin Klein underwear men and women,
who wake up late at night trying to remember
        what crusade it was that sent them shouting in the streets,
who once knew instinctively the Gulf War was never won
        but a lot of innocent children were killed by your side,
who almost had the courage to say the deficit
        was not as important as the destitute,
who almost stood up to the racists and the rich
        and the right wing zealots,
who grew up and trusted the integrity of their banks and senators
        and bosses at the corporation
        and opted for new taste as in microbreweries as a sign
        that they were free-thinking and hip.

They still walk among us and rule and remind their children
        that they almost went to Woodstock
        and they really did change the world
        and they believe in the life force of the planet
        and admit that somebody's killing it but
        it isn't them.

The best minds still have beating hearts but the blood
        fails to find its way to the sleeping brain cells
        that store revolution like withered flowers
        in the secret place
        at the very top of the spinal column.
Yes, I've seen the best of them turn shiny and successful
        and boastful of boats and Bay Street, blind with allegiance
        to anything but themselves,
        lost in a haze of Bacardi ads in magazines
        and the possibility of retiring early
        with the goal of doing nothing
        at all but maybe play golf and take naps and wait
        for lodging in retirement communities.

Better for them to rage against the glitzy dying of the light,
        the tedium of vicarious tabloid living.
Better to froth at the mouth and shout out love
        like Milton Acorn in a Toronto Park.
Better to recite four letter words
        and get arrested like Ginsburg in San Francisco
or better to sit in the woods alone
        and contemplate the sutra of deer tracks,
        and wintergreen root,
        the succulent star moss and sifting mist of spruce trees.
Far too many of us have not gone crazy but remained sane and stable
        and safe within the womb of the twentieth century.

But the howl of young idealism will not go away--
        it's there inside your heart;
it's there sneaking up at you at the subway stop
        at Bathhurst and Yonge;
it's there looking at you from the bubbles in the watercooler
        near the photocopier;
it's there in the upper right hand corner of the picture
        of a car wreck on the front page of the paper;
it's there living in your closet with your favourite blue shirt;
it's there, a lost soul in the carburetor of your Lawnboy mower;
it's there in your voicemail like a ghost;
it's there on the other line while you sort out problems
        with the Purolater man;
it's sneaking up on you when you least expect it,
        watching a rental video of Jurassic Park 2;
        reminding you that there's still time,
        still time for the best minds of our generation
        to give back instead of just taking.
Ginsburg was right:
        "Holy the supernatural extra brilliant
        intelligent kindness of the soul."

Lesley Choyce's works copyright © to the author.

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