I will tell you a secret about Cancerland.  There is solace hidden in it, in many places.  But really hidden, the way the great caricaturist Al Hirschfeld used to hide the word NINA, his daughter’s name, in every one of the thousands of pen-and-ink sketches he drew in the course of the seven or eight decades of his working life.  Everybody knew NINA was there, but finding those few squiggles in a Hirschfeld sketch, which was anyway all swoops and serifs and minims, was a tricky business, as he meant it to be.

So it is with the solace hidden in Cancerland.  Pretty often, you can be staring right at it and just not see it.

The other day, for instance, with my friend Cate, I spent a couple of hours at the Central Park Zoo, strolling in the sunshine and taking in the sights.  There is a great deal of visible solace at the Zoo, of course.  In the Rain Forest pavilion, for example, where there is wild tropical traffic overhead from branch to branch and tree to tree, gorgeous birds push astounding beaks or pull astounding tails back and forth through the air.   And down below, in the rich, most soil, things you take at first to be gnarled branches suddenly sprout legs and fishtail quick as a flash off into the underbrush.

But there was something I didn’t notice until late in the visit.

The waist-high plexiglass panels that let you stand as close as possible to the zoo’s roofed-over patches of jungle without actually walking into them are emblazoned with passages of poetry.  The panels are clear, the letters applied to them are shadow-colored, small, elegant.  You really don’t see them right away.

I stepped back at one point, trying to track one of those scuttling branch-like creatures , and my eyes shifted focus from the rain forest floor to the plexiglass in front of it.  On the glass was a poem, originally written in the Fifteenth Century, in the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs, by a poet-king named Nezahualcoyotl, “Coyote Who Fasts.”   This is what Fasting Coyote wrote.

Could it be true that we live on earth?

On earth forever?

Just one brief instant here.

Even the finest stones begin to split,

even gold is tarnished,

even precious bird-plumes

shrivel like a cough.

Just one brief instant here.

Look what the man understand, all those ages of the world ago.   The Romans understood it too, a thousand years before Fasting Coyote, and the Greeks a thousand years before the Romans, and the Egyptians a thousand years before the Greeks.

There is solace in what the wisest of us have always understood.  It’s just that we don’t see it most of the time.

Just one brief instant here.

Published in: on March 20, 2010 at 1:47 am  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment


    L love we show one another
    O optimistic thinking
    S support for everyone
    T Trust

    S survivor support
    O opitulation
    L life is given back
    A abetment
    C caringness
    E encouragement

    Sometimes we just misplace our solace?

    Wonderful post, Peter. I enjoy the Zoo.

    Hey…..Did you wear your new hat?

    Hugs and blessings;


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