Recalling Camus Today

Vincent Colapietro

You tried to teach us
to live
beyond hope and despair

though this was taken
as a gesture
and even a pose
of despair

But also
you tried to teach us
to confront
as the only serious philosophical question

though what some of us learned
from you
was the interminable work
of undoing
acts of suicide already committed,
done in
a complicity almost identifiable with innocence

You invoked
a figure of despair,
one at least all too many of us
could not see save under
the sign of hopelessness

To put our shoulder,
our whole taut weight,
against a rock
so large and leaning
as to have the capacity
to bury us beneath itself

simply for the moment
in which there is
movement, momentum,
there is the exhilaration
of muscle answering gravity
and gravity trying brutally to rebuke
such impertinence, such presumption,

alone allows
hope and despair

Since there is no sense of futurity,
there is no sense of futility

No classical figure fits
the arduous exertion
of the living moment

not Sisyphus' fate,
or Helen's exile

For only those whose
from bodily engagement
with mundane fragments
in their full oppositional force
beyond hope
and despair

Since words are
from the first
later sightings,
they too count here
as just such engagements,

though dangerously so

All this needs to be learned,
again and again
and again,
for unacknowledged answers
have always already
been given
to the only vital question

Our complicity
with death
is not
a drive, instinct,
anything we might
univocally name

It is rather a fate
title and figure

Fate here
should not
be taken as
a name,
rather as an occasion
for re-naming
once more
what elders
and others
have pronounced

Our fate cannot be named,
only re-named

Our complicity with death
can never be undone,
only countered

But how is this not despair?

In later years,
you showed us how
it is not this,
more than anywhere,
in Algeria

[August 28, 2005]