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Ode to Ignorance

The museum guide says, “This statue is from Delphi.”
and a woman in our group says, “Yes, where they make
the china,” and the guide says, “Actually, you’re thinking
of Delft, not Delphi, which is somewhat to the north—
in the Netherlands, actually, and not in Greece at all,”
and I think, Ignorance, my old friend, how dare you
work for others! Why do you waste your gifts

on those who don’t recognize their value? I ran into
Salman Rushdie once and said, “Mr. Rushdie, did you
know that Tallahassee is the only city in the world
that contains the name of Allah?” and he said, “Well,
there are many cities in the world and many languages,
so perhaps that is not the case.” True, but from there
we went on to speak of many a subject and fleet the time

carelessly, and how would we have done that were
it not for my blunder, unless, of course, I’m right?
Speaking of literary figures, who would have guessed
that Gregory Corso is not only buried in the Protestant
Cemetery in Rome but is also just one grave away
from Shelley? Had I known that beforehand, I would
never have gone to that august burial ground, but now

I think of the two of them lying near each other every day,
the great Beat poet and the doomed Romantic who would
have loathed or perhaps adored each other in real life—
we’ll never know, will we? Once I saw a card in a gift shop
that said, “Your work is to discover your world and then
with all your heart give yourself to it,” which admirable
sentiment was attributed to the Buddha, though it doesn’t

sound like the Buddha I know. The Buddha I know is a lot
grumpier than that; he believes that ours is a world
of suffering and that our task is to reduce that suffering
as much as possible through prayer and meditation,
not erase it entirely and sit around eating popsicles
and thinking how groovy we are, so I look up the saying
on line, and sure enough, there’s a site called Fake Buddha

Quotes, of which this is one. Why the Buddha, though?
I know, because he deals in paradox, so almost anything
you attribute to him will make sense or seem to. Simone
de Beauvoir herself liked to conclude her debates with Sartre
by saying, “I’m no longer sure what I think, nor whether
I can be said to think at all,” and she was Simone de Beauvoir,
though I think that, like me, she knew that she would get

farther in this world by laying claim to how little she knew
rather than how much, also that, again like me, she was
proud of her knowledge, such as it was, but also of the casks,
barrels, buckets, tubs, butter churns, hogsheads, firkins,
rundlets, butts, pipes, tuns, and puncheons of half-knowledge,
bewilderment, mental incapacity, obtuseness, benightedness,
and fog that she possessed as well and that stood her

in excellent stead during her colloquies with Monsieur Sartre,
than whom she was a much better writer. Ignorance,
not everyone is smart enough to learn from you.
Not everyone is patient enough to climb the slope
of your great mountain, bathe in your spring, drink
from your holy river, hover over your abyss,
breathe your vapors, hear what you’re really saying.

 

 

David Kirby‘s collection The House on Boulevard St.: New and Selected Poems was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2007. Kirby is the author of Little Richard: The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll, which the Times Literary Supplement of London called “a hymn of praise to the emancipatory power of nonsense.” He teaches at Florida State University, where he is the Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of English. Kirby’s honors include fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation; in 2016, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Florida Humanities Council. His latest poetry collection is Get Up, Please.

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