Mar 072015
 

Ralph-Maud-via-commonground.caRalph Maud via www.commonground.ca

A mappamundi of values is what we are after, / the satisfaction we need before we die. / It’s why older people, even dying people, / read the paper avidly. / Shall we revise the prayer?

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Ralph Maud, an old friend of novelist Keith Maillard and his wife, Mary Maillard, died on December 8, 2014. Ralph is best remembered as a scholar ahead of his time — an authority on Charles Olson, expert on Dylan Thomas, a Welsh Nationalist, a collector of northwest aboriginal mythology, and documentary film maker — but he also, as he was approaching death, considered that topic in a purely personal way, leaving behind an eight-page monograph entitled “Make My Way Plain.” In the found poem that follows, Mary Maillard has attempted to distill the essence of Ralph’s thoughts. Every word is Ralph’s.

Poetry and AudiencePoetry and Audience, edited by Ralph Maud

Hereford Mappa Mundi c.1285Hereford Mappa Mundi c.1285

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Ralph Maud’s Prayer: Distilled

1.

Is this the way?
The complexities of being human
on the edge of chaos?
Faced with an edge-of-chaos problem,
I found a way out.

Is this the way?
My father’s innate reticence,
my mother’s Celtic duplicity,
that spark of camaraderie and laughter
in the most dire circumstances?

Is this the way?
Minted in the molecules,
repeated throughout our life,
we are always the next step.
Given matter, the rest follows.

Is this the way?
In a materialistic world we get a sense
of making decisions for ourselves.
Hang onto that feeling;
it’s where value lies.

We can be self-satisfied in our originality,
as we are modest before the fact of determinism:
creatures of medical science, laboratory animals,
we are deluded to think
that we can be known.

2.

My subject is a prayer:
“Make my way plain.”
To whom am I addressing this plea?
As an atheist, I have to say
that I have nobody in mind.

I find myself saying, “Thank you, Lord,”
once a day. After a successful bowel movement –
“Thank you, Lord.”
Breathing is, of course, quite as important,
so perhaps later I will bless my breaths.

Who will make my way plain, then?
Why, Jiminy Cricket, of course.
The mechanism for self examination and guidance
seems common to all humans.
I have seen stubbornness avoid such consultation,

rage obliterate conscience.
I have lived a sheltered life.
I have seen the wholly bad as an exception,
the stony face of unreason: “And if you disagree, you die.”
I made my escape as soon as I could.

3.

A mappamundi of values is what we are after,
the satisfaction we need before we die.
It’s why older people, even dying people,
read the paper avidly.
Shall we revise the prayer?

“Make my way complicated?”
The mappamundi seems to be such
when we consult the abacus of the heart,
that tool for pinning down value,
our excitement is immense and rewarding.

Add goodwill and time to complexities –
that’s what we mean by “making plain.”
One works on one’s own map
and contributes to the world map.
No, we haven’t time to settle things properly.

4.

Down in this eternity of the moment,
we have in us the vestiges of hope for heaven.
Our end in perfect blackness, materialistic determinism –
most of us cannot let in that kind of hopelessness.
We just can’t.

“We just can’t.” There is the rock,
in spite of all our pathologies,
the rock on which we build.
We go on with our lives.
We can’t do otherwise.

We would find our place in Zion.
We would make our own destiny.
We could not do otherwise.
I lived the archetype of the immigrant.
The implication is that one can escape.

5.

William Saroyan’s words still sing for me:
“If I have any desire at all, it is to show the brotherhood of man.”
If there is a solution to “make my way plain,”
it will have something to do with
“the brotherhood of man.”

6.

The pilgrimage now reaches its end.
I am entangled in the end game.
Make my end plain.
I’m not quite there or I could not be writing.
What can I say hurriedly, for us, the dying?

The only sensible thing – when the line is crossed,
the nightmare should be short.
Joking and sociable to the end: I do not think so.
I am breathing with anxiety.
Make my end plain.

One wants to get out of life “with dignity,”
not waiting until life is unbearable.
One should be able to choose when enough is enough.
In principle, the way is perfectly plain
but the practicalities are elusive.

7.

As one puts in the bookmark and turns out the light,
there is the feeling that at least tomorrow is assured,
since the world would not, surely, deny one the solution
to come with the next day’s reading. There’s also the fellow feeling
as we get used to the idea of death.

 Ralph-Maud

Lines distilled by Mary Maillard, January 3, 2015, from Ralph Maud, “Make My Way Plain,” privately distributed, Vancouver, February, 2013.

 

Mary-Maillard-Photo-

Mary Maillard is an independent scholar and documentary editor from Vancouver, British Columbia. Her primary interests are in 19th century southern women and mixed race studies. She is the editor of the Skinner Family Papers and has written a monograph introducing three collections of southern antebellum coming-of-age letters, A Map of Time and Blood: An Introduction to the Skinner Family Papers 1826-1850 (2014). Her article, “‘Faithfully Drawn from Real Life:’ Autobiographical Elements in Frank J. Webb’s The Garies and Their Friends,” appeared in the July 2013 issue of the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, and, in 2013/2014, she received an Albert M. Greenfield Foundation Fellowship in African American History from the Library Company of Philadelphia for her research on the letters of Louisa Jacobs and Annie Purvis to Eugenie Webb, 1879-1911. Mary has contributed biographical entries to blackpast.org, including Frank J. Webb, Julia Chinn, George Lowther, and Pierre and Juliette Toussaint.

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