A happy human condition is truly an imaginary place.

When confronted with authority our innocence cowers in the corner only to be calmed by the cool breath of reason and the will to survive. Authority breaks all brotherhoods while serving its mistress – the civil community. Everyone must choose between an allegiance to heritage or a forfeiture of future. No one is able to serve both masters. For all the rhetoric, family/tribe allegiance is an anathema of civilization.

From the ruins of heritage springs the empty womb of our labor. Innocence is transported through the bleak landscape of time to its dirty resting place in the service of civilization, degraded into the inhumanity of service to the greater good. Authority has done its grim duty. The civil mind caresses and embarrasses the authority which serves its careless master.   Authority: stuck between the cosmos and the captious mind, loyalty is the cross it must bear.

Loyalty in essence is a sin against nature as it marches through one obstacle after another. Once loyalty is lost there is the devil to pay. The devil is a faceless everyman without heritage or moral compass. He befriends us at every turn. Once a true believer himself, he knows our every weakness. He convinces us we are other than beasts. Beauty-inspiring sunsets make his point. He assures us there is a redeemer waiting. He is patience.

Is there redemption for any of the parties? Is every redeemer a false hope?

Every civil mind requires the backing of Power. Power is the benevolent face of evil. It demonizes the opposition and jousts with Authority. Power has a familial bond with the community. It flouts itself upon innocence. It convinces the civil mind that its origins are an embarrassment to be plucked as so many weeds. A guilt with which we all must live.

Power seduces the civility which authority seeks to protect.


(“Walking on Tiptoe” from Delights and Shadows.
Copyright © 2004 by Ted Kooser.
Publisher:  Copper Canyon Press, P. O. Box 271, Port Townsend, WA 98368-0271)

Walking on Tiptoe


Long ago we quit lifting our heels
like the others—horse, dog, and tiger—
though we thrill to their speed
as they flee. Even the mouse
bearing the great weight of a nugget
of dog food is enviably graceful.
There is little spring to our walk,
we are so burdened with responsibility,
all of the disciplinary actions
that have fallen to us, the punishments,
the killings, and all with our feet
bound stiff in the skins of the conquered.
But sometimes, in the early hours,
we can feel what it must have been like
to be one of them, up on our toes,
stealing past doors where others are sleeping,
and suddenly able to see in the dark.