Malt Does More than Milton Can: A Meditation on Failure (2008)

Maybe failure is like beer.

The first taste is acrid, bitter,

But having one taste is not the point.

The only way to experience it in any meaningful sense

Is to take the first quaff whole,

Smooth and sliding, rich,

So that bitterness surrenders to satin complexity,

All the brandied grain dancing on the tongue

So that, like beer,

Failure becomes comfort and insight,

The sea that buoys us all,

The only cup that truly binds us to one another,

Until, singing the songs only remembered after pints are drained,

We look into each other’s gazes

And realize the only ground beneath our feet

Is at the bottom.

Copyright ©2021, 2008 by Lee Krähenbühl / StoryDwelling Publishers. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission. Permissions: LeeKrahenbuhl@aol.com.

Composed: Water Street II coffeehouse, Kalamazoo, Michigan, November 11, 2008

First public performance: Mountain Meadow Song and Story Fest, Camp Wilbur Stover, Idaho, July 2015; opener for the Peregrine Story “Ruth and Logan and Mabel and Alice.”

Notes: A free-floating entry in my commonplace book, inspired by lines 21-22 of the A. E. Houseman poem “Terence, This is Stupid Stuff (A Shropshire Lad, LXII),” which was a compulsory read in Al Hughes’ high school English class, for reasons I have yet to discern. Houseman’s lines “And malt does more than Milton can / To justify God’s ways to man” stuck with me from the age of 16 until I needed them here.

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