“The world isn’t fair, Calvin.””I know Dad, but why isn’t it ever unfair in my favor?”― Bill Watterson, The Essential Calvin and Hobbs
“Maybe yes, maybe no, fairness isn’t always so…” These words I stuck on my fridge from my friend Hayat Rubardt started this.
Unfair: not based on or behaving according to the principles of equality and justice: unjust · inequitable · prejudiced · biased · discriminatory · one-sided · unequal · uneven · unbalanced · partisan · partial · skewed · undeserved · unmerited · uncalled for · unreasonable · unjustified (Dictionary.com)
Frequently parents hear the voices of their children age four and up saying, “That’s NOT FAIR!” My granddaughter, Oona, cries big tears when she says the word, UNFAIR, followed by a sound that explodes like an explanation mark that hurts her mouth. There can be a kick or something thrown. Fairy tales in children’s books, often begin with unfairness and triumph at the end, like Cinderella restoring fairness as her foot slides into the glass slipper. A poem should show, not tell, as in this beautiful section by Naomi Shihab Nye from So There:
Because I would not let one four-year-old-son
Eat frosted mini-wheat cereal
Fifteen minutes before dinner
He wrote a giant note
And held it up
While I talked on the phone
LOVE HAS FAILED
Then he wrote the word LOVE
On a paper
Stapled it twenty times
I STAPLE YOU OUT…
∇ ∇ ∇ ∇ ∇ ∇ ∇ ∇
My father was a lawyer and his father was too. I remember he gave a good deal of attention to the word “fairness,” attentive to how it felt to my sister and to me. So did my son Solomon. When I told him it was too stormy for him to drive the car (he was 15 and had a permit) He countered with how it was more than unfair, unreasonable even, followed by words for the defense, “Don’t you want me to be able to drive in all weather conditions?” My logic rarely stood up to his, so I said, “It doesn’t FEEL right to me.”
“You could say to the universe: this is not fair. And the universe would say: Oh, isn’t it? Sorry.” ― Terry Pratchett, Interesting Time
The Dictionary “Fair” moves from “free from bias” to “likely” to “bright and sunny” to (#22) “Archaic: A beautiful or beloved woman.” Fair meaning “beautiful” is an old German word of origin: fagar. “Mirror, mirror on the wall,/ who is fairest of them all?” The answer was enough to drive one woman to poison another. FAIR can mean light in color, especially blond: fair hair. It means light complexion: fair skin. Not so good in an era of equality for women. Unfair, in fact. Although Audrey Hepburn was a brunette…..
I spent hours recently going through scores of poetry books, looking for poems using FAIR or UNFAIR. Here’s one. Gerald Stern in his poem The Dove’s Neck has “Fair or not fair” on the top line of the second page in an uncorrected proof of his book, LAST BLUE. I was lucky to find them, although to take a piece of a Gerald Stern poem is like extracting a tooth. It works so well with the other words and ideas it seems wrong to mess with the over-all structure.
…I lay in a field of daisies and clover… practically
sleeping, a short drive east of Ohio, near the abandoned
coal mines, half a century
after the grass had hidden
the disgusting earth including,
fair or not fair, the anger
for all I knew, underneath that
field which seemed to tilt
in such a way that stretching
my arms and legs the flowers were
always there and the wind
was always blowing, one of
my bitter personal heavens.
∇ ∇ ∇ ∇ ∇ ∇ ∇ ∇ ∇
Although I know it’s unfair, I reveal myself one mask at a time. Steven Dunn.
I’ll end with a poem from a favorite moment in my life. I was at San Miguel Poetry Week years ago, in small Q & A with W.S. Merwin. I had never met him before, or heard him read, although I read his poems for years. I raised my hand and asked how we can tell what needs to be told. He looked right at me and recited this sonnet by William Shakespeare: