“Falls The Shadow” by Mike Finn : knowledge makes you culpable

Falls The Shadow

© Mike Finn 2011

Knowledge has a name.

Speaking the name makes the knowledge real and grants it power over your life.

The name cannot be unsaid. The knowledge cannot be un-known.

Knowledge is irrevocable.

Knowledge is dangerous.

My family understood that.

Knowledge makes you culpable.

Knowledge makes you choose.

Knowledge is the source of all guilt.

In my family, we chose not to know; we refused to name the things that were most important to us.

We were masters of inference, innuendo and unnoticed silences. If those failed us we fell back upon evasion, deflection and denial.

By this means we remained a happy family.

We did not know that my father’s fits of impotent anger would be followed by long silent drinking sessions that must never be interrupted.

We did not know that the bruises on my mother’s thighs were made by my father’s belt.

We did not know that my older sister was afraid not of the dark but of the deeds that darkness cloaked and which could not be named in the daylight.

We were a happy family. Happy families are all the same. Aren’t they?

I knew my father taught English at the Grammar School.

I knew he was a kind and gentle man, much-loved by his students. You could ask anybody. They would all tell you that.

I knew that his favorite poet was Eliot. I even knew his favorite verses from “The Hollow Men”:

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow


This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

I knew that my mother was beautiful and that my sister was brave.

I knew that one day soon I would be as tall as my father

I knew where my father kept his gun.

My father’s suicide opened a sluice-gate that brought knowledge flooding into our family with such force that it was all we could do to avoid drowning in it

The police knew that my father and I were alone in the house because my sister had broken her arm in a clumsy fall and my mother had taken her to the hospital.

Our family Doctor knew that I had been so distraught at finding my father dead in his study, his gun still in his hand, a half-empty bottle of whiskey on his desk and a blood-spattered copy of “The Hollow Men” open in front of him, that I had had to be sedated.

The Coroner knew that my father was being treated for depression and should not have mixed whisky, Temazepam and a loaded gun.

My mother, my sister and I knew that things would never be the same.

I knew that sometimes knowledge falls like a shadow and fills the world with darkness.

I knew that a world can end with a bang that starts with a young girl’s whimper.

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