Day One

Prune.

Make room for summer’s blooms.

Say GoodbyeIReallyLovedYou.

Burn, then walk away.

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A poem, by Naomi Shihab Nye:

Burning the Old Year

Letters swallow themselves in seconds.
Notes friends tied to the doorknob,
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.
So much of any year is flammable,
lists of vegetables, partial poems.
Orange swirling flame of days,
so little is a stone.
Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.
I begin again with the smallest numbers.
Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,
only the things I didn’t do
crackle after the blazing dies.

 

You—like us—great for an instant

Forgive me, I am someone who seeks out synchronicity—that is, confirmation that I am where I am meant to be, in this exact moment in life and time.

It’s silly (is it?), but I need it (why?).

Last night, driving away from Portland, Ian turned the radio to a local station playing jazz. “Do you like jazz?” he asked. Almost ten years we have known each other, yet still some things to know and remain unknown. He told me about a college class he signed up for with this very radio station, a sort of internship where he’d learn the radio ropes and how to present a show, how he didn’t know anything about jazz and stayed up late at Powell’s reading and researching. But (alas, alack) it was one of those harsh winters and (oh, poor student) he didn’t have a car and wound up missing some classes and thus ended his career in local jazz radio before it had even begun. “Oh baby,” I laughed, “you could have been somebody.”

I was teasing, but it’s true—I think about it all the time: all the roads not taken or only half taken, all the somebodies we could have been and might still be. I can (and have) spend hours tracing back all the things that had to happen in order to find myself, here, now, in this place. And, though I am happy in this place, I am one of those people who can’t help seeking confirmation that all is as it should be, that there isn’t another place I’m supposed to be. Even the smallest of ‘signs’ can set me at ease for, oh, whole hours.

Last night, when we arrived back at the house we are watching for friends this month, the sky away from the city was clear and crisp. It has been so foggy lately and, so, we took a stroll up the back fields, in search of shooting stars. He saw three and I saw one and a bit. He deserved it. He gets up earlier than I do, works harder and longer, lights the fire before he leaves, leaves a teabag in a mug for me…

These things are important and real and good. And yet, I wake this morning thinking, Are we doing enough with our lives, should we be traveling or building or making, we should see more live music, we should write more, I should really learn an instrument—or to drive—I thought we’d have our Christmas shopping done by now, why do we procrastinate, are we wasting it, missing it, why did we just sit by the fire half the day? 

And then, as it seems to go, I stumble across some words that still me, that seem to have been written in the stars for me, today, this morning, when thoughts and anxieties shoot and fire and fizzle across the fearful, doubtful spaces of my mind. A small synchronicity, a poem by Galway Kinnell, makes me forget the creeping daytime thoughts and focus on last night, and all those times in which we are great, and happy, as long as we are arm in arm and looking up.

 

On the Frozen Field

We walk across the snow,
The stars can be faint,
The moon can be eating itself out,
There can be meteors flaring to death on earth,
The Northern Lights can bloom and seethe
And be tearing themselves apart all night,
We walk arm in arm, and we are happy.

You in whose ultimate madness we live,
You flinging yourself out into the emptiness,
You—like us—great for an instant,

O only universe we know, forgive us.

 

Frozen Field

Answers

Mark Strand has died.

His was among the first American poetry I read as a teenage girl (apart from the obligatory Robert Frost of my childhood schooling). I was looking for Answers and Alternatives and poetry often pointed the way into and out of myself.

In true teenage fashion, I especially sought those words I could appropriate for my own emotionally exaggerated ends. My seventeen year old self got some good melancholy mileage out of poems like Keeping Things Whole: 

KEEPING THINGS WHOLE 

In a field
I am the absence
of field.
This is
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.

When I walk
I part the air
and always
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body’s been.

We all have reasons
for moving.
I move
to keep things whole.


I remember Strand’s Elegy For My Father was particularly impactful too, especially this second section of the long poem. It rendered the complexities and contradictions of truth—the truth of truth—which my sixteen year old self intuited but could not yet articulate (still often can’t).

ANSWERS

Why did you travel?
Because the house was cold.
Why did you travel?
Because it is what I have always done between sunset and sunrise.
What did you wear?
I wore a blue suit, a white shirt, yellow tie, and yellow socks.
What did you wear?
I wore nothing. A scarf of pain kept me warm.
Who did you sleep with?
I slept with a different woman each night.
Who did you sleep with?
I slept alone. I have always slept alone.
Why did you lie to me?
I always thought I told the truth.
Why did you lie to me?
Because the truth lies like nothing else and I love the truth.
Why are you going?
Because nothing means much to me anymore.
Why are you going?
I don’t know. I have never known.
How long shall I wait for you?
Do not wait for me. I am tired and I want to lie down.
Are you tired and do you want to lie down?
Yes, I am tired and I want to lie down.


Yes, I am tired and I want to lie down. Wherever I am I am what is missing.

Who was that teenage girl? I can barely remember. But I know those words were my truth, that I found a mirror and comfort in them. I needed them then in a way that I can barely feel or fathom anymore. And perhaps they are the reason I no longer need them with such intensity, if that makes sense. They got me to a different place, a place where they wouldn’t be needed so much, or needed for other reasons. Those lines mean something different to me now and their meaning will change again and again, though they remain the same.

Thanks be to poetry. Thanks be to words and the writers who write them, knowing we might yet still need them long after they are gone. Thank you Mr. Strand.

LINES FOR WINTER 

Tell yourself
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
walking, hearing
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself—
inside the dome of dark
or under the cracking white
of the moon’s gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
tell yourself
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
tell yourself
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.

 

As the hand I could have written with flew away from the wrist…

Sky Burial
by Ron Koertge

Q. You’re Such a Disciplined Writer. Were You Always That way?

A. When I was in graduate school, I worked part-time at a local library. I ran the used bookstore in the basement. The money came in handy. There was plenty of time to study.

I learned to know the regulars who talked about living with pain and waiting for bland meals to be delivered.

One sweltering afternoon I read about Tibetan body breakers who dismember corpses with their hatchets and flaying knives so the vultures will have an easier time.

I imagined my own body and the monks asking, “What did this one do?” And the answer would be, “Not much.” As the hand I could have written with flew away from the wrist.