A Poem for the New Year

 

I           three places

 

Friends,

 

            I have bold & even embarrassingly open-hearted things to tell all of you, so please forgive me if I get altogether too festive along the way…  But first of all, a cheers! & a raised glass to all of you from sunny Ko Chang, where I’m swimming & getting blunted & drinking in the perfection of creation, growing mad & savage from the shore, or trembling in the water & rolling sleepily across the surf, or strolling divinely half-clad along the beach…  Living lazily & lustily & finally turning my pen to the task of saluting the coming year, & coaxing out the surging, boiling spaces opening in me at the thought of it.

            Another raised glass & a ‘shin nyin quai le!’ to those in Taiwan!  School & work let out there for the new year & everyone was happy.  There were fireworks all day in the streets for a week.  We were free from teaching & some of us hung around for awhile; cruised out to the coast on our bikes one day & saw everyone cleaning house, burning garbage, taking out trash, & burning ghost money for their families’ dead.  This was the time of year to do those things.  Whizzing through & thinking about Confucius rightly saying that ritual gives meaning to life.  Drunks staggered alongside the road… shin nyin quai le! indeed.  Boys fired bottle rockets over our heads & whooped.

            Laying in bed one night hearing the fireworks go off… a crackling booming surge of them over the crickets, splitting & scattering through the buildings & groves, thinking yeah!  So crazy; the night so silent & twittering, & mankind throwing these rollicking, pealing, raging noises into it!

            The boys on the street lighting them & backing away,

lean & scared & excited,

            laughing & touching &

            beautiful in its own way, like everything that is.

            And thinking of heaven coming down in Northern Alberta for the summer solstice that year…  The mushrooms felt strong & open-aired.  The band was a little silly but won me over with their joy & ridiculousness & perseverance, churning along for hours as the morning opened up & the woods awoke & it got deep & beautiful.  They went with it, jumped up, got sassier & funkier in proportion to the quiet advancing beauty of the morning & the growing outrageousness of the scene in the light of day…  And me jumping up inside & out, thinking of every moment, a quivering miracle, each pregnant with bold possibility, & how easy it is to sing & dance & clap hands, & how stupidly hard some of us have made it for ourselves…

            So let’s raise the roof, friends, or tear it off altogether…  A final toast to stop my rambling, to all the folks back home & everyone making the trip; I’ll see you this year at the fair; wouldn’t miss it…

 

II         another year

 

the patient steady urge of life,

work against weight,

taste of salt on the lips,

the toughening of the body,

            the spirit of pitching in & singing,

the way the mind falls steadily in pace alongside work,

            & the limitless reserve of will lying therein.

the charmed delight of the male animal in the grace of the female’s movements;

            in the lazy swish of her tail, in the way she bends

            or tosses her head or arcs her back.

the hollow quivering ache of longing,

            & the rootless & boundless awe beyond longing.

babies identifying things around them,

            learning to make sounds;

            their struggle & delight in the world

            & our struggle & delight in making them.

hands touching smalls of backs,

            & cradled in each other.

animals making it work from any precarious niche;

            beavers felling trees to build up dams & lodges,

            from there to build bigger dams & raise up bigger lakes.

dung beetles finding livelihoods in piles of shit,

bamboo shoots clinging to cliffsides,

aphids & ants entwining their lives symbiotically,

life flourishing even in the depths & vents of the earth.

people making livings sorting through garbage or selling insurance,

gambling in stocks & ventures or asking sympathy with their deformities.

the impatient spark of curiosity,

the thirst for beloved places & people & things,

the reaching always for things greater & higher,

the laying of plans & the laying aside of them,

The new flowering of culture, religion & spirit,

something far down tells me these things will go on;

they are changing but deathless.

the world feeds it own thirst & creates it.

the brain finds it work both in solving problems & in generating them.

 

III        onward & upward

 

strange new days are on us,

& stranger still to come.

I have no special insight into them but I profess

            eternal & cosmic optimism anyhow.

I assure you that wider & wilder vistas must be ahead,

            & that things run deeper & further back than we know.

& I assure you that old acquaintance won’t be forgot,

            even if the song is.

a new, ripe season is on us,

            for dreaming huge, open-aired dreams,

for tasting the world, learning more about everything,

for learning new languages & creating them,

learning to relate to any man or woman,

            for thinking public thoughts,

                        & becoming larger & more beautiful.

I imagine a wide & democratic season

            with no rockstars & no idols,

            no one has a top 40 record anymore,

            no need to narrow your field just to stay chief farmer.

I hear unheard music, chants & prayers & dances,

            spiraling out myriad polyrhythms.

I hear younger, braver voices than mine,

            poetry both softer & stronger,

                        faring farther out,

breathing life & meaning into the world,

            filling up new spaces with words,

            & expanding them until we can live inside,

carving out their own legends,

            leading & following their own lives.

 

IV

 

have I gone soft, friends?

eaten up too much Walt Whitman?

but really, I see heroes in the men & women around me

& don’t know how else to say it.

And look ahead!

the distance stretches out vast & hazy from here,

            with this vast & hazy future to wander through it.

no time to plot,

but a moment to search ourselves for the handholds & footholds

            by which to make our ascent & our self-overcoming.

therefore, I resolve;

            (what a mystery, the will;

            how hard & immutable & effortless

            as it hovers above the universe!

            yet how flighty & forgetful as it wends

            through the storied & turbulent insides of life!)

nevertheless, I resolve,

to walk lighter & notice more,

to leave the shaping of my wants to worthier givers

            than money & images of imaginary people’s lives.

to judge situations & things better,

but leave other people unjudged.

to hold none of my beliefs immune to revision,

to love open-handedly,

            & keep moving;

the soul stagnates as it pools in some hollow place,

but runs riverlike through changing terrain & scenery.

to stop my fidgety, flirting dalliances

            with the ugly brown herb,

            & just settle, monogamous,

            with the sweet & leafy muse.

to try even harder & stress even less about it.

to grow younger & softer,

            enlivened & endangered in my thinner skin.

to give everyone I pass at least a smile,

& even to be ready to meet them.

All this I’m telling you just to remind myself, friends;

            I know that all of you already know it

            & intend to do it.

 

V

 

the world is ours, friends;

            it belongs to each of us

                        & was intended for us.

it has rest for us & work for us.

it is perfect enough to lead our souls to heaven,

but never perfect enough to leave us nothing to do.

Volunteers!

an awed salute;

I’m a child in this & some of you are miles ahead.

working on organic farms or for labor rights,

            hands on children or the sick or shovels,

securing the priceless dignity of each

            human individual.

I lift my glass last to you,

            wherever you are.

How is the road ahead?

How is the view from there?


ko chang, thailand, february 2001