A Poem for the New Year
I three places
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.
thinking of heaven coming down in
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.
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.
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.
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
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
ko chang, thailand, february 2001