Winter walk

Taking a break to walk in the park, I try to turn off the talking in my head and attend to the trees I pass, their needles fanned or their branches grasping at the flat white sky, to notice their mossy saddles, the scales and whorls and ridges of their bark, to see the beings in the tree, to listen even to the traffic, the plane crossing overhead, and underneath the engines, the small shrill chirpings and the caw cacophony, to look and listen in this moment, even with its signs of the future, the next season coming.

cherry-buds-early

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Oh, January

When it rains and rains, the sky gray all day, I think of this old, old poem:

 

Absence Is the Color Gray

“ … far from our small selves and our temporally united
passions in the cathedral of Januaries”
— Frank O’Hara

The phone hangs
off the hook, unable to answer
the most common prayer. My fight
becomes a cry against
the slender rain. People come

go, strike implausible airs in smeared
and steamy windows. I improvise
my own endings, look hard
for words that fit. They burn
my palate like bad wine.

Mannequins posed in the cold light:
dangerous, unerring. I could walk back uptown, turn left
at Times Square and ride a bus under the river.
With luck it might snow by morning.

Worms crawl under my door, seek
refuge from the seeping earth.
There is no cathedral of Januaries—only
a stoic phone and the endless
bleeding sky. I’d like to call you

five years ago, or better, six. And hear you
crash around that first kitchen on Cutler Street, strands
or steam rising from bowls pile high
with ziti and Parmesan cheese.
We would throw our pennies
on the floor, plan dreams around egg cream glasses
and minimal violence.

The steam
from my coffee cup offers a warning.
Perhaps today I will find
the words I need to write.
I promised to write.

 

(“Absence Is the Color Gray” was published in my chapbook A Steady Longing for Flight.)

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I like resolutions–whether it’s the beginning of the year, the season, the month, or the week–even the morning. For me, a resolution is an ongoing, continually renewed commitment. The habits I want to start or stop.

I might have goals for the year, one-time things to accomplish. Those are different–and last year, I did better at them.

The habits are for me the hard ones. Last summer, I started a new system for those, and it’s helped.

I print out (on paper!) a blank calendar for the month. Then I pull out my colored pencils and write down the things I want to do or not do daily, using a different color for each. Next comes the fun part: Every success gets a star for its color. The stars are a kind of reward, and a way of being accountable. I can look at a day or week and see how I’m doing. I can see what I’ve missed, what I need to work more on. If I have a day with only one star, it isn’t the end of the world. It’s a map saying that I’ve wandered off course. (Ooh, calendar as map.)

When the month is done, I look at what went well, what didn’t, and what I want to work on or pay attention to during the next month. It might be the same, or it might change. I start over. I renew my commitment.

But I mentioned revolutions. In the much wider community sense, we have more opportunities to foster healing and be better in the world, and here are five New Year’s revolutions.

How can you grow your life, your art? How can you change the world?

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Wednesday morning, Epiphany, and sure the year has already started and the conversation about resolutions continues.

A friend sent me this link to an illustrated version of Ron Padgett’s poem “How to be Perfect”: http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2016/01/04/resolutions/

Enjoy. I’m going to go eat an orange.

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I had a hard time speaking up after the Grand Jury handed down their decision about the shooting of Tamir Rice. I felt so many things–including despair and a deep disappointment at the failures of our current system of justice–that I said nothing at first. Then one line zinged into my head and I ended up writing this poem.

After the Grand Jury

If I had a nickel, someone might say,
for every time—a way to bank our failures,
a kind of cuss jar, mayonnaise label
and a slot cut into the lid.

Today the not-verdict comes down
for another shooting—nobody
will face trial. One more son dead
and no one to answer for it.

Do the math: if I had a nickel.
The money adds up.

Grief floods over like the ocean in a storm
but this now is Cleveland—
Lake Erie’s what we’ve got, the body
of water that was dead and was saved.

This boy of 12 cannot be brought back.
Do the math: a mother, a father left behind.

The bodies stack up like nickels.
All those taxes melted into ammunition.
The mothers must let their sons out into a world
where no amount of money can keep them from a bullet.

Another funeral. Another statistic.
Do the math: if we had a nickel.
If we can find change, for God’s sake,
for our sake, help us. Help us all.

 

Postscript: I was also reading Citizen: An American Lyric, by Claudia Rankine. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it.

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