I recently ordered a 2021 calendar–I favor a portable Moleskine number–but, with heavy-handed symbolism, the order keeps being delayed. I’m a planner by temperament and I SO wish I could anticipate my future doings again. Not possible. It’s all clouds.
For the near term, all a calendar-minded person can do is brainstorm short-term ways to mark the passage of time, because around here, the cooling air and spots of yellow at the tops of trees strongly imply that the fall equinox is near. I keep daily work rhythms, even on sabbatical. On Saturdays, we take walks somewhere outside of this small town, hiking in the woods if we can. I’m applying for writing-related opportunities that might bear fruit next spring or summer. Other people are desperately trying to layer multiple workdays on top of each other right now–work, homeschooling, other responsibilities–so feeling lost in blurry weeks means I’m getting off easy, but to a surprising degree, it’s still a stressor.
Here’s a small anniversary: my fifth poetry collection, The State She’s In, was published on March 17th, 2020, so if it were a baby, it would be a chubby little person rocking forward onto its hands and trying to figure out locomotion. I bought it flowers and arranged a photo shoot to celebrate the occasion. It actually IS a book about time, among other subjects–the history of my region but also the approach and arrival of my 50th birthday, an event that I could watch descending like Wile E. Coyote awaiting the anvil. Processing age and change, I wrote many poems that reference the dreaded number explicitly (as in “Fifty-Fifty”) or use 50 as a formal constraint: poems of 50 syllables, 50 words, 50 lines, and more. I’m sure much of that formal play is invisible. It worked, though. Attacking a number every which way gave me some control over its meaning. I wonder if I could do some version of that by writing poems about 2021? I refuse to give 2020 that honor.
Here’s the last poem in the book, published in Gettysburg Review but never online. “L” was a title I contemplated for the whole book (50, Lesley, Lexington); for this particular piece I researched events that happened in 1967, my birth year, as well as having a conversation about ambition with the mountain that looms over my town. The weirdest thing about the poem, though, is that all of its 50 lines are 50 characters long–a persnickety constraint you can’t even see without using a monospace font, which neither the magazine nor the book does. I might always have to hedge optimistic claims like “I’ve stopped counting”–nope, haven’t yet!–but that’s one of my aspirations, to let go of measure and comparison. To “avoid mirrors except the page” and spend these blurry days as best I can because everything ends sometime and I can’t, in fact, control when that is.
L 1967 was on fire: Apollo 1 waiting to launch / Jim Morrison on Ed Sullivan stoking it higher / Mekong Delta / Newark riot hurling out sparks / summer of o sock it to me sock it to me sock it to me sock / pulsar first glimpsed black hole first named / far south Deception Island’s volcano in flames / while an infancy rages / some recently extinguished soul was slotted in my pigeonhole (Oppenheimer Coltrane Magritte) / but I’m no reincarnate star not even a meteor tail (Toklas) / just a minor cloud of space dust reborn to squall anew / Four decades & change accrue & a big birthday looms / half & half golden jubilee 5-0 code for pigs closing in & also atomic number of tin / Mystery heat rises to scald / What is it I’m reaching for over this terrible wall / A relocation / destination / permission for ignition because beauty burns low / potential guttered long ago / I don’t know / So I avoid mirrors except the page and work / burn the fuel of myself in words / program words to change this space & time / Recall Cobain & Philip Seymour Hoffman dissolved to smoke / Does it even matter how in that year of our new- born howl Lou Reed crooned heroin into the cradles /o it was a Warhol year surreal bananas / From my room painted like late-in-the-daylily / I can gaze across a blank tin roof pocked by finch claws past snow-packed sockets of a desolate maple toward the lavender brow of House Mountain that for this poem let’s personify as Ambition / the blaze considered discourteous to mention especially by women / Well shouldn’t I be striving? / Talk to me Mountain / & with a higher perspective than mine Mountain cries / You are a conflagration / Adrenaline singes your capillaries / Let the anniversary of your ardor to be born cool you like a shadow / Desire leads only to more desire even were your sororal motives pure and they are not / Mountain has spoken! / It meant cease building with borrowed stones unless to lift somebody else / message over bottle / O & hey says Mountain one more thing / All poems may be ash but some shelter small hot hopes / their seed swaddled in earth’s velvet / What strikes me now like flint on tinder is how talking to mountains or to you is the same as talking to myself / just as impossible & just as hopeful / either / or / both / & / Maybe we’re all alpine & none of us is / disconnection a gift of language we are supposed to hand back / No presents please what’s yours is mine already / But come in & have a drink on me / Today’s everybody’s birthday & I’ve stopped counting / well just about