I know something about gifts,
especially today, the day after my 66th Christmas,
most given with love, but often side-armed
as a stone which skips across the water
I do know something about gifts,
both given and received,
which is why, though I have much to say,
the first and most important words I say are thanks
to you for the gift of your time in visiting with me now.
Not many Sundays ago
My wife and I talked with an older poet,
now attached to oxygen by a plastic tube,
who lives in the snow of upstate New York
with his younger, devoted wife.
With the tape almost exhausted I flicked off my recorder,
thanked him for his time, and began to pack my things.
“You came all the way from California just for that?”
“I thought it was a very good conversation,” I stammered,
not wishing, never wishing, to offend.
So we stayed, my wife and I.
She asked him some pretty good questions
while his own wife massaged his neck.
Finally he offered a deeper truth, “I’m lonely up here,
never get out, just wanted you to stay a little longer.”
There you have it, both my hunger and his,
to spend a little more time with each other, and with you,
to offer and receive the scraps we have harvested from long lives,
to share both wheat and straw, we ask, never admit we beg,
for your attention, dare I say your love.
All of the above was provoked by a movie I just saw,
“Memoirs of a Geisha,” in which two hours or more
of unrequited love is followed by a tender ending.
Walking to the car, my father spoke of a dinner
in a restaurant in Japan, fed to my mother and him by two Geisha.
I remember one of his photos from that trip,
last seen fifty years ago—my memory is selective and long—
in which a skeletal horse is attached to a wagon
piled so high with Japanese stuff,
that I wondered how the horse could ever pull it,
which is exactly where I find myself tonight,
at the end of a very long year,
attached to a life which is piled so high
with all the stuff of my preferences and my past,
that I wonder how I can ever continue to pull the entire load.
Suddenly I feel that I approach the precipice
of New Year’s Resolutions. I’ve never kept
a single one for more than a week or two,
so I’m confident that 2006, which begins in a few days,
will be no different. Bear with me for a little.
I’ll let you in on a secret. Even though I write poetry, even though
I edit and publish a poetry journal and have enjoyed conversations
over the past ten years with many of the best poets our country has to offer,
I probably have read less poetry in my life than anyone
who has read “Leaves of Grass” all the way through.
Why do I reveal this? It is as a gift to you,
a freedom to shake off the reins and bridle
of what you have been taught, those iron stereotypes
of how you should live your life. You can be a poet
without writing, or even reading, any more poetry than you like.
I remember that I often offer an observation
which I more need to hear than to speak,
that the task for each of us in our life
is to find our niche
and occupy it. So here I am.
I have chosen to be a horse
pulling a wagon which is piled each year
higher and higher with tasks begun, complexities,
while my knees now ache, my muscles weaken,
while I remain, in my heart, a young stallion, immortal.
I need a rest. Walt Whitman spent a lifetime
in writing what we can read in a few hours.
I sit here uncomfortable in my skin because I have balked,
refused to pull my load now for three full days.
And the universe has not stopped.
—from Rattle #25, Summer 2006