It’s been more than a year since my last post. It’s been a year and three months, almost to the day. This doesn’t mean I haven’t wanted to. I’ve tried. About a half-dozen drafts, begun and aborted, exist. But the more I wrote, the less committed I was to what I was writing. I said to Sarah the other day that I feel as if I’ve said everything I wanted to say here and to say more would feel redundant. It is perhaps more accurate to say that I’ve said all I mean to say about the things I have been saying. More importantly, the way I have been saying the things I have been saying no longer suits the why of why I write. Or something like that.
So it must be the New Year’s blood coursing through me then, because I’ve decided to resurrect several old projects. This blog is only one of them. I’ve relaunched Best Poem, the little magazine I started some years ago. I’ve reached back into the archives to discover some of the old poems I wrote aren’t so dusty and musty after all. I’ve collected them into a manuscript. And I’ve submitted a few of those poems to find that at least two editors agree with my assessment. I’ve started to run again, too. Something has changed.
To call this change revision, however, would be wrong, since I’m not changed much. I see all that I have seen with the same eyes. These birds are the same birds I catalogued and named, when I lived in the cottage on Shelter Island and was happy. These trees are the ones I attempted to resemble when the big storm came to tear up our lives. But what bird remains a bird, what tree remains a tree, after the winds die down and the beautiful day is revealed again? After a while, those wings and limbs get tired and would rather shrug than fly or leave.
I’ve struggled against things as they are. I’m speaking mostly now about my personal life but I’m also talking about my professional and artistic lives. I’ve desired for things to be other than they are, and now, I don’t know – maybe it’s because I turned 39 this year, or maybe it’s the dawning of wisdom – I’m not struggling so much. I still would have had things turn out differently from how they have turned out, but maybe now – and this is where poetry comes in – maybe now, I’ve concluded something else.
I still can’t say what it is, but I sense it. It’s there. A presence, a residue of the old life remains, and it colors everything. But the most recent dye, whose saturation overwhelmed the entire palette, has faded some. Time, Rilke says, doesn’t heal all things. Rather, it puts everything in its proper place. The catastrophes of this year feel so much more catastrophic than they are. They are catastrophic, but where they fit in the constellation of catastrophes and joys isn’t quite clear to us yet. That’s Rilke’s reasoning, not mine exactly. But I get it. I see where it suits.
Poetry has taught me one thing of enduring value, and that is to rely on revision. The older I get, the more difficult it becomes to be elastic. This is as true of my hamstrings as it is of my spirit. And when either is wounded, it takes longer and longer to recover. And it feels sometimes as if I would rather not recover at all. The way seems too long, the journey to health too difficult. But something carries me, pushes me along – I don’t know whether this thing is divine or not, but still it pushes – and I find myself cured, healed. I’m not the thing I was, and I’m not what I used to be before all that. I am a split thing. I am a split thing re-joined.
I look at the poems I’ve written over the last several years, and I see the splitting, and I see the crazy scars, where those wounds healed over. And I see where the weakened parts buckled under further pressure. And I see where I limped along, dragging the distorted extremity behind me. But I see, too, where I stand now. It’s winter, so the shadow stretches a long way. It touches the house. It lies on the lawn and on the stoop. It points the direction I must go. It turns with me. It is a friend, a companion. It is a reminder that there is still time to love.
I can’t love in the old way, the way that failed. But I can love in the way that now seems to me most genuine. And that is what poetry teaches beyond everything else. It cautions us against returning to old lies and mistakes. But it also reminds us that there are new ways, new paths, new routes to love. And until every one has been exhausted, it isn’t time to die. It must be time to live.