1.
R. came by today and poured his heart out. There he was, gasping at the pain of it, clasping at something unnameable on his chest, keening, why does it hurt so much? I held his hand.

2.
I wish I could tell you there was an answer, I began. I held his hand.

3.
He asked me about the people in my life, and I felt my heart constrict a little. At what has gone by. At what has passed. He asked me if I have loved. If I have lost. Our faces are both wet and maybe there is no need for words. I held his hand.

4.
What can we ever really do when we are broken? Because I’ve been here, I tell him, you are loved, and are worthy of being loved. I held his hand.

from East Coker
T.S. Eliot

So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years–
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l’entre deux guerres
Trying to learn to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it, and so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate–but there is no competition–
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.

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1.
Arrived at the here and now, again.

2.
The new year breeds a new batch of questions. All longing to be answered, though not all meant to have one that will be easy to accept nor understand. Yet they are there, nevertheless, waiting to be asked.

3.
Beginning, again.

The Broken Sandal
Denise Levertov

Dreamed the thong of my sandal broke.
Nothing to hold it to my foot.
How shall I walk?
                Barefoot?
The sharp stones, the dirt. I would
hobble.
And–
Where was I going?
Where was I going I can’t
go to now, unless hurting?
Where am I standing, if I’m
to stand still now?

This is from Poems 1968-1972 by Denise Levertov, published by New Directions, 1987.

1.
This is one of those beginnings where I’m both sure and unsure of what would happen to me. I know what I must do now, and I have a plan to do it, and yet it feels very much like I’m standing before a yawning abyss. Either I’m moving further forward towards the life I make, or I’m about to make a colossal mistake. It’s deliriously exciting and terrifying.

2.
Maybe all I can do at this point is forgive myself for what I’m about to do and what I will be unable to do, as the days come.

3.
I mean, that’s all the self is asking, right? To be loved and to be forgiven, and to be brave. The bravest I can be.

4.
Happy new year.

i am running into a new year
Lucille Clifton

i am running into a new year
and the old years blow back
like a wind
that i catch in my hair
like strong fingers like
all my old promises and
it will be hard to let go
of what i said to myself
about myself
when i was sixteen and
twenty-six and thirty-six
even thirty-six but
i am running into a new year
and i beg what i love and
i leave to forgive me

1.
Belly full, and mind, and heart. An hour past midnight and well into a new morning. Thinking about all the days that led to this, and all the days after this one.

2.
Sometimes I find it so simple—to be happy. And sometimes it is exhausting and terribly difficult, and you almost question why until you catch yourself, and gently remember that in this world there are more questions than there are answers, and that’s okay.

3.
This moment: at the table, surrounded by people you love, a glass of wine in hand, and that quiet realisation that maybe this is all you need for tonight. That maybe this night will get you through other nights.

4.
Enough. Enough now.

5.
Merry Christmas.

Prayer
Galway Kinnell

Whatever happens. Whatever
what is is is what
I want. Only that. But that.

1.
Last night, a flurry of selves.

2.
I was revealing my naked face to people I trust to take care of these truths.

3.
Sometimes even I’m surprised at my deep capacity to be vulnerable. It’s terrifying.

4.
The world chafes, for all its beauty.

Detail
Eamon Grennan

I was watching a robin fly after a finch — the smaller bird
chirping with excitement, the bigger, its breast blazing, silent
in light-winged earnest chase — when, out of nowhere
over the chimneys and the shivering front gardens,
flashes a sparrowhawk headlong, a light brown burn
scorching the air from which it simply plucks
like a ripe fruit the stopped robin, whose two or three
cheeps of terminal surprise twinkle in the silence
closing over the empty street when the birds have gone
about their own business, and I began to understand
how a poem can happen: you have your eye on a small
elusive detail, pursuing its music, when a terrible truth
strikes and your heart cries out, being carried off.

This is from Still Life with Waterfall: Poems by Eamon Grennan, published by Graywolf Press, 2002.

1.
Don’t our lives unfold in proportion to our courage, I wrote to someone a few days ago, my heart in my throat, wondering why I’m writing a letter at all.

2.
Every day is an effort to be better at this. Living, I mean. Trying it on like a dress, this being human, which you must be tired of by now, my having talked about it for years and years, I mean.

3.
Why do you keep your struggles out in the open? Why do you wear your heart on your sleeve? What is to be gained in making a fool out of yourself? These are questions I’ve been asked, for which I don’t necessarily have the answers.

4.
I think I promised myself some sort of transformation. A metamorphosis of some kind. Growing into a person that I needed, perhaps. A bird learning to be better at flight.

5.
A wet sparrow, perhaps, as I stand out on the street yesterday, big, fat drops of water on my hair, my face, my shoulders, my back. What is a fool if not someone who forgets umbrellas, knowing full well it’s the season for rain. What is a fool, who laughs and shivers and runs for cover and laughs again, shoes squeaking after having stepped into a puddle.

6.
It’s November now. It’s not too late to be here again, is it?

The Meaning of Birds
Charles Smith

Of the genesis of birds we know nothing,
save the legend they are descended
from reptiles: flying, snap-jawed lizards
that have somehow taken to air. Better the story
that they were crab-apple blossoms
or such, blown along by the wind; time after time
finding themselves tossed from perhaps a seaside tree,
floated or lifted over the thin blue lazarine waves
until something in the snatch of color
began to flutter and rise. But what does it matter
anyway how they got up high
in the trees or over the rusty shoulders
of some mountain? There they are,
little figments,
animated—soaring. And if occasionally a tern washes up
greased and stiff, and sometimes a cardinal
or a mockingbird slams against the windshield
and your soul goes oh God and shivers
at the quick and unexpected end
to beauty, it is not news that we live in a world
where beauty is unexplainable
and suddenly ruined
and has its own routines. We are often far
from home in a dark town, and our griefs
are difficult to translate into a language
understood by others. We sense the downswing of time
and learn, having come of age, that the reluctant
concessions made in youth
are not sufficient to heat the cold drawn breath
of age. Perhaps temperance
was not enough, foresight or even wisdom
fallacious, not only in conception
but in the thin acts
themselves. So our lives are difficult,
and perhaps unpardonable, and the fey gauds
of youth have, as the old men told us they would,
faded. But still, it is morning again, this day.
In the flowering trees
the birds take up their indifferent, elegant cries.
Look around. Perhaps it isn’t too late
to make a fool of yourself again. Perhaps it isn’t too late
to flap your arms and cry out, to give
one more cracked rendition of your singular, aspirant song.

This is from Indistinguishable from the Darkness by Charlie Smith, published by W.W. Norton & Company, 1991.

Good night, Derek Walcott, sir. Thank you for your poems. Rest easy now.

Endings
Derek Walcott

Things do not explode,
they fail, they fade,

as sunlight fades from the flesh,
as the foam drains quick in the sand,

even love’s lightning flash
has no thunderous end,

it dies with the sound
of flowers fading like the flesh

from sweating pumice stone,
everything shapes this

till we are left
with the silence that surrounds Beethoven’s head.

This is from Collected Poems 1948-1984 by Derek Walcott, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1986.