New Year

Joanna Klink

We woke to the darkness before our eyes,
unable to take the measure of the loss.
Who are they. What are we. What have we
   abandoned to arrive with such violence at this hour.
In answer we drew back, covered our ears
with our hands to the heedless victory, or vowed,
   as I did, into the changed air, never to consent.
But it was already too late, too late for the unfarmed fields,
the men by the station, the park swings, the parking lots,
   the ground water, the doves—too late for dusk
falling in summer, chains of glass lakes
   mingled into dawn, the corals, the neighbors,
the first drizzle on an empty street, cafeterias and stockyards,
young men asking twice a day for
   work. Too late for hope. Too far along
to meet a country, a people, its annihilating need.

Because the year is new and the great change
already underway, we concede a thousandfold
   and feel, harder than the land itself,
a complicity for everything we did not see
or comprehend: cynicism borne of raw despair,
long-cultivated hatreds, the promises of leaders
traveling like cool silence through the dark.
My life is here, in this small room, and like you
   I am waiting to know—but there is no time
to wait for what has happened.
What does the future ask of me,
those who won’t have enough to eat by evening,
those whose disease will now take hold—
   and the decades that carry past me once I’ve died,
generations of children, the suffering that is never solved,
the heat over the earth, its marshes,
   its crowded towers, its unbreathable night air.
I would open my hand from the wrist,
step outside, not lose nerve.
Here is the day, still to be lived.
We do not fully know what we do.
But the trains depart the stations, traffic lurches
   and stalls, a highway crew has paused.
Desert sun softens the first color of the rock.
Who governs now governs by grievance and old scores,
   but we compass our worth,
prepare to do the work not our own,
and feel, past the scorn in his eyes, the burden
in the torso of a stranger, draw close to the sick,
   the weak, the women without jobs, the twelve-year-old
facing spite half-tangled into sleep, the panic
tightening inside everyone who has been told to go,
I will help you although I do not know you,
and strive not to look away, be unwilling to profit,
   an ache inside that endless effort,
a slowed-down summons not from those
whose rage is lit by greed—we do not consent—
but the ones who wake without prospect,
those who don’t speak, cannot recover,
   like the old woman at the counter, the helpless father
who, like you, gets no more than his one life.
 

More by Joanna Klink

Given

And I carried to that emptiness
between us the birds
that had been calling out

           all night.  I carried an old
              bicycle, a warm meal,
              some time to talk. 

I would have brought
them to you sooner
but was afraid your own

              hopelessness would keep you
              crouched there.  If you spring up,
              let it not be against me

but like a weed or a
fountain.  I grant you
the hard spine of your

              childhood.  I grant you
              the frowning arc of this morning.
              If I could I would grant you

a bright throat and even
brighter eyes, this whole hill
of olive trees, its

              calmness of purpose.
              Let me not forget
              ever what I owe you.

I have loved the love
you felt for those gardens
and I would grant you

              the always steadying
              presence of seeds. 
              I bring to that trouble

between us a bell that might
blur into air.  I bring the woods
and a sense of what lives there.

              Like you, I turn to sunlight for
              answers.  Like you, I am
              not sure where it has gone.
 

 

from "3 Bewildered Landscapes”


STARS, SCATTERSTILL. Constellations of people and quiet. 

Those nights when nothing catches, nothing also is artless. 

I walked for hours in those forests, my legs a canvas of scratches,

trading on the old hopes—we were meant to be lost. But being lost

means not knowing what it means. Inside the meadow is the grass,

rich with darkness. Inside the grass is the wish to be rooted, inside the rain

the wish to dissolve. What you think you live for you may not live for. 

One star goes out. One breath lifts inside a crow inside a field.

Related Poems

Let Them Not Say

Let them not say:   we did not see it.
We saw.

Let them not say:   we did not hear it.
We heard.

Let them not say:     they did not taste it.
We ate, we trembled.

Let them not say:   it was not spoken, not written.
We spoke,
we witnessed with voices and hands.

Let them not say:     they did nothing.
We did not-enough.

Let them say, as they must say something: 

A kerosene beauty.
It burned.

Let them say we warmed ourselves by it,
read by its light, praised,
and it burned.