Poems for the New Year

December 30, 2022

  I think I was seven or eight, and my parents were having a New Year’s Eve party in our tiny apartment.  There couldn’t have been more than a dozen people, but it was crowded and festive.  I’d been allowed to stay up, and to come to the party to pass around the cheese and crackers and candy, so I was feeling very grown up.  Then someone said, “Well, that’s almost it for this year, ” and I suddenly panicked.  I realized that soon I’d be writing a new year on everything, and that I had only a few minutes to write the old one while it was still true.  I could write it later, but it wouldn’t mean the same thing.   I set down the plate I was carrying, ran into my bedroom to get a pencil and paper, and wrote the year over and over until I’d covered both sides.  I didn’t understand what I was feeling, I just knew it was urgent.  Now I’d say it was an early glimmer of saving things by writing them down.

Here are three poems for the new year.  I hope yours will be full of good fortune.  Fridays at 4 will be back next week.


Sylvia Plath

This is newness : every little tawdry
Obstacle glass-wrapped and peculiar,
Glinting and clinking in a saint’s falsetto. Only you
Don’t know what to make of the sudden slippiness,
The blind, white, awful, inaccessible slant.
There’s no getting up it by the words you know.
No getting up by elephant or wheel or shoe.
We have only come to look. You are too new
To want the world in a glass hat.



Rainier Maria Rilke

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.



Adam Zagajewski, trans. Clare Cavanagh

Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees going nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.


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  • Reply Martha Zweig December 30, 2022 at 8:45 am


    Even as I count them (nine-
    ten-eleven-twelve-) — my blessings
    twinkle into perks & grifts.

    The snow globe squirms & settles & here
    –in innocent bunny slippers & blinking up at a sunrisen windowpane– uh-oh, another year.

  • Reply Robbie Gamble December 30, 2022 at 12:38 pm

    New Year’s is particularly auspicious in the haiku tradition. Here’s one of mine:

    old snow
    on the runaway truck ramp
    New Year’s Day

  • Reply Laura Jensen December 30, 2022 at 2:50 pm

    At the new year I used to go on the ferry to Vashon Island. This poem appeared in Memory, 1982, from Dragon Gate. It was so many years later that they took down the copper refinery smokestack. From childhood I recalled the taste and smell of sulfr in my mouth and nose, you would wake to smell that. I went one day each summer in the 1950s to visit my grandfather’s brothers. It was a nice day and so busy.

    Last Saturday of the Year – Laura Jensen

    At the landing is a sense of propriety.
    I cannot name the cluster of birds
    that rock on the waves. They have long necks
    with white stripes to the breast.

    I must see the Vashon with my own eyes.
    Soon she is leaving these waters.
    Certainly in love, certainly in the coming
    decade, certainly on the ferry you never
    know whether you are coming or going.
    I must see the Vashon with my own eyes.

    Long enough to stand and remember
    Anne Sexton dangling her car keys
    on the other side of the nation, long enough
    to watch a trailer of horses loaded,
    a pink-cheeked girl with tickets
    pick up her money box and board.
    Then the wake, and little ghosts of oil
    around pilings.

    At the other side is another bird
    I cannot name, a bird
    with broad wings he folds
    after circling. He bows down enormous
    the green branch of the madrona tree.

    And it is noon. A cock crows.
    It is like a thin wolf crying.
    I lean over, look back past the body
    of the ferry at the smokestack on pink sky.

    And before I go home from the Vashon
    which is leaving these waters which are
    so massed with life, so crowded with
    the old and new that the passage in or out
    of anywhere is a trip through a maze,
    I stop for coffee.
    The chair seat is beautiful. Is it round
    with a pattern of water lilies, cattails,
    flags, pale brown on a brown ground.

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