Reflections on the New Year—Elegies, Praise, Poems

I have been thinking again about the French notion of liberty, fraternity (though now we’d say solidarity) and equality. I think I understand in a new way that these can be taken not just as political values, but also as a partial guide to how to conduct our lives.
“Serenity Base.” A homeless person camps under a tree, seemingly exiled a long way from his native San Francisco. Painting by Christine Hanlon, oil on canvas, 50” by 150”

“Serenity Base.” A homeless person camps under a tree, seemingly exiled a long way from his native San Francisco. Painting by Christine Hanlon, oil on canvas, 50” by 150”

 

by Peter Marin

Another Christmas, another New Year… How quickly they succeed one another now, with the spaces between, though deepening, somehow always shorter!

I am reluctant to write another message, want to cling, somehow, to silence, and yet there are frayed connections out there to friends I want to keep alive and intact, if only though these brief, sporadic, annual messages.

At my age, each year diminishes the numbers of surviving friends, and others seem further away, confronting their own problems and issues, and time and age and death become powers to be factored into the living equation of each life, and so connections — these hand-holds, life-lines, skeins and tangles of light — seem more important than ever.

And I think, too, that age, or let us call it “late-stage life,” despite all of the interest in it and books about it, has yet to be fully understood or successfully described from inside. In terms of its odd and unexpected gifts (beside the losses), its progressions of experience, the origami changes and folds in time itself, its expansiveness and openings and the strange spaciousness in which interior immediacy becomes something other than it was before — ah, if only more men and women spoke from within it, describing it as experience!

Astonishing, the morphing of memories and waves of sensitivities that occur as changes and crises appear and pass, death comes close and draws away, the past, re-inspected, offers new revelations, the future, fore-shortened, changes the shape of each moment, and each moment, as it deepens and opens, becomes, or can become, the occasion for gratitude and praise…

Beyond that?

For some reason, these past few weeks I have been thinking again about the French notion of liberty, fraternity (though now, of course, we’d say solidarity) and equality, and I think I understand in a new way (a reflection of my age?) that these can be taken not just as political values, but also as a partial guide to how to conduct our lives.

I remain continually moved, still, when I see these elements in action, when I see people reaching across the imposed limits of class and gender and color to actually be with others, to stand with them against power and authority, or simply meet them face to face as comrades and equals.

Too many of us, I fear, have been schooled in a kind of noblesse oblige that becomes, in practice, noblesse obliteration: a way of even doing good that at the same time humiliates, subjugates, objectifies and insults those whose destinies we claim to want to improve.

This is, in part, what the phrase “class consciousness” means: the abyss between us and others, the limits to our empathy and care and the moral forgetfulness engendered by how, without thinking, we think.

Of course, I must quickly add that I know most of us, most of the time, probably do the best we can as time and circumstance and our own energies and lights and obligations (oh, so many!) permit. And yet, always, thank heavens, there are those who, as can we, do even better than most of us (and I include myself here) presently do.

So once again, as always, I want to thank those of you who struggle against the grain to bring value into the world as a living thing. That is, for me, along with the generosity of spirit and care we owe to those we love, and the stubborn and difficult telling of truth and, yes, the making of art, at least some of the time, foremost among the several ways we can, individually and together, keep alive the possibility of a just and decent future.

May the new year bring to us all what we truly need!

Also, for those who want to bother, please find a few imperfect gifts, below: elegies, praise, poems.

 

CHRISTMAS DAY

by Peter Marin

In their long coats, laceless boots.

smelling of whiskey, of death, they

stand on corners or sit curbside

or lie on the grass of the park —

these angels, winged minions, sent

to remind us of conscience.

Ask them their names, they say

Sorrow, Pestilence, Hunger.

War and Regret, hands

dirty and worn in ragged gloves

testing our patience, our love.

Who can see them, these truths,

staring us in the face, demanding

we become better than we are?

Who turns away? Who will bring God

back into the world, born again,

this day, Christmas day?

 

SPACES

by Peter Marin

Older,

in the spaces

between leaves, cells, notes and words

I can find a home where

nothing is. Or was

in forward spiraling time

at the edges of meanings, membranes,

too many dimensions to be named.

Everything slides into place,

out of sight. Waves. Particles. Strings

not angels on the head

of a dropped pin making

the sound of one clapping hand.

What a ride! Lost in the mysteries

beyond knowing, the antinomies

drifting by, the Forms not yet

in view. The singing of

angels/ to thy/ rest

is silence, wouldn’t you

know it, on the old corner

in Brooklyn, before, then after,

where, even now, I am and am not

as death, as it will, comes to meet me.

 

AGAIN

by Peter Marin

Beckoning

in the last silence

Lear is dancing on the heath

with Cordelia, Gloucester and the Fool

as if death did not exist.

Nothing has changed

into the plenitude of Becoming

without end. Waves of light

pass through the flesh

from suns too distant to be named.

We are energies enclosed by a skin

thickened inside into the mystery

of awareness, barely aware

of what we might be. On

the porch, sipping stale

coffee, I see the dead

come alive in the wood, fade

into the brightness between trees,

then emerge in silence and thought.

Invisible membranes tremble.

The air vibrates with aliveness.

Borne on wild currents of air

angels like surfers balance or fall

into teeming Leviathan seas.

All is a singing of praise,

a gift on this Christmas morning.

"Dumpster Dive." An angelic spirit hovers over an alley where homeless people seek food and shelter. Painting by Jonathan Burstein

“Dumpster Dive.” An angelic spirit hovers over an alley where homeless people seek food and shelter. Painting by Jonathan Burstein

 

TIPS

by Peter Marin

The tips

of my fingers

glow in the dark with the light

of the moon. Watch: my

spread arms become wings

in the waves of becoming

crossing what remains

of the night. Am I

ready? O yes: for the long

journey, the bridge of sighs

between life and death.

The last breath is the first

hint of the stillness

to come. Is it rest? Or forever?

We will die before knowing

or know after death — no

more can be said before going.

 

 

 

BALANCED

by Peter Marin

Balanced

on currents of light

like surfers on their waves —

here we are. The moments

unfold going back

to beginnings, forward

to the brightening end. Astonishing,

is it not: the complexities

becoming simple in

the immensities of thought?

Antinomies, said Kant, as the mind

drifts off the charts, into

the distances beyond. Plato

was right, something appears:

unexpected, unnamed, the visible

light of the Forms, though

still hidden. How close

the world is, fading away!

The dead gather, speak

in soft voices, affirming

who we are. In streets, on freights,

with comrades, there I was

at home, always in exile, one

place to another, seeking. Now

it is thought, the river of life,

carries me onward. The heart,

like an ark on a flood, comes

to shore, releasing its cargo —

whatever, whoever, I loved.

Birds fill the sky, beasts the forest —

a peaceable kingdom, found in the

mind, vivid, alive. Eden, again! I

ride the slow flow of the blood

home to where it began.

 

 

FOR FRED, DYING

by Peter Marin

We were lucky, you and I,

on those mornings in Mexico

at the edges of the sea

in the arms of the women

who welcomed us back into Eden.

Let us celebrate, growing old,

the laden ark of the heart

as it out-rides the storm

filled with the pleasures of life.

Let us remember the slide of bare feet

over the coolness of the tiles

and the salt-scent of bodies

pressed against us at dawn.

What a world, then, was ours,

in its plenitude of delights,

in the opening of its gates,

in the comrades who made us at home.

And can it be otherwise, ahead?

Through the avenue of the trees

you can see the Sea of Un-knowing;

dozing, you dream in its arms;

the soft sound of its waves

is like the whisper of angels —

o yes, they are saying your name.

 

 

 

FOR FRED AGAIN

by Peter Marin

This rising of brightness

coming to meet us, this proximity,

this approach, this strange

nearness in withdrawal

as, passing over, the arc

of becoming becomes a crown:

the blue sky, the green and gold

of the trees,

the flames of existence

burning themselves into

the sweetness, the finality, of age…

Gratitude overflows the heart

to become the River of Life

on whose banks we celebrate.

Our glasses are raised in

the fabled Garden of the Gods

where death vanishes forever.

L’chaim, we say. To life. To life!

How lucky we are to be here, together.

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