Monday, August 18, 2014

#138: "To Do in the New Year" by Anna Lena Phillips

~This poem first appeared in International Poetry Review (2011).

Be ribbon. Be bone.
Be lace. Be stone.
Make a bow of yourself—no,
make of yourself a bear.
Furl fur, steer windward.
Make of yourself
a byre. Shimmer. Ray,
then bow: ends
unravel, ravel,
unfurl. Make of yourself
a curl, a funnel. Bay.
Whine. Say
soon, daffodils
will, miracle
gone before we know.
And that is how time.
And that is how.
Be still. Steal in. Stare.
Make of yourself
a string unwinding
forever, fire,
make of yourself
a halo of obstacles, make
inroads, make a solution
of sunshine, be seed.             
Cede. Be siloed.
Cease for a while, be
quilted; in creases,
fall seaward. From hulls,
rise, riled up, increase, raise up
sounds of your name
in water, make yourself
golden, yield.



            I am a maker of lists. I have grand and broad intentions, and in the skinny particular, these become depressing, because it’s hard to change, because checking things off takes time, because there is always another list to make, another set of obligations and ideas being written behind my eyes.
            This poem is a new year’s resolution and a to-do list, but one that will not chastise you for not accomplishing what’s on it. I made it in early 2010. I had gone to India, to a place in Maharashtra State that has been a home to me but to which I hadn’t been for nearly seven years. I sat mornings in a dining hall with varnished wood tables and whitewashed walls and big windows, and I drank chai and wrote, using an ancient IBM ThinkPad that I’d gotten off Freecycle so I could take a computer along without worrying about breaking my Mac. It was a Linux machine, so no Microsoft Word. I was outside of my life; I was more in it than I’d been in a long time.
            I sat at one of those wooden tables, thinking to myself, this is what I want you to do, and this, now this, this. Thinking of the sounds I wanted, of what fell from the sound before, like eating my way through a series of diverse little treats, like colors, like the colors of words.
            I was thinking also of the field where I first learned to drive, a field up the road from my parents’ house in upstate South Carolina that was made into hay each year. When I reread the poem now, this is clear, but I didn’t notice it was part of the poem until much later: the pale-gold grass of that place. I’m lucky that it’s still a field, that I can still go back there. Other friends, who grew up near different fields and woods, have not been so lucky.
            This is how it always happens for me: In India, writing a poem and thinking, without even realizing it, of the hay field near my parents’ in South Carolina; in the Carolinas, missing and missing the dusty sweet air of the Deccan plateau.
            The list hasn’t worn out for me yet, but when it does, I’ll make a new one.



Anna Lena Phillips teaches in the department of creative writing at UNC Wilmington and is editor of Ecotone and of Lookout Books. She is the author of A Pocket Book of Forms, a travel-sized guide to poetic forms, and the maker of Forces of Attention, a series of printed objects designed to help people modulate their use of the Internet and screened devices to their liking. Her projects and pursuits are documented here

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