On New Year Resolutions

The very thought of making New Year Resolutions and lifestyle changes at this time of year has me diving back underneath the duvet cover. 

But these two delightful poems have such a light touch they allow me to believe that some permanent life changes for the good are at least within the bounds of possibility, and the second poem shows the reality of what attempts to pray can often be like.

When the Holy Spirit Danced With Me in My Kitchen
by Anthony Wilson 

the first thing I noticed was his arms,
thick and hairy like a bricklayer’s
with a tattoo of an anchor
as Churchill had.

‘Coming for a spin?’ he grinned,
in an accent more Geordie than Galilee,
and he whirled me
through tango, foxtrot and waltz
without missing a beat.

‘You’re good,’ I said.  ‘Thanks,’
he said, taking two glasses to the tap.
‘You’re not so bad yourself,
for someone with no sense of rhythm
and two left feet.’
He gave me a wink.

‘It’s all in the waist.
The movement has to start there
or it’s dead.’
‘You’ll find it applies to most things,’
he went on, grabbing the kettle.
‘Writing, cooking, kissing,
all the things you’re good at,
or think you are.’
He winked again.

‘You don’t mind me asking,’ I said,
‘but why are you here?’
                             ‘I thought it was about time,’
he said. ‘I mean, you’ve been full stretch,
haven’t you, what with your job,
feeling like a taxi for the kids,
your family living far away,
and you ‘in your head’ all the time
as you said to someone last week.’

I looked at him and nodded. 
  ‘Go on.’
‘I was going to.’
He got down some mugs.
‘Let’s say I was concerned about you.
The thing is, the three of us,
we like you a lot.
We think you’ve got real potential
as a human.  You’re kind and humorous. 
You’re also a little scatty.
We like that.  By the way, that fish curry
you made on Saturday was first class.’

‘You know about that?’
‘Everything you get up to,’
he smiled.  ‘It’s nothing to panic about.
Really.  To tell you the truth
you could do with loosening up a little.
Try not beating yourself up the whole time.
A little less rushing everywhere
would do you good, too.’

‘I thought you might say that.’
‘Look at me,’ he said.
‘I came to say:
Keep Going, and Relax.
Also: keep things simple.
If you are doing one thing,
do that thing.  If you are talking
with someone, listen to them,
do not blame them for being hard work.
Write as if you were not afraid,
and love in this way too.
Be patient with everyone, especially
your relations, who (I can assure you)
think you are rather special.
Make big decisions slowly, and small decisions
fast.  Do not make bitterness your friend.
Pray (I will not mind if you use
made up words for this.)
Garrison was right: ‘Why
have good things you don’t use?’
What you have been given to do,
give yourself to it completely,
only by emptying yourself can you become full.’

By Marie Howe

Every day I want to speak with you. And every day something more important
calls for my attention – the drugstore, the beauty products, the luggage

I need to buy for the trip.
Even now I can hardly sit here

among the falling piles of paper and clothing, the garbage trucks outside
already screeching and banging.

The mystics say you are as close as my own breath.
Why do I flee from you?

My days and nights pour through me like complaints
and become a story I forgot to tell.

Help me. Even as I write these words I am planning
to rise from the chair as soon as I finish this sentence.

from The Kingdom of Ordinary Time (Norton, 2008)
Lifesaving Poems

I also agree with Anthony Wilson's explanation below of why Marie Howe's poem is so good:

"First, I love the clarity of its language. Second, I admire its tackling of complex spiritual material without sounding coy, ironic or mystical. Even though mysticism is directly referred to in the poem, the actual world of the poem remains grounded in the here and now of travel, appointments and 'garbage trucks'. 

It is the apparently unresolvable tension between these pressing realities and the call of something other on the speaker's attention that gives the poem its energy.
I love this poem of spiritual longing. 
I have cut it out and attached it to the shelf above my desk. I lift my eyes from my screen and it hangs there, silently rebuking me."

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