A weekly poem, accessibly annotated.
This week I’ve chosen “New Year’s Day” by Kim Addonizio.
New Year’s Day
The rain this morning falls
on the last of the snow
and will wash it away. I can smell
the grass again, and the torn leaves
being eased down into the mud.
The few loves I’ve been allowed
to keep are still sleeping
on the West Coast. Here in Virginia
I walk across the fields with only
a few young cows for company.
Big-boned and shy,
they are like girls I remember
from junior high, who never
spoke, who kept their heads
lowered and their arms crossed against
their new breasts. Those girls
are nearly forty now. Like me,
they must sometimes stand
at a window late at night, looking out
on a silent backyard, at one
rusting lawn chair and the sheer walls
of other people’s houses.
They must lie down some afternoons
and cry hard for whoever used
to make them happiest,
and wonder how their lives
have carried them
this far without ever once
explaining anything. I don’t know
why I’m walking out here
with my coat darkening
and my boots sinking in, coming up
with a mild sucking sound
I like to hear. I don’t care
where those girls are now.
Whatever they’ve made of it
they can have. Today I want
to resolve nothing.
I only want to walk
a little longer in the cold
blessing of the rain,
and lift my face to it.
This was my favorite because it surprised me. Instead of a resolution, the end of the poem embraces the mud and rain of the present moment. No resolutions is a common sentiment, but it is particularly refreshing when Addonizio ceases empathizing with her lost classmates: “I don’t care // where those girls are now.” (Lofty pronouncements are hard to resist.)
The poem marks the passage of time: the snow is melting, her peers are aging. But our narratives are only that—just stories. Even the aging classmates know it: their lives just keep happening “without ever once // explaining anything.” Addonizio doesn’t “know / why I’m walking out here.” For me, that meaninglessness is the great argument for poetry: for a few stanzas, the fog of nonsense lifts. Maybe the brevity of the form helps—a poem doesn’t pretend to offer grand answers.
Of course, poetry is just one of many little fires we build out here in the void. Let’s make a bonfire this year.
Quick notes: The poem proposes looking at “other people’s houses” as a universal or near-universal experience, which seems both true and, as poetic subject matter, novel. In New York, other people’s apartment buildings are often the only vista available.
I found the girls-cows analogy elegant, although part of me wishes Addonizio had followed “I don’t care // where those girls are now” with “And fuck the cows, too.”
For extra New Year’s realness, read this poem. Try as we might, this year we’ll all hear “the clean crack of our promises breaking.” Human after all, 2014.
Poem republished in accordance with principles of fair use.
Bizarrely apropos photo stolen from this McSweeney’s t-shirt, which you should buy.
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