By now, we’re well into 2014. The dream of the new year is crashing up against the reality of the new year. If you’re anything like me, perhaps you’ve already broken a few of your new year’s resolutions. I, for one, pledged that I would give up coffee, but here I am, at a fancy coffee shop, drinking a decadent latte. In earlier years, I would have felt badly about such a slip. I might’ve scolded myself. I might’ve redoubled my efforts. This year, I toast the Gods of Coffee and take another sip. Screw it. The electric zag of coffee up and down my veins is too good to give up cold-turkey.
At the bottom of my drink, in the brown dregs, I see a face. Oh, there she is, darkness my old friend: Miss Prim and Proper. Miss Discipline. Miss Do As You’re Told. Lips pursed, she frowns at me and shakes her head. My bravado fades, readily replaced with ye aulde familiar feeling — guilt. I’ve already broken my resolution.
One moment rebellious, the other repentant, all in the time it takes for me to down a cup of coffee. Dear lord.
When I find myself in a confused mood such as this, which I would describe as classically ambivalent — that is, literally of two minds — I know I need a poem that will buoy and bolster my spirits, a poem that will remind me that my miniature psychodramas are simply part and parcel of this wonderful/terrible project we’re all engaged in. It’s called Daily Life.
I discovered such a poem in Soul in Space (Wave Books, 2013), Noelle Kocot’s newest collection. It’s called “This Is The Day.” I like the poem for a number of reasons (the sassy yet earnest tone! the inexplicable line breaks! the description of the moon! the last two lines that punch me in the face with their pathos!), not the least of which is its matter-of-fact exploration of Daily Life — the small hopes, great fears, and quiet triumphs. So, here it is, my New Year’s gift to you:
Forget the old Romantic descriptions of daybreak and celestial bodies! For Kocot, morning does not arrive gently or beautifully, it “kicks” the world awake. The rising sun is a “razorburn,” the setting moon is a “scar.” In this poem, waking up to a new day is a dramatic and painful birth.
“I am not lost,” the poet tells us almost immediately (line three) and again soon thereafter (line eight), as if she needs to remind herself of the fact. Kocot then notes that “I settle like the room settles,/ Slowly, slowly,” which makes me think that this act of waking up — spiritual awakening? — is an uncomfortable and startling event that requires a “settling” afterwards, a coming down to earth, back to the ordinariness of the bedroom, say.
I sense anxiety at the edges of this poem (that desire to “settle” down), and despair, too, especially in Kocot’s reminder — again, seemingly to herself — that there are good things in her future (art, song, snow, etc.) to look forward to.
Present with the anxiety and despair is what, for lack of a better word, I’m going to call hope, not so much “that thing with feathers,” more that thing with, to quote Kocot, “kinks and bumps and waiting,” that rough-edged thing, that tough, kick-ass, leather-jacketed thing that helps us through. Maybe the word I’m searching for here is hutzpah.
After all, who/what has more hutzpah than a star? Such impudence, such audacity, such brilliant extravagance! “Stellar is the word I would use/ to describe my own life,” Kocot admits. (Her soul is in space, after all….)
The joy of “This Is The Day” is its ability to contain multiple emotional vectors. This is roomy poem, a spacious poem, a poem that contains multitudes. It’s able to hold within it the day’s happy “grapefruit” and its “razorburns” and “scars.”
In my opinion, the last lines of the poem are emblematic of the whole. On the one hand, they could be read as completely depressing — the poet is all alone, no one “calls [her] anymore.” On the other hand, Kocot’s own life, which she terms a “refuge,” is the one that is calling her and always and forever with her.
How should we read those last two lines? Hopeful or despairing? Happy or miserable? I think its ambivalence is the takeaway message.