It starts with a dropped ball and resolutions. It always has since 1907, save those two years when we dropped bombs instead. It sits up there, One Times Square, forever watching, crystal and LEDs, a reminder that this year too will end and everything that was dropped can indeed be dropped again.
My sheet is short: write more, read more, talk less, lift heavy things and put them back down again, like weights, my emotions, my future. I’ll reach you in the end, I told 2016 that I would.
A Blackstar dropped next. Stars fall but they are often shiny and poetic and hopeful. He wrote that memo – Starman fizzles out, black in the end, but the kind of black painted in so many colors that none shine through. We were all richer for his light, but real riches are nice too. Fever grips us, me and you, because wouldn’t $1.6 billion be nice? Two whirlwind days, 11 and 12, high and a low, on the smile of a fearless Saban and the foot of a flawless Griffith, though that’s not really luck in the end, but preparation. My numbers aren’t lucky either, so it goes.
Life’s built on small things that add to big things, so declares the World Health Organization. Math with mosquitoes and microcephaly. Travel warnings and pregnancy warnings, though those things weren’t on the goal sheet for January. Every day seems a new way to meet it, starting from the most intimate to the least, a pierce, sex, a kiss, a hug, through the air until it exists in every thought and on every Senate floor. The doctors and geneticists respond, and gridlock helps everything slow. But I’ve got clean water and clean blood and hurt for those who don’t.
It starts in Iowa, chaotic rooms, shouting and sides and head counts. Starts there every time, but common things can be weird too. Clinton and Cruz, we welcome our new overlords, even if our system is wonky. New Hampshire is more civilized, good ‘ole queues, but Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders? Don’t know who to venerate.
Time’s on a parallax kick. Days blur even if I’ve been in college forever, even if by clerical error Spring Semester 2016 lasts not months but years. Each test is weeks apart but feels like hours, even if finals never seem to come. I blink and I’m 5 endless weeks in, and off my marks. 500 words a day? Try 45, and not a pound of muscle more than that. Math wasn’t on the February sheet, but I’ve always been good at it, averages are easy and you’re further away.
Winter starts off white in the stories, but black is the color of the season. Singing Black Panthers on the TV screen, and it turns out horses can still stomp on cats and old goats are always better than the kids. Black velvet across a black seat under red stripes and white stars. An earthquake on the east coast for once, 4-4 deadlock, crying and rejoicing and tributes to one of the great legal minds of the age, the ignitor of liberal critics and conservative thinkers. We’ve got division, we’ve got problems, but at least there’s no tear gas on our legislative floor and DiCaprio finally got his statue.
Did you see the Pope meet the Patriarch? They say old dogs don’t learn new tricks, but turns out there’s a half-life to grudges after all. Schisms and chasms can be crossed after, what, 962 years? Did they talk about LIGO’s ripples in our fabric? That Einstein was right once again about things bigger than the ecumenical? Life’s built on small things and God spoke in math after all.
It starts on stage in Detroit, small hands and innuendos, a colorful arena, patriotic Mondrian, Composition II in Red, White and Blue. Remember those days of yore when our leaders were thinkers and speakers and you could rough up the protesters? Lincoln and Aurelius and Demosthenes, I think their names were.
All roads lead to Rome, but people only wanted to move on to Germany, and besides, most roads were closed anyway. And besides besides, send them to Turkey; EU’s had enough. I saw an image of a gradient sky and a golden dime at arm’s length. Three men waved three boats ashore, the lucky ones, the ones who didn’t drown under the crushing weight of hope and the Mediterranean. Boats float on and waves lap and there are no borders in heaven.
I could hear the bombs through the computer screen, shrapnel in 140 characters. 35 died in Belgium, but only 3 had meant to. 75 in Lahore. Life’s built on small things but the big things make more noise. ISIS the first, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar the second, but do labels survive the weight of nails and steel and a couple kilograms of glycerol?
It’s hot on the deck of the pool, and I worry about sweating through my crimson polo. The air lies thick upon the water, impregnated with a chlorine fire that burns the lungs. The electric energy in the space is dangerous, especially to swimmers – you can do anything here. My team pushes ahead, another national championship trophy on its meteoric rise, and why do we call it that anyway? Meteors fall – like the jaws in the stands. You walk further away this week as I stand and cheer idle, but forgive me this transgression, as I watch my friends and brothers live the lives I might have lived in some other timeline.
It starts with back-to-back threes and the greatest and worst moment of their lives. As if reality is a zero sum game. Immortality is infinite, but the greatest ever can only name one moment, one person, and across the nation you could feel the title whirl down the court, first Carolina blue and then a darker shade.
You’re far now, but that’s ok I say. School got in the way, but it’s fading fast, and then we’ll only have the road. Final tests and then finals, as if they’re different. And don’t you know? Someone promised me a job and someone else thought my poetry was good enough to put on a page that wasn’t mine, so that has to count for something. Life’s built on small things and poetry is built on words that don’t make orange. I read lines on a tape no one will hear, but I’ve got it bookmarked.
Beautiful talking heads say more people shot, new people shot, but not knowing what Aleppo is does not make them nameless. The Queen lives forever but the Prince dies as a ceasefire collapses. As if ceasefires had any weight at all and men did not love their triggers. All these places always had ruins, at least in our lifetimes, but what do you call a ruined ruin? Rocks and holes.
It starts on a field in Chelsea. 2-2 does not catch the eye, but 5000-1 does, and a probable draw turns into the most improbable of moments. Foxes are cunning, everyone knows it, but did you know they’re also ruthless, setting blue fire to everything in their path as their tails sashay in the ash? God hath a second son, and his name be Vardy or Ranieri, depending on who you ask. Betting on impossible outcomes wasn’t on the goal sheet for us, but it should have been.
I walk down a stage and a woman hands me a leather book that inside says something akin to “your degree will be conferred pending the verification of your final grades.” Across the stage, we step in equal strides. I walk down the rows, smile when told to, and walk out into the real world. The column on our shoulders evaporates into air, replaced with this empty book. America’s national pastime is the commencement address, but it feels like Alabama’s are football and procrastination. I fit in well, and the family makes everything worth it.
Sixteen years is fatiguing, but so are twelve months, with six still to go, especially when the American identity is won by reality show. No immunity challenge, no payday for you, only elimination and deep tans and tribal councils. People shout into angry space but don’t say anything. Life’s built on small things but they don’t make good TV. Good TV is the Cosby Show, is a nature documentary about gorillas. Live long enough to become the villain, or be shot down and become a legend.
It starts with a butterbee made of fists. Most float often and sting once, but he did not care for numbers, this man of kilned clay and loose lips. He spoke in aphorisms and vainglorious braggadocio, and best rhymes with fist if you try hard enough. If we were older and read closely, we’d have seen him 37 times, back When He Was King, back when he knocked out Foreman and tooth decay, but we aren’t and we didn’t so we only saw him walk back to the chrysalis. They only put his name on the stone; what can you say that’s not already been said? Life’s built on small things but our struggles make them grand.
When can you name a year? Christen it the year of falls and comebacks by June. I’m back on track, or at least made it to the stands. 35k in a month to catch up? Probably impossible, but I have a website now, and that wasn’t even on the list! Can’t imagine you managed that one, too much time spent putting down heavy things. You can be flashy, your arcs can be electric and needed, but Lebron took it all in the end anyway, so what’re we going to remember?
One is so much easier to remember than 49, but I never even learned it. All these executive actions, what we really need are guns that fire in other registers, so the flames don’t acquiesce into the sounds. Basses rocking, the drink and the mood and the man makes one stumble. Only 17% of the flag is red, but 50 say it’s all red tonight, and 50 as one weep. E. Pluribus Unum. In Love we trust.
I have to work in the morning (though that depends on the population) but I ignore it to watch the news. I think I need it, deep down, the validation of millions who live in towns I can’t pronounce. What’s globalization other the chance to chuckle at silly names and to read while you watch movies? Life does not give to the wanting, she gives to the taking, but what do the leaving get? A dumb name and the government, for two.
It starts with more bass and a robot and yet another vigil, lit by flickers that dot the night like fallen stars. They brought the drones home, but this one never learned how to fly. Black and blue, are lives lives once they’re gone or do we prefer to call them numbers and stories and candles? It gets hard to count, eventually. The human mind can only handle so many ones, and I know I tap out around 300. Unless you disregard the numbers, and who needs facts and connections and schemes anyway? 100,000 in jail, vetted in a week. Fire the teachers for they honor thought. Fire the judges for they honor justice. All hail King Tayyip.
Spectacle is more fun than politics and wrapping the air in latex is more fun than the air itself. Philadelphia and Cleveland, but might as well have been Broadway. Entry level jobs need three years experience but hey, betcha didn’t realize your mom saying you could be president meant you could be president right then. Give the kid a gold star, he beat up on a gold star. And which Clinton is this? Vote for what you know, I think Washington taught us. We’ve got two Adams, Roosevelts, Harrisons, Bushes. All good things come in twos? Hollywood’s got it figured out. Life’s built on small things and small things and small things.
I think my present drifts. Sometimes it collides with the present I feared, sometimes with the present I dreamt of. My stuff fits into a few bins and a car trunk, a life in a week and one sedan. I even have room for a passenger, and a beautiful girl to take a chance on me. How easily 22 years and a few cubic feet can be packed, sent out west on the open road, to the rolling rock and the land where the air burns. Why are roots the first to grow in plants and the last to grow in us? Now I am built of miles and memories, soon I will be built of vines.
It starts in Eden. Translation is hard, and fraught with errors, but Eve really grabbed grapes at the start, and might have been better for it. But why’d they have to eat them? Press them, barrel them, and drink until you’re gods again. Jesus changed water into wine, and I guess that’s why he’s the divine.
There’s potential in the Napa green, the valley. Like the volcanic land that can grow these fields can grow me too. I’m from a wine family, as much as one can be in the American southeast, and this feels like the home I always wanted to know. It’s like the land exists out of time, a world where roads won’t ever be expanded, where the food is slow, where the air is curiously devoid of power lines and cell signal, and so it always shall be.
Does Rochina have cell signal? Rio might be broke, but debt is free, just make sure the you can’t see the favelas from the stands. 7.5 million tickets at $613 a pop should cover $4.6 billion. They don’t need a president, they just need this to work. First impressions are important and so are roads, but in truth everything else fades in the luster of the gold. We should know, we’ve got over 1000 of them.
The medal table seems vain, but maybe that’s because we top it. Probably thanks to Phelps, the man who forgets he’s not a country, and Biles, the woman who forgets she’s supposed to be real. It doesn’t really matter, the number won’t survive in the mind; that’s what Wikipedia’s for. 4 or 23 or 1, all that survives is the chalk billowing above the bars, the starter buzzer, the splash of the water and the rumble of the crowd, and the hero of a people on his knees, his face wet with tears, as he celebrates the aligning of the stars in Brazil’s greatest game.
Life’s built on small things, but our heroes never seem to remember that.
It starts 25 trillion miles from me. Sometimes science struggles to name things, the creativity monopolized by tests, but what’s a better name than space? Life’s built on small things that float endless in the darkness. This new planet is entrancing, even as it’s buffeted by the vicious solar breeze. Mother has a neighbor, right by the backyard, see how it dances in the sky. And we might need it soon, if Paris falls through like Norcia did. Does eminent domain apply to the heavens?
Twenty-five trillion miles, that’s where I’d like to be. Or rather, any in between the near and the far would suffice. Somewhere grapes don’t grow, my hands don’t burn, and I have time to think again. Wine may be bottled poetry, but it’s a poem writ in blood. Pitch a tent in words. Read to be somewhere else. Write to be someone else. 20k words about a dysfunctional family are the only things keeping me on pace, but the middle miles don’t count if the lead runner is hours ahead.
If someone’s sitting out there, hacking emails, can you tell us why Brangelina split? We needed them in a way; the proof that we can be good, that the fame won’t change us, that love and money can go somewhere other than Stumpf’s or Bresch’s pocket. Eight is great, but even atoms can separate.
It starts on a bus in Burbank. More accurately, it starts in a video on the internet, and then it starts with outrage. Something about being a star and an innuendo with furniture. La-Z-Boy, you know that’s assault, right? Whodathunk “grab them by the pussy” was presidential discourse? I guess Billy does, but the poor guy picked the wrong family business. Rescind a couple endorsements, wait a few days, endorse again, repeat.
Why are the big so often the bad? My grandfather passes, 97, a colonel in the Marines. Seven guns, a sword and a flag watch over him and always will. Send the whole battalion, general, and your congressmen too, because I’ve never heard a single damn bad thing about him. Heads or tails, the next Commander’s got the highest disapproval rating of all time and everyone loved the Colonel until the end. He was not a big man, made smaller by age, but he was bigger than me and bigger than them. Death’s the great equalizer, but life could learn a thing or two. He bought us a dog, back in ’02, and got to see that pup grow old. A world on two legs, four paws, and unyielding devotion. Life’s built on small things and they’re ones my family taught me.
Each morning I wake and check the news. The Office on in the background to start the day off right. The days go wrong fast, so bank the hours while I can. Lots of Nobels, but Dylan sticks out. Music is poetry, always has been, but it’s nice to hear someone else say it. How can something that speaks to us so truthfully not be? Your argument is moot because I feel it in my soul, and that’s the name of the game this year. Is there a Nobel for Shock? I missed that morning. Give it to Comey or the Russians.
It starts with the second act. Intermission was long, 108 years to be exact, but who thinks about the break when the finale is this good? It’s 2016, the year of the 3-1. The year of the extra inning. The year of the rain. All curses break, and all history repeats itself, we’ve just got to be patient.
It’s weird, the words are the same, but how they’re read depends on who you are. Donald Trump is Elected President. Maybe it’s a sign that one really can be anything and that the world can be taken back. Maybe it’s a sign that the glass ceiling was a little thicker than we thought. Maybe it’s a sign that we don’t know as much about each other as we thought we did. Does the fight for what you believe still matter if you lose? Does it still matter after you win? My phone rings, friends crying. What can you say to counsel someone, really? Sometimes, all we want is to hear the breath on the line. Life’s built on small things and they get us through the night.
Four months I lasted, and don’t they always write poems and stories about resiliency? It’s two sides of the coin; on one face I survived, and I’m proud of that. On the other, what now? It feels so abnormal to be aimless in this world of social media and the “here I am and here’s what I’ve done.” When the plan I made on my couch in Alabama falls apart, what step do I take next? First, I drive home. You’re miles ahead, stronger and faster and better read, but I’m going home and I’ll recoup there. Only 2400 miles to cross. I’ve always thought the country was too big. But it was always separated by rolling plains and sunburnt dirt. Now I worry it’s separated by canyons, like the coasts have sheared off.
Thanksgiving with the brother, his girlfriend, and my old roommate. Silly us for thinking some place other than fast food would be open. The line outside of Target stretches endlessly into the Thursday Black. Wendy’s and frosties and Moe’s, just like the pilgrims. Isn’t that what the season’s all about? Our connections, our lives and our histories? Set the table for four. After months of eating alone, it’s the best burger I’ve ever had.
It starts with whiskey coke, a pretty girl, and an ugly sweater. Or rather, a sweater that isn’t so bad – a man must have his dignity, after all. ’Tis the season to be tacky, decided upon by a jury of your peers. My first Greek life party and I’m not even in school anymore. Good things come to those who wait. The music makes it hard to breathe, but it’s pleasant and familiar. Emerald and ruby lamps carve obliques through the air. At the end of the night, the crowd thins and spills out into the wind. Thank Jesus for the sweaters. It’s not cold enough to wish for fires. Inside, it never is.
A few more days, and then I reach my real home. Play James Taylor as the miles peel away beneath me. Can’t you see the sunshine? Open the door, and a new dog meets me. He’s bigger than the pictures, and he moves a lot more. I’ve just met you and I love you. Did I expect anything else?
Brother comes home soon, sooner than expected, brings the girlfriend. Family’s back together again, plus some more. Though he’s sick; it’s hard to call him here. He leans on her, the house seemingly a blur before his eyes. It’s weird to see that support outside the family, but that’s the way time always goes. I’m just happy he’s here and I’m here and the dog’s here and the family is where I knew they would be. Christmas rolls past and I remember how to breathe.
I don’t think I’ve cried this year, and neither have you, far as you are, but sometimes we cannot help ourselves, for a princess is a princess always, even if the suns go down and the crown never comes. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. 15 minutes is a long time not to breathe, and the breaths she stole for decades could not keep her from the Force.
The numbers get higher before they roll over again. My glass echoes with wine and I drink alone. Well, there’s family here, as there should, but you’re not, the man I wanted to be. You’re far, and you always are, were. Life’s built on small things and I’m built of small steps and DNA and Pinot Noir. The lights on the tree refract in my glass. Red rainbows. The recipe for success. In seventh grade, we did a presentation. Last minute. Choose a song that represents me and you: Queen’s I Want It All. It’s goofy and it’s easy, but it works in a way. That was nine, ten years ago, ten years of summer love and life winds and ephemeral interests and a water worldview and I still don’t have it all. But my list is on paper again: write more, act more, talk less, keep pushing and I’ll meet you next year.
The ball drops again and January is redolent of promise and the cold.