January 30, 2023

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"New Year" [by Billy Collins]

New Year

Everyone has two birthdays

according to the English essayist Charles Lamb,

the day you were born and new year—

a quirky observation to ponder

while I’m waiting in a kitchen for the tea water to boil,

transformed by the morning light

to one of Matisse’s brilliant rooms.

“No one ever paid attention to the first of January

with indifference,” writes Lamb,

for other than Groundhog Day

or the Feast of the Annunciation,

this marks nothing but the passage of time,

I realized as I lowered a tin diving bell

Tea leaves in a small amount of boiling water.

I admit, regarding my own birthday

as the happy anniversary of my existence

probably because I was and remain

an only child until that cold day at the end of December.

And as an only child…

an only child sipping tea, munching toast

in a colorful room this morning –

I would welcome an extra birthday

another chance to stop what we’re doing

for a moment and think about my existence here on earth.

And one more birthday could be a consolation

to all of us that we must also suffer an anniversary of death,

an X in a square

in some kitchen calendar of the future,

the day each of us will be thrown off the train of time

by a burly, heartless conductor

as it roars through the months and years,

Party hats, candles, confetti and horoscopes

billows in the turbulent storm of its wake.

First published in Ballistics


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