The Meaning of – a poem by David Chorlton

The Meaning of

New Year’s Eve: the last clouds burning
down behind South
Mountain; traffic on the freeway
already slowing toward midnight
and a neighbor asks
about meaning at the end of a year with low crimes
in high places. Time to reflect
on a night in Agrigento, when Alfonso, a local
man with bad teeth,
threw a bottle full of wishes
from the church steps into
the future and the future
became glass and stars with just enough
regret to give the moment poignancy. Alfonso
wasn’t the type to care
about philosophers. He wouldn’t share
Prosecco, only toast friends of the moment
with a glass of Sicilian air, glad for a second chance
in his only life. From then
to now a long journey, and the Curve-billed
thrashers are working
at the cactus in front of the house, with much
to do before springtime. It’s been
a year to separate
those for from those
against, and meaning doesn’t take
a theory. It takes last week’s rainfall
that made a dry river flow. It takes
a sign at the door to a bar that says
Militia not welcome here.
As for religion
even the gods are undecided
over which of them is real. The javelinas
who came down the street last week
knew they were real, the soul
that wakes up at two am
and worries its way to six
is real, and the flinching back
from TV morning news
is real. Then there was Keats
proclaiming beauty as truth, though
the truths currently circulating
are anything but. The stony, winding path
through the universe
leads to the next sunrise. A glow rippling
westward. The blue ring
around a Mourning dove’s eye. The water
left out in the desert
for someone crossing to a better life. The stamp
in a passport that allows
a spirit to go
where the body is forbidden. Even as
we contemplate the mysteries
men are drafting laws
to make them insignificant, evangelists
select chapter and verse
to justify their love for money
and the military budget’s been in orbit
so long nobody
can bring it back down. But a dollar
is still a dollar to the homeless,
tempest-tost who are tired, poor
and huddled who never read Nietzsche
or Schopenhauer. Australia
is on fire tonight while they are cold.
A voice comes from the sky
to say There’s nothing you can do, as
another one leaves its place in the mind or
heart or wherever in the body it rests
to ask Did you ever hear
that Leonard Cohen song? You know, the one
about Democracy in which
he says he’s junk but still is holding up
this little wild bouquet.

 

David Chorlton was born in Austria, grew up in Manchester, England, and lived in Vienna before moving to Phoenix in 1978. The Bitter Oleander Press published Shatter the Bell in my Ear, translations of poems by Austrian poet Christine Lavant, and a long poem, Speech Scroll comes from Cholla Needles Arts & Literary Library.

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