Bo: the Calling to Serve
When our spiritual sap starts rising


The first creative act of the new year: I find an empty manila folder, uncap a blue pen with a thick nib, and inscribe the tab with "POEMS 2014."

It's the first poetry-related creative act, anyway. I wrote a d'var Torah last week, beginning 2014 not with poetry but with prose.

That's not surprising. I can't remember a year when I began writing new poems as soon as the calendar page had turned. Poetry doesn't require the kind of temporal spaciousness needed for writing a novel; it's something I can work on in fits and starts, an hour here, an afternoon there. But it does require emotional and spiritual spaciousness. And that's usually in short supply around the start of January.

Since late November, I've juggled Thanksgiving, our son's birthday, Chanukah, a family simcha on the other side of the state, a visit to my family in Texas, Christmas, school break, winter storms, New Year's, and more houseguests than I can count. Also synagogue work in all of its usual forms. There's been a lot of wonderful! But precious little normalcy: the usual flow of weekdays and Shabbat, workdays and childcare, meditation and prayer.

Poetry -- my poetry, anyway -- requires emotional and spiritual breathing room.

January seventh. The old year is really and truly behind us. 2014 stretches ahead. And now my POEMS 2014 folder waits to receive the first slim draft.

I won't write a poem today. I probably won't write a poem this week. But my desk is tidied. The holiday wrapping paper which had taken up temporary residence on the floor has been cleared away. I've re-hung the poems and my Bennington diploma on the newly-repainted wall of my study. When I stop typing, all I can hear is quiet. These are first steps.

Many years ago, when I worked for the artist Jenny Holzer, I typed up the following quote on a piece of brown paper and hung it over my desk:

I do not write every day, I read every day, think every day, work in the garden every day, and recognize in nature the same slow complicity. The same inevitability. The moment will arrive, always it does, it can be predicted but it cannot be demanded. I do not think of this as inspiration. I think of it as readiness. A writer lives in a constant state of readiness. (-- Jeanette Winterson)

Readiness. One breath after the next. Breathing in; breathing out. Right here; right now. The manila folder of my year is open. Receptive. Ready.