A Poet's Resolution

Because most nights, these days, I’m asleep by 9:30, one of my resolutions this year was to be more spontaneous.


So when my brother called and invited me up to Maine for the New Years’ Polar Bear Plunge, I said yes, because this was just the kind of idiotic thing that spontaneous people do.


The problem was, though, that it happened to be abnormally warm – sixty-degrees and sunny – on the day my brother called. Jumping into the ocean sounded almost refreshing. Then the weather turned, and all of a sudden it was twenty degrees. And windy. And Maine was still a couple of hours north.


I began thinking about the word, resolution – wondering if it was really possible to resolve to be more spontaneous. Can one truly make a firm and unwavering commitment to being more impulsive? Or do these opposing forces lead one into the vortex of an unresolvable paradox?


Maybe I was just trying to negotiate my way out of jumping into the frigid waters, but the truth is the only practical skill we have as poets is manipulating language to get out of doing things that we said we would do.


And so, as we crossed state lines, I began to wonder if the true meaning of resolution had nothing to do with self-improvement but was really about the clarity and sharpness of an image.


On the rocky shores of Kettle Cove, I watched my nephews and niece strip down to their bathing suits. A bald eagle soared above us, as though jumping into a sea of hypothermia was a distinctly American way to start off the New Year. People pointed to that symbolic bird circling the skies with an assured sense of national pride.


But my eyes were on the ground, wary of stepping in wet sand – and it was there that I noticed a small but wise crab, slinking sideways around the bare toes of my countrymen towards the protected safety of the tide pools.




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About the Author

Ben Berman’s first book, Strange Borderlands, won the 2014 Peace Corps Award for Best Book of Poetry and was a finalist for the Massachusetts Book Awards. His second collection, Figuring in the Figure, was recently selected as a Must-Read by the Mass Center for the Book. And his new book, Then Again, came out last November. He has received awards from the New England Poetry Club and fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and Somerville Arts Council. He teaches at Brookline High School and lives in the Boston area with his wife and two daughters.

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