It’s not just that we are aging.
The deterioration of cells that no longer
grow or divide. Yes, we do age
and cells permanently stop dividing but
we don’t die. Not when we should.

I read today that senescence is defined as the process by which cells irreversibly stop dividing and enter a state of permanent growth arrest – but without undergoing cell death. I couldn’t get the idea out of my mind. Cell death, but not death. I tried in this poem to write it out of my mind.

Ash Wednesday

I hope to turn again one day –
turn from dark death thoughts to life,
to rise from the fire into lightness,
floating like the ashes that rise above
the flames and escape to the sky.

I hope to return to this time
lent us, because I hope the garden
will return from under snow, because hope
is dusted upon the slender one standing
in the distance, haloed by the sun.

palms to ash

This double Ronka poem owes something to T.S. Eliot’s poem, “Ash-Wednesday”, which begins:

Because I do not hope to turn again 
Because I do not hope 
Because I do not hope to turn 

listen to T.S. Eliot reading the poem

Now and at the Hour

Again, I see him as I turn
on the stairs this darkening Ash Wednesday.

Exhausted, I won’t last forty more days
rooted in this ashen terrace of fire.

This fate because I do not hop

TREE ROOTS – Vincent van Gogh

Ash Wednesday is a holy day of prayer and fasting in many Western Christian denominations. It is preceded by Shrove Tuesday and falls on the first day of Lent. Many Christians attend special church services, at which churchgoers receive ash on their foreheads. Ash Wednesday derives its name from this practice, which is usually accompanied by the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The ashes are prepared by burning palm leaves from the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebrations.

Tilting at Windmills

A year full of tilting at windmills.
Enemies imagined, a knight-errant schooled in chivalry
that no longer exists and a need
to withstand suffering, accept reality principles
discard idealistic, romantic, heroic, ideas about dying.

Poor Don Quixote – born into the lowest nobility in La Mancha, he has read so many chivalric romances that he either loses or pretends to have lost his mind. He becomes a caballero andante and wants to revive chivalry. He rides under the name Don Quixote de la Mancha.

He does attack a windmill and “tilting at windmills” became an English idiom that means “attacking imaginary enemies.” In Miguel de Cervantes’ novel, these confrontations are not always against windmills but are ones where he has misinterpreted or misapplied his romantic notions. These largely inopportune, unfounded, and vain efforts against adversaries real or imagined eventually lead him to what Freud called the reality principle – that one must battle to withstand suffering but accept the reality of death.

I suppose this sounds like quite a pessimistic poem for a New Year’s Eve, but do you see the optimism in it too?