Thursday, January 1, 2015

Decembert 31st - Richard Hoffman

All my undone actions wander
naked across the calendar,

a band of skinny hunter-gatherers,
blown snow scattered here and there,

stumbling toward a future
folded in the New Year I secure

with a pushpin: January's picture
a painting from the 17th century,

a still life: Skull and mirror,
spilled coin purse and a flower.

I think the way Hoffman visualizes and personifies his "undone actions" from the past years is charming and clever.  His characterization of them is both as something with agency (hunter-gatherers) and as fatalistic (blown snow).  The hunters move, but they know not where or why.  The reality is because Hoffman didn't complete his checklist, so these things have to be shuffled forward through demarcated time, but they don't know that.  And he secures it all in place with a pushpin, presumably to be blown about into the future at a later date.

The observation of the painting which accompanies this calendar work is unremarkable and bare bones (get it?).  We can read a lot into it if we want (coin purse representing fortune lost, flower for love, skull for death, mirror for self-reflection upon death, and so on) but I think we as readers should do as Hoffman's narrator does, and merely take notice of it.  He doesn't say if he finds it nice, or off-putting, or any other sort of emotionally charged viewing, he merely sees it.  Sometimes the description is enough, and it's up to us to draw our conclusions.

This may be a reach, and it is certainly me injecting my own sensibilities into the poem, but I get the feeling that Hoffman feels as I do about celebrating the New Year; it's largely pointless and an arbitrary celebration we stage out of a sense of obligation.  His undone deeds are moved because the calendar changed, not because he particularly cares or cannot possibly do them right now.  It's the same as New Year's resolutions.  If you need a change in date to strive towards some goal, you're probably going to fail.  I don't think we can reasonably extract that from the poem, but it fits my sentiments rather well, and so I thought I'd share.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks! I enjoy your daily poetry blog as well, and am happy to see you comment.