The Beauty of Hopelessness by Rebecca del Rio

You are hanging from a branch

by your teeth. No way to save yourself

or others who hang, too. Arms that cannot reach

any branch, legs stretch but

cannot find the smooth safe trunk.

All around, your loved ones, friends, strangers hang–teeth clamp bony twigs

that suspend necessary hopes

and plans.

It is hopeless. No rescue will arrive. So you relax, taste the clean, unfamiliar

tang of sap, feel the forgiving wind against

your waving arms, arms

that swim through emptiness.

Without hope, life is

focused, fluid, a ledge

of fragile earth suspended

over the ocean of unknowing, the end

of the branch. Life is

the glorious moment

before the fall when all

plans are abandoned, the love you give

as you hang, loving

those who hang with you.

The Beauty of Hopelessness

I’ve debated many choices this week, feeling the ripple effects of last week’s trauma which I cannot ignore, yet wanting as always to offer some of the beauty that is inherent in this life. I was intrigued of course by the paradox in this title – when have I ever heard those two concepts paired? Trust a poet to find a way.

As she opens with the image of hanging from a branch by your teeth, I immediately recalled the expression “hanging on by the skin of my teeth”, that tenuous hold on life that we have all experienced at some time. No way to save yourself but look, you are not alone, you are surrounded by loved ones, friends, strangers, hopes and plans suspended together.

Since the situation is hopeless and no rescue available, you relax, stop struggling, feel the forgiving wind against / your waving arms. Here in this place of no hope she tells us life is / focused, fluid, a ledge / of fragile earth suspended / over the ocean of unknowing. It is the glorious moment / before the fall when all / plans are abandoned. What I hear is that we meet that place of uncertainty, unknowing, which is out of our control and in that place what we have is the choice to give our love, to love all those who also hang by their teeth.

And by the end, I can see how there is beauty in hopelessness, room for more compassion and kindness when we stop hoping and wishing for things to be other than they are. May you know beauty in whatever state you find yourself at the start of this never-before year.


For a New Year by Holly Wren Spaulding

Let plain things please you again

and every ordinary Monday.

Bean soup in a white bowl,

firewood in your arms.

The weight of longing.

That you have survived is evidence

that nothing is assured

but you are lucky.

Looking up from this page

let all of it surprise you –

piled mail. other people, the air.

For a New Year

There are many poems about the new year, a time that causes all of us, much less poets, to reflect on what has transpired in the previous twelve months and what the coming months may bring. I first had in mind Anne Hillman’s We Look With Uncertainty but realized I had posted it back in March as we embarked on the unknown journey of the pandemic. The title still calls to me but I chose this one for its immediacy and simplicity which feel necessary as we move deeper into uncertainty albeit with a tender hopefulness.

What could be more simple than her invitation to Let plain things please you again as well as every ordinary Monday. In other words, any ordinary day, with ordinary things we tend to take for granted – soup, a white bowl, firewood in our arms. The weight of longing – this too is something we experience at times, perhaps not even knowing for what, just that inarticulate sense of something we are wanting.

That you have survived is evidence / that nothing is assured / but you are lucky. Reading this, know you have survived these challenging past months, yet as she says, this is not evidence that life is guaranteed but that good fortune has been with you. These are words to take in deeply and then, let all of it surprise you – and she returns us to the plain things, the ordinary days. This is what our lives are made of. Let us be surprised and aware and grateful as never before. May this new year please you.