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QUINTESSENCE

One Life


ONE LIFE TO LIVE
by Billy Collins

This is the only life I have, this one in my head,
the one that travels along the surface of my body
singing the low voltage song of the ego,

the one that feels like a ball between my ears
sometimes, and other times feels absolutely galactic,

the life that my feet carry around like two blind
scholars working together on a troublesome manuscript.

This is the only life I have, and I am standing
dead in the center of it like a man doing a rope trick
in a rodeo, passing the lasso over his body,
smiling inside a twirling of ovals and ellipses.

This is the only life I have and I never step out of it
except to follow a character down the alleys of a novel
or when love makes me want to remove my clothes
and sail classical records off a cliff.

Otherwise you can always find me within this hoop of
myself,
the rope flying around me, moving up to encircle my head
like the equator or a halo or a zero.



What a dazzling sketch of imagery. Billy Collins's One Life to Live swoops us from the rodeo grandstands down into the dirt of daily existence. Man against beast. The mundane wrestling the extraordinary. What are we breaking, what are we taming? Our wants, our transgressions? Collins's poem breaks open a nugget of strange truth: to be human is both small and "absolutely galactic." How self-limiting and limited by the self the experience of living may be. Our days and thoughts, our sense of self, loop in continuous gyration. As if this one life were a tilting, dizzying, ticket to ride.

We end one year and begin another - an arbitrary division of breaths if there ever was one - and I imagine that poetic lasso whirling, whirling, circling endlessly over our heads. Is this the year the hoop will drop and there will be no further evolutions of time? Or is this to be another year of halos and zeros...a haphazard, inadequately appreciated journey through the day by day? Perhaps this is the year of mastery, and the lasso sails around with ease.

I'm not a fan of year-end lists, "best of" summations, resolutions, or fresh starts. But I do welcome the idea of a personal review: a long moment of reflection and contemplation. An aware acknowledgement what is past is behind us, and what is yet to come whirls above, a rope trick in the making. As we stand within the oval of this life, this one life we have to live, we command the equator of both potential and actual, good and failed, promise and regret. This "one life" is forever an act in progress. A flick of the wrist. A halo around the ego. Me. You.

If you celebrate the New Year, then I wish for you in 2016 the joy of belting out your own song, finding perfect pitch and an endless chorus when days fade or grow weary. Let life be that tune you hum in your head, the beat that carries you along, what holds you in the center of your evolutions, in the sweet spot of this one life.


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