Gabrielle Calvocoressi, "At Last the New Arriving"

So much joy in Gabrielle Calvocoressi's "At Last the New Arriving." So much joy you might miss the struggle.

Gabrielle Calvocoressi, "At Last the New Arriving"

So much joy in Gabrielle Calvocoressi's "At Last the New Arriving." So much joy you might miss the struggle. She says "[t]he city will open its mouth and cry / out," and I'm reminded of every Christmas hymn. Angels and shepherds and neighborhoods and kings all shouting alleluia. There are times you need the city to do that for you. She shifts to a "fighter with his eyes swelled shut" who obviously isn't only celebrating a win. He could certainly use "the whole damn purse." Finally, she imagines Easter bread which reminds us of grandma. However, we'd like grandma back.

I said "struggle." I said struggle goes with joy in this poem. I could also say grief, and truth be told, I'd like to talk about both. For me, this year has been amazing. I've gotten serious chances to build a career, chances I know are incredibly rare. I've got to be grateful, I've got to do my best, and at the same time it still hurts when other people can't see the combination of joy and struggle. There's real grief when people dismiss you even as you're doing that much more. I would love to tell you that the opinions of others do not matter in the least, but while some are obsessed with getting praise, you also, as a normal person, need feedback. You would be disturbed if you threw a rock in a lake and failed to see ripples. In a similar way, a lot of us hear silence exactly when we shouldn't. Or we're given some version of "leave me alone" by those who are supposed to know better.

With this in mind, I read "At Last the New Arriving" as a new dispensation for someone experiencing struggles I can only imagine. The poem has a vibe of being rejected, beat up, and excluded at Catholic school. I went to Catholic school for a long time. I didn't have the worst of it, but now I can see more clearly what the worst of it was. I wouldn't wish it on anyone; it demands justice no less than the day of the Lord arriving like a thief in the night.

At Last the New Arriving (from Poetry)
Gabrielle Calvocoressi

Like the horn you played in Catholic school
the city will open its mouth and cry

out. Don't worry 'bout nothing. Don't mean
no thing. It will leave you stunned

as a fighter with his eyes swelled shut
who's told he won the whole damn purse.

It will feel better than any floor
that's risen up to meet you. It will rise

like Easter bread, golden and familiar
in your grandmother's hands. She'll come back

heaven having been too far from home
to hold her. O it will be beautiful.

Every girl will ask you to dance and the boys
won't kill you for it. Shake your head.

Dance until your bones clatter. What a prize
you are. What a lucky sack of stars.

I can't imagine being continually punished for one's sexuality. Calvocoressi builds bridges. "Like the horn you played in Catholic school / the city will open its mouth and cry / out." The band geek, pushed to the back, wants to make one notable sound that's theirs. The thing is, if they do that, it is the equivalent of the entire city crying out. To have any success in a world structured to oppress you and steal from you is monumental. It is monumental even with privilege, but from within a nest of haters?

Survival is miserable. Your wins, though they may be as big as a city crying, aren't felt. Instead they are ignored. Everyone else purposely starves you of attention and then you feel like you didn't do anything of note. Calvocoressi's poem is startlingly clear but tough, with advice for life so difficult that everyone who takes it is basically Batman. "Don't worry 'bout nothing. Don't mean / no thing." Fortunately there are many of them. You have to believe your one note on the horn is as good as a jazz medley. You can't worry but have to learn to celebrate while waiting. The next world demands its citizens act accordingly now.

In like manner, I look at Calvocoressi's descriptions of a beaten but victorious prize-fighter and someone bawling their eyes out over the loss of their grandmother as advancing the logic of beatitude. "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth;" "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." To fight, win, and be barely aware of what you won isn't virtuous or prudential. You've endured a thrashing. You're doing what you can to create another world. Eschatological language is necessary here because we're talking about the transformation of morality itself. The Romans crucifying Christians and feeding them to lions thought they were defending the old ways. They thought their brutality advanced righteousness.

You have learn to celebrate. You have to imagine how your grandmother welcomed you, how she created a space for all of her family with Easter bread. There's nothing good in dwelling on those that didn't want you around. On that note, you might wonder if you're twisting memory a bit. Was grandmother so much more than heaven itself? It doesn't matter–you've envisioned what's worth giving. The new arriving rises like the Easter bread you imagine.

Appropriately, the poem ends at what seems to be a school dance. Here you are, back in high school, knowing that the world you need might be decades if not centuries away. "Shake your head. / Dance until your bones clatter." Your joy is earned like no one else's. The new arriving, the kingdom of heaven, is here, now. It was meant for you and everyone like you. You've got to trust you dance like no one else, because you do. Some will never see it. You bear witness to yourself. "What a prize / you are. What a lucky sack of stars."