No matter how you say it, no matter what language you use, Happy Chinese New Year! Happy Lunar New Year! 新年快乐!! 新年快樂, 洋洋得意! Wishing you luck in the upcoming Year of the Goat! Gong Xi Fa Cai (Mandarin) and Gong Hey Fat Choy (Cantonese).
I have been asked again this year by the Cupertino Chamber of Commerce to write a poem for their Lunar New Year Luncheon, sponsored by the Asian American Business Council. Information on the February 26th event is here. You may recall that last year I attended the luncheon and read a poem, honoring the Year of the Horse. This year’s poem, honoring the Year of the Goat, will be read by my friend and former Cupertino Library Commissioner, Adrian Kolb (as I will be out of town).
In honor of the day, and the year, here is my poem, “Cupertino, What is Your Moon? A Lunar New Year Sestina.”
Cupertino, What Is Your Moon? A Lunar New Year Sestina
Once a year, the year begins again.
The sun has made his one cycle, the moon
her twelve. The time has come to count your luck,
to launch anew – sure-footed as a goat –
your way, your goals and all your many dreams.
A city – like a woman or a man –
shakes off the dust. Each woman, child, man,
each teenager, each grandmother, again,
each grandfather compares today with dreams
long dreamed, imagined once under the moon
of youth. But truth is stubborn, like a goat,
and dreams as unreliable as luck.
And cities, built of stone, if they have luck,
are only as lucky as their citizens – men
and women – strong-hearted as symbolic goats
(or sheep) will be in the year to come. Again,
we will make plans and love under the moon;
nothing can keep the dreamers from their dreams.
So, Cupertino, what will be your dream?
How hard will you work to make your luck
as certain to come true as the full moon
surely shines in the night for anyone
who waits for clouds to float away again?
And what are we to think of the green goat,
with humble heart, who patiently waits, a goat
after all dreams only goat dreams,
and we are human. Will we try again
our hands at the same games of luck
and chance? Or aim higher, like the man
sent into space, sent to the moon?
Cupertino, what will be your moon?
Will you climb your mountains, like the goat,
will you, every woman, every man,
rededicate your life to those old dreams,
or strike out somewhere new and test your luck?
Now’s the time; the year begins again.
May both the sun and moon shine on your dreams.
May you feel strong and peaceful as the goat, and may your luck
be human, and like the New Year, start again.
(c) Jennifer Swanton Brown
Comments on this poem
The first challenge was to decide on the image of goat or sheep for my poem. I polled my Chinese and Filipino friends. I investigated on the internet. I decided on the goat, since that’s what the Cupertino Chamber is using, and because of some of the internal rhymes available to me (like Cupertin-O) and alliterations (green goat, grandfather, grandmother) seemed right.
(Fortunately, today, NPR has run a lovely story on the radio that the choice of animal in Chinese is not fixed and so either will do.)
I chose the sestina as the technical form for my poem because of its cyclical nature. The repetition of six end-line words in a sestina allows the poet to return again and again to several central images, an apt technique for a poem describing the cyclical nature of the moon and the years of our lives.
Read more about this sestina form here (history from the American Academy of Poets) and information about how to construct a poem of this type, here (Wikipedia).