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A New Year

The new year began, as the world fell into a state of unprecedented calm. And the farmer dropped his sickle and froze, witnessing a spectacle overwhelming in its common majesty. The sky was the brightest of blues, unblemished by cloud, the fields stretching before him were as the purest gold and without shadow. The wheat was plentiful and the hive ran with a honey rivaling the gold of the fields. Beyond, the streams were bright and clear as if poured from a crystals infinite center.

The children ceased their play and stood in baffled silence as a host of luminous balloons, wider than great ships, hovered, dipped as if in greeting, then ascended deep into that same blue.

Bowls of bread and fish and fruit materialized in the hands of the hungry. The sun drew the water from raging flood, relieving the saturated earth. The rain satiated drought and the desert flourished. Rivers teamed with fish, pink and plentiful. And the lame ran, the blind spun in a new radiance, and the sick rose refreshed.

The healing worm rose from the clay of creation and the tongue of every living thing brought forth understanding. And laughter rang out and the grieving were comforted. Bells of silver chimed and all bowed their heads, giving thanks. And rainbows circled the earth like the rings of Saturn, and all dipped their fingers into its formlessness and knew that it was good.


I am on the scaffold. What excitement! 
What glitter! What is going on? 
I know so little of this country. 
I suspect its the coronation of the queen. 
NO. Oh god. I'm wrong. 
Its the execution of the queen! 
and I'm trapped. 
there's no way I can help. 
there's no way I can avoid watching. 
perched on this scaffold. 
I gotta bird's eye view. 

The king calls for action. like the 
director of some blown out passion play. 
He makes a weary gesture. 
its clear he hasn't slept in ages. 
first come the ladies in waiting. 
there they are. thirty of them. 
dressed alike. high-waisted 
green taffeta gowns. 

moving alike. medieval majorettes. 
that flemish air. nose in air. 
thirty pairs of tiny hands folded 
over protruding bellies. 

why are condemned women affecting 
a pregnant woman's gesture? 

and how comical it is. thirty sentenced 
women swaying. some very pretty indeed. 
many on the brink of collapse. 

The king is muttering. what is he saying? 
seems my hearing has become as acute as my view. 

"god damn ladies-in-waiting. get rid 
of them. how I've despised them. always 
clutter up the castle. cluck cluck." 

He seems to object to them more than 
the queen. but as the saying goes: 
kill me ya kill my dogs. and vice versa. 
its a package deal. its the rules of 
the game. and a king sticks to them. 

the ladies are in tears. tearing tissues. 
they approach a sizeable block of land. 
its roped off and seasoned with fresh 
topsoil. 3l shovels are lined up face 

The king decrees that they are to dig 
their own grave. Jesus what a rucas. 
The women lose what composure they 
had in the procession. They sob openly. 
they wring their hands and cling to 
one another. several fall prostrate. 
those more distraught tear their hair 
and rip their gowns. 

This is getting ridiculous. The prince 
is embarrassed. I throw a quick glance 
toward the castle. Backdrop. There 
is the queen. No one has noticed her. 
She moves as if a dream. listless. 
weightless. she seems to have little 
to do with the proceedings. does she 
understand that death is near? 
she seems completely unaware. 

How I admire her! She is a true heroine. 
Oblivious of her power. how power, love 
and death revolve around her! as though 
she had never stood before a mirror. 
The king is exasperated. her lack of 
recognition. does his word mean nothing? 
The ladies-in-waiting make up for it. 
they weep harder at the sight of their 
gentle queen. they beat their breasts in 
unison. a few onlookers swoon. The 
cook has to be carried off. 

The queen is handed a spade. Was that a 
smile that crossed her face? its impossible 
to tell now. 

Suddenly she shivers and says, "I'm cold". 
Instantly I feel the intense cold. 
everyone does. god, its below zero. 
I'm confused. wasn't it just spring? 
everyone has on thin wraps. 
Even the king has but a simple velvet cloak 
and not his usual ermine. 

The ladies' teeth chatter. the only way 
to keep warm is to move. they begin to 
dig like the devil. thirty women working 
hard in the soil creates great warmth. 
if they stop to rest they'll freeze 
to death. 

The queen can't seem to get in the swing 
of things. she helps a bit. loosens a 
chunk of hard clay or helps excavate a 
huge rock. occasionally a smooth stone 
or a pretty piece of crystal will attract 
her. she handles it. examines it. turns 
it over. drops it in her train which she 
has gathered up smiling. 
her childish delight in serving herself. 

Frost is making it harder to dig. yet 
the women are working like madmen to 
keep warm. 

The king has lost interest. the queen is 
wandering off. everyone is going home. 

I lose my footing 
fall off the scaffold 
everything in slow motion. 

crime without passion 

By Patti Smith

[originally published as a small chapbook by the Gotham Book Mart, 1972]