The brilliant Arab-American poet and visual artist Etel Adnan (1925-2021) passed away today at the age of 96. Adnan’s partner, the artist Simone Fattal, has described Adnan’s works as playing “the role the old icons used to play for people who believed. They exude energy and give energy. They shield you like talismans. They help you live your everyday life.”
Adan’s writing and art have certainly been a talisman and energy-giver in my own life, so today I share just one poem of hers with you and urge you to look at her art online. If you happen to be passing through New York City in the next few months, you can see her art displayed in an exhibition, “Etel Adnan: Light’s New Measure,” at the Guggenheim until January 10.
A long night I spent
thinking that reality was the story
of the human species
the vanquished search for the vanquished
Sounds come by, ruffling my soul
I sense space’s elasticity,
go on reading the books she wrote on the
wars she’s seen
Why do seasons who regularly follow
their appointed time, deny their kind of energy
why is winter followed by a few
more days of winter?
We came to transmit the shimmering
from which we came; to name it
we deal with a permanent voyage,
the becoming of that which itself had
From the dirt beneath a grandmother’s nails to a certain slant of light, Jess Rizkallah so gorgeously captures the tangible and intangible aspects of our lives that anchor and protect us.
“when they ask who i pray to”
i say patron saint of the gap in my mother’s front teeth
i say patron saint of the long-last gap in my teeth, who took it back
but left me with a whistle. a reminder of the resemblance
i let myself forget.
i say patron saint of my grandfather’s forehead,
who whispers about the heart on fire
under formaldehyde & earth.
patron saint of my sister’s bitten nails that never catch dirt when she lays
flowers at the base of a stone that took five months to arrive because
no one else came around.
saint of the lemon tree his father put there
saint of the ripest tomatoes
saint of the shrapneled kitchen tile their baby feet slapped
saint of the blue peaks by the ocean where we began
saint of the way we say what again
and again as plea, as demand.
i know there are saints of light not written about.
saints of walking sticks falling against floors not holy.
the saint of the self as god when god has done enough
to be reshelved and left dusty
when they ask me, i say patron saint of teta’s hands.
small hands that beaded and embroidered
and kneaded and carried and learned the alphabet.
a for apple. b for box. c for candle.
d for dog. d for death. d for dirt
under the nails. a hard day’s work a picture frame
and his cold wedding band. this is how we compete
with the silence that wants to take us.