I begin again with the smallest numbers

Thinking about the last day of this overwhelming year and the beginning of 2018 with these words from my ever-favorite Naomi Shihab Nye (1952-). Wishing you all a happy (whatever that means for you) new year, dear readers.

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“Burning the Old Year”

Letters swallow themselves in seconds.
Notes friends tied to the doorknob,
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.

So much of any year is flammable,
lists of vegetables, partial poems.
Orange swirling flame of days,
so little is a stone.

Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.
I begin again with the smallest numbers.

Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,
only the things I didn’t do
crackle after the blazing dies.

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You do not know how hard it is, transfiguring blood into ink

I have read this poem from Palestinian writer Laila al Saih (1936- ) several times since I recently stumbled upon it in this anthology, and I am still in awe of its pitch perfect blend of strength and vulnerability, clarity and bewilderment.

“Intimations of Anxiety”

You do not know how hard it is,
transfiguring blood into ink–
emerging from one’s secret dream
to voicing the dream.
Perhaps I need years to understand
what swirls within me when we meet.
Do you know that constellations of cities and paths tangle
restlessly in the sand?
I do not know the name
for such sweet incandescence.
Even now I have not discovered all the stars
fanning out in the soul and body
like eloquent shining symbols.

Under a mass of snow
a violet is patiently waiting.
Each opening rose partakes of
the patience of ages.
There are things we must share,
and how the word takes shape within me.
Pulled between a world that created me
and a vaporous world I wish to create,
I begin again.
Each time you transform me
into a haze,
Wait for my anxiety
for this nameless creature thumping
in my breast.
I begin again
with your book,
from your book,
reading the first pages
over and over, dazzled, amazed,
enveloped by vast days and puzzling depths,
saying: The moment will come
in which I discover language,
voice of the sun’s fruits,
dialect of waves engulfing my heart.
Maybe then I will be able to add
a single syllable to this existence–
this arduous impossible task.

translated by May Jayyusi and Naomi Shihab Nye