What is home but a book we write, then read again & again

illustration of the words of the poem creating a black and white landscape of trees, house, two deer
Art by Kristina Closs

Written Deer

by Maggie Smith

Why does this written doe bound
through these written woods?
                            —Wisława Szymborska

My handwriting is all over these woods.
No, my handwriting is these woods,

each tree a half-print, half-cursive scrawl,
each loop a limb. My house is somewhere
here, & I have scribbled myself inside it.

What is home but a book we write, then
read again & again, each time dog-earing

different pages. In the morning I wake
in time to pencil the sun high. How
fragile it is, the world—I almost wrote

the word but caught myself. Either one
could be erased. In these written woods,

branches smudge around me whenever
I take a deep breath. Still, written fawns
lie in the written sunlight that dapples

their backs. What is home but a passage
I’m writing & underlining every time I read it.

from Goldenrod

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The night is your cottage industry now

The great Kashmiri-American poet Agha Shahid Ali (1949-2001) gifted this paper-filled world with beautiful, crushing words.

“Stationery”

The moon did not become the sun.
It just fell on the desert
in great sheets, reams
of silver handmade by you.
The night is your cottage industry now,
the day is your brisk emporium.
The world is full of paper.

Write to me.

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