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.

557833f7cb370

“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.

It’s a hard time to be human.

While browsing a dear friend’s bookshelves this weekend, I opened up one of the collection he was fervently recommending, Like a Beggar by Ellen Bass, and I instantly fell in love with this poem.

basscreditirene-young-685x1024

“The World Has Need Of You”

everything here
seems to need us
          Rainer Maria Rilke

I can hardly imagine it
as I walk to the lighthouse, feeling the ancient
prayer of my arms swinging
in counterpoint to my feet.
Here I am, suspended
between the sidewalk and twilight,
the sky dimming so fast it seems alive.
What if you felt the invisible
tug between you and everything?
A boy on a bicycle rides by,
his white shirt open, flaring
behind him like wings.
It’s a hard time to be human. We know too much
and too little. Does the breeze need us?
The cliffs? The gulls?
If you’ve managed to do one good thing,
the ocean doesn’t care.
But when Newton’s apple fell toward the earth,
the earth, ever so slightly, fell
toward the apple.

we walked through the streets of an emptied world

Over the years, I find myself returning again and again to the luminous verse of the great Kashmiri-American poet, Agha Shahid Ali (1949-2001). This particular favorite can be found in A Nostalgist’s Map of America via his collected works, The Veiled Suite
agha-main

“Beyond the Ash Rains”

What have you known of loss
That makes you different from other men?
– Gilgamesh.

When the desert refused my history,
refused to acknowledge that I had lived
there, with you, among a vanished tribe,

two, three thousand years ago, you parted
the dawn rain, its thickest monsoon curtains,

and beckoned me to the northern canyons.
There, among the red rocks, you lived alone.
I had still not learned the style of nomads:

to walk between the rain drops to keep dry.
Wet and cold, I spoke like a poor man,

without irony. You showed me the relics
of our former life, proof that we’d at last
found each other, but in your arms I felt

singled out for loss. When you lit the fire
and poured the wine, “I am going,” I murmured,

repeatedly, “going where no one has been
and no one will be… Will you come with me?”
You took my hand, and we walked through the streets

of an emptied world, vulnerable
to our suddenly bare history in which I was,

but you said won’t again be, singled
out for loss in your arms, won’t ever again
be exiled, never again, from your arms.