Happy Tuesday, friends!
I don’t know about you, perhaps especially with being sick, it’s been harder to shake off that looming feeling of the holidays this year. But at the same time, I’m feeling all that excitement of the new year and what it promises: page one of a book, a new chapter, a blank notebook page, the blinking cursor on my computer screen, swiping to the first page of a new book on my Kindle. It’s a time of new beginnings, and I am so excited for them, even if I’m still adjusting.
Perhaps you’re a little like me and in need of a little bit of a push. For me, I often find that in writing, particularly poetry. In the last few years, these poems have brought me a great deal of comfort. I hope you enjoy them, too.
THE BIRTHDAY OF THE WORLD
On the birthday of the world
I begin to contemplate
what I have done and left
undone, but this year
not so much rebuilding
of my perennially damaged
psyche, shoring up eroding
friendships, digging out
stumps of old resentments
that refuse to rot on their own.
No, this year I want to call
myself to task for what
I have done and not done
for peace. How much have
I dared in opposition?
How much have I put
on the line for freedom?
For mine and others?
As these freedoms are pared,
sliced and diced, where
have I spoken out? Who
have I tried to move? In
this holy season, I stand
self-convicted of sloth
in a time when lies choke
the mind and rhetoric
bends reason to slithering
choking pythons. Here
I stand before the gates
opening, the fire dazzling
my eyes, and as I approach
what judges me, I judge
myself. Give me weapons
of minute destruction. Let
my words turn into sparks.
BURNING THE OLD YEAR
Naomi Shihab Nye
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.
What is a wound but a flower
dying on its descent to the earth,
bag of scent filled with war, forest,
torches, some trouble that befell
now over and done. A wound is a fire
sinking into itself. The tinder
serves only so long, the log holds on
and still it gives up, collapses
into its bed of ashes and sand. I burned
my hand cooking over a low flame,
that flame now alive under my skin,
the smell not unpleasant, the wound
beautiful as a full-blown peony.
Say goodbye to disaster. Shake hands
with the unknown, what becomes
of us once we’ve been torn apart
and returned to our future, naked
and small, sewn back together
scar by scar.
A PUMPKIN AT NEW YEAR’S
Heads were rolling down the highway in high slat trucks.
I knew it was time to buy you and found you,
The last sphere unscarred and undistorted in the store,
Big as my own head.
It was time too to leave you uncut and full-featured,
Like the grandpa of twenty-five pumpkins in my past,
Khrushchev-cheeked and dwelling on yourself,
Great knee of my childhood.
I plainly thought you would rot.
I remembered the fetor of other pumpkins,
Their blue populations coming out of hiding as if at the end
Of some apocalypse.
I devoted a day to reading up on minor cucurbits:
I learned your dozen names in African
And came home ready to raise or raze you,
Positive of change.
But so far—eternity. I think I would not like
Eternity, after I had used my senses up,
As I’ve tried with you—fingertips dragging over your world
Pole to pole
Till they go dead like explorers, nostril cilia
Detecting your fragrance more delicate than they—
And my patience. It’s Christmas, it’s a new year
And I hear
Of a family who’s kept you for four …
You endure like matter manufactured
And indeed your stem seems punched into your orange gathers
Like a button in a mattress.
Shall I give you a room or a shrine? And shall I
Purchase you a mate and family,
When ours is so inadequate, fixed upon your window
Deathbed as we are,
Centered upon a time and birth, new holiday, new friends,
New pumpkins, celebrating when all
That has failed us has passed away.
You have not failed.
Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.
Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue.
In a drafty museum, your nakedness
Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.
I’m no more your mother
Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind’s hand.
All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear.
One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mouth opens clean as a cat’s. The window square
Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try
Your handful of notes;
The clear vowels rise like balloons.
2022 is going to be wonderful, friends. Let’s get to it.