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.
Naomi Shihab Nye, "Burning the Old Year" from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems (Portland, Oregon: Far Corner Books, 1995). Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye.
When Sarah posted Nye's poem on Facebook I felt a keen, driving need to touch, feel, hold the ephemera of 2013. I should count my stones instead, but there is an urgency to this, a voice shouting, "Take account. File, save, treasure, or burn the hand written petitions of the year gone by."
I take heed.
Artist's postcard. I took a snowy January walk to her art show. Snow drifted in the streets and flakes stuck to my hair and scarf.
"Patron Receipt" from a quick library trip. Cloaked in Red. Did I read that? No, one of the kids, I'm sure of it.
Ikea sales slip. I recognize only one item on the list and realize it was a friend's receipt, not mine. She bought me a Skydda mattress pad.
Date book entry, April 7: "Write thank you notes" (for what? i can't remember), "Pay bills," "Balance the budget." What isn't written: "Mary passes."
Yoga practice created by my friend Stephanie. It's on lined note-book paper with little stick figures demonstrating how to perform the poses. At the top is written "Stability." She underlines this word twice.
Fluorescent yellow post-it note. "Sheets, drawers, E. BD, camping list, $ store, B. library." Only B. library, sheets, and camping list are crossed out.
Broccoli soup recipe. The grease stains suggest that I've used it several times this year, and it's true. A note at the top tells it like it is: "It's easy and fast!"
Stack of cards from my surprise birthday party. The top one reads, "#40, You Go Girl! Love, Amber." There was so much love.
Newspaper clipping. "Club prepares for Brockport Giftaway with Toy Drive." Thousands of toys. Tears. Fatigue. Joy.
Christmas card. The very last holiday card of 2013 reads: "Wishing you much Peace & Love in 2014."
Even as I recycle and shuffle and file these feather-light tokens of the last twelve months I realize that these *are* the stones. If each one erupts in flame and is reduced to ash they will still be gems, still golden, still treasures. Even those things that go up in smoke carry supplications and griefs and gratitudes to the heavens, perfuming the air with prayer.