Burning the old year

Naomi Shihab Nye is a remarkable poet, whose work I treasure whenever I encounter it. I posted one called ‘Shoulders’ just over a year ago, which she wrote in response to the Newtown school murders. There’s another I love called ‘Wandering around an Albuquerque airport terminal’. And now I’ve discovered this one – ‘Burning the old year’ – which is perfect for today, the first of a new year, which I’ve partly spent shredding old files. (I’d burn them if I could: much more satisfying, especially on such a drear day.)

I often think it’s the things you don’t do that you regret, rather than the things you do. And that gives the last stanza a lot of resonance for me.

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.

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