Stars and shells

Since next week is Christmas, this feels like the last Friday of the year. I wanted to find a poem that somehow drew together the pulse and tumult, the calamity and the promise of what has been, in many ways, a year of wonders.

The old empires, Britain and Europe, falter and tremble, while India and China, crouching tiger and hidden dragon, rise to new preeminence.

Rising waters threatened to light a nuclear fuse in Japan, even as the will to tackle warming seems to ebb.

Ten years after the attacks on Washington and Wall St in which 3000 people died, America packs up in Iraq. Of the numbered dead, 5000 are Americans, and 100,000 are Iraqis. Mission accomplished.

Meanwhile a vegetable vendor in Tunisia, roughed up by corrupt police, sets himself on fire and the Arab world catches alight.

“Rain Song,” by the Iraqi poet Badr Shakir al-Sayyab, doesn't touch everything that happened this year (how could it?) but it has a sense of the spring that's possible after ruin. Here's the end of it:

Do you know how lost a solitary person feels in the rain?
Endless, like spilt blood, like hungry people, like love,
Like children, like the dead, endless the rain.
Your two eyes take me wandering with the rain,
Lightning from across the Gulf sweeps the shores of Iraq
With stars and shells,
As if a dawn were about to break from them,
But night pulls over them a coverlet of blood.
I cry out to the Gulf: “O Gulf,
Giver of pearls, shells and death!”
And the echo replies,
As if lamenting:
“O Gulf,
Giver of shells and death.
And across the sands from among its lavish gifts
The Gulf scatters fuming froth and shells
And the skeletons of miserable drowned emigrants
Who drank death forever
From the depths of the Gulf, from the ground of its silence,
And in Iraq a thousand serpents drink the nectar
From a flower the Euphrates has nourished with dew.
I hear the echo
Ringing in the Gulf:
“Rain . . .
Drip, drop, the rain . . .
Drip, drop.”
In every drop of rain
A red or yellow colour buds from the seeds of flowers.
Every tear wept by the hungry and naked people
And every spilt drop of slaves' blood
Is a smile aimed at a new dawn,
A nipple turning rosy in an infant's lips
In the young world of tomorrow, bringer of life.
And still the rain pours down.