January 1, Dawn

by Ani Gjika, translated from the Albanian written by Luljeta Lleshanaku

copyright ©Luljeta Lleshanaku 2012, 2015, 2018 Translation © Ani Gjika 2018

After the celebrations,
people, TV channels, telephones,
the year’s recently corrected digit
finally fall asleep

Between the final night and the first dawn
a jagged piece of sky
as if viewed from the open mouth of a whale.
Inside her belly and inside the belly of time,
there’s no point worrying.
You glide gently along. She knows her course.
Inside her, you are digested slowly, painlessly.

And if you’re lucky, like Jonah,
at some point she’ll spit you out on dry land
along with heaps of inorganic waste.

Everything sleeps. A sweet hypothermic sleep.
But those few still awake
might hear the melancholy creaking of a wheelbarrow,
someone stealing stones from a ruin
to build new walls just a few feet away.

Notes on the Poem

Our latest Poem of the Week choices come from the seven works on the 2019 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlist. Next up is a fascinating selection from Negative Space by Ani Gjika, translated from the Albanian written by Luljeta Lleshanaku. It's probably safe to say all or most of us - through the ages as they've been informed by the concept of calendars and ways to mark the passage of time - have looked upon January 1st and the significance of having a milestone point at which to recognize a newly incremented year as an opportunity to reflect on how our time has passed and how we can improve it going forward. Lleshanaku offers a clear-eyed and grounded approach to the observance, and Gjika has translated with spirit and wit a view of the New Year's practice that is a bracing panacea. Psychology Today has noted that the universality of the New Year's celebration - whether in a religious or secular tradition - "may be that the symbolism we attach to this one moment is rooted in one of the most powerful motivations of all — our motivation to survive." That sense permeates "January 1, Dawn", particularly the cleverly deployed central image of enduring being swallowed by a whale, as Jonah did. Although those, of course, are an undeniable Biblical references, it is served up in this Gjika/Lleshanaku version in a rueful and decidedly non-devout fashion (or devoted to a different kind of worship, as the acerbic "heaps of inorganic waste" suggests.) The poem concludes with provocative imagery that sounds a cautionary note about how we continue to survive going into each new year. There is a call for vigilance, even as ... "Everything sleeps. A sweet hypothermic sleep." Yes, sleep is "sweet" ... but the accompanying adjective "hypothermic" drives home sleep's potential for treachery and danger. We succumb to its seductions at our peril, jeopardizing ... yes, our very survival. We are cautioned to stay alert as walls are being built from the wreckage of the previous year ... and all that denotes and connotes, from walls torn down previously to the war cry of a world leader who wants to build walls anew ... to individuals who may have any number of reasons for being heartened or disheartened at the prospect of erecting barriers. So pointedly and poignantly, "January 1, Dawn" illustrates how these cycles recur, year after year.

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