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Category archive for: Naomi Shihab Nye

Where Are You Now?

I position my head on the pillow

where you told your last folktale,

mixing donkey, camel, mouse,

journey, kitchen, trees,

so the story grew jumbled,

uncharacteristically long.

I listened from the other small bed

thinking, not about the story, but,

it’s the last one I’ll hear from this voice,

remembering two and four and six

when this voice calmed me every night,

thinking, how will I live without this voice?

At one point, you hallucinated.

Politics came in, a rare speck

of religion, even a bad nurse

you’d had at the clinic,

frustration of long illness

tangling with the tale,

Oh Dad, you’ve been so brave,

to which you replied,

What else can I do?

and returned to the comforting

donkey, bucket of olives,

smoke curling up from twig fire

over which anyone, a lost girl,

a wanderer, a dying man,

could warm his hands.

from TransferFind it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 2011
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.

Shoulders

A man crosses the street in rain,

stepping gently, looking two times north and south,

because his son is asleep on his shoulder.

No car must splash him.

No car drive too near to his shadow.

This man carries the world’s most sensitive cargo

but he’s not marked.

Nowhere does his jacket say FRAGILE,

HANDLE WITH CARE.

His ear fills up with breathing.

He hears the hum of a boy’s dream

deep inside him.

We’re not going to be able

to live in this world

if we’re not willing to do what he’s doing

with one another.

The road will only be wide.

The rain will never stop falling.

from Red SuitcaseFind it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 1994
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.

Dusk

where is the name no one answered to

gone off to live by itself

beneath the pine trees separating houses

without a friend or a bed

without a father to tell it stories

how hard was the path it walked on

all those years  belonging to none

of our struggles  drifting under

the calendar page elusive as

residue  when someone said

how have you been  it was

strangely that name that tried

to answer

from TransferFind it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 2011
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.

Ducks

    We thought of ourselves as people of culture.

    How long will it be till others see us that way again?

              Iraqi friend

In her first home each book had a light around it.

The voices of distant countries

floated in through open windows,

entering her soup and her mirror.

They slept with her in the same thick bed.

Someday she would go there.

Her voice, among all those voices.

In Iraq a book never had one owner—it had ten.

Lucky books, to be held often

and gently, by so many hands.

Later in American libraries she felt sad

for books no one ever checked out.

She lived in a country house beside a pond

and kept ducks, two male, one female.

She worried over the difficult relations

of triangles. One of the ducks

often seemed depressed.

But not the same one.

During the war between her two countries

she watched the ducks more than usual.

She stayed quiet with the ducks.

Some days they huddled among reeds

or floated together.

She could not call her family in Basra

which had grown farther away than ever

nor could they call her. For nearly a year

she would not know who was alive,

who was dead.

The ducks were building a nest.

from FuelFind it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 1998
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.

When One Is So Far from Home, Life Is a Mix of Fact and Fiction

No one should hold that against you.

It’s a means of survival.

Sometimes I thought my best talent was

taking a skinny story, adding wings and a tail.

Dressing it in a woolen Bedouin cloak

with stitching around the edges.

Putting a headdress on it.

Making a better picture.

Your mother got mad at me sometimes

for telling a story differently but it wasn’t a lie,

just a story in different clothes

with other things emphasized.

My own mother dressed up stories for 106 years

till that last winter she rode in her bed

like a boat, sitting up to sleep.

Maybe it’s our duty to be shaped

a hundred times by the same stories.

We think we’re telling them

but really they’re keeping us alive,

memory oxygen breathed out and in.

from TransferFind it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 2011
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.

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