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Poetry Saturday: Naomi Shihab Nye

Poetry Saturday: Naomi Shihab Nye

Tammy September 13, 2014 0 comments

inside title page with handwritten note by Naomi Shihab Nye to blog authorI have been cleaning my bookshelves.  Was packing today to take some more books to the used book store when I ran into 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East by Naomi Shihab Nye.  Signed by her to me.  It was in the “to go” pile, which made me 2nd guess myself.  Where you are on any given day can change your choices.  Any of them.  I am in the middle of wanting to scream about what’s going on in the Middle East.  And what we, America, are doing.  Again.

My father, the man who adopted and raised me, is Syrian Lebanese (it was one country when he was born, here in the U.S., his parents immigrants, so I don’t know which he is).  I am adopted.  Being adopted had its moments of difficulties.  Once my aunt, his sister, refused to talk to him in his last months in the hospital before he died to help me tell him he needed to go into a nursing home.  She said to me, “You wouldn’t understand. You have never had a family.”  Those exact words.  I was 46.  I had been his child for 46 years and yet I had no family in her mind.  I begged to differ and said I most certainly did have a family and they were gathered around me at that moment (my husband and kids).

My father and I had a volatile relationship – I was never the submissive woman he thought I should be.  Maybe submissive isn’t the right word.  I was a leftie, somehow.  He hard right.  Hard right.

Anyways, I arranged for a nursing home since I was not going to move myself and my family into his house, and he died 4 hours after he arrived.  He was having none of it.

Back to poetry and Naomi Shihab Nye, whose work I have loved for many years.  I sat and read a spell.

This is a beautiful little book.  As we jump into yet another war in the Middle East, I decided to share some bits and pieces with you.

In the Introduction, Naomi say:  “I dedicate these poems of my life to the wise grandmothers and to the young readers in whom I have always placed my best faith.  If grandmothers and children were in charge of the world, there would never be any wars.  Peace, friends.  Please  don’t stop believing.”

from Passing the Refuge Camp

Yesterday the soldiers smashed
Lena’s sink and tub and tiles

They whipped a father in front of his sons
ages 2 and 4

They do this all the time
The house filled with water

They locked the door on the crying boys
taking the father

Believe me Lena says
They had no reason

On the steps of the National Palace Hotel
soldier peel oranges

throwing back their heads so the juice
runs down their throats

This must their coffee break
guns slung sideways

They are laughing
stripping lustily

They know what sweetness lives withing
How can the know this and forget

so may other things?


from The Palestinians Have Given Up Parties

…..Where does fighting
come into this story?

Fighting got lost from somewhere else.
It is not what we like:  to eat, to drink, to fight.

Now when the students gather quietly
inside their own classroom
to celebrate the last day of school,
the door to the building
gets blasted off.
Empty chairs where laughter used to sit.
Laughter lived here
jingling its pocket of thin coins
and now it is in hiding…..

See the hand-tinted photos of young men:
too perfect, too still.
The bombs break everyone’s
sentences in half.
Who made them? Do you know anyone
who makes them
? The ancient taxi driver
shakes his head back and forth
from Jerusalem to Jericho.
They will not see, he says slowly,
the story behind the story,
they are always looking for the story after the story
which means they will never understand the story.

Which means it will go on and on…


from All Things Not Considered

You cannot stitch the breath
back into this boy.

A brother and sister were playing with toys
when their room exploded.

In what language
is this holy?

The Jewish boys killed in the cave
were skipping school. having an adventure.

Asel Asleh, Palestinian, age 17, believed in the field
beyond right and wrong where people
come together

to talk.  He kneeled to help someone else
stand up before he was shot.

If this is holy,
could we have some new religions please?

Mohammed al-Durra huddled against his father
in the street, terrified.  The whole world saw him die.

An Arab father on crutches burying his 4 month girl weeps,
“I spit in the face of this ugly world.”


Most of us would take our children over land.
We would walk the fields forever homeless
with our children,
huddle under cliffs, eat crumbs and berries,
to keep our children.
This is what we say from a distance
because we can say whatever we want…..


To do the same thing over and over and expect a different outcome is the definition of insanity.  We have tried this before.  What can it hurt to change the steps to the dance into something new?

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