by Tammy Vitale
I’m trying to unravel the knot
in my stomach, find the string that
can start the unrolling, trace
the pieces and yank them free.
This string is my son – it changes
colors depending on the shirt it wears,
the weather and the position
of the moon.
It is the shortest string, most
tangled and I cannot find the ends.
I tug and tug but it will not budge,
it is too tightly wrapped around
This one is daughter, a string
I can hardly ever see. It is a
matches its surroundings.
It knows how to survive and does
it well, dancing on the edges in noisy
tap shoes to scare away the dark, hiding
in the sun, kissing the air with
This one once was husband. It is green gray
and almost thrown away
except where it touches our daughter and twines
around our son; and in a few places I cannot see
anymore except during storms and long
nights when I am alone and
There’s a string made of cigars and
wearing a mask called Dad and another one
and piano keys, Mom, that’s shaded with
generosity. I thought I had buried that one
but I found an end tied
to my toe.
I pull and I pluck
I pick and I strum,
while my lover sings to the strings and
helps me remember to breathe –
as though I am in labor birthing
as though the knot were in my womb
struggling to break free.
by Naomi Shihab Nye
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.