"I call my father. We talk about the news. It is too much for him. Neither of his two languages can reach it. I drive into the country to find sheep, cows. To plead with the air. Who calls anyone civilized? Where can the crying heart graze? What does a true Arab do now?"Naomi Shihab Nye writes profound poetry about daily life and daily experience from the perspective of an Arab-American women who has lived in the US, in Ramallah in Jordan, in the Old City in Jerusalem, and in San Antonio, Texas. Born to a Palestinian father and an American mother, Shihab Nye writes poetry that springs from an Arab heart living in America. This interview with Bill Moyers provides an eloquent insight into the work of Naomi Shihab Nye .
Naomi Shihab Nye
The Art of Disappearing
When they say Don't I know you? say no.
When they invite you to the party
remember what parties are like
When they say Don't I know you? say no.
Someone telling you in a loud voice
they once wrote a poem.
Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate.
If they say we should get together.
say why? It's not that you don't love them any more.
You're trying to remember something
too important to forget.
The monastery bell at twilight.
Tell them you have a new project.
It will never be finished. When someone recognizes you in a grocery store
nod briefly and become a cabbage.
When someone you haven't seen in ten years
appears at the door,
don't start singing him all your new songs.
You will never catch up.
Walk around feeling like a leaf. Know you could tumble any second. Then decide what to do with your time.
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.
You can't be, says a Palestinian Christianon the first feast day after Ramadan
So, half-and-half and half-and-half.He sells glass. He knows about broken bits,
chips. If you love Jesus you can't love
anyone else. Says he.
At his stall of blue pitchers on the Via Dolorosa,
he's sweeping. The rubbed stones
feel holy. Dusting of powdered sugar
across faces of date-stuffed mamool.
This morning we lit the slim white candles
which bend over at the waist by noon.
For once the priests weren't fighting
in the church for the best spots to stand.
As a boy, my father listened to them fight.
This is partly why he prays in no language
but his own. Why I press my lips
to every exception.
A woman opens a window—here and here and here—
placing a vase of blue flowers
on an orange cloth. I follow her.
She is making a soup from what she had left
in the bowl, the shriveled garlic and bent bean.
She is leaving nothing out.
If you place a fern
under a stone
the next day it will be
as if the stone has
If you tuck the name of a loved one
under your tongue too long
without speaking it
it becomes blood
the little sucked-in breath of air
beneath your words.
No one sees
the fuel that feeds you.
poems courtesy of Naomi Shihab Nye