Monday, August 17, 2015

Naomi Shihab Nye: connecting up disparate events in distance places

photo of Naomi Shihab Nye and family (courtesy of Washington Post and Naomi Shihab Nye)

'Today the headlines clot in my blood.
A little Palestinian dangles a truck on the front page.   
Homeless fig, this tragedy with a terrible root   
is too big for us. What flag can we wave?
I wave the flag of stone and seed,
table mat stitched in blue.
I call my father, we talk around 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?'
final two stanzas from Blood by Naomi Shihab Nye

The evocative poetry of Namoi Shihab Nye appears regularly on this blog.

Naomi Shihab Nye is a Texas based, Palestinian-American poet, writer and author who is the daughter of a Palestinian born father and an American mother.

She recently published an opinion piece in the Washington Post  about her childhood and family life in  Ferguson Missouri and Jerusalem, in which she connects up events in Palestine with those in Ferguson (the US city where massive protests and riots followed the police killing of Black teenager Michael Brown  in 2014).

I grew up in Ferguson, Mo.  No one ever heard of it, unless you lived elsewhere in St. Louis County.
Then my family moved to Palestine – my father’s first home. A friend says, “Your parents really picked the garden spots.”
In Ferguson, an invisible line separated white and black communities. In Jerusalem, a no-man’s land separated people, designated by barbed wire.


My father and his family became refugees in 1948, when the state of Israel was created. They lost everything but their lives and memories. Disenfranchised Palestinians ended up in refugee camps or scattered around the world. My dad found himself in Kansas, then moved to Missouri with his American bride. He seemed a little shell-shocked when I was a child.

Ferguson was a leafy green historic suburb with a gracious red brick elementary school called Central. I loved that school, attending kindergarten through sixth grade there. All my classmates were white, of various derivations – Italians, French-Canadians, etc….

At 12, I took a berry-picking job on “Missouri’s oldest organic farm” in Ferguson. I wanted the job because I had noticed that the other berry-pickers were all black boys. I’d always been curious about the kids living right down the road whom we hardly ever got to see…

Summer 2014, the news exploded…

Of course, we wished Hamas would stop sending reckless rockets into Israel, provoking oversized responses. Why didn’t the news examine those back stories more?

Oppression makes people do desperate things. I am frankly surprised the entire Palestinian population hasn’t gone crazy. If the U.S. can’t see that Palestinians have been mightily oppressed since 1948, they really are not interested in looking, are they? And we keep sending weapons and money to Israel, pretending we’d prefer peace.

We send weapons to Ferguson, too.'

In an recent interview  Naomi Shihab Nye stresses the responsibilities of writers and citizens to connect up events in disparate places to expose the exercise of unjust power and domination.

'I really did feel like I was hallucinating the whole summer with both Ferguson and Gaza in the news. I felt like if I didn’t say something, what kind of writer am I? If I don’t figure out some way to make a connection. Maybe the connection is slight, but I think the connection of domination and injustice is strong. My dad used to say Ferguson was a tinderbox waiting to explode. We asked him, “What is a tinderbox?”

No comments: