Picking the last poem to post during National Poetry Month has me all in a tizzy. I need to find the perfect poem (even though I have a fabulous poem ready to go for the return of Poetry Wednesday). Nothing I’ve read is quite perfect enough. So I went back through this list of poems that I called my favorite to see if there were any I hadn’t posted here. I realized as I was looking that I’ve never posted this poem by Naomi Shihab Nye. But it is one of my favorites! I can’t believe I haven’t posted it before. Enjoy. Happy National Poetry Month! I’ll now return to the regularly scheduled posts about books, poems, and random musings.
Last August Hours Before the Year 2000
by Naomi Shihab Nye
Spun silk of mercy,
sun urging purple blossoms from baked stems.
What better blessing than to move without hurry
Lugging a bucket to the rose that became a twining
house by now, roof and walls of vine –
you could live inside this rose.
Pouring a slow stream around the
ancient pineapple crowned with spiky fruit,
I thought we would feel old by the year 2000.
Walt Disney thought cars would fly.
What a drama to keep thinking the last summer
the last birthday
before the calendar turns to zeroes.
My neighbor says anything we plant in September takes hold.
She’s lining pots of little grasses by her walk.
I want to know the root goes deep
on all that came before,
you could lay a soaker hose across
your whole life and know
there was something
under layers of packed summer earth
and dry blown grass
At this point, I have shared with you most of my absolute favorite poets. I still have a few that I’m hiding up my sleeve for a rainy day, but I’ve started looking for poets that are new to me to present on PW. That is the case this week, with Naomi Shihab Nye. She is a writer of Palestinian and US descent who writes often of what it is like to be a Palestinian-American. I have not read much of her poetry, but the poem I have today is very moving and I would really like to read more.
“A true Arab knows how to catch a fly in his hands,”
my father would say. And he’d prove it,
cupping the buzzer instantly
while the host with the swatter stared.
In the spring our palms peeled like snakes.
True Arabs believed watermelon could heal fifty ways.
I changed these to fit the occasion.
Years before, a girl knocked,
wanted to see the Arab.
I said we didn’t have one.
After that, my father told me who he was,
a good name, borrowed from the sky.
Once I said, “When we die, we give it back?”
He said that’s what a true Arab would say.
Today the headlines clot in my blood.
A little Palestinian dangles a toy 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?