Naomi Shihab Nye: Uniting Words and Worlds
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Naomi Shihab Nye is an Arab-American poet living at a challenging time for uniting these two words—and worlds! She does this with elegance and bravery, and so inspires nearly everyone who hears or reads her. Naomi is the author of numerous books of poems, including You and Yours, which received the Isabella Gardner Poetry Award, as well as 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East, a collection of new and selected poems. She is author and/or editor of more than 25 volumes.
She has received the Carity Randall Prize, four Pushcart Prizes, and awards from the Texas Institute of Letters and the International Poetry Forum. She has been a Lannan Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow, and a Witter Bynner Fellow. Her poems and short stories have appeared in various journals and reviews throughout North America, Europe, and the Middle and Far East. In January 2010 she was elected to the Board of Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets.
In her poem, “Jerusalem,” Nye addresses the conflict at the heart of the holy city by naming our fundamental woundedness, a pain that often leads us to lash out: “each carries a tender spot: / something our lives forgot to give us.” Though this poem’s eagle-eye view of the conflict is provocative (one Palestinian student argued eloquently against the first stanza’s seemingly blithe approach to historical grievances), Nye’s visionary declaration about the riddle of healing, the possibility of fighting off hate, and the necessity of orienting ourselves toward a future where “everything comes next” feels like a necessary antidote to the hopeless poisons of past and present.
“Let’s be the same wound if we must bleed.
Let’s fight side by side, even if the enemy
is ourselves: I am yours, you are mine.”
—Tommy Olofsson, Sweden
I’m not interested in
who suffered the most.
I’m interested in
people getting over it.
Once when my father was a boy
a stone hit him on the head.
Hair would never grow there.
Our fingers found the tender spot
and its riddles: the boy who has fallen
stands up. A bucket of pears
in his mother’s doorway welcomes him home.
The pears are not crying.
Lately his friend who threw the stone
says he was aiming at a bird.
And my father starts growing wings.
Each carries a tender spot:
something our lives forgot to give us.
A man builds a house and says,
“I am native now.”
A woman speaks to a tree in place
of her son. And olives come.
A child’s poem says,
“I don’t like wars,
they end up with monuments.”
He’s painting a bird with wings
wide enough to cover two roofs at once.
Why are we so monumentally slow?
Soldiers stalk a pharmacy:
big guns, little pills.
If you tilt your head just slightly
There’s a place in this brain
where hate won’t grow.
I touch its riddles: wind and seeds.
Something pokes us as we sleep.
It’s late but everything comes next.