poem index

About this poet

Naomi Shihab Nye was born on March 12, 1952, in St. Louis, Missouri, to a Palestinian father and an American mother. During her high school years, she lived in Ramallah in Palestine, the Old City in Jerusalem, and San Antonio, Texas, where she later received her BA in English and world religions from Trinity University.

Nye is the author of numerous books of poems, including Transfer (BOA Editions, 2011); You and Yours (BOA Editions, 2005), which received the Isabella Gardner Poetry Award; 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East (Greenwillow Books, 2002), a collection of new and selected poems about the Middle East; Fuel (BOA Editions, 1998); Red Suitcase (BOA Editions, 1994); and Hugging the Jukebox (Far Corner Books, 1982).

She is also the author of several books of poetry and fiction for children, including Habibi (Simon Pulse, 1997), for which she received the Jane Addams Children's Book award in 1998.

Nye gives voice to her experience as an Arab-American through poems about heritage and peace that overflow with a humanitarian spirit. About her work, the poet William Stafford has said, "her poems combine transcendent liveliness and sparkle along with warmth and human insight. She is a champion of the literature of encouragement and heart. Reading her work enhances life."

Her poems and short stories have appeared in various journals and reviews throughout North America, Europe, and the Middle and Far East. She has traveled to the Middle East and Asia for the United States Information Agency three times, promoting international goodwill through the arts.

Nye’s honors include awards from the International Poetry Forum and the Texas Institute of Letters, the Carity Randall Prize, and four Pushcart Prizes. She has been a Lannan Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow, and a Witter Bynner Fellow. In 1988, she received The Academy of American Poets' Lavan Award, selected by W. S. Merwin.

She was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2009. She currently lives in San Antonio, Texas.


Selected Bibliography

Transfer (BOA Editions, 2011)
You and Yours (BOA Editions, 2005)
19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East (Greenwillow Books, 2002)
Fuel (BOA Editions, 1998)
Red Suitcase (BOA Editions, 1994)
Hugging the Jukebox (Far Corner Books, 1982)

Gate A-4

Naomi Shihab Nye, 1952
Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning
my flight had been delayed for four hours, I heard an announcement:
"If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please
come to the gate immediately."

Well--one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there.

An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just
like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly. "Help,"
said the flight service person. "Talk to her. What is her problem? We
told her the flight was going to be late and she did this."

I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke to her haltingly.
"Shu-dow-a, Shu-bid-uck Habibti? Stani schway, Min fadlick, Shu-bit-
se-wee?" The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly 
used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled 
entirely. She needed to be in El Paso for major medical treatment the 
next day. I said, "No, we're fine, you'll get there, just later, who is 
picking you up? Let's call him."

We called her son and I spoke with him in English. I told him I would
stay with his mother till we got on the plane and would ride next to 
her--Southwest. She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just 
for the fun of it. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while 
in Arabic and found out of course they had ten shared friends. Then I 
thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian poets I know 
and let them chat with her? This all took up about two hours.

She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life, patting my knee,
answering questions. She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool 
cookies--little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and 
nuts--out of her bag--and was offering them to all the women at the gate. 
To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a 
sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the 
lovely woman from Laredo--we were all covered with the same powdered 
sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie.

And then the airline broke out free beverages from huge coolers and two
little girls from our flight ran around serving us all apple juice and they
were covered with powdered sugar, too. And I noticed my new best friend--
by now we were holding hands--had a potted plant poking out of her bag, 
some medicinal thing, with green furry leaves. Such an old country tradi-
tion. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.

And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and I thought, This 
is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that 
gate--once the crying of confusion stopped--seemed apprehensive about 
any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other
women, too.

This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.

Naomi Shihab Nye, "Gate A-4" from Honeybee. Copyright © 2008 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted with permission.

Naomi Shihab Nye

Naomi Shihab Nye

Naomi Shihab Nye gives voice to her experience as an Arab-American through poems about heritage and peace that overflow with a humanitarian spirit.

by this poet

poem
Tonight I lingered over your name,
the delicate assembly of vowels
a voice inside my head.
You were sleeping when I arrived.
I stood by your bed
and watched the sheets rise gently.
I knew what slant of light
would make you turn over.
It was then I felt 
the highways slide out of my hands.
I remembered the old
poem
Choose one word and say it over
and over, till it builds a fire inside your mouth.
Adhafera, the one who holds out, Alphard, solitary one,
the stars were named by people like us.
Each night they line up on the long path between worlds.
They nod and blink, no right or wrong
in their yellow eyes. 
poem
We will call you "Agua" like the rivers and cool jugs.
We will persuade the clouds to nestle around your neck
so you may sleep late.
We would be happy if you slept forever.
We will tend the slopes we plant, singing the songs
our grandfathers taught us before we inherited their fear.
We will try not to argue