I worry that my friends will misunderstand my silence as a lack of love, or interest, instead of a tent city built for my own mind, I worry I can no longer pretend enough to get through another year of pretending I know that I understand time, though I can see my own hands; sometimes, I worry over how to dress in a world where a white woman wearing a scarf over her head is assumed to be cold, whereas with my head cloaked, I am an immediate symbol of a war folks have been fighting eons-deep before I was born, a meteor.
Copyright © 2018 by Tarfia Faizullah. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 10, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
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. Dirah, little house, unfold your walls and take us in. My well went dry, my grandfather’s grapes have stopped singing. I stir the coals, my babies cry. How will I teach them they belong to the stars? They build forts of white stone and say, “This is mine.” How will I teach them to love Mizar, veil, cloak, to know that behind it an ancient man is fanning a flame? He stirs the dark wind of our breath. He says the veil will rise till they see us shining, spreading like embers on the blessed hills. Well, I made that up. I’m not so sure about Mizar. But I know we need to keep warm here on earth And when your shawl is as thin as mine is, you tell stories.
Naomi Shihab Nye, “How Palestinians Keep Warm” from Red Suitcase. Copyright © 1994 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.
When the milk is sour,
The next time you stop speaking,
ask yourself why you were born.
They say they are scared of us.
The nuclear bomb is scared of the cucumber.
When my mother asks me to slice cucumbers,
I feel like a normal person with fantastic dilemmas:
Do I make rounds or sticks? Shall I trim the seeds?
I ask my grandmother if there was ever a time
she felt like a normal person every day,
not in danger, and she thinks for as long
as it takes a sun to set and says, Yes.
I always feel like a normal person.
They just don’t see me as one.
We would like the babies not to find out about
the failures waiting for them. I would like
them to believe on the other side of the wall
is a circus that just hasn’t opened yet. Our friends,
learning how to juggle, to walk on tall poles.
From The Tiny Journalist. Copyright © 2019 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd.
Such a swift lump rises in the throat when
a uniformed woman spits Throw it away!
and you tremble to comply wondering why
rules of one airport don't match another's,
used to carrying two Ziploc bags not just one
but your pause causes a uniformed man to approach
barking, Is there something you don't understand?
and you stare at him thinking
So many things, refugees marching
from one parched field to another,
rolled packs on their heads,
burn of ancestors smoldering outside stolen homes,
or you could be six again, yelled at on the playground
by a teacher who knew all the bad things you could do.
You're pressing little shampoos and face creams
firmly into a single plastic bag, he could slap you.
Sorry, so sorry, not wanting
to give up seven extra bottles of Bliss brand
lemon & sage soapy soap fresh-foaming shower gel
that you tipped the W houseboy into leaving
so you could pretend you live a Happy Hour life
back home, you hope she takes it out of the trash
when you turn away, obviously she needs a relaxing shower
and a stiff gin and he needs something like a long trip
into a country full of foreign soldiers and we all need
to swallow hard again so the lumps dissolve
and pressure eases and our worlds mingle kindly
and he no longer feels the gun in his back.
Copyright © 2011 by Naomi Shihab Nye. From Transfer (BOA Editions, 2011). Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.