Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems. Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted with the permission of the author.
When I can dare at last to speak your name It shall not be with hushed and reverent speech As if your spirit were beyond the reach Of homely merry things, kind jest or game. Death shall not hide you in some jewelled shrine Nor set you in marmoreal pomp apart, You who still share the ingle of my heart, Participant in every thought of mine. Your name, when I can dare to speak it, dear, Shall still be linked with laughter and with joy. No solemn panegyrist shall destroy My image of you, gay, familiar As in old happy days,—lest I discover Too late I’ve won a saint but lost a lover.
This poem is in the public domain.