That one story worth your telling
Is the ancient tale of the encounter
With the goddess
Declares the poet Robert Graves
You can come and see
A sublime bronze avatar of the goddess
Standing in the harbor holding a book and lifting a torch
Among us her name is Liberty
She has many names and she is everywhere
You can also find her easily
Don’t be afraid—
Just do whatever she tells you to do
Copyright © 2020 Alicia Ostriker. This poem was co-commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and the New York Philharmonic as part of the Project 19 initiative.
I watched you walking up out of that hole All day it had been raining in that field in Southern Italy rain beating down making puddles in the mud hissing down on rocks from a sky enraged I waited and was patient finally you emerged and were immediately soaked you stared at me without love in your large eyes that were filled with black sex and white powder but this is what I expected when I embraced you Your firm little breasts against my amplitude Get in the car I said and then it was spring
From The Book of Seventy. Copyright © 2009 by Alicia Ostriker. Used with permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.
But it's really fear you want to talk about and cannot find the words so you jeer at yourself you call yourself a coward you wake at 2 a.m. thinking failure, fool, unable to sleep, unable to sleep buzzing away on your mattress with two pillows and a quilt, they call them comforters, which implies that comfort can be bought and paid for, to help with the fear, the failure your two walnut chests of drawers snicker, the bookshelves mourn the art on the walls pities you, the man himself beside you asleep smelling like mushrooms and moss is a comfort but never enough, never, the ceiling fixture lightless velvet drapes hiding the window traffic noise like a vicious animal on the loose somewhere out there— you brag to friends you won't mind death only dying what a liar you are— all the other fears, of rejection, of physical pain, of losing your mind, of losing your eyes, they are all part of this! Pawprints of this! Hair snarls in your comb this glowing clock the single light in the room
From The Book of Seventy by Alicia Ostriker. Copyright © 2009 by Alicia Ostriker. Used by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press.
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 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.