The Burn

- 1952-

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.

More by Naomi Shihab Nye

Streets

A man leaves the world
and the streets he lived on
grow a little shorter.

One more window dark
in this city, the figs on his branches
will soften for birds.

If we stand quietly enough evenings
there grows a whole company of us
standing quietly together.
overhead loud grackles are claiming their trees  
and the sky which sews and sews, tirelessly sewing,
drops her purple hem.
Each thing in its time, in its place,
it would be nice to think the same about people.

Some people do. They sleep completely,
waking refreshed. Others live in two worlds,
the lost and remembered.
They sleep twice, once for the one who is gone,
once for themselves. They dream thickly,
dream double, they wake from a dream
into another one, they walk the short streets
calling out names, and then they answer.

Two Countries

Skin remembers how long the years grow
when skin is not touched, a gray tunnel
of singleness, feather lost from the tail
of a bird, swirling onto a step,
swept away by someone who never saw
it was a feather. Skin ate, walked,
slept by itself, knew how to raise a 
see-you-later hand. But skin felt
it was never seen, never known as
a land on the map, nose like a city,
hip like a city, gleaming dome of the mosque
and the hundred corridors of cinnamon and rope.

Skin had hope, that's what skin does.
Heals over the scarred place, makes a road.
Love means you breathe in two countries.
And skin remembers--silk, spiny grass,
deep in the pocket that is skin's secret own.
Even now, when skin is not alone,
it remembers being alone and thanks something larger
that there are travelers, that people go places
larger than themselves.

Fuel

Even at this late date, sometimes I have to look up
the word "receive." I received his deep
and interested gaze.

A bean plant flourishes under the rain of sweet words.
Tell what you think—I'm listening.

The story ruffled its twenty leaves.

*

Once my teacher set me on a high stool
for laughing. She thought the eyes
of my classmates would whittle me to size.
But they said otherwise.

We'd laugh too if we knew how.

I pinned my gaze out the window
on a ripe line of sky.

That's where I was going.