Poem of the Week, by Naomi Shihab Nye

In a recurring dream, I’m running, long effortless bounds that somehow cover much more ground than is possible in waking life. Each time my foot touches down I spring up higher and longer, until I’m actually floating.

The dream turns unsettling once I’m beyond the reach of gravity, but until then all is lightness and freedom. A silent floating peace, earth and all its heaviness and worry far below.

Over the Weather, by Naomi Shihab Nye

We forget about the spaciousness
above the clouds

but it’s up there.The sun’s up there too.

When words we hear don’t fit the day,
when we worry
what we did or didn’t do,
what if we close our eyes,
say any word we love
that makes us feel calm,
slip it into the atmosphere
and rise?

Creamy miles of quiet.
Giant swoop of blue.

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Poem of the Week, by Naomi Shihab Nye

IMG_8937Small, wooden, stained a peeling dark red-brown, our kitchen table has moved with us from apartment to condo to house. It’s too short, so over the years I’ve glued and re-glued blocks of wood to the bottom of each leg. My little kids did their homework on it while I cooked for them, my teenagers and their friends talked and laughed around it while I cooked for them, my grown children sit around it laughing and drinking wine while I cook for them.

Salt and pepper grinders, Penzey’s Fox Point seasoning, a trivet that used to be my grandmother’s, cloth napkins each folded a different way to differentiate their owners, scuffs and burns from hot pots carelessly set down: this is our table, found curbside twenty years ago by me, who loved it at sight and for no apparent reason.

Now the table is leaving us, passed on to my daughter’s friend Shrimp, to be replaced by a kitchen island and four tall counter stools. When I sat at it yesterday eating a tomato sandwich, I thought of this beautiful poem.


Daily, by Naomi Shihab Nye

These shriveled seeds we plant,
corn kernel, dried bean,
poke into loosened soil,
cover over with measured fingertips

These T-shirts we fold into
perfect white squares

These tortillas we slice and fry to crisp strips
This rich egg scrambled in a gray clay bowl

This bed whose covers I straighten
smoothing edges till blue quilt fits brown blanket
and nothing hangs out

This envelope I address
so the name balances like a cloud
in the center of the sky

This page I type and retype
This table I dust till the scarred wood shines
This bundle of clothes I wash and hang and wash again
like flags we share, a country so close
no one needs to name it

The days are nouns: touch them
The hands are churches that worship the world






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Poem of the Week, by Naomi Shihab Nye

Photos 223For years I’ve written haikus for people I don’t know. They send me a photo of someone and a few words about that person, along with $30, and I conjure up something about the person looking back at me from the photo. This takes some time. I want to get to something essential, something of this human being’s heart and soul. No one has ever sent me a photo of someone they don’t love dearly, and I respect that love and want the haiku to reflect it. Once it’s finished, I hand-letter the haiku on a piece of card stock and mail it back. All the proceeds go to support a school I’m involved with in Haiti. The photo/haiku/school forms an invisible triangle: 1) Me at my wooden desk gazing at 2) a photo of someone I don’t know in support of 3) both the sender and students, none of whom I’ve met in real life. You can’t order a poem like you order a taco, except sometimes you can. Poems are everywhere. Like the wondrous Ms. Nye says, what we have to do is live in a way that lets us find them.


Valentine for Ernest Mann, by Naomi Shihab Nye

You can’t order a poem like you order a taco.
Walk up to the counter, say, “I’ll take two”
and expect it to be handed back to you
on a shiny plate.

Still, I like your spirit.
Anyone who says, “Here’s my address,
write me a poem,” deserves something in reply.
So I’ll tell a secret instead:
poems hide. In the bottoms of our shoes,
they are sleeping. They are the shadows
drifting across our ceilings the moment 
before we wake up. What we have to do
is live in a way that lets us find them.

Once I knew a man who gave his wife
two skunks for a valentine.
He couldn’t understand why she was crying.
“I thought they had such beautiful eyes.”
And he was serious. He was a serious man
who lived in a serious way. Nothing was ugly
just because the world said so. He really
liked those skunks. So, he re-invented them
as valentines and they became beautiful.
At least, to him. And the poems that had been hiding
in the eyes of skunks for centuries 
crawled out and curled up at his feet.

Maybe if we re-invent whatever our lives give us
we find poems. Check your garage, the off sock
in your drawer, the person you almost like, but not quite.
And let me know.


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Poem of the Week, by Naomi Shihab Nye

Naomi NyePeople who have been reading the poem of the week on this blog for years now must think, seeing this week’s selection, Wow, does this woman love Naomi Shihab Nye. And they would be right. Sometimes, walking down the street, I recite lines from her poems, maybe because they’re beautiful, maybe because they make me feel less alone, maybe because they remind me, always, that kindness is all that matters. At a restaurant a couple of weeks ago, a friend said to me, “I read a poem today that I think you would love. It’s by a woman named Naomi something”–and I said, “Naomi Shihab Nye!” Once, a couple of years ago, I saw a tiny notice in the paper that she was giving a talk that very night at a school near me –she lives in Texas and this was in Minneapolis– so I zipped right over. The talk was in a high school classroom and I sat in a chair in the front row. And afterward I asked if she minded a photo. So that’s me, with Naomi my hero, and this concludes my Naomi Shihab Nye story in favor of her beautiful poem, of which I love this line most of all: Each carries a tender spot: Something our lives forgot to give us. 


Jerusalem, by Naomi Shihab Nye

“Lets be the same wound if we must bleed.
         Lets fight side by side, even if the enemy
is ourselves: I am yours, you are mine.”
                                    —Tommy Olofsson, Sweden

I’m not interested in
who suffered the most.
I’m interested in
people getting over it.
Once when my father was a boy
a stone hit him on the head.
Hair would never grow there.
Our fingers found the tender spot
and its riddle: the boy who has fallen
stands up. A bucket of pears
in his mother’s doorway welcomes him home.
The pears are not crying.
Later his friend who threw the stone
says he was aiming at a bird.
And my father starts growing wings.

Each carries a tender spot:
something our lives forgot to give us.
A man builds a house and says,
“I am native now.”
A woman speaks to a tree in place
of her son. And olives come.
A child’s poem says,
“I don’t like wars,
they end up with monuments.”
He’s painting a bird with wings
wide enough to cover two roofs at once.

Why are we so monumentally slow?
Soldiers stalk a pharmacy:
big guns, little pills.
If you tilt your head just slightly
it’s ridiculous.

There’s a place in my brain
where hate won’t grow.
I touch its riddle: wind, and seeds.
Something pokes us as we sleep.

It’s late but everything comes next.


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