Saturday, April 09, 2011

Poem: Naomi Shihab Nye

Naomi Shihab Nye (1952-) is a poet whose work I came to only as an adult, through my experiences teaching 7th and 8th graders. I had never heard of Nye, a native of St. Louis and the daughter of a Palestinian father and white American mother, but at some point during my combined poetry class, working with fellow poets Mattie Michael and Caitlin O'Donnell, a classmate at NYU, I was flipping through an anthology of poetry--perhaps it wasn't for children though I want to say it was--and happened upon Nye's work.  It seemed as though after that moment I would see one of her poems everywhere, though more likely I just began to notice her poems, and read them.

Sometimes coming to poetry and poets happens this way; it does with me. Nye had released her collection Red Suitcase only a year before, so that might also have been why her name rode the air--or my mind's air--but she has since published a number of other volumes, including most recently You and Yours (Boa Editions, 2005), which received the Isabella Gardner Poetry Award.  Nye has been a resident at various points of Ramallah, Jerusalem, San Antonio, and many other places, and has received a wide array of awards.  She is now a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, lives in San Antonio, and has traveled around the globe promoting the arts and cultural exchange. The poem below suggests multiple readings, in the various senses of that term. As you read it, slowly, let its language and images ride on your mind's air.


remains all supple hands and gesture

skin of language
fusing its finest seam

in fluent light
with a raised finger

dance of lips
each sentence complete

he speaks to the shadow
of leaves

strung tissue paper
snipped into delicate flags

on which side of the conversation
did anyone begin?

wearing two skins
the brilliant question mark of Mexico
stands on its head
like an answer

From Red Suitcase. Copyright © 1994 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Published by BOA Editions, Ltd. All rights reserved.

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