Poem of the week: “Jerusalem”

Naomi Shihab Nye was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on March 12, 1952. Her father was Palestinian and her mother was an American. During her high school years she also lived in Ramallah in the West Bank, the Old City in Jerusalem, and San Antonio, Texas. She has written poetry for children as well as for adults. Her 2002 collection of poems about the Middle East, “19 Varieties of Gazelle,” was a finalist for the National Book Award. Additionally she has edited a number of anthologies which reflect her abiding interest in using poetry to promote cross-cultural understanding.

For many years, she has been a visiting writer all over the world. She sees teaching and writing as separate activities, but ones that serve and feed each other. Writing, she says, travels the road inward, teaching the road out.

In an essay entitled “Lights in the Windows,” available on poets.org, she says, “I can never understand when teachers claim they are ‘uncomfortable’ with poetry – as if poetry demands they be anything other than responsive, curious human beings. If poetry comes out of the deepest places in the human soul and experience, shouldn’t it be as important to learn about one another’s poetry, country to country, as one another’s weather or gross national products?”

This poem was chosen from her 1994 collection, “Red Suitcase,” which was published by BOA Editions, Ltd. It is reprinted with permission of the publisher.


By Naomi Shihab Nye

“Let’s be the same wound if we must bleed.
Let’s 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.

Photo: Naomi Shihab Nye (commons.wikimedia.org)




John Case
John Case

John Case is a former electronics worker and union organizer with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (UE), also formerly a software developer, now host of the WSHC "Winners and Losers" radio program in Shepherdstown, W.Va.