The Words Under the Words

Naomi Shihab Nye

 
for Sitti Khadra, north of Jerusalem
My grandmother's hands recognize grapes,   
the damp shine of a goat's new skin.   
When I was sick they followed me,
I woke from the long fever to find them   
covering my head like cool prayers.
My grandmother's days are made of bread,   
a round pat-pat and the slow baking.
She waits by the oven watching a strange car   
circle the streets. Maybe it holds her son,   
lost to America. More often, tourists,   
who kneel and weep at mysterious shrines.   
She knows how often mail arrives,
how rarely there is a letter.
When one comes, she announces it, a miracle,   
listening to it read again and again
in the dim evening light.
My grandmother's voice says nothing can surprise her.
Take her the shotgun wound and the crippled baby.   
She knows the spaces we travel through,   
the messages we cannot send—our voices are short   
and would get lost on the journey.
Farewell to the husband's coat,
the ones she has loved and nourished,
who fly from her like seeds into a deep sky.   
They will plant themselves. We will all die.
My grandmother's eyes say Allah is everywhere, even in death.   
When she talks of the orchard and the new olive press,   
when she tells the stories of Joha and his foolish wisdoms,   
He is her first thought, what she really thinks of is His name.
"Answer, if you hear the words under the words—
otherwise it is just a world with a lot of rough edges,   
difficult to get through, and our pockets full of stones."
 
From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye. Copyright 1995. Reprinted with permission of Far Corner Books, Portland, OR.

Poems by This Author

Alive by Naomi Shihab Nye
Dear Abby, wrote someone from Oregon
Arabic by Naomi Shihab Nye
The man with laughing eyes stopped smiling
Blood by Naomi Shihab Nye
Burning the Old Year by Naomi Shihab Nye
Letters swallow themselves in seconds
Daily by Naomi Shihab Nye
These shriveled seeds we plant
Famous by Naomi Shihab Nye
The river is famous to the fish
Fuel by Naomi Shihab Nye
Even at this late date, sometimes I have to look up
Gate A-4 by Naomi Shihab Nye
Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning
Haunted by Naomi Shihab Nye
We are looking for your laugh.
How Palestinians Keep Warm by Naomi Shihab Nye
Choose one word and say it over
Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye
Before you know what kindness really is
Lying While Birdwatching by Naomi Shihab Nye
Making a Fist by Naomi Shihab Nye
For the first time, on the road north of Tampico,
Many Asked Me Not to Forget Them by Naomi Shihab Nye
Where do you keep all these people?
Negotiations with a Volcano by Naomi Shihab Nye
We will call you "Agua" like the rivers and cool jugs
San Antonio by Naomi Shihab Nye
Tonight I lingered over your name,
Shoulders by Naomi Shihab Nye
A man crosses the street in rain
Snow by Naomi Shihab Nye
Once with my scarf knotted over my mouth
Streets by Naomi Shihab Nye
A man leaves the world
The Man Whose Voice Has Been Taken From His Throat by Naomi Shihab Nye
remains all supple hands and gesture
The Rider by Naomi Shihab Nye
A boy told me
The Traveling Onion by Naomi Shihab Nye
When I think how far the onion has traveled
Two Countries by Naomi Shihab Nye
Skin remembers how long the years grow
Valentine for Ernest Mann by Naomi Shihab Nye
Wedding Cake by Naomi Shihab Nye
Once on a plane


Further Reading

Poems About Tragedy and Grief
"My True Love Hath My Heart and I Have His"
by Mary Elizabeth Coleridge
Adonais, 49-52, [Go thou to Rome]
by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Hamlet, Act III, Scene I [To be, or not to be]
by William Shakespeare
Against Elegies
by Marilyn Hacker
Alabanza: In Praise of Local 100
by Martín Espada
Arise, Go Down
by Li-Young Lee
Assault to Abjury
by Raymond McDaniel
Before
by Carl Adamshick
Breaking Across Us Now
by Katie Ford
Curtains
by Ruth Stone
Day of Grief
by Gerald Stern
Dear Lonely Animal,
by Oni Buchanan
December, 1919
by Claude McKay
Easter 1916
by W. B. Yeats
Eulogy
by Kevin Young
Facing It
by Yusef Komunyakaa
Fairbanks Under the Solstice
by John Haines
here rests
by Lucille Clifton
Hum
by Ann Lauterbach
I Can Afford Neither the Rain
by Holly Iglesias
I Found Her Out There
by Thomas Hardy
I measure every Grief I meet (561)
by Emily Dickinson
I Pack Her Suitcase with Sticks, Light the Tinder, and Shut the Lid
by Rob Schlegel
Imagine
by Kamilah Aisha Moon
In Louisiana
by Albert Bigelow Paine
Lycidas
by John Milton
Memorial Day for the War Dead
by Yehuda Amichai
On His Deceased Wife
by John Milton
Ozymandias
by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Pretty Polly
by Jane Springer
Quiet Mourning
by Laura Moriarty
Requiescat
by Matthew Arnold
Richard Cory
by Edwin Arlington Robinson
Rose Aylmer
by Walter Savage Landor
September 1, 1939
by W. H. Auden
Song ["When I am dead, my dearest"]
by Christina Rossetti
Stillbirth
by Laure-Anne Bosselaar
Surprised By Joy
by William Wordsworth
That This
by Susan Howe
The Dead
by Joan Aleshire
The Gaffe
by C. K. Williams
The Hour and What Is Dead
by Li-Young Lee
The Not Tale (Funeral)
by Caroline Bergvall
The Second Coming
by W. B. Yeats
The Stolen Child
by W. B. Yeats
The Widow's Lament in Springtime
by William Carlos Williams
Tigers
by Melissa Ginsburg
To W.C.W. M.D.
by Alfred Kreymborg