Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
 
Naomi Shihab Nye, “Kindness” from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems. Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

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
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
The Words Under the Words by Naomi Shihab Nye
My grandmother’s hands recognize grapes
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

Essays About Teaching
Rose, Where Did You Get That Red? [excerpt]
by Kenneth Koch
The Read-Aloud Handbook [excerpt]
by Jim Trelease
A Treasury of Read-Alouds: Poetry for Children
by Jim Trelease
Can Poets Teach?: On Writers Teaching Writing
by Joan Houlihan
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Poetry
by Bill Zavatsky
First Gestures
by Julia Spicher Kasdorf
Gimmicks
by Ron Padgett
How I Teach Poetry in the Schools
by Jack Collom
Serious Play: Reading Poetry with Children
Teaching Poetry: Accurate Songs, or Thinking-in-Poetry
by Eleanor Cook
The Accomplished and the Insufficient: What Readers Should Ask From a Poem
by Thom Ward
The Hand
by Mary Ruefle
The Teacher
by Hilarie Jones
Why Latin Should Still Be Taught in High School
by Christopher Bursk
With Tenure
by David Lehman
You Begin
by Margaret Atwood