poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

Recorded for Poem-a-Day, July 5, 2017.
About this Poem 

“‘The Tent’ was written in response to an invitation from students at the Maine State Prison, in a course taught by Dr. Ellen M. Taylor. The suggested topic was ‘what freedom means to me.’”
—Naomi Shihab Nye

The Tent

When did hordes of sentences start beginning with So?

As if everything were always pending, 

leaning on what came before.

What can you expect? 

Loneliness everywhere, entertained or kept in storage.

So you felt anxious to be alone.

Easier to hear, explore a city, room,

mound of hours, no one walking beside you.

Talking to self endlessly, but mostly listening.

This would not be strange.

It would be the tent you slept in.

Waking calmly inside whatever

you had to do would be freedom.

It would be your country.

The men in front of me had whole acres

in their eyes. I could feel them cross, recross each day.

Memory, stitched.  History, soothed.

What we do or might prefer to do. Have done.

How we got here. Telling ourselves a story

till it’s compact enough to bear. 

Passing the walls, wearing the sky,

the slight bow and rising of trees.

Everything ceaselessly holding us close.

So we are accompanied.

Never cast out without a line of language to reel us back.

That is what happened, how I got here.

So maybe. One way anyway.

A story was sewn, seed sown,

this was what patriotism meant to me—

to be at home inside my own head long enough

to accept its infinite freedom

and move forward anywhere, to mysteries coming.

Even at night in a desert, temperatures plummet,

billowing tent flaps murmur to one other.

Copyright © 2017 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 5, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2017 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 5, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Naomi Shihab Nye

Naomi Shihab Nye

Naomi Shihab Nye gives voice to her experience as an Arab-American through poems about heritage and peace that overflow with a humanitarian spirit.

by this poet

poem
Even at this late date, sometimes I have to look up
the word "receive." I received his deep
and interested gaze.

A bean plant flourishes under the rain of sweet words.
Tell what you think—I'm listening.

The story ruffled its twenty leaves.

*

Once my teacher set me on a high stool
for laughing. She
poem
A man crosses the street in rain,
stepping gently, looking two times north and south,
because his son is asleep on his shoulder.

No car must splash him.
No car drive too near to his shadow.

This man carries the world's most sensitive cargo
but he's not marked.
Nowhere does his jacket say FRAGILE,
HANDLE WITH
2
poem

     “Syrian refugees go about their business in a refugee camp in Mafraq, Jordan…”

Ropes on poles, jeans & shirts flapping in wind.
He sits on a giant bag of rice, head in hands.

Too much or too little, rips & bursts & furrows.
Something seared in a pan.

If you knew

2