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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

The man with laughing eyes stopped smiling
to say, “Until you speak Arabic,
you will not understand pain.”

Something to do with the back of the head, 
an Arab carries sorrow in the back of the head,
that only language cracks, the thrum of stones

weeping, grating
poem

She is gone, where did she go?
He can’t imagine how the house will feel
when he enters it, moving room to room.
Now that the wait is over, a larger pause
will blanket the roof, softness settling
slowly down. By which window or door
may future days enter?  And what about minor

2
poem
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