“Adios” by Naomi Shihab Nye

It is a good word, rolling off the tongue
no matter what language you were born with,
Use it. Learn where it begins,
the small alphabet of departure,
how long it takes to think of it,
then say, then be heard.

Marry it. More than any golden ring,
it shines, it shines.
Wear it on every finger
till your hands dance,
touching everything easily,
letting everything, easily, go.

Strap it to your back like wings.
Or a kite-tail. The stream of air behind a jet.
If you are known for anything,
let it be the way you rise out of sight
when your work is finished.

Think of things that linger: leaves,
cartons and napkins, the damp smell of mold.

Think of things that disappear.

Think of what you love best,
what brings tears into your eyes.

Something that said adios to you
before you knew what it meant
or how long it was for.

Explain little, the word explains itself.
Later perhaps. Lessons following lessons,
like silence following sound.

“Adios” by Naomi Shihab Nye. From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems (Far Corner Books, 1995).

“One Boy Told Me” by Naomi Shihab Nye

Music lives inside my legs.
It’s coming out when I talk.

I’m going to send my valentines
to people you don’t even know.

Oatmeal cookies make my throat gallop.

Grown-ups keep their feet on the ground
when they swing. I hate that.

Look at those 2 o’s with a smash in the middle—
that spells good-bye.

Don’t ever say “purpose” again,
let’s throw the word out.

Don’t talk big to me.
I’m carrying my box of faces.
If I want to change faces I will.

Yesterday faded
but tomorrow’s in BOLDFACE.

When I grow up my old names
will live in the house
where we live now.
I’ll come and visit them.

Only one of my eyes is tired.
The other eye and my body aren’t.

Is it true all metal was liquid first?
Does that mean if we bought our car earlier
they could have served it
in a cup?

There’s a stopper in my arm
that’s not going to let me grow any bigger.
I’ll be like this always, small.

And I will be deep water too.
Wait. Just wait. How deep is the river?
Would it cover the tallest man with his hands in the air?

Your head is a souvenir.

When you were in New York I could see you
in real life walking in my mind.

I’ll invite a bee to live in your shoe.
What if you found your shoe
full of honey?

What if the clock said 6:92
instead of 6:30? Would you be scared?

My tongue is the car wash
for the spoon.

Can noodles swim?

My toes are dictionaries.
Do you need any words?

From now on I’ll only drink white milk
on January 26.

What does minus mean?
I never want to minus you.

Just think—no one has ever seen
inside this peanut before!

It is hard being a person.

I do and don’t love you—
isn’t that happiness?

Naomi Shihab Nye, “One Boy Told Me” from Fuel. Copyright © 1998 by Naomi  Shihab Nye. (BOA Editions, Ltd., 1998).


“Kindness” by Naomi Shihab Nye (repost)

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 every where
like a shadow or a friend.

– Naomi Shihab Nye, “Kindness,” from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems.


* I first published this on Jan. 7, 2014, the first week of this site. I hold it as a beacon when days feel especially dark. A reminder that with the bad, also comes the good, eventually. And that sometimes we can only truly know the good, appreciate the good, from having experienced the bad. Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore. Nothing else makes any sense these days, despair and then kindness. And then maybe Jack Kerouac’s pancakes.

“The Rider” by Naomi Shihab Nye

A boy told me
if he roller-skated fast enough
his loneliness couldn’t catch up to him,

the best reason I ever heard
for trying to be a champion.

What I wonder tonight
pedaling hard down King William Street
is if it translates to bicycles.

A victory! To leave your loneliness
panting behind you on some street corner
while you float free into a cloud of sudden azaleas,
pink petals that have never felt loneliness,
no matter how slowly they fell.

—Naomi Shihab Nye, from Fuel: Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye, 1998. Boa Editions, Rochester, NY. Copyright 1998 by Naomi Shihab Nye.

“Because of Libraries We Can Say These Things” by Naomi Shihab Nye

She is holding the book close to her body,
carrying it home on the cracked sidewalk,
down the tangled hill.
If a dog runs at her again, she will use the book as a shield.

She looked hard among the long lines
of books to find this one.
When they start talking about money,
when the day contains such long and hot places,
she will go inside.
An orange bed is waiting.
Story without corners.
She will have two families.
They will eat at different hours.

She is carrying a book past the fire station
and the five and dime.

What this town has not given her
the book will provide; a sheep,
a wilderness of new solutions.
The book has already lived through its troubles.
The book has a calm cover, a straight spine.

When the step returns to itself,
as the best place for sitting,
and the old men up and down the street
are latching their clippers,

she will not be alone.
She will have a book to open
and open and open.
Her life starts here.

Naomi Shihab Nye, via Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review